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Westminster Hall

Volume 727: debated on Tuesday 7 February 2023

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 7 February 2023

[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

Saving for Later Life

[Relevant documents: Third Report of the Work and Pensions Committee, Protecting pension savers—five years on from the pension freedoms: Saving for later life, HC 126, and Fourth Special Report of the Work and Pensions Committee, Protecting pension savers—five years on from the pension freedoms: Saving for later life: Government, Financial Conduct Authority and Money and Pensions Service Responses to the Committee’s Third Report of Session 2022–23, HC 1057.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of saving for later life.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. The debate arises from the recent report by the Work and Pensions Committee and the responses from the Government, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Money and Pensions Service. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to have this debate.

Auto-enrolment has been a big success, reversing the decline in workplace pension saving. By the end of last November, over 10.8 million workers had been automatically enrolled and over 2.1 million employers had met their obligations. Our report highlights two big challenges: first, people are not saving enough for an adequate income in retirement; and, secondly, there are people outside the scope of auto-enrolment, due to low pay or self-employment, who would nevertheless benefit from saving in a pension. I will set out those two problems.

The first is retirement income adequacy. Auto-enrolment requires employers to enrol eligible workers aged between 22 and state pension age and earning above £10,000 a year into a workplace pension, and, unless they opt out, to make minimum contributions on a band of qualifying earnings. Employees have to contribute at least 5% of qualifying earnings, including 1% in tax relief, and employers must contribute 3%, so the statutory minimum contribution is 8%. Thanks to auto-enrolment, 86% of eligible workers were saving in a pension in 2020—about twice as much as the proportion was in 2012. The problem is that some who used to have no pension savings now have inadequate pension savings, and they do not know that that is the case.

The Pensions Policy Institute claims that only 39% of households are on track for an adequate pension, according to the Pensions Commission definition. The Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association says that nearly 20% of households at the moment are heading for poverty in retirement. The problem is worse for people in their 40s or and above who have no defined benefit pensions and have not had time to build up an auto-enrolment pension either. The crisis of under-saving will crystallise when they retire, when it will be too late to do anything about it. One of the Minister’s predecessors, Sir Steve Webb, describes it as a “slow-motion car crash” that requires action now.

In our report we asked the Government to consult on a plan to deal with the issue and report back to us by March this year. In their response, the Government recognised the problem:

“Current statutory contributions of 8% on a band of earnings are unlikely to give all individuals the retirement to which they aspire”.

However, they said that now was not the “right time to consult” and that instead they would provide “further information and guidance”. Many witnesses, including the then Pensions Minister, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), told us that that would not work. He told us that

“the lessons of automatic enrolment are that default is the only way to get big interventions”,

and he was absolutely right.

The Government now need to make the case for higher contributions. As things stand, people do not know that they are not saving enough. We need a plan to raise minimum contributions, perhaps with mechanisms such as Save More Tomorrow, where people commit in advance to contributing more as their pay rises in future. The Association of British Insurers argues that contributions should go up from 8% today to 12% by the early 2030s, as in the successful Australian system.

I commend the right hon. Member on this timely debate. He talked about timing. Does he agree that while successive Governments commendably maintained the triple lock on state pension contributions and entitlements, it will come under increasing pressure in the coming years? The timeliness of the debate in resolving that is, or should be, apparent to everyone.

The hon. Gentleman is right. The Government have usually—not always—applied the triple lock correctly, but it is absolutely vital that people build their own pension savings on top of that. Otherwise, a lot of people will get a very nasty shock when they reach retirement, and at that point it will be too late to do anything about it.

Understanding someone’s private pension is quite complex, particularly if they have had more than one job and been in several schemes. Does the right hon. Member agree the work that the Department for Work and Pensions is doing to deliver a dashboard with industry will allow people to access all that information?

That is very important. We are expecting quite significant progress on the dashboard this year. The Select Committee will, I hope, be taking evidence about that in a session quite soon. That will be an important step, when it finally becomes available.

We recognised in our report that with the cost of living crisis now is not the right time to increase everybody’s pension contributions, but the ground needs to be prepared for increases in future. To quote the Financial Inclusion Commission, we need a “light bulb moment” to alert employers and the public to the gravity of the current under-saving problem. We need to start building a new consensus on what an adequate retirement income is and what is needed to deliver it.

I commend the right hon. Member on bringing this forward. It is not just about the workers of today; we must start earlier. I know he has probably commented on that, but there have been numerous surveys. One, undertaken by Deloitte, states that younger people do not have a sound understanding of things such as ISAs, saving pots or pension pots. We must also note that some teenagers as young as 14 have jobs, so they should be knowledgeable about pensions and savings. Does he agree that consideration should be given to incorporating these matters into learning for life and work modules in schools across the UK nationally? Start it early, because that is when we build for the future.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is helpful for people at school to develop an understanding of financial matters. Even a fairly brief exposure to these matters at school can be really helpful in forming an understanding that serves people well throughout their future working lives.

In their response to our call for work to start building this consensus, the Government said they had a range of metrics for adequacy, but that misses the point. Will Ministers work with others to identify what an adequate retirement income is, and will they then start laying the ground for sufficient saving to deliver it? The Department’s own analysis in 2017 was that 12 million people were under-saving—that is about 38% of the working-age population. Some 1.5 million were substantially under-saving. The Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Hexham, told us that the number of under-savers was “up for debate” but “clearly substantial”. He said the Government would carry out further analysis and keep the Committee informed. When will the Department produce new estimates of the extent of under-saving? When will it publish its research on the pension saving issues for people with low incomes?

The 2017 auto-enrolment review recommended first lowering the minimum age at which a worker must be auto-enrolled from 22 to 18. Secondly, it recommended

“removing the lower limit of the qualifying earnings band”—

which is £6,240 at the moment—so that contributions are paid on the whole of somebody’s earnings. We heard there was “almost universal support” for thus helping people poorly served by the current system—in particular, low-paid or part-time workers—and we recommended doing so. In response, the Government restated their commitment to implementing the 2017 review in the mid-2020s, saying:

“We aim to bring forward legislation at a suitable opportunity and when parliamentary time allows.”

Well, the mid-2020s are approaching rapidly. We need legislation this year if that is to be achieved, and I would welcome any encouragement that the Minister can give us about the prospects for that.

A second big problem is tackling exclusion from auto-enrolment. As I have said, auto-enrolment has reversed the decline in the number of employees saving in a pension. By contrast, there has been a big fall in self-employed pension savings, from about 48% in the 1990s to 16% now. We have known about that for some time; indeed, the Department’s response to the 2017 auto-enrolment review said that it was

“a significant and complex strategic problem”,

which is a fair comment.

A lot of people giving evidence to our inquiry argued for mirroring auto-enrolment, using the tax or national insurance system to auto-enrol self-employed people. It is very disappointing that the Government have no plans to do either of those things. Instead, they say that they favour prompts and nudges through accountancy, plus opportunities from the Making Tax Digital programme, but none of that will be enough. Can the Minister tell us when the Department plans to report back on those efforts? I am afraid they are doomed to fail.

A key part of our report focused on the gig economy. The 2021 Uber case suggested to some people that auto-enrolment might be opened up to all workers, but there are big enforcement challenges. Uber gave us compelling evidence and told us about its auto-enrolment model for drivers, which it had invited competitors to join. None of them has done so yet. The Government say that many gig economy workers are already eligible for auto-enrolment, including fixed-term contract, zero-hours and agency workers. The Pensions Regulator ought to be securing employer compliance, but it told us about a “significant evidential burden”. It told us that employers routinely challenge it at every stage and that the guidance issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last July did not help.

Uber and the GMB trade union called on the Government to legislate for better enforcement, with a new body for that purpose. We repeated the recommendation that we made in two previous reports for an employment Bill to address these issues. We have no idea why that Bill has not been forthcoming. In their response, the Government referred to their backing for five private Members’ Bills on a range of employment issues. Those are all no doubt helpful, but none of them helps with delivering auto-enrolment in the gig economy. We called for the Department to work with the Pensions Regulator to estimate, first, how many people in the gig economy should be workers for auto-enrolment purposes and therefore should be auto-enrolled, and, secondly, what resources or powers the Pensions Regulator needs to make sure that employers comply with their obligations, which they are most certainly not doing at the moment. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us something about what the Government will do to stop people working in the gig economy missing out on their entitlement.

The third important gap was referred to in evidence to us from a number of bodies, including Age UK, which told us the gender pensions gaps remains a serious problem. It reflects differences in labour market participation and hits women at retirement, when there is very little they can do about it. Nobody in government produces any data on the gender pensions gap, so the Prospect trade union produced a definition. It suggested the definition should be the percentage difference in average gross pension income for men and women receiving the state pension, and it currently estimates the gap to be 37.9%. There has been very little progress in reducing that since Prospect started reporting five years ago.

Last year, I carried a private Member’s Bill through the House to Royal Assent.  That legislation addressed sex-based inequality and guaranteed minimum pensions, which is just a small aspect of the pensions pay gap. Does the right hon. Member agree that because women are likely to earn less than men, and therefore their pension contributions will be lower, further and widespread work is required?

Yes, I think the hon. Member is quite right. It is not just that women’s earnings are lower and therefore their pension contributions are lower; a lot of women earn below the current auto-enrolment earnings threshold, so they do not save anything at all. NOW: Pensions says that of the 14.6 million employed women in the UK, 17% do not meet the automatic enrolment criteria, compared with 8% of male employees. That is a big part of the problem as well and, as the hon. Member said, it is very much tied up with lower earnings.

I warmly welcome the announcement that the Department is working across Government to develop a coherent framework for assessing this gap and to find a definition to enable the measurement of progress to reduce it. Will the Minister tell us when she expects that work to be complete? In her helpful letter to the Work and Pensions Committee, which was published yesterday, she said that she was looking at

“regular reporting on the gender pension gap….to better highlight the issue publicly.”

When does she expect “regular reporting” to begin? When she says “regular reporting”, does she envisage that happening annually?

Auto-enrolment has been a big success in increasing the number of workers saving in a pension, but there is a lot more to do for the pension system to deliver adequate retirement incomes. The Department agrees with the Committee on the problems that need to be addressed; now we need to get a move on and address them. After the 2017 review—some six years ago—the Department said that its focus was

“for individuals to keep saving and to save more after minimum contributions reach 8 per cent in 2019”


“to ensure that younger people, part-time workers and the self-employed can achieve more security in later life.”

Momentum has now stalled. The Department has not even progressed the recommendations of that review. In winding up, will the Minister make a start by telling us when the Government intend to make progress on those recommendations?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), on securing the debate. As a member of the Backbench Business Committee, I thank him for applying for time for us to have a debate on this important topic.

Pension debates are bit like buses: we have had none for ages, and now we have had three in the last four sitting days, so we can certainly explore the topic thoroughly. By some fluke, we have ended up with all the key planks of pensions status being considered over the last few days. We looked at the age at which people should get their state pension and, last night, we looked at increasing pensions to keep them in line with inflation, which is key plank. If we are going to have a model where the state pension should be enough to keep people out of poverty in retirement, and after that is up to people to save for the kind of living that they want, we need to ensure the minimum floor is in the right place. We should welcome the fact the Government did that last night.

However, that leaves our whole pension-saving approach relying on how much people and their employers save for their own retirement. It is almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that people are simply not saving enough. The vast majority of people who work now are not saving enough, and the younger they are the more likely they are not to be saving enough.

The situation is stark. Around 28% of employees are still in defined benefit schemes, mainly in the public sector. Some 87% of those get an employer contribution of over 12% of their pay. However, for the 51% of people in defined contribution schemes, that number falls to 9%, so 91% of people in defined contribution schemes are not getting an employer contribution that is anything like the level that they used to have, or the level that we get.

The situation for the self-employed, as the Chair of the Select Committee set out, is even worse, as only 16% of self-employed people are saving anything like a material amount in a pension. Despite the incredible growth in the employed having a pension, that number for the self-employed is down from 48% 20 years ago, so they are going in the wrong direction. I suspect that is mostly because there is now a lot more self-employment in the gig economy. We can argue whether they are really self-employed, but they are the ones without any pension provision at all. There is clearly a huge problem, and we need to find a way to solve it.

Auto-enrolment was a tremendous start, getting people who were not saving anything to at least save something. The problem, of course, is that they are not saving anything like enough, and they probably do not even know that. The reason why auto-enrolment was chosen and was such a great success was that it did not require any engagement from the individual. In some ways, engagement is a bad thing, because if they do not know that this money is being taken from them and put in a pension scheme, they will not opt out.

We are trying to build a model that requires engagement to boost savings levels on a model where success was based on not having very much engagement. That is a real problem that we must wrestle with carefully. We do not want people to start opting out, but we do want them to realise that they are not going to have much quality of life in retirement if they do not do something materially different.

That brings us to two initiatives. The first is the dashboard and the second is access to guidance. There is a general consensus that the dashboard will be great, and that it will move us forward by enabling people to understand how much they have got in savings. It would be helpful if the Minister could give an update on when people will have live access that enables them to see at least the majority of the pensions they have saved for in their life. I think we would all accept that it is better to have it later than to have something that is rubbish, but let us not have perfection delay it too far. There probably will be some pensions schemes that will not be able to meet any kind of realistic starting date soon, but they will have so few savers in them that there will not be a problem for the vast majority. I hope that some time next year, people will have live access so that they can find out how much pension saving they have.

Having spent years working out the mechanics and how to make the system safe, what we really need to fix is what people will see when they go on the pensions dashboards. Will the Minister set out the process and her vision for it? People need a clear statement of what they have already saved and some objective, fair and consistent comparison with what they need to have saved, what other people have saved by that time and what they are on track to achieve. Otherwise, they will just see a large-looking pot of money. For someone with no other savings, having 20 grand in their pension might look like they are rich and everything is going to be fine.

I want to pick up on the point about national insurance contributions, and ladies who thought they were on a pension scheme that would reward them when they reached pension age. As an elected representative, I have had a number of constituents come forward over the past few years to tell me that, as they were part-time workers, their national insurance stamps were paid only for a certain period of time. That means that when they reach pension age, their pension is not there for them, although their understanding was that they would have a pension. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that for ladies of the generation now coming to pension age who will not have a pension because they have not paid their national insurance contributions to their full entitlement, the Government should make people more aware so that they can take steps early?

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right that we need people to understand if they have gaps in their state pension record. That can be found relatively straightforwardly on the state pension system. The dashboard will need to show the state pension entitlement. I urge ladies who might be in that situation to check, because they ought to have got credits while they were receiving child benefit. They might not have been working, but they had other caring responsibilities. It is always worth checking whether they have entitlements of which they may not be aware, and which the system has not picked up.

Back to my theme on the dashboard: for the dashboard to have the impact we want—for people to change their saving behaviour—the information needs to be there. It needs to say, “Yes, you have saved this amount, but most people by your age have saved this amount. If you want to have £10 grand of extra income in retirement over your state pension, you are not on track to do that, and you need to increase your saving.” We need to find a way to give people a context for their savings information. Otherwise, we will have a meaningless number that might not drive behaviour. It might even perversely make people think they are better off than they are.

It is important to understand what the Government and the regulators will allow to be shown and want to be shown. We must ensure that the data is objective, fair, accurate and preferably consistent, because we do not want people to get slightly different pension target across six schemes; they should be told the same information so they can make an accurate comparison.

The second area is the thorny issue of access to guidance and when people should have it. The Work and Pensions Committee has argued with the Government and the regulator about that for a few years. I hope the noises coming out of the Government about trying to get people who are not in economic activity back into work, and about wanting to do more than a midlife MOT or a financial review, mean that they are moving our way now, but the take-up of Pension Wise has been far lower than everybody wanted it to be. The Minister at the time said that Pension Wise take-up should be the norm. I am not sure how 8% or 14% take-up could be described as the norm; I would have thought that the norm would be just below half, or something. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what she thinks the norm is in that context.

There is no room for doubt: even with the stronger nudge that the Money and Pensions Service is trialling, Pension Wise will not get anywhere near that take-up. It is absolutely right that people should have access to that service when they are about to do something with their pension pot. It is a decision that they will not be able to change for the rest of their life, and if they get it wrong, it could be disastrous. Equally, given that we have so much unused take-up, can we not find a way of getting people to access the scheme earlier, soon after their 50s? That would allow them to get a proper review for half an hour or an hour and have all these things explained to them, so they can see what their situation is while they still have a chance to change it, rather than when it is too late? I am old enough to remember “Bullseye”—at the end of the show they used to say, “Here’s what you could have won.” Having a pension review at the age of 65 and a half that says, “Here’s what you could have had if you had saved a bit more,” is not all that helpful to people, so they should get that intervention earlier.

I was a little disappointed by the Government’s response to the Work and Pensions Committee. They said they did not want to go forward with a trial of auto-enrolling people into a Pension Wise appointment shortly after their 50th birthday. I understand that some pension schemes are willing to put their members forward in some sensible, random way so we can find out whether that works. All we are asking the Government to do is to allow MaPS and regulators to commission one of those trials so that we can see whether enrolling people into an appointment in their early 50s gets positive feedback and changes their behaviour. If it does not work, fine—we will have to find some other way—but it looks to be a low-cost way of seeing whether an intervention might work. It would use capacity that is already there and is not being taken up, and it would be a powerful way forward.

I hope that the Minister will be a bit more supportive than her predecessor. If we want to work out how to give people some kind of nudge, hint or push at an age when they can make a change, that is the best idea out there. If the Government are looking for ideas to get people in that age bracket to come back into work, because they have not saved enough for retirement but they think they have, a half-hour or hour session with an expert who can explain what they really need and what they have really got may be the best way of doing it. The online midlife MOT that the Government have produced contains some very useful information—I am not saying it is a bad thing—but it will not change behaviour. It is not an intervention that will really make a difference.

The Social Market Foundation found that just 25% of people from ethnic minority backgrounds have a workplace pension, and research found that they are more likely to be sceptical about private pensions. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should do more to educate and reach those groups so they can make sure of their post-retirement financial security?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is important to explain to people not just from that background, but from all backgrounds, that pensions are a good thing, safe and a good way of saving for retirement. People just do not understand pensions, and they are quite cynical and sceptical about the idea that their money will be there. The more we can do to reassure them, the better.

I have two more quick points to make. We have wrestled for years with the conflict for younger people: should they save for a deposit to get on the housing ladder, or should they save for a pension? The pension industry screams if it is suggested that the former is possibly a good idea. There have been various ideas about how to link the two, but we have not yet made any progress on which one to go for. A key determinant of someone’s financial health in retirement is whether they own a house. If they do, they do not have housing costs to pay and they have an asset that they may be able to downsize to boost their pension pot, so getting young people on the housing ladder earlier is good for their retirement just as saving for a pension is good for their retirement.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the KiwiSaver scheme in New Zealand? It combines the two aspirations—to save for a pension in later life and to get on the housing ladder—in that someone can divert a portion of their pension saving pot towards a deposit for a house. Is that something that the UK Government should consider?

There are various ideas out there, and people could use that sort of scheme. They could take a loan out of their pension scheme to get their deposit, and pay it back. We could allow people to be auto-enrolled and have their employer contributions go into their help to buy ISA. There are various ways to try to achieve the aim, but we need to pick one and bring it forward. We have not made the progress that perhaps we should. To be honest, I can see no way of getting more money into young people’s savings to achieve a deposit other than allowing the use of some kind of employer support that is currently going into their pension, because in reality, young people will not have the scope to save much more for themselves. We have already tried to give them the taxpayer top-up through the help to buy ISA. Where else is new money coming from to improve this situation if not from money that is going into their retirement saving?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way and to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies), who intervened before me and talked about the KiwiSaver scheme. I think that that is very interesting, but it strikes me, when considering this topic, that this is a discussion that we have within our little bubble on work and pensions but it is perhaps not something that has been explored in Government—for example, in the Treasury and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Does the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) agree that there has to be a slightly wider, cross-Government approach if we are seriously to explore the issue?

I agree. This is a complicated area and it clearly does cross into being a Treasury responsibility; it has to, as it involves quite a lot of pensions issues. But this is a question of coming up with a consensus around a plan for how we achieve the aim. There needs to be a long-term, stable solution. The Treasury did—it must be seven or eight years ago—move to the help to buy ISA and add the taxpayer top-up to it, and that is, in effect, an equivalent to what people get in a pension scheme. There does not have to be a completely closed door, but this is a matter of bringing these things to fruition.

I welcome the announcements made by my hon. Friend the Minister last week at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association about the value for money of pension schemes. I have banged on about this for a few years. It is regrettable that the auto-enrolment market is generally still about saying, “We’re going to be really cheap for employers and really easy for you to comply with,” rather than, “Here’s a great pension that you can put your staff in. It will be a really powerful motivation and retention tool, and they will get a really good pension at the end of it.” Now that the market is mature, we need to try to move it away from being cheap and easy to being high quality, with decent returns and a decent service to members. If the Minister is going to make some progress on that, I will greatly welcome it, because having people in the best possible schemes with the best returns, rather than in the cheapest and easiest ones, will actually boost their retirement income.

It is also extremely welcome that the Minister is looking at how we can roll out CDC—collective defined contribution—schemes to many more people. Not having them necessarily being employer-led, and allowing them to be decumulation only, is a really powerful thing for retirement, especially now that we are in a different world. If interest rates stay where they are and people can get a much better annuity—I think the rates are now more like 6% a year rather than 4%—that dramatically changes the assumptions that we have seen for the last 15 or 20 years. Those schemes could become much more attractive and much better for people even than we thought they would be when we introduced the Royal Mail one. The landscape has changed, and the more we can make some progress on these key things, the more chance there is to make a real difference. I hope the Government will make some progress on these matters.

It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate my friend—he genuinely is my friend—the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) on securing the debate, along with the work that the Select Committee has done on this topic under his guidance.

For many people, my constituency of Torbay is the place they want to retire to, as many have already done. Its attractiveness as a tourism resort applies equally for those who want a change of lifestyle and to live amongst its natural beauty and enjoy the many activities that are on offer, which they previously had to put to one side to pursue a career. Given its attractiveness to retirees, Torbay is known for having a population mix that tends to be older than average. As I sometimes reflect on in debates about health and social care, in one of my wards, about 9% of the population is aged over 85. In an area where there is a one in 10 chance of meeting someone aged 86 or older, there are some unique challenges around the provision of public services. For example, at a local supermarket there might be a parent and child parking space, but nowhere to leave a scooter.

The focus of the debate is not those who are already retired, but how the dream of enjoying a comfortable retirement—hopefully in Torbay—can be maintained for those in their 20s, 30s and 40s; and how to ensure that they know how to save, what they need to save and what lifestyle their current level of retirement savings will allow them to enjoy. I welcome the Select Committee’s report and its focus not only on how to further develop auto-enrolment, but on some of the trickier situations around encouraging longer-term savings patterns where someone is self-employed or working in the gig economy.

Before I go too much further, it is worth noting the success of auto-enrolment in that endeavour. That one move has transformed saving for later life in the UK for millions of workers. The proportion of eligible workers saving in a pension rose from 44% in 2012 to 86% in 2020. As has been touched on, participation has remained high at 89% for 40 to 49-year-olds—my own age group—and, encouragingly, at 85% for 22 to 29-year-olds. The latter group is crucial, because small amounts that are put aside early can lead to a strong position for retirement in decades to come, not least with the additional employer contributions.

The financial impact has been significant, with an estimated additional £33 billion in real terms saved into workplace pensions in 2021, compared with 2012. It is also worth noting that with the forthcoming increase in the national living wage to £10.42, more people will go over the earnings threshold and therefore start auto-enrolment, with the savings it brings. Despite that major progress, however, it is clear that many are either still not part of a pension scheme or not saving enough to meet their eventual retirement plans.

The right hon. Member for East Ham rightly highlighted that it is worth people having a clear view of what is adequate so that they can think in their 20s and 30s about what they will need to support themselves in their late 70s and 70s. I think we all realise that there will be a difference in that figure across the UK, particularly if housing costs still need to be met. Someone living in central London will be in a different position from someone in Torbay or Glasgow who owns their property and therefore only has to account for the general lifestyle they want. Of course, if they own their property, they will still have to maintain it. The idea that housing is free when we reach retirement is often disproved when a property that has been owned for 20 or 30 years suddenly needs a new roof or a heating system upgrade. People can be capital-rich on paper because of their property, but they can find their finances quite stressed when they have to meet large repair bills.

There is a particular issue with how we encourage those who do not have a specific employer. That is relevant for many performing roles in Torbay’s tourism sector, and I was pleased that the Select Committee focused on it. The Government are right to say in their response that there is not a single solution for such a diverse part of the workforce. As was often mentioned during covid, self-employment includes everyone from those who are just starting out on their own in a small business, often on a relatively low income, to those in magic circle law firms earning significant sums. However, our focus will always be on those who may struggle in retirement, not on high-flying lawyers who are likely to be only too aware of their pension and saving options—probably their tax options as well—in planning for their retirement.

I agree that we need targeted messages that reach people when they consider their finances, or that we should proactively seek to put information about their retirement in front of them regularly. For example, how can we support self-employed people who work seasonally across the hospitality sector? When do they look at their finances? I share some of the thoughts of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), however. We do not want to have a counterproductive impact by advising people that money will be coming out of their wages each month and having them decide, “Actually, I’ll take the money instead.” In the earlier stages—the first couple of years—the entitlement they have built up will not look particularly impressive, but if it were continued, it would become a worthwhile pot. We do not want a counterproductive outcome overall, but it is certainly something that can be worked on, and we have seen the progress that has been made so far.

Although the Select Committee report was welcome overall, I have some concerns about the suggestion that national insurance payments could become a quasi-auto-enrolment position for the self-employed. There is a real difference between a person saving specifically for their own retirement, to fulfil the dreams or plans they have, and paying tax to fund public services and benefits, as they are required to do under the law. I appreciate that the state pension is linked to making national insurance contributions, but that has always been on the basis of years, rather than “You will build up x amount of contributions, and that will produce y pension.” It is not a pot that people have and that they can access. I can see the idea that when people pay NI they are arguably making contributions towards a state pension, but that is slightly different from them building up their own pension pot, which would be theirs in name as well.

To clarify, the idea was that because the self-employed pay a lower national insurance rate than those who are employed, we could effectively say to people, “Either you can put that into your own pension pot and top it up, or you can pay national insurance at the same level as somebody who is employed and not get any benefit from it.” It was a way of trying to replicate the auto-enrolment position, where a person puts in money themselves and gets money from somebody else and the taxpayer. It was the only real solution we could find in terms of people getting more bang for their buck.

I can certainly see where the logic came from—that someone who was self-employed would be paying similar levels of national insurance as someone who was employed. For me, though, it is a mix: when a person makes NI payments, that is based on years, and it is a fairly simple calculation, as opposed to a specific amount going into a pot that is then theirs. For me, the proposal raises that particular concern but, again, I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point: we all have the goal of ensuring that the self-employed, and predominantly the self-employed who are on lower earnings, have a reasonable pot for their retirement.

It is welcome to see the Minister in her place, and it would be interesting to hear her thoughts on a couple of points when she sums up. First, what work is being done to analyse the roles in the economy where there is most likely to be under-saving and to reach out to those people? As I have touched on, the self-employed are a very wide group: some will be all too aware of their options for retirement, but others may be on low incomes and struggling, or just facing the day-to-day pressures of running a business. They do not necessarily want to spend lots of time looking up pension rules and positions, as a large company might do. Secondly, therefore, what opportunities have been explored for working with sector groups at a more local level—such as chambers of commerce, business groups or the destination management groups that are common in the tourism industry—to see how they could be used to reach out to some of those who are unlikely to want to spend a lot of time reading through guidance on how to set up a pension?

Finally, what support would be offered for sectors to look at developing their own bespoke pension funds for self-employed workers and those in the gig economy? It was touching to hear from the right hon. Member for East Ham about things such as what Uber is doing for taxi drivers. Sometimes competitors will not necessarily rush to sign up to something that is run by another company, but what is being looked at that would give firms and organisations in particular sectors that want to do the right thing the opportunity to do so?

Many who will holiday in Torbay this summer will dream about one day retiring there, and we will sometimes see a retired couple who have been married many years sitting on the Babbacombe downs next to a young couple having their first break together, who will be part of a similar scene in decades to come. Helping people fulfil their dreams is the core of this debate, and that is what must drive us in ensuring that saving for later life becomes part of everyone’s working life.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) on securing the debate. As the Member of Parliament for North Norfolk, I might be expected to speak in a pensions debate. I have said many times in the main Chamber that I represent the constituency with the oldest demographic in the entire country, with 33.4% of my constituents being over the age of 65. However, I am not actually going to talk about that cohort of people, because they have already retired. I am going to talk about an issue that has not been covered much today: giving people—mainly lower-paid people—useful guidance and advice before they retire.

There is a fundamental problem facing society and policyholders: most people tend to glaze over when they hear the word “pensions”. That became clear to me when I was a finance director of a medium-sized company that employed many people, so I can speak with a bit of authority about this. I found that auto-enrolment was a phenomenal success, as has been said many times. The reason is quite simple: we largely reduced the burden of instigating saving and took out the scare factor. Nevertheless, running that company’s pension scheme showed me first hand that if people can put off engaging with their pensions, they certainly will. That becomes a real problem.

The DWP published new research last week on savers’ engagement with their pensions. It said:

“Attitudes to pensions were characterised by detachment, fear, and complacency, which acted as barriers to engagement.”

I suspect that anybody who has been closely involved with pensions will not be surprised by that finding. There is a real problem. I am not talking about people who are well paid, but about the vast majority of the country. For people who are lower paid—perhaps working on a shop floor or in a supermarket—engaging with their pension and their retirement is a long way down their priority list. The reason is that people simply do not understand them, and we know that people often fear what they do not understand.

The Government should strain every sinew to ensure that good paths are put in front of people, rather than expecting savers to direct themselves to those paths for help and advice. There is help, but I suspect that if we asked the average person on the street, hardly anyone would know what the Pension Wise service is. Would they know that it is a Government-backed service that offers free, impartial guidance to over-50s? I doubt it. Would they know that someone can advise them about the options for their pension pot? Probably not. We should be promoting that service far more.

With that in mind, I was disappointed that the Government had a negative response to the recent auto-appointment proposal for Pension Wise appointments, as recommended by the Work and Pensions Committee. Pension Wise is popular and has had a positive impact on the relatively small proportion of savers who use it. User feedback is excellent and much better than policymakers might have reasonably hoped for prior to its introduction.

More importantly, Pension Wise has been proven to leave users better equipped to make pension decisions. That encompasses everything we have talked about. In his excellent speech, the right hon. Member for East Ham said that people are simply recognising that they do not have enough savings in the first place. We ought to ensure that we leave users better equipped to make pension decisions, with the additional benefit of raising awareness of the risks posed, for instance, by scammers. That alone seems like a reason to conduct a trial.

In recent research, the Financial Conduct Authority estimated that a quarter of consumers would consider accessing their pension savings earlier than they had planned due to the current cost of living pressures. We really need to get people to Pension Wise before scammers get to them and before the point where they make pension decisions based on a partial or even incorrect understanding of the consequences. That is the reason why Pension Wise was created; it is a key part of understanding pension freedoms. Indeed, its usefulness to savers presumably explains why the Government decided in 2015 to lower the age threshold for Pension Wise advice from 55 to 50.

Given the phenomenal success of auto-enrolment, about which we all agree, let us pursue auto-appointment to help give the right advice. To sum up, we should repeat that success; we should do what we did with auto-enrolment with auto-appointments, so that people realise there is friendly, decent, professional advice out there. That could take away the reticence, and perhaps sometimes fear, about taking financial advice about retirement. It can be done; we have seen it with auto-enrolment—let us repeat that success with auto-appointments.

It is a great pleasure, as ever, to see you in the Chair, Mr Hosie. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) on that last point, which I will come to in my remarks. I also congratulate the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), on securing this important debate. We have had very good contributions from the hon. Members for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and for North Norfolk, some of which I will touch on.

I am always struck that people can talk to me comfortably about the tragedy of poverty and its numerous consequences, but when pensioner poverty comes up they start to feel uneasy, perhaps justifiably. The truth is that many of us do not want to admit that the idea of older people struggling with simple things such as paying their bills and affording their weekly food shop is a bit too far from them. For many, it is an accepted fact that what awaits them in the golden years of retirement is a life of comfort, leisure and looking after grandchildren. But for far too many pensioners in these islands, the inadequacy of the state pension, which is one of the lowest in Europe, means that they have to turn to food banks and avoid turning on their radiators in the winter. It is an uncomfortable thought—the idea of one’s 80 or 90-year-old grandmother counting the pennies and sitting, anxiously, worrying about how to pay her bills. Sadly, for far too many, including in my own constituency—and, I am sure, in Dundee East, Mr Hosie—that is the stark reality of Tory Britain.

Saving for later life can be a complex and unfamiliar task, and it is further complicated by an arduous system and often impenetrable jargon, as Members have touched on. From speaking anecdotally to Members of this House, I know that as soon as pensions are mentioned, eyes glaze over and people turn off. It can seem easier to focus on today’s finances, particularly with the rising cost of living and heightened inflation, but that is simply to kick the can down the road. Today’s debate is therefore a welcome opportunity to take stock of the current pensions landscape and to assess how we are helping—if indeed we are helping—people to save for later life.

Let me start, as many others have, with automatic enrolment. Although it has undoubtedly been a success so far, it can and should go further. Saving the minimum through automatic enrolment will simply not provide many with an adequate living standard. That comes as a shock to many when retirement is just around the corner, at which point it is often too late to do much about it. My position, and indeed that of the SNP, is that the eligibility criteria for auto-enrolment should be widened and the age of eligibility moved from 22 to 16. Let me explain why it should be 16 and not 18, which appears to be the wider consensus in this House.

This issue is personal for me. This is National Apprenticeship Week, and I left school at 16 and started working as an apprentice, as tens of thousands of young people do, perhaps setting off on a lifelong career in local government. For that reason, and indeed many others, I believe it would be right and proper for auto-enrolment to be rolled out to those who enter the labour market at 16. That would bring it in line with taxation policy and give people the best opportunity to save for their future. I also want auto-enrolment to be rolled out from the first pound rather than an arbitrary threshold of £10,000. I will explain later why that ties in with the gender pensions gap, which is a real problem.

I concur with the Committee’s report regarding the recommendations of the 2017 auto-enrolment review, and I hope that we soon see more progress on those. The recommendations would hugely improve the saving ability of those who are typically short-changed by the pensions system—I am thinking specifically of part-time workers, women, self-employed people and workers in the gig economy. In this morning’s debate there has been a good focus on self-employment. As the Committee’s report clarifies, a much smaller proportion of self-employed people, as opposed to employees, now contribute to a pension. That proportion has increasingly declined since the mid-1990s and now sits at just 16%, compared with 88% of workers eligible for auto-enrolment. I therefore support the report’s recommendations on that issue, including trialling ways to default self-employed people into pension saving and considering how to promote it to them. I note from the Minister’s letter, which a number of us received, that the Government are making an effort to do that, but I press the Minister ever so slightly to give us a timescale.

Let me turn to the gig economy and the future of work. As we inevitably become more reliant on the gig economy, it is vital that auto-enrolment applies to everyone and that employers do not shirk their responsibilities to staff. It is worth noting that that recommendation has been made in not one but two previous reports by the Committee. I repeat that the British Government must do more to bring forward an employment Bill as soon as possible. We have been waiting for this elusive employment Bill for what feels like an eternity. If the Government can find time for the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, they should be able to bring forward an employment Bill that improves workers’ rights—something we were promised would be part of the post-Brexit sunlit uplands. Although an employment Bill would offer many possibilities for enshrining better terms, conditions and employment protections, it would also increase the legal protection available to people in low-paid work and the gig economy, ensuring that they have a fair opportunity to save for their pension. Surely we can all agree on a cross-party basis about that.

I turn now to the injustice of the gender pensions gap and to the need for a clear and official measure of what that gap actually is. Again, I welcome what the Minister said in her letter about trying to get to that definition. We rightly talk a lot in this place about the gender pensions gap, but we cannot work constructively towards ending the inherent gender-based discrimination that is baked so deeply into our economic structures if we do not have a definition of it.

Although eligibility to auto-enrolment doubtless contributes to the gap, so too does the motherhood penalty. To put the gender divide in context, we know that the average pension pot for a woman aged 65 is one fifth of that for a 65-year-old man, and that, on average over a 20-year period, women receive £29,000 less by way of a state pension than men. What is even more depressing is that, without urgent intervention, that deficit is predicted to continue, closing only by a meagre 3% by 2060. Therefore, extending the coverage of automatic enrolment further by reducing the earnings threshold to a lower level—ideally, as I say, to the first pound—would bring hundreds of thousands of people, and most importantly women, into pension saving. We should be proud that, in recent years, we have made enormous strides in bringing about equality, but we need to be honest that that progress is not reflected in pensions policy.

I turn now to the question of advice, which is where the hon. Member for North Norfolk finished his speech. Obviously, it is hugely important that people save enough for retirement, but it also matters greatly that people receive impartial and fair advice about their pension in good time. The Money and Pensions Service estimates that 22 million people do not know enough to plan for their retirement, which is an incredibly alarming figure. That leads me to reflect on a conversation that I had with my mother over Christmas, when she was talking about her pension. She had no idea about things such as Pension Wise, so clearly she is one of those 22 million people. That dim assessment was also reflected in new research from the Department of Work and Pensions, which was released only last week. It found:

“Attitudes to pensions were characterised by detachment, fear and complacency, which acted as barriers to engagement.”

We would all want people to feel more confident and secure about their pension savings. I certainly want to ensure that I am doing everything I can to make sure that people fully understand the decisions they make and, more importantly, that they can make them with conviction. There are good organisations out there, such as the Just Group, which are clear that the best option for achieving those aims is Pension Wise, the Government-backed and impartial guidance service delivered by MaPS.

I have spoken to the Minister over the course of the last month about the importance of Pension Wise and how disappointing it is that take-up remains relatively low, despite satisfaction with the service being so high. The hon. Member for North Norfolk spoke about how high satisfaction is with that service; it is up there at 90%, which is quite remarkable.

In Scotland, separate analysis from MaPS shows that the number of appointments that people made with it fell by 13% in a year, while the total number of pensions accessed across the UK rose by 18%. That concerns me enormously, because people are drawing down their pensions and making decisions about their pensions in a way that is not particularly well informed and that could even be financially disadvantageous to them.

The Work and Pensions Committee has recommended that there should be an auto-appointment trial for Pension Wise and I again join others in urging the Minister to consider that suggestion. In addition, I also ask what her Department is doing to increase the take-up of Pension Wise, because I am not necessarily sure that things such as the “stronger nudge” are working. If she is in a position to agree to meet me and the Just Group to discuss the issue, I would be grateful if she could confirm that during her speech.

Although Members from different parties may disagree about the adequacy of the pensions system, we must be clear that a situation in which any pensioner is experiencing poverty is unacceptable. According to the latest figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, roughly 1.7 million pensioners in these islands are currently living in poverty. Age UK has said that the priority for many pensioners is dealing with the rising cost of living and surviving day to day. They are focused now on the challenges of health, money and their responsibilities, as well as how to cope with limited resources.

It cannot be right that after working for their entire lives, raising families and contributing to the society that my generation benefits from, so many pensioners are now worried and anxious about money. It is not right that the UK devotes a smaller percentage of its GDP to state pensions and pensioner benefits than most other advanced economies. It is also not right that the UK, despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has one of the lowest state pensions in Europe.

From Barrowfield to Baillieston, pensioners in my constituency are clear to me on the doorstep that they feel that the British Government do not value them and that pensioners are, at best, an afterthought and a group that the Tories merely pay lip service to.

On just about every measure, this London Government have a disastrous record on supporting pensioners, whether that is the injustice shown to the 1950s women, the frozen pensions for UK citizens living abroad, the breaking of the pensions triple lock, the underpayment of state pensions, the gender pensions gap or the low uptake of pension credit. The list goes on and on.

Westminster has proven time and again that it will not deliver fairness or prosperity for pensioners in Scotland and that without radical change our senior citizens face a retirement of poverty, not prosperity. So long as Scotland is still tied to this Westminster system that we do not consent to, we will continue to get pensions policies that make our people poorer. That is why I fervently believe that the only way to ensure dignity and fairness in retirement for my constituents is with Scottish independence. For many of my elderly constituents sitting in their freezing homes this morning, perversely in an energy-rich country, that conclusion—that we need Scottish independence—is one that they are rapidly also reaching.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) and the other members of the Work and Pensions Committee for their excellent work and their report.

People who work hard and save all their lives deserve to expect a decent income in retirement. It is vital that the Government support pension saving as well as providing a decent state pension, and I hope that the debate will be a starting point as we discuss some of those issues. First, however, I want to put the debate in context.

We are living through difficult and challenging times with families and pensioners facing a cost of living crisis the like of which has not been seen for 40 years. Food prices are up, fuel prices are up and the cost of living is rising dramatically. That is having an enormous impact on households across the country, and there is, as has been mentioned, a real risk that some people might either stop saving for a pension or dip into their pension savings early and unsustainably, simply because they cannot afford the cost of living.

To make matters worse, the wider economic context is, to say the least, extremely challenging. Last week, the International Monetary Fund reported that the UK faces the worst economic outlook of any major economy. After 12 years of economic mismanagement by the Government, we seem to be stuck in a persistent period of low growth and high inflation. As a result of that mismanagement, the Government are trying to cut public spending. They have reduced spending on the state pension by failing to increase pensions in line with inflation until April, which means that pensioners, for some months, have been trying to keep up with the huge increase in the cost of living. They have been let down by the Government in attempting to do that.

Saving for a pension takes time and regular contributions, and, as we have seen, there is an issue of pensions adequacy. I note that the Committee’s report found that many savers did not realise that they were not on track for the retirement they had envisaged. This, sadly, is a tragedy waiting to happen. I hope the Minister will address that, and I encourage her to focus on it because Ministers must do more to avoid a terrible problem in future and to show they are taking the issue seriously. Sadly, I am not convinced that the point was adequately addressed in the Government response to the report, and I hope the Minister will find time to discuss it more properly.

Saving for the future remains sustainable only if pensions are kept safe, and increased pensions freedoms, which were introduced in 2015, gave many hundreds of thousands of people choice as to how to invest their savings. However, the Government need to do more to help them, including providing better advice, as we heard earlier, and helping to tackle fraud, such as pension scams. I am afraid that the evidence so far is that Ministers, unfortunately, are failing on both counts. As we heard earlier, not enough people are accessing free, impartial advice, and it seems as though those with the largest pension pots might be somewhat more likely to seek such advice, rather than those in greatest need.

On fraud, there are also deeply worrying indications of Government failure. In 2022, there was a 75% increase in online searches for scam help and a large increase in searches for pension scams. In 2018, the Financial Conduct Authority published data showing that hundreds of people had been scammed out of their pensions, losing on average the enormous total of £82,000 per person. Research by the Money Advice Service suggests that there could be as many as eight scam calls every second, and Citizens Advice found that 8.4 million consumers had been offered unsolicited pensions advice between 2015 and 2016.

On a similar note, we need to ensure that the regulator and the ombudsman are given the tools they need to take swift and effective action in cases of mis-selling or unethical behaviour, and the serious ongoing problems with the British Steel pension scheme show the need to improve regulation. Much of the damage in that case could—and indeed should—have been avoided if tougher action had been taken at the time. I am glad to say, however, that steps can be taken. The law was changed in 2020 to ban cold calling from UK numbers, thanks to Labour pressure. The Government should act on our calls to take further steps, such as banning fraudulent online advertisements, which remain an option for scammers.

Let me move on to speak more about the structures to help people save. As was mentioned earlier, auto-enrolment, which was created by the previous Labour Government, has become an undisputed success. We must maintain the ambitions of the previous Labour Government and do more to ensure that everyone benefits, including, as colleagues mentioned earlier, women, low-paid people and minority groups. I remind the Minister that the Government promised to look at expanding auto-enrolment by the mid-2020s. I hope she will address that point when she responds.

There is, as the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) and others have mentioned, scope for other innovations. I urge the Government to think more creatively about new ways of encouraging saving—for example, by considering pensions sidecars and other ways to address the wider challenge of encouraging saving, which we have heard so much about today.

I am aware that time is limited, so I will finish by urging the Minister to do more. There is scope for pensions to contribute to protecting the future of the planet. I welcome the work of the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), and her plans to support green start-up companies’ links with pension funds. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank the Work and Pensions Committee for its report and the important role that it plays in scrutinising the work of the Department. I also extend my thanks to the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), for securing this debate. We have had thoughtful contributions from everyone here.

The Committee’s report rightly raises key areas for reflection in our ongoing story of pension saving. The pensions landscape has undergone substantial change in recent years with the new state pension, increased pension saving through automatic enrolment, and increased choice through pensions freedoms, backed up with free, impartial guidance. We have laid a solid foundation to enable people to take responsibility and plan more effectively for the retirement that they want.

We have had numerous pension successes, with the most notable mentioned by everyone here today: the successful delivery of automatic enrolment, which has got 10.8 million more people into saving for retirement. However, the way that people save has undergone a significant shift in recent decades by shifting the retirement outcomes responsibility on to individuals rather than employers. That has thrown up policy challenges, which we have discussed today and were rightly considered in the Committee’s report.

I turn now to the future of automatic enrolment. Last year was the 10th anniversary of AE, which was introduced under a Conservative Government. AE facilitated a dramatic shift in workplace pension savings, with 86% of eligible employees in the private sector now participating in a workplace pension. The Government are committed to building on the success of AE by implementing the outcomes of the 2017 review, as endorsed by the Committee. I am pleased that there is a widespread consensus on that.

We will reduce the age at which people are auto-enrolled from 21 to 18, as well as removing the lower earnings limit. I heard what the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) said about lowering the age to 16—he tells a powerful story—and we will keep that under review. The 2017 recommendations will change the landscape for the better. They will enable people to save for longer and begin their savings journey from the first pound of their earnings. That will give younger people and people in part-time jobs, particularly women, the opportunity to be brought into the world of pension savings for the first time. I know the Committee is keen for me to set out a timeline. I, too, am keen to set out a timeline, and as soon as I have collective agreement I will come back to the Committee and the House to announce that.

In its recommendations the Committee also asked the Government to look at measures to close the gender pensions gap, which is something we can all agree on. My Department regularly monitors the contribution and participation rates by gender and regularly publishes the data in our workplace pension participation and savings trends publications. As discussed, I want to take that one step further and begin monitoring and reporting on the issue regularly. Although many factors create inequality in pension outcomes, most notably the gender pay gap, I have started working with key stakeholders and colleagues across Government to create a framework to understand the challenge and also to produce a definition of the gender pensions gap.

Agreeing a definition, as discussed by many Members today, is a crucial first step. That will allow us to agree a suitable metric to monitor progress and begin reporting on the issue. Again, I need collective agreement before I can say more, but I will come back to the Committee when I have a timeline for that.

I welcome what the Minister has just said. Does she envisage annual reporting? Is that the sort of frequency she has in mind for monitoring the size of the gender pensions gap?

I think annual reporting would make sense, but this is something that we need to look into further. I will come back to the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East spoke about the gender pensions gap. We have seen progress in women’s participation, particularly in automatic enrolment, where they are now slightly ahead of men, but I agree that we need to see further work on the issue. I intend to drive that forward.

I turn to measures for the self-employed. When I started this role, I found it striking how low pension savings were among the self-employed. As the right hon. Member for East Ham is aware, the success of AE is down to the employer enrolling the member, which is clearly something that the self-employed do not have. Nest Insight has recently published the results of its trials on behavioural messaging and savings mechanisms on financial digital platforms and money management apps, to test the role of tech-based nudges and the value of flexible savings.

My intention is to make retirement savings easier for the self-employed. To do that, I want to better understand the touchpoints through which the self-employed engage with the Government, which will be the most effective at encouraging them to save into a pension pot. So far, the most obvious point is the tax system. We have begun work with the UK trade body for business software developers to help us better understand the software market and explore the opportunities, both current and new, to support self-employed people to save for their retirement. This includes scoping the feasibility of building and testing retirement savings solutions within compatible software used by the self-employed to manage their money.

We are also keen to explore and test hybrid saving vehicles that combine accessible and illiquid savings, which could preserve some control for individuals in managing their short-term finances alongside saving for retirement. The next stage of trialling will also build on the evidence from the work with HMRC to test the capacity of nudges to pension guidance systems installed within the existing assessment system, with a view to encouraging the self-employed to start saving. The Government have no intention to make automatic deductions for the self-employed via the making tax digital system, and we agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) that although we welcome all ideas for boosting self-employed pension savings, we do not think that mixing them with the national insurance system is workable.

Many Members mentioned the gig economy, and we are continuing to work with the Pensions Regulator and BEIS on this complex issue. As the right hon. Member for East Ham outlined, the Department’s view is that many gig economy workers are already eligible for automatic enrolment, including those on fixed-term or zero-hours contracts and agency workers. I heard what he said about the guidance produced by BEIS, and I will feed that back to that Department.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. I hope she is right and the legal position is as she said, but delivering enforcement clearly is not happening at the moment. Does she recognise that the Pensions Regulator needs more powers in order to do the job that she is saying it should be doing already?

I understand and respect the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and I will be having further meetings with the Pensions Regulator about this issue. I look forward to discussing the outcomes of those when I appear in front of his Committee.

Would the Minister consider setting a target for the number of self-employed people who are regularly saving into a pension scheme by a certain date? I think the rate is currently around 16%. If we could get that up to the 48% it was at 20 years ago, that would be a dramatic improvement and would show whether the efforts to encourage people to save are working. Does she accept that targets are the only way to really drive change?

I think what we need to do is set out a plan. I accept that when we look at the various mechanisms that I have outlined today, we should outline the impact that we think they should have. I commit to go away and have a look at that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay asked what the Department is doing to develop sectoral pension schemes and whether they can be made available for gig economy employers. Collective defined contribution schemes have the potential to transform the UK pensions landscape. He will know that we introduced legislation to allow them for single employers last year, and we are currently consulting on multi-employers. They are really exciting and could be a way forward in this space.

I am conscious of time; I will obviously write to hon. Members to cover anything I do not get to. The Work and Pensions Committee is right to raise concerns about ensuring pensions adequacy. The shift from the promise of retirement income through defined benefit to defined contribution places responsibility on the saver to ensure they have the outcome they want, but I do not think there is widespread understanding of that among the general public. Personal circumstances obviously dictate what individuals consider an adequate level for retirement savings. It is my role as the Pensions Minister to enable people to save adequately, as well as to ensure pension-maximising returns on their savings. The key to that is empowering savers to take control of their financial future. The introduction of simple annual statements, the midlife MOT and the pensions dashboard will make pensions more understandable to the saver and empower them to take control of their retirement outcomes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) was entirely right that the pensions dashboard will be crucial to that. We expect to see on the dashboard an understanding of what current savings will lead to as retirement income. What he said about comparing that to what others have was really interesting, and I will take that away.

There has been a lot of discussion today about the adequacy of the amount saved, but no discussion of what the investments are made in. The UK has one of the lowest levels of investment in illiquid assets—private equity, venture capital and infrastructure. What does the Minister think we need to do to encourage a greater diversity of investment so that our pensioners have greater returns?

My hon. Friend makes a typically excellent point. He is right that we have a lower investment in illiquids than many of our European counterparts. We are at 7%, and they are at 15% or 16%. Last week, I announced a change in regulations, which I believe will come to the House in around March. It will mean that the performance charges can be passed on for the first time, which will hopefully take away a barrier to investment in those types of asset. It is of course for the pension trustees to make investments in the best interest of pension savers, but it is important that we do not put any barriers in the way of that. My hon. Friends the Members for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) and for Amber Valley are right that we need to focus on returns. If we are going to deal with adequacy, we need to ensure that investments in pension schemes return the maximum amount that they can for savers. Illiquids are part of the story in making that happen.

I was lucky to enjoy a very interesting visit to a solar farm with the Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman). One of the issues there—this relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies)—is that the obstacles to pension funds investing in illiquids are quite considerable. Does the Minister agree that there is an issue with work across Government on that matter? The delays in that case were to do with electricity connectivity to the site, and there may be other similar delays that are holding pension funds back from investing in illiquids in the UK.

If there is a specific issue with that, I am of course happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about that separately.

I want to give the right hon. Member for East Ham time at the end to sum up, so I will try to get through the rest of my speech quite quickly. On the generation X issue, we have an issue with the people who fell into the gap between the mid-1990s and 2010, when auto-enrolment was introduced. I praise the work of the Work and Pensions Committee, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) would accept that not enough was done between 1997 and 2010. I cannot wave a magic wand and make that right, but I can raise awareness through pension dashboards and help boost returns through value for money, as discussed. In addition, the state pension has been boosted significantly under this Government.

I thank the Committee for all its work on the stronger nudge. It is important to recognise, as my hon. Friends the Members for Amber Valley and for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), and the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), have done, that Pension Wise is consistently given very high feedback. About 47% of pots in 2021-22 were accessed for the first time with Pension Wise guidance. It is important to look at the amounts. If the pot is very small, say £100, it is potentially less valuable to have a Pension Wise appointment, than it would be for a pot of multiple thousands. I note that 73% of pots larger than £100,000 were accessed using Pension Wise guidance. It is important to look at that graduation.

I thank the Minister for giving way again. Does she agree that it is important for people with very modest pension pots to get access to high-quality advice? They are financially vulnerable in some cases. There have been instances of people approaching retirement taking their pension early, when that is not necessarily in their best long-term interests.

It is absolutely the case that people who want or need guidance should get it. As I was coming to, we are seeing a positive impact with stronger nudge, which we should continue to evaluate. I am conscious of time, so I will wrap up. It is vital that we put pension savers at the heart of everything we do. I am grateful for the comprehensive and thoughtful discussion today, which I look forward to continuing in future.

It has been a useful debate, and I express my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for scheduling it. There is no dispute that we need people to save more towards their pensions—that was accepted by the Minister in her speech—but we do need to get a move on in making it happen. We are certainly not demanding that minimum auto-enrolment contributions ought to be raised now, but they will have to be raised, and the Government should draw up and publish a plan for when that will happen, and build a consensus around it.

The Minister said she could not wave a magic wand. Nobody is asking her to wave a magic wand, but we are asking her to get a move on and bring forward the plan, so that people know what will happen in two, five or 10 years. The longer we delay, the larger the numbers will be of people who suffer a terrible shock when they reach retirement, start drawing their retirement income and discover that it is way below what they expected and what they need.

I am pleased to hear the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to implementing the recommendations of the 2017 review. I assume she means by the mid-2020s, as has repeatedly been said. We look forward to hearing soon how that will be achieved. I also welcome what she said about monitoring the gender pensions gap. I welcome the prospect of annual Government reporting on that subject. I hope she is able to secure the cross-Government agreement she needs to deliver that.

The hon. Members for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) and for Glasgow East (David Linden) all talked about the case for at least trying out automatic enrolment into an appointment with Pension Wise. As we have heard, it is an excellent service. The feedback from people who use it is good, but take-up remains lamentably low.

When the pension freedoms were introduced in the middle of the previous decade, the talk was of a guidance guarantee. That is what we were told was going to be provided—a guarantee. What came of that was the Pension Wise service, which is taken up by a very small proportion of people. It is a good service, but taken up by a small proportion. We need more effort to be made to promote that. The Committee has repeatedly said that it is worth trying out automatic enrolment into a Pension Wise appointment for people who reach that stage.

My final point relates to the comment by the hon. Member for Amber Valley. He referred to the scheme suggested in the Committee’s report for auto-enrolment of self-employed people. The proposition would be to increase national insurance contributions for self-employed people that would allow them to direct their additional payment into a pension, alongside a matching contribution from themselves. That would replicate the attractions of auto-enrolment for self-employed people. The Minister rejected that proposition, but we need to do something. We simply cannot carry on with five sixths of self-employed people not saving for retirement. We think that proposition is well worth pursuing, and I hope the Minister will take another look at it.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of saving for later life.

Bolton High Street Redevelopment

[Philip Davies in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government support for the proposed redevelopment of Bolton’s High Street.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I hope that while short, this is not an insignificant debate on the future of the town I am proud to represent.

Bolton South East is the 38th most deprived constituency in the United Kingdom. To say we need Government investment in our town would be an understatement. I invite anyone here to go to the town centre—I have invited the Secretary of State to do so and extend the same invitation to the Minister here today—to see first-hand the deprivation and lack of opportunity. That is the reality and I do not say that lightly. This is not about talking down Bolton or even criticising the council, the Government or the people. It is about getting a fair deal for my town to support good jobs and good businesses and make it a great place to live, work and shop. That is not the reality and frankly, we are not getting a fair deal from the Government. Instead, the reality is boarded-up shop fronts, derelict properties and more rental signs than we could possibly imagine.

Bolton used to have many fabulous independent shops and traders, and the high street was genuinely a great place to spend time. However, economic pressures and the changing world have meant that, naturally, many of those businesses have taken a hit. It is not just independent businesses that find it tough; even large chains are taking drastic action that is hitting our town. We just recently learned that Marks & Spencer—an anchor business and a major high street employer—is to shut its doors for good. Not only will that mean a redundancy process and staff livelihoods put at risk, but another major business has left our town centre because it is no longer a viable place to do business. That follows a range of other huge stores, such as Argos, HMV and Debenhams, which have left vacancies in our high street. Put simply, that can make the high street a miserable place to walk down at times. We need to see change and we need support for that to happen.

The council’s plan, while not perfect, could have been the start of a real regeneration, bringing together the Government, the council, businesses and more with a view to making Bolton one of the best places to socialise or start a business. Party politics aside, surely the levelling-up fund and mission must be about addressing regional imbalances and providing Government support to areas that need it the most. That is the manifesto pledge the Prime Minister and the entire party stood on. Can the Minister therefore outline exactly what levelling up means, both as the individual responsible for setting the policy and as regards her Government’s wider agenda?

I am also perplexed about the funding arrangement, to be frank. As I noted at the start of this speech, Bolton’s levels of deprivation are stark. Our unemployment levels are almost double those of the region and the national average. Almost 50% of children live in poverty. We have a housing crisis, and as a borough we are in economic decline according to all recent data. Ours was once a strong manufacturing industry, and we have huge brownfield mills that now sit empty and derelict. There is so much potential for not just the high street but the whole town, and levelling-up support could provide the impetus we need.

In the first round of levelling up, Bolton’s bid was successful, but its second was unsuccessful. That was because it was apparently submitted late by the Conservative council that runs Bolton. We then made another bid. With those facts in mind, can the Minister outline to me the wider formula behind the levelling-up award? I would like to know, as would many in my constituency, why exactly Bolton was not eligible for the bid to redevelop its high street.

Bolton’s industrial history runs deep in our town. Spinning mills developed into a booming cotton industry, which grew to dominate Bolton’s local economy. Naturally, that has since subsided as our economy developed and time passed, but the remnants remain. In and around out town centre we have large former mills that stand empty and unused. In my view, these pose the best opportunity to create mixed-use properties: homes for young families; a place for businesses to start and grow; and an urban park to create social spaces in a very limited area. I appreciate that this is slightly leftfield and specific, but what consideration has the Minister’s Department given to the opportunities to support the council, businesses and individuals to retrofit those buildings for mixed use?

Turning now to wider regeneration, I will discuss the role of the cultural and night-life economies. Our fantastic Octagon Theatre is a recipient of Arts Council funding, and does a great job. It is a living-wage employer, it produces great shows and it has become a mainstay in our town centre. However, a recent report revealed that the nearby Oldham Coliseum will close its doors after a 100% cut to its funding. Two constituencies in London have 20 projects funded to the tune of £10 million. Apparently, in the whole of Bolton, the largest town in the United Kingdom, there is only one eligible venue worthy of funding. What is more, in the remaining 24 constituencies of Greater Manchester, outside of the city, there are just 21 funded projects. In summary, that is less than one project per constituency, and yet just two London constituencies received 20 grants.

There is no levelling up if it is not practiced at every level. There appears to be an inequity perpetrated here that runs contrary to the levelling-up agenda. Can the Minister outline what steps her Department is taking to push forward a plan for levelling up across all levels of Government, each Department and arms-length bodies, as well as encouraging other sectors?

I am acutely aware of the role the night-time economy plays in Bolton’s local ecosystem, providing jobs, increasing revenue and adding to our local culture. It is particularly important for students and young people in Bolton, as the town is home to a university and various colleges. I recently met with the night-time adviser for Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Sacha Lord, to discuss how we can introduce a best-practice model of nightlife in Bolton.

For our night-time economy to flourish we need to make it safe for customers to enjoy a night out and socialise without fear of harm to themselves or their friends. Bolton’s pilot safety haven scheme will go a long way towards setting the standards for this when it is launched in two months. It will give people a place to rest, sober up, charge their phone, and access paramedics or mental health support, if they are experiencing an anxiety attack or a depressive episode. It is a preventive measure that means that people do not have to go to A&E, saving the police and paramedics money, therefore providing economic as well as human benefits.

This vibrant night-time economy plays a great part in regeneration, and there are numerous examples in other Greater Manchester boroughs. Altrincham, in Greater Manchester, went from being rated one of the worst high streets in Britain to being one of most desirable places to eat, drink and socialise; Radcliffe Market, not far from us, is becoming the centrepiece of the town there; and Prestwich Village is a vibrant spot to socialise. In Bolton, we need to modernise our night-time economy, so that independent businesses and bars, such as Northern Monkey in my constituency, can grow and support the growth of our high street.

We have an annual food festival, which is now the largest in the United Kingdom, and our town is home to the European Ironman. However, as these are annual events, they are not enough. We need further assistance to develop our town centre and high street. What consideration has the Minister’s Department given to the role of night-time venues, bars, clubs and pubs in the regeneration of the high street, not only in Bolton but throughout Britain? Has the Minister had conversations with her counterparts in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about that?

I appreciate that I have given the Minister much to ponder and reflect upon. I will wrap up shortly, but I must reiterate the grave situation facing Bolton’s high street. We needed that levelling-up funding, which was to build a conference hotel and other facilities. It was a lifeline for our town. Over the last 13 years, since 2010, we have had £250 million in cuts to our council, which have affected the people of Bolton. That £19-million fund would have been a lifeline for our town, yet some of the richest boroughs and constituencies in the country, such as the Prime Minister’s constituency, were given £20 million from the levelling-up fund, leaving us to wonder what levelling up means in the Government’s eyes.

It is interesting that the last two Conservative party general election launches have been in Bolton, and promises were made. However, I am sorry to say that none of the promises made to my constituents have been kept, and people in my constituency are living with the repercussions.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, I think for the first time since I became a Minister. I thank the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) for securing this important debate. As elected Members, we show real passion for wanting our communities and our areas to be the best they can possibly be, and debates such this one are important in raising both the successes and some of the challenges that our local areas face. I am grateful to her for articulating powerfully the case for further investment in Bolton’s high street and in the town’s wider economy.

As the hon. Lady highlighted, Bolton has many strengths and assets, whether historical architecture or dynamic businesses based in the town centre and surrounding district centres of Farnworth, Little Lever, Westhoughton and Horwich. The town also hosts the famous Ironman UK race and the Bolton food and drink festival. She invited me to go and visit her constituency; I would love to take her up on that, although probably not to do the Ironman, as I am not sure I am fit enough. She mentioned the Northern Monkey bar, which sounds a little bit more up my street, so maybe we could tie that in.

While her constituency has many strengths, the hon. Lady is right to say that Bolton town centre is facing significant challenges. I think we can agree that those challenges have only been accelerated by the covid pandemic, through changing retail demand, more shoppers moving online and, as she highlighted, the loss of anchor stores, including Debenhams and Marks & Spencer. She also noted that her constituency is among the most deprived places in England. According to the index of multiple deprivation, Bolton is the 17th lowest rated local authority for crime, 44th for income and 42nd for employment. The Government recognise that towns such as Bolton are having to adapt quickly to the post-pandemic world and the rising cost of living, which is why in recent years we have sought to breathe life into such communities with a series of transformational funds that are specifically designed to spur growth, job creation and renewal in the places where that is most needed.

Through local growth and levelling-up funding, we have invested over £180 million in Bolton’s economy since 2014. As the hon. Lady knows, that included £20 million in her constituency from the first round of the levelling-up fund, which is creating a new highly advanced vocational and professional training facility, the Bolton College of Medical Sciences. That will mean that roughly 3,000 students a year, including 1,000 apprentices, will receive high-quality tuition and learn skills that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It will also contribute to the tackling of local health inequalities.

The hon. Lady asked what levelling up means to me and how I define it. It is straightforward, which makes it much more difficult. It is straightforward in the sense that levelling up is about ensuring that any young person, wherever they grow up in the UK, has access to the same fantastic opportunities—that is the simple version. The more complicated answer is that that means there is a need for intergovernmental emphasis; to ensure equal access to opportunity, we must look at healthcare, as we have touched on in relation to the college; transport; job opportunities; the potential for growth; and of course education. She asked what the Government, and our Department specifically, are doing. There are a number of things, some of which I will come on to, but the most specific and relevant is the creation of an inter-ministerial group on levelling up, chaired by our Secretary of State, to look at what every Department is doing to ensure that levelling up is being prioritised in their activity. That is just one thing, but there are plenty more, as I will touch on with regard to devolution.

Bolton town centre is also benefiting from £22.8 million in investment from our towns fund. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for all her work on the town board to oversee that vital work, which includes projects such as the redevelopment of Bolton Central Library, Museum and Archive, which will improve the leisure and learning offer for local people; the improvements to Bolton’s historic market, as she mentioned, which will maintain a much-loved community asset and drive footfall in the town centre, which is crucial; and the innovative new Wellsprings business hub for the creative and digital sector, which will provide real opportunities for local businesses and entrepreneurs. That is backed by £6.3 million of Government funding, which will create a greener, more connected town centre through the planting of trees and shrubs, improvements to public spaces, and new cycle routes and walkways—a real game changer not just for the high street but for the town’s economy as a whole.

As the hon. Lady mentioned, everyone involved in Bolton’s application for round 2 of the levelling-up fund will have been disappointed by the result. I know that she was one of the biggest backers of the Bolton town centre north regeneration project, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) also threw his full support behind the De Havilland Way corridor scheme, which is a priority project for the region. There was an overwhelming response to the second round of the fund—over 500 bids, totalling well over £8 billion. In contrast, in the first round we received 300 bids, which was still oversubscribed, in the context of having just £2.1 billion to allocate. The hon. Lady will understand that we knew that a lot of places would be disappointed. At this stage, it would not be appropriate to comment on specific applications, but I know that officials in my Department and in the Department for Transport are currently feeding back on unsuccessful bids. Full written feedback will come imminently, and I hope that that will help explain the rationale behind the decision and help with improvements to the bid for any future funding rounds.

The hon. Lady asked how applications were judged. As in the first round, funding was targeted in areas most in need according to the index of priority places, which takes into account the need to address issues such as under-regeneration, low productivity and poor connectivity. Each bid was assessed by officials from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities against the published assessment criteria, and officials then came up with a shortlist based on the highest scores against those criteria. To ensure that there was a fair spread of bids across the UK, funding decisions were then made by Ministers, based on the assessment score but also taking into account factors such as geographic spread and past investments. A place’s relative need is also baked into the process. In this round, 66% of investment went to category 1 places.

The second round has predominantly gone to areas in Great Britain that have not received funding before through the levelling-up fund, in order to ensure that investment reaches as many places as possible across rounds 1 and 2. I want to emphasise a point that we definitely should not lose sight of: there will be a further round of the levelling-up fund. More details on that will be announced shortly.

It is worth stressing, too, that the levelling-up fund is by no means the only investment from my Department in the region. More than £13 million from our future high streets fund has been spent on improving the nearby Farnworth town centre. As part of our £1 billion investment in Greater Manchester through the city region sustainable transport settlement, we are improving bus services between Bolton and Wigan for a faster and more frequent service that residents can rely on. All of that is accompanied by better cycling and walking routes in both Bolton and Farnworth town centres.

We are therefore doing a lot of investment, but despite those many investments and the progress that we are seeing together, no one can deny that Bolton will still need significant support over the coming weeks and months as we seek to build a brighter and more prosperous future for the town. Crucial to that mission is recognising that Government investment alone, however great, can only go so far. We also need significant reform to the way in which we support people and places in the long term, recognising that the current system of funding local councils needs improvement.

That is exactly why we are pressing ahead with the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to revolutionise how Government, the private sector and charities fund and invest in communities. The Bill also liberates councils to hold high street rental auctions so that landlords are encouraged to put empty buildings to good use. It makes the temporary freedoms around al fresco dining permanent, so that we can create more buzzing, vibrant high streets. It makes it much easier for councils such as Bolton’s to issue compulsory purchase orders so that they can repurpose boarded-up shops and derelict sites. All those changes are accompanied by a series of common-sense reforms that mean that no council has to pay over the odds in “hope value” to landowners when they issue compulsory purchase orders. That is a small change but it will deliver big savings for the public purse.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East asked what cross-departmental work is happening around levelling up. One of the best areas where we can demonstrate that is the devolution agenda. Empowering local leaders through our White Paper devolution commitments and regenerating towns such as Bolton are fundamental to our levelling-up plans in the north-west. I am really pleased to see that our negotiations on a new, deeper devolution deal with Greater Manchester, focused on delivering new transport, skills, housing and fiscal powers, are progressing well. Indeed, the reforms to the bus network are a direct result of that deal. We want to go even further, delivering a London-style integrated transport system to further enhance the Bee Network and deliver an accessible and integrated multimodal transport system that better connects residents and businesses in Bolton with the Greater Manchester region.

This is not just about businesses and the economy; we also want the trailblazer deal to provide the combined authority with the ability to drive housing supply and improve the quality of existing stock. The hon. Lady may have seen that, in his recent speech to the Convention of the North, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced £30 million across Greater Manchester and the west midlands, to support improvements to social housing. In the same speech, the Secretary of State made it clear that crime and antisocial behaviour were more likely to flourish in communities that have suffered neglect and underinvestment. That view is clearly backed by public opinion. At the end of 2021, More in Common and Public First polled more than 4,000 people and found that, for much of the public, tackling antisocial behaviour is the prerequisite to levelling up. To quote one of their survey respondents in Oldham, a town less than an hour’s drive from the hon. Lady’s constituency:

“What’s the point in making the area look nice if it’s just going to end up getting vandalised in a couple of months”?

That, in a nutshell, is the problem.

That is why we will shortly publish a comprehensive action plan on antisocial behaviour, one that means stronger enforcement, tougher penalties for those who damage public property and, of course, more activities to help keep young people out of trouble. That will be accompanied by a renewed effort to tackle public drug taking, while making our streets safer overall, to prevent the intimidation and harassment of women and girls—something on which the hon. Lady has been a passionate campaigner. On the point about women’s safety, nightclubs and the use of spiking, which I know is a huge concern for people right across the House, we are crystal clear that anyone found committing such an appalling crime will face the full force of the law. On its own, the crime can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The Government have worked closely with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to look at existing legislation, concluding that there is no gap in the law that a new spiking offence would fill, but we can all agree there is more to do around raising awareness of spiking and how to report it.

That is why the Government will undertake a targeted consultation on amending statutory licensing guidance, which could include specific reference to spiking—a definition of it, how to recognise it and how to report it to the police. It is worth noting, too, that in April last year, the Government reclassified so-called date rape drugs—including GHB and GBL—which historically have been associated with drink spiking. That measure, and funding through the safety of women at night fund and the safer streets fund, is supporting local initiatives to help to prevent this heinous crime. Our report on the prevalence and nature of spiking, as well as the action we are taking to tackle it, is due to be published by the end of April.

We do not want to talk about nightlife only in terms of the dangers and fears, because for many of us having decent nightlife in our town centres is one of the things that makes life so joyful. The hon. Lady spoke about support for night-time venues, particularly pubs. I am waiting for an invite to Northern Monkey, which sounds like a class venue. I am looking forward to visiting it.

Throughout covid, we ensured that additional measures were put in place specifically to help hospitality businesses, which was crucial because they faced the brunt of covid. There are still additional measures on business rates to try to support those venues, but if the hon. Lady has suggestions about what more could be done, I would appreciate her feeding those back to us.

I hope that my speech has shown the depth and breadth of our commitment to levelling up in Bolton—in infrastructure, public services, regenerating boarded-up shops on the high street, and tackling crime and antisocial behaviour. In response to the hon. Lady’s broader points about properly supporting and funding local government with its own capital programmes that generate real economic and social value, I have set out our ambitions with respect to devolution and our Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill for empowering local authorities and ensuring that councils and local leaders have the tools, resources and funding they need to regenerate, invest in their high streets and level up communities.

The Minister talks about the fact that local authorities must have the powers and abilities to do that, but she will recognise that over the past 12 years, Bolton Council has had £250 million of cuts. That does not allow it to do the things it wants to do. Specifically, what additional resources are we going to get to enable us to do that?

The hon. Lady will know that the local government finance settlement has been issued for the coming year, and investment in Bolton is receiving quite a substantial increase, although that is only part of the picture. I have touched on devolution, whereby Greater Manchester Combined Authority has received a swathe of public investment, as well as additional funds and powers, to tackle some of the core issues that Bolton and Greater Manchester face.

Under our new trailblazer devolution deal, we are looking at moving that even further, giving the combined authority the powers it needs to deliver, and with that additional investment. Obviously, I cannot provide too many more details at the moment, but I urge the hon. Lady to watch this space. I hope she will be pleased with the package that we put forward as part of the trailblazer deal.

Broadly, I have outlined our vision for Bolton, and indeed places across the UK that have been overlooked and where there has been under-investment for far too long. As levelling-up Minister, I am fully committed to working with the hon. Lady and Members from all parts of the House to make that vision a reality.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Cammell Laird Workers Imprisoned in 1984

[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential merits of a public inquiry into Cammell Laird workers imprisoned in 1984.

I declare at the outset that I am a member of the GMB trade union. I note the unfortunate absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), who has campaigned on this topic consistently since his election to the House, and whose brother was one of the 37. He had hoped to take part in this debate, but unfortunately he has tested positive for covid and therefore cannot be here.

In October 1984, 37 trade unionists who had fought to stop the closure of the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead ended their occupation of a gas rig in the shipyard and were promptly arrested and locked up in Walton jail, Merseyside’s maximum security prison. Their supposed crime was to have been found in breach of a contempt of court hearing following an earlier judicial hearing; as they had been sacked, they were guilty of trespassing.

No other industrial action resulted in so many men being sent to prison. The prison sentence of 30 days was grossly unfair. By the time they were released, the 37 had been sacked. They lost redundancy pay, and those entitled to pension payments lost those too. Officials from GMB believe that one of the men may have lost out on £120,000 or more.

The men were locked up alongside murderers and criminals. They were blacklisted and struggled to find work afterwards. In a democracy, belonging to a trade union and taking industrial action should not lead to the risk of imprisonment. Trade unionists in 1984—and indeed those of us who are trade unionists now—are not above the law, but the Cammell Laird 37 were part of an official national dispute, and they enabled essential maintenance to take place on the destroyer being built at the time. They had impressive records of employment service and were clearly patriotic. The decision to imprison them was completely disproportionate.

There have been many attempts to highlight the injustice of what happened to the 37. They and their families, supported by their trade union, GMB, have campaigned for almost 40 years for this injustice to be made right.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, and I apologise for not being able to stay for all of it. As he said, my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) has campaigned tirelessly on this issue. He tabled an early-day motion in 2021, in which he highlighted, among other things, the immense suffering and economic hardship that the imprisoned workers endured as a result of their month-long detention, and the blacklisting and loss of redundancy and pension rights that followed that imprisonment. Does my hon. Friend agree that any public inquiry should fully take into account such practices?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She and my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead are two of the many MPs who have already raised the case of the 37.

Strikingly, in response to one of the questions tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead in 2021, the then Justice Minister, the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), argued that if there were concerns about the imprisonment of the 37, the case should be referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The problem with that answer is that the men were sent to prison for contempt of court—a civil matter. As I understand it, under sections 9 to 12B of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, which lists the type of cases the Criminal Cases Review Commission has the power to review, there is no mention of decisions of the High Court to commit someone to prison for contempt of court.

Either a public inquiry is needed to review the treatment of the 37—that is the purpose of this debate—or the case should be reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, with all the investigative powers it has at its disposal. If so, the law will need to be changed to bring contempt cases resulting in prison within scope, because the Cammell Laird 37 will have little chance of justice until one or other of those options happens.

I commend the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate and, with the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), who is absent, for his fight for justice. Does he agree that these miscarriages of justice, which we can simply look at historically, are for those men and their families life-changing and altering? For them to understand that the lessons learned from their story can result in legislative changes can provide closure for families that went through it and provide protection for other families in future.

I very much agree with that point; I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the case that others and I will make.

In the latter part of 1984, across Britain’s industrial heartlands at the time, huge numbers of jobs in nationalised industries, including steel and coal, were axed by Margaret Thatcher’s Government, with a casual disregard for what would come next for those made redundant and their devastated communities. In shipbuilding alone, a hugely important source of jobs across the UK at the time, British Shipbuilders went from employing 62,000 workers in 1982 to just 5,000 five years later.

It is clear, from papers released by the National Archives and from Margaret Thatcher’s private papers, that Ministers were determined to privatise the building of warships, reduce the number of shipbuilding yards and sell off the remainder of the yards. Those records confirm a central belief of the 37 when they went on strike, that Ministers wanted to close Cammell Laird. They confirm that Norman Tebbit, then Secretary of State, and Norman Lamont, then Minister of State in the Department for Trade and Industry, wanted to close Cammell Laird, potentially as early as the end of the year, when the two ships then being built were expected to be completed.

We know that, because what emerges from these relatively recently declassified records of the time, is how Cammell Laird’s future became the centrepiece of a fierce Whitehall battle between the majority of Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet, hellbent on privatisation at any cost, and a far smaller group worried about the future of Merseyside if Cammell Laird closed. At the time, Cammell Laird was one of Britain’s most important shipyards. In existence for more than 150 years, it was a byword for engineering and shipbuilding skill of the highest order.

Warships built at Cammell Laird, such as Ark Royal, helped to protect our shores during two world wars, while other ships built there delivered huge wealth from across the globe to Britain’s shores. The 37 had helped build ships crucial to our efforts to win back the Falklands and later to take on Saddam Hussein. Short of active military service, there surely are not many more patriotic things one can do for one’s country than help build the means to defend it.

Word began to leak out in the spring and early summer of 1984 that Cammell Laird might be at risk of closure. Ministers at the time in the House of Commons denied that any major shipyard closures were being contemplated.

“I know of no such proposal.”—[Official Report, 27 June 1984; Vol. 62, c. 1095.]

So said Norman Lamont, then Minister of State at the Department for Trade and Industry. That was not quite the full picture. The Ministry of Defence had tendered for contracts to build two Type 42 destroyers in late 1983. Cammell Laird’s bid had met the quality threshold and apparently offered the best price. Over the course of nine months, from April 1984 to January 1985, Norman Tebbit successfully persuaded Margaret Thatcher and the rest of her Cabinet to delay Cammell Laird being awarded a contract to build at least one of the planned new Royal Navy destroyers.

The then Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Heseltine, recognising the profound economic and social consequences for Merseyside if Cammell Laird were to close, wanted to place orders for one, possibly two, Royal Navy Type 22 frigates with Cammell Laird, which would have secured the yard’s immediate future, and prevented even more job losses. The records released by the National Archives and the Margaret Thatcher Foundation detail how Norman Tebbit and the Department for Trade and Industry strongly objected, arguing, according to papers at the time now in the National Archives:

“If Cammell Laird did remain open, overcapacity would remain in shipbuilding with gratuitous risk to the successful privatisation.”

Commitments had been made that Cammell Laird would be able to bid and would have “a strong case” for building Type 22 frigates, as far as back as December 1982, by the then Secretary of State for Defence, John Nott, in this House. In April 1984, Michael Heseltine, then Secretary of State for Defence, underlined the significance of that commitment, and the impact on Merseyside if that commitment were not honoured and Cammell Laird closed. He particularly underlined the fact that Cammell Laird had won the MOD’s tendering process.

When British Shipbuilders published accounts in July 1984 for the previous year, it noted that Cammell Laird’s warship-building operations were still profitable, making some £3.22 million in surplus. None the less, Norman Tebbit, Margaret Thatcher and a series of Cabinet allies eventually forced the re-tender of the contracts to build these warships, delaying for almost a year the award of a warship-building contract to Cammell Laird. The papers also reveal how Norman Tebbit wanted to spin the decision, to put the blame and responsibility for the closure of Cammell Laird first on the British Shipbuilders Board and crucially, too, on the workforce, whose growing concern about their future they comment on—although they describe that as union militancy and worsening industrial relations.

I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate him on securing this important debate. He is making an important contribution around the thrust of Government direction in policy terms in relation to shipyards at this point of time. Does he agree with me that the systematic reduction of the workforce at Cammell Laird from 5,500 in 1977 down to 3,300 in October 1983 and a reduction of another 1,000 in the 12 months thereafter—taking into account the period following the dispute—points to that attempt to undermine British shipbuilding? Is that not why we need this inquiry? Given the fact that, sadly, several of those who were arrested have passed away in the years in between, does that not add to the urgency of the inquiry at this stage?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that there is an urgency to this case. I welcome his support for the points that I am trying to make.

My hon. Friend is explaining powerfully that justice delayed is justice denied. We have members of the Cammell Laird 37 with us today in the Public Gallery. Is it not important for anyone watching or listening today that we have justice? It is about time. All the documents should be made public as soon as possible.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her support for this debate. I absolutely agree with her concluding point, which I want to come on to in a little bit.

On balance, it is difficult not to conclude from the papers I have read that a significant group of Ministers in 1984 were so determined to drive through the complete privatisation of British shipbuilders, regardless of the wider economic and social consequences, that they decided that to achieve this, Cammell Laird had to close, and that any employee or union resistance had to be resolutely confronted.

When I was an engineering apprentice in the late 1960s in Liverpool, it was abundantly clear to anyone working in engineering that Cammell Laird was important not only for the reasons stated by my hon. Friend, but also for training engineers, who then went off into other areas of the industry. The case that he is making and the evidence he has referred to are important. He has highlighted two options on how to proceed, but if those are not feasible, would something similar to the Hillsborough inquiry carried out by Bishop James Jones, where all the evidence could be properly reviewed and perhaps point in a different direction, be a potential third option? Perhaps the Minister might consider that in his response.

I am grateful for that intervention by my right hon. Friend, who knows the yard, its environs and its significance much better than I do. His point about a potential third option is very important. Crucially, and as I will come on to, it requires such a third option for full access to the various papers that are still available that relate to the closure.

I turn to the court action in 1984. Not knowing any of the Whitehall battle that was going on, the workforce at Cammell Laird had seen their numbers reducing steadily—the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) made—through various waves of redundancies, so not surprisingly they took the decision to go on strike from the end of June 1984. Fearing that British Shipbuilders might move the two ships that the yard was working on, so that they could be completed at other yards, several men occupied the gas rig from June 1984.

The only court record that I could find shows that those occupying the rig and picketing the destroyer that was being built were sacked on 23 August 1984. Just days later, in early September 1984, British Shipbuilders was able to begin court action to accuse the men of trespassing and to require them to leave the rig and stop their peaceful picket.

I gently suggest that it is challenging to believe that the sackings and the court action were not directly related. The men, believing—rightly, we now know—that stopping their occupation would make it easier for the yard to close, refused to leave the gas rig, as required by the injunction. British Shipbuilders then went back to court and it appears that the company successfully asked Mr Justice Glidewell on 13 September 1984 to order that the men be arrested and sent to prison for contempt of court, because they had ignored his earlier court order.

The 37 men only got any sort of legal representation, and only then from the Official Solicitor, when the case was appealed at the High Court on 10 October 1984, but the prison instruction was confirmed. The key judges seem to have made little effort to understand the position of the 37. Justice Glidewell, in insisting on prison if the occupation did not end, made a point of suggesting that national security was somehow at risk. There was no one present to challenge that narrative: the men could not turn up without ending their action; and they certainly did not have the expensive lawyers that British Shipbuilders would have been able to call on to put their case.

Lord Lawton, who was the senior judge when the case went to the High Court, had been a member of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, had visited Hitler in the 1930s and had been selected to run for Parliament. He does not seem to have considered whether a 30-day prison sentence was proportionate. Given that the occupation of the yard had ended when water supplies ran out and that the men had already been in prison for 10 days by the time that he considered their case, it is even more extraordinary that they were required to complete their full sentence.

There were other contempt cases at the time in other industries, but none of them resulted in prison for those involved who were found in contempt, even where, as with the Cammell Laird 37, they did not co-operate with the judicial authorities. Most striking of all is the case of Arthur Scargill and the executive of the National Union of Mineworkers in the 1984-85 miners’ strike. They, too, were found in contempt of court, yet never went to prison.

There are many instances of unions being fined during this period. However, despite considerable work by the House of Commons Library, to whose researchers I am very grateful, I can find no record of any other group of striking workers being sent to prison for contempt, or indeed any other large group of workers who were sent to prison at all because of a national dispute, except the Shrewsbury 24, whose convictions were rightly overturned recently by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

So why were the Cammell Laird 37 imprisoned and treated so badly? They had no legal representation of their own; they could not afford the barristers and solicitors who were necessary for them to have a chance of avoiding jail; the Official Solicitor took up their case at appeal, but by then it was too late; and a further appeal to the House of Lords could have happened, but did not.

So who were the 37? Billy Albertina, Eddie Albertina, Francis Albertina, Jimmy Albertina, John Albertina, Jimmy Barton, Christopher Bilsborough, John Brady, Michael Byrne, Thomas Cassidy, Thomas Culshaw, John Dooley, Lol Duffy, Colin Early, Nicholas Fenian, Joe Flynn, Andrew Frazer, Barry Golding, Paul Hennessey, Edward Kenny, Paul Little, Eddie Marnell, Jimmy McCarthy, Anthony McGarry, Philip McKeown, Michael Mooney, Aiden Morley, Sam Morley, Alan Prior, Francis Roach, Stephen Smith, Christopher Thompson, Tommy Webb, Tommy Wilson, Chris Whitley, George Whittaker, and John Wright.

They were, of course, painted as militants, a line that the right does rather like to use a lot. The politics and tactics of the 37 may not have been to everyone’s taste, but their pride in the job they did and their respect for the role that the ships they were building were set to play were never mentioned in court, or in much of the media coverage at the time. Even while they were picketing the destroyer, they were allowing other workers on to carry out essential maintenance, with the leaders of the Cammell Laird 37 intervening to stop others from occupying or going on to the destroyer.

These were working-class men—hard-working, some very skilled. They were not schooled in the law or in high politics, but there is surely something very honest in wanting to defend your community, and, as I understand it, the Cammell Laird yard was certainly fundamental to the economic and social fabric of the Wirral and wider Merseyside community. The men did not stop the eventual closure of the yard, but their actions in helping to publicise what the loss of the yard would mean certainly delayed its closure. Eventually, one of the contracts to build the Type 42 destroyer was finally given to Cammell Laird, saving many jobs for a while longer.

Very few people want to go on strike—a truth that very few Conservatives have been willing to acknowledge down the years—but it is a fundamental right that should be protected. Of course, what links the case of the Cammell Laird 37 to today is that the Conservative party is still trying to criminalise those who want to push for better jobs, a decent living and dignity in their employment. The desperate Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill that Ministers are pushing in an attempt to divert attention from a miserable record of economic mismanagement mirrors the efforts of Ministers back in 1984 to try to avoid public responsibility for the consequences of axing huge numbers of jobs across our industrial heartlands.

The Cammell Laird 37 were brave men. They faced the full wrath of the judicial, media and political opinion of the time; they had the chance to say sorry in court for occupying the yard—in legal language, to purge their contempt—but that would have been apologising for fighting to stop the yard’s closure and save their community. Not one of the 37 did so, even when the mother of some of the men died. Others in the group encouraged those men to say sorry, so that they could leave prison to grieve and say longer goodbyes, but they would not: they were determined to stay, side by side with the others. They made a point of going back to prison after the funeral to show their support and solidarity. They went in together, and they came out together.

The 37 have campaigned with, and through, the GMB to try to find out the full picture as to why they were sent to prison, with a film, a book, and rallies and meetings across the country down the years. They have searched for all sorts of records and made numerous freedom of information requests. Police records from the time, Walton jail records, and full records of the involvement of the official solicitor or Attorney General do not appear to be publicly available; what we can, I think, definitively say is that throughout 1984, decisions about the future of Cammell Laird were being taken at the very highest level of Government. The possible role of government —in its widest sense—in the decisions that led to those men being imprisoned and losing so much should be explored by those whose powers allow full and complete access to any remaining records. The proportionality of sending the men to prison at all, and of keeping them there once the occupation had ended, also merits review.

In the end, this is about 37 men who were sent to prison when no other comparable national dispute, at the time or since, saw a similar outcome. As such, I hope the House will be sympathetic to the case for a public inquiry, a Hillsborough-style inquiry or, indeed, a review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Sir Christopher, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) for securing this important debate. I declare that I am a proud member of the GMB trade union.

I will start by paying tribute to the 37 Cammell Laird workers and their families—a number of them are here in Parliament today—and all the campaigners who have been fighting for justice for so long. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), who I know wanted to be here today, for his tireless campaigning over decades.

I fully back the campaign to secure truth and justice for the 37 Cammell Laird workers who were imprisoned in Walton jail in 1984. Those 37 workers and their families have now suffered the further injustice of almost 40 years in which truth and justice has been denied to them by the state. Sadly, many have passed away in that time. The workers were deliberately targeted to try to break the industrial action they were partaking in to save the shipyard and hundreds of jobs. As part of the state’s attempt to demoralise the workers taking strike action across the country at the same time, we saw the same modus operandi at Shrewsbury and Orgreave, with the state using brutal tactics to break industrial disputes. It then implemented a cover-up to deny the victims the justice they deserve. It is only thanks to the remarkable efforts of campaigners like those in the Chamber today, as well as the likes of Eileen Turnbull and all those involved with the Shrewsbury 24, that that fight for justice was eventually won last year. But those from Cammell Laird and Orgreave are still denied that justice today.

The industrial action at Cammell Laird happened against a backdrop of rapid de-industrialisation by the Thatcher Government. There was a decimation of jobs across Merseyside, where between 1978 and 1981 34,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. I grew up in Liverpool at that time, and it was an absolutely devastating period that we still have not fully recovered from. Remember that the Thatcher Government were contemplating the managed decline of my great city at the same time.

Cammell Laird was a national asset that the Government were preparing for privatisation by halving the workforce. In 1984, 1,000 more planned redundancies were announced and the strike and occupation took place in response. The targeting of trade union members at Cammell Laird was truly despicable and culminated in an injunction seeking to remove strikers occupying the rig, enforced by the police. Then there was the arrest and month’s imprisonment of 37 workers at Walton jail—a category A prison in which they all suffered greatly.

The 37 trade unionists were tried and convicted in their absence. They were denied the opportunity to defend themselves in court and a fair opportunity to clear their names. Once released, the Cammell Laird 37 never worked at the shipyard again. They were blacklisted and they lost their redundancy and pension rights. For standing up for the future of their communities, they were punished by the state, with the effects lasting a lifetime.

I want to read a testimony of Allen Small, who is a good friend. He says,

“In 1984 I was a 19-year-old apprentice at Cammell Laird. Myself and one other apprentice Dave Griffiths refused to cross the picket line and we joined the strike. Dave and I were sacked for refusing to attend work. I struggled for many years to find work. I applied for many jobs and welding courses but was always unsuccessful. Eventually I retrained as an electrician and found work in shop fitting and on building sites in London”—

away from the north west. He continues:

“Unfortunately Dave passed away 10 years ago.”

That shows the devastating impact of standing up for your community and fighting for a trade union.

Truth and justice are still being denied almost 40 years later. In 2014 the European Parliament ruled that the British Government had no basis for the convictions and should apologise and remunerate the 37 pickets. The Government have done nothing to this day. Appallingly, no records that relate to the policing of the dispute, British Shipbuilders’ handling of industrial relations or the Government’s response have been published. That is despite the European Parliament Committee on Petitions calling on the UK Government almost a decade ago to release all relevant papers and information to allow justice for the Laird strikers.

As someone who was at Hillsborough in 1989 and now chairs the all-party parliamentary group on public accountability, I have lived and seen the scale of cover-ups by the British state. It is a shameful history that we have—from the nuclear test veterans to the contaminated blood scandal, from the Birmingham Six to Hillsborough. There are many, many more I could talk about for hours. If we continually have a state and establishment that act with impunity and evade responsibility and accountability for their actions and the consequences of those actions, how do we ensure such injustices will never again be perpetrated?

That is why a Hillsborough law would be so important in ensuring that justice is not an abstract concept for the working class in this country who have been wronged by the state. We should all expect to have that in a functioning, fair and democratic society. That is why the fight to end the injustice seen by the Cammell Laird 37 is so important for the people involved and the country at large. Justice should not be a pipe dream, but a reality.

I close by asking the Minister this. Where is the Government’s apology and acknowledgement that there was no basis for the convictions? Will the Minister agree to a public inquiry with the power to compel disclosure? Anything else is an abdication of leadership and decency by this Government. The campaigners and the people who suffered deserve nothing less.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship as ever, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) for bringing this debate to the Chamber this afternoon. I will declare an interest: I am a proud trade unionist—always have been, always will be.

In 1984-85, I was a striking miner. A lot of the things that have already been said resonate with me, my friends, my family and our communities. This is simple; it is about justice for ordinary people. It is important that people are seen to get justice from the state. They need answers. Who was behind this? Who was behind the instructions that ensured that 37 hard-working people were put in jail for contempt of court? It is ludicrous, man! It is unreal to think that could happen to ordinary people who were fighting for employment. That was the charge: fighting for employment. They wanted to keep their jobs, they wanted to put food on the table, they wanted to clothe their kids. Those are not crimes, yet they were put in jail because they fought for that, for heaven’s sake.

It is not acceptable. It is not acceptable no matter which way we look at the situation. It was a severe miscarriage of justice. They were incarcerated for trying to secure the future of their families and their communities. They had not committed a crime and they were put in prison with murderers, armed robbers and rapists just because they wanted to maintain employment.

Of course, it was all about privatisation—the industrial cancer of working people—wasn’t it? They were trying to maintain their standard of living and sustain their economies. There is a lot to be answered. The potential merits of a public inquiry into the imprisonment of Cammell Laird workers? Of course there is potential for an inquiry because many people would not believe that this sort of thing would happen in a free and democratic —or so-called free and democratic—nation such as the UK.

The Shrewsbury 24 have already been mentioned twice by colleagues. It was the first ever national building workers’ strike in 1972. Again, pickets were jailed. In fact, one of them died shortly afterwards as a consequence of being imprisoned. They fought. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) mentioned Eileen Turnbull. She and her campaign team campaigned vigorously to get these convictions quashed. You know what? Forty-seven years later, it actually happened. On 23 March 2021, the court quashed the convictions against the Shrewsbury pickets. I urge the campaigners and everyone concerned to learn from what has happened in the past. Never give in, because you are on the side of the angels; never give in, because you are right. That needs sorting as quickly as we can. There needs to be a demand for justice.

The consequences of being put in prison for something to do with retaining employment are never getting a job again and being blacklisted. If someone is put in prison, people look at them as if they are something else. I could not imagine ever being in prison. I was in a police cell a number of times during the miners’ strike. That was bad enough. To be locked away from their families and from the people they were seeking to support in the first place is so degrading that I could not begin to think what it might be like.

Margaret Thatcher’s fingerprints are all over this. They were all over the papers during the miners’ strike and it was the same time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West mentioned, Margaret Thatcher’s name and fingerprints are all over the situation with these 37 lads from Cammell Laird. They need to find out whether that is the case; they need to find out who made the decision. Who deliberately targeted these ordinary people? It happens in the Chamber every other day now. If someone dares to question the Government, they are a militant. If someone is fighting for their job, if they are fighting for wages, terms and conditions, and if they are fighting for health and safety, they are a militant. That is strictly not true—and by the way, I wish there were more militants. I will be perfectly honest. I wish there were. This is the way that ordinary people are being tret.

I believe that people being sent to prison for contempt of court is absolutely unreal and that needs to be looked at. There needs to be some sort of public inquiry, as has been suggested. It has been mentioned that the Hillsborough disaster inquiry took a long time. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is still campaigning for an inquiry into the policing of the miners’ strike. It has done a fantastic job. I pay credit to the GMB union, by the way, for the campaigning and support it has given to the 37 individuals. It is about time we realised that being in a trade union and standing up for your rights is not a crime. It is about time we realised that being in a trade union and standing up for your community and what is right is not a crime and people should not be castigated for it in any way, shape or form. That is the sad situation we have had with the Cammell Laird 37. It is a serious miscarriage of justice and I strongly urge the Government to think about a potential public inquiry into what happened all those years ago. It is a scar on the lives of the 37, their families and their communities. Sort it out!

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Christopher. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) for securing this debate and for an excellent and forensic introduction to why this is such an important issue and why justice needs to be done. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my membership of the GMB trade union. I also add my tribute to all the others that have been made to my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for his tireless work campaigning on what is clearly a very important issue to him personally. I know he would have been here if he were able. But this issue should be important to anyone who cares about justice, truth and accountability. We have to ask ourselves a fundamental question: how did an industrial dispute end up with the arrests and imprisonment of 37 men? Let us not forget that, in its origins, this was a civil dispute—the criminal courts did not need to get involved—and it was no different to thousands of other disputes that have happened over many decades in the history of this country.

The men who were arrested were not told why. Is that not a basic tenet of our law? Who even did the arresting? The official position is that the police and bailiffs were involved in the eviction, but some have said that it was members of the SAS or the SBS—the Special Air Service or Special Boat Service—who were engaged. I do not know how accurate that is, but it is an important question, and if there is a grain of truth in it, it points to a much deeper level of Government involvement than has so far been admitted. That is an important reason why we need to look at the issue in more detail.

As we have heard already, the Thatcher Government were intent on placing Liverpool into a state of managed decline. I do not think that was a secret to the people living on Merseyside at the time; they certainly felt the effects of it every single day. We know that one of the papers released under the 30-year rule showed how Sir Geoffrey Howe urged the Prime Minister not to spend any public money in Merseyside, because he described it as “stony ground”.

We do not need reminding of how the decade was characterised by the Government’s war against trade unions, driven by an ideological determination to weaken workers’ rights to organise collectively and to take industrial action. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West very clearly set out, the decision to re-tender the contract after it had already been awarded to Cammell Laird was clearly part of that political attack and managed decline strategy.

Frankly, we should not be left to speculate and have questions left up in the air. We need full transparency. I think if the Government have been interfering in industrial disputes to the extent of getting the special forces involved or re-tendering contracts that have already been awarded, that is something that we all ought to be concerned about, wherever we come from on the political spectrum. It certainly would not be out of keeping with the Government approach at the time.

We have also heard that the men did not receive any redundancy payments. I believe they were told by the management that they were deemed to have dismissed themselves—complete legal nonsense. It was a nonsense in 1984 and it is a nonsense now, but, importantly, it means that the men were denied their redundancy payments, which lawfully they should have been entitled to.

We also have to raise the question of judicial impartiality. Since the Taff Vale case, the courts have had a reputation of being pretty unsympathetic to the ability of working people to organise collectively. Lord Justice Lawton, at the opening of the appeal, said that

“you cannot really expect any leniency to be shown unless and until each and every one of these men signs a piece of paper apologising for what happened, and expresses some regret”.

I think it is pretty clear that any idea of judicial impartiality was thrown out of the window that day.

How can anyone expect a fair hearing if they are told they should apologise before the case has even started? Why was it necessary to rub salt into the wounds of the eviction by adding 30-day prison sentences to the charges? A legal assessment of the strike commented that imprisonment is usually avoided because it inflames industrial disputes rather than terminates them. It is clear to me that putting those 37 men in prison was a clear statement of intent—one that strikes me as calculated, excessively punitive and almost certainly political in its origin. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West stated, imprisonment was not the normal punishment in disputes of this nature. There have been hundreds of similar disputes over many decades where imprisonment was not sought, so why was it insisted upon on this occasion? Given that, it is little wonder that the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions ruled in 2014 that the response to the occupation was disproportionate, and that the Government should release all documentation relating to the dispute and apologise to the men. I know the Government generally do not like things that come out of Europe, but they should listen to that ruling. I believe that when Labour is in office, we will honour it.

The stock response that we will hear from the Minister to our request for an inquiry is that this is not a matter for the Ministry of Justice, but I believe it is a question of justice. It is also a question of accountability and transparency. If the Ministry of Justice is not responsible for dealing with this matter, will the Minister please tell us where the campaigners and the hon. Members who have been fighting for this cause for so long should take their request?

Those men, who were thrown in prison and then blacklisted for taking industrial action, have not received any form of justice whatever in nearly 40 years. At the very least, they deserve an explanation from the Government, and the questions that we have asked today should be answered properly. Those in power really ought to know by now that the people of Merseyside do not rest until justice is done and the truth is uncovered.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) on opening the debate in the way he did, giving all the details of this enduring injustice and outlining what needs to be done to set it right.

I want to start by talking about a day in Parliament I will never forget. In March 2021, I arranged a meeting so that MPs and Lords could come together to listen to trade union activists who had been spied on by undercover police officers and blacklisted. We had an unexpected guest on that Zoom call. I had sent an email inviting every Member of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. I watched what we might call the usual suspects—some of them are in here—sign into the meeting, and then we were very surprised when Norman Tebbit joined our Zoom call. He was full and frank in his disclosure. He said that when he was Secretary of State for Employment for Margaret Thatcher, he received intelligence and information on trade unionists. He said that he even knew when and where trade union activists, deemed to be on the hard left, were going on holiday. He was there not to deny it; he was there to say, “Yes, we did it, and we were right to do it.” I mention that because it gives an insight into the political atmosphere at that time in the 1980s and a window into the ideology and psychology of the Ministers in Thatcher’s Cabinet.

The truth is that the injustice faced by the Cammell Laird workers all comes down to the fact that in the 1980s trade unionists were viewed, appallingly, as the enemy within—people who did not deserve justice, who were a barrier to privatisation and the neoliberal economic dream that Thatcher wanted to push through Britain. We need to understand that they were, at worst, collateral damage for some powerful forces at that time. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West read the names of the 37 Cammell Laird workers; that is something that everybody in a position of power should listen to and reflect upon. Those 37 people were put in prison for taking action as trade unionists to defend jobs and the community. Those decent people were treated like dirt and thrown into a maximum security prison alongside very dangerous criminals—how appalling.

Their maltreatment and punishment did not end then, as we have heard. They were blacklisted. They did not get their redundancy payments and it was harder for them to get jobs. How many lives were detrimentally affected by that brutal mistreatment of 37 decent working people and their families? It is a source of shame. Anybody, regardless of political party, who believes in democracy and civil liberties should know that that injustice needs to be resolved soon.

I was proud when our shadow Secretary of State for Justice committed in the 2019 manifesto to releasing all the papers on the 37 Cammell Laird shipyard workers, as well as the Shrewsbury 24 pickets, and promised to introduce a public accountability Bill. I am proud as a Labour MP that our Labour party still holds dear those important policies. I congratulate the GMB on supporting the ongoing campaign for justice. As we have heard before, justice delayed is justice denied.

Of course there needs to be a public inquiry. The imprisonment of the 37 Cammell Laird shipyard workers was an abuse of state power. When such an abuse occurs in this country we cannot cover it up and pretend it did not happen. We cannot try and explain it away. We need the disinfectant of full disclosure and the light of truth shining upon it so that apologies can be made, compensation can be given and justice can be done. It is an outrage that the GMB still has to run the campaign now. It is an outrage that the surviving workers who were imprisoned have to come to Parliament today to watch this debate. I hope this debate can get the page turned and secure justice for those workers.

The Government have an opportunity to turn the corner. They should release all the papers related to the Cammell Laird 37. The Government should apologise and remunerate the pickets. It is important that the Minister is given the opportunity today to do simple things. I invite him to agree with the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee that the Cammell Laird 37’s basic human rights have been contravened, and to commit to review the files on the dispute that have not been published, including any files held by police authorities or security services.

I invite the Minister to agree, on the public record, that the jailing of striking workers was an abuse of state power against decent, hard-working people and their families and the trade union movement, arising from the fact that trade unionists at the time, and perhaps in the minds of some still politically active today, were seen as fair game for injustice to be visited upon them. They were seen not as the fabric of our country creating the wealth and keeping our public services going, but as the enemy within. Once we have a Government that believe a group of working people and their trade unions are the enemy within, it justifies all sorts—surveillance, blacklisting, and treating people really badly.

We need to see real change. The Minister has a good opportunity today to make a difference, say what is necessary and get the ball rolling on what the surviving 37 imprisoned workers, the GMB and hon. Members have called for—an apology. Let us get the ball rolling on a public inquiry, because the truth is that, without one, justice will never be done. If we cannot achieve that, we must ask ourselves big questions about where we are as a society.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Christopher. On behalf of my SNP colleagues, and indeed my constituents, I extend solidarity from Clydeside to Merseyside on this issue, because I do support a public inquiry for the Cammell Laird 37.

I will start with some of the historical background and parallels between Clydeside and Merseyside, because they are interesting, and there is a point where they diverge, which I think sums up where we are. Many people in the Glasgow South West constituency worked in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in the early 1970s. They were proud of their work, and the term, “Clyde-built” defined their international reputation for quality.

In June 1971, Upper Clyde Shipbuilders went into receivership. It was described as being loss making, even though the yards had a full order book with a profit being forecast for 1972. The move to receivership was political, not economic. The Heath Government had announced a policy that refused further state support for what they called lame duck industries. That refusal led to a crisis of confidence among UCS creditors, which resulted in severe cash-flow problems for the company, and it was then forced to enter liquidation.

None of that needed to happen, and the trade unions and shipyard workers knew it. Under the leadership of Jimmy Reid and Jimmy Airlie, they decided to conduct the now-famous UCS work-in to complete the orders already in place. They were joined on marches by 80,000 people, and the world watched on with wonder at the demonstration of popular support for the workers of Scotland. The then-Conservative Government in 1972 had to relent to the demands of the workers, and restructured the yards around two companies.

So, what is the relevance of the UCS experience to today’s debate on Cammell Laird? Well, the first part of each experience is similar: shipyard workers were concerned about the possible closures of their yards and consequent mass unemployment with few alternatives for future livelihoods; politically motivated decisions were made to proceed with closure; and the workforce responded with industrial action, including occupation.

Sadly, that is where the stories of each begin to seriously diverge, because Margaret Thatcher was even more ruthless than Ted Heath. She had few qualms about unleashing the powers of the state, and its appendages, to undermine the human rights of workers. The use of the police to break the miners’ strike the same year as the Cammell Laird action showed a consistency of contempt for ordinary working people—“Throw them on the scrapheap; they are no longer needed by the Government!”

Some would argue—it is unfortunate that we do not have a Conservative Back Bench Member to perhaps articulate this position, but maybe they are on strike; I do not know—that the planned closure of Cammell Laird was legitimate, and that it was a political decision by a democratically elected Government. However, that is why I do not think that we should discuss the decision to close; I think we need to concentrate on the means used to implement Government decisions.

Today’s debate is not simply about political decision making regarding industrial closures; it is about the treatment of workers and the denial of their human rights, and especially about the subsequent cover-ups by those in authority, then and now. It is about the campaign to secure justice for the 37 Cammell Laird workers who were jailed after taking part in an official industrial dispute. 

I welcome and endorse the position of the Labour party that, if it was to win the next election, it would

“release documents held by government relating to the Cammell Laird prosecutions and carry out a review into the jailing of striking workers.”

However, the issue is about not just the integrity of political parties and Governments but the credibility of the United Kingdom itself, which has long claimed to be a beacon of human rights. Well, as far as workers’ rights are concerned, that beacon dimmed in 1984, and, in other debates, as I have seen in the past few weeks, we may discuss whether it is dimming even still. 

Through the snippets of information currently available to us, we believe that key shop stewards were victimised during the redundancy process. Apparently, Michael Heseltine boasted about that by referring to a

“step change in attitude and motivation arising within the new balance of the workforce following selective compulsory redundancies”.

Having continued their occupation of two new vessels, 37 workers were ordered to abandon that occupation to attend a court hearing and were then threatened with contempt of court. That was a novel form of attempted strike-breaking by the state, escalating into the notorious imprisonment of those 37 men. The climax of it all for the 37 was their subsequent blacklisting and financial hardship. Those are not the hallmarks of some beacon of workers’ rights and industrial harmony. They look much more like what we see in oppressive regimes: the use of false imprisonment of dissenters and other human rights violations, which we would all condemn in other countries as being part of a brutal abuse of power. We have seen the abuse of power closer to home, as in Northern Ireland, and have had the courage to investigate it. We must do that for the Cammell Laird 37.

It was good that in April 2017, the then Justice Minister Phillip Lee agreed to look into the case if re-elected in the forthcoming June election, but we are still waiting. Perhaps the Minister here today can tell us what actions the Government have taken since April 2017 to look into this specific case. Almost no records that relate to the policing of the dispute, British Shipbuilders’ handling of industrial relations or the Government’s response have been published, and it is now time for that to happen.

Following subject access and Freedom of Information Act requests, we have heard claims from numerous Departments that they do not hold unpublished papers. We heard the cop-out in 2010 from the Metropolitan police, who refused a subject access request from one of the striking workers and responded by saying that the Met

“neither confirms nor denies that it holds the information you requested.”

Internationally, we have heard the opinion of the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions, as other hon. Members have said, and it is worth my quoting, in closing, the statement in the petition to the European Parliament:

“There have been consistent attempts since 1984 to obtain information, answers and justice…regarding the contravention of basic human rights of the people involved under established European and international laws, Treaties and conventions. Yet…their stated rights of respect for the principle of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law under Art. 6 of the Treaty of the European Union…have been denied.”

That beacon of human rights is only barely flickering, and the world sees it. Let us have that justice for the Cammell Laird 37.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) on securing this debate and bringing further attention to this historic injustice to the Cammell Laird workers, some of whom sadly are no longer with us. I also pay tribute to the GMB union, which has provided continuous support to the workers so that they and their families can finally achieve recognition of that injustice, and for their suffering and hardship. It is good to recognise that three of the men—Eddie Marnell, Billy Albertina and Sam Morley—are joining us this afternoon in this Chamber.

The Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead has a proud history. The site has played a strategic role in British shipbuilding for 200 years. Importantly, it has proved pivotal in supporting the Wirral community, sustaining vital jobs and creating a lifeline for the local economy. I remember well the 1970s and ’80s, when I was a young newspaper reporter and spent a lot of my time reporting on shipbuilding, on both Teesside and Clydeside. I know that shipyard workers are proud and loyal workers, and they are pleased to have their role in society. But as we have heard, in September 1984, Cammell Laird Ltd, through the High Court, conducted legal proceedings that would mark the history of this impressive hub of industry in Merseyside in a way that surely no one could have desired. It followed the decision by Cammell Laird to implement masses of job cuts, and a decision by the workers and their trade union to fight for their future. From July of that year through to September, the dispute escalated from picket lines to the occupation of a rig under construction and a blockage preventing access to HMS Edinburgh, which was under construction at the time.

The company then sought an injunction, which in turn led to the 37 people occupying the area being arrested for contempt of court between 1 and 3 October and imprisoned in the then category A Walton prison. History tells the story of injustice and the horrendous impact that it has, not just on those imprisoned but on the whole community. Those workers were fighting principally to make a difference, to protect jobs and the area in which they lived, but they paid a terrible price. They were faced with a month-long detention in prison, followed by blacklisting and the loss of redundancy, pension rights and their livelihoods. They have since spoken of the feeling among the workers that the dispute could have been resolved, but that the authorities were in no mood to negotiate. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) spoke of the decimation of manufacturing jobs in Liverpool at the time—a loss from which the city is yet to fully recover. More importantly, he spoke of the fact that these men were never allowed the right to defend themselves.

Eddie Marnell, one of the persons present today, is a former shipyard worker and one of the 37 men who spent those 28 days in prison after being arrested at Cammell Laird. He has campaigned heavily for the release of documents about the case. He believes the workers were used by Thatcher’s Government as a warning to the miners and any other organisation that posed a challenge. I understand that some of the documents have been released, but others remain secret to this day.

Those 37 men were fearful that the end of Cammell Laird was imminent, taking Birkenhead’s economic and social health with it. This case of injustice is not isolated. Too often, we have seen successive Governments sweep issues under the rug and hope to avoid culpability. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) said, this is simple. It is about justice for ordinary people who were incarcerated despite not breaking the law, and locked away from their families. Recognition of that injustice by the Government would be an uncomplicated action towards bringing solace to these workers and their families for all the misfortune they have suffered. More generally, as has been said, we cannot ignore the comparison between the 1980s and what we are seeing today. After 13 years of Tory Administrations, workers are once again seeing their rights disregarded. Contempt for workers now is not dissimilar to what it was then.

We know the Government have form for deterring workers from exercising industrial action. In the ’80s, we saw the Tory Government introduce successive laws restricting industrial action. A matter of weeks ago, this Tory Government introduced legislation once again set on doing the utmost to quash strike action by threatening people with the sack. The Government apparently believe in the right to strike, but the shoddy legislation they have introduced—the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill—is yet another attack on working people’s freedoms. Labour strongly opposes this Bill on principle. It is simply unworkable. We voted against it on Second Reading and we will repeal it in Government.

The past few months have seen the greatest strike disruption in decades, with rail workers, ambulance workers and nurses taking unprecedented industrial action. Yesterday saw both NHS nurses and ambulance staff striking simultaneously for the first time. Unlike this Government, Labour is proud of the trade union movement’s historic achievements in giving people a voice at work through collective action. Standing up for workers is in our history and in our future. A Labour Government will champion these rights and transform people’s lives for the better.

On the matter under discussion, can the Minister say what appetite the Government have for looking again at the Cammell Laird injustice to recognise it for what it was? Do the Government accept that those 37 people had their lives ruined by the heavy-handed use of the law, and that it was unfair and unjust?

There appears to be some confusion over the routes to having these matters looked into again. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), who submitted a parliamentary question on the merits of looking again at what happened to the 37 Cammell Laird workers. In response to that question, the former Justice Minister, the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), said:

“The appropriate route to challenge a conviction and/or sentence is by way of appeal.

Anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offence in England, Wales or Northern Ireland can apply to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which can review and investigate possible miscarriages of justice. Where there is a real possibility that the conviction or sentence will not be upheld, the Commission can refer the case to the appropriate court.”

The Minister present will know, as I do, that these workers were jailed for contempt of court. Can he confirm whether the legal route described by the former Minister would apply in this case? If not, does he have sympathy with the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West that a change in the law be sought, allowing issues associated with contempt to be subject to the same rules and therefore applicable to the work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission?

To be clear, a Labour Government will always stand up for the rule of law and challenge injustice wherever we find it. Labour would release documents held by Government relating to the Cammell Laird prosecutions and carry out a review into the jailing of the striking workers. Sadly, our history is littered with injustices, with the lives of hard-working people ruined as a result. As such, I would very much welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement that what happened four decades ago was wrong, and that, rather than develop new ways to foster conflict between employers and workers, we should see them work together for everybody’s advantage.

Thank you very much, Sir Christopher—I think you are the only Member of this House in the Chamber today who was also a Member back in 1984.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) on securing this important debate. He and I have exchanged views across the Dispatch Box in this Chamber on a number of issues in the past, when I have been in different roles, and I have always sought to be constructive; I will endeavour to be so again in responding to him and other hon. Members today.

I also recognise, as other hon. Members have done, the campaigning work of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley). I know he would have wished to be here, but following his covid test, he is not able to be. I hope he is okay, and if he has any symptoms, I hope he recovers very quickly and is back with us soon—tabling questions to me on this matter, I suspect, or raising the issue in the Chamber. I wish him a speedy recovery.

As we have heard, in 1984 37 workers were involved in an occupation of the Cammell Laird shipyard at Birkenhead in a bid to stop compulsory redundancies. I recognise the huge value of the work undertaken by those working in shipbuilding and the huge pride that was, and continues to be, felt by people in shipbuilding and a whole range of important industrial sectors. A number of hon. Members have highlighted that, and it is important that we put it on the record.

The 37 were sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment for contempt of court after refusing to comply with a judge’s orders to leave the partially built gas rig, as we have also heard. I do not propose to recount all the circumstances—the hon. Member for Harrow West set them out very clearly, as did a number of other Members, particularly the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne). He gave a passionate and moving speech, not only showing the depths of his feelings on the issue, but highlighting through individual examples the impact that it has had.

Hon. Members often listen to each other carefully in this place—all the time, I hope—but it is perhaps a little rarer for hon. Members to learn something, or to hear a speech that causes them to reflect further. The speech made by the hon. Member for Harrow West achieved that, and I pay tribute to him for it; it was genuinely interesting and thoughtful. The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) is always passionate. I hope not to damage his political career by saying that I have huge respect for him, but he knows of what he speaks, and he speaks with not only knowledge but experience. Again, it may damage his political career if I say that I do not believe I have ever called him a militant—he may wish I had—but none the less, in the spirit of this debate, let me say that he makes his points fairly and passionately.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) had the dubious privilege of being my shadow for almost three years. He and I debated a number of issues in the context of health. He always does his research, and speaks with moderation but also with a clear view of these matters; I pay tribute to him. I was going to say the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) shadowed me in a previous role, but he was actually far more elevated—he was shadowing the Lord Chancellor. While we do not often share the same political perspective, I could never—and I do not think anyone could ever—doubt the sincerity with which he holds and propounds the views and positions he does on behalf of his constituents.

The 37 were imprisoned for 30 days in HMP Walton. It is important to highlight that they were imprisoned for contempt. They were subsequently dismissed from their jobs and lost the right to redundancy and their pensions. As hon. Members will know, sentencing in that case, as in others, is a matter for our judiciary; we cannot comment on the decisions made by the judiciary in that respect.

Before turning to the details, I will say a little about contempt. If a party, when summoned to appear, admits the contempt and complies with the instructions regarding the contempt, often no further action will be taken. But if not, upon proof of the contempt the court has to impose penalties. That is a matter for the independent judge. I understand that in this case the official solicitor put forward various arguments against the duration and nature of the penalty. That independent judge rejected those arguments.

I highlight at the outset that I recognise that this is an incredibly difficult case for all those concerned, and for the local community at the time more broadly, with far-reaching and long-lasting impacts. There are understandably strong feelings about the case. I may not always agree with everything it propounds, but I highlight the work that the GMB—at the time, the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union—has done, and the tenacity with which it has pursued the matter. I am not unsympathetic to the case, and in particular to the impact it has had on individuals. I recognise that due to the passage of time a number of those individuals have sadly passed away in the intervening years.

I also take this opportunity to highlight that this Government do recognise the ability to strike as an important part of industrial relations in the UK, rightly protected by law. We understand and recognise that an element of disruption is a key part of that. I do not think that is in anyway incompatible with the necessary legislation currently going through Parliament in respect of minimum service levels.

I should also state that the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) sat on a Bill Committee with me looking at some of these issues back in 2015-16, when we were first elected to this place. As I said then, I recognise the important role that trade unions play in our economy and society.

The Minister refers to the new Bill. If that Bill had applied to the Cammell Laird 37, they would have been dismissed with no right to a tribunal. Does the Minister seriously think that is fair? That is what the new Bill says.

The new Bill refers to very specific areas of service in specific sectors, subject to further delegated legislation where such minimum service levels could be required. I do not think the parallel he draws is directly analogous.

It is important to note that the world has changed since the 1980s. Back then, unions tended to protect their members through collective action and did not rely on the courts to the same extent that they do today. Individual employment rights were less common than they are now. Since the 1980s, the industrial relations landscape has significantly changed, with a greater emphasis on individual rights. Nowadays, when they are recruiting, employers cannot discriminate on the grounds of trade union membership or activity. Similarly, an employer cannot dismiss a worker for being a member of, or active in, a trade union. Workers benefit from legal protections when taking lawful industrial action.

Today, blacklisting is, rightly, completely unacceptable and has no place in modern employment relations. Any individual or trade union who believes they have been a victim of this practice can enforce their rights under the regulations, through an employment tribunal or the county court. The Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations 2010 are further reinforced by powers in the Data Protection Act 2018 protecting the use of personal data, including information on trade union membership and sensitive personal data. The Information Commissioner’s Office regulates the use of personal data and investigates breaches of the Data Protection Act. It has the power to take enforcement action, including searching premises, issuing enforcement notices and imposing fines for serious breaches. Anyone with evidence of offences in that area should present it to the Information Commissioner’s office.

The specific question posed by this debate relates to the potential merit of holding a public inquiry into the Cammell Laird workers imprisoned in 1984. As I have alluded to in reference to the hon. Member for Harrow West, I do recognise that this is an issue of abiding parliamentary interest, and the number of hon. Members in the Chamber today reflects that. Although debates in this Chamber are often about important subjects, it is not always as well populated with hon. Members.

Public inquiries are independent investigations into matters of significant public concern. They can be established by the Government and led by an independent chair. They are usually asked to establish the facts surrounding a particular serious issue and consider the lessons to be learned from what has happened, as well as to make recommendations intended to help correct the deficiencies for the future. For example, an inquiry might be established to determine the cause of a major disaster or accident.

When the Government determine that a matter is sufficiently serious to meet the bar to warrant an inquiry, there are number of options for the form that might take, including the establishment of an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. As the right hon. Member for Knowsley highlighted, that is not the only option in this space. Unfortunately, by the vagaries of how debates are allocated, although the Ministry of Justice owns the Inquiries Act 2005 and Inquiry Rules 2006, Justice Ministers do not have any power to decide whether to set up such an inquiry. That would fall to the Department with the policy or operational responsibility for the issue under consideration. Therefore, as a Justice Minister, I have no power to agree to the request for a public inquiry. However, industrial relations and how they were historically dealt with, although not a matter for the Ministry of Justice, do fall under other Government Departments. Although I cannot comment on the merits of an inquiry in this instance, other Departments would have an interest. I will turn to that in a moment.

Document disclosure is a vital part of an inquiry, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West highlighted. As the Government have previously set out, this Department has conducted extensive searches of its records and those in the court and prison systems. I understand that nothing has been found in relation to the Cammell Laird strike action or the strikers themselves. Other Departments—the Cabinet Office, Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as it was until a few hours ago today—have likewise confirmed that they do not believe they hold potentially relevant material.

This is an area of legal complexity. In the spirit of constructiveness, I want to try to address some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Harrow West and the shadow Minister about previous answers on this and explore other routes that might be available—notwithstanding that I cannot opine on the merits of a public inquiry.

The Minister referred to the fact that I said there was a potential third option. Would he be willing to consider an independent panel, along the lines of the Hillsborough Independent Panel? My view, like those of my hon. Friends and others, is that there should be a public inquiry, but if that is not possible for legal reasons, there is that option to explore.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for suggesting a potential third way. Again, that would not fall within the powers of the Ministry of Justice. I suspect it is the sort of thing that may fall under the remit of the Cabinet Office—that is one of the four jobs I held in brief succession last summer, so I still remember some of that.

I hope I can give the hon. Member for Harrow West a constructive response.

I just want some clarification. Is the Minister saying categorically that there are no documents in any Department relating to Cammell Laird that are not in the public domain?

I repeat to the hon. Lady what I said—I will be quick, because I want to give the hon. Member for Harrow West time to wind up—which is that I understand that my Department has previously conducted extensive searches of our records within the court and criminal system, and nothing was found. I also stated that other Departments—the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and BEIS, as was—have likewise confirmed that they do not hold any. I limit my remarks to that and to repeating what I said, not because I necessarily disagree but because I want to confine myself to what I know I can say in this Chamber with knowledge. I do not want to risk misleading the House in any way.

The hon. Member for Harrow West asked about options. This is a legally complex area, and the answer that was previously given suggested the CCRC. I understand that there is no bespoke redress scheme for civil claims arising from committals for contempt of court. Claims for compensation may be explored through the normal civil court process. There are various courses of action. I know that the 37 did not appeal to the House of Lords, but I believe that, were there permission, it would be possible for them to consider an appeal to the Supreme Court. I am reticent to suggest that those may be the solutions. In the spirit of a constructive response, I say to the hon. Gentleman that if he writes to me, I will ask my officials to look into those legal routes in greater detail to try to get a bit of clarity, especially given the written parliamentary answer that he referred to. I hope that might slightly help to move things forward.

I want to give the hon. Gentleman some time to wind up. In summary, although I am extremely sympathetic to the case and to the individuals and communities affected, industrial relations and how they have historically been dealt with are not a matter for the Ministry of Justice. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment on the potential merits of an inquiry in this instance. As I say, if he writes to me, I hope I might be able to be constructive in responding.

I am grateful, Sir Christopher, for the opportunity to make a short winding-up speech. I am very grateful to hon. Members who have attended the debate, including my hon. Friends the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Sir George Howarth), my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western), for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern). I am grateful for their support and knowledge.

I am also grateful for the Front-Bench speeches. The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) was clear in his support for the release of documents. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) for reiterating our party’s commitment to review this issue in Government and ensure the release of all documents.

I am grateful to the Minister for offering to look at two possible legal remedies. I will certainly write to him. I welcome his acknowledgement of the impact that imprisonment had on the 37.

I take the opportunity again to praise the GMB union for its tenacity in supporting the 37—in particular, Eddie Marnell and the others who have continued to campaign consistently on this. This is the only remaining case of trade unionists being sent to prison. It was wrong then, it is wrong now and we need some sort of inquiry to put it right.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the potential merits of a public inquiry into Cammell Laird workers imprisoned in 1984.

Children's Mental Health Services: Lincolnshire

I beg to move,

That this House has considered children’s mental health services in Lincolnshire.

As a parent, I know how strong and how special the bond that connects us to our children is. We give our time, our energy, resources and a hell of a lot of sleep without a second thought to nurture, guide and raise them. It is a love that knows no limit, and we all want our children to have the best opportunities in life and for those opportunities to be just as limitless. That is why I can only imagine the distress and heartache felt by some families in Lincolnshire and across the country when a child is suffering from mental ill health.

As parents, we feel a deep sense of responsibility and a duty to get help for our children whenever it is needed, and we will do anything we can to get it, so it is vital for families to know that they have access to a network of support and to professionals dedicated to providing the best help and treatment available. Over the last decade, our country has made great strides in recognising the importance of mental health, placing it in parity with physical health both in law and in practice. There has also been a notable cultural shift, with more and more young people reaching out and seeking support with their mental health.

To be fair, Government have recognised and actively encouraged this change. Since 2015, the mental health investment standard has mandated that mental health spending at least match any overall increase in NHS funding. The Government also commissioned the independent mental health taskforce, accepted its recommendations in full and put an extra £1 billion towards introducing the first ever mental health waiting time standard, committing to providing 70,000 more children with mental health care and guaranteeing access to a 24/7 community-based crisis response. That has had an impact and it is a vast improvement on what has gone before, but those national numbers will mean very little if they do not translate into positive experiences where help is most needed.

In Lincolnshire, children and young people have access to a broad range of support. Lincolnshire has a strategy centred around care at home. While hospital care is lifesaving for those in most need, the majority of children with mental health problems can and should be seen in a familiar and comfortable setting at home. That is why I welcome Lincolnshire’s early help strategy. The mental health, learning disability and autism alliance, which includes NHS leaders, Lincolnshire County Council and district councils, and the police and crime commissioner, has developed the plan to promote early intervention and support. That ultimately means that more children are provided with help before their illness requires hospital support, and Lincolnshire has far fewer in-patient stays than the regional and national averages.

I want to use the rest of my time today to speak directly, in this Children’s Mental Health Week, as a voice for a number of my constituents who have reached out and contacted me over the past year to share their experiences and highlight particular issues that we face in the county of Lincolnshire. On early intervention, the earlier mental health issues are reported, the stronger the chance of recovery. There are two ways in particular in which we need to focus more attention to achieve these early interventions.

The first is through schools. School is where many children feel most comfortable, familiar and safe. As such, school is exactly where children are not only supported, but can be taught how to better look after their own mental health and recognise when classmates are struggling. The Department for Education has, therefore, rightly committed to providing mental health training to a lead member of staff in all eligible schools and colleges by 2025. Lincolnshire County Council has rightly commissioned four mental health support teams in various educational settings in Lincoln, Gainsborough, Boston and Skegness. Obviously, my constituency is missing from that list. I hope that Grantham, Bourne or Stamford will be included in the months and years ahead.

The second area of focus for early intervention is about training for medical professionals. Although some training is available, some of my constituents feel that it should be mandatory for all medical staff on paediatric wards, in A&E, for GPs and for GP nurses, so that issues can be identified earlier and faster. I am interested to learn the Minister’s views on that point, because it has been raised a number of times.

There is another big issue that I would like to highlight. Although we have some excellent people involved in mental health services in Lincolnshire, there are frankly not enough of them. We have to recognise that we struggle to recruit specialist staff to operate mental health services in Lincolnshire, because of the rural nature of our county. It also means that attracting specialists, such as psychiatrists, from more populated towns and cities is difficult. I know the Government are fully aware of the issue but, without more specialist staff, local providers find it difficult to expand services and provide a more immediate response to the children who are in most need.

That staffing issue creates a need for local providers to make occasional use of agency cover. Not only is that expensive, but it brings a significant churn of personnel into the system, when children and families need a consistent and familiar touch point they can get to know and who can get to know them. Another main workforce concern is that, after covid, a significantly higher number of people need help. It is estimated that across the UK, 1.5 million children might need new or additional mental health support as a result of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, one in nine children in the UK suffered with their mental health. That figure was high enough, but it has since risen to one in six children. With more children to treat, Lincolnshire needs more specialist staff to go alongside the clear increases in monetary investment.

My final point is about the important third area of after-hours care. In Lincolnshire, we have a crisis and enhanced treatment team. It is targeted at helping children, through assessments and home treatment, aiming to avoid the need for hospital admission. The full extent of that in-person service is available from 8.45 in the morning to 7 pm. As we know from many cases, the greatest need is during the night. For that, there is a telephone number for parents to call for advice, and they might be referred to an A&E department, if it is deemed necessary.

Although that is, of course, welcome, some families have not been aware of the out-of-hours service and have presented to A&E, sometimes without calling the crisis team, only to struggle to find any specific mental health support at the hospital when they arrive. Locally, I know that those responsible are aware of that, and improvements are on the way. For example, a new mental health liaison post has been appointed and will start soon to offer routine face-to-face support at A&E. Going forward, there is a review of the entire crisis model. Plans are currently being explored, including for a child and young person crisis assessment centre. I will definitely follow that closely.

Providing for our children is the driving force in parents’ lives. We love, care for and protect them as best we can with whatever means we have. I hope that, in some small way, my speech today has helped highlight the challenges that children’s mental health services in Lincolnshire face. Some are similar to those faced by other areas across the country; some are perhaps more unique to us in our county. I thank all who work so hard to deliver mental health services in Lincolnshire. I pay particular tribute and send my thanks to the families who have shared their stories with me—they know who they are. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) for securing this debate and for the way he continues to champion children’s mental health services. I recently discussed many of the issues with him and some of his constituents. The experience that they brought to me has helped to influence the work we are doing. I reassure my hon. Friend that there is a huge focus on improving children’s mental health services, both nationally in terms of funding and, as he indicated, in terms of staffing. In his local area, much of the work will be in the major conditions strategy, which includes mental health, and also in our suicide prevention strategy—[Interruption.]

Order. There is a Division in the House, so the sitting is suspended. If there is one vote, it will be for 15 minutes; if there are two votes, it will be for 25; and if there are three votes, as expected, it will be for 35 minutes. I look forward to seeing Members back here then.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming

Thank you, Sir Christopher, for allowing me to continue what I was setting out to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford, who has been campaigning so eloquently on the issue of children’s mental health, particularly from a constituency point of view. He is quite correct that we are investing record levels of funding into children’s mental health services. We are trying to recruit as many staff as possible to expand those services, which are being extended to support children’s mental health. I will touch on how that is happening, both at a local level in Lincolnshire and nationally across England.

Lincolnshire’s children and young people’s mental health services have always been rated as outstanding by the Care Quality Commission. Pre-pandemic, the average wait for child and adolescent mental health services assessments was 4.4 weeks, and the Healthy Minds Lincolnshire early-intervention service helped to reduce referrals to child and adolescent mental health services by 5%. Lincolnshire has always had an excellent track record in delivering services and supporting young people in particular with their mental health, compared with the figures nationally. I know that is not necessarily much consolation for those parents and children waiting for services, but Lincolnshire mental health services have traditionally been very good.

However, the pandemic has had an impact, as it has across the country. In Lincolnshire, referrals to CAMHS have increased by 15.7%; nationally, the increase was 35%. Although Lincolnshire has not had the same increase in the number of referrals as other parts of the country, it has still had a significant increase. Lincolnshire has had 15% more clinical contacts than the national average, and 92% of children who sought an emergency telephone response received one within four hours as a result. We can see, then, the scale of the pressures that services are facing. Lincolnshire has performed relatively well compared with most other parts of the country but is experiencing challenges. That was very much the point that my hon. Friend made: his constituents are now struggling with waiting times, the sheer scale of the number of referrals is putting pressure on the service, and although a lot of work is going on to improve things, his constituents are feeling the pressures on the service.

The loss of workers in this field is particularly high in my hon. Friend’s area, as it is in other parts of the country. I assure him that we are recruiting more staff, but it takes time to train them up and get them providing services at a local level. Lincolnshire does not have a children’s and young persons’ in-patient unit, and I have heard from his constituents about the impact of that and the difficulty of a child being placed out of area. We fully recognise that and want to work with his local team on it. His local integrated care board is standing up to the challenge—it has increased funding to CAMHS by £1.2 million in this financial year to help to reduce waiting times, which has had a positive impact—but the workforce is probably the single biggest issue in terms of trying to improve services further.

By September of last year, 67% of children and young people who were assessed for CAMHS were assessed within six weeks. If early-intervention and emotional services are included, 72.5% of young people who were assessed were assessed within four weeks, with the national average being 68%. The big concern for Lincolnshire is the length of time that children are waiting for support and the workforce capacity to change that, so I am committed to working with my hon. Friend’s ICB to see how we can address that concern.

My hon. Friend touched on the out-of-hours service. Such services are available throughout the country—there are 24/7 helplines available—but he is quite right that many people do not know how to access those services, and that applies in respect of emergency services as well. We hear from ambulance trusts throughout the country that very often ambulances have to attend to someone with a mental health crisis, and they are not always able to access a 24/7 service. It is not because it is not there but because sometimes it just not clear how it can be accessed. There is, then, a lot of work to do.

Let me reassure my hon. Friend about what we are doing from a national perspective; this will be replicated in Lincolnshire. We are on course to deliver 399 mental health support teams in schools and colleges, and we already have 287 of them in place. They are making a significant difference to children and teachers. They are able to support children who have mental health concerns, mental illnesses or conditions at an earlier stage and get young children into the system much more quickly, before they reach a crisis point, to get them the help and support they need. They also take the pressure off teachers, who until now have done a significant amount of the heavy lifting when it comes to children’s mental health.

We are providing £79 million to boost capacity in children’s mental health services and to help 22,500 more children and young people to access those services. Also, we are specifically expanding access to services that address eating disorders. The funding has increased significantly to try to match our level of ambition, with £53 million of support in 2021-22, which will rise to £54 million in the forthcoming financial year. All that work sits on top of record levels of investment in NHS mental health services in England and the unlocking of support for an extra 345,000 children and young people.

I recognise from the points that my hon. Friend made that where we are making a difference that is great, but for the children and parents who are waiting it is still very difficult. Although Lincolnshire is probably performing better than most parts of England, it is facing some significant pressures with workforce capacity and the lack of an in-patient facility, which also puts pressure on community services.

The Government hope to reform the Mental Health Act 1983 fairly soon. That will support mental health services and make them much more community and crisis team-led, rather than letting people get into crisis and their needing much more extensive services. We have recently announced our major conditions strategy, which includes mental health, and we will also publish our national suicide prevention strategy, in which we will focus on children and young people in particular, because we recognise that significant work needs to be done for them.

It is also about ensuring that we have the workforce capacity in place. The Chancellor and his team will specifically include mental health in the workforce strategy, which is being worked on. We know that when we expand community services to get people seen much more quickly and avoid crisis situations, we will absolutely need the workforce at a community level to meet the demand.

I hope I have been able to reassure my hon. Friend. The Government recognise that there are challenges, particularly with things such as out-of-hours support and rapid access into services. I thank my hon. Friend for the work he is doing by constantly raising the situations his constituents face, because it does make a difference. It means that we are able to assess whether we are making progress in supporting not only children and young people in particular but everyone who wants to improve their mental health or has a mental illness and is in need of support.

Our ambition is that children and young people, wherever they are from in England, whatever their background and whatever their mental health condition, will be able to get the support that they need in a timely manner. I know that my hon. Friend will be holding our feet to the fire to make sure that that happens, particularly in Lincolnshire.

Question put and agreed to.

Because the Minister responding to the next debate is not present, I have to suspend the sitting until 5.7 pm. We will then have one hour in which to debate the next motion.

Sitting suspended.

Levelling-up Fund Round 2: Bidding Process

I said the sitting was suspended until 5.7 pm because we did not have the Minister with us. We now have the Minister and all the players in the next debate. I propose that we start now and allow it to continue until 6.7 pm, because that allows for the injury time left over from the previous debate.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Levelling Up Fund round 2 bidding process.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. Round two of levelling up: what on earth was that all about? [Laughter.] Is that an intervention already?

It seems like a lifetime ago that Boris Johnson stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street promising that he was going to level up the UK with money to areas that had been left behind, ravaged by successive Tory Governments—those might not have been his exact words—and bearing the brunt of each and every austerity measure, where the poor pay for the excesses of the rich, as per usual. Two Prime Ministers later and we have just had the announcement of the second phase of the levelling-up fund.

Glasgow submitted seven bids to the second round, many of which would have helped to redevelop some of the most deprived communities in Scotland. Officers and councillors spent months preparing the bids to give our communities the best possible chance of securing funding, and the latest estimates are that around £500,000-worth of officer time went into them. That is why I have secured this debate. It was a complete waste of effort and a complete waste of the energy, skills and knowledge that Glasgow City Council professionals and councillors alike poured into the bids. I pay tribute to them for the incredible work they did; however, as I said, it was a complete waste of their time and a shameful waste of half a million pounds that my local authority simply cannot afford.

It was waste, but not because they were not successful. I accept that if funding is going to be provided in that way—I do not agree with it and will come to that—there are no guarantees. The reason why it was a waste of time and money is that it was not possible for them to be successful as the Government changed the rules at the eleventh hour. My understanding is that Ministers intervened at the last minute to say that if a local authority had been awarded funding of any amount in the first round, no bids could be awarded funding in this round. That sudden and inexplicable shifting of the goal posts ruled all of Glasgow’s bids ineligible for funding.

Is my hon. Friend seriously telling the Chamber that local authorities had spent hours and months preparing a bid and that at the last minute the scorings were changed by ministerial interference because a local authority may have had funding in round one and was then automatically disqualified in round two? That is a scandal.

It is a scandal. That is exactly what I am saying because that is exactly what we were told and the explanation the council was given. At a time when local authorities are feeling the financial strain more than ever, it was just wrong and, frankly, cruel.

For Glasgow City Council, funded by the Scottish Government—a Government who, unlike this one, have to live within their immediate means and, unlike this one, have to provide a balanced budget—the financial flexibility simply is not there. Glasgow City Council also has other financial pressures, unique to the city, in that when the SNP was elected it finally settled the previous Labour council’s decade-long equal pay dispute with mainly female employees. That was absolutely the right thing to do and I am extremely proud of my SNP councillor colleagues for that, but it was a massive bill that Glasgow will be paying for years to come.

The council was already in an extremely tight financial position because the Scottish Government are in a tight financial position, and that position was even tighter because it is paying the price for the previous council’s 10-year battle with women workers. The council was doing the best it could with the resources it had. Let me say to everyone here that Glasgow City Council’s work is regularly replicated around the UK because it runs some inspirational programmes despite financial constraints. However, given those additional constraints, it was even more galling to see the UK Government wave the carrot of levelling-up funding in front of our noses, only to snatch it away at the last minute.

I said that I do not agree with the way the funding is awarded. Forcing councils to compete against one another is a terrible way to distribute finance that should, by rights, just be given to local authorities to address local problems. Of course, the possibility of securing much-needed investment could not be turned down, so the work was done, and the bids were submitted in good faith.

Glasgow had some fantastic bids. We know this, not because we have seen them—although we have—but because our council officers were told as much by UK civil servants. Until the night before the announcement, the discussions were about which of them were most likely to be successful. I would like the Minister to explain to us exactly what happened in the 24 hours leading up to the final decisions being made.

My own constituency’s bid was for the regeneration of Saracen, Stonyhurst and Allander Streets in Possilpark, creating an urban park and building on the excellent work of the community-led business improvement district. To me, that is the epitome of levelling up—working with communities to build economic prosperity and resilience in areas of deprivation to support and develop what these communities have already started themselves. It is about supporting their empowerment. Instead, Possilpark has been discarded. The people of Possilpark deserve better.

The bid for Easterhouse, another area of Glasgow with historical and generational inequality, was for an incredible project that would have redeveloped the local shopping centre and public realm, not only linking the college and social enterprise hub but improving active travel routes and access to and the promotion of the wonderful Seven Lochs wetland park. It would have been a much-needed boost to the area, which was, statistically, the worst impacted by covid in the whole of Scotland. Again, Easterhouse and the people of Easterhouse were discarded. Again, I say that the people of Easterhouse deserve so much better.

In view of the fact that economic development is generally a devolved function, why do the Scottish Government not fund such an important project?

Can I have a little longer to explain this to the right hon. Gentleman? The Scottish Government have a fixed budget. It is fixed by his Government. They decide how much they can spend. As I said earlier, they have to live within their immediate means. If we look at Possilpark, money has been—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to be listening to my answer, so why ask the question in the first place? Money does go in from the Scottish Government. If he is suggesting that Scotland is not eligible for this levelling-up funding, that is a different question. Maybe the Minister will confirm that we are eligible for it, because it is our taxpayers’ money as well.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate and I hope to have the opportunity to make the case for my constituency a bit later. To respond to her specific points, does the Scottish Government not have tax-varying powers? This is quite obviously an exciting project but, by the sound of what the hon. Lady is saying, it is not sufficiently important for the Scottish Government to fund it in Glasgow.

That is utter nonsense. I am not going to repeat what the right hon. Gentleman just said. Lots of funding is going into both areas. That is our taxpayers’ money as well. Why should the Scottish Government increase taxes—they cannot do it in year—when we have already sent the taxes down here? We are supposed to get some of them back; we are supposed to get more of them back than we have been. Incidentally—this is turning into a response to the right hon. Gentleman, although I am not sure he is listening—the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe. If we had stayed in Europe, almost double what was available in the levelling-up fund would be available to the whole of the UK. I think he needs to think about what he is saying; I think he is well aware of what he is saying and the implications.

Then we look at who got the funding. While my constituency and other Glasgow constituencies got nothing, the Prime Minister’s wealthy constituency was awarded £19 million. It simply exposes the lie of levelling up for what it is—just another way for the Conservatives to funnel public money to their own pet projects. The idea of spreading the funding evenly around the UK is somehow a fair way to do it is total nonsense. To properly address inequality and deprivation, we have to do more than just throw a few pounds at communities every once in a while. We need to pump money and support into the places that need it, and we need to do it again and again. That takes a level of courage and conviction that the Westminster Government simply are not showing.

That got me thinking that perhaps we are not all on the same page and that the Government have no desire to address underlying inequality and deprivation. I wondered why, and I can only conclude that the UK Government blame the people and communities living with serious levels of deprivation for that deprivation. Do the Government have an ideological belief that it is somehow the fault of the people in those communities, and that they should just leave them to it? I do not know what other conclusion can be reached.

Let me be clear where we in the SNP stand: the systemic problems at the heart of too many of our communities, including Possilpark and Easterhouse, stem from the contraction of people’s incomes and the erosion of the social safety net after 13 years of Tory austerity. The Tory Government are to blame, not the people themselves.

The leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, wrote to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to set out just how bad a deal it has been for Glasgow as a whole. She pointed out that only 3.7% of the funding allocated to Scotland was received by Glasgow, but that if that had been based on population size, it should have been three times as much. Councillor Aitken goes on to say that, had the allocation been based on the proportion of people living in deprivation, it would have been an eye-watering 15 times as much. That was the criterion for EU funding, which the levelling-up fund was supposed to replace when we were dragged out of Europe against our will—as I said.

I will end by asking four questions. The Minister should bear in mind that the officers and councillors of Glasgow City Council, Glasgow MPs and MSPs and, most importantly, the people of Glasgow are all waiting for the answers. First, why were we and others told to submit bids and then told that we were not eligible, because we had had a small amount of funding in round 1? Secondly, what is the thinking that says divvy it up equally, despite the fact that people and communities do not live equal lives? Thirdly, will there be a round 3 and, if so, how can we be sure that there is a point to committing the time and money it will take to bid for it? Finally, will the UK Government reimburse Glasgow City Council the estimated £500,000 cost of submitting bids that it could not possibly win, or are the people of Glasgow expected to pay for that themselves?

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) for securing the debate.

I support the general notion of levelling up and am pleased that Clacton has won its most recent bid. It is set to receive £20 million, and my hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of how grateful I am. However, it has to be said that it is richly deserved, given the years of headlines we have seen about the decline of coastal towns. In short, we are too often overlooked. Furthermore, in my constituency is the most deprived ward anywhere in the UK—not a thing to be proud of, and something that must be addressed.

That levelling-up money very much chimes with my long-standing push in this place that it is unfair for the east of England to be treated in an homogeneous way. Yes, the home counties are rich, but not all their constituent parts are. Clacton has some areas of deprivation that easily exceed those anywhere else in the nation. We need to sort that out, so there is much further work to do and further bids that need winning.

From an infrastructure point of view, the district of Tendring is divided physically. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) and I—in Clacton—share the peninsular on which Tendring sits, but regular travel from his constituency to mine is difficult, to say the least. All roads lead to Colchester and not across the area. We have a new freeport coming at Harwich, with all its accompanying benefits, which is great news, but we need access from Clacton urgently. They need us and we need them.

The Essex County Council transport bid for levelling-up funding failed, as did the Tendring District Council high street funding bid. Improving Clacton town centre with the £20 million is a fantastic start, and we are grateful, but there is so much further to go. Transport infrastructure for Tendring has to be the long-term strategic goal.

If we see continued coastal decline in places such as Clacton, which is in one of our new, shiny freeport areas, the whole freeport agenda might well be seen as a busted flush. I am very happy to invite my hon. Friend the Minister to Clacton to see how poorly connected my town is to one of our new and much-anticipated economic engines. I would be happy to drive her around and show her exactly how the land lies. Further funding here will mean the difference between hitherto unimagined regeneration and an historic flop.

Finally, while this is not a Department for Transport debate, may I quietly mention the work at the Haughley and Ely railway junctions? The Department for Transport will likely be scouting around for significant savings, and as chairman of the great eastern main line taskforce, I am unaware of a project in the nation that would deliver so much for such relatively little. I would urge my hon. Friend the Minister to talk to colleagues in the Department for Transport about how levelling-up bids could bolster capital plans that are now stuck in the mud in my area.

Before I call Mike Amesbury, let me say that we have six hon. Members seeking to participate in this debate, and we have half an hour before the wind-ups, which will start at quarter to 6. I will not impose a time limit, but I hope Members will bear that in mind.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) on securing such a timely debate. Many communities in great need have lost out in both rounds of levelling-up funding. I note that the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) has been successful and I congratulate him and his community on that.

The Government expect places that receive funding to be grateful for a partial refund on money that has been systematically stripped out of their communities, decimating local services, whether that is children’s services for the most disadvantaged or adult services and social care, not to mention grounds and environmental maintenance. Those are just some of the key services that councils provide.

Nearly £500 million has been cut from Cheshire West and Chester Council’s budget over the last 13 years, while hard-pressed residents are expected to pick up the bill through astronomical council tax rises—in modern terminology this is known as core spending power. The Government have failed on levelling up, and they have even given up the pretence of trying. Look at Richmond and the award there, then look at Knowsley. That is a prime example of that.

At the core of this failure is the fundamentally flawed system and an unfair “Hunger Games” bidding process, which I know my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), our Front-Bench spokesman, will refer to. Many local authorities have had to go through this process. The Local Government Association—in which I should declare an interest as a vice-president—has estimated that each bid costs an average of £30,000, successful or not.

The system is not measured according to need, as it should be, but is seemingly influenced by political patronage at times. In my constituency, a very good and comprehensive bid was put forward by Cheshire West and Chester Council for funding for a new Winnington bridge travel corridor and brownfield development of 1,500 houses. The bridge is a key piece of infrastructure that serves industry, businesses and local people in not just my constituency but neighbouring Tatton. The council simply does not have the money to fund such an infrastructure project, and there does not seem to be any other Department for Transport scheme that would do the job. If levelling up were to mean anything, surely that bid would have been successful. The Government talk about “brownbelt first”, but 1,500 houses that would be good to go if the infrastructure was in place have now essentially been rejected.

If we truly want to power up communities, decisions need to be made closer to the communities that they would serve, and more powers need to be given to councils on funding. Devolve that funding to councils. Even the likes of Andy Street, from the Government’s side, has labelled this system of levelling up as a “broken begging bowl culture”. I wholeheartedly agree.

Today, the Conservative Government are once again busy with their own internal chaos; delivering for people and for communities is beyond their radar. I know that variety is the spice of life and we all love a bit of a surprise, but my God, this is on an industrial scale! I did not even know what Minister would turn up today. I am pleased that the Minister is here, by the way, and I will have a number of questions to ask her. But in the meantime, the whole House is seemingly in chaos and it leaves the country adrift. I think we are on our 12th Housing Minister, for example, at the moment.

Before I conclude, I have a number of short questions for the Minister. When will I and Cheshire West and Chester have feedback about the round 2 bid? Where did it go wrong? I am confused about that. What alternative route is available not only to fund the bridge, but to open up the opportunity to build the 1,500 houses? The funding is there for that, by the way; it is not a call on Government. But it is not for the bridge. What are the timescales for round 3? Will the Minister meet me to explore alternative funding routes?

I will conclude by saying that if we are truly to take control, we genuinely need fiscal devolution to our councils. That is exactly what is needed, so that they can make the spending decisions. And you know what? Sometimes they will make mistakes as well, but I would rather that that happened in our communities than came from Westminster and Whitehall. This is a flawed system.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) on securing the debate.

Over recent years, Torbay has succeeded in many bids, with a significant level of investment provided by the Government since 2015. That includes the Paignton future high streets fund, where we got £13.4 million, and the Torquay town deal, worth £21.9 million. Prior to 2015, it was normally news when Torbay made the list for a funding announcement, as we were often overlooked; now, it is news when we do not. That shows the turnaround in how our bay is regarded, but it does not dampen the sense of disappointment that, for the second time, our bids to the levelling-up fund have failed, despite Torbay being one of the areas where demographics would suggest that levelling up would be aimed.

For background, two bids were submitted in relation to Torbay. The first was the “Fish and Chips” bid, as it was termed, looking to support the expansion of Brixham fish market, which last year saw record sales of more than £60 million, and our cutting-edge photonics sector. The fishing element alone could have allowed for an additional £20 million of catch to be processed through the market each year, creating a forecast 160 new year-round jobs and putting more than £38.5 million into the local economy. The second bid, submitted in partnership with our neighbours in Devon, was for the south Devon cycleway, which would have provided a safe travel network on the most used commuter routes through Teignbridge and Torbay, as well as providing travel choices to Newton Abbot rail station and the upcoming Edginswell rail station. Both those bids failed, the fish market project for the second time.

I accept that there are some questions that we need to consider locally about our approach for the 3rd round, so it would be helpful for the feedback on those bids to be as clear as possible. Is the fish market project one that the Government would fund under levelling up? If not, then, no matter what my thoughts may be on it personally, we can at least reconsider our approach and not waste effort on a third bid. I would also be interested to hear what impact the failure to deliver other Government-funded projects by the coalition of Lib Dems and Independents running Torbay Council may have had on the success or otherwise of our bids. An example is the land release fund, where, after about four years, the £3 million offered has not actually seen a house built. Then we come on to the various delays in their getting major projects under the town deal and Paignton future high streets fund under way. I appreciate that demanding funding on the one hand and then not spending it on the other is hardly a persuasive approach, so it would be helpful to know what impact that had on our success or otherwise in relation to the bids and what considerations there will be, going forward.

It is welcome to see the Minister in her place, and it will be interesting to hear her thoughts on a couple of specific points. First, the obvious query is how candid the feedback will be on our bids? Will it be clear whether a bid is simply not what the Government are looking for under levelling-up funding, and will they then be firm in suggesting that we look at something else? Secondly, what is the impact of the delivery, or not, of other Government-funded capital projects by local authorities on levelling-up funding bids? I accept that the feedback may be good and bad.

The debate has been a welcome opportunity to set out my thoughts on the recent bidding process and its results in Torbay. There is no shying away from the fact that Torbay has challenges, but it also has great potential. The levelling-up agenda should be about unlocking that potential, and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) and I are so keen that Torbay is successful in the next round of bids for levelling-up funding and that the feedback is as clear as possible so that we can put up a bid that does our bay justice.

Thank you for your guidance, Sir Christopher, and for your generosity in giving us an extra seven minutes. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) for initiating this important debate.

I object to the whole process: the Government created the divisions in our society that the levelling-up programme is meant to repair. Those divisions are so deep, and the cuts so vast, particularly in more deprived areas, that the proposed programme is simply a competition among areas of deprivation for crumbs off the Government’s table. It is not acceptable that the Government have set out the programme as they have. If they really want to deal with levelling up—clearly, they do not—they need to change the entire market-led, “Government stand back” approach and make serious interventions.

I represent a community that is among the most deprived—if we are not careful, we will be into a “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch, as we share details of deprivation. We do not want to get into that, and it is not right that that is how the Government have structured the competition for funding. The average weekly wage in my area is £495; in London it is £728—each worker on average pay earns £12,0000 a year more in London. In terms of NVQ level 4, we are at 22%, whereas in the Prime Minister’s constituency it is twice as many people. In terms of professional and managerial jobs, we have half as many as in London, and since 2010, weekly earnings have increased by only 6% in my area, as opposed to 22% in London. Areas such as mine have been devastated by successive Tory Governments, starting with the closure of the collieries without a proper industrial strategy. So by any criteria those areas should be gaining access to additional funding if the Government are serious about dealing with deprivation.

Notwithstanding my objections, we put together a bid for South Kirkby, one of the poorest areas of my constituency. It was put together with a private sector firm that is quite the most remarkable company I have seen. It was built from nothing. Adrian and Lee are behind it, and they realised that there is big money in the industry of rock and roll. They are producing a series of activities, and the company is unique in Europe—there are only two such companies in the world. We put a bid together with them. The average pay on the campus they have set up is more than £40,000, whereas average pay in the village is £18,000.

We all recognised that we needed to build a bridge between the deprivation in South Kirkby and the immensely successful private sector development at the top of the hill. They have raised £50 million of investment. We then put in a bid for £20 million, which would have levered in a further £30 million—that could have had a dramatic effect, and it was private-sector led. Apart from the whole process being a disgrace, I feel so annoyed because a Government Minister—of course under a previous Prime Minister, if Members can remember back to last June—told the House that we were getting our £20 million. Work had been done, and further work had been carried out not simply by the council but by other officers and by the firm I referred to—it is called Backstage Academy—on the basis of a promise made to this House. What happened, Minister?

People in our area know that I am not allowed to say that the Ministers were liars, and I would not dream of saying that, but they are saying that I should say that we were cheated of that money and the opportunities and life chances that we might have had. Those people have grown up in villages that were left devastated all that time ago with the closure of the pits.

Does the hon. Member agree that it is not the individual who makes the promise who is supposed to keep it, but whoever inherits that position? They are not speaking in a personal capacity; they are speaking in a ministerial capacity.

I totally agree. The Prime Minister changed and the politics of the country changed, and they suddenly saw an opportunity to dip their hands into a bag of funds that a previous Prime Minister had created and to use those for their own political purposes. It is a disgrace.

We are dealing with the poorest people in the country. Is the Minister aware that women in my constituency are now dying younger than ever before? I think the average is 66 years of healthy life. They are dying before men, which is very unusual, and that number is declining. We need something to be done as a matter of urgency. Will the Minister at least send us a courtesy letter—we have not had one—as to why we were betrayed in the way we were?

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) on securing this debate. I am extremely disappointed that Barry Making Waves—a proposal for a marina in Barry—was not successful. Although disappointed, I remain determined to ensure that it is successful in the next round of funding.

I will defend the policy, because when I was Secretary of State for Wales I had a part in shaping the objectives of the successor to European funding. I did that with parts of the country in mind that had been ignored for far too long, and that includes eastern parts of Wales and my constituency. The policy’s objective is right, in that it seeks to support those communities that have been left behind. The policy’s outcome may need further explanation to clarify and highlight why some communities have been successful or not.

Having investigated, spoken to colleagues and worked with my Labour-led local authority to clarify why Barry Making Waves was not successful, it is clear that officials will have scored each individual project. Clearly, my project was not successful, although other neighbouring projects were, so when it is suggested that there is a party political motive in supporting individual projects, that does not stack up credibly.

I will give way in a moment.

That does not stack up credibly, because my seat, and others I can point to, would have been successful on those grounds, and that would also give rise to a judicial review. So it is obvious that these applications would have been scored according to the policy’s objectives, and officials would have dealt with them individually, rather than according to the party political motive that has been suggested.

The question I will pursue in my contribution is how we can learn the lessons from not having been successful in this round—like the schemes that were unsuccessful in round 1 but successful in round 2. My authority did not bid in round 1 and was unsuccessful in round 2, but it certainly plans to submit an amended scheme in round 3. I want to develop this argument a little further, but I will give way to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) , as she was very kind and generous in giving way to me.

With all that the right hon. Gentleman has just said, how does he explain the fact that Glasgow City Council officers were told that their bids were good and were scoring well, that they should expect to get some of them and that it was just a question of how many, but then, at the last minute, Ministers intervened—if this is not party political, I don’t know what it is—and said they were changing the goalposts? Anybody who got funding in round 1—we had had funding for one project—was no longer eligible, which wasted £500,000 of officer time. If that is not political intervention, how does the right hon. Gentleman explain it?

I will wait for the Minister to respond on that, but if the hon. Lady’s local authority had sufficient grounds to suggest party political interference, a judicial review would clearly find in its favour, and the Minister would have to explain the issue. The alternative is that the hon. Lady is seeking to make party political points but is not prepared to follow them through. I am just as disappointed as she is, but I am determined to learn the lessons in order to ensure that my project—amended and strengthened—succeeds in the next round, in the same way that those that failed in round 1 succeeded in round 2.

In reality, projects in Labour-run Cardiff—in Cardiff South and Penarth and in Cardiff Bay—received £50 million from the scheme, in addition to the £2.5 billion that has been spent in recent years. I want to understand why those projects qualified and not the project in Barry—a community that has been left behind for many years by the Welsh Labour Government—when the policy’s whole purpose and motive is to ensure that communities that have been left behind by various Governments can be successful. Similarly, in the neighbouring authority of Bridgend, a project to rebuild the Grand Pavilion will play a part in attracting further visitors to the area. However, that project does not have the same economic strength as the marina in Barry, which would have attracted at least £50 million of private development.

Will the Minister make officials available to go through the bids line by line, detail by detail, so that we can learn from why we have not been successful—I say that in the most positive way—and why other communities have been? On the face of it, they did not appear to have such strong applications, given what they will have received under wasted European-aided projects in recent years.

Since 1999, Wales has received close to £5 billion in European aid investment. Despite that, under the leadership and stewardship of the Welsh Government, to whom economic development is entirely devolved, Wales’s relative gross value added has fallen back significantly, and Wales has become the poorest part of the United Kingdom. That is why I am determined that the levelling-up fund, or the precursor to what will become the shared prosperity fund, will ensure that we have a much more business-focused, wealth-creating, economically regenerating package of projects, rather than some of the European-aided projects administered and led by the Welsh Government, which are now laughed at.

I remain disappointed, but I am absolutely determined that the Barry Making Waves project will succeed in round 3 with the Minister’s help.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) for securing the debate.

Back on 29 July, during a Conservative hustings in Tunbridge Wells, the now Prime Minister said:

“I managed to start changing the funding formulas to make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserved. We inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone. I started the work of undoing that.”

What a cracking job he appears to have done.

I stand here extremely disappointed that the two bids from my constituency were not successful—although I am not here to be part of a greetin meeting—because the odds were stacked against us by the UK Government and the way in which they allocated the fund. They set up a competition based on pitting areas against one another instead collaborating. They chose small projects where they can go and cut a ribbon, rather than those based on strategic planning and what communities actually need—that grassroots approach that is central to successful levelling up. Indeed, if the Union is such a great success, why does it need so much levelling up? That is another question for the Government.

The first bid in my constituency that I want to talk about concerns the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens, which celebrated the 125th anniversary of its opening on 22 January. At the time of its opening, the Earl of Rosebery declared it would be

“open to the people for ever and ever.”

The Victorians were very ambitious, but they had not figured out how to maintain a glasshouse in Glasgow 125 years into the future, so part of our bid was around the significance of the People’s Palace to the city of Glasgow. It is part of the history and heritage of our city and is tied into further heritage efforts, leading down from Glasgow’s historic cathedral, along the High Street and the Saltmarket to Glasgow Green, a place where people would gather to protest, as they still do today.

That bid, however, was not successful, and I seek an explanation from the Government as to why they value Glasgow’s heritage and future so little. The People’s Palace is special: it is a place where people can gather for music and community events, and my constituents had memorial benches in the glasshouse at the rear, but they cannot now go and sit on them to remember their loved ones. I want the People’s Palace to have a future—125 years into the future, at least.

However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East set out, without the money from this bid, Glasgow City Council does not have the necessary funds. The Scottish Government are tight for funds as well. This money was supposed to be additional; it was supposed to replace European money that we have lost out on. According to analysis by the Scottish Government, we are getting 60% less money from these funds than we would have done from European funding. It is just not fair. Everything has been stacked against us from the start. There is less money for these projects than we would have got were we still members of the European Union. That is the Brexit dividend that Glasgow is facing.

The other project was for transport, which, again, the city of Glasgow is entitled to bid for. In the late 1960s, the city fathers decided to drive a motorway through the city centre, demolishing things. At the time of its opening, protesters stood with banners saying, “This scar will never heal.” Glasgow’s transport bid sought to heal that scar from the late 1960s by greening the city centre and ensuring that there were accessible, green, active travel routes through the city—part of the legacy of COP26 in Glasgow.

Again, I cannot understand why the Government think that project is not worthy of support. It would knit the city centre back together. It would be such a change from the road projects of times past to have a more people-centred project for our city. We had no explanation as to why that was rejected. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East said, we were told, as was Glasgow City Council, that these bids had a very good chance of being accepted. Then, we found that the rules had been changed late in the day and that money had been spent by the council on these projects that we will never get back. That is £500,000 that the council could ill afford to lose, but it gambled on this project because it thought it was worth doing.

The other project I would like to mention is not in my constituency, so I will be very quick. I am the chair of Clyde Gateway—I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—which is a project to tackle the post-industrial legacy of that part of Scotland by dealing with historic chromium contamination in Shawfield. It had the full support of the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier). I can think of few better projects than one that would remove contamination from the ground, allowing for development to go ahead and new jobs to be created in the east end of Glasgow and into South Lanarkshire.

The Minister has many questions she needs to answer, but why does she think that none of those projects is worthy of support?

I am not here to defend the bid from City of York Council—the Lib Dem-Green council could have put its focus on real levelling-up projects—although I would be interested to hear the Minister’s justification as to why it did not receive funding. We have other projects into which we could put that money to really level up York, but I am here to critique the process itself. It is evident to all that this is about justifying funnelling funds into pet projects in particular seats and granting a few other funding bids to justify that.

I want to focus on how we can really level up. I follow the work of Professor Philip McCann, the chair of urban and regional economics at Alliance Manchester Business School, and it would be worth while for the Minister to read some of his work. He talks about economic growth and how it can be achieved—not through pet projects and a piecemeal approach, but by ensuring that we have a strategy to drive forward economies and to see the regeneration that places like York desperately need. Indeed, that is happening elsewhere in Europe—take Germany, where that regional focus is well understood.

I draw the Minister’s attention to evidence given to the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill Committee by Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser of UKRI, who stressed the importance of growing the cluster economy, as did Andy Street and Tracy Brabin. These people are leading their regional economies, and recognise how to bring about advantages for it—how to bring together partnerships between universities, businesses, wider stakeholders, and communities. Focusing on pet projects does not achieve that. It may achieve a photo on an election leaflet, but will not make the economic switch that is so desperately needed in many communities like mine. Gordon Brown’s recent paper on constitutional reform set out that we need to move not only resourcing but decision making into local communities, so that we can spring forward with an economy that will work for everyone.

We have a rail cluster in York, with 5,500 highly skilled jobs. We have the York Institute for Safe Autonomy, and investment in leading companies is coming into our city. Why the Government are dithering over another project, the headquarters of Great British Railways, is beyond me. Those headquarters would show the country how we could grow an economic cluster. We could use levelling-up money strategically to grow it further, creating high-quality jobs for my constituents, and jobs across the region.

I point the Minister to the BioYorkshire project, which is creating 3,000 green collar jobs. That will be a green new deal for Yorkshire. There will be regional hubs in rural and coastal areas. It will make such a difference, not only for my city but for the whole region. It is levelling up that starts at the core and then builds out. That, academics say, is exactly how to build an economy for the future, how to spend taxpayers’ money wisely, and how to ensure that growth builds momentum; it is not a matter of having piecemeal projects. That is the kind of strategic approach that a Labour Government would bring in, because we understand how important it is to invest in the future and to grow out our economy. In my city, we are building the biosciences and focusing on rail, which are economies for the future, as well as creating clusters around culture and heritage. We see levelling up as an opportunity for the future, but it must be done in a strategic way, not piecemeal, as this Government have done.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Christopher. I will depart from my prepared text, because the allegations made by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), and for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), are so serious that they require an immediate answer from the Minister, when she responds. Local authority officials spend a great deal of time preparing bids, only to be advised at the last minute that because money had been given in a previous round, they were knocked out of the competition. I want the Minister to confirm that was the case. If it was, it is scandalous, and there are grounds for looking at the process legally, as was said. It is astonishing that local authorities have been put in this position. If local authorities were told at the start that a bid was ineligible if the authority received funding in round 1, they would not bother applying for round 2. Or was this a last-minute decision?

I am conscious of time; I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] He has had more than one bite at the cherry.

This is so serious. Local authorities would not have applied in round 2 if they had been told that because they got something in round 1, they would not be successful. The Minister needs to tell us when local authorities were advised of that.

There are also questions about scoring. We would think that there would be scores, and that any local authority, whether successful or not, could say to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, “Can we see our scores, please? Can you tell us where we went wrong, and why we were unsuccessful, so that if we apply in the next round, we can put that right?”. When will local authorities be told their scores? Or is it the case, as my hon. Friends allege, that local authorities were told in the week leading up to the announcement that they would be successful, and then were suddenly told that they would not be? There is something not quite right about the process; something smells here.

Can the Minister tell us how many local authorities were advised that they would get something, and then did not? I have heard that Glasgow officials were told that their bids were excellent—in fact, that they were even told, “Tell us which ones you are prioritising out of the seven.” I hope that the answer was Linthouse, but I do not know whether Glasgow officials suggested it. They were then advised that they were not getting money. That is absolutely scandalous, and it is no wonder that Members from across the House are suspicious about the whole process and the lack of transparency that seems to envelop it, given what appears to be a last-minute change by Ministers.

Knowing who made the decision is critical to this debate. Who said that if a local authority was successful in round 1, it would not get money in round 2? As a principle, that is absolutely wrong. The hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) made the reasonable point that there are areas in the country that are deprived, and I do not see any reason for deciding that because money was allocated to a local authority in round 1, it should be ineligible for round 2. He made a number of points about deprived areas needing a succession of funds, and he argued that position rather well on behalf of his constituency and his local authority. There is no reason at all why a local authority should not qualify in both rounds, so something is not quite right here.

I hope the Minister will answer those questions, because people listen to statements from the current Prime Minister—we have had a number of them over the past year. His comments about taking money away from deprived areas are amplified by the allegations that have been made this afternoon. People now think that the scheme is some sort of pork barrel exercise aimed at returning as many Conservative MPs as possible in the next election. I will leave it there; I hope that the Minister will respond to my points.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Christopher, and to speak in this debate on behalf of the Opposition. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) on securing the debate, and on the very powerful case she made. I will cover the point about wasted time that she and other colleagues made, as well as other important points that were raised.

As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) stole one of my important lines; the point made by the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, is the place to start:

“this episode is just another example as to why Whitehall’s bidding and begging bowl culture is broken”.

Perhaps Ministers do not want to take it from us Labour Members, but there is clearly the same feeling even within the Conservatives’ ranks. That view must be right, because over a year on from the White Paper, what have the Government got to show for this policy? There have been bodged bidding processes; millions were wasted in “Hunger Games” style bidding processes; bids have been eaten up by inflation; not a single levelling-up director has been appointed; and there have been broken promises on development funding. That is before we get to the fact that regional inequalities are widening, bus services are being lost up and down the country, train cancellations are at a record high, and people cannot get to see their GP or into hospital. Nothing works in this country.

Round 2 of the levelling-up fund would not have solved all those problems, but it would have been a great place to start steadying the ship; however, it has been a calamity. What possible system could exclude Hemsworth, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) made the case, but include the Prime Minister’s constituency? As the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) said, how could that not set the Prime Minister’s words echoing around our heads—words that he meant, but that he said when he thought we were not listening? How can that not be what we take away from this process?

I agree with a lot of what the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) said about coastal communities, and hope that we get a better opportunity to discuss the issue at length. We are pleased for those communities that have been successful. Local government has lost £15 billion since 2010, so communities up and down the country are desperate for investment, but we have to be honest: set against that £15 billion loss, this round 2 gives back £2.1 billion. The Government have nicked a tenner from our wallets and expect us to be grateful for getting not even £2 back, but even those areas that have won individually are losers too. For example, it is brilliant that Norfolk County Council has secured £24 million to improve transport in King’s Lynn. We want that to happen. However, we need to take into account the money that Norfolk has lost from cuts to the local authority budget in the last four years alone—back to the time of the Prime Minister who promised levelling up, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). Even if we include that £24 million, Norfolk is £146 million worse off in real terms. With levelling up, even those who win are actually losers.

The analysis of why levelling up has failed, is failing and sadly will fail has been around for a while. Subsequent revelations about how the bids were handled only add to the insult. We now know that many local authorities that submitted bids, including mine, never stood a chance of winning, because Ministers later excluded them from selection.

So much went into those bids. We have heard about the financial impact of the internal work in local authorities. There were huge efforts there. There were also huge efforts to engage with our local communities on what they needed, and hope was built up that they might get something back. They never had a chance. It was cruel to put them through that. Any answer from the Minister today ought to start with an apology, and a commitment —as the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) and the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) said— to real, meaningful feedback, so that we know how things might be different in the future.

It does not have to be this way. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) made that point very well. She and I spent a lot of time on the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill. What we put into that Bill will go into our future manifesto, which we will put to the country. We could scrap the beauty parades, the bidding processes, the deals, and the scoring out of sight. Instead, we could have a sustained generational transfer of power and resources out of Whitehall into our local communities, targeted at need and for impact. Without strings attached, we would get resources to those who know best: local people.

The Government have had their chance. We have seen multiple rounds of bidding. It has been over a year since the White Paper. We could ascribe any meaning, value or motivation to what they have done; I am not interested in that. What I know is that they cannot and will not do what they set out to do. It is time that they stepped aside for those who will.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) on securing this debate. The issue matters to every single Member of the House, whether or not they are present today.

Levelling up is about how we rewire the economic geography of the whole country, and how we create growth and opportunities in areas that have been starved of both those things by successive Governments for years. That is what levelling up is all about. I found it personally offensive when the hon. Member for Glasgow North East suggested that this Government believe that those living in deprived areas are effectively there though their own choices and actions. That is absolutely not the case. I grew up in a deprived area. I lived through that and witnessed it, and I know exactly what it is about. I find it personally offensive for her to suggest that is what this Government are about, when we have put levelling up at the core of our policy and agenda.

I am sorry to have offended the Minister personally, but I am very surprised to hear her say that she does not recognise that this is ideological, or that people in these deprived communities are being blamed. She needs to spend more time sitting in the main Chamber and listening to the language that her colleagues use. They absolutely do blame the most vulnerable people for the situation that they are living in, and the evidence is that the Government are not doing anywhere near enough to help them. The evidence is right in front of us.

To say it is ideological is absolute nonsense. I will not be taking further interventions on that point, because I do not think we will find agreement in the Chamber today.

The levelling-up fund is one of the centrepiece interventions that the Government have put in place to try to tackle levelling up, and to breathe new life into some of the areas that really need it. I say “one of” deliberately, because it is set against the backdrop of a whole range of other interventions, some of which I will come on to later. I know that Members across the House, in conjunction with their local councils and other local stakeholders, have put an awful lot of time and effort into submitting bids to the levelling-up fund. I express my personal thanks to every council officer who put their time and energy into it. I know it is a tough process, and I am grateful to them for that time.

It matters to me as the levelling-up Minister, and I hope it matters to the hon. Members present, that the decision-making process is a sound one that is free from political interference and undue influence. I am glad to have the opportunity to outline how the decision-making process has worked.  I assure Members that even if the bid was not successful, their efforts by absolutely no means were wasted.

In the short time I have left, the obvious place to start is with the actual process itself. I know local leaders and hon. Members have seen with their own eyes the impact that the first round of levelling-up funding has had so far, with 105 bids receiving £1.7 billion to drive regeneration and growth in overlooked areas. That impact is the reason we received such an overwhelming response to the second round, with over 500 bids received, totalling almost £9 billion. To put that into perspective, that compares with about 300 bids received in the first round.

Given the large discrepancy between the value of bids received and the amount available to allocate, sadly we were never going to be able to fund projects in every area. That being said, the fund has a clear and transparent process for determining how bids are selected. Each bid is assessed by Government officials, both in my Department and in the Department for Transport, against published assessment criteria, with the highest-scoring bids being shortlisted.

To ensure that there is a fair spread of bids across the UK, funding decisions were made by Ministers based on the assessment score and by applying wider considerations, such as geographic spread and previous investments. All of that was part of the technical notes we published along the way. The relative need of a place is also baked into the process. In this round, 66% of investment went to category 1 places—that figure was actually higher in round 1. The second round will be funding areas in Great Britain that have not received funding before to ensure that investment reaches as many places as possible across rounds 1 and 2.

As we did for round 1 of the fund, we published an explanatory note after the announcement with details of our assessment and the decision-making process. It was published on, and it made crystal clear that Ministers did not add or remove bids from the funded list. For completeness, I will cover both the assessment and the decision-making processes described in the explanatory note. Each application was assessed impartially by officials against four criteria in Great Britain and three criteria in Northern Ireland. These were the economic case and if it was worth the cost; deliverability and if it could really be done and delivered; the strategic fit, how it would further levelling up in the area and if it would be in the interests of the community; and characteristics of place, or how much the place needs that type of investment—that was a consideration purely for Great Britain.

Officials then provided shortlisting advice to Ministers, who agreed the approach in line with the published guidance. More specifically, they agreed that the Great Britain and Northern Ireland shortlists should comprise bids that scored the highest overall and those that scored at least average or higher across strategic fit, value for money and deliverability, with a minimum value for money score. They also agreed cut-off scores for both shortlists. I recognise that it is an incredibly time-consuming process, and I appreciate the frustrations of Members who backed bids that were not shortlisted. Although it does not change the outcome on this occasion, full feedback will be coming, and I will try to touch on that more if I have a little time left.

During the final stage of the assessment and decision-making process, Ministers from my Department, the Department for Transport and His Majesty’s Treasury met to agree the final list of successful bidders. Again, we noted that the value of even the shortlisted bids was far in excess of the £2.1 billion available and, unfortunately, difficult decisions would therefore be needed. To achieve that, Ministers took the following sequential decisions. They took account of which local authorities had received funding in the first round, noting that that would help to maximise the geographic spread of investment across rounds 1 and 2, in line with the two wider considerations originally published in the fund’s prospectus. These were

“taking into account other investment in a local area”


“ensuring a fair spread of approved projects”.

I do not have time, I am afraid. Each local authority was then capped at one successful bid in round 2—the highest scoring—noting that that would help to focus resources for delivery in a challenging economic environment. At that point, the highest-scoring projects remaining in Scotland and Wales were funded to ensure a fair spread of projects in Scotland and Wales until the minimum public commitments of 9% and 5% respectively over the first and second rounds were met. The highest-scoring projects remaining in Great Britain were funded until funding any more projects would have exhausted the funding available for Great Britain.

At that stage, there were two international territorial-level regions of Great Britain that had not received any funding in the second round, despite having bids on the shortlist. Again, prioritising the additional considerations of ensuring a fair spread of approved projects and so on, those two were brought into play, with Ministers agreeing to deselect a handful of the lowest-scoring bids across the north-west, London and Wales. Those were the regions and nations that significantly exceeded their guided allocation, taking into account historical regional investment from 2017-2022. As a result, and following a further quality assurance by officials at that stage, 101 bids were successful in Great Britain and 10 were successful in Northern Ireland. To reiterate, Ministers approved the selection of bids without adding or removing any individual bids from the funded list. The process was led by officials, aided by Ministers, to try to achieve the aims that were set out in the original prospectus to ensure a good geographic spread.

I do not have time, I am afraid.

That brings me on to a point that we absolutely cannot lose sight of in these discussions: there will be a third round of the levelling-up fund. We will be announcing details of that incredibly soon.

I am afraid I cannot commit to a date yet, but we are working at pace to ensure that we draw up a fund that works and is quickly deliverable to ensure that we can get spades in the ground and get some of these projects delivered.

I do not have very long, but I will try to cover off some of the other points that have been made if I can. Feedback was raised by a number of hon. and right hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin). Feedback will be coming soon; we are aiming to get it out in writing initially. We want to ensure that the feedback is detailed enough to be of use, so we do not want to rush it. I have missed a lot of points, so I apologise. I will follow up a lot of those in writing, but I am very pushed for time at the moment.

We do not really need feedback. The Minister has just given us the feedback. The feedback is: the Minister has come in at the last minute and said, “If you have had round 1 funding, you are not getting round 2 funding.” I just want her to answer my question: is she going to cover the £500,000 that Glasgow City Council has had to pay to do this when there was absolutely zero point? Where is that money supposed to come from? I do not think it should come from the people of Glasgow.

Capacity funding was made available to local authorities in Scotland to help draw up bids. That is relevant to the point the hon. Lady is making.

We did not get it.

Question put,

That this House has considered the Levelling Up Fund round 2 bidding process.

The Chair’s opinion as to the decision of the Question was challenged.

Question not decided (Standing Order No. 10(13)).

Sitting adjourned.