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Westminster Hall

Volume 724: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2022

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 7 December 2022

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Marine Renewables: Government Support

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government support for marine renewables.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone, and I am grateful to see a number of colleagues here this morning. I would like to place on record my appreciation, as ever, of the support that those of us who are part of the all-party parliamentary group on marine energy received in preparation for the debate, with very comprehensive briefings from RenewableUK, the UK Marine Energy Council and companies such as Orbital Marine Power and Nova Innovation.

I want to start by giving credit to the Government for the decision they took last year to introduce a ringfenced pot of £20 million for tidal stream generation as part of the contracts for difference allocation round 4. In particular, I want to place on record that the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), in his time involved with the sector, understood the opportunities for the United Kingdom presented by its development and used his time in office to drive policy in a way that has empowered the sector to develop, grow and continue to innovate as it proceeds along the road to full commercialisation. I fully appreciate that when the biographers eventually come to write the chapter on the right hon. Member’s legacy, that may not be the headline, but it was a significant contribution that is understood and appreciated nevertheless.

The Government’s decision last year unlocked investment in four projects this summer, as a result of which we will be able to obtain 41 MW of clean energy for United Kingdom households. Orbital Marine Power was awarded two contracts for difference totalling 7.2 MW of tidal energy deployments at the European Marine Energy Centre’s Fall of Warness site in Orkney. SIMEC Atlantis secured 28 MW to further develop the MeyGen site in Caithness, and in Wales, Magallanes was awarded 5.6 MW for a tidal energy project at Morlais in Anglesey.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney when I came to the right hon. Member’s constituency a couple of years ago. The work done at EMEC is really important for delivering cheaper, greener energy. Does he agree that, in the light of the energy price crisis, this research could be vital for delivering affordable energy to Scottish homes and businesses?

I very much agree, and I should acknowledge the support that the hon. Lady has given to EMEC over the years. I am grateful for the support from across the political spectrum, all parties and none, and I will come on to talk quite a lot about EMEC later on.

It is worth reflecting for a second on how we have reached this point. Despite the fact that these are significant commercial enterprises—essentially competitors—the companies working in the sector have presented a united and strategic case to Government and investors. That has been enormously important, and since we still have some way to go, I hope that approach will continue. Trade bodies RenewableUK and the UK Marine Energy Council have also been critical in maintaining that unity of purpose and message, as has, in our own small way, the all-party parliamentary group on marine energy, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who I am delighted to see in his place.

It is invidious to single out individuals when the story is one of team success, but the leadership that Neil Kermode has given as director of the European Marine Energy Centre in Stromness in Orkney has allowed that body to fulfil the role it was set up for almost 20 years ago. I do not think the Minister has yet visited EMEC, but he may wish to make his way there once we are through the winter and the days are slightly longer again, so that he can see for himself the work that has been done and continues to be done not just at EMEC but on the Heriot-Watt campus at the International Centre for Island Technology and the full range of private companies that have been established as spin-offs from these bodies.

I mention EMEC, and am keen for the Minister to visit, not just to give it the recognition it has earned, but to engage the Minister’s attention in the issue of funding. EMEC’s success has been built on Interreg funding, which was a dependable source of funding for as long as long as we were part of the European Union; it was an easy fit. Since we left the European Union, however, the shape of future support that replaces what came through Interreg is still not clear, and for EMEC that could soon become critical. My first ask of the Minister, therefore, is whether he will meet me and a delegation from EMEC so that we may identify future sources of funding.

The Government have now made a significant commitment to marine renewables through the fourth allocation round, and EMEC remains central to delivering the full potential of the Government’s commitment. That may be in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy or the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, or it may fall within the remit of the Scottish Government—perhaps it is some combination of them all—but having come so far we cannot now allow that critical operation to fall between the gaps of Government.

I hope this morning’s debate will be an opportunity for us to stop and take stock of where we have got to, to explore some barriers that remain on the road to development and commercialisation, and to look forward to where we go from here—in particular, to what decisions we need to see made as we move towards the next round of contracts for difference allocation round 5.

It is worth reminding ourselves what is at stake. The United Kingdom has the potential to develop about 1 GW of tidal stream energy by 2035 and up to 11.5 GW by 2050. That is equivalent to over three times the generation capacity of Hinkley Point C. The costs of technology have fallen significantly in recent years. Analysis published by the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult this autumn showed that that tidal stream can become not only a significant part of our future energy mix, but a cost-competitive one. If the sector is supported, by 2035 tidal stream could provide power at £78 per megawatt-hour; compare that to Hinkley Point C at £92.50 per megawatt-hour. By 2042 that figure could be £60 and by 2047 we could be looking at something in the region of £50. That is about £10 per megawatt-hour more than wind and solar today but, importantly, without the challenges of unpredictability.

The real opportunity that comes from the development of tidal stream power in particular is the chance to develop the baseload capacity that will be so important and to remove the intermittency of renewables. For so long the missing link has been the funding that would give wave and tidal energy the chance to develop commercially, and, as we know from other renewable technologies, once the process of the commercial roll-out is under way, the costs fall like a stone.

I thank the right hon. Member for bringing forward this debate. He rightly makes the comparison with nuclear strike rates, but in doing so we should remember that the £92.50 strike price for Hinkley Point C is a 35-year contract, whereas tidal stream is a 15-year concession so it is even better value for money. Does he agree?

That is a perfectly fair point. I make the comparisons, but I do not want to set one technology off against another; that is not in the interests of the industry. It is important that the figures are taken in the round when we look at getting value for money for the taxpayer.

Marine renewables is an industry that has the potential to support thousands of jobs across the United Kingdom—good-quality manufacturing jobs that bring with them the opportunities to grow an export industry, which would be an obvious route towards a just transition for many of those currently working in oil and gas. The oil and gas industry has been a critical part of the economy of the Northern Isles for the last 40 years, and I believe it will be a critical part of getting to net zero. Indeed, it is difficult to see how we could get there without having an industry on the UK continental shelf. The industry has a number of excellent apprenticeship programmes. When I talk to the young men and women who are undertaking those apprenticeships now, at the start of their career, I am struck by the fact that they tell me they believe that by the end of their working lives they will be working not in oil and gas, but in marine renewables.

I congratulate the right hon. Member on introducing this important debate. I could almost have written his speech myself. Like other Members, I have had the pleasure of visiting his constituency and the European Marine Energy Centre, very impressive as it is, and I agree that the oil and gas sector and oil and gas companies, which have the technologies, the expertise and the capital, have a vital role to play in the energy transition.

If the hon. Member wants to send me his CV, I will keep it on file for when I next have a vacancy for a speech writer. I am at risk of being too consensual, but he knows my views on this and we have to find a way to recognise that in energy security there is no silver bullet. Contributions will be made by all sectors on the journey towards net zero.

The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult estimates that the UK’s tidal stream industry could support 4,000 jobs by 2030 and 14,500 by 2040. Those high-wage, high-value jobs would be focused on coastal areas. UK tidal stream projects use an average 80% UK content in the world-leading arrays, creating supply chain with high rates of return on public investment. As with offshore wind, the supply chain is widely dispersed across the UK—for example, Leask Marine is a vessel charter, commercial diving and international marine construction service based in Kirkwall, but it operates around the world.

Being the world leader in developing tidal stream technologies, the UK is well placed to capitalise on exports to future global markets, including Canada and Japan, in which the sector has already secured export orders. Nova Innovation has a presence in Shetland, but, from its Edinburgh base, it is already working to export to Nova Scotia and Canada—part of a 15-turbine order.

Marine energy provides a particularly competitive solution for countries with islands or remote populations that depend on expensive and polluting diesel generation. The energy innovation needs assessment of tidal stream, commissioned by the Minister’s Department, estimated that growth of UK tidal stream exports could add more than £540 million gross value added and nearly 5,000 jobs per annum by 2050.

I hope the House will forgive me for labouring the point, but that is the potential that sits within our grasp. That is where we want to get to. The question, then, is how. The marine renewables sector has a number of clear and well-formed asks of the Government, one short term and three for the longer term. The most immediately important is the need for an early indication of the Government’s intentions with regard to the continuation of the ringfenced pot for tidal stream in their upcoming contracts for difference allocation round 5.

The creation of that £20 million pot has been enormously important to unlocking private sector finance for the sector, and the sector itself has been able to be creative in the financial instruments it has devised to take advantage of that. Maintaining that investor confidence is critical, and an early and positive announcement on allocation round 5 is essential for that confidence. I would be delighted to hear something about that from the Minister today, although I am prepared to be realistic even though it is almost Christmas. However, an indication of when an announcement might be made would be welcome not just in the House, but in the wider industry.

In the longer term, the industry is looking for contracts for difference options to be reformed in a way that rewarded projects with significant UK content, which would enable it to trigger new manufacturing investment or support innovation in the supply chain. It also seeks a commitment from the Government to a target of 1 GW of marine energy by 2035. Again, that would give confidence to investors that the UK intends to remain the leader in tidal stream.

That 1 GW represents a significant threshold, because it is the point at which it is forecast that tidal stream is expected to become lower cost than new nuclear. The United Kingdom, Scottish and Welsh Governments should work together to expedite the process for new tidal stream sites to ensure development can continue at pace. Pace is important, and the Minister can use his office to work across Government and between Governments to remove some of the forces that are currently a drag on the pace of development.

In its briefing for this debate, Nova Innovation called for the speeding up of CfD timescales and consent processing for tidal stream sites. Section 36 consent, which is required to qualify for a CfD, takes at least three years. That is driven by the requirement for two years of bird and mammal surveys and the nine-plus months it takes to receive a consent decision—it is often much longer in practice. In contrast, the EU target is three months for renewable energy project consent. Section 36 is required only for onshore projects greater than 50 MW, but the offshore limit is 1 MW.

Overall, it takes at least six years from conception to the commissioning of a UK tidal energy site. That timeline is similar across the nations of the UK. In contrast, developers in Canada can go from a greenfield site to first power in two to three years. That puts the UK at a competitive disadvantage for project investment and we risk losing our lead in tidal energy. We should also increase the pace and scale of investment in the UK’s electricity grid so it does not remain a constraint on renewable energy development.

EMEC provides state-of-the-art testing facilities for tidal stream and wave technologies. It plays a pivotal role in supporting the development of the UK’s marine energy sector. The UK leads the way in marine energy as a result of our innovative UK tidal and wave companies, our well-developed project portfolio and our excellent natural resources. EMEC’s activities have been made possible by the support it receives through EU structural funding—specifically funding from the EU Interreg programme. Between 2016 and 2020, that was £17.4 million.

Interreg projects account for 51.9% of EMEC’s overall funding. Obviously, that funding will soon come to an end, so it is imperative that a clear replacement is established to secure its long-term future. The discontinuation of our participation in the EU Interreg programme has presented EMEC with a cliff edge in access to the grant funding supporting the operation and growth of the test centre.

EMEC is taking proactive steps to mitigate the lost funding from Interreg, but—let’s be serious—it will not make good all the lost funds. Direct revenue funding of £1.5 million a year for four years to replace the Interreg gap will enable EMEC to preserve the high-quality jobs and the growth sector, supporting levelling up, protecting that internationally accredited and strategically located facility, and providing recognition as a national asset in pursuit of the UK’s aspirations to be a global research and development superpower. It will allow EMEC to enable further growth and diversification in new technology areas, including wave and tidal array testing, green hydrogen integration, maritime and aviation decarbonisation, and floating offshore wind research and innovation, all with the aim of developing the domestic supply chain and the manufacturing capability of UK plc as a whole in the pursuit of economic growth and reaching net zero.

The replacement of Interreg funding is something of a lonely child when it comes to Government responsibility; it seems to sit between a number of departmental responsibilities. Although the response today is from BEIS, I am aware that the Levelling Up Secretary has an important role. He will be coming to Orkney in January for the final signing of the much-welcomed islands growth deal, and I look forward to raising Interreg with him then if we have not been able to make progress beforehand. Officials in the Minister’s Department have been fully apprised of the situation, so I hope we will be able to work together to ensure EMEC’s critical work is allowed to continue and that the cliff edge in the funding set-up can be avoided.

The marine renewable sector’s asks are far from extravagant. This is the time to capitalise on the lead that the sector has given us as a country, commit to the policies that will expand our reach and make tidal stream innovation the icon of the UK economy that we know that it can be.

The debate can last until 11 am, and I am obliged to call the Front Benches no later than 10.27 am. The guidelines are to allow 10 minutes for the SNP, 10 minutes for His Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. Alastair Carmichael will have three minutes or so at the end to sum up the debate.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing this timely debate, and for his continued, strong advocacy for both marine energy in his constituency and the great work done by EMEC—which he has referred to—and, more widely, for the cause of marine energy across the United Kingdom. It is interesting that, in this small but passionate debate, we have representatives from constituencies across all parts of the United Kingdom; this is a sector that, in geographical terms, wonderfully complements the work that is being done on offshore wind on the east coasts of both England and Scotland.

I pay tribute—unusually, perhaps, in such a debate—to the Department. BEIS has played a huge role in recognising the value of tides and waves, and the cause of marine energy, to renewable energy made in the UK: it contributes to the energy baseload, domestic energy security, community sustainability—that is an aspect that should not be overlooked—and the creation of green jobs around the northern, western and southern coasts of our island. The work of the Department includes both officials, who have worked hard on the detail, and the commitment of Ministers. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland may have referred to this, but that was epitomised by the visit of the previous energy Minister but two, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), to EMEC in summer 2021, and by the commitment of the Secretary of State at the time—the former Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng)—who was absolutely committed to the business of recognising that support for marine energy would be one of the best long-term investments that this country could make. Of course, the truth is that, in adding a separate pot in allocation round 4, the Department effectively moved from philosophical understanding of the issue to practical assistance in a way that had never been done before and, for those not yet convinced about marine energy, not a penny of taxpayer funds is due until the energy is generated.

So far, so good—but what next? Without repeating too much of what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, I will highlight four quick things. First, we must keep going; we need a continued pipeline of opportunities to stimulate manufacturing scale and innovation research. The work done on FastBlade by Babcock and the University of Edinburgh partnership at Rosyth, which I saw in the summer, is a model of its kind; it will help to both improve the technology and reduce costs. Secondly, we must reduce the hidden cost of process—that has been referred to in terms of some of the detail around marine licences and the section 36 consent. We can probably all agree that the process, as it is, is both opaque and slow, and could be made much less opaque and much faster. I propose the production of a combined paper on its details from the Marine Energy Council—the chair of which is well known to the Department—which the all-party parliamentary group on marine energy will give to the Minister by the end of January for discussion, consideration and, I hope, implementation as quickly as possible. The Minister has been a great supporter of green energy, work on climate change and the environment in general. I hope that, as soon as possible after he has seen the paper, he will happily come and discuss its implications and what might be done with the all-party group.

Thirdly, and curiously in this context, let us not forget England. One of the problems at the moment is that the strong support, particularly from the Scottish Government, but also from the Welsh Government, means that English bids for the CfD project are rather disadvantaged by not having the same amount of local financial support. A very good project from the Isle of Wight has been put forward. I encourage the Minister to look at that; it needs help to make sure that that area, too, can be levelled up and be competitive in this space. Some approvals are already in place, so it is a case of putting them into action.

The fourth point is to not forget tidal lagoons. I know the Department has a lasting bruise from the saga over the Swansea tidal lagoon project, in which I had a strong interest, because the business behind it was headquartered in Gloucester. Ultimately, that project fell partly on confidence in the management to deliver it, and partly on an assumption that the project was far too expensive. As the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), recognises, it now looks pretty good value and—guess what?—it would have been up and running any moment now, had it been approved. There will be new and alternative ideas on tidal lagoons, which the Department should look at.

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. I hate to interrupt him, but I could tell he wanted a quick sip of water there; I was also going to ask whether he would agree that marine energy in general, and tidal stream energy in particular, has the opportunity to be an exportable commodity to the rest of the world, not only for Orkney and the rest of Scotland, but for the whole of the UK. Tidal stream for the UK could be what offshore wind has been for Denmark.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, both for the marine energy that I was able to take, and for his thoughts on exports. The Minister will know that the parts of the world that I am most interested in exporting to are in south-east Asia. By happy coincidence, huge opportunities for tidal stream energy have already been identified in Indonesia in more than one place, and potentially also in the north of the Philippines. There will be other places, but those two stand out at this time.

It would not be easy, but if we wanted to add a fifth point to my thoughts for the Minister to consider, that might be looking closely at how we can help exports of tidal stream capability and technology be part of a strategy to deliver more than just a huge contribution to domestic UK security. That would help to make sure that the manufacturing benefits stay within the UK, we keep Nova based here and we are able to export successfully both the skills and the manufacturing equipment that goes with them around the world.

There are huge opportunities here. The Government have been very supportive. It is a niche interest at the moment, but colleagues in Scotland, Northern Ireland—let us not forget Strangford Lough; I am sure someone will remind us of that—and Wales have all got an interest. It is a wonderful UK project, which, with the support of the Government, can become something to be very proud of.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr Hollobone. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) is right—I will give my perspective on Strangford Lough. Helping to progress that is my objective in being here.

I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for setting the scene so very well. Like everyone else in the Chamber today, including me, he is a champion of the coastal regions. On almost every occasion in this House, he and I have supported each other, whether that is on fishing issues or marine life issues. Since my election to this House, it has been my pleasure to work alongside him and learn from him. I thank him for that.

It is a pleasure to see the Minister in his place. I look forward to his response, which I know is always given with consideration and helpfulness. I look forward to the contributions from the two shadow Ministers for the SNP and Labour. They both have a deep interest in these matters, and they will add much to the debate.

Will the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) give way before he starts on his amazing speech? The Narrows located between Strangford Lough and the Irish Sea make an optimal location for tidal energy research. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it has hosted a few projects in recent years. Will he speak to the benefits that projects in Strangford Lough have for his constituency and further afield?

The hon. Lady asks me to speak highly of Strangford Lough, and that will be done without question. I thank her for her intervention. The main issue is more than energy; it is the balance of life and the potential to provide safe, renewable energy. I speak to my mother regularly and she has always said that there are few absolutes in this world. One, pertinent for this time of year, is that “Jesus loves you, regardless of what you have done.” The other is that the sun will rise and set. Clearly, a very wise woman, for which I am so thankful.

The first maxim, demonstrated at this time of year, offers forgiveness and unconditional love in the birth of the Lord Jesus. As for the second, I believe we have an opportunity to harness that. If the sun rises, it means that the moon orbits, and the tides are as certain as the sun rising. We can and should use that to produce energy. If we had a thought for the day, that would be mine.

Strangford Lough was named by Viking invaders who noted the strength of the lough. That is where the “strang” came from, the Viking word for strong. They may not have been able to measure the tide as having a force of 7.5 knots on any given day, but they knew it was stronger than normal, stronger than anywhere they had been before. In 2008, a project to harness the power of Strangford Lough was started in the form of a tidal turbine. That was the world’s first commercial-scale tidal energy project.

I am very proud that was in my constituency, and I am keen to see that project go further. I have met some of those involved from the Queen’s University marine laboratory and the Minister back home from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. I am pleased to see this Minister is his place, and I will request a meeting about that project. We are keen back home to take it further.

I want to speak about that project and what it did, because it shows development potential that could be used for our betterment. It was commissioned in July 2008 by Marine Current Turbines, a subsidiary of British tidal energy company Siemens. The 1.2 MW project used MCT’s SeaGen turbine technology and required an investment of £12 million.

The pilot was successful, and I cannot understand why we have not moved beyond that. Perhaps we can now, because my discussions with the Department back home and the Assembly, as well as those involved with the project, indicate that that pilot project could be financially feasible. I think some of the investors come from Canada, and there is an interest in taking it forward.

The project involved installation of two 600 kW turbines producing 150 kW of electricity to the grid in July 2008. SeaGen generated electricity at its maximum capacity of 1.2 MW for the first time in December 2008. Another important milestone was reached in September 2012, with SeaGen producing 5 GWh of tidal power since its commissioning, which is equivalent to the annual power consumption of 1,500 households.

I could say a lot more; I am keen to see how we can take that project and its pilot scheme forward. The project has finished at the moment, but I cannot understand why further follow-ups have not taken place, to make the most of that tide, to ensure that the harnessing of marine energy is not detrimental to the fishing industry. I have been in contact with DAERA back home on the matter.

I make this request directly to the Minister today. If he is able to come to Strangford Lough, I am keen to take the opportunity to introduce him to people from Queen’s University marine laboratory and from the Department to see how the project can be progressed. I honestly believe it has so much potential. Obviously, we need the input of the Minister here today, but the Minister back home told me that some of the help comes from Westminster for that project, so there is governmental input here.

I recently read that tidal power could supply up to 10% of the UK’s energy within 10 years. SeaGen could play a part in that as it was more than four times as powerful as the world’s second most powerful tidal current system at that time—the 300 kW Seaflow that was installed off Lynmouth on the north Devon coast more than five years ago. We have that potential in Strangford Lough. It would be wonderful for us if we could use that green marine energy potential back home.

I am given to understand that, based on the Strangford Lough experience, the company plans to scale up the technology to build a 10 MW tidal power farm within the next three years. That is the kind of innovation that we in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland need to invest in and reap the benefits from. There is a delicate balance in our marine environment, but investment could see a balance being struck, with the ability to power homes, cutting down on reliance on fossil fuels from overseas and becoming self-sustaining.

Another good thing came from the SeaGen pilot scheme. We have a large seal colony in Strangford Lough, and the tidal scheme had protection for the seals, so lots of things were learnt from the SeaGen pilot scheme from 2008 to 2012, which is something that we should really look at. Importantly, it would also reduce costs for the working poor who are on wages that simply are not good enough at this time. We have a golden opportunity to develop the tidal energy system in Strangford Lough. I believe in my heart that that is the way forward. We must find a way and find it soon. The lessons learnt in Strangford Lough can provide a good foundation. Perhaps the Minister can give us the help that we need.

Diolch yn fawr. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing this important debate.

Wales has 2,120 km of coastline and a marine area of approximately 32,000 km. We have immense offshore wind and tidal potential, with Welsh Government estimates setting our marine energy potential at at least 6 GW. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon was mentioned earlier. With tidal lagoons, there is also the potential for coastal protection and other benefits that we need to consider in the round. Although only a small number of projects have been built and deployed in Wales to date, the marine energy sector is already driving economic development and regeneration, with cumulative investment and spend in Wales amounting to £159.6 million, with Gwynedd, my county, benefiting from over £18 million. Marine Energy Wales believes that with the right support there is vast potential for the sector to grow. It estimates that it could deliver £603.3 million in economic benefits for Wales over the next five years.

I want to draw attention to a tidal energy project that is being developed at Ynys Enlli in my constituency of Dwyfor Meirionnydd. The Llif Llanw Enlli tidal project is being delivered by the Edinburgh-based company Nova Innovation in collaboration with the community energy company Ynni Llŷn, who are seeking to install turbines on the seabed and demonstrate that commercial devices at a small scale can indeed work before scaling up as the technology matures. It is their ambition for Ynys Enlli, a small island off the end of Llŷn, to switch from a dependency, as it presently has, on diesel to become the world’s first blue energy island.

A number of issues have already been mentioned, and I also have a list of asks for the Minister. I hope that they will co-ordinate with those that have already been aired. Nova Innovation is concerned that what is slowing down the development of marine technology across the UK is the slow route to market for projects. It is concerned that the timescales associated with contracts for difference and delays with securing consent for projects are contributing to delays. It has called for the introduction of a CfD innovation pot to support emerging technologies, and for the time between CfD award and the project’s start date to be reduced. When he winds up, I would be grateful if the Minister could let us know whether such matters are to be considered.

On CfDs, I ask for clarity on whether—as with the fourth allocation round—tidal stream energy will continue to have ring-fenced funding into the fifth round. Having funding set aside specifically to support tidal stream is key to getting projects in the water and bringing costs down over time. There are pre-consented demonstration zones in Wales, such as Morlais in Ynys Môn, that are dependent on securing funding through the scheme to deploy. Finally, will the Minister clarify whether any consideration is being given to adjusting the CfD scheme so that it can support renewable energy hubs that contain multiple technologies by assessing together projects that are linked? Again, that would be very significant for many parts of Wales.

Of course, for Wales to realise our marine renewables potential, our grid infrastructure desperately needs to be brought into the 21st century. A recent report of the Welsh Affairs Committee on grid capacity in Wales warned that our renewable energy potential is threatened by UK Government inaction on improving grid connectivity. The inadequacy of the grid in Wales is a barrier to the decarbonisation of heat and transport across Wales, let alone to the future potential that we should be realising. It is well known that Wales exports more energy than it actually uses. I am very comfortable with that—I think Wales should be exporting into England and, in future, into Ireland—but we need to have the means to do that, and the grid structure does not permit that. It is not sufficient for our needs, let alone for the future.

Therefore, I ask the Minister how investment in grid infrastructure is to be accelerated. What consideration are the UK Government giving to the role that multi-connection substations could play in reducing the cost and the delays associated with grid construction? Importantly, that would also provide strong signals that would, in turn, engender confidence for local supply chains, particularly for marine renewables.

Before I bring my remarks to a close, I draw Members’ attention to the absurd situation in Wales whereby our seabed will be a key driver of our renewable transition, yet it is the UK Treasury that controls, directs and ultimately reaps the Crown Estate’s profits from the seas around Wales, out to a distance of 12 nautical miles. Management of the Crown Estate in Scotland has been devolved to the Scottish Government, and a ScotWind auction earlier this year raised almost £700 million for Scotland’s public finances, yet the UK Government refuse to devolve its management to the Welsh Government. That is an anomaly in our devolution settlement, which again leaves Wales the poorer, and I do not find a justification for it. I see no rational justification from the Government, save an obstinacy regarding changing the status quo—a status quo that disfavours Wales. Marine energy and offshore wind together represent a historic opportunity for the Welsh economy, and it is the people of Wales who should be able to direct how best to benefit from that economic opportunity, not Westminster.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Thank you for allowing me to be absent briefly from the debate. I was at an extraordinary meeting of the net zero all-party parliamentary group—I was needed to make sure that it was quorate.

The beauty of being called last is that one often repeats what has already been said, but I do not think it is necessarily bad that we all agree on many things. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on bringing this very important debate to the Chamber. It is important that we say certain things again and again, because they need to be said again and again to put a bit of fire under this Government, who—although I believe we all agree on the targets—are not acting with the necessary pace of change that I would like to see.

Just to set the scene again, climate change is devastating the world. The abnormally hot and cold temperatures across the world contribute to as many as 5 million deaths a year. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C could result in around 420 million fewer people being exposed to extreme heatwaves, yet too many politicians are still treating our vital climate net zero targets like a bus—if we miss one, we can catch another one. There will be no next time if we miss our net zero targets. Our reliance on fossil fuels is not only terrible for the planet, but bad for our energy security. Our constituents would not be paying the price for Putin’s war if the UK had moved towards renewables faster, harder and earlier.

The UK must rapidly diversify its energy through multiple forms of clean energy sources. Hydropower is a proven green technology. It can provide flexible storage to support the growth of wind and solar at scale. Hydropower is affordable and reliable, and can be ramped up at short notice when needed. Well-developed plans for tidal range projects on the west coast could mobilise and deliver at least 10 GW of net zero energy, with a construction time of five to seven years. The UK also has the potential to develop up to 11.5 GW of tidal stream by 2050, supporting over 14,000 jobs. I agree with everything that has been said today. We should support everything, including what the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) said about tidal stream and lagoon energy.

The technologies are all there, but they could be developed much faster and more effectively if they did not always have to compete with fossil fuels or nuclear. The Minister knows that I am not a great supporter of nuclear, simply because it is a very expensive technology. If the nuclear industry had the same requirements for competitiveness as the renewables industry, it would not be able to compete in the same way. The renewable energy sector has to compete in a very competitive environment, which is good for our consumers—I get that—but let us apply the same rules to all energy sources, not just the renewable energy sector.

Committing to a target of 1 GW of marine energy by 2035 would send a powerful signal to investors that the UK is the best place to invest in tidal power. I continue to worry that the Government rely too much on fossil fuels. We are getting stuck in the transition. We are never getting out of it, and we will never end up in a net zero world. From 2016 to 2020, the Government provided £13.6 billion in support to the UK’s oil and gas industry. The Chancellor’s recent autumn statement confirmed that oil and gas giants will be allowed to continue offsetting taxes, while ordinary taxpayers foot the bill. Britain gives out the largest tax breaks in Europe to the oil and gas industry. Whose side are the Government on?

When I met the British Hydropower Association recently, it warned that weak grid capacity in some rural areas meant that not even one electric vehicle charging point could be installed. I agree that grid infrastructure is now the biggest issue holding back renewable energy developments in the UK. It must be prioritised. Where is the long-awaited reform of Ofgem’s remit?

It is worth highlighting that the role of the all-party parliamentary group on marine energy—and the nature of this debate, which is on Government support for marine renewables—is to avoid an argument about which technology or type of energy is better than another. Our case is strongest when we focus on specific things that the Government can do. In this case, that is in the next round of the contracts for difference. A specific opportunity has been outlined for how the Government can help bring down the costs of our marine energy sector, where a lot of technologies are still in the early stages. We are not yet getting the advantages of scale from consolidating those technologies down to two or three that work really well that would make this as cheap and efficient as possible. The Government can help us do that. Does the hon. Lady agree that this is the right way forward for marine energy?

I absolutely agree, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that exact point. How can we make sure that renewable energy technologies get the same support that the Government are giving to other forms of energy? I like to think that we all agree on the need to accelerate and turbocharge our renewable energy sector. My criticism of the Government—and the Minister is aware of this—is that we are not prioritising getting away from fossil fuel energy as soon as possible. That is my point, and it needs to be made again and again. I make that point at every opportunity to ensure that the Government understand the urgency that the climate emergency requires.

While we are at it, I want to quickly mention one of my particular interests, which is community energy—

Order. I have been generous in allowing the hon. Lady some breadth in her contribution, but this is a debate about marine renewables—I am struggling to see how community energy could possibly fit in. The hon. Lady might want to consider what she says next.

Thank you for your advice, Mr Hollobone.

I will wind up by saying one thing: I absolutely support the development of marine energy and welcome all the support the Government can give it. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Like everybody else, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on bringing forward this debate. As with many Westminster Hall debates, the main thrust is clearly one that all contributors agree with—in this case, it is support for marine energy.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is lucky to have the European Marine Energy Centre in his constituency, a facility I have visited. This world-leading facility came about partly due to the EU. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the EU funding scheme must be replaced by the UK Government to keep the centre going. The UK Government want to talk about levelling up, so there should be no ambiguity about providing replacement funding for the EMEC.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted the success of the fourth allocation round of CfDs, with Orbital Marine Power awarded 7.2 MW, SIMEC Atlantis awarded 28 MW through the further development of the MeyGen site—the world’s largest—and Magallanes, in Wales, awarded 5.6 MW. It was a pleasure last week to hear at a meeting of the marine energy APPG that all those projects are on track to deliver their AR4 commitments.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, the crucial things about tidal stream development are the jobs and manufacturing it creates in the UK, the export opportunities it provides, and that it forms part of the just transition for the oil and gas sector.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that all these projects are on track with their timescale. However, the timescale we heard about at the briefing at the APPG meeting will still see the earliest device going into the water in 2027. That shows the problem with the pace of deployment.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and that is why further support is needed. In many ways, though, that also shows the pace of deployment to deliver these projects in the next few years. Looking at the Government’s overall renewable energy targets, it is really important that they back many sectors, particularly tidal stream.

I agree with the key asks mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, including continuing the ring-fenced pots, reforming CfDs to continue to incentivise supply chain development, the 1 GW target for 2035 and, importantly, section 36 consent reform. I ask the Minister to work with the Scottish Government on that, because the regulations are reserved to Westminster.

I commend the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who chairs the marine energy APPG and does a lot of good work with it. It was good to hear him rightly commend the Scottish Government for our commitment to support in the 2022-23 programme for government and, although he did not say it, initiatives such as the Wave Energy Scotland technology programme, which committed £50 million for development of these technologies. It is not often that I say this in a debate, but I welcome and support the hon. Gentleman’s call for further investment in England, because that will help develop the supply chain right across the UK. Importantly, I agree with what he said about the need to support companies such as Nova Innovation to stay in Scotland and the UK.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for all his comments. Will he pursue with Marine Scotland the anomalies in the speed of its processes, which seem to be holding up marine energy projects? For example, I understand that EMEC’s Billia Croo section 36 consent has only been sent on a year after it was ready to go for ministerial approval, and that the scoping opinion for EMEC’s 50 MW Fall of Warness consent application was completed in August, but the Marine Scotland team has still not forwarded the responses four months later. Does he agree that it is time for Marine Scotland to speed things up?

I need to move on. However, if there are any blockages, I am happy to support streamlining. I know that Marine Scotland has massively increased its resource to try to speed things up in terms of its assessment and processing. However, if more needs to be done to streamline things, I support that. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as I have said, the section 36 regulations are reserved to Westminster. However, I am happy to support any streamlining of the process to ensure we get deployment.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on her contribution. She rightly highlighted that these technologies encourage redevelopment and regeneration. Energy Island is a fantastic development that will move from fossil fuels to renewable energy. I support the call for an innovation report for CfDs and the call for the ability to group multiple technologies together, because that would facilitate the development of green hydrogen as well.

As always, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made a fantastic contribution to the debate. He talked particularly about the developments for Strangford lough in his constituency. I liked what he said about helping to support the working poor in a drive for wages.

I completely agree with the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) that when it comes to nuclear, there is a lack of competition to bring costs down. I support her call for community energy. That has happened in Orkney through hydrogen development and the roll-out of electric vehicles; party of that community energy comes from marine energy.

Sorry, I need to go on.

It might have taken slightly longer to get to this point and there are good reasons for that, but Scotland leads the world in wave and tidal stream technology. The deployment of tidal stream to date has come about because of a combination of the tenacity and drive of the developers; Government support, particularly that of the devolved Administrations; and the presence and work of EMEC.

Of course, a big reason for our optimism about the future is the £20 million ring-fenced pot that was allocated in AR4. That sent a clear message to investors and allowed certainty for the market. The message is clear: continue this £20 million ring-fencing in AR5 and, as a minimum, do the same for AR6. However, what would really help industry is a long-term view of what funding could be available. Hopefully the Minister will confirm that AR5, which is due to be announced later this month, will contain some ring-fencing.

We know what happened with offshore wind, where pipelines of projects brought prices down dramatically and much quicker than was originally intended. That was a real success story and one that the UK Government are proud of. As we look to the future, there are some things that can be replicated with tidal stream. That can be as big a success, but one that is based on UK supply chains and that will lead to our exporting the technology and patents.

The UK has 11.5 GW of potential, which equates to 11% of the UK’s current electricity demand. It goes without saying that the flows of tides are entirely predictable, so if there is a belief in the need for so-called baseload, tidal stream can clearly be part of that.

Of course, it is the reliability and predictability of this green energy that is so important. As we have heard, it is also cost-efficient, particularly if given the right Government backing. The 40 MW allocation in AR4 will be delivered at £178 per MWh, which is already 15% below the administrative strike price and represents a 40% reduction in the levelised cost of energy since 2016. As we have heard, it could go as low as £78 per MWh by 2035 and below £50 per MWh by 2050. However, such cost reductions are possible only with continued Government backing.

As we have heard, those prices compare very favourably to the strike rate for Hinkley Point C, which is £92.50 per MWh, and, as I have said, that is a 35-year concession as opposed to a 15-year concession. If we work that 35-year concession backwards, tidal stream is already as cheap as nuclear, or cheaper, albeit not at the same scale, so I admit we are perhaps not comparing apples with applies in terms of output. Nevertheless, in that comparison, tidal stream is already cheaper than nuclear. Tidal stream does not have the backing of Sizewell C, which has just been allocated £700 million of taxpayers’ money just to get to the final investment stage. Again, what we are calling for is continued Government backing that will see tidal stream developed quicker and in a way that is much more beneficial to bill payers.

Given that time is running on, I will sum up by reiterating what the key asks are for industry. We must maintain the tidal stream energy ringfence in future renewable options, which is worth at least £20 million in AR 5. We want the Government to set a 1 GW target for 2035 to send, again, that strong signal to investors. Small modular reactors at Sizewell C will not be able to achieve that target in that timeframe. We want to expedite the route to market for UK projects. That goes to the point other Members have touched on about the consenting process, which needs to be sped up.

Other contributors have also said that the UK needs to increase the pace and scale of its investment in its electricity grid. We should do an exercise where we ask, “What does 2050 look like in terms of where energy generation takes place?” From that, we can map out what grid upgrades there need to be, instead of continuing to incorporate constraints, in the way that short-term lookaheads for grid upgrades have done.

We ask that a renewables investment allowance be created. When we are trying to embrace a renewables revolution, it makes no sense to have an oil and gas investment allowance, which offsets the massive profits that oil and gas behemoths are making, but not to have an investment allowance that encourages them to invest in renewable energy, to divest and to pursue that long-term just transition to net zero.

There really is a fantastic opportunity for renewables as a whole in the UK and a fantastic opportunity for tidal stream technology to continue to be world leading, to be manufactured here and to be exported to the rest of the world. It just needs that continued support, and hopefully the Minister will tell us that that is what it will get.

As always, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing the debate. We have had quite a tour of the UK today, from Orkney and Shetland down to the south-west of England via Wales and Northern Ireland. I smiled a little when the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said it was his desire to talk about Strangford lough that brought him here today, given how omnipresent he is in Westminster Hall debates, but as always his contribution was valued.

This is one of those ideal Westminster Hall debates, where everyone has something of real interest to say and is not political point scoring, but trying to speak with a common purpose, highlighting individual and local concerns. What has come through clearly is a desire for clarity from the Government and for support for the sector, so that it feels that the Government are behind the desire to harness our marine energy resources and we can expedite the roll-out. As has been said, value-for-money decisions or calculations that were made some time ago may need to be reassessed in the light of the current energy situation. The point was made that, once we get to a tipping point, things become a lot cheaper.

We know we need a diverse mix of energy sources if we are to get to net zero. It is always frustrating when clean energy sceptics say, “What happens when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow?” and conveniently ignore the fact that our tides, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) said, are a predictable source of energy and something we should be harnessing. We could also use hydroelectric reservoirs, which I do not think anyone has talked about, which release stored water and therefore generate energy at short notice.

I will pick up some of the points that other hon. Members have made as I go through my speech, but I want to start by talking about some of the really inspiring projects that are in the pipeline. The groundbreaking Blue Eden project in Swansea will generate 320 MW of energy, create 2,500 jobs and support another 16,000 in the supply chain. It was interesting to hear about the potential of the blue energy island, which is a small way to make a real difference.

In Merseyside yesterday, metro Mayor Steve Rotheram signed a deal with the South Korean state-owned water company, which owns and operates the world’s largest tidal range scheme, to develop the Mersey tidal power project, which could generate enough energy to power 1 million homes. It will create thousands of jobs and help the region get to net zero by 2040.

In Cumbria, where the Government are about to give the go-ahead to a new coalmine—I thought we might have had the news by now—there is the potential for thousands of jobs in green industries such as offshore wind, tidal power and green hydrogen. The choice facing us is whether we doggedly rely on dirty fossil fuels—hon. Members mentioned the investment allowances being put into new fossil fuel exploration instead of supporting renewables—or embrace the green industries of the future and the potential for jobs. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that 80% of the content is UK-generated, which will have a great impact on the supply chain. It is a no-brainer that there should be Government backing behind that.

In my local area, the Western Gateway group of local authorities has set up a new commission to explore tidal options for the Severn. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) knows that that has been an ongoing discussion ever since we have been in Parliament. Talks stalled in the early years of the coalition Government. There was a feasibility study. There were concerns about the cost, and talk about whether a barrage or tidal lagoons would be the better option.

There were also valid concerns about the impact on the natural environment in the estuary. We have not touched on that much today, because people are so excited about the potential of tidal power, but we have to look at some of the possible negatives. In the case of the Severn, there were concerns about the impact on migrating bird life at the wonderful wetlands at Slimbridge, for example. Environmental campaigners have also expressed concerns about the Morecambe bay project.

I hope we can find a way through this and harness the potential of the Severn, which has the second-highest tidal range in the world, but we need to do so in an environmentally sensitive way. More generally, we need to look at preventing sea life from being caught in the blades of the turbines and to assess the impact of vibrations and noise on marine mammals that echolocate to communicate and navigate, such as whales and dolphins. Such things need to be taken into account.

I recognise that the costs of tidal stream are far higher at the moment than those of solar and wind, but they have fallen significantly in recent years and are expected to fall further still. The comparison was made with Hinkley Point C. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, it is not about setting one off against the other and saying either/or; it is about making that comparison. If we are investing in Hinkley Point C, we should be looking at renewable options. It is estimated that, by 2035, tidal stream could provide power at £78 per MWh, which could fall to £50 per MWh by 2047 —quite a few Members have mentioned those statistics.

The hon. Lady says it is not an either/or, but the reality is that if too much money is invested in nuclear, its generation capacity means that there is not enough scope for renewables coming on to the grid, so in some cases it is an either/or.

The hon. Gentleman answered his own question earlier by flagging up the investment allowances attached to the windfall tax that are being given to the fossil fuel companies. That money should be directed towards this investment and not towards fossil fuels. It is not money for nuclear versus money for renewables; it is money for fossil fuels versus money for clean energy sources.

We have talked about the UK having the potential to develop around 1 GW of tidal stream by 2035 and up to 11.5 GW by 2050. National Grid’s future energy scenario models up to 3% of UK electricity demand being met by marine renewables by 2050, but we need to do more to release that potential. According to Energy Monitor, 14 GW of planned UK power capacity has been cancelled, is dormant or is stuck in the early stages of development but, as has been said, lack of investment and of a clear sense of direction are not the only barriers.

The grid has been talked about—it is a massive issue—and we have heard about the Welsh Affairs Committee report. The same issues come up time and again when I talk to people as part of my shadow role: long waits—sometimes of up to 10 years—to connect clean power sources to the grid, delays to projects and investors being deterred.

I am conscious of the fact that the Chair said I have only 10 minutes. I am already nine minutes in, so I think I need to crack on. I want to hear what the Minister has to say about what we are doing to sort out the problems with the grid. I am sure he is well aware of them.

We also need action across the board to simplify and streamline the planning system, not in the way proposed by the previous, short-lived Administration, who were all about scrapping vital environmental protections and riding roughshod over the wishes of local communities, but by ensuring we do not place unnecessary burdens on renewable energy developers that delay or even derail new projects.

Other Members have mentioned the UK Marine Energy Council’s suggestions for speeding up approval for tidal stream projects—for example, reducing baseline surveys, decreasing the regulatory review from nine months to three and so on. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that.

We hear good things from around the country—for example, what the Labour-led authority in Merseyside is doing. Labour has made a plea for certainty and clarity from the Government, and I hope the Minister is looking at what Labour has said about the drive for a clean power system by 2030, a national wealth fund and establishing Great British Energy to help give investors that certainty. GB Energy would have a remit to invest in marine and tidal power to harness the huge potential of this island nation. We would support new marine energy projects, and we need to see something similar from the Government that would give people a signal that those projects are very much on the radar, rather than coalmines and fossil fuel exploration.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I thank all those who have participated in the debate. Westminster Hall often shows the House in its best light, as we are able to focus on a specific issue such as this, and we have heard thoughtful contributions from across the Chamber. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing this important debate. He has continued to be a champion for his constituents on this issue.

The British energy security strategy affirms that the Government will aggressively explore renewable technologies, including the potential of tidal power to contribute to a net zero-compliant future. Members will have been delighted that the Government established a ringfenced budget of £20 million for tidal stream developments in pot 2 of the fourth contracts for difference allocation round—AR 4—which has been referred to.

The contracts for difference scheme is our flagship mechanism, and it has been mentioned that the Government are very proud of it. Well, we are very proud of it. It has helped the UK to move from a pretty pitiful position in—let me pick a year—2010, say, to a position today where, instead of less than 8% of our electricity coming from renewables, the figure is more than 40%. That is a transformation, and we have led Europe in that regard.

The CfD scheme is our flagship mechanism for supporting the cost-effective delivery of renewable energy. That support will ensure that the nation’s tidal stream innovators get the opportunity they need to bring their cost of energy down and learn the valuable and exportable —a point made by a number of hon. Members—lessons that come with being the first in the world to deploy a cutting-edge technology at scale.

I have watched the transformation of offshore wind from my constituency in East Yorkshire, and if there is one thing I bring to this role—which is pretty overwhelming in terms of deploying all the technologies at speed, the grid and all the rest of it—it is a desperate desire to see us ensure we maximise our industrial and service capability so that we not only deliver at home, but build up a capability that can export and bring prosperity and a solution to the challenges globally.

I welcome the contributions that have been made today by Members across the House, who have shared their passion for ensuring that we get our policies right so that we maximise the chances of companies staying in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland and maximise the economic benefits. As well as being good in itself, that will help us to maintain the coalition—this is quite unusual in this country—of the many people who agree that action on climate is the right thing to do and that it can bring prosperity as well as environmental benefit.

The Government have delivered for the burgeoning tidal stream industry. It is now time for the developers to push on, to make good on their promises and their potential and to demonstrate the value for money and scalability that we need from our renewable energy technologies as we transition to an efficient and net zero-ready power sector.

The fourth contracts for difference auction in July this year saw four tidal stream projects, totalling 40 MW, win contracts at a strike price of £178.54 per megawatt-hour. Three of the contracts were awarded in Scotland, to MeyGen and two Orbital projects in Orkney, and one was awarded in Wales, to Magallanes. To put that into perspective, only 36 MW of tidal stream has been deployed worldwide between 2010 and 2020. We really are making significant strides forward. This is the first time that tidal stream power has been procured at this scale, and it provides the industry with a golden opportunity to demonstrate the cost-efficiency and proof of scalability that we need from our sources of renewable electricity.

We hope that other technologies can follow offshore wind in its remarkable reduction in price over just two auctions—from 2015 to 2019 it went from £120 per megawatt-hour to £39.50—but we cannot assume that just because it happened with offshore wind, it will happen with everything. We want to create genuine competitive tension between the technologies because we want not only to take an accelerated path to net zero but to do so in a way that, in the end, brings the UK the lowest and most competitive electricity costs as a base part of our energy system. That will put us in a position to be able to keep energy affordable for families but also make us industrially competitive. There is so much to play for. We have got to get the balance right, and CfDs have done a great job so far.

The Minister is absolutely right, but the challenge for the marine energy industry in delivering that scalability is the certainty that 2021 will not be a one-off but the beginning of a series of contracts that will enable it to develop. Does he agree?

The broad parameters of allocation round 5 will come out this month, and the more detailed criteria will come out on the eve of its launch in March. I can say no more than that, but I think the direction of travel is fairly clear.

The results of allocation round 4 confirm that tidal stream is a home-grown industry of considerable promise, as colleagues have noted. The UK remains the world leader in tidal stream technologies, with half of the world’s deployment situated in UK waters. Given my passion when I came into this job, the last thing I want to see is British research and development and British invention turned into billion-dollar businesses in other places rather than here in the UK, which is what has happened so often. I want that development to happen here in the UK, and I want to work with colleagues.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on his chairmanship of the APPG, with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland as his deputy chair. It is so important that we have these specialist interest groups, which can keep Government honest and act as a ginger group—a caucus—to make sure that we think about and get our policies right, so that the promise is delivered.

Europe’s foremost tidal and wave energy testing centre—the European Marine Energy Centre—is on Orkney, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said. We have new marine energy hubs developing on Anglesey and the Isle of Wight. In answer to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, I would be very happy to meet him and discuss EMEC and its future.

We have a raft of brilliant developers designing and building tidal stream devices in the UK. That picture is so positive in large part because successive Governments have provided more than £175 million in innovation funding, of which more than £80 million has come since 2010. In 2018, thanks to the extensive support afforded under the renewables obligation mechanism, we were able to build the largest tidal stream-generating array in the world in the fast-moving waters of the Pentland firth.

It is evident that the Minister understands the potential associated with marine energy for the levelling-up agenda, which I really appreciate. Could he give me a sense of what will happen in Wales with the national grid? Improvements to the grid will be critical if we are to increase generation in Wales, and the timetable for that is essential, because otherwise these are just abstract concepts.

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. Since taking this job—about three months ago now—I have been seized with the centrality of that issue. For all the fascinating issues with the different forms of deployment, if we do not have the grid to bring it all together, we will not have a successful system. I am co-chairman of the offshore wind acceleration taskforce as we seek to move from 13 GW of offshore wind, or whatever it is today, to 50 GW by 2030. That is our ambition, and one of the biggest challenges to that is making sure that we have the grid in place to do it, and are carrying colleagues with us while we do so. I am meeting with a group of colleagues today from East Anglia to discuss the onshore impact of that technology.

I am still answering the question posed by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). The offshore wind acceleration taskforce has been working really hard with the regulators, including Scottish and other devolved regulators, because they have their own systems and agencies. We are trying to make sure that we streamline and avoid duplication, and that anything that can be done in parallel is done; we are looking to improve that.

In a sense, offshore wind has been an exemplar for the overall grid system—that is not really the focus of this debate, but we are absolutely focused on that. We have got something called the holistic network design, trying to look at this issue in a more joined-up way for the first time, rather than just linear connections for individual ones, with the grid responding. We are looking at more of a planned approach, and the second holistic network design will come out soon. Floating wind in the Celtic sea, for instance, will be included in that design.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive, detailed and helpful response. I just have one very quick question: if at all possible, could he facilitate us with a visit to Northern Ireland? We would be very pleased to show him Strangford lough—the narrows, the waters, and what they can generate. In my discussions with the relevant Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, he indicated that there needed to be a direction from Westminster as well, so that would be extremely helpful. I am asking in all honesty whether the Minister, in the generosity of his position, could facilitate that.

I have a serious problem with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), which is that he is a very hard man to say no to—I do resent that. I will certainly try; I think other duties may take me to Northern Ireland, and perhaps that is something I could fit in. I will certainly try to do so if I possibly can.

Let me pick up on a few of the points that have been made. I want to say a bit more on EMEC.

I will not give way to the hon. Lady. We heard her generalised remarks earlier, and I think she had her opportunity.

There are two BEIS overseas funding streams that EMEC may be able to apply for in partnership with developers: the first is the £1 billion net zero innovation portfolio that provides support for research and development, and the second is the energy entrepreneurs fund, which provides small grants to developers of innovative energy technologies. In May this year, BEIS awarded a £5 million grant to a hydrogen technology developer based at EMEC. Two of the CfD AR4 projects are, of course, also based at EMEC, and will be paying lease fees to EMEC from 2026. There are a number of things there, but as I have said, I am happy to meet and discuss it.

Quite rightly, we talked extensively about export potential. We recognise the success of Nova Innovation and the supply of turbines to Canada, and note the support of UK Export Finance, for which I used to be the Minister responsible. I remember Nova coming over my desk and, notwithstanding some of the challenges, being keen to be involved. I remember saying, “If we can’t support someone like this, what are we here for?” I am pleased to see that UK Export Finance, our credit agency, has been able to support Nova.

With regard to further export potential, my officials have met their counterparts in Indonesia and the Philippines on the role of marine energy and what the UK can offer. We need a joined-up approach as we develop here. With the Department for International Trade and other colleagues, we are also reaching out across the world, to ensure that we can show that this is the place in which to develop these solutions and then export them.

I go back to the point about speeding up or expediting, as the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) referred to it. Government are working on reforming the planning and environmental consent system, to increase its efficiency and speed, while maintaining proper scrutiny of projects. That repeats what I have already said.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, the chairman of the all-parliamentary group, for his kind words about my Department. I also thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland for his kind words about one of my predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), and his interest in work here.

I look forward to receiving the paper in January. I have touched on the opportunities in Indonesia and the Philippines. I think I have dealt with the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on the CfD delays. I have probably mispronounced her constituency, but I will keep trying—she can tutor me. On the issue of multiple technologies, there are provisions in the Energy Bill, which I am delighted to say we are pushing forward. We are hoping, with cross-party support, to push that through Parliament as quickly as possible. It has a lot of enabling facilities in it—

No; I am going to bring my remarks to a close, under the Chair’s steely eye. Notwithstanding the chairman of the APPG’s efforts to get people not to make comparisons, we want to get proper tension in the system. One great thing about tidal technologies is that they could offer that dispatchable power—the kind of baseload needed to balance the system. It is necessary to compare apples with apples. It is that kind of tension we need to judge how much nuclear, for instance, should play in our system. I am pleased to say that the £92, or whatever was the strike price for nuclear, now looks a tremendous bargain. Even Scottish nationalists might recognise that.

I offer myself as an interlocutor for the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham). His entreaty to the Minister was that we should not forget England. Between now and Saturday that would take some doing.

Those who know me will understand that the message of this debate is simple. I will not expand on the reasons why I keep messages simple, but let me reiterate them for the Minister. We need early clarity on the AR5; support for the industry will be massively important for investor confidence. The machinery of government must stop acting as a brake in relation to the consenting process. There is opportunity for reform with the contract for difference.

The importance of a 1 GW target in the medium to long term is going to be critical in continuing to provide that investor confidence. If the Minister can drive those modest asks forward, I have no doubt that he, too, will one day earn the praise that we have lavished on the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng).

Every day is a school day in Westminster Hall. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) told us that the coastline of Wales was 2,120 kilometres. I observe that that puts the entirety of Wales a mere 1,462 kilometres behind Orkney and Shetland.

Mr Hollobone, we will return to this matter. We look forward to the Minister’s early announcements. I am grateful to all who have taken part in the debate.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Government support for marine renewables.

Songwriters and Composers: Remuneration

I beg to move,

That this House has considered remuneration for songwriters and composers.

Good morning. It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I should at the outset declare that I am a member of the Ivors Academy, PRS for Music and the Musicians’ Union, and I chair the all-party parliamentary group on music.

Last night was quite special because some of us, including the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, were invited to Abbey Road Studios in St John’s Wood for an event in the famous Studio Two, where the Beatles recorded the vast majority of their material that has ever been released. We were treated to a wonderful performance by a young singer called Olivia Dean, who is also a songwriter; she performed her song “The Hardest Part” quite beautifully for us. I predict big things for her in the next 12 months or so. It was a reminder of the wonderful talent for songwriting and composing in this country, and the great legacy we have.

I was fortunate recently to help host the Ivors Academy’s composer week here in the House of Commons, when several composers came to celebrate great British achievement in composing. That great legacy is also a live one, with young performers such as Olivia Dean. The legacy of Abbey Road itself is not just the Beatles, but Pink Floyd and many other great artists, including more recently Stormzy, Adele and Ed Sheeran. But behind some of those great performers are often professional songwriters. Amy Wadge, who lives quite close to my constituency in south Wales, is behind some of Ed Sheeran’s biggest hits, as she co-writes with him. We should remember not just the artists, but the songwriters and composers.

Visiting Abbey Road last night reminded me that we should protect the legacy of our great recording studios, including the Maida Vale Studios, which the BBC is now selling off, and which there is an opportunity to keep, as a going concern, as a recording studio. It would be a loss to the country if the studio were sold off for flats, rather than maintained as a recording studio.

This morning I want to talk about three things to do with songwriters and composers, and give the Minister an opportunity to respond. First, the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport wrote a groundbreaking report on the economics of music streaming, which contained a series of recommendations in relation to songwriters and composers, as well as to performers. I know the Minister has taken a close interest in that inquiry, particularly in relation to some work going on in the Intellectual Property Office. I am glad to see him back in his role; we discussed a lot of these matters when I introduced my private Member’s Bill, the Copyright (Rights and Remuneration of Musicians, Etc.) Bill, into the House of Commons a year ago. He made several commitments at that stage that I hope he might revisit a little today.

Secondly, I will talk about composer buyouts and the growing problem they present to our songwriters and composers, and the threat to the future pipeline of songwriters and composers.

The third point I will discuss—to give the Minister a heads-up—is artificial intelligence and the implications of the data mining of musical works.

I commend the hon. Gentleman; he is a dear friend of mine, and a dear friend of many. On the Back Benches we like his wit—we will probably get some of his wit today at Prime Minister’s Question Time. It is a delight to hear him talk with passion on a subject that means so much to him. Does he agree that the unfair disadvantage for the songwriters and composers who have made their breakthrough via a viral song on a social media streaming platform, only to receive a minimal payment, must be addressed by Government? The industry has had more than enough time to fix it, and it has refused to do so. I believe there is clearly a legislative requirement—the broken record will not be fixed.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know that he is a bit of a musician himself. I am not going to go into lengthy detail about that issue this morning. However, suffice to say, the recent Competition and Markets Authority report into competition issues in the music industry, and, in particular, into the cross ownership of both publishing and recording rights of the major record companies, did not decide to proceed to a full market investigation. In a way, it threw the ball back to the Government, by saying that it

“is not to say that we think the market gets a ‘clean bill of health’ or cannot be improved further… We think it is a matter for the Government and policymakers to determine whether the current split is appropriate and fair, and to explore whether wider policy interventions are required, for example those relating to the copyright framework and how music streaming licensing rates are set.”

I note that in France, for example, a form of equitable remuneration—to use the technical term—which is a guaranteed payment when music is streamed, was successfully introduced recently. The research into equitable remuneration from the Intellectual Property Office research programme is over three months late already. Will the Minister update us on what is happening in those groups that were set up in the Intellectual Property Office? What is happening in relation to the research?

I also put this to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, yesterday at the DCMS Committee, but can the Minister take a closer interest and put some ministerial input into driving that work further forward and bringing it to a conclusion? There has been some turmoil and changes in Government since we discussed this a year ago, but I know he had hoped it would have been done by last September, and for a number of reasons—not entirely his fault, and because the work is complex—the work is still incomplete. Some ministerial input is what I am calling for.

When we discussed this a year ago, the preference was that the industry should come to an agreement. That is what it has done in France to improve remuneration for songwriters and performers. If the industry did not do that, the Government were prepared to consider action. I remind the Minister of that, and ask him to respond today as to where he and the Government stand now.

The CMA concluded that it does not have the power to determine whether the current split is appropriate and fair. In the United States, things are done differently—it has a copyright court that determines those things. The judge there described some of the assumptions that the Competition and Markets Authority made about the problems that might be caused if the split was changed, and how that might disadvantage songwriters or other artists, as “heroic” assumptions. I was surprised to see that in the CMA report. But if the CMA does not have the power to do it, and it is instead a policy issue for the Government to resolve, what avenues are the Government pursuing and exploring to resolve the issue?

The second point I will mention is the issue of buy-outs. Parliament has determined, over many decades, that songwriters and composers should be entitled to a royalty when their work is performed or recorded. It did so because it recognises that the creative act involves the creation of intellectual property. That is extremely important, and many people do not understand that it is a key source of income for songwriters and composers.

This is nothing new; throughout history, people have wanted to get their hands on composers’ and songwriters’ money and get a piece of the pie, whether it is Colonel Tom Parker with Elvis Presley or whoever else. In recent years a particularly pernicious practice has emerged among some media companies of demanding up front, when they commission a piece of music—perhaps for a TV series or film—that the composer or songwriter signs a contract that waives their right to royalties, which they have a right to for their lifetime and beyond. It was Parliament’s intention that that should be the case.

Some might say, “Well, that’s their choice. They don’t have to sign the contract. A contract is something entered into equally by two parties,” but the power dynamic is weighted towards the powerful media companies. Composers know that they will end up on a blacklist of some sort if they do not agree to sign away some or all of their rights. They are often prepared to do some of that, but they are increasingly being asked to completely give up their rights to royalties when they are commissioned. Some composers got in touch with me before this debate and described the practices of one particular media company called Moonbug. When it commissions works from composers, it demands that they give up 100% of their royalties.

The Government might say, “This is a private matter. It is a contractual matter,” but there is room for Government leadership. They should support a code of conduct for the industry to make sure media companies are not routinely able to get away with this pernicious practice, which is becoming more and more common.

The third thing I want to talk about is artificial intelligence and the potential threat to our songwriters and composers from a decision that the Government announced earlier in the year—I understand they are now reviewing it. I have spoken to the Minister about this privately, and I have expressed my concerns. I know other Members have done so too, as have stakeholders in the music industry.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate and on his superb leadership of the APPG on music. Does he agree that the proposed text and data-mining exception to promote AI would remove the need for a licence to reproduce copies of original works, so would remove any opportunity for performers and creators to be remunerated for their talent and work? Furthermore, because there is not an opt-out for performers and creators, it will have a severe detrimental effect on their creative personality, because in the future it will be done by a computer.

The hon. Lady has made part of my speech for me, so I thank her for that. She emphasises the point that I wish to make. To be clear, if the Government’s original position on this matter were to be maintained, any tech company could freely data mine creative output, including musical works, to produce, using artificial intelligence, not an exact copy of that music but a kind of facsimile, in order to commercially exploit it. The composer would not have any ability to give permission for that and rights holders would not be able to license it. It seemed strange for a Conservative Government to trample over property rights in that way. I hope it was a decision taken in some of the turmoil that has been going on recently in government, and that they will actively reconsider it.

I spoke to the Secretary of State at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday, and she indicated that the matter is under review. I pressed her on the Government’s likely direction of travel and whether it would go back towards allowing reasonable exemptions, perhaps for academic purposes, as long as it really is for that reason and is negotiated properly with rights holders and the industry, but not allowing free access for people to exploit other people’s work and, in a sense, be able to pickpocket their intellectual property, then reproduce it in a slightly different format using artificial intelligence. The implications of that for songwriters and composers and their ability to make a living is quite considerable in future.

I hope the Minister can tell us a bit more about the review and why the Government came to such a conclusion originally. I understand why he might want to promote tech. We all want to see innovation using technology, but it cannot be done at the expense of people’s creative rights and intellectual property. When he responds, perhaps he will tell us about the timeline for the review and about who he is listening to on this subject, and perhaps he can lean into what the direction of travel is.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone—in the warmth of your chairmanship in this cool room this morning. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) on securing the debate and on his ongoing work in this field. I welcome the chance to update him on the progress that has been made and to re-emphasise the message that I gave at the Dispatch Box several months ago before the turmoil of the summer. I want to reiterate the commitment made by my officials, the Government and me to get the issue right and to strike the right balance and continue the pressure that I know he welcomes in trying to secure that.

I am here as Minister for Science, Research and Innovation in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and as Minister with responsibility for the Intellectual Property Office. I also co-chair the Office for AI with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I am also here as a Member for Parliament and a citizen of this country who is very cognisant and aware, as the hon. Member for Cardiff West has highlighted, of the role of music in our society and our economy. I am the husband of a theatre director, Fiona Laird, who has composed her own music. I have watched her go through the motions as a creator and as a musical theatre director. She composed the music for her recent Royal Shakespeare Company production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. We have a friend, a digital entrepreneur in the music scene, who uses the global streaming revolution to get a foothold as a minor artist in this incredible global economy. I therefore have some personal feel for the challenge, and I know how strongly the industry respects the commitment of the hon. Member for Cardiff West to try to get the balance right.

The strengths of the UK music industry are a major part of our economy. It contributed £4 billion to our economy in 2021, and probably more this year. A key component of that is exports. British music brought £2.5 billion into the UK in 2021. It is also a major force for soft power. Next week I will be in Japan making a speech on global science soft power. I suspect the Japanese associate the UK with the Beatles, Ed Sheeran and the fabulous creative artists we saw celebrated in the Jubilee, as well as with our science. They go together as global projections of our values as a democracy and a creative powerhouse in the world.

I absolutely share the hon. Member’s view that songwriters and composers should enjoy a fair share of the value. The challenge is to make sure we get a framework in the UK where that is true—it is a lived experience and reality—without unilaterally moving so hard or fast that we undermine the sector. We must try to establish best practice, which fits with the wider work I am doing on innovation and regulation. This country has an opportunity to set the global standards in many of these sectors, which could then, through our soft power, become international standards. That is how we see this.

The principles of fairness and sustainability underpinned the inquiry by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee into music streaming, which kicked off so much of this. I want to reassure Members that those principles absolutely underpin the Government’s approach. I will address the issues that the hon. Member has raised and give him the update that he asks for. On streaming, we kicked off a significant piece of work on data, which the Intellectual Property Office has completed. The data gives us a good grasp of what is going on, which is key to fair remuneration. Too often, information that identifies songwriters and composers, along with their works and owners, is incomplete, inaccurate or missing entirely, which means that creators often face delays in being paid, and some are not paid at all. That predominantly affects not rock stars and superstars but the smaller creators on modest incomes, who depend on that data for their livelihoods.

That is why, since the DCMS Committee’s inquiry last year, the IPO has established a working group on metadata, which we have tasked with developing industry-led improvements. These are complex issues and there is no silver bullet, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but the working group has made real progress on a good code of practice on metadata and a two-year roadmap for industry to deliver tangible improvements through education and technical solutions. That output is very close to completion. Since returning to office a month ago, I have asked to see it, so that I can ensure that it reflects the undertakings that I gave to the hon. Gentleman and the House. Officials in the Intellectual Property Office will share it with the music industry more widely very early in the new year to seek final agreement.

Similarly, the IPO has established a working group to develop a code of practice on transparency. That code is also close to completion, and we will be seeking wider industry agreement on that early in the new year, too. I hope and believe that those actions on data and transparency will achieve their aim: real improvements in the fair remuneration of songwriters and composers, and songwriters enjoying more timely and accurate data payments as a result of the improvements in data. Those are key elements of the package.

Let me turn to competition and the distribution of revenues. However good the data is, many feel—the hon. Gentleman made this point very well—that the share of streaming revenues that go to songwriters and publishers, particularly the smaller creatives at the lower end of the pecking order, as it were, is too low. It is key that the remuneration is fair and internationally competitive. Let me break those two points down. As the hon. Gentleman said, the CMA published its final report on the market for music streaming last week. The report was launched after the DCMS Committee and the Government encouraged the CMA to look into this and other claims.

We read the report carefully. As the hon. Gentleman said, it found no suggestion that publishing revenues were being deliberately suppressed by distorted or restricted competition. The report also set out the fact that the overall share of streaming revenues enjoyed by publishers and songwriters increased from 8% in 2008 to 15% in 2021. At the same time, the share enjoyed by the recorded music industry has remained steady. It is true that the publishing share has declined slightly since 2017—from 17% to 15%—but during that time overall publishing revenues paid out by the larger streaming services in the UK have more than doubled. More and more money is being paid out to songwriters and publishers from streaming, which is great. Because songwriters typically enjoy the largest share of publishing royalties—an average royalty rate of 84% in 2021—the vast majority of the publishing share is going to songwriters.

The key point, however, is whether streaming revenues are fairly distributed within the ecosystem. There are still many who feel justifiably that the devil is in the detail. They want to know how that overall number is allocated, and think that we need to do more to ensure that the allocation is fair. The question of how revenues are distributed between artists, songwriters, record labels, publishers and streaming platforms is complex, and we have a responsibility to ensure that any arrangements work for the industry as a whole. There is no perfect solution, but I repeat that there is more that we can do, by working with the industry, to get closer to something that is widely recognised as fairer.

Record labels and publishers each play an important role in supporting and investing in British artists and songwriters. We do not want any unilateral or dramatic reapportionment to undermine the UK sector, but we want to ensure that we do right by the next generation of talent, which we require to feed the whole sector. The Copyright Royalty Board in the US recently laid down that song rights holders should receive around 15% of streaming revenues, which is similar to what we have achieved in the UK. Given that, and given the movement in France, which the hon. Gentleman highlighted, it is interesting that there is a global movement towards ensuring that this growing sector is based on principles of fair remuneration.

I will come on to the changes to copyright law. The DCMS Committee recommended several changes aimed at improving remuneration, including a right to equitable remuneration for streaming, a right to regain ownership of copyright, and a right to renegotiate contracts; those are measures that the hon. Gentleman brought forward in his private Member’s Bill. I made it clear at the time that further consideration of those measures was an active priority, and that remains the case. We have seen some positive action from some in the music industry on remuneration for creators. The three major record labels have agreed to disregard unrecouped advances in older contracts, which means that many artists are now being paid from streaming for the first time. Several independent record labels have announced minimum digital royalty rates in their contracts of 25% or more, even for contracts agreed prior to streaming. There has been some progress and these steps are welcome, but I appreciate that creators want to see more substantial and wide-ranging action on remuneration; that is why, in the coming months, we will be actively considering the evidence from the research, as well as the voluntary action taken by the industry, and weighing up our approach on remuneration.

I will come on to a specific proposal that I am making to bring all of this together, including looking at the text and data-mining issue, which is my next point; it is causing real concern for rights holders. As the hon. Member for Cardiff West was kind enough to say, I was out of office when this reform was announced. In the few short weeks I have been back, I have already met with the DCMS Minister for the creative industries, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), to highlight the fact that we must get this right. Of course, the UK wants to be a leader in AI—we are, and we want to continue building on that, but we must not allow that support to undermine our creative industries. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster absolutely agrees with me, and we have established a small taskforce of officials between the two Departments to ensure that we get this right. Following that meeting and this debate, I propose to convene a roundtable between DCMS and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the key voices across the sector to look at the whole issue. It will look at the rate of progress, the report from the Intellectual Property Office and the CMA, and the AI piece to see if we can get a proper settlement that everyone acknowledges would be fair and reflects the principles that we have set out, which—I will repeat again—are absolutely fundamental to our approach.

I believe deeply that, if we get this right, we can establish a Government-supported but industry-led code of conduct that will be respected around the world. It will improve and continue the process by which the industry is improving and ensure that we continue that momentum, so that it does not require private Members’ Bills to keep nudging the industry and we have leadership in setting the standards for fair remuneration that are the envy of the world. As the co-chair of the Office for Artificial Intelligence and Minister with responsibility for the Intellectual Property Office on this issue, I will suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster and I convene that roundtable; I will obviously be in touch with the hon. Member for Cardiff West and the DCMS Committee.

In closing, with two minutes on the clock, I will highlight the fact that we believe that there is an opportunity here. The industry has shown willingness to move in the right direction. The Government signal that our preference is not to legislate; our preference is to encourage the industry to move in the right direction but, if we must legislate to get this right, we reserve that right. However, our preference remains to avoid that—not least because we would like to get a quicker solution for the benefit of all those in the industry.

I understand what the Minister asked, because we have not discussed it previously, but I do not want the point about composer buyouts to be lost in the discussion. I welcome what the Minister said about convening a roundtable and his continued commitment. We need a discussion at some point about the implication of the increasing trend for composer buyouts.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record; I will put it on the record that we will include that in the roundtable discussion. I will pick up the detailed point that he made and write to him on it, because that is part of the mix. I hope that the House and the hon. Member for Cardiff West can see that we are making progress, and I look forward to working with him on this in the months ahead.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

British Indian Ocean Territory: Sovereignty

[Judith Cummins in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Before I start to talk about this British overseas territory, I would like to say that I returned last week from another British overseas territory—the Falkland Islands—with my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who is the shadow Minister for the overseas territories. We have just spent nine days together in the Falkland Islands, inspecting the defences of the islands, meeting islanders and, most importantly, commemorating the 40th anniversary celebrations of the liberation of the islands in June 1982. I pay tribute to the shadow Minister. During our visit, he and I disagreed on almost everything: politically, culturally, socially—everything. But we were in unison and total agreement on the need to protect the Falkland Islands and their right to self-determination, a concept to which I will return over and again during my speech and this debate. It is the lesson we have learned from the conflict in the Falkland Islands.

I recognise that the British Indian Ocean Territory is different from the Falkland Islands, and there are different perspectives, narratives and parameters, but one thing that is not divisible and is equally important in any British overseas territory is the concept of self-determination; we cannot negotiate sovereignty of a territory without the legitimacy of consultation with the islanders and the people originally from that territory.

I mention the Falkland Islands because we have to learn from our mistakes and from the mistakes the Foreign Office has made in the past. Something I was told over and again during our visit to the Falkland Islands was that Lord Chalfont, a Labour Minister in the Foreign Office in the late ’60s, was sent to the Falkland Islands in 1968 by the Foreign Office to try to convince the islanders to abandon Great Britain, ditch their links with Britain and become Argentinian. The Falkland Islands’ people repeatedly referenced—and have written pamphlets and books about—that occasion, when a Labour Foreign Office Minister was sent to the Falkland Islands to try to entice, cajole and manoeuvre an entire people to abandon their cultural heritage, their links and their status as part of the British family. I am pleased that the Falkland Islanders sent Lord Chalfont back home with the unequivocal message, “We wish to remain British, we are British and we are determined to continue to be part of the British family.” I would argue that the poor handling of the Falkland Islands situation by the Foreign Office in the late ’60s and ’70s led and contributed to the war that then was instigated in 1982.

Something I will not forget from my visit to the Falkland Islands is when my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth and I were taken to the top of Mount Tumbledown, and saw the horrendous situation our armed forces faced in trying to retake the islands. We paused on many occasions during our trip to lay wreaths and spend time quietly together, commemorating the lives of the British soldiers who gave up their lives to protect that British territory.

When the Foreign Office makes mistakes and miscalculates, it is not civil servants or politicians who suffer, but British soldiers, who sometimes have to lay down their lives. Now I believe the Foreign Office is making the same mistakes with the British Indian Ocean Territory that it made with the Falkland Islands. I am deeply concerned that the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), made the decision in her extraordinarily brief premiership to start negotiations with Mauritius over the sovereignty of those 58 beautiful islands in the Indian ocean.

I have debated this issue with many colleagues, and the message from some of them is this: we are in negotiations with Mauritius, due to rulings against us at the United Nations and at the International Court of Justice, so let us conclude those negotiations and then at some stage we will consult the Chagossians. Those are the responses I have received to many written parliamentary questions: “Do not interfere in the negotiations now. Let us conclude these sensitive negotiations—it is all rather discreet—and at some stage in future we will consult the Chagossians.” No, no, no. That puts the cart before the horse. If the Government have any intention to transfer even one of those 58 islands, they need to have a referendum of the Chagossian people. They need to make a decision themselves, rather than our Government even starting to negotiate with Mauritius.

Right hon. and hon. Members will know that the Labour Government of the late 1960s expelled between 1,400 and 1,700 Chagossians. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) is here, as he represents a large contingent of Chagossians who settled in his constituency when they arrived in the United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) also represents 400 Chagossians. Between them, those two gentlemen represent the lion’s share of Chagossians who live in the United Kingdom.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is making an excellent speech. Who would vote in that referendum—Mauritian Chagossians, Chagossians in the constituencies he just mentioned, second generation, third generation, people who have moved around the world? There is no one on the islands who is Chagossian. Who would the referendum be for?

That is a pertinent, sensible and critical question, but not one I have an answer to in this debate. I want to raise the concept and the extraordinary need to ensure that Chagossians are consulted. In written answers, the Government have stated they will consult the Chagossians. If we secure a commitment to a referendum of the Chagossians, it is for the Government to work with legal minds far superior to mine to create the framework in which a referendum could take place.

I want to apologise, as I am sure others will, to the Chagossian people. Those beautiful people were expelled from their islands in 1968 to make way for an American military base. Nothing can erase the shame we feel as British citizens that our ancestors treated the Chagossians in that way. To rip them away from their beautiful islands and cast them to the Seychelles, Maldives, Britain and Mauritius is unforgiveable. At this stage, we can only apologise for what happened to them.

The military base was set up to counter growing Chinese and Soviet belligerence in the Indian ocean and beyond. Today we see a similar belligerence from Russia and especially China. That is the point I want to get across in this debate: we have to look at what is going on in that region.

I may be one of very few parliamentarians, if not the only one, who has been to the British Indian Ocean Territory on duty as a military person, so I have seen at first hand how important that base is to NATO and beyond. For me, it is clear; we have two submarine Z-berths there and a large airbase, which was directly involved with the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is an American airbase that is owned by the British. To my mind, it would be pathological nonsense to concede access to that part of the world.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend and I am grateful to him for his intervention. I will not give way again for a few minutes, because I have a lot to get through.

Let me explain the key issue. I want to put it on the record and I want to criticise my own side. I am not prone to criticising the Conservative party, but I will enjoy myself this afternoon; I want to let rip.

Seven years ago, I started to ask questions of the Conservative Government, including on the Government’s understanding of the situation in relation to another member of the UN Security Council. By the way, it is a situation peculiar to only five nations in the world to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and with that status comes a tremendous amount of responsibility. I asked the then Foreign Secretary, Mr Hammond, “What is this Government’s perception of the fact that China has hoovered up hundreds of atolls in the South China sea—stealing them from Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines—poured concrete on them and turned them into giant military installations, which extends China’s reach by over 1,000 kilometres by stealing all those islands from all those countries?”

I have met the ambassadors of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and others, who have expressed to me great concern about what the Chinese are doing. It is only because of British and American freedom of navigation exercises through the South China sea that this waterway, through which 65% of the world’s trade passes, is still open. Otherwise, the Chinese would have tried to turn it into a Chinese lake.

The Government’s response was extraordinary. Mr Hammond said: “The British Government does not get involved, nor has any opinion, on the disputes about uninhabited atolls in the South China sea”. How regrettable that that answer came seven years ago, because I would argue that it was the Government’s lack of action in response to China stealing hundreds of atolls that was the thin end of the wedge; Britain’s inaction gave the brutal Communist dictatorship of China a green light: “Yes, it’s okay for us to steal other people’s territories. Yes, it’s okay for us to pour concrete on to these atolls and turn them into military installations, because the British aren’t going to do anything about it”.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is making very strong points about China and its influence on the atolls. Is it his impression that that is about China setting up military bases, or is it about telecoms—listening in and disrupting global communications—rather than establishing military bases? That would be even more worrying than the assertion he has made.

I agree with my hon. Friend; of course, it is a combination of both factors, with the Chinese trying to extend the tentacles of their reach throughout the whole region in order to put smaller countries under pressure.

The Chinese control Mauritius through their belt and road policy, as they do so many other small nations around the world. Guess which is the first African nation that received a free trade agreement with China? Mauritius. Guess which country—a tiny island, with a small economy—has received over $1 billion in investment from China over the last few years? Mauritius. The moment that we give Mauritius some of the outer islands, of which there are 58, it will lease one or some of them to the Chinese almost instantaneously. We do not know what conversations are taking place between Beijing and Port Louis, but we cannot discount what the financial statistics say about Chinese control of Mauritius.

Certain politicians and colleagues have made a nuanced argument to me: “Do not rock the boat; these are very delicate negotiations. We have to maintain our control over Diego Garcia. If that means giving away some of the other islands and coming to a compromise, so be it.” No. If the mantra is to keep Diego Garcia while giving some of the other islands away, imagine what would happen to the viability and sustainability of UK and American bases on Diego Garcia. It would be absolutely intolerable for us. I have visited our military bases on Diego Garcia. I have spent days meeting with American officials on the islands; they briefed me and showed me around the naval vessels and installations. Having those huge military bases with the Chinese just a stone’s throw away from us on the other islands would be completely unacceptable.

I visited Peros Banhos, one of the outer islands, after sailing overnight from Diego Garcia, which is where the military base is. Islanders on Peros Banhos were expelled in 1970 because the island was perceived to be too close to our military base. The Chinese have shown form. They are the world experts on turning atolls into military installations. There is an argument that Peros Banhos and the other islands are too small, too insignificant and too far below sea level for them to be viable. Well, the Chinese have proved that concept completely wrong; they have created installations successfully in the South China sea.

There has been an appalling injustice, which we must now right. Rather than accommodating the spurious demands of Mauritius, we need to consult the indigenous people living in Britain, Mauritius, the Maldives and the Seychelles. I want to read a statement from Frankie Bontemps, who is a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley. He is an NHS worker at the hospital in Crawley, and is from the Chagos islands. I had a long and somewhat emotional telephone conversation with him last night. He is a tremendous man, whom I look forward to meeting in the House of Commons. He writes:

“I am a founding member of Chagossian Voices. I don’t agree that islands should go to Mauritius. Chagossians have never been consulted at any stage and Chagossians were never represented, either at the International Court or before. Chagossians have been used by the Mauritian government at ICJ to get sympathy by providing an account of suffering…Then they were dismissed…as ‘Mauritians of Chagossian origin’. They have erased our identity.”

That is the allegation: “they have erased our identity”. The statement goes on:

“The Mauritian Government was also complicit in the exile of Chagossians and the ‘sale’ of the islands in 1965.”

That is a fascinating concept. Mauritius took £3 million of our taxpayers’ money in 1965. Think for a moment how much £3 million was in 1965. It took our money as final settlement for the islands. It was complicit in helping the removal of the Chagossians from Diego Garcia and the other islands, and now, 60 years on, it wants to overturn that agreement and take away from us islands that are more than 2,000 km away from it.

Mr Bontemps goes on to say:

“Chagossians do not feel they are Mauritians and Chagossians feel they are still being exploited by the Mauritian government. Mauritius wants sovereignty of the islands for financial gain and I do not think there will be resettlement of Chagossians”

under Mauritian rule. He goes on to say this, which is very evocative, powerful and emotional:

“It is wrong to describe Chagossians as Mauritians. Their origins are as slaves from Africa and Madagascar. The Chagossians have been there for 5 or 6 generations with their own language and culture, food and music traditions. It is a remote and unique culture different to Mauritius…The judgment of Lord Justice Laws & Mr. Justice Gibbs in November 2000 said Chagossians are the ‘belongers’ on the islands. As ‘belongers’ Chagossians should be their own deciders of their futures, not the Mauritian Government. Self-determination should have been for the Chagossians, not for Mauritians who have their own island more than 2,000 km away. So far only UK and Mauritius have been consulted. Chagossians have never been allowed to participate in decisions about their future, from exile until now. Chagossians should now be asked to decide the future of the islands. Chagossians should be around the table. It’s our human right.”

Mr Bontemps then goes on to say that he has written a letter to the Foreign Secretary asking for those assurances, dated 11 November 2022, and he has not as yet received a reply.

I would like to thank Rob Crilly, a reporter from The Daily Mail USA edition, who has written a story about this debate. As a result of it, I was contacted this week by Republican Congressman Mike Waltz, a ranking member of the military readiness sub-committee of the Congress of the United States of America. He is now likely to become chairman of that powerful and important group, as the Republicans recently won the congressional elections. US bases are under its jurisdiction. I had a long, fruitful discussion with Congressman Waltz’s team and highlighted my concerns about the negotiations that our Government have entered into with Mauritius. I briefed them about this debate, and they are extremely concerned by the news. They are worried about the ramifications for them and what will happen to their naval base if they have to share the archipelago with the Chinese.

Even if we retain Diego Garcia, the other islands will be up for lease to the Chinese. We have seen what Mauritius is doing with Agaléga—

In a second.

Agaléga is one of the Mauritian islands, which it has leased to the Indians. The indigenous population of that atoll has been removed and massive destruction has taken place on it to accommodate an Indian military base, so the Mauritians have form. They understand the importance of the Indian ocean and how geographically significant it is. Mauritius is in the market to gain as many of these atolls as possible and ultimately to sell them to the Indians, the Chinese or whoever is the highest bidder. That is in stark contrast to the United Kingdom, which is seeking to protect the 58 islands. A massive conservation area twice the size of the United Kingdom has been created around the islands, which is protecting marine and wildlife. There is no fishing and no oil drilling—nothing takes place. Anybody interested in what Mauritius is doing with these atolls should google that information. Mauritius wants the islands to sell them to make money. Ultimately, if we allow it to do that, it will facilitate the militarisation of the Indian ocean.

I am concluding my arguments—I will give way in a second—but what I would like to say is this. We have beaten the French to secure participation in AUKUS, which is one of the most important miliary agreements signed in the Government’s tenure in office, and we are re-entering the Indian ocean and the Pacific through our arrangement with the Americans and the Australians. AUKUS is essential.

It was Lee Kuan Yew who remonstrated with the United Kingdom when we left Singapore in 1971. He understood the ramifications for that region were the United Kingdom to abandon her bases. In that period of retrenchment and lacking in self-confidence that we went through in the early ’70s, we left all those areas, and Lee Kuan Yew and others foresaw the difficulties that would ensue. Finally, we have the confidence to re-enter the Indian ocean and the Pacific. The AUKUS military agreement is essential, in conjunction with our membership of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—the far east trading bloc—which we are entering next year.

The islands are essential for our geopolitical strategy of supporting allies in the Indian ocean and the Pacific from growing Chinese belligerence. I speak as the only Member of Parliament to have been born in a communist country and the only British Member of Parliament who has lived under communist oppression and tyranny, so I know what the communists are capable of and I know how the Chinese communist Government threaten and bully many smaller countries in the region. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) said, it would be madness to allow the Chinese to enter the Indian ocean through its puppet client state of Mauritius.

I hope that the Chagossians following the debate across the United Kingdom, as well as those in Mauritius and the Seychelles, listen to us and hear the strength of feeling that many hon. Members have, demonstrating that we, as a former imperial power, recognise the mistakes we have made and that, in a new modern era, we will put the concepts of integrity and self-determination at the forefront. If any of the islands is to be abandoned, that can be done legitimately only through the acceptance of the Chagossian people, and the fascinating thing is that I do not think that that is there. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) and will stop shortly so that he can speak. However, in all my discussions with the Chagossians, I hear that they are up for this—they are up for remaining British. We can convince them to vote to remain British in a referendum. Will the Minister tell us why we are negotiating with the Mauritius Government before the Chagossians have been consulted?

The last thing I will say—I will use parliamentary privilege for the first time in 17 years—is that British citizens, who I will not name, are actively conspiring to aid and abet Mauritius to take these islands from the United Kingdom. I will not begin to tell hon. Members what I think of those individuals, but I very much hope that they will be thwarted in their actions.

I am not entirely sure where to begin. I suppose I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), and I welcome his interest in this issue. Many of us in the Chamber are members of the Chagos islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) all-party parliamentary group and have spoken frequently in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber on the question of sovereignty and the rights of the islanders and their descendants. I do not recall ever seeing the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham at those APPG meetings. I have not gone through the minutes of all 30 meetings that have taken place since I joined in 2016, so perhaps I missed him.

Can I put on the record that I have attended some of those meetings? I suspect that he is getting wrong information. We can show him accounts of me attending those meetings.

I am happy to stand corrected on that. As far as I could tell from a search of Hansard, the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the British Indian Ocean Territory once in his career in this place, which was last year in a debate on AUKUS. His peroration probably gave us a sense of the real priorities behind this debate.

At base level, I do not disagree. The Chagossian community should absolutely be involved and consulted in the negotiations on the future of the islands—many of us who have been involved in the all-party group have been campaigning on that for many years. I say “good luck” to him getting the United Kingdom Government to recognise the sovereignty of a people and that their democratic future should be decided in a referendum on the future of their territory, because the UK Government are very clearly against that kind of democratic process. It is important that we find a way to make sure that the community are properly consulted.

I suspect that the issue will divert away from the specific question of sovereignty and to their rights and the future of their connection with the islands themselves. As the hon. Member recognises, the community is quite widely dispersed because of the historical actions of the United Kingdom Government. It is incredibly diverse as well, and different groups will have different views on exactly what a resolution should look like.

A mechanism that can include the diaspora would be welcome. It might be impossible, as he alluded to, but there is no reason that the Governments that represent them cannot put their interests at the forefront when they are at the table. He is right that there is a Chagossian community represented by the United Kingdom Government. There is a Chagossian community represented by the Government of Mauritius and a Chagossian community represented by the Government of the Seychelles, and there will be smaller diasporas elsewhere in the world. That is what parliamentary democracies are for and what democratic representation is for. That is what many of us would want to see achieved.

Human Rights Watch, which I am sure is an organisation that the hon. Gentleman engages with on a regular basis, has called for the inclusion of community voices, saying:

“Righting the half century of wrongs to the Chagossian people means full reparations – their right to return in dignity and prosperity; full compensation for the harm they have suffered; and guarantees that such abuses never happen again.”

That is where we ought to try to find some kind of consensus.

I come from a political tradition where sovereignty lies with the people; not with a Crown, not with a Parliament and certainly not with a Government. In reality, sovereignty always ultimately lies with the people. People have the fundamental human rights to freedom of speech, thought and assembly. Those are manifested in the right to live under the rule of law. Those rights can be denied, as they have been in the case of the Chagossians, but they cannot be taken away. That is why among all the negotiations are questions about the future of the base on Diego Garcia, which, incidentally—I wanted to ask about this in an intervention— probably took quite a lot of concrete to establish.

I am not sure if I completely understood the hon. Member’s argument. It appeared to be that in the 1960s it was okay for the United Kingdom to buy an island, militarise the south Indian ocean, pour lots of concrete on Diego Garcia and forcibly displace a population in doing so, but now it would be completely wrong for any other Government to consider such course of action.

The notion that we should tell other countries to do what we say and not what we do is not always the most conducive to building world peace and stability. In among all those questions, we have to put the interests of the community first. We as Members have a duty to scrutinise the Government and speak out on behalf of our constituents, whether they are members of the Chagossian community or—like those who contact me—committed human rights activists who believe that everyone in the world should enjoy the rights we too often take for granted here in the United Kingdom. I hope the Government’s movements on this issue will at last lead to some kind of equitable status that resolves the question of sovereignty in international law, but more importantly, achieves justice at last for the people of the Chagos islands.

I intend to start Front-Bench speeches at 3.30 pm, so I ask Members to keep their comments to around four minutes. I call Henry Smith.

Thank you, Mrs Cummins, for calling me in this important debate on the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and thank him for securing the debate and for the very powerful comments that he made in his introduction.

Injustice has been visited on the Chagos islanders for well over half a century. It was the Harold Wilson Administration that forcibly removed them from their homeland in the late 1960s, exiling them mainly to Mauritius, but also to some other locations such as the Seychelles. That was not a decision made by this democratic Parliament, but by Orders in Council. The way the Chagos islanders have been treated in Mauritius is really quite appalling: they have been treated as second-class citizens in that country, and the injustice upon injustice that they have suffered is intolerable.

I believe that the Chagos islanders should have a right of return to their homeland. I am pleased that as a result of the Nationality and Borders Act passed earlier this year, they and further generations have a right to settle here in this country: they are British citizens, and should be so by right. I am pleased that that has been recognised. However, the future of the Chagos islanders should be determined by them. The prospect of their future being decided by London, Port Louis, the UN in New York, the International Court of Justice in The Hague or wherever else—as has happened throughout the past half century or more—is fundamentally wrong. The Chagos islanders must be able to determine their own future.

Mention has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham of the strategic importance of the Chagos archipelago. Those islands were very strategically important during the cold war and during the actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are very strategic again with a new cold war now seemingly having started as a result of Russian aggression. The point about the threat from China has already been made: the Chinese belt and road initiative has already resulted in Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and the Pacific ocean coming under Chinese coercion and influence. There is a very real danger that if the British Indian Ocean Territory is ceded to Mauritius, there will be significant pressure to put Chinese military installations on those extremely strategic islands. That would be a major military and strategic error for the global community, and I wonder what discussions have been had with Washington regarding its views on defence and foreign policy should those islands be ceded to Mauritius. Perhaps the Minister could address that point.

I will conclude my remarks by saying that as my constituent Frankie Bontemps of Chagossian Voices, who has already been referenced, has said, the vast majority of the Chagos community that I represent—I probably represent the largest Chagos community anywhere in the world—want to remain British, despite the appalling history that this country has visited on them. They must be consulted.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate. Since becoming a Member of Parliament, it has been my great pleasure to get thoroughly involved with the Chagos community in my constituency, which numbers 300 to 400 people. What a wonderful community it is! They celebrate their annual mass on Chagos Day at St Anthony’s in Woodhouse Park, to which I am invited. The food is fantastic as well.

What a wonderful community, but what a horror story. I describe the Chagossians’ removal from those islands in that era as the mother of all injustices. I have about 13 constituents who still remember the days and weeks that it happened; they have told me about having their crops burned and their animals shot, being forcibly lined up on a boat to sail 800 nautical miles away to wherever—the Seychelles or Port Louis, Mauritius—and having their way of life ripped asunder. They are some of the most horrific stories I have heard in my eight years in this place. Then, to compound what I have called the mother of all injustices, there was then the injustice of their treatment in Mauritius.

We have had 50 years of systemic failure—failing these people who live in systemic poverty. It is passed on from generation to generation. The reason why so many Chagossians live in the constituency of the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), I would say, is because they get jobs at the airport, as they do in my constituency. We have to do more. We have to go further and faster to begin to break down the systemic poverty that the Chagossians have suffered generation upon generation. I think we can do it.

The UK is subject to the rule of international law. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham is right. We see at first hand China’s tentacles everywhere in my constituency and in my city. There is no need to tell that to a Mancunian at the moment—we see what China is doing in its consulate in my city, where the consul general came out and dragged in Hong Kong protesters, beating them up. A foreign state in my city is perpetrating this. We had a wonderful relationship with that consulate for 60 years, but, in the last five or 10 years, we have seen the change in the authoritative tone of the Chinese Government.

But we are subject to the rule of law. This International Court of Justice ruling against us at the UN has forced us into a position. The UK has to enter some form of negotiations, and we should carry those out in a way that, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) said, achieves good outcomes for the Chagos communities. Good outcomes mean the Chagossians getting British passports—how many of us who represent Chagossian communities have struggled, following the treatment of the Windrush generation in the past few years, to get them ordinary British passports? It means getting the right to remain to do that, to allow them to get better jobs and bursaries for education and to enable them to send back the natives who came here if they want a burial on those islands.

I have, for all sorts of reasons, taken over the chairmanship of the APPG, on which I have sat for eight years. We have campaigned religiously to highlight the plight of this community. Next week, I will meet with Chagossian Voices again to hear at first hand their thoughts on these negotiations. In my first act as chairman, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary, who has now kindly agreed to come and address the group early in the new year, so we will get first-hand information about the stage of these negotiations and what the intent of the British state is.

Many of us present have campaigned for years on this subject. Let us make sure that we put the Chagossians, their rights and their dignity at the heart of everything we do going forward.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate.

What happened to the Chagossians between 1968 and 1973 was wrong. Britain pretended the Chagossians did not exist and that the islands were not permanently inhabited, and then we participated in forced mass deportation. These people were abandoned by Britain; in turn, in Mauritius, they faced poverty, disease and discrimination. The British Government made a mistake, but mistakes can be excellent learning opportunities. The first thing to do is to own the mistake and admit when we get it wrong. I think the British Government have tried to right that historical injustice. They have recognised the Chagossians as British subjects and there is now a thriving community here in the UK, but there is plenty more to do.

Another lesson that comes from making a mistake is to look to the future, communicate and not repeat that mistake. On the issue of communication, I think all MPs received a letter from representatives of the British Indian Ocean Territory citizens here in the UK, also signed by representatives of the British Indian Ocean Territory citizens in Mauritius. They say:

“We are aware of the negotiations discussing the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Mauritian Government. We want to express our strong disagreement with this negotiation, which will have a negative impact on our ancestral islands.”

There is still time for the British Government to act on this.

A ban on resettlement of the Chagos islands in 2016 followed decades of unsuccessful legal challenges in the UK. The Government decided against resettlement of the Chagossian people to the British Indian Ocean Territory on the grounds of feasibility, defence, security issues and the cost to the British taxpayer, as well as the fact that there would be limited healthcare and education and a lack of jobs and economic opportunities. We all accept that it would not be easy, but I think that to try is the very least we owe the Chagossians. We have many successful overseas territories with small populations.

It is worth pointing out, by the way, that Mauritius is not next door to the Chagos islands. It is 1,300 miles away. For context, if we look at the difference between the Falkland Islands and Patagonia, we are talking only about 300 miles.

I had hoped we would right this historical wrong. Consultation with the Chagossians displayed 98% support for resettlement and a Government-commissioned feasibility study deemed resettlement practically feasible. However, to enter into negotiations on sovereignty of the islands with Mauritius without talking directly to the Chagossians is not right. When it comes to the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar, we do not accept that it is a bilateral issue between Argentina and the UK or Spain and the UK, respectively. No, we ensure the Falkland islanders and the Gibraltarians are of equal status.

Self-determination is not something we can choose when it is convenient to recognise. It is either important or it is not. Will the Minister meet representatives of the British Chagossians? I am pleased to hear the report from the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) that that will happen.

Will we allow the people who we removed decades ago to have a say on what happens to their homeland? They deserve representation. Let us not let history repeat itself because despite everything—and everything we have done to them—Chagossians are proud to be British. They deserve our respect, and they deserve self-determination. Let them have their say. We must not compound the error we made decades ago, because I do not think any of us want to be here in 30 years’ time, admitting another historical injustice.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on leading today’s debate. It is good indeed to discuss the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory. I understand the hon. Member undertook a visit to the islands back in 2020—maybe even further back—after claims that the UK’s exit from the European Union could hinder the sovereignty of the British Indian Overseas Territory. The hon. Gentleman indicated his knowledge in how he delivered his speech today.

We have maintained and created a stable relationship with our territories abroad and must ensure that we continue that, so it is good that we can be here to do just that. How do we do it? Some hon. Members have laid out their thoughts, while others are of a slightly different point of view, but we all wish to see the same delivery when it comes to solutions, because solutions are what it is all about. I always seek justice for those who have been wronged. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) spoke about that earlier on. The first thing to do when something is wrong is apologise, recognise it and try to right it, and the hon. Gentleman has set out how to do that. Hopefully the Minister will be able to give us some help.

The UK shares an extraordinary defence facility with the US at Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia. The base is crucial to Anglo-American power in the region and extends upon the order we created throughout and after world war two. There have been discussions on handing over the sovereignty of the islands to Mauritius, undermining the legitimacy that Britain has over the islands. Many Members here today have also raised concerns, which I will reiterate, about the potential for Chinese aggression across the world, especially in the Chagos archipelago. It is important to remember that international support must be built in order to retain the legitimate sovereignty that we already have.

In 1982, Margaret Thatcher set a precedent that the United Kingdom would do everything necessary to defend our overseas territories, especially when it came to the Falkland Islands. We have a duty to honour that same commitment, which we had to the Falklands, and also to Gibraltar, to which the hon. Member for Peterborough referred. It is important that the current Prime Minister carries on those legacies and promises to protect the sovereignty of all British territory abroad. The risks of handing sovereignty to Mauritius, with its deepening economic ties to Beijing, offer no guarantee to anyone that China will not soon have its own defence base on that very island.

The geography of Diego Garcia is also posing a problem, given its close proximity to China. It is only a few hundred miles south of the Chinese border, and it is the UK’s only defence base situated between Iran, Russia and China. We have to be honest for our own safety in the role that we have. We simply cannot allow the base to come under Chinese control. Any insinuations that that will be discussed are very concerning. The naval base serves as a logistics and support base for naval vessels, warplanes, and special forces. I understand it is the only one of its type in that location.

The wildlife and environment of the British Indian Ocean Territory are exceptional. The territory has the greatest marine biodiversity—

On that point about the environment, which is critical, a couple of years ago a Japanese oil tanker ran aground just off the Mauritian coast, and the Mauritian response was appalling. There are deep concerns that the pristine marine environment that we have around the British Indian Ocean Territory could be at risk. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in calling on the Government to ensure that that is not the case?

The hon. Gentleman anticipated my next sentence. The territory has the greatest marine biodiversity in the UK and its overseas territories. It is unique and has some of the cleanest seas. We always hear about how the oceans are full of plastics and so on, but it has the cleanest seas and the healthiest reef systems in the world, so we must protect the environment it surrounds.

The territory also represents a nearly untouched ocean observatory, which provides researchers across the world, from all countries, with a place like no other for scientific research. It is a unique location for scientific study, and expeditions have contributed towards the development of the territory as an observatory for undisturbed ecosystems. The UK respects that, but we have to guarantee that there will be no further threat from China in relation to marine biodiversity.

In conclusion, China poses a threat not only to the sovereignty of the islands, but to aspects of our world, too—particularly the environment that I referred to. Although the UK holds complete legitimate sovereignty over the islands, we must encourage our other colleagues to stop the calls for sovereignty going to Mauritius. The success of the relationship has been maintained so far, and we should do what we can to prolong that for our own safety and as a base for our defence. It is time, as Margaret Thatcher said in 1982, to honour the people and citizens of these islands in the same way.

Thank you, Mrs Cummins, for calling me to speak. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this debate. He said he was going to focus on self-determination in particular, which is important. As other hon. Members have said, what happened originally when the base was set up and what happened to the Chagossian people was outrageous and wrong, and we apologise for that. However, I am not going to focus on that. There are bigger issues than self-determination and sovereignty—global security and defence.

The base was set up in the 1960s for very good reason: to mitigate against the Soviet and Chinese threat. Those threats are greater and more complex now than they were in the ’60s and throughout the period of the cold war. It is unfeasible for the islands to be repopulated. I visited some of the outer islands, where there were lots of graves of small children, as people died very young. The business related to palms that sustained the islands was reducing even before the atrocity of the removal of the individuals.

On the main island, the base is absolutely essential. It is home to an airport from which multiple aircraft, including spacecraft, can be flown. There is hardstanding from which tens of thousands of troops can be deployed around the world. In a protected area, there are a large number of ships storing military equipment. It is perhaps wrong to call them ships. They are seven or eight-storey car parks. On each level, there is bulletproof machinery, diggers, tanks, and armoured personnel vehicles that drive off the seventh floor into the water and can then invade land. There are 350 places around the world from which to deploy and sustain that level of troop commitment. It is a massive facility for global security and the defence of the world. We need to consider that alongside legitimate sovereignty and self-determination issues.

There was originally a 50-year lease that was rolled over to a 20-year lease, and there is now talk of an offer from Mauritius of a 99-year lease. I urge the Government to think about Hong Kong. A 99-year lease seems a long time, yet we have seen what happened in Hong Kong with China. Whatever we do, the global community, which to be honest relies heavily on the Americans, needs that facility to protect global citizens. That should be at the forefront of the Government’s mind, while trying to protect and improve the lives of Chagossians here, in the Seychelles and Mauritius. I have met with all of them and there is a pragmatic understanding. There is a desire to move back, but there is a practical understanding that that would be very difficult, even without the American base and British sovereignty issues.

It is good to see you in your place, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this interesting debate. We have had a good exchange of views this afternoon. I am delighted to hear that so many colleagues are in favour of the right to self-determination, and we will be back in touch about that on more domestic matters.

On the Chagos islands, I will try to strike a note of consensus with the old story of the American tourist who was lost in rural Ireland and asked his way to Tipperary, and the local farmer answered: “Ah, for sure, if I was going to Tipperary, I would not start from here.” I think we can all agree that an historic injustice has been done to the Chagossian people, and I hope we all agree that that injustice continues. Frankly, I am not interested in which Government or Department did it or how it was done. The British state has a debt to these people, and there is an injustice to focus on above all else.

Starting from first principles, the SNP believes that people, not crowns or Parliaments, are sovereign, as my good hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North said. We believe that the state should serve its people, not the other way round. Indeed, we believe that people should choose their state, not the other way round. We also believe in the right to self-determination, which is one of the main reasons why the SNP exists and is in business.

We also recognise, of course, that international law is sometimes messy. Black and white is not necessarily one size fits all, especially when it comes to the Chagos islands. The way that this was done and the situation of the Chagossian people has been analysed in international courts and a number of credible, serious organisations. In February 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that the UK’s occupation of the archipelago is illegal: that is a matter of fact. In May 2019, the matter was taken to the General Assembly of the United Nations and there was an overwhelming vote to condemn the UK’s continuing occupation of the Chagos islands. In January 2021, the UN’s International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea upheld the view of the General Assembly that the UK is in the wrong.

What we have heard today is the reality of power politics and big-state politics, but we cannot have both. The Chagossian people are owed a debt by the Government, the Administration and all of us. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) apologise, as I think we all owe an apology to the people of the Chagos islands.

I have some concrete questions for the Minister. Talks have started with the Mauritian Government, but what is their timescale? I have seen one timescale that suggests they will be wrapped up in a matter of months, early next year, but that strikes me as a little ambitious. What is the Minister’s assessment of that timetable?

Lord Ahmad announced funds to compensate the Chagossian people, but what progress has been made with them? The funds struck me as inadequate and the 10-year timescale seems rather longer than it need be. What are the ramifications and the details of that proposal?

Where does the Minister think the UK’s credibility lies on this matter? I have spoken to a number of colleagues in the European Parliament and to representatives to the UN, and the issue is doing real damage to the UK’s credibility. The UK says it believes in the rule of law and in international co-operation, but this is an example where that is not the case. The UK Government need to take the issue far more seriously than they have done so far. The priority has to be the Chagossian people themselves and the historic injustice that has been done to them.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Cummins. I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing the debate at this critical time of change for the Chagos islands, and I thank colleagues for the range of comments and contributions they have made to the debate.

I am not sure whether to thank the hon. Gentleman for the comments he made about me at the start of the debate, but we had a very enjoyable trip to the Falkland Islands. I will be making declarations about that trip in due course. I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of our united position on the Falkland Islands and our resolute support for them. That is the Opposition’s long-standing position, which I have reiterated on many occasions, including well before the visit and in relation to our position on other British overseas territories.

From the outset, I gently say that I do not accept a number of the hon. Gentleman’s historical analyses and comparisons. Neither are they supported by the House of Commons Library briefing that has been provided for this debate, or by statements made by the Governor of the Falkland Islands and the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. When we talk about our overseas territories, it is important that we understand their distinct and different situations. The situation around the Chagos islands is particularly complex and nuanced, and we should take it in that vein and not make comparisons to other overseas territories.

I pay tribute to colleagues across the House, particularly those with Chagossian communities in their constituencies, for the advocacy and support they have provided over many years on this issue, which is sensitive and painful for those communities, and for raising concerns about our diplomatic standing and commitments internationally. I express my gratitude to the all-party parliamentary group on the Chagos islands, of which I am a member, for its tireless efforts in keeping the Chagos islands on the political agenda and for meticulously scrutinising the policies of successive Governments.

The Opposition welcome the Government’s decision to begin discussions with Mauritius about the future of the islands, but I will set out some detailed questions and concerns on the matter. We have to be guided by a few key principles, so my questions are not in order of priority. We must understand concerns about our national security and that of our allies and strategic partners; our compliance with international law and upholding our international obligations, and the consequences if we do not do that; and the rights and wishes of the people of the Chagos after decades of pain and hardship.

I have personally met and heard from many different representatives from the Chagos community over many years. I have heard different views expressed by different parts of the community, but it is crucial that their distinct and different voices are heard in the process. We should also be concerned about other crucial issues, particularly the protection of the environment and the marine ecosystems around the archipelago, which a number of hon. Members have raised.

This is a deeply complex issue, and I want to start with the question of the rules-based international order, which must be central to UK foreign policy. This historic injustice continues to prevent us from adhering to that, and I share the absolute and deep regret for the past actions of previous Governments, including Labour Governments. The actions taken in the late 1960s and early 1970s were completely unjustifiable. A number of us will have read the shocking documents from that period and the language expressed in them, which was completely and utterly unacceptable. We have a fundamental moral responsibility to the islanders that will not go away. I remain convinced that there must be a lasting resolution to this challenge that lives up to our moral and legal obligations, that draws on the views of Chagossians around the world and that is reached in co-operation with our partners and allies. There must be an apology from all of us—there certainly is from our side—for those past actions, but we need to look to the future and to what is being done for Chagossians today, not just in relation to the situation in the archipelago, but for Chagossians here in many communities.

The ICJ in 2019 was unequivocal in its ruling that

“the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible”.

That was adopted after a vote of 116 to six by the United Nations General Assembly, which called on the UK to

“unconditionally end its occupation of the Archipelago as soon as possible.”

That was supported by the 2021 ruling of the special chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Although the tribunal did not have competence on territorial disputes, it stated that

“Mauritius’ sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago can be inferred from the ICJ’s determinations.”

Unfortunately, the Government have spent several years simply ignoring and denying these developments, and that has damaged our diplomatic reputation with not just Mauritius but many other countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and with a range of international legal and human rights bodies. Even the Maldives, which historically has been aligned with the UK Government position on this matter, recently changed its position to align with the rest of the international community.

I take on board the comments made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham on China and its expansion in the South China sea, the Indian ocean and beyond, and he raises some legitimate concerns, although I do not accept his wider characterisations of Mauritius. It is a fact that China has made increasing encroachments into the territorial waters of its neighbours and vast claims in the South China sea while ignoring judgments against itself. That has been matched by a growing assertiveness, and even belligerence, towards some of our allies and partners in the region, so I hope the Minister can set out what assurances we have had on these matters and on China’s activities in the region.

It is my view that the inverse will play out if we do not resolve this matter, because if this is unresolved in terms of international law, it will only play into the hands of China and others who seek to undermine international judgments and law. When we want to call on China to comply with the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s judgment on the South China sea, it will say, “Well, you are not in compliance with the ICJ or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea”. That could be the case for a number of other maritime and territorial disputes that it is in our interests to pursue and defend resolutely. We cannot have one hand doing one thing and the other doing the opposite.

Of course, we must also do the right thing for the Chagossians. The various support packages that were announced have not been followed through, and very little money from that £40 million package has been spent. The last answer I had said that only £810,000 of it had been spent. That is completely unacceptable, and I hope the Minister can say something about that. What discussions has she had with all the different Chagossian groups located not just here in the UK, but in Mauritius, Seychelles and elsewhere?

I am conscious of the time, so I will not. I want to speak about the costs the UK Government have incurred defending the indefensible on the legal position. An answer I received said the UK had spent nearly £6 million on external legal services relating to defending cases that the Government then lost in the ICJ. That is clearly unacceptable at this time of pressure on the public purse. Could the Minister update us on how much money has been spent on defending the previous position?

Citizenship has rightly been raised by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane). The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 created an entitlement for direct descendants of Chagossians who were not already citizens to acquire British nationality. I understand that the process opened in November, but I hope the Minister can set out what will be done to address the issue of Chagossians being denied that right to British nationality and to ensure they get what is rightfully theirs. We know that previous negotiations have not gone well and that they broke down in 2009, 2016 and 2017. Will the Minister speak about the tenor and tone of the negotiations and how we will ensure that they go forward in a constructive spirit to achieve an agreement?

On defence, it is crucial that we understand, as many Members have rightly said, that the United Kingdom-United States defence facility in the territory plays a vital role in keeping us and our allies safe. It plays a role in monitoring drugs and piracy, and in the national security activities of regional partners. It supports allies from many countries, and it carries out nuclear test ban monitoring and regional humanitarian efforts. Can the Minister say what discussions have been had with our allies, particularly the United States, about those negotiations and ensuring we maintain our defence capabilities in Diego Garcia?

On the environment and the maritime importance of the islands, we recognise the judgment in relation to the Mauritius Ports Authority, but, given the importance of the archipelago, it is clear that we need to protect that environment. What discussions have been had on that with Mauritius and other partners in the region, as well as with the Chagossians, who believe in protecting their environment and historical homeland?

I will conclude by saying there have been some important questions asked today and some very reasonable contributions. I do not agree with all of them, or with the tenor of some of them, but this is a complex and nuanced issue and it requires a complex and nuanced solution. We want to engage with Chagossians here in the UK, and we will work constructively with the Government to find a permanent and equitable settlement that will end decades of pain for so many, while addressing legitimate concerns about defence, security, the environment and the right of return for Chagossians.

The ultimate problem here is that this issue is hampering our diplomatic position in the world and having much wider implications. We must remember that this was an historic injustice committed against a people by a past Government, and those people have to be at the heart of any solution.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this important debate. Hon. Members have all highlighted the UK’s recently opened negotiations with Mauritius on the exercise of sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, also known as the Chagos archipelago. The Foreign Secretary announced the beginning of the negotiations on 3 November. That followed discussions with Mauritius at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in June and at the UN General Assembly in September.

I can confirm that negotiations have formally begun. Officials from the United Kingdom and Mauritius met on 23 and 24 November, and they had constructive discussions. They will meet again shortly to continue those discussions and negotiations. Hon. Members will appreciate that we will not provide any detail on the content of ongoing discussions or speculate on the outcome. However, I commit to and reassure Members that we will keep them and Parliament informed at key junctures through the process.

The UK and Mauritius intend to secure an agreement on the basis of international law to resolve all outstanding issues. I anticipate any agreement will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 in the usual way. Let me be clear that both the UK and Mauritius have reiterated that any agreement between us will ensure the continued effective operation of the joint UK-United States defence facility on Diego Garcia. For more than 40 years, this joint base has contributed significantly to regional and global security. It is the result of a uniquely close and active defence and security partnership between two longstanding allies.

The base helps the UK, US and other allies and partners to combat some of the most challenging threats, including from terrorism, organised crime and instability. The base is well positioned as a key enabler for maritime security, including the protection of regional shipping lanes from threats such as piracy. Diego Garcia also plays a key role in humanitarian efforts, ready for a rapid response in times of crisis or disaster in the region. That includes during the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian ocean, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines. The base plays an important part in assisting the operation of the global positioning system, GPS, and helping the international space station to avoid space debris and prevent satellite collisions.

We are alive to concerns about influence from malign actors in the Indian ocean. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary acknowledged these concerns when he gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 14 November. He assured the Committee that this is an issue we take very seriously and that we will ensure it is at the heart of our position during the sovereignty negotiations with Mauritius.

Reaching a negotiated agreement on the archipelago will allow the UK and Mauritius, as close Commonwealth partners, to work even more closely together. This will help us to tackle the regional and global security challenges that we both face, along with our wider partners, and avoid the expansion of malign influences into the Indian ocean. It will include promoting human rights and maritime security while tackling illegal migration, drugs and arms trafficking.

We are also keen to strengthen significantly our co-operation with Mauritius on marine and environmental protection in particular. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) set out some historical issues where those challenges were perhaps not managed as well as they needed to be. The archipelago boasts incredible marine biodiversity, as well as some of the cleanest seas and healthiest reef systems in the world. They support six times more fish than any other Indian ocean reef.

The marine protected area is one of the largest in the world. It prohibits all commercial fishing and extractive activities, such as mining for minerals, oil and gas, and it forms a substantial part of the UK Government’s Blue Belt programme. The area hosts many scientific expeditions, as part of our call for an international target to protect at least 30% of the global oceans by 2030. We will push for this ambitious target at COP15 in the weeks ahead.

We recognise the views of the diverse Chagossian communities in the United Kingdom, Mauritius and the Seychelles. We recognise the diversity of views in those communities and we take those views very seriously. Although the negotiations are between the UK and Mauritius, we will ensure that we engage with the communities as negotiations progress, and I note the kind invitation from my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) to meet some of those communities.

The UK has expressed our profound and deep regret about the manner in which Chagossians were removed from the islands in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and colleagues have done so again today. I hope that sense of horror and dismay at what happened all those decades ago continues to be reiterated. We are committed to supporting Chagossians, wherever they live, through the £40 million Chagossian support package, which is funding projects in the UK and overseas. I commit to writing to the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) to set out in more detail how that work is progressing.

We have taken other steps to support the community. On 23 November, the UK Government launched a new route to British citizenship for all Chagossian people and their children, free of charge. This new route will give anyone of Chagossian descent the opportunity to build their future in the United Kingdom should they wish to do so, holding British citizenship.

I have talked about ways in which the UK and Mauritius could strengthen our work together. The backdrop to this is our close Commonwealth partnership and our deep historical ties. We are the second biggest export market for Mauritius, while Mauritius is our sixth biggest market in Africa for trade and investment. We are proud of the active Mauritian diaspora in the UK, and hundreds of Mauritian students study in our universities every year. Meanwhile, our tourists flock to Mauritius, accounting for 15% of its visitors annually.

Mauritius is a leader among small island states in tackling climate change. The UK welcomes it as a new pioneer country for the Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance and will act as an anchor donor for Mauritius.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. The main tenet of my discourse this afternoon was to try to get a commitment from her for a referendum of the Chagossian people before any decision is taken. Can she give me that commitment?

As I have set out, we will be making sure that we have close discussions, not only with Mauritians but with those communities as well. As the negotiations progress, we will keep colleagues and Parliament abreast of how they are developing.

As we look forward, we aim to work even more closely with Mauritius to tackle the incredibly important regional and global security challenges that we all face. We remain fully committed to ensuring the effectiveness of the base on Diego Garcia, for the benefit of regional and global security.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the assurances that she has given, and for agreeing to write to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), on some of the points that he raised.

I heard the Minister say that there will be extensive consultation with the Chagossians, but I still have not heard from her lips that there will be an internationally recognised referendum. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (Sir James Duddridge) rightly asked questions about how it would come about—the matrix, framework, dynamics and legality of it. I could not agree with him more. There have been referenda in other parts of the world under difficult circumstances and people were able to cast a vote.

I should let my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) know that I hope to meet Mr Bontemps next week. Mr Bontemps told me in no uncertain terms that, wherever the Chagossians are—Mauritius, Seychelles, Britain or anywhere else—they are up for remaining British. As part of the British family, our duty and responsibility first and foremost—trumping even international court decisions—is to those Chagossians.

On a point of order, Mrs Cummins. I have spoken to the Doorkeepers about this room. It is so cold you could hang dead people in here and they would not go off. The Doorkeepers have asked the staff to do something with the heating. They say the heat is turned on. I am not sure where it is, but it is not on here. Can I ask, Mrs Cummins, that you use your power as Chair to do something about that?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I know that the Doorkeepers are busy, and I am very aware of just how cold it is in here. I am sure that that will be on the record.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Sitting suspended.

Free Bus Travel: Care Leavers

I beg to move,

That this House has considered free bus travel for care leavers.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I am pleased to have the opportunity to make this case, as I have a long-standing interest in the challenges that care leavers face, which I pursue as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for looked after children and care leavers.

Those in care and care leavers have many issues to contend with. There are about 80,000 children in the care system across England and Wales, with about 10,000 attempting to exit the system each year. Children and young people in care tend to do less well on a number of indicators. They do less well in education and training and end up with lesser qualifications. Nearly half experience mental health difficulties, and an estimated 25% of homeless people have been in care at some point in their life. From age 18, many young people are expected to become independent and manage their own affairs. A wealth of research shows just how financially vulnerable care leavers are, and obviously the cost of living crisis will only exacerbate the difficulties they face.

I am conscious that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), will reply to the debate, so let me be clear at the outset why I requested the debate, and why I am pleased that he is responding. There is a tendency in both national and local government to see issues involving the care system as the responsibility of the Department for Education, or of children’s and education departments in local government, but one clear theme arising from the recent inquiry chaired by Josh MacAlister is the corporate nature of parenting, and how responsibility for those who experience the care system is a cross-Government and cross-departmental responsibility.

For many care-experienced young people, travel can almost become a luxury. They are unlikely to afford to own, or even run, a car, so they are heavily dependent on buses, not as a luxury but as an essential. The average cost of a bus pass is about £18 a week, which represents a third of the income of care leavers under 25 on universal credit.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing forward the debate, and thank him for highlighting the issue. As he outlined, those care leavers under 25 on universal credit do not have much money to start with. Does he agree that they, and care leavers seeking employment, need to afford buses, so that they can get to appointments and get a job? The Government have been keen to encourage young people to get jobs. Does he feel that free bus travel would enable young people to get the opportunities in this life that they need?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will say a bit more about the work situation later. We have a problem with vacancies that cannot be filled, and the travel-to-work pattern is the obstacle in some situations. If youngsters are looking to move outside their immediate area to find employment that works for them, they have to be able to travel, so he is quite right.

Travel is not a luxury for the very reasons the hon. Gentleman set out. It is essential to attend work and interviews, go to the jobcentre and remain in touch with family, friends and former foster carers—the normal social links that the rest of us take for granted. A lack of access to transport can contribute to young people feeling cut off and isolated. One in five care leavers already identifies loneliness as an acute problem.

A recent Barnardo’s report, “Transport for Freedom”, makes a powerful case for extending free bus travel to care leavers aged 18 to 25 in England. If the Minister has not already seen it, I will be happy to furnish him with a copy. The Barnardo’s campaign is inspired by work that it undertook in Cornwall in 2021, when it teamed up with Carefree, a local charity, to run a pilot project with support from bus operator First Bus. It provided free bus passes for local care leavers for a year. I ask the Minister to consider the report when he has an opportunity, and I would like him to agree to meet me and representatives of Barnardo’s to discuss issues raised in it, and the potential for a scheme for care leavers in England aged 18 to 25.

The Scottish Government recently recognised the important role that bus travel can play in improving the lives of young people, and introduced a national scheme of free bus travel for all young people under the age of 22. There are schemes for other groups, including some vulnerable groups. The English national concessionary travel scheme, with which the Minister will be familiar, provides free off-peak bus travel in England for pensioners and those with a disability.

Some bus companies have their own schemes. One of the biggest is Back on Board, which is offered by Stagecoach. It gives jobseekers a 50% discount on bus travel to help them attend job interviews. That is the point that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made. Some areas have their own schemes. Greater Manchester offers free bus travel to all care leavers aged 18 to 21 in its 10 authorities, and Newcastle has recently started a pilot looking at care leavers aged 18 to 25, offering free travel on the bus and metro network. I believe that the Mayor of London is also looking at introducing a reduced fare scheme on the London transport network some time next year.

Those schemes are good, but they are inevitably thinly spread. In these difficult economic times, the vast majority of local authorities have no such support. Some care leavers can seek help if they can negotiate the system by applying for discretionary awards, but in an era of ever-tightening budgets, they are harder and harder to access.

Based on the average weekly cost of a bus ticket of £18.77 and a take-up rate of around 76%, which the Minister will recognise is equivalent to similar national concessionary bus travel schemes, Barnardo’s estimates that a national scheme for all care leavers aged 18 to 25 would cost £77 million. That is not cheap, but when we think about the costs incurred for care leavers for other support after a life in care, it may be a figure worth exploring.

I do not deny for a second that the money would have to come from somewhere, but I note that a study of the English concessionary travel scheme shows that, for every £1 invested, nearly £3 of benefits were created in a host of ways, whether in reduced demands on the health service or better employment and tax returns. That is not to mention the benefits of creating a culture where there is a healthy desire to use public transport from a young age—something I am sure the Minister is anxious to promote. Beyond the return on investment, there is both a social and a moral case for supporting young care leavers by providing free bus travel. When we add the distinct economic benefits of doing so, the case becomes clearer and clearer.

Will the Minister take advantage of the opportunity of the MacAlister report to talk to his colleagues across Government? The Government have said that they are considering the implementation plan for the children’s social care review and hope to make announcements early in the new year. This is a classic example of the need to overhaul the package of support we provide for young people in care. We should remember that the reason most young people end up in care is that the state determines that the quality and nature of care they are experiencing in their existing arrangements is not good enough, so the onus is on us to guarantee that the care they receive while they are in the system and as they leave it is infinitely better than it was before. At times, it is in danger of not being as good, which is clearly not an acceptable state of affairs.

I have been listening intently to the hon. Gentleman. While I am ever mindful of the fact that these children are coming out of the care system, does he think that free bus passes could be tied to seeking employment? That would give care leavers an incentive to seek employment and would help the Government to achieve some of their employment goals.

That would be an extremely valuable use of the idea. As I said, it is not the only reason for considering this proposal, but it is a crucial reason.

Will the Minister commit to assess the impact of extending concessionary bus travel schemes to other vulnerable groups and consider that in the context of care leavers? His Department will have considerable data on the issue already, so will he look at that in the context of care leavers? When time allows, will he meet me and representatives of Barnardo’s in the new year to explore the potential for introducing such a scheme? Will he talk to his colleagues across Government about the opportunity presented by the implementation plan for the independent review of children’s care to bring forward such a measure, which would clearly be in keeping with the thinking of the MacAlister review?

We are at that time of year—the season of good will—when the Minister gets the opportunity to play Santa, and I get the opportunity to tell him all I want for Christmas. On this occasion, I want him to agree to that meeting, look at those reports and review this proposal in the context of children leaving care. I ask him to give it serious consideration. I would prefer him to say that I can just have it, but I will settle for serious consideration of introducing, at the very least, a decent pilot scheme for concessionary or free travel for 18 to 25-year-old care leavers, so that we can do our best by them.

It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I start by thanking the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) for bringing the debate forward, and I congratulate him on securing it. As chair of the APPG for looked after children and care leavers, he has done a huge amount in this area, and continues to do so. On a personal note, let me say more power to his elbow, because he does a great job of advocating for those who, too often, do not have a voice in this place.

The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a cross-Government responsibility to care leavers, whether on the part of the Department for Work and Pensions, as he and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, the Department for Transport, the Department of Health and Social Care or the Department for Education.

We know that buses are the foundation of an efficient and inclusive public transport system. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak was right that I have a healthy desire to increase public transport use, particularly following the pandemic, when we saw a drop-off in ridership, with the biggest fall happening in concessionary schemes for the elderly and disabled. I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome some of the schemes to re-boost ridership over the coming few months. It is only through usage that we can help to keep buses sustainable for everybody to use.

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, buses provide important access to employment, as well as education, leisure and other crucial connections that are valued by so many, including care leavers. In England, we provide free bus travel for those who are older or who have certain disabilities, and that important scheme helps maintain the network of bus services. It is also well used and popular, with more than 860 million journeys made in the year before the pandemic and take-up of around 80%, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The Government are committed to bus services, and we provided £2 billion during the pandemic to keep them going. We have continued to provide support for the sector, which is helping to maintain services. It is not just about maintaining our existing network of bus services, but expanding it in scope and quality, through the city region sustainable transport settlements, the zero emission bus regional areas fund and, crucially, the bus service improvement plans. We aim to transform the quality of bus services across the country.

Why do I say all of that? Free bus travel does not mean much if there is no bus service. Our approach with the national bus strategy, as well as the enhanced partnerships and franchising we have enabled under the Bus Services Act 2017, will put buses on a more sustainable, long-term footing as a key part of England’s transport network.

The Minister is right to point out the challenges of running a bus service when there are not enough customers to fund it. There are concessions for many groups in society, so might he at least take away from this debate the potential to look at this proposal, given the vulnerabilities of care leavers? We are dealing with a vulnerable group that is disadvantaged in many ways, for whom this could be a great benefit.

I thank my hon. Friend for that point, which I will come on to address and which has been well made by both him and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak.

We know that care leavers face massive challenges, including with transport. They need to get to work, education and training, as well as to have social interactions that are sometimes more difficult for them. The issue is of interest to me because of my previous life as a special adviser in the Department for Education, and I did a lot of work on it at the time. The “staying put” and “staying close” schemes have been really important in that respect. It is also important that we recognise that we have an extra responsibility to care leavers beyond the age of 18, and there has been important movement on that in recent years. That is where the Barnardo’s report is driving forwards today.

However, we could do more across Government. We have heard about the real and significant difficulties that exist, which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak described so well. I am happy that a number of local authorities are already providing support, and the hon. Gentleman mentioned some of them. The work Barnardo’s undertook demonstrated that only 11 local authorities of the 116 that responded provided no transport support for care leavers. So only a few provide absolutely no help but, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, much of that is discretionary, and those authorities are under pressure.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Greater Manchester scheme, which has been in place since the end of 2019 and offers free travel up to the age of 21. Many other places provide that discretionary help, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman thinks we need to look beyond bespoke pathways. Since the publication of the report in July we have also seen a pilot launch in my part of the world, the north-east, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. More than 300 young care leavers have been offered free transport across Tyne and Wear. That pilot, which is a partnership between the councils, bus operators and the NHS, demonstrates how improving opportunities for care leavers touches many aspects of public services, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. If the pilot is successful, it will be rolled out further locally using the BSIP funding, on which my Department is currently in negotiations with north-east authorities. That is a small part of the wider changes to bus services in the north-east, which I am keen to support as the Minister responsible. However, at the same time as praising the value of these trials, I must acknowledge that we face a tough fiscal environment, as noted by the Chancellor in his fiscal statement. Sadly, I am not sure that the Treasury would allow me to play Santa, even at this time of year.

As the hon. Gentleman noted, providing universal bus travel would cost around £77 million—adding around 7.5% to the current concessionary schemes. I am sure hon. Members present are aware that concessionary travel is managed by local authorities. In many ways, they do not get sufficient credit for operating—sometimes almost invisibly—the complex system of transaction and reimbursement around the concessionary scheme. That scheme needs to be sustainable in the long term. I am happy to say that 76 of the 83 authorities have chosen to enhance the scheme using their own resources, above what the Government provide.

If we wish to add further complexity to this locally run and operated system, it should meet three criteria: it has to be deliverable, effective and affordable. In many ways, the third part is enabled by the first two. The hon. Member’s proposals face some short-term challenges in terms of affordability, and I have gone into those. In terms of deliverability, the legislative regime would face challenges in simply providing for care leavers to receive free transport nationally. There would need to be changes to the Transport Act 2000. I am sure hon. Members present appreciate that that cannot be done overnight.

In terms of effectiveness, that is perhaps where we could benefit most from further work. As I have mentioned, trials and projects are under way in England to provide free transport for care leavers. My officials have recently been in touch with officials from some of the key authorities trialling these projects. I will ask to be kept apprised of developments and any evaluation of the trials, including the impact on employment outcomes, which the hon. Member for Strangford mentioned. It is perhaps worth mentioning that these schemes do not involve the English national concessionary travel scheme or legislative change, and they are seeking to do things more quickly by getting existing smart-ticketing products to care leavers. This is something local authorities could do with their own resources, and I will be very interested to see the outcomes of the trials.

I have previously mentioned the care leaver covenant, which is a fantastic initiative designed to provide support for care leavers, not just within Government, but across the public, private and voluntary sectors. My Department has played its part in that by participating in the civil service care leavers internship scheme. I would love to see transport providers, including bus operators, sign up to the covenant and provide free or discounted travel to care leavers to recognise the importance of inclusion across our society.

We take seriously all requests for extensions to concessionary travel, including for care leavers—I certainly do—but we have to balance them with universal changes, the financial sustainability of the scheme, local areas’ knowledge of how their transport networks work best, and how quickly we can deliver the changes we want.

In closing, I again thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak for calling for the debate, and I thank other Members for their contributions. I will meet the hon. Gentleman and Barnardo’s in the new year—possibly in Cornwall, where Barnardo’s scheme has been in place, because it would be interesting to see it on the ground. I will continue to look at the issue as part of our reviews of concessionary schemes. Perhaps there will even be a fourth-Session Bill—the hon. Gentleman could help me by lobbying broader Government in that direction. I will continue, as he asked, to engage across Government in this space, which is important, particularly in terms of employability and helping young people leaving care to make connections that will put them in good stead for the rest of their lives. This is a vital issue, and I look forward to engaging further with the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members as we seek to improve concessionary travel across England.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Employment and the High Street

I beg to move,

That this House has considered employment and the high street.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins, and it is fantastic to see so many Members here. Members will be pleased to hear that I will not make too long an introductory speech, so that we can squeeze everybody’s constituencies in.

Last weekend, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of Small Business Saturday, and I know that many colleagues will have spent the day visiting small businesses. In my constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green, we have Muswell Hill, Crouch End, Myddleton Road, Stroud Green and a number of other wonderful high streets bustling with activity. However, traders tell me that times are tough: changing technology, changes in consumer behaviour, and soaring energy costs and business rates are just some of the issues facing retailers. As part of my planning for the debate, the excellent House of Commons Chamber Engagement Team asked high street customers and small business owners about their town centres. I thank the 344 contributors, whose voices I hope to amplify today.

High streets are not just a place to shop for things we need; they are at the heart of our communities, and the small businesses on them are the lifeblood. They provide space for people to socialise, work and share ideas, and to catch up with old friends and make new ones. The pandemic taught us many painful lessons about what we value, one of which is undoubtedly how bereft our communities become when our town centres are no longer available to us.

I thank the hon. Lady for securing this important debate and for allowing me to intervene. The sudden closure of the Menai bridge by the Welsh Labour Government has decimated high streets in Porthaethwy and Beaumaris, and businesses in surrounding areas on Ynys Môn, during one of their most lucrative retailing seasons. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Welsh Labour Government should have invested in that bridge so that this catastrophe did not happen, and that they need to do much more than just offer free parking to help employers protect vital jobs on the high street at this vital time?

I believe that the free parking that is on offer from the Welsh Government is not necessarily replicated in England, so there are swings and roundabouts with different regions. I am sure the Minister will know every detail about where free parking is available and where it is not, but that may well be something that my constituents now ask me for, because parking is quite a contentious issue in my local authority area.

Going back to the essay question—that of high streets—2.8 million people are employed in retail across the UK, and in London, our high streets are home to 41% of all businesses in the city. Small businesses employ 16 million people in the UK and account for two thirds of UK private sector employment, yet so many high streets are on their knees after 12 years of staggeringly low growth, and independent and small businesses have been hit very hard. The BBC reported this week that there were 9,300 fewer retail outlets in March 2022 than in March 2020, and a recent London Business 1000 survey showed that three quarters of London businesses are feeling less confident about the UK economy over the next 12 months. That is why today’s debate is so important. We need to act now if we want to secure the future of our town centres and the 5.6 million small businesses across the country that are vital to our economy.

Developments in digital technology and the growth in online retail have completely transformed how people shop. Between 2006 and 2019, as we are all aware, online retail increased from around 7% to 19% of the market, while physical shops lost 13% of their market. The pandemic rapidly accelerated that trend and, sadly, many high streets have never recovered. In the week to 2 July 2022, overall retail footfall in the UK was 19% lower than the equivalent week in 2019. We saw how agile and innovative the retail sector can be when many shops moved online; however, that has not been enough to keep stores open, and businesses are begging for more support.

In 2014, the Centre for Retail Research predicted that the growth in online retailing and change in consumer demand would result in one in five UK stores closing within five years. Sadly, its predictions were correct, yet nearly a decade after they were made, the Government have failed to undertake any meaningful action to keep our high streets alive. One respondent, Trevor, described his local high street as follows:

“Depressing beyond belief. The life and vibrancy have completely disappeared”.

Shops are not the only businesses leaving the high street. Post offices, such as the branch inside WHSmith on Wood Green High Road, and bank branches have also been closing at an alarming rate over the past decade. We must consider the damaging effect of losing these other high street services on small businesses and the welfare of our senior citizens.

At least 50 bank branches have closed each month in the UK since 2015. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that; he used to mention it quite a lot when he was on the Back Benches, so I hope he will have some solutions now he is in that powerful position. As colleagues will be aware, HSBC announced another raft of closures this week. Some 8 million adults struggle to cope in a cashless society, with 1.9 million reliant on cash for nearly every transaction they make. Small businesses dependent on local bank branches to safely deposit cash will be forced to go cashless if more branches close, further isolating those who only use cash.

Banks are closing disproportionately in lower-income areas, taking their ATMs with them, shutting off free access to cash and quality financial services from those who need them most. At Prime Minister’s questions today, I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) ask eloquently what the Prime Minister would do about the closure of banks and the lack of access to cash. I hope the Minister will address that burning question.

Shop closures are also costing jobs. Some 1,001 shops closed between January and July this year, resulting in more than 13,000 job losses. Those closures will be among the 43% increase in insolvencies in the last 12 months alone. Retail employees are facing huge instability at a time when so many people are struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table.

As the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers —USDAW—has pointed out, retail is one of the few sectors that offers employees the flexibility to balance their work alongside caring commitments, yet many small businesses report that they cannot afford to pay their staff a wage that reflects the increasing cost of living. That is true for one small hair care business in my constituency, Afrocenchix, which told me that, although it would like to pay its staff more, that would mean increasing the cost of its products at a time when customers are tightening their belts. Many small business owners told me that although they struggle to pay themselves, they would go out of business if they put their prices up.

Another matter of acute concern for small businesses is the effect of soaring energy costs. The Government claim to have recognised that, but they have failed to offer a sustainable long-term solution to provide businesses with the assurance they need. For food-producing businesses, which use a lot of energy, skyrocketing energy bills are extremely worrying. The chair of the Crouch End traders group, who owns a bakery in my constituency, told me that increases in product prices are a likely outcome of soaring energy bills. At a time when customers are tightening their purse strings, he believes that this is a perfect storm threatening many traders. The owner of the oldest family-run artisan bakery in Manchester replied to the House of Commons survey to say that their biggest fear was the totally unsustainable increase in energy costs. I hope that the Minister will address this issue when he speaks.

Where is the sustainable support for businesses terrified about their energy bills? Where is the support for businesses to become more energy efficient, to reduce bills and help the planet? One trader told me that

“offering grants for solar panels would help a lot of businesses,”

adding that

“a lot of us want to be greener but can’t afford the initial capital outlay.”

Labour would keep energy bills down by establishing a publicly owned generator, GB Energy, to guarantee energy security and a stable supply of affordable power. We would make Britain a clean energy superpower by 2030, making sky-high energy bills under the Conservatives a thing of the past. There would be an exciting role for small businesses to play, with so many of them wanting to be part of the solution.

The most pressing issue threatening disaster for our high street shops, which was mentioned by every trader I spoke to, is the major burden of business rates. I am sure that the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), will outline Labour’s position on business rates, which I think is quite an exciting offer that would even out the disproportionate impact on small businesses compared with huge online retailers.

Will the hon. Lady set out what Labour’s policy is? So far, I have heard only that it will scrap business rates; I have not heard what it will put in their place to raise the £22.5 billion a year that we raise in England.

I thank the Minister for his unusual intervention on the opening speaker. I am confident that Labour’s plan to even up the balance between basic high street stores and the huge digital giants will bring the solution that so many of us are desperate to see. Labour is committed to rectifying that imbalance. I know that the Minister is concerned to help business, yet many respondents to the House of Commons survey reported that the planned revaluation of business rates from next April will do the opposite. Labour is putting forward a plan for a root-and-branch replacement of the business rates system, and I hope that the Minister can be equally ambitious.

To help small businesses that are struggling now, Labour would look again at the value of properties, assessing the impact of the burdens on them and what we can do about that. As the Stroud Green traders group in my constituency pointed out, in London it is rare for a high street property to be eligible for business rates relief. We look forward to a reassessment of the threshold for relief. If it were, say, £25,000 rather than £12,000, that would help very small businesses in London and other cities that pay such a high level of income on their rateable value.

There is scope to reinvigorate our town centres, and I welcome the work of local authorities, including the work that my own Haringey Council does under the leadership of Councillor Ahmet and cabinet business lead Councillor Jogee. I also pay tribute to Diane Southam, our departing head of economic development, to Ian Cruise, the town centre manager, and to the business improvement district. We are lucky to have a BID, which I am sure many others in the House will know about, that combines the “cleaner, greener, safer” theme and makes the high street much more appealing and attractive to shop in.

I urge the Government to look at creative ways to help our town centres by introducing community, arts and cultural events to attract people to the area. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the founder of the RecordShop, a community interest company based in Wood Green mall. It is run by a youngster, Mary, who set up the RecordShop to help young people in Haringey and surrounding boroughs to gain skills and experience. It hosts open-mic nights, events and markets. Her vision for the RecordShop shows us that there is room for a renewed relationship with our high streets, and I hope that the Minister will consider this proposal positively.

The warning from small businesses could not be more stark: failing to act now to reduce the onerous costs that they face will result in thousands more closures and job losses, even between now and next April. Supporting high street businesses must be an integral and immediate part of any Government strategy to promote economic growth, as it is in London, where the Local Government Association recognises the importance of thriving high streets in its economic framework for growth. Labour has an urgent recovery plan, underpinned by a hardcore industrial strategy for retail, ready to go. I urge the Minister, once he has heard the pearls of wisdom from the shadow Minister, to take immediate action to work collaboratively to improve our local high streets.

Order. Members will see that the debate is heavily subscribed, so I ask that they stick to around four minutes initially.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I thank the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) for securing this really important debate; talking about small businesses and the revitalisation of high streets is undoubtedly incredibly important.

As the hon. Member indicated, last Saturday we celebrated 10 years since Small Business Saturday was introduced—what a moment for us to be having this debate. No doubt we all spent the weekend out and about in our constituencies, supporting our many independent retail shops. I celebrated by going out and buying my Christmas tree from James and Anne, who run a fantastic business in Addingham. On Wednesday this week, they celebrate 63 years operating in Addingham, which is a huge achievement for a brilliant family-run business.

We are all familiar with such fantastic retail businesses. I suppose this is my opportunity to encourage all my constituents, while they have time, to get involved with my small business award. Nominations close on 9 December and it is a great way to recognise the valuable support that small businesses give to our communities and their customers.

There is absolutely no doubt that the pandemic has changed the nature of high streets, with many more people shopping online. That is a challenge that the market is driving, and it is difficult for the Government to react to it. I do not accept the blame game that says that is the Government’s fault. The way people buy items is very much market-driven, and most people now go online, which is incredibly challenging and frustrating for our many independent businesses.

Of course, there are mechanisms that the Government or local government can use to try to keep high streets as alive as possible. I welcome the range of support that the Government have put in place to help with utility costs, and the indication that they will look at things such as business rates. As the Minister will know, I have said in this place many times that there is a case for reviewing business rates. There is a case for them to be linked more to turnover or calculated on a percentage basis, rather than relating to the area of space that a business occupies. That might take away the challenge faced by a new business occupying a large space and being exposed to business rates. But of course we know that there are reliefs in place, which have been expanded, that are helping many of our small businesses.

I want to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green about the closure of a lot of high street banks. Unfortunately, in Ilkley, we have just had the announcement that HSBC will close its branch, Barclays has already closed, and NatWest has indicated that it will close too. We need to send a wake-up call to the banking sector. I would like to see the banks come together and have a proper conversation about banking hubs. Those could be implemented on the high street, utilising the same premises, and would remove the challenge that banks face keeping their customer base going into branches. We all know that high street banks can help customers who do not live purely in a cashless society. In common with post offices, it is important that we keep those vital facilities going, with a presence on the high street.

In my constituency of Ilkley, and in Keighley, one of the things that causes frustration for local businesses is parking charges. Bradford Council has brought in parking charges in Ilkley, which is incredibly frustrating to a place that is driven by tourists who want to browse our many fantastic retail offerings. When people arrive, they do not know how long they want to stay, so they are faced with the challenge of spending money on car parking and then having to rush back without feeling that they have had enough time to shop and browse. Bradford Council has got it wrong in my constituency. If parking charges have to be implemented, better and more innovative schemes could be considered.

BIDs are an important tool if they have a good culture, a good management team and a good strategy in place. I pay tribute to the Ilkley BID and its manager, Helen Rhodes, who does a fantastic job keeping the sell factor going and driving the good local stories that we have to tell in places in my constituency. On that note, I thank the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green—what a brilliant debate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing the debate. I declare an interest as a member of USDAW. I worked in the retail sector for many years—almost six years, actually, for the John Lewis Partnership—and I have been a member of USDAW for a long time. I want to be up-front about that.

I am proud to represent Stockport, which has many district centres and a vibrant town centre where lots of independent shops operate. We have the iconic SK1 Records and Rare Mags in the town centre, the Funky Monkey café in Davenport, and Blue Door Flowers, where I was on Small Business Saturday. One of the issues we have—I hope the Minister will respond to this—is that the Government do not seem to have a strategy. They do not have an industrial strategy when it comes to the workforce and they do not have a strategy when it comes to saving our high street.

Several points have been mentioned, such as access to cash. People should not have to pay a fee to access their own hard-earned cash. Linked to that point is the post offices mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green and the hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore). I have a Crown post office within walking distance of my constituency office in the town centre. Before the pandemic, sadly, there was a strategy to close it and replace it with a smaller, franchised counter. That Crown post office offers an excellent service to our town—it is staffed by civil servants rather than franchise employees—which will be lost to our town centre if we lose that service.

The trade union USDAW—the main trade union representing retail sector and distribution sector workers—has a “Save Our Shops” campaign, which it has been campaigning on for a long time. Some of the points from that campaign are: economic measures to create a more level playing field between the high street and online retailers; fair pay and job security for retail workers; a minimum wage of £12 an hour, moving up to £15 an hour; tackling zero-hours contracts and short-hours contracts; and investment in skills and training.

The Government should really ensure that retail jobs are well paid, because a large number of people in our workforce are employed in the retail sector—as I said, I worked for almost six years in the retail sector—and retail jobs are real jobs. Retail is a key part of the economy, providing jobs and income for millions of families. We need to ensure that those people get a fair deal, especially in the light of the recent high levels of inflation because of the Government’s bad economic management.

I want to highlight the fact that in May last year it was reported in The Guardian newspaper that in 2020 Amazon had sales income in Europe of €44 billion but paid zero corporation tax. The year before that, the Fair Tax Foundation found that Amazon was—alongside other tech giants—one of the worst companies for aggressive tax avoidance. I hope the Government will take action.

A key stat for the north-west that I want to highlight is that PwC reported that 779 shops in the north-west of England—my constituency is in the north-west of England—have closed since the start of 2022. I appreciate that the pandemic had an impact, but according to the Centre for Retail Research high streets lost 177,000 jobs in 2020. As I mentioned, those jobs are real jobs, and we need a strategy to ensure that people are paid fairly and that those jobs exist.

I could go on for a lot longer, but I know that other Members want to speak and that you set an informal time limit of four minutes, Mrs Cummins, so I will end on this point. We need a clear strategy from the Government when it comes to saving our high streets and saving independent businesses. We also need to ensure that online tech giants are taxed and that we do not allow them to dodge billions and billions of pounds-worth of tax.

It is, as ever, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) for securing the debate.

This issue is so vital to towns such as Bolton, which I have seen evolve since my election in 2010. In years gone past, the high street of Bolton bustled and businesses flourished. It was a real economic centre in the north-west. We had a large department store, and it may seem trivial but the high street was populated with butchers, greengrocers and the like, all offering affordable and fresh options. Fast forward to today and it could not be any more different: we have empty shops, a huge number of betting shops and charity shops, and tons of pawnbrokers. It is a perfect storm for a town that is now the third most deprived in Greater Manchester, and my constituency is the 38th most deprived in the United Kingdom.

The decline is obvious. There is a clear correlation between the rise of the internet and super-retailers and the demise of our high streets. As online retailers took over, the need to commute into Bolton town centre to go shopping quickly became unnecessary. The ease and simple nature of it seemed to offer all upsides and no downsides; a new mode of leisure was here to stay. The pandemic has made things worse. Our high streets in Bolton and throughout the country are now in a concerning state, and it is our economy and the people of our country who are losing out.

I am not saying that we should not be able to shop online—indeed, I am sure all Members have used online retailers—but we need to rebalance the scales to ensure that brick-and-mortar businesses in Bolton can compete with online stores, which have lower costs and can reduce their prices. I want to see Bolton High Street flourish. I want independent retailers, coffee shops, butchers, bakers and others to spring up. I want our high street to reflect the Britain of old: a nation of shopkeepers. For that to happen, we need a Government who take an active role, a state that nurtures business and a taxation system that rebalances the scale in favour of brick-and-mortar businesses.

Labour plans to replace business rates with a fairer system and devolve power to local communities so that they can decide what they want to do in their local area. We have committed to truly invest in and level up left-behind neighbourhoods such as Farnworth and Harper Green in my constituency, and to spur regional growth. That will ensure that regions are more prosperous and create jobs and opportunities. It will make towns such as mine and others good places to grow up, learn, work and grow old in. People should not have to leave to get on, and improving employment prospects on the high street is key to that. I urge the Government to do more to help our local shops.

It is an absolute pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this really important debate.

This debate is apposite, because only last week Barclays bank announced that it is going to close its branch in Ellesmere Port. What is particularly frustrating about that is that I was approached a couple of months ago by a constituent who told me that when they went into the branch they were discouraged from using the counter services. In fact, they were told that it was not available to personal customers and that there were other options available. Lo and behold, two months later Barclays bank says, “We don’t really have people coming into the branch any more, so we don’t need to keep it open.” I am afraid this drive to online services is being used by banks that can frankly afford to keep those branches open. It is part of a wider trend.

We will now go through a 12-week consultation period that has been described as nothing more than a box-ticking exercise. I am pretty clear that Barclays is not going to change its mind. Has any bank ever decided to remain open after announcing its closure? The code of practice needs to be looked at seriously, because we are being treated as a box-ticking exercise. The wider impact of such decisions on our communities needs to be considered much more.

It was 20 years ago that Barclays closed its branch in Little Sutton. It told us then, “It’s not a problem because you can still use the branch in Ellesmere Port.” Now my constituents will be sent further and further afield. HSBC announced that it would close its branch in Ellesmere Port back in March. It said, “You can go and use the branch in Bromborough, about five miles away,” but this week it announced that it is going to close the Bromborough branch. The cumulative effect is there for all to see. It seems that we are powerless to stop this trend, and our high streets are the worse for it.

Some banks say that post offices can be used, but we are seeing closure after closure of post offices. In my constituency, two have announced their closure in the past couple of months. The Post Office’s flawed model means that they will reopen only if there is commercial partner. That means the great likelihood is the people of Great Sutton and Elton will not see those branches reopen. The people of Elton have already suffered: they had to wait more than a year for a commercial partner to be found the previous time their branch closed, and the people of Neston had the same problem. The Post Office needs to completely reappraise its responsibility to communities, instead of operating on a completely commercial basis.

Barclays made £2 billion profit in the last quarter, so frankly it can afford to keep open every single branch that in recent weeks it announced would close. We need to draw a line in the sand. Will we continue to accept these closures? Will we continue to accept the decline of the high street? Or will we ask these organisations to take a bit more corporate responsibility for their areas, for the communities they are supposed to serve and for people who cannot go online for many understandable reasons?

Councils are not able to offer a solution while they are restricted by ever-shrinking budget rounds and competitive bids that are not always successful. We need a sustainable, long-term strategy for our high streets that requires big anchor organisations, such as banks and post offices, to serve their communities. Without that, the civic pride that people feel in their high streets will continue to erode, and we will all be the poorer for that.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) for securing this important and timely debate.

I am deeply concerned about the future of high streets across Coventry. The covid-19 pandemic and non-stop Government economic mismanagement have put businesses in an impossible situation. Small business owners throughout Coventry regularly tell me how difficult it is to get on and succeed at the moment. Sadly, we have already seen a number of independent businesses shut up shop for good this winter.

Dotted across my city are much-loved independent businesses, but many, including cafés and butchers, have been forced to close this year, because they cannot keep up with skyrocketing running costs, high rent and expensive business rates. Once those businesses close their doors, it is incredibly hard for them ever to reopen. If we allow our high streets to fold, we are in real danger of losing the heart of many communities. I do not want smaller high streets in my city, such as Jubilee Crescent, Spon End and Jardine Crescent, to become empty and abandoned, and nor do I want to see Coventry city centre become hollow.

On Small Business Saturday, I went to visit one of the wonderful businesses in my constituency: the Brownie Box on Sadler Road. The lovely coffee shop not only sells delicious fresh brownies and baked goods but supports the local community. When I sat down to speak to Emily, the shop owner, she told me of the challenges she is facing in staying open. The shop’s energy bill has tripled since the summer, and she is dealing with the fluctuating prices of goods such as eggs. That makes it difficult for her to financially plan. That business is a wonderful bakery, but it needs support to continue to be viable.

There is much that we in this place urgently need to do to save our high streets and support smaller businesses. First, we need to replace business rates with a fairer system that supports smaller businesses, as Labour has promised to do. We must also empower local authorities with the means to invest in our high streets again, rather than cutting their budgets to the bone and failing to deliver levelling-up funds. Local councils should be in the driving seat so that they can properly support their own high streets. We must make it much easier to start up a new business and gain premises.

Labour is leading the way. We have pledged a review of starting up businesses in the UK. Only by levelling the playing field will we ensure that independent businesses can compete with dodgy online giants such as Amazon, the warehouse of which in my constituency continues to see my constituents treated unfairly in sub-par conditions, and which does not pay its fair share of tax. Unless we get money back into people’s pockets, bring down bills and deliver new well-paid green jobs, our high streets will continue to collapse. If we fail to provide high streets and small businesses with the help that they desperately need, none of us should be surprised if we see more businesses and shops boarded up, and many communities losing their identities.

The time for action is now. The ball is firmly in the Government’s court. When will the Government back Coventry’s high street and support small businesses?

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) for securing the debate.

If we were in York today, we would see that it is buzzing, which is no accident, because York BID—the business improvement district—along with the York High Street Forum and Indie York, which represents 65% of businesses in York, have worked so hard. York is thriving, but they are worried about what will come in the new year, and they certainly do not feel comfortable about that, not least given the challenges ahead. Energy is still an issue, but we are also still working through this recovery, which will take some time.

Today, I will focus my comments on some of the innovation that is happening in the high streets of York. We have the StreetLife project on Coney Street, which is looking at the future and considering what York’s high streets are going to be like, including the opening up of a new high street on the riverside that will be a new opportunity for businesses to invest. Currently, a centre is open that people can come into, and it is wonderful seeing children playing in what used to be a high street shop. People can come and just take in what our city is about.

I want to focus in particular on the Guildhall project. We are looking at new skills, businesses and opportunities in the city. The University of York has made a significant investment, as a university for public good, working to take a 30-year lease. Already, we are looking at 160 jobs coming into the city centre, giving it a new life. The university says:

“A crucial part of the University’s civic mission as an institution for public good is to support local business and community networks, and as we rebuild and recover from the pandemic the Guildhall will enable us to provide more expertise and training to help our regional businesses and charities to recover, innovate and grow.”

The Guildhall project is really exciting. The 15th-century Guildhall now has offices around it, and Eagle Labs and the University of York have come along to support new entrepreneurs in our city to accelerate their businesses and grow them, bringing new businesses into our city centre with office space, conferencing facilities, a café and co-working. There is a great opportunity there, with training and networking for existing businesses, and business leaders coming into the heart of our city. This is how we are revitalising our high streets: with the businesses for the future and the new communities for the future.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her positive tone. Combined with her ideas on housing, which she has talked about in the House, what she describes could be a really fantastic way forward for York, with the university, the housing and the vibrant high street.

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. Of course, we are building that vision for the future of our city and it is coming to life.

There is not only the Guildhall project. Spark is a community interest company in our city centre that has now set up in old shipping containers, no less. It is a real community space where there are start-ups, support, events, a food bank, a kids’ cinema kids—you name it, it happens at Spark. It is an exciting place.

We need to ensure that the kinds of initiatives I have mentioned get the support that they need to be able to grow and create the next generation of our high streets. That is why I look to the Minister, while he has the pen in his hand, to think about how we invest in the future of our high streets. In particular, we should look at the investment funding pots that can be applied to, to ensure that we really give energy to these opportunities and see the businesses, growth and entrepreneurs flourish in the future, while ensuring that we build stability in our towns and cities for the years ahead.

It is a pleasure, Mrs Cummins, to speak in this debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on setting the scene so very well. We thank her for securing the debate, and thereby giving us all a chance to contribute.

It is very nice to see the Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) —in his place. I was referred to today as a poacher turned gamekeeper. That is probably very much the case with the Minister, because he participated in and supported us in such debates when he was a Back Bencher.

Our local high streets are the backbone of not only our economy, but our constituencies. Some local businesses on our high streets faced devastation through the covid-19 pandemic—subjected to a lack of footfall, temporary and permanent closures and, more recently, struggles with payments due to the rising cost of living. In my constituency of Strangford, there are high streets in towns such as Newtownards, Comber and Ballynahinch. Villages in my constituency also have many smaller, but unique, shops. The high street in the main town, Newtownards, thrives throughout the week, especially on Saturdays, when there is a local market. The hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) said that a shop in his constituency had been there for 60 years. Wardens—a family-owned firm that employs 55 people—has been in Newtownards for 145 years, and we have other family-owned shops that employ fewer people but still provide employment; for example, the butcher’s shop employs 65 people, although that is a massive store. We also have branded shops such as Peacocks and Argento. Comber High Street has a farmers’ market once a month, where local farmers can come together to sell produce made in the heart of Strangford’s farms and villages.

Coronavirus obviously had an impact on employment in our local high streets. As lockdowns lifted, the footfall was unfortunately not the same. I think that has now come back to a certain degree, although rising costs and prices have had an effect. Northern Ireland’s Minister for the Economy initiated earlier this year and last year a local high street voucher scheme. It is probably unique to Northern Ireland, although I know the Minister is aware of it. Every person aged over 18 in Northern Ireland was given a £100 voucher, and the scheme contributed some £140 million to the economy.

We also have some issues with derelict buildings, as has been the case in Court Street, just off High Street, in Newtownards, although I am pleased to say that we now have an ongoing regeneration plan. It is hoped that an area that was once housing and some smaller, unique businesses will be returned to the glory days of the past. Unfortunately, the very nature of derelict buildings brings other antisocial behaviours.

High streets and town centres have struggled in recent years as trends have changed. The hon. Member for Keighley and others mentioned online business. A few years ago, Excel Clothing in Newtownards recognised that although it had a lovely shop front on the high street, it needed to go online. The owner did that and now half his business is online. That is a good thing.

Young people today would rather find gifts online—order them and have them delivered—than go out and trek around the shops, whereas my wife, all her family and that generation love to go shopping; for them, it is part of the fun. I have to say that my wife Sandra does all the shopping; I just make sure the money is available!

We can provide encouragement to ensure our high streets are looked after and made good use of, especially coming up to Christmas. Our local economies feed into the economy of the country. I know that the Minister and the shadow Minister grasp the importance of the high street for us all, and we look forward to hearing their comments. We must make more use of the amazing businesses offered to us, the core of which has to be the high streets in my constituency of Newtownards and in everybody else’s constituencies.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this popular debate, which comes soon after the 10th anniversary of Small Business Saturday. As someone who grew up above my parents’ small business, I was delighted to celebrate with my hon. Friend and so many colleagues from across the House.

Everyone has spoken powerfully. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, the hon. Member for Keighley, my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell), and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), have spoken on common themes: the need for regeneration; the need to tackle the high costs affecting local high street businesses; fluctuating prices hitting profitability and services; the urgently needed business rates review; the closure of bank branches; the loss of ATMs; the impact on families and local consumers; and the need for civic pride.

We are also here to celebrate our small businesses and high streets. Good high streets are anchors of community life, where neighbours come together. They employ so many in the local community: an estimated 14% of the UK workforce works on the high street, in civic centres, leisure centres, cafés, offices, banks, post offices and so on. Our high streets reflect and shape the character of the places they are in. They are the backbone of what Labour calls the everyday economy, they are central to our growth agenda for the local and national economy, and they are a space for local entrepreneurship and community businesses. Those arguments are made so powerfully by UKHospitality, the British Retail Consortium, the National Hair & Beauty Federation and others. We need to see our high streets thrive.

We all know that, as has been illustrated in the debate, times have been tough. But they have been made tougher because of the lack of action—speedy action—from the Conservative Government. They also do not do enough to pre-empt the impact on local communities of the decisions they make in respect of local authority spending cuts and so on.

We have also seen the issues relating to shifting spending patterns and the severe inflationary headwinds leaving consumers with less money to spend and retailers with slimmer profit margins. PwC expects Christmas spending to decline by £1.8 billion—and that is in the golden quarter, when retail traditionally recoups any losses. This matters because, as emphasised by Gordon Brown’s commission on the future of the UK, launched this week, the high street prospers only when the local community and local economy are strong, because people need money in their pockets in order to spend it.

The stress caused by the cost of living is now a major cause of abuse against shop workers. Retailers such as Tesco, representatives of which I met last week as part of its winter food-collection scheme, told me about the increase in the shoplifting of everyday items. People are struggling just to get by. The trade union USDAW, which has made powerful contributions to the wider debate, says that verbal and physical abuse is worsening. On a recent visit to Sainsbury’s I saw for myself the fortitude of staff in dealing with abuse that should not be coming their way.

The decline of the high street is a problem we have been aware of throughout the Government’s time in power. They even commissioned the Portas review, but in August Mary Portas hit out at the Government for their dither and delay while high streets faced what she called the “biggest proper crisis” she has seen. Last year, the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee criticised the Tories’ current solutions, such as town deals, the towns fund and the high street taskforce, as

“too complex, short-term, and fragmented”.

They do not come anywhere near to making up for 12 years of local authority underfunding, let alone a strategy for regenerating our high streets and supporting businesses to achieve net zero.

Unlike the Conservatives, we want to see high streets that are thriving—and we have a plan for that. We will implement a robust industrial strategy, so that business owners can plan and invest with confidence in our communities. We will implement a plan for clean energy, so that by the end of the decade we are saving almost £100 billion for businesses and consumers. We are committed to the reform of business rates. The current unfair system sees high street businesses forking out a third of business rates even though they make up just 15% of the overall economy. We would level the playing field between online retailers and bricks-and-mortar shops by increasing the digital services tax. The retail sector is absolutely crying out for that—indeed, the Retail Jobs Alliance, a coalition of major retailers, is calling for that very policy.

Communities must be put in the driving seat. To put them there, we should support the growth of co-operatives and ensure that communities are given a real stake and say in the development of their town centres. That is why the Labour party is committed to doubling the size of the co-operative sector. Labour city Mayors are also making a difference. For example, the Mayor of London is funding night time enterprise zones, because opening up at night can increase footfall during the day as well. The pilots have been successful.

Labour’s plan would strengthen the high street, because we listen to those who use and make the high street on the need for an industrial strategy, the dignity of retail work and the reform of business rates. We want to see this sustained through co-operatives, assets of community value and the biggest transfer of power the UK has ever seen. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the important issues raised in the debate.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this important debate. As I knew she would, she spoke passionately on behalf of her constituents and our high streets.

We all agree about the importance of high streets. As the hon. Lady pointed out, this is not just about our local economy: high streets are crucial to our local communities. On a national scale, the retail sector alone contributes around 4% of UK gross value added and almost 3 million jobs. She referenced the impact of e-commerce, and I agree with the shadow Minister about the need for us to establish and maintain a fair and level playing field—something I have often spoken about in Parliament. I join the hon. Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), who called for more action on ensuring a fair and level playing field on taxation.

With 26% of retail sales taking place online, it is important to note that small high street businesses also trade online. That is about innovation but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) pointed out, it is consumers and consumer choice that are driving transactions online. We should not dictate to consumers where they shop, but that is nevertheless causing difficulties for our high street. I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) about ensuring that we protect our high streets through this revolution—and it is a revolution—but we should not forget that it is consumers driving the revolution, rather than rates or any other issue. These are additional issues for retailers, but the primary issue is the customers in the first place and the footfall through different stores.

A shop in my high street moved from being just a shop front—an excellent and massive shop it is as well; probably four times the size of this room—to going online. It proved that by going online it could also maintain its presence on the high street. Can we do something to encourage businesses to do both—to have a shop on the high street and to be online?

The hon. Member makes a good point. I was just going to come to his experiences shopping with his family in the physical high street. My family does that too. On Saturday, I was in Malton—one of the towns in my constituency—for Small Business Saturday. I too enjoy the experience of physically going shopping, and Malton is a wonderful example, as it created a new identity for itself as Yorkshire’s food capital. This is the future of high streets: a mixture of hospitality, leisure and retail. Malton has successfully done that, and there are lots of lessons to be learned from it.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) rightly pointed out that there is an opportunity for businesses to be not just a physical or an online retainer, but both or either. It is about the creativity of businesses in meeting their customers’ needs, and that is what we have to facilitate. Of course, there is a multitude of opportunities for employment, from flexibility to the development of new and portable skills. We also need to recognise retail as a rewarding career—something that the Retail Sector Council, which I co-chair, is keen to do.

The high street has struggled with the pandemic, which has caused difficulties. We should pay tribute to the creativity and resilience of businesses and their ability to respond to those challenges; we have all seen examples on our high streets. It is right that part of our mission is to ensure that our high streets and the communities that depend on them receive the investment they need to properly plan and grow for the long term.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green talked about the lack of meaningful action from the Government, which is one thing I do not accept. At a local level, we have to ensure that our local authorities have the right plans for infrastructure to drive footfall, and ensure that goods and services flow easily, and businesses and consumers benefit from decent roads, affordable parking and a clean and well-cared for mixed environment. At a national level, the Government are doing much, including through initiatives such as our £4.8 billion levelling-up fund and the future high streets fund. Last year, we published our build back better high streets strategy, which identified many changes we need, and we have already gone a long way towards delivering on that.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the potential benefits of wisely spending the levelling-up fund or the towns fund money that is available to local authorities. He may want to note that this has been done very successfully in Ipswich, where I helped to devise a scheme to support local shopping parades, which will see improved parking and many other enhancements. Might we be able to use that as an exemplar of what can be done to support the local high street and improve footfall?

That is a great example. Through the different councils, we are determined to develop different best practice examples. My hon. Friend points to the leadership in his context, and I urge all colleagues to do the same and be leaders in their communities.

The Government have created a new commercial business and service use class, giving businesses the freedom and flexibility, through class E, to change use without needing planning permission. We are working to make permanent many of the regulatory easements we introduced during the pandemic that not only allowed cafes and restaurants to move the indoors to the outdoors but helped to create vibrant, bustling outdoor spaces. In the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, we are committed to going further to support places to tackle blight and revive our high streets, by giving new powers to local authorities to require landlords to rent out long-term vacant commercial premises to prospective tenants.

The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) raised the important redevelopment of the Guildhall, which is a fantastic facility. I am sure she knows that the £22 million for that came from His Majesty’s Government’s growth deal and the getting building fund. The Government are doing much in these areas, including in the hospitality strategy and much more.

I will touch on one or two of the points made. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) was understandably concerned about the closure of bank branches, which we have all experienced in our areas. Banking hubs are part of the solution, which we are supporting, as are post offices. There is a banking agreement that helps our post offices to maintain their profitability.

The hon. Member for Stockport talked about his local post office. Post offices are vital to local communities. The Government provide around £50 million a year in subsidies to ensure post offices are still with us. He also raised the matter of access to cash. Clause 47 of the Financial Services and Markets Bill deals with that, and gives the Financial Conduct Authority new powers to require provision of access to cash where it is disappearing from our high streets.

I will touch on business support thus far. The autumn statement’s £13.6 billion of business rates support has been welcomed right across the sector. It would be irresponsible and undeliverable to commit to simply scrap a tax completely, when it raises £22 billion in England alone, and not to say what it will be replaced with. That tax money has to be replaced by something, and we need to understand exactly what the replacement will be. Our approach is more realistic, reasonable and deliverable, as is the energy bill relief scheme, which is hugely important, as it provides vital support for businesses through to the end of March. We have been clear that there will be further support for some vulnerable sectors. The details of that support will be announced by the end of the year. For retail, I am sure there is a very good case for many of our smaller businesses on our high streets to get extended support.

I want to give the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green time to respond. I thank all Members for their contributions. It is encouraging to see that all sides of the House share a common cause to look after our high streets, and make sure they are still focal points for our local communities.

I thank all the Members who have participated. There is a spot of light in the amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill around access to cash. However, the bigger picture does not offer an encouraging outlook: a 16% increase in business insolvencies compared with this month a year ago, and 11% more than in pre-pandemic times. These are troubling times, particularly for small businesses. The loss of jobs is likely to come through the closure of shops, banks and post offices, and the general lack of strategy from the Government. I hope we can have a further debate with a bit more substance to it, perhaps with a strategy from the Minister, not just an amendment to a Bill. I look forward to you being in the Chair for that, Mrs Cummins.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered employment and the high street.

Sitting adjourned.