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Westminster Hall

Volume 729: debated on Wednesday 8 March 2023

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 8 March 2023

[Philip Davies in the Chair]

Financial Security and Reducing Inequality in the Caribbean: Government Role

I beg to move,

That this House has considered financial security and inequality in the Caribbean.

It is an honour to conduct the debate with you in the Chair, Mr Davies. Before embarking on such debates, it is customary for Members to declare any interests that might influence them in the debate at hand. Heritage is rarely one of them, but I would, for the purposes of this debate, like to declare that I am a son of both Britain and the Caribbean island of Grenada, and therefore have a vested interest in these matters.

What are these matters? I would contend that we cannot debate our Government’s role in promoting financial security and reducing inequality in the Caribbean without discussing the elephant in the room—namely, the preceding 400 years of exploitative colonial history and the urgent need for some form of reparatory justice.

I am not the first person to raise the issue. Indeed, I would not be here discussing it today without the understanding and analysis of Caribbean giants such as Frantz Fanon, who wrote “The Wretched of the Earth”; Eric Williams, who produced the seminal work “Capitalism and Slavery”; Walter Rodney, who wrote “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”; and Sir Hilary Beckles, who wrote “How Britain Underdeveloped the Caribbean”.

While those people, in their own way, gave us the theoretical and academic arguments for the case for reparations for colonialism and slavery, I want to thank another group for the compassion and leadership they have shown on the issue—namely, the Trevelyan family, some of whom I believe are here today in the Gallery, fresh from their visit to Grenada, where, as the descendants of slave owners, they did what no British Government have ever done. They apologised for their ancestors’ part in the exploitation of the 1,000 slaves they owned on six plantations. They acknowledged the financial and cultural advantage that had generated for them, and urged the British Government, as I do today, to enter meaningful negotiations with the Governments of the Caribbean in order to make appropriate reparations.

The Trevelyan family did not leave it there. They set up an educational fund worth £100,000, and in so doing opened the door of the debate just a little wider. Thank you very much for all that you have done.

The issue of reparations could simply be dismissed as the obsession of a small group of so-called woke extremists. We have seen in this country a political backlash, often from Members on the Conservative Benches, against any notion that we should reassess our history as regards colonialism and slavery, and the impact they have had, and continue to have, on the lives of millions across the globe and here in the United Kingdom.

Whether it is the pulling down of slaver statues or campaigning against the National Trust’s efforts to educate the public about the link between slavery and the financing behind many of our stately homes, this is a live issue that evokes great passion and sometimes anger. That is entirely understandable, because when anyone questions the very story we tell ourselves and the world around us about who we are and what we represent, that is challenging—triggering, even. People who have been in a relationship will know this.

Relationships can be difficult because our partners often challenge those notions of who we think we are: “What do you mean I snore? What do you mean I’m tight fisted? How dare you say I leave the toilet seat up?” Learning things about ourselves and others can either end in denial, argument and divorce, or result in growth and development. That is what those calling for dialogue on this issue are striving for. The Commonwealth is a relationship between Britain and her former colonies, which, like a partner who has endured 400 years of the most hideous abuse, seek not charity but restitution.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. He is making an impassioned speech. Does he agree that the case for former colonial powers paying reparations to the descendants of enslaved people is particularly strong, given that the UK Government were making payments to compensate the descendants of enslavers—families and organisations—as recently as 2015? Reparations are the right and fair thing to do not only because of the legacy of slavery and because the wealth that countries such as ours extracted underdeveloped those societies, but because of our role in the climate crisis, which threatens the very future of the Caribbean.

I thank my hon. Friend for her points, which I will come to in my speech. One key thing she pulled out is that successive Governments have made many arguments about why this should not happen, but they should be making the argument about why it should. I want to pick up on one thing she said that I will not have time to cover in my speech. One argument that Governments have often made over the past 20 or 30 years, in the post-colonial period, for why we should not pay reparations for the slave trade and colonialism is that it was legal at the time. Not only do this Government make that argument, but our Labour Government made it in the noughties. We have to remember that throughout history, including in the 20th century, countries treated people brutally and exterminated them ostensibly under their own laws, so we cannot allow that argument to be made against reparations.

I speak as the chairman of the all-party group on St Kitts and Nevis. All Members will be incentivised and motivated to ensure that there is the greatest flow of capital to our allies in the Caribbean, but does the hon. Gentleman not think that giving the Caribbean states tariff-free access to the United Kingdom, the world’s fifth-largest economy, is more important than reparations? That would contrast with the protectionist racket they have experienced from the European Union, which, inherently, tried to restrict the flow of goods from the Caribbean to the EU.

The hon. Gentleman will not find me defending the EU on the matter of the Caribbean. Later, I will explain why, like the United Kingdom, the EU also owes a debt to the Caribbean.

When we look at how the Caribbean has been systematically underdeveloped, it makes no sense to say, “Let’s not worry too much about the past. You can now take advantage of tariff-free access to UK markets.” If those countries do not have an economy to take advantage of that tariff-free access, what is the point? We first have to build up the economies in the Caribbean and structurally invest in those countries’ people and infrastructure to enable them to make use of that tariff-free access.

My hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful speech. We often hear the argument, “Let’s forget what happened.” Reparations are about making amends for centuries of violence and discrimination against those countries. It is interesting that people say, “Let’s forget what happened,” when those countries are still in debt, their jewels and artefacts are in museums in this country and we refuse to give them back. A lot of reparation is needed, whether it be economic reparations or an acknowledgement of what happened. Does my hon. Friend agree that any arguments against that are not only a betrayal, but collusion in what happened many centuries ago?

I thank my hon. Friend for her wonderful intervention—it is almost as though she is reading ahead in my speech, and I will come to some of those points. I would go further: this country will be unable to move on as a cohesive whole until these issues are resolved. I think that everyone in this room would want to see that happen as this country goes forward, post Brexit, into the big, wide world yonder.

I was in the middle of my discussion about the Commonwealth being a relationship—a relationship between Britain and her former colonies, which, like a partner that has endured 400 years of the most hideous abuse, seek not charity but restitution. The alternative is divorce, in the form of growing republican sentiment across the Caribbean. Abusive partners who cannot say sorry cannot change, can never grow and can never develop. Who in their right mind would want to stay in an abusive relationship like that?

But do not take my word for it. King Charles III, through his goddaughter Fiona Compton, has shown an intimate understanding of the necessity for this national conversation—knowing, as he does, that he could well be the last king of anything resembling an international Commonwealth. As such, the monarch has shifted positions. He believes, we are told, that British history “should not be hidden”, and that, in the same way that we are taught about the holocaust,

“we should be open to speaking about Britain’s involvement in the slave trade”.

For it seems that this country still finds it easier to remember the transgressions of other nations than it does its own.

Let me turn to the issue of those transgressions. What happened such that Britain, or any other European colonial power, should be expected to apologise and pay reparations? As any student of history would attest, history is littered with ancient atrocities and what would now be called crimes against humanity that elicit no such reactions or demands. Why is what took place in the Caribbean so different?

Sir Hilary Beckles, a historian and vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, nails a key part of the explanation in his book “How Britain Underdeveloped the Caribbean”. He states:

“The modern Caribbean economy was invented, structured and managed by European states for one purpose: to achieve maximum wealth extraction to fuel and sustain their national financial, commercial and industrial transformation. Therefore, for each European state, the Caribbean economy was primarily an external economic engine propelling and promoting national economic growth.

No other large and lucrative colonized economy in the five-hundred-year history of Western economic development has ever been created for such a singular purpose. No such economy has ever been as intensively exploited as that of the Caribbean by imperial entrepreneurs and nation states.”

It continues that European countries, Britain chief among them,

“called into being a new, immoral entrepreneurial order that defined the Caribbean…economy as a frontier beyond the accountability of civilization, where crimes against humanity became a cultural norm”,

with the ability

“to accumulate wealth without cultural or ethical constraints.”

That involved

“the institutionalization of piracy and plunder, genocide and slavery, violent hostility and hatred, and notions of black subhumanity. These were the driving forces in Europe’s wealth extraction as it rose to economic dominance”—

a dominance that, we know, it still enjoys to this day.

Sir Hilary goes on to describe slavery as “systematic genocide”, because although around 3.5 million Africans were brought to the Caribbean in those 400 years, only 600,000 were in the region by the time of emancipation, which is unsurprising, given that the average useful lifespan of a West Indian slave was five to 10 years. That went on for 400 years, so extreme was their treatment. British history books might tell us that the first African slaves landed in the British empire in 1624, but when we listen to that, the reality is that black people, Africans, did not land in the British empire; the British empire landed on them. That is what happened in 1624 and continued to happen for 400 years, to this very day.

This is not just about Africans. Indians were also forcibly indentured in the Caribbean by the British. Let us not forget the 3 million indigenous peoples estimated to have inhabited the Caribbean in 1700. I have some Carib Indian in me, which I can trace back through my great-grandmother. Those people were deliberately wiped out by those European forces, so now only 30,000 survive.

As the fabulous research of University College London shows, even the abolition of slavery in the 1830s saw no justice, because it was the slavers, not the slaves, who received the vast sums of compensation—billions in today’s money—that taxpayers in the UK, including the Caribbeans who came here in the post-war period to rebuild this country, after it had fought a war ostensibly against racism and fascism, finished paying off in 2015, so vast was the debt. Let us think about that: the people who had been brutalised and exploited for 400 years came back to the mother country, after it had fought a war against racism, to rebuild this country, leaving theirs in poverty, and paid taxes to pay their former slave masters.

This does not end there. Some of those same people, decades later, having worked for this country, were deported as illegal immigrants in the Windrush scandal. You could not make this up. If it was written in a book, some would say it is fiction. It gets worse, because the Windrush compensation scheme was made so difficult to apply for that fewer than one in four people eligible for compensation have received it. That is not a scandal; it goes beyond scandal.

The hon. Gentleman is making an impassioned speech. He is talking about immigration and the rights of people. As the first Polish-born British Member of Parliament, who came to this country from Poland, I say to him that one reason I campaigned for Brexit was that I felt the current immigration policy was racist. We gave automatic access to fellow white Europeans to the exclusion of Commonwealth citizens.

I want everybody to be treated in the same way when they are at our border, irrespective of their colour, religion or where they are from. It should be based on their skillset. The Labour party and the SNP—[Interruption.] I hear chuntering from the SNP—campaigned for a system that would have allowed that ongoing racism to take place: automatic access for Europeans to the exclusion of Commonwealth citizens.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those points. We can have both a fair immigration system in this country, which we do not have at the moment, and justice for the Caribbean. The two are not controversial or incompatible.

The money paid to the slave owners in the 1830s poured into the British economy, paying for Victorian infrastructure and modernisation. That includes the embankment over there, across from where we sit; the first underground, the Metropolitan line; and new modern insurance companies, with the capital to go global. That was all generated by the investment that came from the compensation given to slave owners.

That compensation in part funded what would eventually become the insurance giant Aviva, based in my Norwich South constituency and formerly known as Norwich Union. It financed vast cultural and learning investment in universities, the creative arts and science. It financed a modern 19th-century military industrial machine, one finally able to colonise Africa and vast swathes of Asia in that fast phase of 19th century colonialism, finishing what had been started in the centuries before.

For former slaves in the Caribbean, there was no such economic renaissance. The century after emancipation was one of racist brutality, the suppression of basic human and labour rights, bloodshed and massacre. Even in the 1930s, people in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and St Kitts witnessed violent suppression and death at the hands of British colonial police forces for seeking basic labour rights in the colonial sugar factories, mines and fields that they still toiled in, for poverty wages—and all the time, the profits rolled out of the Caribbean, not into it.

Already I can hear the howls of those opposed to the reparations and the apology that no British Government have ever given: “Move on! Get over it! Don’t linger in the past; look to the future!” But there is no future worth looking forward to in the Caribbean until we confront the past. If people go to the Caribbean, what they will see is the past alive and well today. There is poverty, racism still, inequality, and debt. But do not confuse an honest appraisal of the situation across much of today’s Caribbean for victimhood, because although the peoples of the Caribbean have been wronged, they are a proud and capable people, whose 400-year baptism of fire has made them strong and resilient, with great potential—potential that now needs to be realised.

Let us take, for example, the University of the West Indies. Despite the past, it ranks among the top 1.5% of universities globally. That is evidence of how far ahead the Caribbean could have been had three quarters of the population not been unable to read or write just 60 years ago. That was the condition they were left in when they were given independence—illiteracy rates of 60% or 70%. So when, as happened this week, the Prime Minister of Grenada, Dickon Mitchell, invites British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, another son of empire, to discuss reparations, he does so with full understanding of that potential.

It is potential that CARICOM—the Caribbean Community—and its 10-point plan for reparatory justice also recognises. Its reparations commission is working with initiatives such as Repair, set up by the entrepreneur Denis O’Brien. Their joint mission is for an EU and UK 25-year, multibillion-pound programme of reparation and repair and investment in the Caribbean, involving education, physical infrastructure, and science and technology, replicating the EU’s structural investment funding, which transformed the poorest countries and regions of the EU, including Ireland and Poland. The same can be done for the Caribbean. It can be given the tools to prosper, to make the jump to clean energy technologies, and to adapt to the climate crisis, by which it will be disproportionately affected. There have been centuries of carbon-intensive manufacturing, which the bodies of its people financed, but it receives no share of the bounty. The irony of the climate crisis is never lost on me—or on millions of other people around the planet.

I am sure that the Minister will tell us today of the largesse of Britain and its generous overseas development packages. Let us unpack that. Forget for now that this Government oversaw a 21% drop in aid spending since 2020, as a result of their decision to cut aid budgets from 0.7 of GDP to 0.5% of GDP. I have the Library figures for the British Government’s overseas aid to Caribbean countries in millions of pounds, not adjusted for inflation, over a series of years. For Grenada, the figures are 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.1, 0.2. This is the reality of overseas aid for the Caribbean. Let us go down the table. For St Lucia, the figures are 0.0, 0.0, 0.2, 0.2, 0.1. The 0.2 is a fraction of a million—hundreds of thousands of pounds. St Vincent and the Grenadines: 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.1. We get the picture.

My hon. Friend is making such a powerful speech. Does he agree that development aid is often given to developing countries through a middleman, and not directly to the countries, or to small businesses in those countries that do valuable work? It is often difficult to find out who the middlemen are, but we know how they worked during covid.

We do. They certainly took their cut, and they continue to. We want something completely different. We want to give the victims of slavery and colonialism the tools and ability to help themselves. They do not want a handout; they want a hand up, and they want to be able to build for themselves. There must be a reckoning with the primary reason why empire was created: to materially enrich some people at the expense of others. Its afterlife is not an issue of identity politics, but a key contributor to global inequality and its corrosive impact on democracy.

I will conclude on a personal note. The BBC’s Laura Trevelyan, who made such a moving BBC documentary on her journey of discovery about her ancestors’ part in this story, shared with me the comments of a Caribbean woman who worked in the NHS. After watching the programme, the woman told her how the lack of justice, combined with the Windrush scandal, meant that for the first time in her life, she felt she did not belong in this country, despite being born here and working here all her life. Many other black people in this country will be able to relate to that; I can relate to it.

We as a country and as a Parliament have to remember that until we acknowledge the past, play our part in resolving matters, and help to build a better future, we will never be able to heal and move forward, and a significant number of people will never truly feel a part of this country. That cannot be allowed to happen. We should live up to our words; we often talk in this place about collectively wanting to take our country forward into a bright future. The issue of reparatory justice must be confronted now. If this Government do not do it, the next Government, whoever they may be, will find the arguments growing stronger by the year, by the day, by the week.

Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Davies. I start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) for securing this debate. I want to offer him some form of cross-party collaboration focusing on the Caribbean.

This country—I speak as an immigrant myself—has benefited enormously from the British-Caribbean diaspora, not just in London but across the whole of the United Kingdom. That community has some of the greatest skillsets imaginable; we want to harness the skills in the diaspora to help us build a bridge between London and the Caribbean, post Brexit. The paucity of Members attending this debate is rather regrettable, bearing in mind how important the Caribbean is to the United Kingdom and to our relations with that western sphere of the world.

I chair two all-party country groups: the APPG on Poland, not surprisingly, which is the third-largest in the House of Commons. We now have 97 parliamentarians in that APPG. We make regular visits to Warsaw with Members of Parliament who have never visited Poland. I also chair the all-party parliamentary group for St Kitts and Nevis, which we set up last year. One reason why I set it up is that I am particularly interested in evaluating how, post Brexit, the United Kingdom will strengthen links with the Commonwealth.

You and I entered the House in the same year, Mr Davies, in 2005. We were both Brexiteers. One of the reasons why I campaigned so assiduously for Brexit is that I recognise the extraordinary power of the Commonwealth—a global network of 54 nations around the world, representing a third of the world’s population. In our obsession with the European Union over the last 50 years—this tiny, almost inconsequential continent, whose population as a percentage of the global population, and whose GDP as a percentage of global GDP, is shrinking every day—we attached ourselves to a shrinking market, and allowed protectionist barriers to be imposed between us and the Commonwealth. That is probably one of this country’s greatest acts of self-harm in our lifetime.

What I want from this Government, post Brexit, in a country freed of the European Union’s artificial constraints, is for us to turn the Commonwealth into something meaningful and economically viable. The hon. Member for Norwich South said that King Charles may be the last titular head of the Commonwealth. I do not believe that. I believe that Prince William will continue in that role, as will his children, but only if we demonstrate to these 54 nations that we want to give them the maximum tariff-free access to our markets and build up those economic partnerships. Politicians are transient figures, here today, gone tomorrow. It is businesses and economic joint ventures that solidify and strengthen links between countries.

This year, we enter the CPTPP—the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. It is a partnership with the world’s largest trading bloc in the far east. We should also focus on the Caribbean, and on making sure that we challenge our American allies’ position as the major investor and exporter to the Caribbean. As you will know if you have visited the Caribbean, Mr Davies, the vast majority of products there, whether it be a car, or a pencil in a school, come from the United States of America. In this modern era of transportation, with high-velocity cargo ships crossing the Atlantic, we can compete against the United States of America. That is the best way to strengthen our relationship with the Caribbean.

When we set up the APPG for St Kitts and Nevis, would you believe, Mr Davies, that it was the first time that such an APPG had been set up in this Parliament since 1983, when St Kitts and Nevis achieved independence? I find that staggering. St Kitts and Nevis may have a small population, but let us not forget that it has one vote at the United Nations. There are only 195 votes in total—there are 195 countries in the world. St Kitts and Nevis has one of those precious votes. We ought to do everything possible to demonstrate to our partners in St Kitts and Nevis that we do not take their votes at the UN for granted, and we are doing everything possible to show them a genuine partnership.

I am very honoured to be hosting His Excellency Dr Kevin Isaac, the high commissioner to St Kitts and Nevis, today in the House of Commons. He has been the high commissioner for St Kitts and Nevis to the Court of St James’s since 2011. When I spoke to him this morning—I do not want to embarrass him—he said he could not remember reference being made to St Kitts and Nevis in the British Parliament in the last few years. He could not tell me the last time he heard such a reference. Between us, we need to make as many references to St Kitts and Nevis as possible. His Excellency Kevin Isaac was awarded diplomat of the year from North America and the Caribbean in 2015 and 2022. That is an award adjudicated by other diplomats and senior political figures. He has won it twice. If someone wanted to understand about international diplomacy, they should go and talk to him.

In my discussions with His Excellency Kevin Isaac, we have talked about an important project in his country: the construction of a major bridge from the island of St Kitts to the island of Nevis. I will talk to bridge builders in my constituency of Shrewsbury; we have a famous bridge builder in Leebotwood, Shropshire, and I will write to them about this opportunity. It is essential that the Minister is cognisant of this huge infrastructure project that St Kitts and Nevis is investigating. Can the Minister give me an update on what his Department is doing in conjunction with the Department for International Trade to ensure that there is a British proposal on the table to build that highly strategic and important bridge?

The Government of St Kitts and Nevis are building a climate-smart modern hospital and a senior high school. They are also seeking support for extending their international airport. There should be British construction proposals for all those projects. I am keen to hear from the Minister what we are doing to ensure that we bid for those important projects. Speaking as one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, it is important that we use UK Export Finance to help British companies bid for those projects. UK Export Finance has billions of pounds at its disposal, with which it can give companies soft loans and credits to help them compete against Chinese construction companies.

I have a great concern about the way that the Chinese are taking over the whole of the Caribbean, in terms of infrastructure projects and commercial opportunities. It is not just Africa where the Chinese are stealing a march on the United Kingdom; it is also in the Caribbean. If we look at the figures for investment in the Caribbean nations, we will see that we have fallen behind the communist dictatorship of the People’s Republic of China in this critical part of the world—a part of the world that has such historical links to the United Kingdom, and that is so close to our major ally, the United States of America. Somehow, this Government are allowing the Chinese to steal a march on us in the Caribbean. You couldn’t make it up, Mr Davies.

Before I conclude my speech, I will make one strong appeal. We need a trade envoy for the Caribbean. I know that the Minister is from the Foreign Office, but I would like him to take that message to No. 10 Downing Street and to the Department for International Trade. As one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, I have dozens of meetings every month in the House of Commons. The trade envoy is like a telephone switchboard operator, putting British commercial entities in touch with opportunities from the jurisdiction that they represent. Here in the House of Commons, we take advantage of the prestigious building that we work in to bring together people from the UK with people from the country to which we are trade envoy. We ensure that Britain is doing everything possible to take advantage of the opportunities. We need an envoy for the Caribbean. We had one in the past. A trade envoy acts as a totem pole; they encourage, facilitate, represent, and lobby on behalf of British business. They work with not only the Department for International Trade, but, most importantly, UK Export Finance.

Lastly, let me refer to compensation. I could see how emotional and passionate the hon. Gentleman was, and I am not going to demur from anything he said as it would be inappropriate for me so to do, even though he and I might not entirely agree on the matter. However, I would say to him that I have campaigned for many years for compensation for Poland from Germany, because 98% of the city of my birth, Warsaw, was destroyed in 1944. The Germans still refuse to pay that compensation, so I entirely understand his motives and strength of feeling. I respect that and his right to raise the issue, but I say to him again—gently, delicately and irrespective of the differences we have—that I hope we can agree to work together to slash those tariffs and restrictions, which have existed for decades with respect to Caribbean countries and their commercial entities.

We have been part of the European Union. As I said, I go around universities in this country and try to explain to young people that we gave automatic access to Poles—fellow white European Poles—but that somebody from the Caribbean would have to go through a different channel and jump over higher hurdles to get into this country. That is pure, unadulterated racism. It is staggering that for so many years we accepted a system—I look to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who actively campaigned to remain in the European Union—that tolerates such extraordinarily profound discrimination between European citizens—fellow white Caucasian citizens—and Caribbean citizens. That is an absolute outrage.

I want every single individual at the border crossing to be assessed on their skillsets, their ability to learn English and their ability to convince a British entity to hire them. Those are the attributes that should be tested, not which part of the world the individual is from.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South on securing the debate. I hope that he and I can stay in touch and work together to facilitate and send a strong signal to Caribbean nations that we value their partnership and their friendship, and that we are determined to create the strongest possible economic links between us.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) on securing the debate. I also congratulate him on bringing some important and challenging issues to the House during what has turned out to be an extremely lively debate, involving brief but passionate and important contributions from the hon. Members for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) and for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), and indeed the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski).

I echo the welcome from the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for the high commissioner from St Kitts and Nevis. I quickly checked Hansard when the hon. Gentleman was speaking: since 2005, there have been 16 on-the-record references to St Kitts and Nevis—I suspect that by the end of the debate he will have gone a long way to doubling that. The name “Nevis” is derived from the Spanish for Our Lady of the Snows, which is appropriate considering the weather we are experiencing today.

I cannot speak to lived experience of the kind described by the hon. Members for Norwich South and for Shrewsbury and Atcham, but it is my privilege as Member of Parliament for a Glasgow constituency to represent an incredibly lively and diverse community, particularly those constituents with Afro-Caribbean heritage. That community itself is extremely diverse, and it draws on the heritage and experience of many different cultures. As we have heard, the Caribbean is not a homogenous entity, place or territory; it is culturally, politically and economically diverse. The region encompasses some of the most and least privileged communities in the world.

In choosing the title for the debate, the hon. Member for Norwich South was right to draw attention to the inequalities across the region and the challenges they bring. Take the disparities between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, for example. They are two countries on the same island—not a concept we are unfamiliar with in the United Kingdom—but a person born in Haiti is two and a half times more likely to die as a baby, has a much shorter life expectancy, and will grow up to be almost 10 times poorer than a counterpart on the other side of the island.

The hon. Gentleman is also right that the Caribbean’s social, political and economic landscape cannot and must not be understood outside the region’s colonial past, the effects of which live on to this day. It has been irrevocably shaped by the history of western imperialism, the slave trade and the colonial—and perhaps ongoing—extraction of natural resources.

The juxtaposition of extreme wealth and poverty across the region speaks to wider global challenges that emerge when excessive concentrations of wealth come at the expense of sustainable public services and transparency. Transparency International said:

“far from being victimless crimes, corruption and tax evasion deprive citizens around the world of much-needed public services while at the same time undermining institutions and democracy. Developing countries alone lose an estimated US$1 trillion each year to illicit financial flows.”

The UK Government know that only too well because several of their overseas territories in the region effectively operate as tax havens. The Cayman Islands alone are home to 85% of the world’s hedge funds and an estimated 100,000 registered companies, and report banking assets in excess of $500 billion.

The UK Government have to step up and play their part in tackling the illicit finance in their overseas territories. They could establish an illicit finance commissioner to monitor the presence of assets in overseas territories and Crown dependencies. They could ensure that their refresh of the integrated review has a dedicated focus on countering illicit finance flows and addressing corruption. They could establish a transparent and accurate ultimate beneficial owner register, enhance verification of that register, initiate investigations into known weaknesses, and accelerate timelines for entries linked to British overseas territories.

The Government also have to step up and do more to address challenges at the other end of the spectrum, as the hon. Gentleman said, including high poverty levels, instability and the legacy of slavery and colonialism. I talked about the extremes of inequality and instability that Haiti has experienced in recent years, through a combination of natural and man-made disasters that have made it the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The UK could take simple steps such as uplifting its emergency aid provision, working with the non-governmental organisations that are still present in the country, liaising with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when he makes an official visit, and exploring what the UK embassy in Port-au-Prince can do to formally document and escalate human rights abuses witnesses by British diplomats on the ground.

As the hon. Gentleman said, climate change is another major driver of inequality and instability. Again, people in the Caribbean are particularly at risk. Of the 511 natural disasters worldwide since 1950 that have hit small states, 324 have been in the Caribbean, killing more than a quarter of a million people and affecting more than 24 million through injury and the loss of homes and livelihoods. It is expected that by 2050, 1 billion people in low-lying coastal areas will face escalating climate risks that undermine adaptation efforts. Of the Caribbean’s 40 million inhabitants, 28 million live on the coast.

In addressing financial security and reducing inequality, the UK Government ought to address some of those points. They could learn from the Scottish Government’s commitment to a comprehensive sustainable loss and damage package to help developing countries tackle climate change. They could pledge to target the most climate-vulnerable countries first, which would include nations in the Caribbean. Of course, they will find it difficult to do that precisely because of the aid cuts that the hon. Gentleman spoke about.

Of course, the majority of the hon. Gentleman’s speech focused on the legacy of colonialism. He spoke incredibly powerfully about that, and he is right to put challenging questions to the UK Government and all of us in positions of responsibility.

Does the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the SNP, agree that irrespective of what the aid budget is today, a greater percentage of it ought to be going to Caribbean nations?

The distribution of aid should be determined on a needs basis, and it would be easier if there was more of the pot to go around. As I understand it, under the OECD and official development assistance rules, there are issues with how much of their budget the UK Government can give to countries that are essentially their own territories and have that counted as aid. However, they should be providing support of the kind that has been discussed, to enable those countries to raise themselves and their people to the standard of living that the rest of us take for granted. That is why I spoke earlier about addressing the impact of tax evasion and financial corruption. Huge amounts of money are flowing through some of these countries, but not everybody living in them is feeling the benefit. Perhaps if there was more transparency and fair taxation, some of those issues would be addressed.

I turn back to the question of colonial legacies. In recent years, many Governments and authorities across the United Kingdom, the US, Europe and other countries with historical involvement in the slave trade and colonialism have been asked, or are asking themselves, searching questions about how that legacy can be recognised and understood, and how amendments and apologies can best be made. The hon. Member for Norwich South was right to acknowledge the ambitious and pioneering actions of the Trevelyan family, who I know are paying close attention to today’s debate. I think we can all recognise that, in many cases, there is still quite a distance to go before justice is fully served, but there are exemplars and initiatives that point in the right direction. 

In recent years, the city councils of both Glasgow and Edinburgh have examined their historical involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, and have adopted motions of regret and apology for that. The review for City of Edinburgh Council was chaired by Sir Geoff Palmer, who was Scotland’s first black professor, and Glasgow’s report was conducted by Dr Stephen Mullen of the University of Glasgow and championed by Councillor Graham Campbell, Glasgow’s first councillor of Afro-Caribbean descent, who has been a real driving force in taking this issue forward.

When the report into Glasgow’s connections was published, the leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, said that

“the tentacles of the slave economy reached far into Glasgow and helped build and shape this city. It also talks about the legacy of enslavement in the form of institutionalised racism in today’s Glasgow.

And this must be publicly acknowledged. We need to be honest about Glasgow’s history, our involvement in the slave economy, the attempt at creating a Scottish empire and our deep role in the British Empire. There are people who live every day with the legacy of their ancestors having been enslaved. We need to step up and apologise, to express contrition and sorrow for our part in the moral atrocity of slavery.”

As I said, the basis of that report came as a result of work by Dr Stephen Mullen of the University of Glasgow, who audited the city’s connections to the transatlantic slave trade. The university, which I am proud to represent in this House, has taken its own steps and committed to pay £20 million over the next 20 years in reparations, in recognition of its role in the slave trade. That money will be used to support a centre for development research at the University of the West Indies, which the hon. Member for Norwich South spoke about so highly.

There are therefore calls for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to act at a national level in this regard. Of course, there is a time of change upon the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, so perhaps some of the concerns should be drawn to the attention of those aspiring to be our next First Minister. But we are here today to hold the UK Government to account, so I hope the Minister will look at the steps being taken by local authorities, universities and other institutions across the UK, and consider how the Government can recognise and respond to the legacy of slavery and colonialism, in which their predecessors were complicit. 

It is clear from the debate that people in the Caribbean, like people anywhere on this planet, deserve to live lives of dignity and respect, and enjoy basic financial security and freedom from stark inequalities. There have been significant suggestions today as to how the UK Government can work to achieve that, and I hope the Minister will respond appropriately.

It is a pleasure to serve under your direction this morning, Mr Davies.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) for securing today’s rather timely debate, and for his powerful and impassioned speech. It gave us all a lot to think about. I knew that my hon. Friend had mixed heritage; I was not aware that he was part-Grenadian. We do not have a big Grenadian diaspora in Leeds, but we do have a large diaspora from St Kitts and Nevis, which I will elaborate on a little more shortly.

Our country has a long-standing and historic relationship with the Caribbean. Our friendship with our Caribbean partners and allies is rightly based on mutual respect, trust and shared values, which is especially true for those nations that are members of the Commonwealth. It is really important that we continue to nurture these relationships as Caribbean countries attempt to tackle the existential threats posed by climate change and widespread inequality, and it is vital that the UK plays its part through the United Nations and other international bodies to help ensure that people in the Caribbean can live prosperous lives, free from the threats of violence and poverty.

Of course, one of those bodies is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and it is vital that Caribbean countries are able to engage with and work within the OECD to secure additional support for food security programmes, debt relief and other initiatives that seek to improve the lives of people living in the region.

As we know, much of the financial uncertainty in the Caribbean stems from the unfiltered flow of so-called “dirty” money into Caribbean countries’ financial systems, whether in the form of tax evasion, fraud or other financial misdemeanours, all of which undermine the economic stability of too many countries in the region. This has led to states such as Anguilla, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Trinidad and Tobago being severely limited following their inclusion on the European Union’s tax blacklist. I would be interested to hear from the Minister today how the UK is working with these countries to ensure that they are not centres for tax avoidance and other financial crimes, and how his Department is working with our European friends and allies on tackling fraud of this nature.

I turn now, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) did in his speech, to the crisis engulfing Haiti. As one of the poorest countries in the world and the poorest in the western world, as the hon. Member said, Haiti already faces a barrage of socioeconomic problems, alongside the threat posed by climate change. Labour supports the Haitian people in trying to restore political legitimacy to their country and in trying to bring the dreadful wave of gang violence and kidnappings to an end. There are over 200 gangs operating as the de facto authorities in Haiti, which is having a severe impact on the lives of all the Haitian people, as well as destroying their already significantly limited economic prospects.

As His Majesty’s official Opposition, we are willing to work with the Government to help to resolve these issues, which, at their heart, stem from vast inequality and financial insecurity. Alongside this, Haiti is currently facing a cholera outbreak, with the World Bank saying that this has led to high levels of infant and maternal mortality, with prevention measures stagnating or declining, especially for the poorest households. This outbreak has already claimed hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Haiti is another country in the Caribbean that is having to suffer as a result of its tattered economy and political instability.

It is therefore vital that the United Kingdom supports free and fair elections in Haiti, so that its economy can begin to recover. Can the Minister say what plans he has to enhance the UK’s support to tackle criminal activities on Haiti through our contributions to the UN’s integrated office on the island? Working with our international partners and allies is the only way that this appalling situation will be resolved, particularly following the Haitian Government’s request for support from the international community, which must be considered properly at the UN Security Council. I hope that the Minister agrees and I would be very interested to hear his response to the Haitian Government’s request today.

We welcome the fact that the UK Government have joined our allies in the United States and Canada in imposing sanctions on the Haitian gang leader Jimmy Chérizier, after he was found to have committed acts that constituted serious human rights abuses. I think the Minister would agree that more must done, and quickly, to challenge those who threaten the peace and economic security of Haiti.

The situation in Haiti is extremely serious, and any further destabilisation would be catastrophic. Ninety-six per cent. of Haiti’s population is vulnerable to further earthquakes. As we have seen in Turkey and Syria recently, as well as in Haiti in the past, the financial implications for countries impacted by those natural disasters are horrific.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) mentioned the rise of the Chinese Government in the Caribbean region. With a more aggressive Chinese Government, tackling financial security and chronic inequality in the Caribbean takes on a new geopolitical significance, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, for both us and our closest ally, the United States. As it is in many regions across the world, China is looking to expand its political influence in the Caribbean, owing to the extremely advantageous location of the islands.

For example, China has already offered Jamaica loans and expertise to build miles of new highways, and it has donated security equipment to military and police forces across the region. Those initiatives are clearly an attempt by China to gain influence and expand its footprint in the Caribbean through Government grants and loans, investments by Chinese companies, and diplomatic, cultural and security efforts. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham pointed out, China has done just that in Africa.

That Caribbean financial markets are generally small and there is a lack of raw materials in the region shows that China is keen to secure geographical strategic advantages, which could pose a direct threat to democracy and freedom in the Caribbean. Alongside the obvious moral reason, that is yet another reason why we must play our part on the international stage to secure a safer future for all the peoples of the Caribbean.

I am proud to represent Leeds North East, a constituency that prides itself on its rich diversity. We have a large Caribbean diaspora, and many of the families came to this country to contribute to the economy and to our local culture. As I mentioned earlier, that includes the large community of people of St Kitts and Nevis heritage—indeed, it is the largest diaspora outside the islands themselves.

Many years ago—before 1997, when I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Leeds North East—I was privileged to attend a meeting in the Leeds West Indian Centre. I was the only white person, and the only person not of St Kitts and Nevis heritage. The occasion was to hear a speech by the then Leader of the Opposition on the islands, Dr Denzil Douglas. If a politician could be combined with a hellfire preacher, that was embodied by Dr Douglas. He was absolutely brilliant and captured the attention of the 200 or so people there. He also wished me well as the Labour candidate for Leeds—we actually have eight MPs in Leeds, but he thought I was the candidate for Leeds. We kept in touch over the years. When he became Prime Minister, he made another visit to the United Kingdom, and he came to Leeds to meet the diaspora. Indeed, his sister was one of my constituents.

I feel a strong connection to St Kitts and Nevis—not least through my connection to the high commissioner, Dr Kevin Isaac, who is in the Public Gallery, but also through one of my closest friends, Arthur France MBE. Arthur France is of St Kitts and Nevis heritage, and he is proud of the islands he came from. He was the founder of the oldest West Indian carnival in the United Kingdom, the Leeds West Indian carnival. It is one year older than the Notting Hill carnival, and celebrated its 50th anniversary a few years ago.

More importantly, Arthur was very active on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom earlier this century. He led the way, with people descended from all over the Caribbean but based in Leeds, to make sure that those in Leeds who were not from the Caribbean understood the important effect of slavery on those islands, and how they were trying to overcome the terrible catastrophe that had happened to the people of his heritage and background.

When I am out and about in the constituency, I am sometimes reminded that my constituency is made up of people of different heritage. We have a large Caribbean diaspora—I mentioned St Kitts and Nevis, and I should also mention the Jamaican and Barbadian peoples who make up the diaspora in my constituency—and we also have a big Jewish community. When I go to the West Indian centre, people say, “But you do not understand, Mr Hamilton, what it is like to be the child of an immigrant.” I say, “Well, I do, because my father was an immigrant.” They say, “But you are not black.” But that does not matter. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham pointed out, a person does not have to have different colour skin to be the child of an immigrant and to understand the trials and tribulations of being an immigrant to this country—especially when one’s first language, as in my father’s case, is not English. Indeed, today, I am going to the United Nations in Vienna, and I will do some further work to study my father’s background; he was born in Vienna, and his parents married there in 1921. That should be very interesting.

One of my closest friends, who is sadly no longer with us, was a man called Norris Pyke. Norris was from Nevis. He was terribly proud of the fact that he met my mother, who visited Leeds some years before her death, and I introduced the two. They could not have been from more different backgrounds and could not have been more different from each other, but they got on very well. Norris died of cancer about 15 years ago. His life’s ambition was to see a bridge built between St Kitts and Nevis. He never achieved it, but he never stopped talking about it. I will never forget Norris Pyke, whom I want to commemorate today, and the contribution that he made to the people of those islands.

We share a long history of friendship with Caribbean countries, particularly those in the Commonwealth. It would be morally, politically and economically wrong to abandon them as they face truly difficult economic circumstances and rising inequality.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) on securing this important debate. It has been good to hear the views of colleagues, and to recognise those who have joined us today in the audience, notably His Excellency the high commissioner for St Kitts and Nevis—the island that I think has had more mentions than any other—and the Trevelyan family. I feel at a bit of a disadvantage, because I have not been to that country and I do not have any diaspora in my Macclesfield constituency.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) for his contribution, which was, as always, very considered, and I will come to some of the points that he made. He described Denzil Douglas in quite a—

Yes, a colourful way. Denzil Douglas would be very proud of the way that the hon. Member for Norwich South conducted himself. I think it was in the same tradition. We recognise that.

We want to work with the Caribbean to solve shared problems, from climate change to gender inequality. We share important values, which is why, in partnership, we are taking steps to promote democracy, peace, prosperity and opportunity. Of course, many of our friends in the Caribbean region are part of the unique Commonwealth family of nations. Members have rightly highlighted the threat of climate change to the region. As small island developing states, the countries of the Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and economic shocks.

These are challenges that we must help to address, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic and Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. The war may feel quite distant from the region, but it has big implications for the cost of energy, fuel and, for some in the area, fertiliser. As stewards of the ocean, Caribbean countries have a vital role to play in tackling climate change and protecting biodiversity, and I welcome the historic achievement at the United Nations at the weekend of a new treaty to protect marine biodiversity—a huge step forward that was acknowledged around the world.

The UK’s vision for small island developing states, or SIDS, is set out in our international development strategy. We want to help them build economic and climate resilience by 2030, by supporting them to adapt to climate change, improving access to finance and preventing biodiversity loss. I will spend more time on access to finance later. Of course, that requires other countries and international organisations to share our vision. The fourth international conference on SIDS next year will be a key moment for the global community to come together and commit to action.

We continue to pursue an overseas development aid programme in the Caribbean region, focusing on strengthening disaster and climate resilience in eligible countries. We had a long debate on overseas development aid in this room a couple of weeks ago. Around £35 million a year is devoted to building climate-resilient infrastructure, to help countries withstand natural disasters and recover faster from catastrophes such as hurricanes. We are also supporting better access to employment for vulnerable groups, and fostering small and medium-sized enterprises.

The UK is also supporting climate action and disaster response by strengthening the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and social protection systems. Through the UN’s EnGenDER project, we are working to address gender inequality in climate change and disaster response work. We also support the Climate Resilience Execution Agency for Dominica, whose goal is for Dominica to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation. Meanwhile, eligible Caribbean countries can also access two dedicated programme funds for SIDS, totalling £76 million, to help them benefit from international finance and realise the potential of marine economies.

The hon. Member for Leeds North East highlighted the situation in Haiti, which is a source of real concern to us both. There are implications not just for the people of Haiti, but for the region as a whole and beyond, because of the potential impacts of irregular migration and the violent activity that could flow should the situation deteriorate even further. We are actively engaged with the UN Security Council on that issue. We encourage international partners to work together to assist in Haitian-led efforts to tackle underlying causes of gang violence. We have seen positive progress on the ground, with economic and political accords, which are unusual on that island. The UK is funding multilateral partners, contributing more than £20 million each year to development in Haiti, including programmes to improve the resilience of infrastructure to natural disaster.

I want to come on to the importance of development finance on a global scale. We are working with partners towards reform of the international financial institutions to make more capital available, including to Caribbean countries. That is pivotal to the Caribbean and a subject I have discussed with many interlocutors. I am determined that we make progress across all SIDS, but particularly, given the role that I hold, in the Caribbean. As set out in the Glasgow climate pact, vulnerability criteria should be considered by multilateral organisations, including the World Bank, in their financing and allocation decisions.

We welcome innovation and reform in that regard. The new drive launched by Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the very important Bridgetown initiative, aims to do just that. We are working closely with her and getting behind the drive to reform international financial institutions. We are demonstrating leadership in financial innovation, such as climate resilient debt clauses, which will allow Caribbean countries to suspend repayments to UK Export Finance in the wake of a climate disaster such as a hurricane. We are shaping initiatives to expand the amount of development and climate finance available from multilateral development banks by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Those are very significant opportunities, which I am sure people recognise across the House. We are also working to get more subsidy for climate for middle-income countries and SIDS. We are engaging actively with the development of the new loss and damage fund agreed at COP27, which was raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). That is absolutely important. We are part of a 24-member transitional committee; the first meeting is happening at the end of March. We will work closely on that vital area.

We are also keen to help drive economic growth through trade and investment. We recognise China’s interest in the Caribbean and we are working closely to focus on trade and investment opportunities. Others have talked about illicit finance. Work is ongoing with our overseas territories, and the Government and the Treasury are providing support in the form of technical expertise to tackle those challenges.

I am delighted that my predecessor as Minister for the Caribbean, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), launched British International Investment’s first Caribbean investment when he visited Jamaica last autumn. That will build a new wave of investment in clean, green infrastructure, bolster businesses, create jobs and boost trade. We are also working with our Caribbean partners to ensure that the terms of our economic partnership agreement are fully implemented to boost trade.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) mentioned the importance of duty-free trade. Our economic and partnership agreement with the Caribbean Forum countries provides duty-free and quota-free access to UK markets for all goods. We are working with the Governments in the region to ensure that the agreement is fully implemented. We can talk more about that separately.

The hon. Member for Norwich South made a really important point about the legacy of slavery. I would like to say some important words on that subject, which means a lot to many people in this room. I have listened with care to the points that have been made today. Slavery is abhorrent. We acknowledge the role of British authorities in enabling the slave trade for many years before being the first global force to drive the end of the slave trade in the British empire. We deeply regret this appalling atrocity and how it harmed so many people. We acknowledge that the wounds and feeling on this issue run very deep.

We believe that the most effective way for the UK to respond to the cruelty of the past is to ensure that current and future generations do not forget what happened, that we address racism, and that we continue to work together to tackle today’s challenges, such as climate change, through the initiatives that I have set out. Those need to be hard-hitting initiatives that will make a difference in people’s lives and help Caribbean nations move forward.

We have had a series of positive engagements with our friends across the Caribbean over the last year. I mentioned my predecessor’s visit to Jamaica. In November, I was privileged to visit the Dominican Republic, the largest economy in the region, for a packed agenda of high-level meetings on trade, environment, security and many other issues. My colleague the Minister for Overseas Territories, Lord Goldsmith, was in Guyana last week. All these activities are designed to help build relationships and to move the agenda that I have talked about forward.

I plan to make a further visit to the region before the end of the month, and numerous senior leaders from Caribbean countries have visited the UK recently, including Prime Minister Skerrit of Dominica, who I was honoured to meet two weeks ago. We look forward to hosting Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth member countries next week, and to the UK-Caribbean forum and the UK-Jamaica strategic dialogue in May.

The UK will continue to work with our partners in the Caribbean to empower people, protect the environment, address climate change and boost prosperity. We will also use our voice on the international stage to advocate for issues that are important to Caribbean countries. That is how, together, we will make progress on challenges and make the most of the valuable opportunities that our deep and long-standing friendships in the region have to offer.

I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I wish there were more here. There aren’t, but perhaps in the future there will be, because this issue is not going to go anywhere. I will play my part in ensuring that St Kitts and Nevis is mentioned a number of times in Hansard, but it would be remiss of me not to say: Grenada, Grenada, Grenada, Grenada, Grenada, Grenada! My father, probably watching this in Gouyave at some point, would never forgive me if I did not mention his island in this debate.

This is part of the complexity of the issue—that a descendant of former slaves, a part of that injustice, can find themselves centuries later in the British Parliament making the case for reparations. That is the complexity of the issue; this injustice has been done, and yet it is this country that has given me the opportunity to stand here today to make this argument. We all acknowledge that the issue is complex, but life is complex, history is complex, and it is our job as politicians to be able to navigate that.

I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for turning up—I am looking at some empty Benches on both sides of the Chamber. He spoke, as have others today, about China. People in the Caribbean are well aware that China has its own motivations—not all of them honourable—for wanting to invest in the Caribbean, but it is investing and it does not have the colonial hang-ups and history that that money from the United Kingdom, which is not coming in, would have. It does not have that complex history, so we can understand why people in the Caribbean accept Chinese investment.

I welcome the hon. Member’s comments on accepting the comparison between German-Polish reparations and British-Caribbean ones; it was an important and gracious point to make, and I thank him for it. I disagree with him, though, on the matter of racist immigration policies and the EU’s part in that. Of course the EU has racist immigration policies. “Fortress Europe” is a term that I am well aware of when it comes to immigration into the EU, but we have to remember that the campaign for Brexit was a complex campaign with many different actors and motivations. However, it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge that a key part of the Brexiteers’ campaign was one based on a fear of all immigration—east European, European, and from across the globe. It would be wrong not to acknowledge that.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) mentioned, as have others, Haiti and the severe situation that it finds itself in. As I was listening to him, I could not help but think of CLR James and “The Black Jacobins”, and Toussaint Louverture, the black Spartacus, because Haiti, of all Caribbean countries, has paid a heavy price for the defiance it showed at the turn of the 19th century when it freed itself from slavery. It has suffered for centuries the wrath of western countries—the United States and Europe—because it freed itself from slavery. I think it is fair to say that Haiti is still, to this day, paying a price for that resistance.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North also spoke about the sorrow that his country and party feel about slavery. We have heard sorrow expressed by Labour and Conservative Governments and now the SNP, but I am afraid that sorrow is not enough. There is a question for the SNP as we move into the future: if it one day extracts itself from what it might call English imperialism—I know some do—what will the SNP’s position be on reparations, and all the economic benefits and advantages that that country now enjoys, in part because of what happened in the Caribbean? The Campbells and many other surnames testify to the Scottish slave owners and the benefits that came back to Scotland. It will be interesting to see where the SNP goes on that in the future. I will monitor that closely, and I think there are questions for them to answer.

It is always a pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) speak; he is so eloquent, kind and compassionate. I particularly appreciated the connection between what it is to be a Jewish immigrant and what it is to be a black immigrant. While there are differences, there are lots of similarities in the experience. I also acknowledge that it is way above his paygrade to be able to make any substantial position changes from where the last Labour Government were on this issue.

I understand that for my party this is a difficult issue, especially in the so-called red wall seats, where we feel such issues could alienate potential Labour voters. It is for the Labour party to make the argument and the case as to why this is the right thing to do. I think that people will listen, because there is a connection. At the end of British colonialism, the deindustrialisation that occurred in many of the former glorious cities of Leeds, Bradford and Manchester damaged those communities. That was an integral part of decolonisation. The pivot of British capitalism away from manufacturing, leaving so many of those people and communities bankrupt and broken, is something we are still paying for today. That is why we have the levelling-up agenda. British capitalism pivoted to financialisation, and those communities paid a price for that. We can never forget that that is connected to colonisation, slavery and our history.

There is a message here for an incoming Labour Government—we do not know if that will happen, but I am confident and hopeful that it will. I would tell my Front-Bench team that this issue will not go away. It will be there, and it will land on the desk of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who I hope will be the first Caribbean Foreign Secretary. It will be on his shoulders to say yes or no on this matter; and many people will be waiting with bated breath in anticipation of his decision, and the decision of a potential future Labour Government. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East will pass that on to the Labour Front Bench.

Turning to the Government, again, there is the question of paygrades. I did not really expect the Minister to be able to come here, issue a formal apology and then set out in detail the reparations that will be coming to the Caribbean. What I have done today is put down a marker. However, I will comment on some of the things the Minister talked about that got my goat a little bit. He talked about capital investment finance and new finance deals; those are about sucking yet more money out of the Caribbean, because although there is investment, a return is taken out. The whole issue of reparations is about not taking any more. After 400 years, we have taken enough from the Caribbean. Now it is time to put back into the Caribbean, not to continue the financialisation and extraction processes.

Today we kept hearing about the bridge between St Kitts and Nevis. Bridge building is what reparatory justice is also about; it is about building a bridge between the past and the present, between injustice and justice, and between Britain and the Caribbean—a bridge to a more prosperous future for all.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered financial security and inequality in the Caribbean.

Genomics and National Security

I will call Mr Alistair Campbell to move the motion. I will then call the Minister, who has just arrived, to respond. As an experienced Member of the House, the right hon. Gentleman will be well aware that there will not be an opportunity for him to wind up, as it is a 30-minute debate. I call Mr Alistair Campbell to move the motion—sorry, I mean Mr Alistair Carmichael.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered genomics and national security.

Alistair Campbell, of course, might be somebody who will wind up at some point. Notwithstanding that minor quibble, it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Davies, and to bring what might be seen by some as a slightly niche subject to the House. I am pleased to see the Minister in his place.

It is worth stating at the outset why I have initiated the debate and what I hope to achieve with it. Let me first accentuate the positives. Genomics is a great British success story and the opportunities for further advancement in the future are phenomenal. In 2003, two years ahead of schedule, the Human Genome Project successfully sequenced the human genome. Since then, genomic research has transformed healthcare. Numerous genomic applications, including non-invasive prenatal genetic testing, DNA-based forensics, genetic disease diagnostics and covid-19 surveillance are now commonplace. Indeed, covid exposed the importance of genomics in monitoring new variants and enabling targeted interventions at a community level. The industry is already worth billions and it will only grow.

But we all know that where there are opportunities, there are also risks—and that is where I want to take the Minister’s attention today. I have been a Minister; he has been a Minister. We all understand that although government can do many great things, it is often clunky and finds difficulties responding when science and technology bring change at a quite bewildering pace, which is exactly what is happening here.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for securing this debate; he is right to underline the issue of risk. Not so long ago I read an article that highlighted the previous existing ties between UK universities and Chinese state-linked companies, about which the US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence had issued a warning. It referred to a

“global collection mechanism for Chinese government genetic databases.”

Does the right hon. Member agree that although it is important to encourage the use of genomics for early intervention and prevention, the national security of information gathered is also of utmost—and perhaps even greater—importance?

Absolutely, and the question of the work in our universities and other research institutions is one to which I will turn in some detail later. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to highlight its importance in this debate.

Consider, though, what happened in recent years in relation to data protection. Regulation of data use was essentially analogue in a world that had gone digital, and it was therefore possible for a company such as Cambridge Analytica to take advantage of poor regulation and to build a business model that was all about the manipulation of opinion.

Genomics is a subject that is often poorly understood outside its own walls. A few years ago, we would have said exactly the same thing about data protection and mass data capture; we simply did not understand the significance of data capture through social media. Well, we understand that better now, and as a consequence we are having to scramble to catch up. If the Minister wants a bit of entertaining bedtime reading in this subject, I recommend Chris Wylie’s book—forgive the vulgarity, but this is the title—“Mindf*ck”. It is about the creation of the Cambridge Analytica model, which used data captured from social media. If we do not learn the lessons of data capture and data protection, we risk the same things happening in genomics and national security.

As a country, we need to ensure that we have a suitable regulatory environment that will protect the gains we have made in the genomics space. That regulation has to protect individual data privacy rights and our national security and economic interests. I believe that our regime falls short in the latter aspect, and it must be made fit for purpose.

We know the positive applications of genomics, and in the coming decade genomics research could lead to breakthrough therapies for hundreds of genetic diseases. It could also create a truly personalised approach to healthcare and enable us to predict the risk of disease at a population level. However, there are also enormously dangerous applications of the technology. Genomic research could be, and in some cases already is being, deployed to widen global health inequalities, curtail human rights, and threaten global peace and stability. There is a spectrum of threat involved, which can range from population engineering to improve “population quality” to genetic extinction technologies in bioweapons.

Genomics is the next frontier in surveillance for repressive regimes such as China, and in 2022, the Citizen Lab found that since 2016 the Chinese Government had been conducting mass DNA campaigns in Tibet and in Xinjiang, as well as a police-led national programme of male DNA collection, to intensify state repression and control.

How are we in the UK mitigating those threats? From Watson and Crick to John Sulston’s vision to map the human genome, applying technology developed by Fred Sanger, the UK has long led the world in this vital research. Still today, our world-leading universities and thriving genomics ecosystem, combined with our continued role in the western alliance, mean that the UK can lead the way in ensuring that genomics is used for the right reasons and in the right way. However, that will continue only if the right decisions are taken now.

More than half our research is a product of international partnerships, and those partnerships need to be based on shared values over the protection of human rights and on reciprocity. The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure already does important work to protect the integrity of international research collaboration, but we must be more proactive. Our institutions need to get the most out of international scientific collaboration while protecting intellectual property, sensitive research, personal information and, ultimately, our national defence.

Already, it is evidenced that questionable actors are finding a way into the space left by poor regulation, and we risk finding ourselves a few years down the line in the situation we were in some years ago when we had to remove Huawei from the roll-out of the 5G network. Had we acted earlier on Huawei, we would not have had to engineer it out later.

In the field of genomics, more attention needs to be paid to the work of the Chinese gene giant, the BGI Group. BGI is one of a large number of Chinese state-linked companies that have been implicated in the repression of Uyghurs and the forced collection of genetic data. It has a lengthy history of collaboration with the People’s Liberation Army, and is just one example of a company that should not be operating without constraint within our institutions.

The UK relies on the general data protection regulation to regulate the work of groups such as BGI and hopes that genomics firms such as BGI will follow GDPR, rather than the Chinese national security law, but I genuinely question just how likely that is. As the Minister will know, article 7 of the national security law states that

“organisations and citizens shall support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts”.

That is a law to which BGI is subject. The BGI Group does not submit itself to independent data security or cyber-security audits, and essentially, we are prepared to take BGI on trust. To me, that feels a little naive.

The US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence noted:

“BGI may be serving…as a global collection mechanism for Chinese government genetic databases”.

It also said that BGI

“poses similar threats in the biotechnology sector as Huawei does in the communications sector.”

In 2020, the US Department of Commerce added Xinjiang Silk Road BGI and Beijing Liuhe BGI—two BGI subsidiaries—to an export blacklist for

“conducting genetic analyses used to further the repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities”.

If that is the conclusion of some of our most trusted allies’ agencies, why is the United Kingdom so determined to take a different approach? I fear it may be that we are already further down the road of reliance on companies such as BGI than many in the Government are prepared to acknowledge and admit.

On a point made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), a recent Times investigation found that no fewer than 42 universities in the United Kingdom that have links with Chinese institutions connected to the repression of the Uyghurs, espionage, nuclear weapons research or hacking. Many of them have had links with Chinese universities carrying out military work. Twenty-one universities, including Cambridge, Sheffield, Leeds and Queen Mary University of London, are partnered with what is termed “very high-risk Chinese institutions”.

The reach of BGI into key areas of healthcare and scientific research should be of particular concern. Let me contrast the view of the National Counterintelligence and Security Centre in the USA with the answer given recently to a written parliamentary question asked by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), in which Ministers stated that

“the genomics industry is not designated as critical national infrastructure in the UK”.

The truth of the matter is that genomics is playing a role not just in the advancement of science but in economic competition between the UK and our allies on the one hand and competitor states on the other. It is a new front in the defence of the realm.

As far as I am able to tell, there have been no cross-departmental discussions at Cabinet level about the involvement of China and its state-linked companies in the UK genomics and bionomics sector. That has got to change. We need much more proactive work, both within the Government and among the Government, industry and academia. We need to identify potential issues and put in place structures that will protect data privacy and ensure the proper use of genomic research.

If companies such as BGI are not prepared to submit to meaningful compliance audits, we have to stop treating them as if they are trusted partners. At the risk of stating the totally blindingly obvious, once data is shared, we cannot get it back. Although I welcome the Government’s moves last year, including the Trusted Research campaign, led by the CPNI, and the launch of the research collaboration advice team in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, those bodies need to be properly resourced and given proactive mandates to advise and support universities and others engaged in research in this area.

How do we start to turn this situation round within the limits of what is currently available to us? Other things can probably be done with the legislation that is currently going through the House, but what can we do with what is currently available? I suggest to the Minister that the most important step we can take is to bring the genomics industry within the definition of critical national infrastructure. That is defined as:

“Those critical elements of infrastructure (assets, facilities, systems, networks, or processes, and the essential workers who operate and facilitate them), the loss or compromise of which could result in (a) major detrimental impact and the availability, integrity, or delivery of essential services, including those services where integrity, if compromised, could result in significant loss of life or casualties—taking into account significant economic or social impacts; and/or (b) significant impact on national security, national defence, or the functioning of the state.”

It defies belief that genomics is not already included in that definition, and that the Government have apparently not even considered putting it in.

We need to start to scrutinise the work of Chinese genomics firms that are involved in the UK’s health and research sector in the same way that we currently scrutinise firms in areas such as defence technology, telecoms and CCTV surveillance. There must be no trade-off between research success and the promotion of our democratic values and adherence to standards of human rights. Just as the UK Government eventually opted not to allow Huawei access to our 5G critical infrastructure, they must now consider the threats to our national security of allowing BGI and other companies linked to competitor or hostile Governments to access our genomic data.

This is not the sexiest subject that we are going to find, and I suspect that it will not be raised on many doorsteps yet, but consider how the previous exercise in relation to data capture worked out, whereby people understood too late what they had been part of, and the concerns that that raised. This is an opportunity for the Government, just for once, to get ahead of the curve. I would like to hear from the Minister that he understands that and that work is going on within the Government to do exactly that.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for bringing this important issue to the House. He and I both know how important the subject is and that the Chamber is not full because of the business going on elsewhere. I reassure him that we take this issue very seriously. Some of things that we are doing are not in the public domain, for obvious reasons, but I will answer his questions. I agree with just about everything that he said, so we are very much on the same page.

Let me start, as the right hon. Gentleman did, by reminding listeners and viewers of what a success story British genomics has been, going right back to Watson and Crick’s famous pint in the Eagle in Cambridge—and, in this International Women’s Week and week of women’s science, let us not forget the third discoverer of DNA, the great Mary Black at King’s College London,[Official Report, 9 March 2023, Vol. 729, c. 1MC.] who often gets left out of the story—through the work that Fred Sanger and his team did at the University of Cambridge on the structure of DNA and how it works, and right up to our leadership in genetic research and medicine in the UK.

It is worth saying that that leadership is not just in human genomics but in animal and plant genomics. I was recently up in Scotland visiting the Roslin Institute and the James Hutton Institute. Across the UK, we have such an understanding of not only genomics across humans, animals and plants, and their diseases, but the application of those genomics to help to develop drought-resistant crops for Africa and disease-resistant crops that do not need to be sprayed with highly carbon-intensive pesticides. The underpinning technology is fundamental to net zero and global sustainability, to allowing agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and to improving nutrition and health around the world. The front end now is cancer and rare disease, but the revolution in technology will drive sustainability and prosperity around the world over the coming decades.

I am delighted to respond to this debate, not least because, when I was the Minister for Life Science in the coalition Government, I had the great privilege of setting up Genomics England, which was our first big move to capture our leadership in this global race. I remind the House that we set up Genomics England very carefully as a reference library, not a lending library. Some 100,000 NHS volunteers and patients offered to be sequenced—it was not just the snip, which is the bit of DNA segment that we know is implicated in disease, but the whole of their genome. We could then look at whole-genome analysis at scale and link it to someone’s phenotype, life cycle and hospital records, and start to shine a light on the real insights into the mechanisms of disease. We might discover that men over the age of 55 with red hair, a beard and early-onset diabetes are more likely to respond to a particular drug than others. The work transforms not only the business of drug discovery but diagnosis, and it accelerates access for patients to treatments.

We originally focused GEL—Genomics England—on cancer and rare disease, which is where the appliance of genomics is most urgent and transformational, but we were clear that it was never going to be a lending library, so nobody would ever have access to an individual patient genome or an individual patient record. Researchers could interact with the database for the basis of research, but they would never be able to take out of the library any of the core data. I pay tribute to all the people at GEL, because in the 10 years since it was launched there have not been huge debates in Parliament or any scandals. People have not been marching up and down. In fact, thousands of NHS patients have happily enrolled and, through Biobank, we have taken the number of NHS volunteers to half a million. I pay tribute to the team behind that work. It is possible to build these datasets. We were absolutely clear that it was embedded in the values of the NHS: one for all, all for one, and shared data for national as well as personal good.

Alongside GEL, there is the UK Biobank, the National Institute for Health and Care Research BioResource, and now Our Future Health, which is looking at longitudinal datasets. We have not just done the deep science; we are building an ecosystem of genomically informed medical research and medicine in the NHS. I was particularly proud that we launched the NHS genomic medicine service. It is about not just science but research to drive better medicine in the NHS. In the NHS around the country, genomic medicine clinics are now accelerating access for researchers and patients.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is right, as was the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), that we are in a global race in so many of these technologies, and particularly in genomics. In my recent speeches, I have set out what we mean by being a science superpower. It is not just a glib phrase. I define it not just as, first, world-class science—and with two of the world’s top three universities, we are a world-class research centre. To be a science superpower we need, secondly, to go out and solve some of the problems in the world, not just study them; thirdly, to recognise that science is conducted in international, global career paths and put the UK at the hub of those networks; fourthly, to insist on attracting much more industrial research and development, to help to drive this country out of post-pandemic recession and get long-term investment; and fifthly, and crucially, to insist on and stand up for the values on which science is conducted: free speech, critical thinking, respect for intellectual property and respect for law, in a collaborative setting. That is true on our own campuses—we will never be a science superpower if we have a cancel culture calling out and preventing free speech—and is equally true internationally. We will not be a superpower unless we take a stand against other countries that aggressively use science and steal intellectual property.

I have put the research security agenda right at the heart of our definition. Here in the UK, in 2020 we set out the Genome UK 10-year genetic healthcare strategy, with £175 million for life-saving programmes around cancer and rare diseases. We have set out the UK biological security strategy, recognising exactly the points made by the right hon. Gentleman about biosecurity in an interconnected world. In the pandemic, we saw the cost of disease to the global economy, as well as to our own, and we glimpsed the value of health and strong health resilience. That is biosecurity in terms of human health, but we are also in a world in which more and more food products and animal products are transported, and where climate change is driving new patterns of migration in insects and animals. There is a growing threat of infectious disease—pathogen biosecurity—which is one of the issues that our new economic security cabinet has looked at. We have now refreshed our biological security strategy.

Research security is at the heart of our international collaborations. Last year, I signed an agreement with Sweden, and there is a similar one with Thailand. In my work internationally, at the G7 Science Ministers summit in Japan this year and at the G20, we have led in putting research security on the table internationally as a key issue that we must all work on.

I want to bring the Minister on to the point about BGI. I think we are aggressively agreeing with each other here, essentially because we are talking on parallel lines. Will he address the point about BGI and similar companies, and their need to comply or else be treated differently?

Absolutely; it is as if the right hon. Gentleman has read my notes.

Here in the UK, we are toughening up our regime. The National Institute for Health and Care Research has a set of very clear principles, as does UK Research and Innovation. We have set up the research collaboration advice team—RCAT—which is a new system to help all our researchers across the UK ecosystem with advice and support. We insist that they exercise due diligence if they sign a collaboration with, say, the “South China Sea research collaboration company”. We do not expect all our researchers to be policemen and women, but we do expect them—and they are now required—to show due diligence before they sign some lucrative research agreement.

We have set up RCAT as a specialist advisory group in the Cabinet Office, connected to our intelligence agencies, so that it can check quickly whether a partner is benign, hostile or dangerous.[Official Report, 14 March 2023, Vol. 729, c. 5MC.] That system has been working well since we set it up a year ago. The team is in the Cabinet Office, 350 queries have been handled, and we are getting international visits from people who congratulate us on getting it right, although a lot more remains to be done.

I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we have an economic security cabinet, which I joined three weeks ago. It looks much more strategically and in granular detail across exposure to hostile actors in the UK economy. That includes everything from genomics to the biosecurity piece that I have discussed, along with semiconductors, space and cyber-security—the whole piece. We are now in a global race not just with our benign competitors but with hostile actors who wish to use science and technology to hold us back and undermine us, or to steal our science and technology for their own use.

BGI is clearly one of those danger points in the ecosystem. I share with the House the fact that, in 2014, I was wheeled out to give a speech on the occasion of the visit of President Xi to the Guildhall. When President Xi and then Prime Minister Cameron were wheeled in, I was speaking to around 1,000 Chinese delegates about Genomics England. I had been prepared to pay tribute to the work of BGI when my officials pointed out that at that point Genomics England was suffering several hack attacks from BGI each week.[Official Report, 9 March 2023, Vol. 729, c. 2MC.] That was a wake-up call for all of us.

We are well aware that we have to manage such risks properly. On that point, I commissioned and have literally just received from UKRI a detailed assessment of all the China research and innovation links across our system—we did the same last year for Russia. I have passed that through to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security. He and I, and our officials, will go through it shortly in detail, looking in particular at some of the actors such as BGI that we know to be aggressive in their international acquisition of intellectual property.

I reassure the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that we have put research security at the heart of discussions at the G7 and G20. If we are to harness science and technology for global good and to deliver that extraordinary opportunity of helping to feed, fuel and heal emerging populations safely, international collaboration will be required. However, we have to ensure that we defend not only the values of good and open science but our own economic security, and that we get the balance right. We do not want to conduct research only with our strong, strategic, military partners, but we want to defend our values.

The right hon. Gentleman made an interesting point about critical national infrastructure that I will pick up in the economic security cabinet. It is a point that I have made in connection with another bit of our science infrastructure. We all recognise that the threats now mean that we need to think about the value of other infrastructure. I will come back to him on that.

The right hon. Gentleman made an important broader point about how the Government handle data. It is fair to say that the pandemic revealed the best and the worst, in a way. The NHS put together the world’s biggest clinical trial—not just bigger than the next one but bigger than the next 10, and faster than any of them—which was an incredible operation, embedded in the values of the NHS, and it worked brilliantly. Equally, the clunkiness of some testing data feedback from different towns and regions held back some decisions. I think the role of data will be rightly highlighted in the covid review.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for bringing this subject to the House. I will come back to him on the CPNI point. I look forward to pursuing the subject with him in future.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Future of the UK Constitution and Devolution

[Yvonne Fovargue in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the future of the UK constitution and devolution.

It is a pleasure to open this debate in Westminster Hall. Members may or may not know this, but the Minister is a keen historian—he was in gainful employment before he came into politics. The great thing about this debate being in Westminster Hall is that this is the site of the 1265 Parliament, where Simon de Montfort made his name. I do not want to give a history lesson, least of all to the Minister, who knows the history much better than I do, but that Parliament was noted because it was about the relationship between the localities and the centre, and the powers of the Crown, Parliament and the magnates—barons and others—not just taxation. Although money and tax matter hugely—indeed, they are largely the story of how Parliament developed—other things matter, too, for the health of this United Kingdom. I refer, in particular, to the relationship between local areas and regions and the centre, and I want to address that this afternoon.

The millions of people watching this debate may think to themselves, “What is the point of debating something like the constitution and devolution?” These things change quite slowly, so why should we give up our time to think about and debate them? There are two big reasons why this debate matters, particularly now. First, it will surprise nobody in this Chamber or the House that our Union and our constitutional arrangements, including the relationships among and within the four nations of the United Kingdom, have been under strain in recent years, and that has had all sorts of political consequences. It is important that we find better ways of working together as four nations and within our nations. That is the first reason: it is important for the health of our country in its most fundamental sense that we debate this issue and come to a broad agreement.

The second reason is the economy, on which we have numerous debates; we have interminable discussions about inequality, levelling up and regional disparities. Although Members on both sides of the House, quite responsibly, sometimes have competing visions about how best to address those problems, we all share an understanding that we need to address them. Governance —how this country is run and works—is as central to the economic future of this country as decisions about tax, regulation and public spending.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making such a powerful opening speech. I have just come from a meeting with Cheshire and Warrington business leaders, and they echoed exactly what he says. Their frustration is that they have made a plea for a devolution deal for Cheshire and Warrington but have not yet had a reply from Ministers. We agree, and there is an appetite out there.

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, which is well timed, because I am about to come to his very point—not so much about the tardy response from Ministers, but about the necessary engagement on devolution deals and other such mechanisms between localities and the centre.

It is fundamentally important that we regularise the local government and devolution structures across England, in particular. I will come to the other nations, but let me first focus on England, which was the topic of the intervention. In a county such as Hertfordshire, there are district councils and a county council. In central Bedfordshire, a neighbouring county, there is a unitary system. In the Tees Valley, there is a mayoralty, but the powers are different in that mayoralty from the west midlands, and the powers are different again in London. I have probably missed out other forms of local government as well.

When we speak to people who are trying to navigate their way through our local government structures, they will often say—they definitely this say to me—that it takes them forever to figure out who is responsible for what. I have not even mentioned such things as local enterprise partnerships or the chambers of commerce, which overlap all those structures—let alone NHS trusts, integrated care boards and the other things that cut across the structures.

I mention that because it is critical, both for the health of our democracy and how our country runs and for economic growth—holding in mind those two things —to regularise local government structures, so that we do not need to worry about whether there is a devolution deal in this area or whether the right Minister or MP is lobbying in the most effective way. Everybody will have a clear sense, broadly speaking, of whether they are in one of three areas: in a county, where we should have unitaries; in a smaller urban area, where there should be a mayoralty with certain powers; or in a large urban area, such as Manchester or London, where the mayoralty should perhaps have greater powers. We need to regularise the structures so that we can finally move to a system in which people understand what the powers are and who is responsible for what. That responsibility is critical for democratic health and for economic investment and growth.

I was recently in Germany. When I speak to German businesses and say, “How does it work with investment?”, whether into Germany or into the UK, they often say that, if they are investing in most countries in Europe, they will go to the local mayoralty, for cities, or to the region, but in England—I say that precisely—they often do not know where to go. For example, in my county, if someone were to invest in life sciences in Stevenage, which is a hugely growing area and doing very well, they might go to Stevenage Borough Council, but the council would say that they also need to speak to the county council about different things and North Herts Council about certain other things. That inhibits our economic growth, and that is just one example.

Regularising and standardising the relationships is important, but this is not just about that. Let us assume that we had managed to do that, and we had a more standardised local government structure, such that people started to understand who is responsible for what. It is important that local leaders—we often talk about the importance of local leaders—have a more direct relationship with Westminster as well. It should not just be that someone elects a Member of Parliament and, indeed, a Government in the general election, and they elect their local leader in a local election, yet the relationships between the local leader and the centre are not formalised. We should move to a system in which local leaders have, in a more standardised fashion, formal mechanisms to engage with central Government and Parliament. We could use the House of Lords, perhaps with positions in an ex officio capacity, though that may not be necessary. However, the broader principle is to have a more formalised way in which leaders from Cheshire, for example, have a relationship with Westminster and Whitehall that enables them to lobby and make their voices heard, and enables MPs to feed into that process effectively, so that we get much better governance. I am talking not just about Cheshire, as such a system might benefit Hertfordshire, for example.

Regularising these things would not cost much money, if any at all. This is not about paying extra and it would not change a huge amount. However, it would make sure that the voices of local people and local leaders are heard here in Parliament.

I am not exactly sure what the hon. Gentleman is proposing that regularisation should look like. In Scotland, we have a system of unitary authorities—32 local councils—that meet together in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which is the forum where negotiations with the Government happen. Local leaders are all members of and involved in COSLA, and they have a relationship with the Government through that system. Is he suggesting something similar, with a kind of unitary authority structure?

As with the intervention from the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), the hon. Lady’s intervention provides me with a perfect segue to talk about Scotland and, indeed, Wales and Northern Ireland. We live in one United Kingdom—I appreciate that we have opposition from the hon. Lady on that particular question—and it is important that local people in all parts of the United Kingdom have broadly similar relationships with the centre, with Westminster and Whitehall, regardless of whether there is a devolved Assembly or devolved Parliament. By achieving that, we will help to knit our country closer together and, again, build the understanding and awareness of responsibilities with the population, business and economic actors in this country and outside it.

The next part of my remarks relates to the second Chamber, the House of Lords. People have been talking about Lords reform for more than 100 years and I am pretty sure that in another 100 years, people will still be talking about Lords reform, although I do not intend to be here then—[Interruption.] You never know.

Personally, I am not a proponent of an elected second Chamber, but I strongly understand and recognise the concerns of those who feel that it needs an elected element. It is clear to me that there is a way to help to sort out some of the glaring inconsistencies and problems with the House of Lords. We are all familiar with those issues, whether we are talking about a sense that it is too big, concern about certain people who have been nominated to it, the fact that there is no retirement age, or various other things that a lot of people have problems with, in my view very reasonably. We can try to kill two birds with one stone by engaging local leaders in the broader governance of the country and by using the second Chamber partly to help that process to happen.

By doing that, we would help the voices of local people to be heard, because they would not just elect a local leader to deal with their local issues, and that was that. That local leader would then have a national voice that would help the governance of the wider country. Presumably, we are all here to help to improve the governance of our country. Where there are local leaders who have something to add and to offer, that should be shared and voiced, which could benefit everybody. In my view, we should use the House of Lords to do that.

I hope that we can all agree that the bishops and hereditary peers have no place in a House of Lords. For the moment in the House of Lords, representation is disproportionately by peers from London and the south-east. Will my hon. Friend outline what could be done to improve representation from other parts of England and the United Kingdom?

This is how that could work. First, alongside what I was saying about local leaders, a standardised system of local government—whether people live in unitary authorities or a mayoralty, and whether they live in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland—would by necessity spread representation all over the United Kingdom. That is how we build in a lot of regional balance. Secondly, we could change the system by ensuring that, in the weight of the total number, there was always at least a significant minority—if not at least 50%—represented in that sort of way, rather than this being just about appointments. Ultimately, lifetime appointments cannot be made on a regional basis; even if we tried to, people are free to move around. However, if by necessity, in an ex officio capacity, the Mayor of Newcastle had a right while they were Mayor to speak in the second Chamber, it would have that regional balance.

This matters because not only would it improve democratic accountability and increase economic growth, as well as helping investors understand who to go to, but it would help to spread good practice and ideas. Constitutions matter because of what they practically do to the governance of the country. We currently have ad hoc relationships that depend on the political colour of the Government and, for example, of mayoralties, and whether particular individuals are perceived to be effective. To some degree, that is always the case. However, where we find good practice happening, we need to highlight it and have a vehicle for it to be aired in a public forum. Parliament, if nothing else, is a vehicle for the public airing of issues and debate. Linking local governance with the review of the second Chamber in that way would be effective.

I will add a bit more detail about why, economically, it makes a big difference if we get more standardised control of how our local government works, and how it links in with central Government. I like data—it is important. If we look at the data for most of the 20th century, inequality in GDP terms between the regions of the United Kingdom was quite low by European standards. However, by 2010, we had started to perform quite badly in comparison with our European partners, and we have continued to perform badly in that vein. I happen to think that that is more about the strength of London than it is about the weakness of certain parts of the country, but we can have a debate about that.

The consequence of that high degree of regional inequality has been twofold. First, it has caused political problems. In certain parts of the country, people feel left behind and that, economically, they have not been given a fair shake. There are calls to reform the Green Book and the Treasury. There are all sorts of political shenanigans and things that Opposition Members will appreciate, as we do on this side of the House. Secondly, that regional inequality has contributed significantly to our national productivity problem, which is well documented. It is out of the scope of this debate to go into that in detail, but if there are big portions of the country performing economically poorly—even if London and the south-east are doing well—the country’s economy overall is not going to improve as much as it needs to.

How does effective devolution help the national productivity problem? Some people might argue that it is about tax, education or skills policy passed in Westminster. Effective devolution, standardised and regularised in the way that I am describing, will help. There are two broad reasons economists give for productivity and regional inequality. The first is poor transport infrastructure in huge swathes of our country. The second is poor policy on innovation clusters, particularly in areas of high skill and around universities. Compared with the UK, other countries are just doing better in those two areas, although the economic debate is broad. If we had more effective power for local leaders, more of a voice to spread good practice, a clearer understanding of who was responsible for what and when, and a more effective fiscal package for each of those local areas, I submit that we would perform better in both those areas.

It is impossible for any centre of government in Whitehall and Westminster to focus appropriately on every single need of every single part of the country, because we make broader national and international policy. We cannot deal effectively with everywhere; that is the role of local leaders. Helping them do that better, whether that means transport infrastructure, skills or innovation clusters around top universities and areas of learning, is what we need to do, and to do that effectively we need to talk about money. It is easy for me to talk about powers and how things should be better and more effective. We have to talk about not just the money available for local authorities and leaders to spend, but what they are accountable for raising. I will be candid with the House. One of the difficulties politically that I and many party colleagues have felt at times is that certain local leaders seek to blame Westminster for all that goes wrong, yet take the credit for everything that goes right. I know it will be a shock that any politician would think of doing something like that.

In this country, we are incredibly centralised fiscally. About 12% of taxes are spent and raised locally, the lowest proportion in the G7 by some stretch. The next is Italy at about 17%, then Germany at about 30%, Canada at about 50% and the United States at somewhere between 40% and 50%, depending on how it is calculated. We are an outlier. I do not want to stray beyond the subject of the debate into Treasury policy, as we have the Budget for that—I know the Minister will be itching to weigh in on the Treasury, and will hold himself back—but when we think about raising more revenue, we should do that as closely as possible to people in the places where that money is spent.

We should politically enable local areas to raise more money, because people would know what they were responsible for and how they were responsible for it in a more standardised way. By raising more money locally, they would be responsible and accountable for it, and there would be a higher degree of trust that the money would be spent well. If that money is not spent well, local people will vote for somebody else. That is how democracy works.

I finish by saying that yes, we need the powers to be regularised. Yes, local leaders across the whole United Kingdom need to be linked in much more closely with Westminster. I have not touched on the powers of the devolved Parliaments, because I am not convinced that a huge shift in power required at devolved level is necessary. When we think of England, we should ensure that what we do mirrors existing models. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) described how local government in Scotland interacts with Holyrood. That is the sort of model we could bring in more broadly, on a UK-wide basis, but the money really matters.

Enabling local areas and local leaders to raise and spend more of their own money, whether through property taxes, local income tax or a reformed version of business rates, rather than always relying on Westminster to raise all the money and dole it out, would be an effective way to build our democratic Union, as well as helping our understanding of how we are governed and our economy.

It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Ms Fovargue. I thank the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) for his detailed introduction, much of which I agree with.

Like many hon. Members, I am a passionate advocate for devolution, because I am also a passionate advocate for democracy. When I see surveys that tell us that more than 50% of adults believe it does not matter who they vote for as nothing will ever change, and over 60% of people believe that Britain has a ruling class that will always rule the country, no matter what, then the message to me is very clear: something needs to change.

Democracy is fragile and cannot be taken for granted. We can protect our democracy by ensuring decision making is brought closer to people, so they have greater confidence in the decisions that are being taken on their behalf. We can do better than making areas jump through multiple hoops, at the cost of great time and expense, to take part in a competitive bidding process that is often neither fair nor transparent, the terms of which are often ultimately dictated by the centre. Genuine devolution is about empowering local communities to choose their priorities.

Speaking as a former council leader, and sitting next to another former council leader, my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon), it seems there is a certain level of distrust and snobbishness about the ability of our local leaders to be granted additional levels of power and resources. As we know, the biggest prizes on offer always seem to come with the precondition of an elected Mayor. I believe our local councils have proved themselves more than capable of working together, particularly through the pandemic, when there were multiple examples of cross-border working on a subregional basis.

My constituency of Ellesmere Port and Neston is governed by Cheshire West and Chester Council, which along with Cheshire East Council and Warrington Borough Council forms part of the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership. It is not a metropolitan area or a city region. It does not have a single urban centre, but is made up of several large towns, one city and a considerable number of smaller towns and villages. It does not really have an established identity. It is not a defined place, as such, and it is made up of separate areas of economic activity.

In my part of the world, we look towards north Wales and Merseyside as much as we look across Cheshire. That is significant because although a case can be made for a single figurehead for a city or city region, it should be recognised that non-metropolitan areas have significantly different sets of circumstances. Be in no doubt, I warmly welcome the opportunities any devolution deal will bring to my area, but I am not convinced we need a Mayor to deliver that.

I genuinely hope there is a real opportunity to improve our area and that that is not lost because of Government intransigence over the governance arrangements. If it is the Government’s position that there has to be a Mayor, then the biggest opportunities for devolution are denied to us. I do not believe that we should forgive such a petulant and inflexible approach; I suspect the public we represent will not forgive such an approach either.

Genuine devolution is not about telling areas what governance they must have, creating extra layers of bureaucracy or dictation from the centre. As we know, in this country power and wealth flow towards London and the south-east, then upwards into Westminster. Any power and resources that are given away usually go on Westminster’s terms, with Westminster’s priorities at the forefront. I believe that is the wrong approach. For too long people have felt left behind and held back by a system that does not work for them.

People already feel they do not have the power to take important decisions about the things in their lives that are most important to them, whether it is a local hospital that should stay open, where a new school might go or even how often the buses run. To empower local areas, we need a different, long-term approach that actually attempts to tackle the underlying issues and to really empower local communities by giving them the responsibility, power and resources to shape their own futures by—dare I say it—allowing them to take back control.

My plea to the Minister is to meet us and give us the keys to unlock the potential for our area. I have been in this place for nearly eight years, and throughout that time we have heard many times how the Government are prepared to allow greater devolution in Cheshire, but we always get left behind. We are seeking devolved powers, particularly in transport—on buses, for example. As we know, we are currently at the mercy of bus companies pulling out services at a moment’s notice. We also want to improve economic regeneration and get more housing in the right areas to meet the local housing need.

There is a well-developed plan, which has been on the shelf for many years now, and we just want the opportunity to deliver it. Leave preconditions about mayors who do not have local support at the door and, instead, talk to us about what more we can do to improve the lives of the people we represent. Do not dictate to us; liberate us. That is what genuine devolution is all about.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. In the next six or seven minutes, I hope to set out a contra-view of the Union. I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) on bringing forward the debate. Colleagues will know that this is a subject close to my heart to which I have given considerable thought; they may think differently at the end of my speech, but I hope they will find it interesting none the less.

Let us take the old joke of a visitor coming to a rural area and asking for directions. The farmer, or whoever it is leaning on the gate, says, “Well, if I were you I would not start from here.” Sometimes, when we approach a subject such as this, there is that sense of that if we disregard where we are at and start from some idealistic blank page, or some other framework that does not exist in reality—if we believe hard enough and screw our eyes up tight enough—we can imagine that it is that way and start from there and a bright new dawn awaits us. I just do not think that is where we are at.

I am afraid that when I hear words such as “regularising”, I immediately think of words such as “cookie cutter”, “wait your turn” and “stand in place”, because that big stamp that is coming along will get you as well and turn you into something—into a moveable piece that fits with the rest of the puzzle created somewhere else. I find instinctively that that does not fit with me. Members will not hear a defence of the status quo from me. This is not an exercise in party political point scoring—which Members have avoided so far, and I commend them for that—but about exploring what the Union means, what its future holds and what role devolution might have to play in that.

I hold an organic view of a Union that has started and developed inevitably from things such as our location in the world; the temperate climate we enjoy, our maritime nature and identity have all contributed to the nation that we are. We cannot and should not ignore that, and we would not wish to. The system of law we have is, again, an important part of our identity. Identity—there we are. How has our reputation, for good or ill, developed around the world? The values we hold, the Judeo-Christian principles that have been at the heart of so much of who we are as a nation—these things have shaped us. Inevitably, that has dictated and shaped the relationships we have formed around the globe.

When Bill Gates came here a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to ask him why he came to the UK Government. He said, very simply, “Because of your network of relationships around the globe.” He recognised that history and the depth of contact and relationships we have across the globe and the influence that came with them. From that, then, comes the economy. We are the fifth or perhaps the sixth-largest economy in the world, and part of that is because of that network of relationships. Part of that, too, is driven by the internal relationships we have forged and the transport links, which have already been mentioned, across all parts of our United Kingdom.

We then need to think about the future. In understanding ourselves as a Union, what are we moving towards? That is an absolutely salient and current question. I again commend my hon. Friend for bringing forward exactly the question that we face now: what are we, now we are post-Brexit Britain? If we are no longer on a trajectory into a federalist, liberal, social democracy within the EU, where are we heading? Some would say we are going back to the days of empire and colonial oppression —that kind of thing. I do not think it is, but what are we heading to? That is the Union I think of, and it is absolutely correct to think about what the future holds.

Time does not allow me to develop my points in the way I would wish, but I want to make a couple of key points. I contrast the covenant that holds us together with the contract that is presented in the form of devolution. The covenants that hold us together are those relationships built on shared dreams, shared ventures, shared losses and shared institutions that we have built on the values we hold together. All those things speak to me of covenants, and a vested interest in what every other part of the Union is thinking, feeling, experiencing and hoping.

I contrast that with what we did by devolution. Let me be clear that I fully support the democratic establishment of devolved Assemblies and Parliaments across the UK—there is no disagreement from me on what has been established democratically. The biggest damage that has been done to our Union was not in the creation of those institutions, but in convincing us that the relationship is now not covenantal but contractual—that it is a transactional relationship that says, “You now do these bits. You now make the decisions on these policy areas, and we will give you some money for it.”

Trying to turn that covenant into a contract and a series of transactions does not work, just as it would not for my own marriage: “Right, Robin, on a Monday, you do the bins, and on a Wednesday, I will wash the dishes.” It is the same for our Union. Phrases like “regularising” and the focus on a technocratic design chill me a bit, because they do not capture the essence of who I think we are.

When we start to look at how the contract operates on points such as accountability, we start to find flaws. I support subsidiarity—decisions should be made as close to the local point of impact as possible—but we must not imagine that what we have done is perfect or should be replicable. There are deep problems, which I do not have time to develop today.

Let me finish with one analogy. We are all familiar with new housing estates. Very often, there is a green space in the middle of them. When the houses go up, and the green space is marked out, brown lines cutting across that green space, faint at first, start to appear very quickly. There is actually a phrase for them—they are called desire lines. Those desire lines do not reflect the footpaths that are in place.

I am sure hon. Members know what I am talking about. Residents have decided that the shortest way from A to B is to walk across the green. That is absolutely a metaphor for what we need to learn and how we need to think about the mistakes we have made and the lessons we need to learn about our institutions and how we think about our Union. There is a temptation to say, “We can create a beautiful place. We can put down straight lines, and maybe even curved lines, that reflect what people want,” but we would soon find that people’s actual desires —their organic response to their environment; the thrust of where their ambitions, hopes, dreams, relationships and ties take them—cuts across that place, and creates desire lines, not always where we designed for them.

I urge caution in imagining that technocratic cleverness could take us to a better Union. I urge the proper consideration of the organic model we have, which has grown the covenant that holds us together, and of the bright future ahead.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) on securing this debate on an issue that is really important to the local authorities, businesses and constituents in my area. I am pleased that this is not just a debate on devolution to the nations, but on devolution within England as well.

The question of devolution to Cheshire and Warrington is something I had been working on for a long time before I was elected as a Member of Parliament. It is a journey that started when I was the leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, and one that I am determined to continue now as Chester’s representative in Parliament.

Cheshire and Warrington has so much potential and so much to offer, and a devolution deal would give our region even more opportunity to fulfil that. Cheshire and Warrington has an important role to play in partnership with mayoral combined authorities in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool city region, and as a gateway to north Wales and the north-west of England. We have built a successful, inclusive economy, embarked on a net zero agenda and developed public service transformation projects. The three local authorities—Cheshire West and Chester Council, Cheshire East Council and Warrington Borough Council—have worked closely as a sub-region over many years, alongside partners in policing, fire, health and the local enterprise partnership.

Compared with the complex governance outlined by the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, the current system of collaboration between the three leaders of our three councils provides a strong, simple model that reflects our geography, our history and the identity of our different places. There is no need for local government reorganisation—we did that 15 years ago, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) has the scars to show for it. With so much local talent and potential, it makes sense for powers to be devolved and decisions to be made closer to home by local people who understand what our region needs and what it can offer.

A devolved Cheshire and Warrington could further progress its work on transforming our transport networks, backing our towns and rural communities, creating green jobs and achieving net zero—the list goes on, and the potential is endless. Locally, there is a real drive to see Cheshire and Warrington as one place with one voice. That is based on the county’s shared culture and history, but it also respects distinct local identities. Too often, it feels like Cheshire is left behind; too often, my constituents express concerns that Cheshire and Warrington risks missing out on the funding and freedoms enjoyed by our neighbours in the cities.

I point out to the Minister not only that a devolution deal for Cheshire and Warrington is beneficial for our region, but that the region’s strong economic base—in particular the Cheshire science corridor and net zero ambition—can help to meet the Government’s levelling-up goals. There is no point in pitting region against region for funding. The only true way to resolve this issue is through devolution. I have one simple question for the Minister: what plans does his Department have to consider a devolution deal for Cheshire and Warrington, and will the Department meet representatives from across the area to discuss that further?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) for securing the debate. However, it is unusual that on this occasion, like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Robin Millar), I have some doubts about the vision for regularisation, uniformity and conformity presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden. My view is that devolution, as the hon. Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) have said, is not a one-size-fits-all process.

As Opposition Members have rightly said, a mayoralty is a deeply unsuitable model for some non-city areas. Indeed, there are even some people in cities who feel that the mayoral model is not appropriate—certainly not the Osbornian model. I have spoken to people across the north-west, and the view not just in Cheshire but in Lancashire is that a combined authority model, or something similar—like the Greater Manchester Combined Authority before the mayoralty was created—is a much more collegiate and sensible model. I was speaking to colleagues in Lancashire, who said that a mayoralty would not work. One person representing the interests of everywhere from Silverdale to Skelmersdale could not do a good job. There is considerable diversity in the area, and it is a considerable geographic area; putting all that into the hands of one person is the wrong model. My understanding is that Conservative colleagues in Cheshire feel, similarly, that a mayoral model would not be—

I am listening to my hon. Friend’s speech with interest. He has thought a lot about these matters. If we are considering organic change and development in a small c conservative way, as well as a big C Conservative way, I suggest working with the grain of what has already happened in the west midlands and Greater Manchester, which both have Mayors. Is he suggesting that we go back on what we have already done in certain areas, such as the mayoralty in Greater Manchester? That is perfectly reasonable and fine, but a more small c conservative way of thinking would be to say, “We have already established a mayoralty in certain places. Let’s work with that and then try to smooth out the huge distinctions between areas”, rather than saying, “Let’s revert to a period of time before there was a mayoralty”.

I am not arguing at this stage for the abolition of the mayoralty, although I know that some do. Some feel it has not worked in the way it should. In Greater Manchester—this is the view of Greater Manchester Conservative colleagues—the mayoral model is distinct from the one in London because it has no Assembly to hold the Mayor to account, so there is no scrutiny, accountability or responsibility. Equally, I welcome the fact that there are slightly different models around the country, because different models take account of the different needs of different areas. That is a benefit of the system and not necessarily a downside, whether it means different mayoralties having different powers, some areas not having a mayor, some using the combined authority model or similar, or collaboration between existing local authorities.

Where everyone agrees that certain powers should be devolved further, that absolutely should happen, but where there is discord and dissent or where people feel it is not appropriate, it should not happen. Where there is cross-party support, which there probably is on what they are trying to do in Cheshire, clearly that model should be adopted. I agree with Opposition Members that a mayor would not be appropriate for Cheshire, given that it does not have a major metropolitan centre.

On the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden made—you will, no doubt, be amused by this, Ms Fovargue—the creation of large unitary authorities can sometimes be controversial. There was great distress in 1973 when my own seat of Leigh was merged with the neighbouring rival town of Wigan, which my hon. Friend may have heard me speak about on a previous occasion when he served in a previous role. At the time there was a great phrase illustrating the problem with devolution if done the wrong way. In 1973 the campaign against the creation of huge metropolitan authorities saw the process as one that took power away from local communities and gave it to a larger, more remote one, and its slogan was, “Don’t vote for Mr R. E. Mote”. That did cause problems for Conservative candidate Roger Moate during the following election. But that is how people sometimes feel—that power is being taken further away.

To finish, because I realise we are pressed for time and others may wish to speak, devolution down to regions does not always work. I will give my hon. Friend a good example of this. On transport, he is 100% right in principle. In the mid-1960s, one of the predecessor local authorities to Wigan—Golborne Urban District Council—wrote to the Government on the desperate need for a bypass for the town of Leigh and the villages of Lowton and Golborne, which were mining communities at that time. About 60 years on, we are still waiting for that bypass to be finished, because the problem is that it would run all the way from Bolton down through Leigh and then down to Warrington.

In 1984, when I was a small boy, the middle bit of that bypass was finished—the bit that runs from virtually the border with Bolton down to the border with Warrington —but neither end has been finished. That is because it runs across three different local authorities and two counties—Cheshire and Greater Manchester. The question whether Greater Manchester is a county is a point of debate for many. Certainly, people in Saddleworth would get angry if someone said they were not in Yorkshire. Devolving powers down to the mayor would not work because we would still have to deal with the problem of Cheshire—

That is perhaps a blunt way of describing it.

In some cases, it would be better if these powers and the fragmented responsibility for delivering local infrastructure were taken up to the departmental level, as we do with national schemes, and other powers were devolved down.

By and large, this has been a non-partisan debate, and I fundamentally welcome that. We must listen to what local representatives say about the model of devolution and the suite of powers they want, and not be too prescriptive about the model and powers. Standardisation is the wrong way, although I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden was trying to argue. If we listen to local representatives, we will get the best version of devolution with proper scrutiny and accountability, and a system that actually works and that local people believe in. The worst thing we could do is impose a uniform model of devolution on everyone whether they want it or not. The Government would lose the good will of a goodly number of Back Benchers if they tried to do that, and would face considerable opposition from the other side of the House.

I am a great champion of localism; it must be the founding principle of devolution. As I said, one size does not fit all.

It is a real pleasure to speak in this timely debate, and I thank the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) for securing it. It is even more pertinent to us in Northern Ireland. Its title is “Future of the UK Constitution and Devolution”—how important that is for us. I am mindful that we are in the middle of a proposal from the Prime Minister, and I do not intend to develop that debate, but I will talk about what is important to me.

This Union is of the utmost importance to me. The flag of our four nations means so much to me personally and the people I represent. Whenever I go into Central Lobby, I never fail to look at the four nations together as one. I say respectfully to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) that I believe we are stronger together.

The Union is also important to me because members of my family and many other families made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives in service to the flag and the Union it represents. I am sure there is not one person in this Chamber who does not understand what I am saying and why the Union is important to us. My cousin, Kenneth Smyth, a sergeant in the Ulster Defence Regiment, was murdered by the IRA on 10 December 1971—by those who could not abide his service to the Union under the Union flag.

I have said previously that the red-line debate on Northern Ireland is not about a line in pen over pride; it is about a line in the blood of people we have loved and miss to this very day. That is why the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland means so much to so many of us who are honoured to take our seats in this, the mother of Parliaments. I do so with pride. It is a privilege and an honour to be here serving the people of Strangford in Northern Ireland, and I never take that lightly. It is our responsibility to do all we can to tell others without that experience why we cling to our position in the great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Devolution is essential. People with local knowledge, accountable to local people, are vital. That is why I support devolution, and why it is important that we have it in place. I know that some will say, “Then get back to it,” but that is the crux of the DUP’s issue. The last thing we wanted was to walk away from Stormont. We believe in it, as imperfect as it is. We lived for years under an absent, faceless civil service, which led decision making. It was not good, and we recognise the dangers of that.

However, when faced with the insidious protocol and the burden it placed on local businesses, as well as the devastation it caused to our constitutional position, we had to take that decision. The future of Northern Ireland within this Union is worth every sacrifice that we have given, and every sacrifice that we ask for. That is why our Members of the Legislative Assembly took that decision overwhelmingly, knowing that their pay would be cut and that they would have difficulty making ends meet in their families. The Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland means as much to them as it does to me.

That is why we were thankful for the PM’s intervention and negotiations, but we have to seek a legal opinion and I understand that will be back within two weeks. We have to understand what the intricacies of this agreement and the Windsor framework mean. We do not want the Windsor framework to become the Windsor knot for those of us who are of a Unionist persuasion, so we need to know the full detail and to have a full understanding. Ultimately, we seek the opinion of the people of Northern Ireland, whom we represent, in relation to this deal.

Time stops for no man—no woman, either. I understand that I am not a young man, and I suspect that I have a few more years on the clock than nearly everyone in this Chamber. That is just the way things are. I still feel young, by the way. My thoughts have turned to the legacy that I will leave my children and my grandchildren, and my constituency of Strangford. I hope to leave a legacy as someone who stood over the decisions taken as being in the best interests of Northern Ireland in this great nation. I do not say that lightly—it means as much to me as I believe it means to many others in this Chamber.

For me, devolution is the way forward, but that cannot be in place without the Unionist people having a seat at this table. We have been put out in the cold for sticking to our principles. I remind everyone, gently but sincerely, of two prominent architects of the agreement and the peace settlement in Northern Ireland: Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. Both of those gentlemen are of prominence in the Republic of Ireland and, of course, as former Prime Ministers. Both have said that no agreement can go forward without full consideration being given to it by those of a Unionist persuasion; in other words, an agreement can never be an agreement without our input. We are a sturdy people and we will remain so until the resolution is one that will leave a stable Northern Ireland in the Union for my six grandchildren and for every grandchild across the whole nation.

I will be urging my party’s MLAs to nominate a Speaker, as soon as I can face the Unionist people with the knowledge that devolution and democracy are not being circumnavigated. We need to ensure that we can celebrate the Good Friday agreement, and not simply because the President of the United States of America is declaring that we must do so. I am always reminded of a comment he made when he was first elected. I watched it on TV. He was going to a state celebration and someone asked him a question, and he said that no Orangeman was welcome there. Well, as an Orangeman since 1981, I have great pride in my organisation, and I take a real exception to the President’s comments. If I do meet him, I will remind him that he is shaking the hand of an Orangeman, just to remind him of that particular occasion when he said that and tried to denigrate us as Orangemen. We will make the decisions for ourselves without any undue pressure from others, because that is what a sovereign nation does, and I believe that we have just about maintained sovereignty on the mainland, if not in Northern Ireland post Brexit.

If this framework is the way forward, it will still be the way forward once we have had time to study and to consult. For the EU and its bureaucracy to try to dictate the timeline of our consultation and study is something that cannot stand up to the true meaning of democracy. I strongly believe in the importance of democracy.

I finish with these comments: the Union means the world to me, and I would give everything in the world to protect it for my grandchildren, who deserve to grow, to live, to work and to love in a thriving Northern Ireland. I ask everyone in this room, from all parties, who believes in the UK constitution and devolution to not just listen to my words but take in their meaning, to understand my approach and to stand with me—and the Ulstermen and Ulsterwomen—and for the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland when the time comes.

I am glad to speak in this debate on International Women’s Day. Unfortunately, we are significantly outnumbered, but it is nice to have a woman in the Chair and to hear a colleague—only one, sadly—speak with a huge amount of knowledge and experience that she brings to her role.

I thank the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) for securing the debate, which he opened with a short history lesson. I give him credit: it was very interesting. This is also the building in which William Wallace was tried; if we are talking about the history of the constitution and devolution, this building plays an important role in that part of Scotland and England’s history.

This has been quite a disparate debate with a lot of different takes on what is an incredibly broad subject; I understand why everybody has come to it with slightly different views and from slightly different positions. I will talk a bit about what a number of people around the room have said, and then about my views and my take on the debate title we were given.

First, on the way that local authorities work, we have 32 unitary authorities in Scotland. My constituency is Aberdeen North, which is wholly within the Aberdeen City Council area. The Aberdeenshire Council headquarters are also in my constituency, because Aberdeenshire surrounds the city, so I have the honour of having two local authority headquarters in my patch, which I am not sure that many MPs are able to say—certainly not in Scotland. The 32 local authorities work through COSLA in their relationship with the Government.

The hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden in particular, but also several others, spoke about financial matters. In recent years we have instituted participatory budgeting for local authorities. One per cent. of local authorities’ budgets has to be spent through a participatory budgeting route, which means that people in local communities decide where to spend that money—regeneration money, in a lot of cases—to best improve their communities. It does work, because the people choose their priorities. The priorities do not come from the centre; they are chosen by the people. Suggestions are put forward and costed up, and then decisions are taken by people who have the ability to vote if they live in certain areas of our city. I am speaking specifically about Aberdeen, but we do it across Scotland. The process works, it makes a difference and it is helpful for returning power to local communities.

We have done an awful lot to improve community empowerment in recent years with things such as community asset transfers, whereby buildings that are no longer being used by the city council, for example, are transferred over to community groups for very little money, giving those groups the opportunity to run them and to have a place. Community asset transfers do not just involve buildings; in some cases, tracts of land have been transferred. They have been incredibly successful.

One thing that could be done to improve local leadership is paying councillors reasonable salaries, as we have done in Scotland. I confess that although I have tried, I do not understand the local government systems in England. They seem to be different in all different parts of England and I am utterly baffled by the whole thing. In Scotland, councillors are paid a salary that, while not enough to live on—it is supposed to be two thirds of a full-time wage, although I do not know any councillor who only works two thirds of the time—is an actual salary.

Let me try to help the hon. Lady. There are often different wage structures in England because the different tiers of authorities have different responsibilities, whereas with the unitaries in Scotland the responsibilities are obviously uniform across that system. For example, county councils deal with roads and potholes, while district authorities tend to deal with lower-tier things, which sounds hilarious compared to potholes. I hope the hon. Lady understands that although the wage structure varies greatly, that is the reason why.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct on that, but the thing is that if we are not paying councillors a reasonable amount of money, we are not going to get the high-calibre local leaders that we need, or even just people who are able to dedicate the time that is necessary to do the role for the money they are given. That is one thing that I suggest could be improved.

The hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) made a suggestion about the House of Lords. Abolishing the House of Lords would be a better way forward than giving it more power. Labour first stood on a platform to abolish the House of Lords in 1910. Despite some moves towards having fewer hereditary peers, we have not yet got to the position of having none. If we are going to give any more power to the unelected House of Lords, we need to have a serious look at the way its Members are selected, particularly given recent events.

The constitutional settlement is broken, and the situation is getting worse. We are supposed to have parliamentary sovereignty and a situation where Parliament can and does make decisions. I disagree with the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Robin Millar), who suggested that we need to look at what we have and fix it, rather than starting with something new. With the constitutional settlement and the way this place works, I think we are beyond tweaking and fixing.

The whole idea proposed about Brexit was that it was about returning power—people said, “We want Brexit because we want power to be returned”—but over the years this Conservative Government have repeatedly moved power away from Parliament to the Executive. That continues to happen. We will see it next week, when I imagine the Chancellor will present the Budget without an amendment of the law resolution. That seems like a small thing, but it makes a significant difference to parliamentary power and sovereignty. It is a change in the way that our constitution works that has just been slipped through. A former Chancellor wrote to the Procedure Committee to say, “This is just a tweak—it is just a small change.” It is not; it massively dilutes MPs’ power to amend the Budget.

In Scotland, we have an agreed devolution settlement. The problem we have is that the Westminster Government, in their post-Brexit antics, have done what they can to return power from the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood to this place, most recently with the section 35 order. Absolutely, that is in the Scotland Act 1998, but it is supposed to be used only in extremis, when there is a massive negative impact on the rest of the UK. There is no good argument that Ministers can make that that is the case now. The only way we will solve the problem and get a collegiate relationship between the Scottish Government and the UK Westminster Government is if Scotland is an independent country and we are able to have this conversation on our terms—on the terms that the people of Scotland want us to have it. In Scotland, it is not Parliament that is sovereign; it is the people of Scotland, and we intend that the people will be able to have their say and choose the way forward.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) on securing this important debate. I believe that our constitution, and in particular the devolution ideas in it, holds the key to many of the challenges that we face as a country. With the right approach to these issues, we can unlock the enormous potential of all our nations and regions and embark on a period of national renewal.

With characteristic courage, the hon. Gentleman set out a full new constitutional settlement. I thought that was a good place to start the debate. I agree with the need for greater coherence. Like the hon. Members for Aberconwy (Robin Millar) and for Leigh (James Grundy), I would probably stop short on standardisation, but the clarity that the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden gave on that helped too.

This is an interesting issue, because I think we meet in the middle on a lot of these things. There are disagreements on the Government Benches and there are disagreements within the Labour party, whether on Lords reform, electoral reform or devolution. That we have disagreements within our parties is a good thing, and pretending we do not is a bad thing. That disagreement makes these debates very interesting.

I agreed with an awful lot of what the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden said, particularly the twin points that our constitution and the Union more generally are under strain, and that the constitution and devolution are at the root of tackling our economic challenges as well. Those points were very good.

The Cheshire caucus was well represented in the debate. In his intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) talked about getting a deal for Cheshire and for Warrington, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) talked about the multiple hoops and hurdles that it feels like his local community has to clear just to take some degree of control over what happens to them.

I was particularly taken by what my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) said about the way in which local people there had got themselves organised. A lot of the complications and hurdles that the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden talked about do not apply to them because they are organised. I have an awful lot of confidence in our local leaders—I love local government and am a localist at heart—so my commitment to the people of Cheshire is that we believe they should have access to the maximum powers. I will set out how we will go further than the powers set out in the Levelling-Up White Paper. That should not be contingent on a governance model; it is for local people to decide, not for me. I strongly believe that.

That takes me to the points that the hon. Member for Leigh made. I think the different models of local government are a strength, because I want them to reflect local realities, whether that is geographic realities, cultural things or whatever else. The thing for me is that local authorities should all have access to the same powers; as to how they organise themselves, that should be a local decision.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made important points about the Union. This is fundamentally a question of our Union. He used the word “legacy”; the thing that weighs on me is that every generation and every Parliament that is elected are, for that period of time, the custodians of our constitution, democracy and Union. That is quite a heavy weight to be bear. We all have a responsibility to say at the end of our time here, whether short or long, that we safeguarded and protected those things and bequeathed them to the next generation in a strong and healthy way. That is much of our challenge.

The hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden said that we are too centralised, and I wholly agree. We hold communities back because we have a system that hoards power in this place. It is a system that thinks that, whether we are discussing what is best for skills, transport, planning or job support, we know better than the people who actually live in our communities. I fundamentally disagree with that view. It has created an unbalanced economy that makes too little use of the talents of too few people in too few places, with the rest of us—my community included—being written off as not being able to contribute. That is why there is so much appetite for a new approach. So much of our political debate over the last decade has been underpinned by people’s yearning to have more control over their lives and over the country; the clamour for a fairer future, with new opportunities for the next generation; and the desire to build back for our communities, supported by strong local economies and underpinned by decent public services.

The country knows that it is time for a change. We have seen the devolution of power to England’s regions in recent years, but it is not sufficient. There are too many deals, the ambition is too modest, and too many places have been shut out. It should be a point of great anger for many of us—especially those who are locked out of the current settlement, as many colleagues are—that at some point Ministers looked at leaders in parts of the country, whether the West Midlands, Teesside or Greater Manchester, and thought they were good enough to have certain powers, and looked at the rest of us and thought we were not. That is fundamentally wrong.

By dint of our common personhood, we should have access to the same opportunities. That is why the Leader of the Opposition asked Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, to produce a report on the future of the UK. We are currently consulting on it, but it contains really great proposals that, at their heart, would represent the biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people.

From a Welsh perspective, the Gordon Brown report was extremely unambitious. I encourage the shadow Minister to realise that there is a huge opportunity for Labour, as it goes into the general election, to deal with many of these issues, especially by empowering the Welsh Government with the necessary fiscal levers they need to deal with the Welsh economy. I encourage the Labour Front Bench team to be as ambitious as possible going into the next election.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which I will take as a contribution to our consultation. That point has been well made by our Welsh colleagues, so it has been heard.

In January, the Leader of the Opposition set out the type of thing that we are talking about today when he spoke about our “take back control” Bill, which is about new powers for our communities over skills, the Department for Work and Pensions, transport, planning and culture, all to help to drive growth by developing hundreds of clusters of economic activity. It would be a fundamental shift in power and something to be really excited about—I know I certainly am.

Power is one half of the arrangement, but the other half is, of course, finance. We have to change what the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands called the “broken begging bowl culture”. Local Government Association research shows that over the four years to 2019 there were 448 separate funding pots from which councils were invited to bid. Much of that was for fairly basic services, such as cleaning up chewing gum or having more public toilets.

We need to get away from that competitive bidding process in which the Government pick winners and losers, and someone always loses. In fact, the winners are also losers, because the money they get back is less than they have had cut from their budgets. We need to end the beauty parades as soon as possible. The Government must address the point that they do not want to address in respect of round 2 of the levelling-up fund: many communities up and down the country put hearts and souls into good bids, only to find out later that they could never win. Communities being held in such contempt has to change.

I will use my remaining time to talk about our Union, because a debate about the constitution and devolution is a conversation about union. I am a unionist in many senses of the word: a trade unionist all my adult life and a UK Unionist for as long as I can remember. I believe strongly in the power of the collective and co-operation. I value others’ contributions and they value mine, and together we are better than the sum of our parts. Unionist is what someone is; unionism is what they think and do every day. We work that muscle to build that.

It is clear that the next Government will have a huge job in restoring our Union. I am sad to say, because it is a loss to us all, but the Government have been the best friend to nationalism that those who wish to leave our Union could ever have. We need to restore our settlement to a union of equals, restating that self-government and shared government are hugely beneficial to all the nations of the UK. The Brown commission spoke persuasively on that.

We need to restate that we believe in local decision making not just when the decision is one that we want made, and that differences strengthen rather than weaken us. We should also restate that there is huge economic potential across all our nations and regions, but there is not the same degree of opportunity. I believe we have reached a positive consensus on devolution, at least in England, although we have to do much more in Scotland and Wales, as colleagues have said.

The challenge is to get that power and those resources out of this place and to those communities, setting them free. That is how we will improve communities, restore the public’s faith in democracy and get economic growth that benefits everyone. That is a really big prize that is incumbent on us to deliver.

It is as pleasure to respond to this wide-ranging debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) on securing it. He was kind enough to say at the outset that I used to be a history teacher; I could not help remembering marking bright undergraduates’ essays. I would sometimes write, “This is a very good essay, but I can’t help but think you might have got the title wrong.” We have four overlapping debates. One is on history, which I shall indulge in; one is on the nature of English devolution; one is on UK devolution; and another is on the structures of the constitution. Those things obviously interlink.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was right to mention where we were, in Westminster Hall. Central Lobby is the embodiment of our four nations and the four physical parts of our constitution: the Lords, the Commons, the ancient Westminster Hall and the Committee Rooms all coming together, along with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) mentioned that William Wallace was tried in Westminster Hall. She did not mention that it was also where James VI was greeted when he came to be both King of England and King of Scotland. The evolution of those two ancient kingdoms tells us a lot about where the debates on localism come from, because they are very old indeed. In several cases, the shires of England are older than England itself; indeed, Kent probably dates to the pre-Roman period.

When we hear debates about whether Wigan should be allowed to switch over, I am reminded of the passionate arguments against Humberside. I also thought my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (James Grundy) was very brave—in this company—to refer to the problem of Cheshire, because we have heard powerful advocacy on behalf of the people of Cheshire for the sort of local representation they would like.

It was from the shires of England that Parliament was formed in the 13th century. In the pre-conquest period, the leaders of the shires were represented in the Witan. These are very old structures and identities, and that history still infuses the debates we have today about where boundaries should lie and about where power should derive from. Obviously, the answer is in the interaction between the centre and the locality and in the adequate balance of the two.

On English devolution, I respect the remarks from the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) about these issues crossing party lines, and that has contributed to the open and good-natured debate we have had. The reason this issue cuts across party lines is that it is not easy, and there is variation in how people see things in different parts of the country, based on their geography, history and recent experiences.

Pity me somewhat, for I am merely a Parliamentary Secretary in the Cabinet Office, not a Minister in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, but I have heard the representations made by Members from Cheshire, and I will be certain to put them to colleagues in DLUHC. I am sure they will thoughtfully consider what has been said and the request for a meeting.

The Government have been a powerful advocate for devolution, and we have practised what we preach. I have seen the results in my time in Government. I was lucky enough to be the Minister for Apprenticeships in my last job but one. In Teesside, I saw the new Tory Mayor working with central Government and with local communities and business to create staggering new opportunities. It was the first time that I had seen all these things come together. The Government created the freeport—a place where there could be opportunity. The Mayor got in touch with BP, and said, “Here is a place we can do business. Come and put your hydrogen plant here.” BP went to the local colleges and said, “We want the people who are coming through your colleges to get the jobs in our plant.” Opportunities were created for local people by negotiation between central and local government, and that, I strongly believe, is levelling up.

In answer to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden made on standardisation versus variation, and to the fears my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Robin Millar) expressed about a cookie-cutter approach, we have cookie cutters of several different shapes. We think those are the best way of delivering effective devolution, with the opportunity for there to be combined county authorities or individual unitary authorities, based on the needs and experience of local communities.

Let me turn to devolution across the UK. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North—I have debated this point with her before—said that the use of section 35 should only be exceptional. Well, it has been used only once. There is no greater illustration of how it is used only in exceptional circumstances than the fact that, in national devolution’s 25-year history, it has been used only once, and even then only in very particular circumstances and on sound legal advice to maintain the balance of laws across the United kingdom. I hope the hon. Member will see—although I know she will not—that that shows that the mechanisms of devolution are, to a certain extent, working and being respected.

I acknowledge what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy and the hon. Member for Strangford said about the need for there to be respect between nations. That is absolutely right. We are all in this together. In respecting those relationships, we must also understand that this building is one of the places in which the nations come together and that there remains a role for the UK Parliament in the structures of the United Kingdom.

That whistlestop tour does not necessarily answer every individual question, but I am happy to come back to any hon. Member who feels I have not covered their points.

The debate has been commendable for the tone in which it has been conducted on both sides of the Chamber. However, I must observe that, when the Labour Government introduced the devolved Assembly, it had an unintended consequence. The anecdote at the time was that doing that would deal with nationalism but, with great respect, we have a strong nationalist presence in this House under this Administration. Has the Minister given thought to the factor of unintended consequences?

To cite one example, tax-raising powers have been devolved, but in the case of Wales they have not been taken up. I use that example as a further illustration of the unevenness and the natural response—the phrase I used was “desire lines”. Will the Minister comment on that in the minute he has left?

Few people have thought about this issue more than my hon. Friend. He is certainly right to say that the Labour party was wrong in its assessment that devolution would kill nationalism, although these were cross-cutting issues even at the time. I remember Charles Clarke arguing openly that the Government were mistaken and that the nationalists would be empowered. That goes to show that parties can hold different views.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Nottingham North on one thing. I think that the constitution of the United Kingdom remains incredibly strong. Indeed, it seems capable of coping with everything we throw at it. One of its great strengths over the centuries has been its ability to adapt, evolve and grow, and when it comes to the agenda this Government are pursuing on devolution in England, it is doing just that.

I thank the Minister, Opposition Members and Government Members for an interesting and thoughtful debate. The nub of the debate around English devolution is this: in 1265, and for centuries subsequently, two MPs were sent to Westminster from among the leading citizens of the town, and two knights came to Westminster from the counties. We heard from the Minister the respect in which the shires have historically been held. It is not standardisation to say that we can have that sort of respect for the relationship between all local areas and the centre. I would urge everybody to bear that in mind.

If we are serious about more power going to local people, that is going to mean more money. If we are serious about there being more money, we are going to have to clarify the responsibilities between local authorities and the Treasury.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation: Sanctions and Tariffs

I will call Siobhain McDonagh to move the motion and then the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up, as is the convention for 30-minute debates.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered sanctions and tariffs on Belarus and Russia.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Fovargue. Sanctions and the war in Ukraine have been given a great deal of attention, and rightly so. It is fitting that just downstairs in Westminster Hall, Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, was able to address parliamentarians from both sides of the House. Members of all parties have been united in their response to the illegal invasion of Ukraine, and I hope we can continue that cross-party consensus today.

I want to make it clear that I have not held this debate to undermine the Government’s policies on sanctions and tariffs against Russia and Belarus. I am on board with the policy. I agree that we must isolate both Belarus’s and Russia’s economies and target the key industries that support President Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine.

I commend the hon. Lady for securing the debate, and I concur with her comments. Does she agree that, although we have huge compassion for the Russian and Belarusian people, who are paying the price for their dictators’ decisions, we must increase the pace of our sanctions on these nations and ensure that the price for those decisions is paid where it hurts—in the pockets of the oligarchs?

I agree with the hon. Member. The sanctions regime is integral to Britain’s role in supporting Ukraine and holding Putin’s regime accountable for the acts of violence that it continues to perpetrate against civilians across Ukraine.

I am grateful to be able to add my voice, and that of my party, to the hon. Lady’s comments. Our concern is that the sanctions regime is not being extended far enough and specifically to countries in the developing world that are being seduced by Russia to trade with it.

I agree with the hon. Member entirely.

This winter, the people of Ukraine carried on through the difficult war that they face, and we need to back their bravery by being brave and bold with sanctions and tariffs. However, the joint sentiments are worthless if things do not happen in practice, and sadly this is the case for a business group in my constituency. I recently met SGG Manufacturing Ltd, JDUK Ltd and Alunet Systems Ltd—a small group of wholly UK-owned businesses that I am glad to see represented here today. They are based in a number of MPs’ constituencies—particularly that of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood), who apologises that he is unable to attend, but he is absolutely on board with the case that I am about to raise.

Prior to the war, the businesses were, in part, the sole and exclusive distributors of a Belarusian manufacturer. They imported and distributed aluminium extrusions and products from Belarus. For example, they supplied components for roller garage doors—not the most glamorous of products, I agree, but over 10 years these British businesses had grown their revenue to £30 million per annum. Over 10 years, they had managed to supply 30% to 50% of roller garage doors in the UK using their components.

Then, the war in Ukraine happened. In response, the businesses did the right thing. They decided to abandon their exclusive contract with the Belarusian manufacturer and sourced their components from elsewhere in Europe—a decision that was expensive, risky and lengthy but nevertheless the right thing to do. The Government then introduced additional tariffs of 35% on Belarusian and Russian goods, which made it clear that the decision by those businesses was not just the moral thing to do but the right thing to do from a business perspective—that is, if the sanctions and tariffs were implemented effectively. Unfortunately, they were not.

The original Belarusian supplier is now managing to circumvent the sanctions and is continuing to import banned products. It is also able to pay the relatively low additional tariff of 35% with ease, so it can operate very competitively in the market. The British group, based in my constituency, has played by the rules and has had to find a more expensive manufacturer elsewhere in Europe.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. I am the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Magnitsky sanctions, and we recently looked carefully at the implementation—the reality, as opposed to the Government’s rhetoric. We are discovering that there are big holes in what is actually happening, with far too little consideration given to the detailed implementation. We also sanction far fewer people who are guilty of transgressing our rules than the US does. The hon. Lady is on the right track, and I congratulate her on that, but perhaps she would like to press the Government further to increase the number of people and businesses they sanction and to make sure they do it properly.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and congratulate him on all the work he does on not only Russia but China. We often work together. This debate is not about the grand scope of the sanctions, but about the nuts, bolts and garage doors of how they are working on the ground for British businesses and Belarusian businesses.

The Belarusian company appears to be stealing the British company’s customer base by avoiding the sanctions, absorbing the additional tariff and undercutting the British company by supplying at a lower rate. Most people would call that dumping, and it has led to a loss of roughly £10 million in revenue for this British company based in my constituency.

As has been said many times in the Commons, Russia and Belarus are trying to get round sanctions on an industrial scale, and this seems to be a case in point. I have detailed evidence of how the Belarusian company is evading sanctions, and I would like to state it for Hansard so that it is in the public domain. I also note that, although the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation at His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is responsible for enforcing specific cases, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is responsible for drawing up the sanctions and tariffs legislation.

As I tried to explain to the Minister informally last night, the way the company is avoiding sanctions is unbelievable: it is starting some of its goods in Russia. There is a list of sanctioned products codes for Russia and one for Belarus, and in some instances, the two lists do not match. As a result, a product could be sanctioned in Belarus but not sanctioned if it comes from Russia. That is exactly what is happening. The tariffs apply to all iron and steel commodity codes starting 72 and 73 in Belarus, but they apply to only specific iron and steel products that begin with commodity codes 72 and 73 in Russia. That means that some of the goods that the Belarusian company supplies are sanctioned if they are imported from Belarus but not if they are imported from Russia.

The Belarusian company supposedly managed to move an entire factory’s worth to Russia so that it can still import the goods sanctioned from Belarus into the UK tariff free, all the while undercutting a British business. I have been able to get hold of an email from the Belarusian company to one of those customers to prove that. It stated:

“We would like to clarify the situation with regard to the current import of sectional doors and operators to the UK.”

The company says:

“Since the UK Government has introduced economic trade and transport sanctions on Belarus,”

it has

“imported garage doors from our Russian factory”.

It states that

“shipments fully comply with import restrictions by the Government of the United Kingdom in the last months.”

There we have it. Because of the way our sanctions list has been drawn up, Belarusian companies are avoiding sanctions. They are manufacturing and shipping products that were originally from Belarus, and are now supposedly from Russia, to avoid the sanctions. I am glad that the Foreign Office Minister is present today, and I hope that the sanctions list is updated, because it is costing a business in my constituency millions of pounds.

In other cases, this Belarusian company is assigning its products a new, intentionally incorrect but unsanctioned commodity code, enabling it to import to the UK sanction-free. I got hold of an email from this company to one of its customers to prove that. The measures are quite technical, so I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I go through them in a little detail. The company stated:

“We are looking for a way to supply you with roll tubes which are currently banned from entering the EU due to their commodity code 7308905900, and it seems like we have found an option. We can bundle the roll tubes with other items. This will have a different name and a commodity code which can be imported to the EU and the UK.”

The company can change the commodity code to one that is allowed to enter the UK from Belarus, and it can evade sanctions altogether. The most egregious part is that the Belarusian company is now approaching the former customers of the British business in my constituency and offering to supply them directly, profiting and expanding its business because of the war in Ukraine. It is just unbelievable. If that is happening in one company, surely it is happening in a number of businesses right across the UK.

It is important that President Zelensky comes to Parliament to speak, that our Opposition and Government leaders visit Kyiv and that we all get together to stress how strong our sanctions and tariffs need to be. However, it makes a difference only if the detail is correct. The sanctions are effective only if the product lists are drawn up effectively and we are able to target Belarusian and Russian businesses. Tariffs are effective only if they are high enough to make goods originating from a country uncompetitive. In the recent co-ordinated package of sanctions by the US, EU and UK, only the US increased tariffs on metals by up to 200%.

As we know, Putin and his cronies will be seeking every single loophole, omission and error to try to circumvent the sanctions. It is quite clear that Russia and Belarus are actively trying to get round sanctions and absorb tariffs on an industrial scale. Currently, companies are claiming that their goods originate in Russia to avoid sanctions. That is absurd. I hope that the Minister can provide more information about that and explain how we will close the loopholes that Russia and Belarus are using.

We can have the toughest regime on paper, but if Russia and Belarus are finding ways round it in practice and costing UK businesses, we have not done the right thing. I ask the Minister to address the detail and the consequences for British business. If he is in a position to do so, I would welcome it if he gave a few minutes after the debate to the businesses that are here today.

Order. If the hon. Member wishes to speak, did he obtain the permission of the Member in charge and the Minister prior to the debate?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Fovargue. I thank the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) for allowing me to speak briefly. I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent work on this matter. Who would have thought that such a humble thing as a garage door could have been the subject of such appalling abuse of the system? I ask the Minister to look into that.

I want to set out my support for this action and point out the considerable support for Ukraine in my constituency of Reading East. Many local people, including those in our significant local Ukrainian community, who I actively support, are concerned about sanctions. Sanctions need to be part of a wider package of action against the Putin regime in Russia; that should include the UK continuing to work with NATO, continued UK Government support for the Ukrainian Government through military and other means, and a package of measures for the future, such as a plan for the longer term and action against war criminals.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on securing this important debate and on her commitment in broadly backing His Majesty’s Government’s approach to sanctions. It is always a great pleasure to work with her because she makes doing business very simple, which is much appreciated, even though the issues we are talking about are complex.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), the Minister for the Indo-Pacific, whose responsibilities include sanctions, would have been delighted to take part in the debate. She is travelling on ministerial duties, however, so it is my pleasure to respond to the important issues that have been raised on behalf of the Government.

I think there is unanimity across the Chamber in support of what we have heard from the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). Would a good start be to make sure, as a matter of some urgency and importance, that those product lists are the same for Belarus and Russia? That would surely undermine a lot of the shenanigans we have heard about this afternoon.

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution and I recognise the point he has made. As I will discuss at greater length later in my speech, the sanction lists are reviewed regularly. I understand his point about comparing the lists side by side. Clearly, there are differences in the approach we take to both those countries, but I understand the points that he makes.

In the face of President Putin’s illegal and barbaric war, Britain is doing everything possible to support Ukraine and to make Russia pay the price. I will begin by outlining the extensive sanctions we have already imposed on Russia and Belarus, before turning to more detailed points set out by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden—the nuts and bolts, as she called them in her very well crafted speech.

We have co-ordinated with our international allies to respond to this unprovoked and barbaric invasion, and together we have unleashed the most severe package of sanctions ever imposed on a major economy. I know it is supported by many people and encouraged by many colleagues in this room. The UK alone has sanctioned over 1,500 individuals and entities since the start of the invasion.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on securing the debate and thank the Minister for allowing me to intervene, especially as I was late to the debate. The US Secretary of State recently announced further sanctions to tackle the sanctions evasion network, notably against Igor Zimenkov, who was cleverly in possession of a Cypriot golden passport and therefore sanctions could not be placed upon him. Does the Minister agree that our own Government need to take further action on individuals and countries that are helping Russia to bypass sanctions, which is exactly what Igor Zimenkov did?

I thank the hon. Member for that contribution, and I recognise that it is sometimes difficult to arrive bang on time for the start of a debate. I am not familiar with that particular case. Where people seek to circumvent our sanctions regime, we will review that in two ways: first, by continually reviewing and updating our sanctions lists; and, secondly, through HMRC’s serious enforcement action, which I will come to in a minute.

The latest package of internationally co-ordinated sanctions and trade measures announced on 24 February includes export bans on every item that Russia has been found to be using on the battlefield to date. These are important sanctions. Our sanctions toolkit extends far beyond the designations of individuals or entities.

In the year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the UK has introduced an array of measures targeting the trade, finance, military and industrial sectors. These measures target industries that support the war and prohibit all new investments in Russia via third countries. They are constraining Putin’s ability to maintain the occupation of Ukraine, and they are weakening and isolating the Russian economy.

Our trade measures alone reduced Russian goods imports to the UK by 99% between September and November last year, compared with the same period in 2021. UK goods exports to Russia fell by nearly 80% over the same period. More than £20 billion of UK-Russia trade in goods is now under full or partial sanction. By anybody’s metrics, these are substantive measures. But Putin has not acted alone. Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus has actively supported Russia’s illegal and unprovoked actions. That is why UK sanctions also apply to Belarusian individuals, entities and organisations who have aided and abetted this reckless aggression.

In July 2022, we introduced legislation imposing further sanctions on Belarus in response to its support for Russia’s war. These sanctions included giving the UK the power to detain and de-register Belarusian aircraft, and measures prohibiting Belarusian ships from entering UK ports. We also expanded existing financial sanctions measures, banning more Belarusian companies from issuing debt and securities in London or obtaining loans from UK banks, among other measures. The legislation introduced trade measures against Belarus, including bans on the export of critical industry goods and technologies, as well as luxury goods, and a ban on the import of iron and steel.

Since before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus has shown continued disregard for international law and has committed ongoing violations of the fundamental freedoms and human rights of the Belarusian people. The regime initiated a brutal crackdown in 2020, which continues today, in response to protests which followed the flawed 2020 elections.

The UK previously introduced sanctions against Belarusian individuals, entities and organisations who have supported and facilitated the Lukashenko regime’s human rights violations. These sanctions signal our discontent and are intended to coerce the Belarusian regime to change their behaviour. In total, with the addition of our designations since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the UK has targeted more than 120 Belarusian individuals and entities.

Tariff measures are adding further weight to our response, tightening the screws on Putin and his supporters. Between March last year and January this year, we introduced four batches of 35% tariff increases on a wide range of goods from Russia and Belarus worth over £2.4 billion, from vodka and caviar to certain metals, chemicals and plastics. Tariff increases on Belarus have been made in line with the evolving sanctions positions as part of our co-ordinated response.

Before the Minister moves on, is he in a position to comment on how Russia is evading some of the sanctions broadly imposed by the west by trading with countries that are developing or emerging markets? Russia is evading our sanctions, however well we impose them.

I will come on to what we are doing to tackle circumvention in a little more detail. The Russians are doing everything they can to try to avoid these sanctions, because they are biting on their economy. We continually need to refresh our sanctions approach to respond to that, and we are.

The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden will be aware that a letter to the Foreign Secretary in January was passed to HMRC, as the lead enforcement authority for trade sanctions, for further review. As I am sure she will understand, HMRC cannot and does not comment on specific cases. However, I can assure her that the Government and HMRC take this and all reported alleged sanctions violations very seriously indeed.

I will take this opportunity to acknowledge the important role that businesses can and do play in providing us with information and intelligence about suspected sanctions breaches, such as by self-reporting. That is an important part of our sanctions enforcement architecture, and it is vital to help to inform the action that is taken.

The hon. Lady asked about steel and aluminium products. That issue relates to differences in the scope of the UK’s Russia and Belarus sanctions regimes, as has been highlighted by a number of colleagues. Different regimes serve different foreign policy objectives. Although there are links between Russia and Belarus sanctions, they are distinct. We keep our sanctions under review. Given Russia’s ongoing and outrageous actions in Ukraine, we have continued to bring forward new measures since the invasion last year.

I understand where the Minister is now, but is not the problem that there seems to be no exchange between Departments as to exactly how this works? It seems illogical to me that different countries now sanction different groups and industries in different ways. Surely, the key here—this relates to the measure that I raised earlier—is that we now sanction far fewer individuals than the United States does. On industrial sanctions, we seem to have no common purpose. With respect to the Minister, and I am a big supporter of his, he should surely go back to his Department and set out that it is not good enough to say there are different regimes. We know how involved Belarus is with Russia, and we know what the links are. We should treat them both exactly the same and get on with it.

I thank my right hon. Friend, who knows that I am also his fan, because we worked together—or, rather, I worked for him a long time ago; let us be clear about that. I respect him enormously on a range of issues.

I say gently that the UK has worked closely with our international partners to maximise the impact of our sanctions, and we have taken co-ordinated action to ratchet up economic pressure on Russia. It is not just about comparison, although I know my right hon. Friend is very hot on that issue; it is also about collective action to ensure we get maximum impact. We have demonstrated leadership in the most impactful areas. For example, we are the only international partners with designated top executives at Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear corporation—a key Ukrainian priority.

Let me come back briefly to sanctions circumvention, which is an important issue. We will continue to bear down on Russia and Belarus by implementing further sanctions and leaning in to tackle Russia’s attempt to circumvent measures that are already in place, as we have done over the past year. That means coming down hard on sanctions evaders, closing loopholes and working with our international partners to undermine Russia’s attempts to build global resilience to western sanctions. That includes through the G7, which reaffirmed unwavering support for Ukraine on 24 February, one year on from Russia’s illegal invasion.

We are also addressing the threat of third country circumvention—that is a point that the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden made earlier—by using diplomatic channels to limit the size of the international market to which Russia can turn. The UK Government and our law enforcement agencies are using a range of tools to ensure that all forms of circumvention are identified and tackled, including by taking criminal enforcement action where appropriate.

We are taking action and having an effect, but I understand the points that have been raised. We will continually review our sanctions package and enforcement measures, and we will come down as hard as we can on those who seek to evade and avoid the sanctions regime.

Question put and agreed to.

Racial Discrimination in Schools

I beg to move,

That this House has considered racial discrimination in schools.

It is a pleasure to open today’s debate with you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue. When I send my children to school every morning, I expect that they will be safe and protected. Members who have children or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, as well as parents and carers from across my constituency of Lewisham East, or indeed across the whole country, expect the very same—for children at school to be safe and happy. In the vast majority of cases, they are safe and happy, and generally school staff across the UK do a brilliant job educating and inspiring our children. They often do so in the most difficult circumstances, and I commend them for all that they do.

That is why it was shocking and distressing to see an assault on a black female child by a group of white female children near their school in Surrey last month. Members who have seen the footage of the incident are likely to have been as traumatised as I was—it was heartbreaking to watch. That is why I co-ordinated a cross-party letter, with Members from across the House, to the Home Secretary to ask how the victim was being supported and for the incident to be fully investigated. I am pleased to see many Members who signed that letter in the Chamber today, and I am grateful to the Home Office Minister who replied to that letter.

It quickly became apparent that the issue went much further than one case alone. I received a stream of emails and phone calls from teachers, parents and the wider public, who all raised their concerns about injustice and discrimination in schools. A teacher called me and asked to remain anonymous. She spoke about racial attacks at her school: two Asian girls had their hijabs pulled off their heads, and fights had broken out in the classroom. She spoke about teachers feeling let down by the headteacher and about a generally unsafe environment. Soon after that, a further disturbing and shocking assault case was brought to my attention—a group of ethnic minority schoolchildren at a school in Kent being segregated and subsequently attacked by a group of white children. Last week, I raised that with the Education Secretary.

Growing up in south-east London—many years ago—I remember when the British National party would march near my family home. I remember feeling unsafe in my own community—feeling unsafe because of my ethnicity. Surely, years later, black, Asian and ethnic minority children should not feel unsafe in our community. The fight against racial discrimination began long before the far right marched through my childhood community, and it is still being fought today.

In 2021, The Guardian revealed that there were more than 60,000 racist incidents in British schools between 2016 and 2021. That is an astonishing figure, but it does not tell the full story. In 2012, the Government advised schools that they have no legal obligation to report racist incidents to their local authorities, and in 2017 the Government issued further guidance that schools have no obligation to record bullying of any form. If racist incidents, and bullying more generally, are not being tracked, how can schools, local authorities, Ofsted or the Department for Education identify a problem and then act on it? The answer is that, of course, they cannot. The data is simply not there.

I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent work in securing the debate and campaigning on this important issue. Does she agree that the Government can learn from some of the successes under the last Labour Government, in particular in London during the roll-out of London Challenge, and many other policies? They should revisit the guidance to which she refers, which clearly seems to be a mistake.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. There are many lessons to be learned, and the Government could take heed of them and respond. As I have mentioned, there are things on which the Government have gone backwards, rather than going forward. 

This week, a new survey by a young persons movement called I Have a Voice, found that one in four students say that they have experienced racism in their place of education. That is not the only survey showing alarming figures on racial discrimination in schools. The Government need to uphold the principle that the welfare of the child is paramount. That begins by accepting that their guidance in 2012 and 2017 was wrong. Will the Minister commit to reviewing those decisions, so that data on racist incidents in schools can once again be collected and acted on?

As we have sadly seen in the last month, discriminatory incidents can sometimes be violent. In those situations, headteachers and school staff should be able to intervene confidently and safely to safeguard children. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 outlines the fact that all members of school staff have a legal power to use reasonable force. That might include standing between children during an altercation or, in the most extreme circumstances, bringing a child under control.

While school staff are permitted to use reasonable force, there is no requirement on schools to provide a policy on the use of force. Schools are left to make their own decisions on this, which I find wholly unacceptable. I recognise that the use of reasonable force may not always be appropriate, but there are occasions when it is necessary in order to safeguard children. On those occasions, headteachers and school staff must know how to use that power. Will the Minister agree to update guidance on the use of reasonable force to include a requirement for schools to have a policy on it, and for it to be part of the training which school staff receive? Members will know that the issue of racial discrimination in schools is much deeper and broader. More needs to be done in schools to reduce the fear that some children may feel about one another.

The hon. Lady is making a very compelling case. Does she agree that it is not only safeguarding that must be considered, although there is a direct and immediate need for that, but the ongoing consequences of discrimination? How can children learn effectively if they do not feel safe in their learning environment?

The hon. Member is absolutely right. That has a huge emotional impact on children when they are in situations where they are discriminated against. It goes on to affect them psychologically and emotionally, and it can affect their ability to learn. If we want children to thrive and achieve, we want them to have the best experience in school. That is why it is so important that the Government act to eradicate at all levels any inch or hint of discrimination in our schools.

There are some things in life where we expect changes to come naturally, organically or incrementally, and there are other things for which change has to be driven, and the approach must be strategic. I suggest to the hon. Member that racial discrimination is something that falls in the latter category.

In my own constituency we do not have the same range of ethnic diversity that might be found elsewhere. However, in Kirkwall Grammar School we have a teacher, Theo Ogbhemhe, who has taken a leading role in getting a group of students together in an anti-racism group, challenging discriminatory attitudes and behaviours wherever they are found. That is only possible if the strategy is in place to empower teachers like that.

I thank the right hon. Member for giving the example of some excellent work taking place in his constituency. That is a great example of a headteacher allowing that to happen and other teachers getting on board to drive it through. Strategies are really important, and the Government need to have a clear one to ensure that this type of thing happens in all schools to eliminate discrimination.

Teach First’s report examining diversity in the English literature curriculum highlighted the lack of ethnic minority authors offered on the syllabus. The largest exam board, which accounts for 80% of GCSE English literature entries, features no books by black authors and only two by an ethnic minority author. That is disappointingly low. Children from diverse backgrounds need to gain a sense of pride and self-worth by identifying with people who look like them in their learning. There is a risk that if children are not exposed to diversity in the school curriculum, they miss the opportunity to find out about those who are different from and those who are similar to them, and to be enriched by that difference and similarity. Will the Minister agree to look at how the school curriculum can be updated to increase ethnic minority representation?

Hon. Members will know that the issue is not just what children are being taught; who is teaching them also has an impact on their learning. Research conducted by University College London shows a lack of teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds in our schools. Sadly, when it comes to leadership, only 4% of headteachers are non-white. It is positive for all children, no matter what their ethnic background, to experience a diverse teaching workforce. That is important for their learning and their personal development. Will the Minister outline what steps the Department for Education is taking to recruit and retain greater numbers of ethnic minority staff and to encourage the promotion of ethnic minority staff to senior leadership roles?

In my constituency of Woking, we have a very diverse community, including a very large Muslim community, and I am pleased to say that our schools and, indeed, other organisations have made great strides in recent years on these issues. The hon. Lady talks about leadership. May I point out the importance of governors—chairs of governors, and the whole governing body? Would she, like me, encourage people from all communities to come forward and serve on those bodies, because they are a backstop but can also help the headteacher to set policy and the right example?

I thank the hon. Member for that significant intervention. He is absolutely right. Governing bodies are excellent in steering and in holding the headteacher and the teaching staff to account, and having a diverse governing body and governance for schools makes a significant contribution, so it is absolutely right that that happens and can be encouraged and supported. In my constituency and, indeed, the borough of Lewisham, the local council very much encourages schools and works with schools to enable that to happen. I am proud of what has been achieved in my own constituency in that respect.

Discrimination due to the colour of a child’s skin has no place in any school. I believe that everyone goes to work to do an excellent job. That includes headteachers, who have one of the most significant roles to play. That means that they lead by example, but they must also recognise when they need help and where to go to get it. Will the Minister respond and say what support is available to headteachers to address all the points that I have raised?

I am only a small person, Ms Fovargue, so when I am hidden behind other people, perhaps you would not see that I was there. Thank you for calling me.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) for introducing the issue. I remember when she raised it in the Chamber in a question—it may even have been in a point of order. At that time, I took note of her comments. It is very clear to me that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. It is a pleasure to see the Minister in his place, because I am sure that, as he always does, he will respond in a positive fashion to explain how the Department for Education and he himself will act to address the issue.

Education is fundamental to equality of opportunity as preparation for life, as a powerful influence on access to and advancement in employment, and in giving young people the skills to resist the dangerous temptations that exist in society today. There is no hiding from or ignoring the fact that racism and cultural ignorance exist in our schools. The hon. Member for Lewisham East has outlined that very well on a number of occasions. Often, children are unaware of the meaning or full impact of their words, so it is crucial that this conversation is had and that action is taken to teach children how to do good. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) referred to how important that was in his intervention. It shows that there are occasions when people can take measures to promote better harmony in schools.

In 2021, UK schools reported—rather shockingly—more than 60,000 racial incidents in the previous five years, with a racist incident defined as any situation perceived to be racist by the alleged victim or any other person, including unintentional racism. Racism has proven to be a big issue in schools, especially in England. Instead of co-operating more with one another, our attitudes suggest to younger people that it is all right to behave in this way and it makes the segregation even worse, complicating the issue and making it much more difficult to control.

As you and other Members will know, Ms Fovargue, I always try to give a Northern Ireland perspective in debates. We have discrimination in schools, which tends to be more sectarian than racist. However, I have no doubt that instances of racism have happened over the years in Northern Ireland. Historically, Northern Ireland is a deeply segregated and divided area, and although we have moved mountains since the era of the troubles, young people have become accustomed to the history of our nation, whether socially—outside the education sector —or internally, in schools or other education settings. Sectarian words fly around and are often used incorrectly, especially by young people, and can often be seen as “cool”. The fact is that they are not and never will be.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland states that

“schools in Northern Ireland have a responsibility not to discriminate against pupils on the protected grounds of sex, sexual orientation, race or disability. The law does not apply to age, religious belief and political opinion and gender reassignment in schools.”

I struggle to understand why religious belief is not included in that law, given that it is completely embedded in Northern Irish history.

We are no stranger to talking about our past and how it has had an impact on current generations. However, I genuinely believe that more can be done in schools in Northern Ireland to tackle sectarianism and the use of verbal slurs by young children. There are ways in which schools can teach young people about all types of discrimination. My youngest staff member remembers taking a class in school called “Learning for life and work”, with a module studying citizenship. Through this module, pupils were taught about the benefits and the challenges associated with cultural identity, the causes and consequences of prejudice and discrimination in society, and the benefits and challenges of immigration for communities, society and the economy. Those are all very worthy things, which we should take onboard. Again, I ask the Minister this question: what discussion has there been with his equivalent in the Northern Ireland Assembly, perhaps to get a grasp of what is being done in Northern Ireland and what is being done here, in order to work better together?

It is really important in today’s society that young children are aware of the environment around them. There are more people emigrating here, so there are more people from different cultures, with different histories, traditions and countries. We have more of that in Northern Ireland than we have ever had before. It tells me that we have to adapt. We want to welcome them; I am very much in favour of that.

It is good that young pupils can look at who they are sitting beside, or consider the background of their friends, understand the disabilities that some people may have, and have a general tolerance—how much has tolerance been mentioned?—of people who are different from them. Poor mental health and bullying can stem from racial discrimination in schools and there should certainly be more scope for teachers to be able to take appropriate action so that children understand and treat their peers with respect.

On love and tolerance, I am trying to remember the name of the organisation that says:

“Love for all. Hatred for none.”

I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman use that phrase and I think he will find that it is the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that coined it. It is very apt in this debate.

I thank the hon. Lady for reminding me of that, and it is an apt phrase.

I always try to treat people as I wish they would treat me—not that I am any better than anyone else, because I am not. I will just say that if we all adopted that attitude, life would be a lot better, and for our children—who will be the elders of tomorrow, and the people who will have responsibility, and take our positions whenever we pass on from this world—it is important that we get this right.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Fovargue.

I am really glad to be here in Westminster Hall today. This is a debate that people might not expect to find a Scottish Member participating in, but it is on such an important subject that I decided to come along anyway. I thought that the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) made a really powerful and compelling, and very clear-headed, speech to introduce the debate. That matters because it is such an important subject that it requires that kind of clear explanation about what is happening and why it matters.

Racism in society in general is obviously deeply troubling and damaging, but racism in our schools and educational settings is perhaps even worse. These are children, at formative points in their lives, in an environment where they should feel completely safe and where they should be able to relax and to learn, being put into situations that make that much harder or even impossible. The knock-on impacts throughout people’s lives if they have had that very difficult experience at school, which has perhaps caused them not to fulfil the potential they have, should be clear to all of us. That is something that should occupy our minds.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) often makes salient points in debates, and he talked about the importance of welcoming people who have come here from other places. Obviously, that is not a direct read-across to racism in schools, but it is an important point to make. We should welcome diversity, difference and those who have arrived from other places. I reflect, with a degree of sadness, on some of the narrative that we hear from the Government Benches at the moment—the “stop the boats” narrative and “the hostile environment”. Such things do not happen in isolation—[Interruption.] I can hear the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) chuntering; I do not know whether he is referring to what I am saying.

If the hon. Gentleman would have the courtesy to either intervene or to allow me to contribute so that I can hear myself over him, that would be helpful. It troubles me that that narrative is out there. It has an impact on people’s behaviours and it will have an impact on what people experience in schools. The hon. Gentleman should have the good grace to at least listen to my perspective on that. I am sure that if he wants to contribute, the Chair will allow him to do so.

We have to think about the environment in which all of that is happening. From my own perspective, it is vital to me, my politics and my beliefs that Scotland is an open and welcoming country. That does not mean that we have some kind of magic wand that means that racism does not exist in Scotland. Of course, that is not the case; we have to be mindful of that and always on our guard. We must be clear that the aspirations we have and the reality we may see in front of us does not mean that racism not there.

I suspect I say that because I come from a particular place. I represent a very diverse constituency. East Renfrewshire is one of the most diverse constituencies in Scotland, and we are far the better for that. Most of the Jewish population in Scotland lives there, we have a large and growing Muslim community and we have a thriving Baha’i community. A whole range of people have made their home there and we rub along really well together. That does not happen by accident; it happens with a great deal of good will, work and joint working between communities. That is the case in our schools as well. I commend the education department in East Renfrewshire Council and the schools themselves, where my children, who are children of dual heritage, go, and I have a particular insight because of that.

The Scottish Government have published a race equality framework for Scotland, which is very important. We need to have structures that allow us to scrutinise, work to targets and examine whether we are doing what is needed to make sure all of our children have an appropriate environment in which to learn. We need to appreciate the potential range and diversity of ways in which racism can manifest itself. It can have a broad range of impacts on people. If we are not able to think about and understand that, then we are working with one hand tied behind our back.

Different groups can be affected by racism. The hon. Member for Strangford made a good point about sectarianism being an issue. Representing a seat in the west of Scotland, I know that that is true. I was also grateful to receive a briefing from the Traveller Movement. We do not speak nearly enough about the impact on Traveller and Gypsy communities of the racism that they face daily.

There are lots of things that will have an impact on how our children and our education systems deal with issues of race. In recent years, we have heard of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has shone a powerful spotlight on these issues. One would hope that it would have allowed further discussion about how we deal with race education in schools. I am pleased that it has led to that discussion in Scotland—discussion about the decolonising of the curriculum, and conversations about slavery and how different historical eras have manifested themselves. We cannot shy away from these realities, and it is important that our children learn and understand what happened in the past. Otherwise, they are going to be much more prone to making the same mistakes in the future that their and our forebears made.

I know the huge amount of work that goes on in my local area, and a lot of it goes on unsung and unappreciated every day. It is right to put on the record a real appreciation for the teachers in my local area, and I really want to do that today. Lots of holocaust education takes place in my community, and that is really valuable. Some of it involves the Anne Frank Trust, and there is work with the Holocaust Educational Trust, Gathering the Voices, the Lessons from Auschwitz project and Vision Schools—I could go on. That work also involves listening directly to the voices of those who have been in that situation themselves—the testimony of people such as holocaust survivors Henry and the late Ingrid Wuga. All of those things really matter.

I was really glad to participate last week in the filming for a documentary by a young woman called Rachel Kinnear, a journalism student at Edinburgh Napier University, who is making a documentary about holocaust education. The fact that there are young people who are putting their minds to the issues of holocaust, race and education and how they fit together is profoundly helpful and very important, as we look forward, at a time where there are challenges in our society on how we deal with and engage with one another.

I also had a conversation this week that gave me a wee bit of food for thought on this topic, with a local school librarian named Anne De’Ath. We were discussing this debate, and she talked to me about the role of school librarians in trying to make sure that appropriate educational material is available across curricular areas. The art department could be looking at different kinds of art and culture; it could be music, it could be English, it could be history—it could be all of the things that I might not have thought of, because I might be thinking in a very linear way about how a library might support this kind of education. It is not just the personal and social education class; it is much more, and much broader.

We will never rid our schools of racism if we do not think about education in those broad terms and if we do not accept that it is a responsibility, not just of the headteacher and the teacher, but also of the librarian—I am very grateful to Anne for her time—and of the students. We heard from the hon. Member for Strangford about the students working with their teacher. I know that really good work goes on in my local area with students and teachers working together.

All of the work has to be deliberate, though. That takes me back to where I started. None of this work happens in isolation. None of it happens alone. We need to have a will and a determination to make sure that we acknowledge that racism in schools is a reality, that it does happen and that we want to deal with it and minimise it, and stamp it out wherever possible.

We have made significant progress. We have made significant progress in Scotland, and that is heartening, and I have no doubt that progress has been made in the community of the hon. Member for Lewisham East, too—but we are absolutely not there. We are at a challenging point in history and in society. If we do not accept that and take positive steps to talk about these issues, we do all of our young people a grave disservice.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) for leading this debate, following the awful recent incidents at schools in Surrey and Kent, which other Members have also raised. Our thoughts go out to the victims and their families following those dreadful incidents.

We have heard from a range of Members today, with helpful interventions and speeches, including on the importance of leadership by heads and governors, the need for a diverse workforce and the value of data in informing strategic responses. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) shared his wisdom and experience from Northern Ireland and its schools, and the importance of tackling discrimination for the benefit of community cohesion. We heard about the value of citizenship on the curriculum and how that can help young people prepare for life and the environment and culture around them.

The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) made some hugely powerful remarks about the environment in which such incidents can happen in schools. It falls on all our shoulders to think about the language and tone of the debates in our country, to create a country of compassion and respect for all cultures.

Schools should be a place where children develop a love of learning and are prepared for life, where they make friends and learn life skills, where they feel safe, and with zero tolerance for racism. Recent figures, however, sadly indicate a rise in racism in schools across the UK. Some 7,403 students were suspended last year for incidents including racially motivated assaults, according to data from the Department for Education under a freedom of information request. The number marks a 50% increase on the previous year.

According to an October 2020 report from the YMCA, 95% of young black people report that they have heard or witnessed the use of racist language in school; 49% felt that racism was the biggest barrier to attaining success in school; 50% said that the biggest barrier was teacher perceptions of them—for example, being “too aggressive” —and 70% had felt the need to change their hair to be “more professional” at work or school. Those are shocking statistics and show that we cannot be complacent in the fight against racism in our schools.

In this debate, we should of course not forget the brilliant work that headteachers, school support staff and senior leadership teams do across our country to educate our children and get them ready for life. Also, we should not forget about the work that the vast majority of schoolteachers do to make their schools and classrooms inclusive and welcoming to all children. Despite that, however, we clearly need to do much more to address the racial inequalities in our schools.

A third of pupils in both primary and secondary are from an ethnic minority background, but according to a UCL study, 46% of schools do not have a teacher from an ethnic minority background. Nationally, retention is lower for ethnic minority teachers than for white British teachers. That includes higher turnover due to moving school or not remaining in the teaching profession. Of course, racial inequalities and discrimination go beyond schools.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has spoken about teacher representation, which I did not. Is he aware of a Women and Equalities Committee sitting on racial harassment, discrimination and higher education, in which Professor Nicola Rollock described the experience of black female professors in the UK, noting undermining, stereotyping and passive bullying as issues? Also, is he aware that data from May 2022 shows that there are only 40 black female professors in higher education? That is a shocking figure.

I thank the hon. Member for those statistics, and I am pleased that she got them on the record. I hope that the Minister is listening and will address those points later in his contribution.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence’s review identified how structural inequalities caused black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds to be discriminated against because of covid-19. She made a series of long-term recommendations to tackle the structural inequalities in several key areas, including the machinery of government, health, employment and the education system. Systemic solutions are required to fix systemic problems. That is why the next Labour Government will introduce a new race equality Act to tackle the structural racism that scars society.

In conclusion, the highest priority for the Department for Education and all schools must be to protect children’s safety and wellbeing. In the Minister’s response, I hope he will outline what his Department is doing to evaluate whether the current safeguards to prevent racial discrimination are robust enough; whether we should look further into school staff training on handling racism in schools; whether we are doing enough to encourage young people to speak out against racism when they see it; and whether the Government are doing enough to prevent incidents such as those we have seen recently from taking place again. I finish by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East for securing the debate. I hope that any actions taken forward from today will ensure that awful incidents such as those that prompted this debate will never take place again.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) on securing this debate on an important subject. There is of course no place in our education system for discrimination or bullying of any kind. I recognise and share the concerns raised by her and other hon. Members about racist or discriminatory behaviour in schools. I was deeply concerned to hear about the incidents at both Thomas Knyvett College and Walderslade Girls’ School. I am aware that there are multiple ongoing investigations into the incidents at both schools. It would therefore not be appropriate for me to comment on those specific incidents, but I share the concerns raised right across the Chamber about them.

Schools’ responsibilities relate to discrimination in a number of ways. Keeping children safe is a priority, and safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility. The role of schools is critical, and all staff should have an awareness of the various safeguarding issues that children can face, including the risk of violence and discrimination. The hon. Member for Lewisham East was absolutely right when she opened her speech by saying that when parents—including herself—send their children to school in the morning, they expect them to be safe and protected. I think everyone taking part in this debate can agree with that.

We remain committed to ensuring that teachers have the tools and support to carry out their responsibilities. In September last year, we updated the statutory guidance, “Keeping children safe in education,” which supports schools and colleges to meet their duties in relation to equality, harassment and victimisation. The role of schools is not just reactive. State-funded schools, as public authorities, must comply with the public sector equality duty, which means that they must have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation; to advance equality of opportunity; and to foster good relations between people who share protected characteristics and those who do not, including between people from different ethnic backgrounds. The Department has published guidance to support schools to comply with those duties under the Equality Act 2010.

The hon. Member also raised the issue of reasonable force. A new programme of work to minimise the use of restraint and reasonable force in all schools has started, and will include updating guidance with a focus on prevention and de-escalation, and making it a legal duty to record and report incidents of restraint to parents. That work began with extensive consultation, research and a call for evidence on the use of reasonable force and restrictive practices, which was launched in February and will be open for 12 weeks, closing on 11 May.

The hon. Member raised the issue of black writers in the curriculum. Schools, of course, make their own decisions, choosing texts within the set requirements. There is guidance for teachers on how to make their choices of texts, with literacy organisations and reading charities offering suggestions, book lists, guidance, research and support. She also asked about the teaching workforce, and what more can be done to ensure that teachers reflect the make-up of British society. The Government share her ambition, and we are making progress on teacher recruitment. Of postgraduate trainees who declared their ethnic group, 78% were white, 12% were Asian, 5% were black, 4% were mixed ethnicity and 2% responded “other”. Those are broadly similar proportions to 2021-22 and 2020-21.

Our recruitment campaigns are targeted at audiences of students, recent graduates and potential career changers regardless of their identity or background, and last year “Apply for teacher training”—our new application service for initial teacher training in England—was rolled out nationally. The service has been designed to be as user-friendly as possible, and has been extensively tested with a diverse range of potential applicants to ensure that it helps to remove barriers to great teachers from all backgrounds applying for initial teacher training.

A vital part of meeting these duties is creating a safe, calm and supportive environment for all pupils. Headteachers play an important role in preventing bullying, harassment and discrimination in their schools, and they should ensure that they consider the needs of all pupils and staff when developing the school’s approach to its behaviour policy, which all schools are required to have in place.

Successful schools recognise that they need to work continually to maintain high standards of behaviour. That can be achieved only by all members of the school community working together to reflect the school’s values and creating a culture in which bullying, physical threats or abuse and intimidation, including racial discrimination, are not tolerated.

The hon. Member for Lewisham East asked about support for teachers and headteachers. Our recently updated “Behaviour in schools” guidance advises schools on creating environments where pupils and staff can work in safety and are respected. The guidance is clear that as part of a school’s behaviour policy, it should have clear measures to prevent all forms of bullying, including prejudice-based bullying. When an incident does occur, schools should take swift and decisive action to resolve it.

Schools should explicitly teach pupils about which behaviours are permitted and which are not, and when any incidents of bullying, discrimination or use of derogatory language occur, staff should respond promptly, predictably and confidently. Pupils need to understand that there are consequences for their behaviour, and that will often involve the use of reasonable and proportionate sanctions. Schools should also make it clear to pupils that good behaviour does not end at the school gates, and underscore the importance of kindness and respect towards others outside of school. The school behaviour policy should set out how the school will respond to any misbehaviour outside school premises.

The hon. Member asked about schools recording incidents of a racist nature. Racism of any kind is completely unacceptable and is abhorrent in any school setting—indeed, in any setting. We do not mandate that schools record or publish racist incidents; they are best placed to monitor and tackle racist incidents. They are required to have a behaviour policy, as I said, which outlines measures to prevent racist and other forms of bullying, and they are held to account by Ofsted. They are also required to take steps to advance equality of opportunity, foster good relations and eliminate racial harassment. We provide support to schools to do that. There is no legal obligation on schools to record and report incidents of bullying, and there never has been.

Bullying can just as easily occur online as it does face to face, but evidence suggests that most online bullying of children and young people is linked to face-to-face bullying. Schools can also help to prevent online bullying by educating their pupils about acceptable ways to behave online. The relationships, sex and health education curriculum guides teachers by supporting them to ensure that children learn about the risks of the internet, including cyber-bullying and online grooming. As part of an anti-bullying grant funded programme, the Anti-Bullying Alliance delivers a key stage 3 and 4 online toolkit called “Stop, Speak, Support”, which was produced with support from the Royal Foundation’s cyber-bullying taskforce to further help teachers. The Diana Award also has hundreds of free resources in its resource centre, including on online safety.

Through the health education curriculum, all pupils will be taught about online safety and harms. That includes being taught what positive, healthy and respectful online relationships look like, the effects of their online actions on others and knowing how to recognise and display respectful behaviour online. When bullying outside schools is reported to teachers, it should be investigated and acted on. If the bullying develops into criminal activity, schools must take immediate action and report it to the police.

I thank the Minister for his helpful responses to the inquiries from the hon. Member for Lewisham East and others. I am mindful—and we are all aware—of cases where online bullying has unfortunately led to some young people either injuring themselves or committing suicide, because the pressure from their peers was so great. What are the Minister’s ideas on how he and schools can respond to that in a positive and helpful way, so that it is dealt with at an early stage before it becomes something with which the young person feels they can no longer cope?

It is beyond tragic when we read of children taking their own lives because of how miserable they are due to online, or any form of, bullying. That is why the relationships, sex and health education guidance in the curriculum is designed in part to ensure that children learn how to behave online and in day-to-day life, and to understand about kindness and the consequences of their actions on others. That is why it is such an important part of the curriculum: to prevent precisely that kind of behaviour leading to those tragic outcomes.

Learning about respectful relationships is key to tackling discrimination in schools. All children in England will learn about respectful relationships in person and online as part of the mandatory relationships, sex and health education. The curriculum has a strong focus on equality, respect and the harmful impact of stereotyping, as well as the importance of valuing difference. Citizenship education enables pupils to explore a range of important and complex concepts, such as racial justice and the need for mutual respect and understanding. Addressing these topics in school will help all pupils to lead happy and fulfilled lives that will benefit them throughout adulthood.

To help schools to prevent and, where necessary, address discriminatory behaviour, the Department continues to publish information, guidance and support for teachers and school leaders on how to challenge radical views, including racist views, on the Educate Against Hate website. One of those resources is the respectful school communities toolkit, which is a self-review and signposting tool to support schools to develop a whole-school approach that promotes respect and discipline. That can help to combat bullying, harassment and prejudice of any kind, including hate-based bullying. The Educate Against Hate website hosts information for parents and carers through the parents’ hub.

In conclusion, I reiterate our commitment to supporting schools in their work to educate young people about prejudice of all forms and to protect young people from discrimination. Most schools maintain a high standard of behaviour, where pupils are educated in a calm, safe and supportive environment, but we know that managing these issues can be challenging and that some schools need to do more. All pupils in our schools deserve to grow up free from discrimination and hate in a culture of respect and kindness, and it continues to be our priority to ensure that that happens.

I thank all hon. Members who have contributed through interventions and speeches in this significant debate. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about children sometimes not being fully aware of the words they say. That is, indeed, why they are at school in the first place—to learn, to be educated, to know about difference, and so on. Education rightly takes place at school, and also in the wider community. Obviously, the family also has an impact. He spoke about the need for harmony in schools—I absolutely agree with that—and the need for love and tolerance. We all need much more of that in our society.

The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) spoke with such passion and a deep sense of what needs to be done and changed in this area. I could disagree with nothing in what she said. Learning about the past to improve our future is key. Children and young people need to be able to learn in a relaxing environment that is conducive to learning, and facilitating that environment is key. There was some tension in this Chamber regarding some of the narrative about other people who arrive on our shores and the need to ensure that that negative narrative does not persist, because that could go on to have an effect on children and young children and cause more tensions in our society that could lead to discrimination. I absolutely agree with that.

I know from this debate and conversations we have had elsewhere that the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan), is deeply concerned about this issue. I thank the Minister for acknowledging all the concerns and issues that I raised and for addressing them so carefully. I acknowledge the prevention and de-escalation work that is taking place and the review. That is key, and I look forward to those outcomes and the training for teachers and staff, if this goes ahead.

I impress on the Minister the need to look again at data collection, which I believe needs to take place in schools, and I am sure many Members agree. If data is being collected on what schools are doing on racial discrimination, bullying and even cyber-bullying, that can be tracked and monitored and can lead to improvements. I agree with the general sense of the debate that children need to learn in an environment where there is respect, where they are free from abuse or bullying, and where all teachers and school staff are working towards young people’s best interests.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered racial discrimination in schools.

Sitting adjourned.