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Westminster Hall

Volume 735: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2023

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 5 July 2023

[Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Ethnic Minority and Migrant Victims of Violence Against Women and Girls

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of the criminalisation of victims of violence against women from ethnic minority and migrant communities.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes—I believe for the first time. I am proud to have secured this debate, especially as I chair the all-party parliamentary group on women in contact with the justice system. I want to give voice to black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women who have been victims of abuse, many of whom, far from being protected, have found themselves facing criminal proceedings due to failings in criminal law and practice. That includes those who are victims of domestic abuse, so-called honour-based violence, sexual violence and other forms of violence against women and girls. Meanwhile, in many cases the perpetrators of abuse against those victims are escaping justice. For too long, the Government have dismissed calls for change to prevent the unjust criminalisation of victims.

The backdrop to the debate is an epidemic of violence against women and girls. Every year, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) reads out a long list of women who have been killed over the past 12 months. It is clear that the criminal justice system is failing victims. It is eight years since the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour was introduced, and two years since the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 became law. Those were both positive developments. However, today, there is a continuing failure to take domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls seriously. Victims continue to be prosecuted and convicted for offences that result directly from their experience of abuse.

I have been supported in preparing for the debate by the Centre for Women’s Justice and by the Tackling Double Disadvantage partnership. The Centre for Women’s Justice is a lawyer-led charity that works with frontline women’s services to challenge police and prosecution failings around violence against women and girls, including the unjust criminalisation of victims. The Tackling Double Disadvantage partnership consists of six charities that aim to tackle intersectional discrimination experienced by black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women in contact with the criminal justice system.

Evidence gathered by the Centre for Women’s Justice and the Tackling Double Disadvantage partnership highlights a lack of understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse among police, prosecutors, lawyers and judges. That includes failures to identify victims, failures to offer them support, failures to take proper account of their experience of abuse in proceedings, and reliance on misogynistic attitudes, myths and stereotypes, as well as a lack of cultural competence.

I commend the hon. Lady for bringing forward the debate. I make my point with great sadness—the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), has a passion for the subject, and she knows this better than most—because, unfortunately, in Northern Ireland we have had some 42 murders of women over a five-year period. That is the highest rate in all Europe, second only to Romania, and it tells me that in Northern Ireland the murder of women and disrespect for women are at higher levels than almost anywhere else. That grieves me greatly.

We always look to the Minister for a positive response, which is what we seek from the debate and what the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) is rightly asking for. When it comes to having better services in place, it is important that the Minister corresponds with the Minister responsible in the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that protection for women across this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is improved, especially in Northern Ireland.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important and powerful intervention. Unfortunately, violence against women does not discriminate: it can happen anywhere. I hope the Minister will take on board the shocking numbers that the hon. Gentleman just relayed.

I commend the hon. Lady for securing this debate and for her powerful speech. She is absolutely right that violence against women can happen anywhere. Does she agree that we cannot with integrity call out violence against women in countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria, much of which is based on women’s faith and beliefs, unless we also tackle the issue at home?

I thank the hon. Lady for her powerful intervention and commend her for all the work she does in that very saddening space.

Shockingly, victims of violence against women and girls who are not trafficking victims do not have a statutory defence when they are compelled to commit offences in similar circumstances. Another outstandingly bad discrepancy is that householders defending themselves against an intruder are permitted by law to use disproportionate force, provided it is reasonable in the circumstances, but no such leniency is allowed for domestic abuse victims defending themselves against their abuser. Attempts were made to amend the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 to fix that issue, but sadly the Government defeated them.

Data collected by lawyers at the Centre for Women’s Justice found that an alarming 57% of women in prison— at least—have experienced domestic abuse. The true proportion is likely to be much higher due to the barriers to women disclosing abuse. The cases involve a wide range of circumstances: some women were coerced by their abuser to offend and some defended themselves against abuse and were prosecuted as a result.

In one such case, a woman I will call Miss A was charged with driving while disqualified without insurance. The charge included excess alcohol and dangerous driving. She explained that her partner had dragged her from her home while she was partially dressed and forced her to drive. A police officer indicated for them to pull over, and she says that her partner threatened to kill her if she did not drive on. He punched her in the ribs and tried to grab the steering wheel while they were chased by the police. She was prosecuted and convicted, and her conviction was upheld on appeal to the High Court.

Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women face additional disadvantages. Women and girls from minority ethnic groups are over-represented at every stage in the criminal justice system. That is partly due to a lack of cultural competence: agencies fail to respond appropriately to evidence of abuse, misinterpret women’s behaviour and fail to ensure that women can understand and participate fully in the proceedings against them. Added to that is the evidence of racism in the criminal justice system and the openly hostile environment for migrants.

A woman I will call Miss B entered an arranged marriage in her home country at the age of 15 and was subjected to physical and mental abuse. She then accepted an offer from a man to get her to the UK, but he sexually exploited her and she ran away. After using her friend’s documents to work as a cleaner and a carer, she was caught by immigration control and sent to prison for three months for fraud, before spending time in immigration detention. Thankfully, she met a woman from the fantastic Hibiscus Initiatives, whose women’s centre I have had the pleasure of visiting. It offered her support, and thankfully, since her release, she has been granted leave to remain and has given birth to a healthy baby boy.

The continued failure to introduce a data-sharing firewall between the police and immigration engenders a lack of trust among migrant women, which puts them at greater risk of violence and abuse. Measures in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and proposals in the Illegal Migration Bill curtail the rights of migrant and trafficked women further, leaving them even more vulnerable to abuse and widening the net of criminalisation. Toxic cultures of misogyny and racism in the police have also been highlighted by too many high-profile cases over the years.

It is against this backdrop that a small proportion of victims each year find themselves facing arrest, prosecution and imprisonment because of their experience of abuse. As the Government themselves acknowledged in their female offender strategy, by far the majority of women in prison or under community supervision are victims of domestic abuse, and there are strong links between women’s experience of abuse and their offending or alleged offending.

For ethnic minority and migrant women, it is particularly hard to access support. Migrants with the “no recourse to public funds” condition face extra barriers in seeking crucial support from the state to help them to flee abusive relationships. Meanwhile, research by Refuge has shown that black women are 14% less likely to be referred to its services by police than white survivors of domestic abuse. The Government’s female offender strategy delivery plan, released earlier this year, contained no commitment to take action to end the unjust criminalisation of victims of violence against women and girls, and the Victims and Prisoners Bill has been widely condemned by specialist women’s services for failing to deliver what victims need.

Given the issues I have raised today, I would like to provide the Minister with a series of recommendations, drawing on the work of the Centre for Women’s Justice and the Tackling Double Disadvantage partnership. First, will the Government amend the Victims and Prisoners Bill to introduce statutory defences for victims of domestic abuse who are accused of offending, and to add a commitment to the victims code to protect all victims of violence against women and girls from unjust criminalisation, therefore ensuring that they have their rights upheld as victims and are not stigmatised?

Secondly, will the Government increase investment in women’s services for victims facing criminal proceedings, to ensure that they have a safe space to disclose abuse and receive support at the earliest stage, and especially services led by and for black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women? That would help the implementation of a strategic approach to changing the culture of the police and other criminal justice agencies.

Thirdly, the Government should seek to ensure that ethnic minority and migrant women have access to cultural mediation, translation, interpretation and international calls and are provided with improved standards of interpretation and the choice of the gender of their interpreter.

Fourthly, I urge the Government to implement a firewall to end the sharing of victims’ and witnesses’ data between the police and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes, as recommended by the Justice Committee, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the women’s services sector. That would help to create greater security and confidence for migrant women who come forward to report abuse.

Fifthly, I ask the Government to commit to the annual publication of disaggregated data on gender-based violence and its link with women’s pathways into the criminal justice system, including a distinct focus on ethnic minority and migrant women.

Last, but by no means least, I urge the Government to withdraw proposals in the Illegal Migration Bill that would limit the rights of potential victims of trafficking and leave women far more vulnerable to abuse without recourse.

I have with me a letter for the Minister that sets out in more detail the demands and asks for change put forward by the Centre for Women’s Justice and the Tackling Double Disadvantage partnership, and requests a written response to our recommendations and a meeting; I hope the Minister will be kind enough to accept it. I would be grateful if the Minister considered those proposals closely and worked with me and other Members from across the House who are here today.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) on securing this important debate and championing the plight of domestic abuse survivors, including survivors of domestic abuse who find themselves unable to access support due to no recourse to public funds, an issue on which she has been an advocate in this House.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence and abuse, I am all too aware of the impact of the cost of living crisis. There is no doubt about its impact. Although we hear constantly about the crisis and its effects on families, schools and pensioners, we hear less about how it prevents women from fleeing domestic abuse. Even before the cost of living crisis, finances already acted as a barrier to people leaving an abuser. Survivors often struggle to access the money that they need to flee, and the cost of living crisis has hugely exacerbated that.

A recent survey published in January by Women’s Aid found that 73% of survivors had either been prevented from fleeing as a result of the crisis or it had made it harder for them to flee. In my view, the cost of living crisis and economic and financial abuse in particular are placing survivors of domestic abuse at risk of criminalisation. For example, in my borough of Tower Hamlets, the safer neighbourhood team has found that the most shoplifted item in the borough right now is Calpol. That is an utterly devastating fact. We know that that is driven by poverty and the utter desperation of mainly women and mothers.

I want to turn to the experiences of women survivors in the criminal justice system. We should all be appalled that at least 57% of women in prison or under community supervision are victims of domestic abuse. Indeed, campaigners have long raised their plight and the need for far greater support for them, as well as legal safeguards to prevent victims from being criminalised as a result of their abuse. This cannot be emphasised enough: we have known for long enough that black and ethnic minority women are disproportionately drawn into the criminal justice system and therefore, as the Tackling Double Disadvantage partnership has said, suffer from that double disadvantage.

I want to raise the plight of pregnant women in prison. The imprisonment of pregnant women is wrong. They are almost twice as likely to give birth prematurely and are five times more likely to experience a stillbirth. The Ministry of Justice is aware of that and campaigners have long called for no woman to have to give birth in prison. In 2019, for example, a woman gave birth in a prison cell in Bronzefield prison, which is Europe’s largest women’s prison with no access to a midwife or any maternity care. The woman’s baby did not survive. That is a huge injustice. I think most people in this country will see it as a grave injustice that women in prison are often expected to give birth without the care that is needed, so I urge the Government to review that. Once a year, campaigners including Level Up and No Births Behind Bars are outside the Royal Courts of Justice and outside Parliament campaigning on that issue.

I also want to raise the issues around pregnant refugees. Under the current provisions in the Illegal Migration Bill, pregnant refugees are likely to be placed in circumstances worse than the already inhumane situation of pregnant women in UK prisons. In places such as Manston, there have been outbreaks of diphtheria and reports of assaults and drug use by guards. Last year it was estimated that Manston was detaining thousands of people who arrived in Britain via small boats—some for as long as 40 days or more. No one should be detained in such places at all, never mind those who are pregnant. The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Maternity Action have all raised the issue of healthcare in immigration detention and the fact that it is very poor indeed.

In 2014, some 99 women were locked up in Serco-run Yarl’s Wood detention centre while pregnant, and research by Medical Justice found that they often missed antenatal appointments, often had no ultrasound scans, did not have direct access to a midwife and could not request visits. Surely that is an injustice and needs to be addressed. Many of those women will have fled persecution and violence in other parts of the world, and they go on perhaps to experience violence and abuse in this country as well.

I also want to speak about the condition of no recourse to public funds. The case has been made again and again; the research and the evidence are there as to how that is having an impact on migrant survivors of domestic abuse’s ability to come forward. I appreciate the steps and strides made in the Domestic Abuse Act. No one can take away from the fact that that was landmark legislation and had a lot of support on both sides of the House. It was important that we put this matter on a statutory footing and ensured that there were provisions to support people. But what was missing was support for migrant survivors of domestic abuse.

One of my concerns is about the DDVC, the destitution domestic violence concession, which allows those women who do come forward to apply for leave to remain, if they have the intention to apply for indefinite leave to remain, to get a three-month period to, essentially, sort themselves out. How can they really, in a three-month period, sort themselves out to get a roof over their head and have a sense of security while they are escaping domestic abuse? I am aware that there are the domestic violence ILR rules as well.

The problem underpinning all of this is that women and survivors will not come forward unless they are aware, and feel absolutely confident, that their information will not be shared with immigration enforcement, so I support the calls that are being made again and again that we need a firewall to end the sharing of data between the police and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes. That has been recommended by the Select Committee on Justice, by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and all other women’s sector services. It literally can make the difference between life and death for migrant survivors of domestic abuse.

Lastly, I want to say a little about my own case. The topic that we are debating today cuts to the core of my experiences. Colleagues will be aware that two years after being elected, I endured an eight-day trial, instigated by a complaint made by my ex-husband’s brother-in-law, which forced me to talk about my painful and private experiences of domestic abuse. The action was taken by my local council, and my ex-husband was a councillor at the time. I was found to be innocent of all the charges, but what remains is that the matter of domestic abuse was actually used against me by the prosecution; it was argued that the domestic abuse was a motive for the alleged crimes. As Raj Chada, who represented me—he is the criminal defence partner at Hodge Jones & Allen—argued:

“Prosecutors and investigators need to better understand and consider how victims of coercive control and domestic abuse behave and how they are treated by the criminal justice system.”

It is absolutely imperative that the Government now look at introducing statutory defences for victims of domestic abuse who are accused of offences, and add to the victims code a commitment to protect all victims of violence from unjust criminalisation, ensuring that they have their rights upheld as victims and are not further stigmatised. Additional safeguards are needed throughout the criminal justice process. The Tackling Double Disadvantage partnership is calling for the introduction where necessary of additional safeguards, such as a process to allow the pausing of a police interview under caution where it becomes clear that the suspect may be a victim of domestic abuse. I did not have that. I am not saying that, as a Member of Parliament, I should have been treated specially or differently, but I am describing my case and my experiences of being interviewed under police caution, where I made the position very clear, and it took a lot of confidence and courage to come forward and say, “This is what has been happening and I am still fearful of what my ex-husband can do to me, just for coming forward—just for speaking out.”

There did not seem to be an understanding of domestic abuse in the handling of the case in its early stages, and I fear that other people are being prosecuted for offences in relation to which the law does not necessarily take into account the impact and experiences of domestic abuse. My case was a fraud case; there are no statutory defences around domestic abuse in a case such as that. The case rested heavily on the approach of the prosecution, which considered domestic abuse a motivating factor for the crime. I therefore call for additional safeguards and statutory defences, and for a commitment to the victims code to protect people from unjust criminalisation. I strongly feel that what happened to me must never happen to anyone ever again, but I fear that it is still happening to many people in this country.

I thank the Centre for Women’s Justice and the Tackling Double Disadvantage Partnership. The partnership is made up of a number of organisations, which I will name: Hibiscus Initiatives, Agenda Alliance, Women in Prison, the Zahid Mubarek Trust, the Muslim Women in Prison project and the Criminal Justice Alliance. They are making a range of calls on the Government; I have already mentioned the firewall on data sharing between police and the Home Office. They are also calling for increased investment in women-specific services, specifically for victims of violence who are facing criminal proceedings, so that women have a safe space to disclose and receive support, and they are calling for that investment to be made particularly in services that are for and led by black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women. They are also calling for criminal justice practitioners at every stage of the process—whether police, judges, juries, or prisons and probation services—to take proper account of the abuse experienced by victim suspects and defendants, and to be made accountable for doing so. That call is about having access to training, guidance and expert support from women’s specialist services, so that criminal justice practitioners can consider fully the relationship between alleged offending and experiences of abuse.

Without the support of the women’s sector, I too would have found myself not necessarily having the language to describe my experiences. It was profoundly empowering to put the proper words to my own experience, so that it could be understood by the criminal justice system. That would not have happened without the support that I ended up receiving, and availability of that support is a postcode lottery for many people in this country. For example, there are just not enough independent domestic violence advocates. I know that the Government are providing a statutory definition in the Victims and Prisoners Bill. We can make a statutory definition of what an IDVA is and does, but there need to be enough of them. There needs to be a commitment to funding enough of them, whether through Victim Support or local and established services. We can put things in Bills, but we need the funding to ensure that they can be implemented and have an impact.

I have already mentioned the Illegal Migration Bill. The Tackling Double Disadvantage Partnership is calling for the withdrawal of provisions that would limit the rights of potential victims of trafficking. We have to understand the experiences of women who have been persecuted and are fleeing violence in other parts of the world. They also have rights under international law, and we have to take that into account in terms of their experiences in this country.

Finally, I have not really mentioned data, apart from the data sharing among the Home Office, immigration enforcement and the police. It is important to collect and analyse disaggregated data to improve our understanding of the criminalisation of victims of violence against women and girls, and of the intersection between that and the experiences of black, Asian and minoritised and migrant women. Not enough data is available, and I could say lots about why it is not, but it is absolutely important to make that data available. Victims themselves need to know what is happening in the criminal justice system and the sector needs to know as well.

Every week, two women in the UK are killed by a current or ex-partner, and 49% of those women are killed less than a month after separation. That is unacceptable and preventable. Women make up 5% of the prison population, and so many of them will be victims of domestic abuse. That is also unacceptable. So many of those women are giving birth behind prison bars, which is also unacceptable. But this is all preventable. This injustice is preventable and I urge the Government to take action sooner rather than later.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for securing this really important debate. It is timely when the rights and voices of women are being silenced—an issue that is really important to us all.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) for always being honest in sharing her own personal story, because every time she speaks about it she is helping another woman to have the strength and courage to come forward. That is not easy, but even if it is only one woman who comes forward, it is possible that they could change and impact another woman’s life, so I thank her for that and for always being honest about that.

I want to speak about an issue that sometimes we, as a society, sweep aside: girls who are associated with gangs, and the violence and sexual violence that they face. When we talk about gangs, people perceive violence and youth crime as an issue that predominantly affects young men and boys, but a number of girls are also being criminalised. If we look at county lines, we know that many gangs use young women to transport drugs up and down the country because they are less detectable. We also know that those girls are being criminally exploited. Child criminal exploitation is a big issue, and child sexual exploitation is also a big issue.

We see gang members involved in county lines sexually exploiting vulnerable young women and girls. We see male gang members grooming those young women into sexual relationships, to a point where those young women and girls do not realise that they are being groomed and used. They think they are in a relationship; they look up to this male. Then they are tricked into opening bank accounts, and tricked into using their homes to cuckoo and store drugs and weapons, including knives and guns, all with the allure of this older male being their partner.

For a number of these girls, it is quite hard to break out of these relationships. The issue of debt bondage comes in. They have to pay back the gang members, and that payback is often in the form of sexual exploitation. These girls have been raped multiple times by gang members. In some cases, gang initiation practices involve multiple rapes of these girls. How do we see the police and other agencies responding? They criminalise these young girls. They say that they are gang members, not recognising that they are being exploited both criminally and sexually. So we need a gendered approach when we talk about these young women and girls who are being exploited sexually.

Also, a number of these young women and girls are from a black and minority ethnic background, and they already have no faith in the criminal justice system. They feel that no one will believe them. I remember what happened to Sarah Everard in my borough—where she was attacked and kidnapped was close to the area I represented as a ward councillor. I have walked those roads. In one of the sessions that I had with a group of youth workers, one of the girls said to me, “If they can’t even believe someone like Sarah Everard, what chance do they have of believing me?” That is how the girls see it in terms of what is happening with the policing system.

We need to consider how we hear the voices of young black and minority ethnic women in the criminal justice system, and not just throw away the key and lock them up. We need to make sure that we listen to them when they tell us they are being sexually exploited and criminally exploited, and not perceive them as gang members. We need to listen when they are coerced into opening bank accounts so that money can be transported through them. We need to listen to them when they face being made homeless, often with their young children, and see their tenancies end because their homes are being used by gang members. We need to make sure that we believe these young women.

Sadly, in January 2019 the National Crime Agency estimated that 91% of people associated with county lines were men, but females were under-represented both as offenders and victims of exploitation because the data is not there. One of the issues I raised when I held a Westminster Hall debate on this subject was the importance of ensuring that violence reduction units, police and crime commissioners and different policing agencies across the country hold data on how many girls and young women come into their services. There is a lot of data on boys and young men. The data on women and girls is patchy at best. It is important that when the police stop and search a car with a young girl in it, they do not assume that she is the girlfriend of a gang member. She could be being held in that car against her will. She could be being criminally or sexually exploited. It is about asking her questions about her safety.

We see these young women and girls providing support to gang members when there is a stabbing. Again, I remember speaking to a gang member, who said, “When there is an incident—a stabbing—it is the girls and young women who are the first ones there.” It is the girls and young women who offer mentoring and trauma support to those young boys—who organise the funerals, lay flowers and tend to the burial site. Where is the help and support for those young girls? It is important, when we talk about violence against women and girls and minority ethnic women, that we think about their voices and ensure that they are heard.

On the specific area of girls associated with gangs, I ask the Minister when the Government will start working with the PCCs and violence reduction units to ensure that we collate the data on a gendered approach, because if we are serious about tackling the issue of violence against women and girls, we need to ensure that we have the data in the first instance.

I believe this is the first time I have had the pleasure of serving under your chairship, Ms Nokes. I want to say a massive congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for bringing forward this important debate, and to all the agencies that compiled the report. I am hopeful that the Minister will want to arrange a meeting with them to look at the findings, which, from my experience, are clear and accurate.

The nub of the issue, as my hon. Friend identified, comes from Refuge data, which found that black women are 14% less likely to be referred to its services for support by the police than white survivors. I have worked in the field for a long time, and people often say these are—I hate this language—“hard to reach” groups. In actual fact, black women are 3% more likely to report abuse to the police and 14% less likely to be referred by police services to specialist services. This is not a hard-to-reach cohort of people; this is a group of people asking for help and not being provided with it. There is something fundamental in that statistic about where we are going wrong, before we even get to the idea of people being criminalised.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum): maybe I just have not slept very well this week, but the statistic about Calpol being the thing that was most stolen in her constituency, based on police data, made me want to cry. That is unbelievable, yet so believable. That was before she went on to speak about her experience, where criminalisation was undoubtedly used as a weapon by her abusers. That is not uncommon. I first read about the charges against my hon. Friend in The Sun, when she had only just been elected. It was not a very detailed piece but as a professional in this area, on reading it, I did not see a woman being criminalised; despite having never spoken to her, I instantly knew that she was a victim of domestic abuse. I contacted her immediately to say as much. Why on earth could the first criminal justice agency to interact with her in that case not see that from the evidence in front of it? It is a disgrace.

What I am seeing at the moment, specifically in domestic abuse cases where children are involved, is that the new game in town for those accused of domestic abuse who want to attack their accuser is claim and counterclaim, and I have recently encountered counterclaims against known victims of domestic abuse that have led to their arrest. In one case I am handling, the health visitor of a woman who had been to the multi-agency risk assessment conference eight times, such was the high-risk nature of the threat to her life—two attempts had been made on her life, and on the lives of her child and parents—turned up at my office in a desperate panic because the woman had been put in a prison cell owing to counterclaims by her ex-husband.

Every single claim and counterclaim case I have been involved with in which the police have made an arrest has involved an Asian woman—and that is not just because of the demographics of the area that I represent. I am watching black and minoritised women being criminalised literally for being victims of domestic abuse. As I say, that interacts very badly with our failing family court system, where the game in town for a long time was parent alienation. Now that has been widely rebuked, there is a new game: every single domestic abuse claim a woman makes in family court—bar rape, one notices—gets turned around and put back on her. In every case where I have seen claim and counterclaim lead to either criminalisation or poor decisions in family court—this is totally anecdotal, based on my personal experience; I would love to show some data, but neither the Home Office nor the family courts collect any, so everyone gathered here will have to take my word for it—it has involved a black or Asian woman. There is definitely a problem in the system; I am seeing it live with my own eyes. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse is incredibly brave to talk about her experiences again, and I am proud to know her.

To the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), again, missing data is part of the problem, but the brutal exploitation of girls in gangs, both criminally and through sexual exploitation, only for them to go on and be criminalised, is absolutely woeful. Some 63% of girls and young women serving sentences in the community have experienced rape or domestic abuse in intimate partner relationships. I have absolutely no doubt that a large number of those will be linked to the gang and sexual exploitation activity that is going on.

We in the Labour party are seeking to amend the Victims and Prisoners Bill so that child criminal exploitation is defined in law. So far, the Government have pushed back against that, but hope springs eternal that by the time the Bill comes back in its next iteration they will have decided that defining child criminal exploitation in law is important. I know my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall has lent her voice to that. Moreover, on the push for data, I cannot express enough how we need better data on all of these things. The situation is woeful.

This is not new news. At the moment, I sometimes feel like I am in a meeting that I was in 20 years ago. We must be 20 years on from Baroness Corston’s report, which roundly proved that criminalising women was costly to society, dangerous for our criminal justice agencies and bore no results. I used to run a female offenders’ centre in the west midlands that came about because of what was in the Corston report and we had a 97% non-reoffending rate. Sadly, I think the state has the opposite: a 97% reoffending rate. We know that women’s centres and services that divert people from prison work. It is not soft touch; it stops criminal activity. Do I think for a second that somebody who has stolen some Calpol should go to prison? That is phenomenal, yet it happens up and down our country. We know the data.

Unfortunately, the Government have a policy of building new women’s prisons, which they will fill overnight at great cost to the taxpayer. The reoffending rate achieved will be nowhere near as good as investing that money in women’s centre services. I set up a women’s centre because I watched victims of domestic abuse from my refuge being criminalised as part of the pattern of the abuse they had suffered, for things such as their children not going to school—that is the point of a women’s centre. Women move miles away from their home, where they have been living in horrendous situations in which they have basically been enslaved, and their children are frightened to leave them to go to a new school. Then they are criminalised because their children will not go to school. That is just unbelievable bad practice, all over the country.

I am not entirely sure why the Government, in the small bit of data they bother to collect, would look at the reoffending rates from prisons and women’s centres and think, “Prisons: that is the one for us.” It is absolute madness and does not make any sense. The failed and now returned to the state privatisation of probation—a dreadful and failed experiment over the past 10 years—has largely decimated our women’s criminal justice centres, which were doing brilliant and amazing work. I cannot stress enough the need for better data and understanding in this space.

On statutory defences, as alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton, I tabled amendments to that effect in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. I continue to believe that statutory defences in cases of domestic abuse and sexual violence and exploitation should have a role in our law. Just as my hon. Friend pointed, it seems ridiculous that the same provisions for cases of force used in break-ins do not exist for victims of domestic abuse. It is as if the state is basically saying “We are not expecting zero violence. You should be able to take a bit of violence before you kick back.” That is pretty grim, and I urge the Government once again to look at statutory defences. Under the stewardship of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), statutory defences were put into law in cases of modern slavery and human trafficking.

I am afraid to say that, although the law is written well, the practice is not so good, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall pointed out, so much more work needs to be done in that space. But there is nothing for victims of domestic and sexual violence. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead, the ex-Prime Minister and Home Secretary—back in the time when Home Secretaries stayed for a long time—acted with a spirit of fairness and had an understanding of what will work and what is right. I encourage the Government to take on that grit.

As for the firewall, I will briefly say that a woman in my constituency came to me because her husband was threatening to kill her. He continued to threaten to kill her after she called the police, as I told her to do, and she had a “sig” marker put on her house because her life was at risk. The police turned up, and the next thing I know she called me. Because she did not speak particularly good English, she said that she was in Bradford, but she was actually in Bedford, in Yarl’s Wood, because when she called the police to say that her husband was threatening to kill her and was coming round, she ended up in immigration detention. She has since, of course, been given indefinite leave to remain; I think she is actually a British citizen now. She should never have been detained, and she certainly should not have been detained when there was a threat to her life, because the next time her husband threatens to kill her, she will not call the police, and then I will read out her name on the next International Women’s Day.

We have case after case like that, and the Government’s response to our amendments on the firewall—the Domestic Abuse Commissioner has made clear that he supports that, and anybody who knows anything about anything thinks it is a good idea—is to act as if they are doing a kindness. What a kindness they did to my constituent when they put her in detention when her life was at risk. They act as if they are doing a kindness when they say, “Well, sometimes there is a need for the police to speak to immigration.” Of course there is. I speak to immigration all the time, but I do not do it as an enforcer; I do it to try to ensure that a victim’s immigration status can be sorted out and she can access the right services, and I do it at her request.

There is absolutely no reason why the police could not act in exactly the same way. No one is saying that we can never speak to immigration, but we should speak not to immigration enforcement, but to the Home Office at the point at which the victim needs her immigration sorted out. Caseworkers in violence against women and girls services do that all over the country, all the time, and nobody ends up in detention, so why do they when the police do it? It is a disgrace—it is part of the hostile environment—that the Government do not want to end the practice of detaining women who come forward to say that they have been raped or abused, that their lives are at risk, and that something should be done about it.

The Government agreed to the Istanbul convention, apart from the bit about migrant women. They literally carved out their rights, creating a two-tier system.

I will sit down shortly.

There is literally no excuse. I really hope the Government look at the report I mentioned, take its recommendations incredibly seriously, and use facts and evidence, not ideology, to make decisions about what they do with my constituents’ tax money.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for securing such an important debate. I also thank everybody in the Public Gallery for taking the trouble to come along to listen to us. A lot of people work very hard in this area. I accept the letter with pleasure; I know a lot of work has gone into it. The recommendations will be separately and carefully looked at, and there will be meetings if meetings are sought. I thank them very much for that hard work.

As the hon. Lady and other hon. Members are aware, the Government take tackling violence against women and girls very seriously. We are determined to strengthen our response to those horrific crimes, which cause so much pain and suffering across society. We are working in that regard.

I will come to our approach in more detail, but I want to make the point at the outset that the needs of victims and survivors are central to all the work we do in this area. That means that when they encounter the criminal justice system, they should get effective and sensitive support, and should be treated with the utmost respect and compassion.

Let me turn to some of the specific issues raised by Members. In relation to female offenders, we know that many women who come into contact with the criminal justice system have experienced domestic abuse. Ethnic minority women in particular are over-represented at each stage of the criminal justice system, and they face disparities associated with their ethnicity, faith and culture. Since the publication of the female offender strategy in January, we have begun a programme of work aimed at improving criminal justice outcomes and disparities, and we have established the female offender minority ethnic working group, or FOME, to take that forward.

The programme of work includes cultural awareness raising for staff, commissioning an evidence review better to identify and understand the issues that lead to or underpin disparities for ethnic minority and foreign national women, and developing guidance for prison and probation staff better to understand the family relationship structures and support needs of ethnic minority and foreign women.

I thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) for sharing her experiences of the criminal justice system. As a new Minister, I responded on behalf of the Government to her Westminster Hall debate last November, and heard of her experiences. I thank her for participating in today’s debate.

Women in the criminal justice system have complex issues and vulnerabilities—for example, a history of abuse. There are some things on which I agree with the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). Statistics show that 67% of women in custody or supervised in the community by the probation service with an assessment have experienced domestic abuse. Female prisoners are twice as likely to report the experience of abuse during childhood—53% of women against 27% of men—and female prisoners who report having experienced abuse as a child are more likely to report suffering sexual abuse than male prisoners. The figures are 67% for women and 24% for men. However, we need to remember that there are also vulnerable prisoners of the other sex.

Let me mention the Centre for Women’s Justice. The Ministry of Justice regularly works with the centre, and notably on the rape review, there is a high level of engagement, alongside the Home Office. A lot of work is being done. The centre will also work closely with the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), throughout the passage of the Victims and Prisoners Bill. Some of the issues we are discussing today are not directly in my portfolio, but I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State.

Order. May I interrupt the Minister for a moment? Somebody in the Public Gallery is using a telephone. May I alert the Doorkeeper to that? Back to you, Minister.

I am grateful, Ms Nokes.

On the cost of living, the Government remain committed to supporting victims. We have launched a £300,000 flexible fund, which we are working closely with Women’s Aid to deliver. I was privileged to visit a refuge recently, and to speak to the women who will benefit and who have benefited from that money, which has been accepted. The fund was launched on 10 May, and it makes payments of between £250 and £500. More financial support goes to pregnant women or those with families. Further support—

That fund ran out within about three weeks of it being launched. I have tried to access it twice, and there is no longer any money in it.

I am always pleased when money runs out because that means it has been fully utilised. I was about to finish the sentence by saying that further support is under review. The demand for that service has been considered.

Let me mention one or two other points that hon. Members raised with great earnestness. On the drugs strategy and county lines, on 6 December 2021, the Government published a 10-year drugs strategy, and through that strategy we will support our flagship county lines programme, investing £149 million over three years in that area. That funding will add to the £65 million invested since November 2019.

How will the Victims and Prisoners Bill improve people’s experience and the experience of victims? We are supporting victims of domestic abuse by enhancing the position of independent domestic violence advisers, while improving wider support services through a joint statutory duty in England on police and crime commissioners, local authorities and health bodies to collaborate in commissioning support services. Beyond the Bill, we are providing £51 million to support victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Those are unprecedented numbers that the Government have committed to this field.

I have a little more time to mention support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. How we support migrant victims of domestic abuse has been raised by several hon. Members today. Let me reiterate that the Government are committed to supporting all victims of domestic abuse, regardless of their immigration status. We know that victims of domestic abuse with insecure immigration status can face additional barriers when seeking support from agencies and professionals. That is why in April 2021 the Government launched the support for migrant victims scheme, which is run by Southall Black Sisters and their delivery partners. I have had the pleasure on numerous occasions to speak with members of that organisation. That scheme provides wraparound support for migrant victims, including accommodation, subsistence support and counselling. As I mentioned, I am pleased to have met members of the organisation on several occasions and I am grateful for their work in this area.

As committed to in the domestic abuse plan, we allocated up to £1.4 million in 2022-23 to continue to fund the scheme. We have now extended that funding into March 2025. More than 950 victims have been supported through the scheme since its introduction, and I welcome the important work that Southall Black Sisters and many other specialist organisations do in this area.

Data sharing, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members, is an area where there are strongly held views. Following our 2022 review of data sharing for migrant victims of crime, we will be establishing a migrant victims protocol. That will provide an assurance to individuals that no immigration enforcement action will be taken while criminal justice proceedings are ongoing or while support to make applications to regularise their stay is being sought.

Alongside establishing that protocol, we are developing a code of practice on personal data sharing between the police and the Home Office regarding victims of domestic abuse subject to immigration control.

The Minister says that the Government are doing all they can to support women affected by domestic abuse, but what about migrant women who have no recourse to public funds? What are the Government going to do to support those women?

The Government have committed large amounts of funding to support partners, and are always looking at and reviewing what they are going to do.

If I could just progress a little, I will mention the code of practice, which is pertinent to this area. Both the code of practice and the migrant victims protocol are currently under development. We are engaging with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Information Commissioner Office on the code, and considering how to engage further in this area.

I will be happy to do so once I have made a little more progress.

Right at the beginning of the debate, the hon. Member for Edmonton said that she had grave concerns about how people are dealt with by the police. I agree, on behalf of Government, that it is crucial for police officers to have the right tools and training to engage sensitively and appropriately will all victims of domestic abuse.

I hope it is useful to set out what training is already available for the police. For those entering the service, the College of Policing’s foundation training includes substantial coverage of police ethics, including the effects of personal conscious and unconscious bias. The initial training, undertaken by all officers, also covers hate crimes, ethics, equalities and policing without bias. Further training is then provided in specialist areas throughout an officer’s career. For example, training for those involved in public protection includes methods to raise officers’ self-awareness of their own views, stereotypes and biases.

The Minister may be aware of Valerie’s law. We are asking the police to look at having specialist training covering the fact that bruises and scars from domestic abuse do not show as much on the skin of black and minority ethnic women. The police have been found not to have believed some of these women, so does the Minister agree that there should be police training on that?

When I have had engagement with the national leads from the College of Policing, I have always been impressed with how they have been prepared to develop and pursue areas in their training. I know the hon. Lady will make representations to them and to me on how the training can be made better, and I am always interested in hearing about that.

I am pleased that Domestic Abuse Matters training has been widely undertaken. The Domestic Abuse Matters programme has been delivered to the majority of forces and we are supporting the roll-out to remaining forces. There are also updated modules, which are of assistance.

I will just pursue this point for a little while.

The first responders training specifically considers the needs and vulnerabilities of different victims as a core thread running throughout. The training also specifically covers responding to so-called honour-based abuse. We have not debated that in detail today so I will not spend too long on it, but I am pleased the training is developing in areas where that is needed. That is why debates such as this are so informative—because new ideas and recommendations can be brought forward. The College of Policing also issues authorised professional practice documents, which are the official source of professional practice on policing.

Various hon. Ladies raised the issue of data, and that is important because data and evidence is what informs us. While we received much reassuring information in December when His Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services and its partner organisations published their report on the super-complaint, there is a need for improvement in the recording of ethnicity data and for the police to develop wider awareness of the different cultures and religions in their local communities. The Home Secretary and I take this very seriously. I am pleased the police have accepted the recommendations relating to those points and I look forward to seeing positive change as a result.

Funding for ethnic minority victims has also been raised in the debate. Violence against women and girls affects a wide range of people, and a one-size-fits-all approach is not always the most appropriate way to support victims, especially those with specific needs and vulnerabilities, which includes ethnic minority victims. We recognise the importance of specialist “by and for” VAWG services to understand the specific issues that ethnic minority victims face; they have the necessary skills and experience to provide that support. One of the pleasures of being the Minister with responsibility for this area has been meeting so many experienced people in these fields—voluntary, paid, individuals, groups. It has been wonderful.

To further bolster this important work that the Government do, the Home Office, alongside the Ministry of Justice, has launched the violence against women and girls fund, which will allocate up to £8.4 million of funding for “by and for” and specialist services across England and Wales over two years. The competition has concluded and announcements on successful bidders will be shared in due course.

The Home Office has also recently awarded over £10 million to organisations providing specialist support to children who have been impacted by domestic abuse, an area close to the hearts of all of us in this room. As part of this, we have provided SafeLives with funding to specifically improve the support available for children from ethnic minority backgrounds. This includes developing the knowledge of frontline professionals by delivering training with support from specialist “by and for” organisations.

As set out in the tackling domestic abuse plan, we aim to enable a whole-system approach to make sure the whole system operates in greater co-ordination to respond to domestic abuse and support victims. This support is essential and that is why we committed to invest up to £7.5 million in domestic abuse interventions in healthcare settings. It is very important that we tackle this and support each and every agency we can. This will include independent domestic violence advocates informed by, and specialised in, the needs of marginalised victims.

The Government response to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s “A Patchwork of Provision” report, published in March, reiterates the value of “by and for” specialist services in providing the tailored support required by those with protected characteristics and those who experience the highest levels of exclusion from mainstream services.

I offer my thanks again to the hon. Member for Edmonton for securing the debate. I look forward to reading in further detail the recommendations in her assessment report, which will be given to me. This is an important and emotive subject, as reflected in the emotions and careful considerations of this debate. As I said at the beginning, the Government are wholeheartedly committed to tackling violence against women and girls. That means going after perpetrators, strengthening our systems and, crucially, ensuring that victims and survivors get the support they need and deserve, whatever their background and ethnicity.

First, I want to say thank you to my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) and for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) for your powerful speeches.

Thank you for reminding us, Ms Nokes.

I thank everyone who has helped me to put this debate together. It is really important that this House has considered the criminalisation of victims of violence against women from ethnic minority and migrant communities.

The Minister said that the Government are committed to tackling disparities facing ethnic minority women in the criminal justice system. Although the inequalities experienced by ethnic minorities are mentioned in the delivery plan, it does not go far enough. We need to tackle institutional racism in the criminal justice system from top to bottom. It is no wonder that black and ethnic minority women do not trust the police and the criminal justice system, for many different reasons. When we hear stories such as those of the police officers taking pictures of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, we know that the lack of trust across the community only deepens. There is a lot of work still to be done. I thank the Minister for accepting my letter, and I look forward to working alongside the Government to improve outcomes for victims of domestic violence.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of the criminalisation of victims of violence against women from ethnic minority and migrant communities.

Sitting suspended.

Robert Stephenson and Company: 200th Anniversary

I will call Chi Onwurah to move the motion and will then call the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up as this is only a 30-minute debate.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential merits of Government support for the 200th anniversary of Robert Stephenson and Company, Newcastle.

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a chartered engineer.

I am very proud to have secured this debate to celebrate the fact that my constituency, Newcastle upon Tyne Central, is home to the world’s first locomotive factory. Just 100 yards from Newcastle Central station stands the very shed where Robert Stephenson and Company developed the key enabling technology of the industrial revolution, transforming the physical, economic and social landscape of the United Kingdom and, indeed, countries around the world.

In the bicentenary year of the founding of the factory, which improved the lives of generation upon generation, I want to understand what steps the Government are taking to commemorate it, and to set out the importance of celebrating our industrial heritage so that we can inspire a new generation of industrial innovators to solve the great challenges of our age.

George Stephenson was born into poverty in 1781 and had no formal education until the age of 18, but he died a man of worldwide renown. In 1823, with two local industrialists, Edward Pease and Michael Longridge, and his son Robert, he set up Robert Stephenson and Company. Robert was only 20 at the time but already a notable engineer in his own right, and he built on his father’s work. He even became a Tory MP representing Whitby, so I hope that Robert Stephenson and Company will receive cross-party celebration.

When the factory opened, 90% of the global population lived in abject poverty and infant mortality was 40%. Horses to carry Newcastle’s famous coal were scarce and colliery owners sought better ways to transport it across the country. It was by responding to that challenge that George Stephenson earned his title as the father of the railways. The Stephensons’ factory was the world’s first works to specialise in the construction of locomotives. It transformed the coal industry, gave birth to public transport by initiating the first ever passenger railway, and was the literal engine of the industrial revolution.

The works also helped to bring about two of the country’s greatest railway structures: Newcastle Central station, widely accepted as one of the country’s finest stations, and the High Level bridge, the world’s first combined rail and road bridge. That is only a fraction of Stephenson’s legacy: the truth is that every single person in this room has benefited from the Robert Stephenson and Company factory, and every country has felt the impact of the works.

One of the most important historical sites of the 19th century is now part of a redevelopment scheme called the Stephenson Quarter, which includes the Boiler Shop, a popular venue for music and food, finding new relevance in the vibrant cultural life of Newcastle. There is a plaque commemorating Locomotion No. 1 at the original works site, but there should be much more to commemorate it.

The first locomotive to be built at the works was named, imaginatively, Locomotion No. 1, which ran on the Stockton and Darlington railway. It was followed by Hope, Black Diamond and Diligence, and then by the famous Stephenson’s Rocket, the most advanced locomotive of its day. The designs proved to be the template for the next 150 years of locomotive construction in Britain and around the world. The factory built the first locomotives to run in America, Australia, France and Germany.

Knowing that the best locomotives were made in England, the US state of New Jersey ordered the John Bull all the way from Newcastle in 1831. It was last operated in 1981, which makes it the oldest operable steam locomotive in existence. Today, the John Bull is on proud display at the National Museum of American History, so it is no exaggeration to say that Newcastle’s industrial heritage belongs to the world.

Just 76 years after setting up shop, the factory had produced more than 3,000 locomotives and was selling to more than 60 countries. The world had become a smaller place. The first industrial revolution saw various labour-saving inventions that drove rises in output and production, but few had as much of an impact on our very way of life as the steam locomotive. Railways connected communities and made what was distant close, and in so doing altered the significance of space and time. New opportunities for travel gave birth to the work commute—we may not all be appreciative of that—Victorian seaside resorts and even the standardisation of time, because the need for standardised railway timetables drove local and national co-ordination and eventually gave rise to the international standard, the Greenwich meridian. There could not be a more striking symbol of the manner in which the innovations of Stephenson and Company ushered in modernity and united people across localities, regions and nations.

Of course, there was opposition at the time, particularly from the vested interests of horse and river power companies. It was said that cows would stop giving milk and hens would not lay eggs, that the locomotive would cause miscarriages in women and that its smoke would turn each day into a dark night. Those early examples of online harms—that is, on-railway-line harms—did not come to pass, but that is no excuse for the current Government’s failure to legislate for the harms of today’s transformative communications technology, the internet. The industrial revolution generated other harms, of course: exploitation, unsafe working conditions, child labour and poverty. In response, the labour movement, of which I am a proud member, grew to protect and promote the interests of ordinary working people.

In the north-east, we are immensely proud of our industrial heritage. Our region is not only the birthplace of the locomotive; our mines, mills and plants fostered many of the riches that flowed from the first—carbon-based—industrial revolution. As a nation, we take pride in the people who lived in our castles, but our history should also tell the story of working people: the mines where they toiled and the railways and bridges that they built. According to research from Historic England, 93% of people agree that local heritage raises their quality of life. Living close to historic buildings and places is associated with higher levels of self-reported health, higher levels of happiness and higher life satisfaction. There are museums in the north-east that celebrate our industrial heritage, not least the Discovery Museum, which is in my constituency and showcases world firsts such as Parsons’ Turbinia and Joseph Swan’s light bulb. I pay tribute to Arts Council England’s museum development programme for the north-east, which provides grants to help museums to remain a key part of all communities in the region.

How was the bicentenary of Robert Stephenson’s works celebrated? In my constituency, the Common Room, which is the home of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, held an exhibition to celebrate the life and achievements of Robert Stephenson. The Robert Stephenson Trust’s celebrations included a train-naming ceremony at Darlington. Newcastle City Council planned to celebrate with the launch of the Pattern Shop in what was the Stephenson works’ engine room, but the collapse of Tolent, the building company, put paid to that. What did the Government do? Will the Minister confirm that the amazing anniversary passed unnoticed by the Government? Were they perhaps distracted by the multiple changes of Prime Minister and Chancellor over the past 12 months?

I recently tabled parliamentary questions about preserving and celebrating our industrial heritage and received, rather surprisingly, quite a useful answer from the Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries, but it focused very much on the preservation, not the celebration. It gave as an example of an asset worthy of preservation that listed marvel of engineering, Newcastle’s 19th-century swing bridge—the bridge that cannot swing anymore. Unfortunately, in response to previous written questions from me, Ministers have failed to take responsibility for preserving the swing bridge, saying that they expect to have ongoing discussions—whatever that means. Will this Minister say what role the Government have in the preservation and celebration of our industrial heritage and why Newcastle’s swing bridge and the Robert Stephenson works apparently do not qualify?

As I have said, celebrating our industrial heritage gives communities pride. That pride helps to inspire our young people into the industries of today and tomorrow—and under a Labour Government there will be industries of today and tomorrow. With our industrial strategy and green prosperity plan, we will reindustrialise the north-east with clean tech and green jobs, with wealth flowing directly back into the communities that those industries serve and cutting energy bills. This is about owning the future, setting missions to guide industry and facing up to the challenges that would otherwise overwhelm us.

Climate change is one of the greatest scientific and engineering problems that the world has ever known. We have built a world of technology based on fossil fuels—the Robert Stephenson works are an example of that—and now we need to re-engineer it and do that fast, or we will endanger the very civilisation that our technology created. Labour will more than double our onshore wind capacity, triple—

Order. May I remind the hon. Lady that she needs to stick quite tightly to the matter of Government support for the 200th anniversary of Robert Stephenson and Company?

I appreciate that, Ms Nokes. The reason why we need Government support for the Robert Stephenson celebrations is just what I am coming to.

Celebrating northern pioneers should be an opportunity to inspire younger generations, tackle the skills gap and diversify our STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—sector. Our country has a 175,000-person skills shortage in STEM, and the sector experiences a chronic lack of diversity at the same time. The Royal Academy of Engineering recognises that and is studying the important role of industrial heritage in education, economy and place. Historic England has found that participation in heritage programmes enables young people in industrial heartlands to claim ownership of their local areas and contribute towards their revitalisation. The celebration of the works site is, then, a key part of ensuring that we have the skills for the next industrial revolution. I would like to recognise the work of the ERA Foundation and, in particular, its director Tom Gordon in supporting this debate.

Will the Minister outline the Government’s plans for celebrating and commemorating the bicentenary year of the Robert Stephenson and Company works site? Will he outline what the Government have done to recognise and celebrate the north-east’s industrial heritage and the national industrial heritage? The Minister may mention the Great Exhibition of the North in 2018. It was a great exhibition and it was of the north, but can he set out what its industrial heritage legacy was and where we can find it? Can he demonstrate that he not only understands the significance of the legacy of the Stephenson works but will take steps to honour and preserve their heritage?

I note that the Department for Transport is answering this debate, rather than the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but will the Minister outline whether his Department has any plans to harness the great advantage of Newcastle’s industrial past and pioneers, such as George and Robert Stephenson, to inspire the next generation of north-east innovators, who are so needed to build on our strengths in so many of the areas relevant to the industries of the future, such as carbon capture and storage and green hydrogen?

Order. May I remind the hon. Member that I really do not want her to start straying into her own shadow portfolio, which would cause quite a lot of consternation in the Chair?

I am just concluding.

Speaking as the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, I know that the United Kingdom has huge industrial potential and an amazing industrial heritage. I want a Government who recognise the achievements of the past and put them in the service of the challenges of the future. Celebrating the Robert Stephenson works is one way of doing that; I would like to understand what the Government’s way of doing that is.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) for securing this important debate on the potential merits of Government support for the 200th anniversary of Robert Stephenson and Company. She rightly pointed out that two Departments could have answered the debate. I hope, for the reasons I will come to, that she will understand why it is the Department for Transport and the Rail Minister doing that, rather than the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Let me talk about Railway 200, because the thrust of the hon. Member’s points relate to that plan. As she stated, for nearly 200 years the railways have been the fabric of our nation and one of our most treasured public institutions, connecting people across the country and driving economic growth. The Government recognise the extraordinary contribution that the railways have made in all parts of the United Kingdom, and that the 200th anniversary is an important moment to mark and celebrate.

As such, I am delighted that the Department for Transport will support Railway 200. Led by Network Rail, Railway 200 is the railway industry’s plan for a year-long programme of events, partnerships and initiatives to celebrate the railway and its positive impact, and officials in the Department are working closely with Network Rail and the Great British Railways transition team to deliver that important series of events.

On rail in the north-east, 2025 marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington railway and, as the hon. Member mentioned, the world’s first steam-hauled passenger railway journey, pulled by Locomotion No. 1, between Stockton and Shildon via Darlington. The idea soon caught on, connecting people and businesses first across the country and then around the rest of the world. It powered innovation, created opportunities and later played a crucial role in wartime.

I have been excited to learn of the activities being planned in local places to celebrate the bicentenary, including by Newcastle City Council, Darlington Borough Council and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council. I am pleased that the Government and their arm’s length bodies are already contributing to a range of projects in the north-east in advance of the 2025 celebrations.

I thank the Minister for his comments and support for the celebration of Railway 200, but the debate is specifically about Robert Stephenson and Company, which was founded in 1823, so the bicentenary is this year.

We are focused on the 200th year of the delivery of the railway. It is one of those matters where we get the title of the debate, think it through and think, “This is our opportunity to talk about what we are doing to mark 200 years of the railway.” Like me, the hon. Member referenced Locomotion No. 1, and that is the point I am addressing. Perhaps she could bear with me as I go through my speech, and if there are matters that she feels we have not addressed, we will of course respond to her accordingly.

I want to talk about what is going on in the north-east. Darlington was successful in a levelling-up bid in the most recent Budget, which included funding to upgrade the Darlington heritage centre. In 2019, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport invested £18.6 million in the National Railway Museum’s “Vision 2025” project through the cultural investment fund, which included a transformation of the National Railway Museum in York and the Locomotion museum in County Durham in good time for the celebrations.

With Government funding, Historic England established the Stockton and Darlington railway heritage action zone to rejuvenate and restore the 26-mile stretch of historical railway and realise its potential to become a major visitor destination in the build-up to the bicentenary. Likewise, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, an arm’s length body of DCMS, has awarded more than £3.2 million of funding to support a five-year project to develop the Darlington rail heritage quarter, which is delivering a programme of engagement activity. There are fantastic opportunities for MPs to get involved in bicentenary celebrations and capitalise on cultural events throughout the country. DCMS has offered to share contacts with interested MPs so they can find out more about what they can do in their constituencies.

With your approval, Ms Nokes, may I talk generally about the railway and the 200 years over which it has delivered?

Okay, Ms Nokes—we will do just that. Of course, I will be stopped if you feel I am going off track, as it were.

The focus of Railway 200 is growth and renewal. The growth of the railways can be described by projects—completed or under way—that help us to celebrate the past that the hon. Member spoke about so well. Last year, the Elizabeth line, a new railway linking east and west in the south-east, opened, and it could account for one rail journey six.

We are investing even more money to link east and west in the north. The trans-Pennine route upgrade will see the electrification of the line that links Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and York, which will transform the line and bring more frequent, reliable, faster and greener trains from rebuilt stations with longer platforms. Once that is completed, it will form the basis for Northern Powerhouse Rail to be delivered.

Linking north to south we have our new high-speed rail project, High Speed 2, which will reduce the journey time from Manchester to London by almost an hour and give this country a high-speed rail spine, which we have lived without for too long. All those new railway lines will help us to deliver our commitment to decarbonise rail by 2050.

As for renewal, that cannot be completed overnight, but it is well under way. In his Bradshaw address in February, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport set out his vision for rail: a customer-focused commercially-led industry with Great British Railways as the guiding mind for the sector. We have already delivered national flexi season tickets, with more than 700,000 sold so far, and we have rolled out single-leg pricing across the London North Eastern Railway network, going up to Newcastle and delivering simpler, more flexible tickets that are better value.

The title of the debate is “Robert Stephenson and Company: 200th Anniversary”, and we should be considering the merits of celebrating that anniversary. I am sorry if the Department did not realise that the anniversary is this year and that the debate should be about the company. Perhaps the Minister needs to spend more time in the north-east to get that established.

I am happy for the Minister to write to me to answer the question of what has been done to celebrate the anniversary of Robert Stephenson and Company. There are six months of the year left, and something could be done in that time. The merit of the anniversary is that it should be used to inspire our young people to take up careers in industry.

May I interject? I allowed the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who is in charge of the debate, quite a lot of leeway, considering the title of the debate, and I have also allowed the Minister quite a lot of leeway. However, perhaps the Minister would like to focus tightly on Newcastle, and indeed the 200th anniversary of Robert Stephenson and Company. I have had enough of straying off the subject, from both Members.

I apologise, Ms Nokes. I love debates in which we can talk about the matters at hand. We of course roam around, which is absolutely right, but I will say that if hon. Members get in touch with me to say exactly what they want from the debate, regardless of political party, we will absolutely have that debate. I remind the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central that I have not once strayed off the subject of the railways, and I think it is fair to say that she gave us a good guided tour of industry in general. Perhaps I will just wrap up, shall I?

We look forward with great excitement to our anniversaries, particularly the industry’s 200th anniversary, which will be in 2025. This is our chance to show national pride in our railways and all they have delivered—not just for this country but around the world. I look forward also to working with the hon. Member with regard to her current celebration, about which we will write to her with more detail, and the even greater national celebrations in 2025.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Freehold and Leasehold Reform

[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered freehold and leasehold reform in England.

I will centre my remarks on the issue of management companies and the fees that they charge to people who live on newer housing estates. This is a big and growing issue in my constituency, and I want to talk to the House about some of the practices of management companies that behave in the most appalling way—in respect of not just the services they provide but the fees they charge to homeowners on the estates for which they are responsible. We have a large number of affected people in my constituency, which is perhaps not surprising given that some 7,000 new houses have been built in Dartford over the last 10 years. Management fees are imposed on homeowners, whatever their tenancy, to pay for the upkeep of communal areas and other amenities.

It is hard for me to overstate how big an issue the conduct of management companies is. Since announcing that I secured this debate, I have had email after email from local residents at their wits’ end, who complain about the practices of management companies. Indeed, around 20% or 25% of people who attend my surgeries are there to raise such experiences. Frankly, the stories they have provided about the practices of management companies are shocking.

The central allegation is that developers retain ownership of the land once a house is built and then create a company or use an existing company to sell the land to, so that they have the right to be the estate management company. This happens without any consultation at all with homeowners or anybody else, and without sufficient regulation. Central to my speech is asking the Government to bring in the necessary legislation so that we can deal with this growing problem once and for all. What often happens is that companies are set up or used to implement the work or to liaise with residents, thereby creating several tiers of companies for homeowners to deal with.

Take, for example, the Bridge estate in Dartford. The local councillor, Clement Quaqumey, has raised the plight of local residents who are enduring a nightmare. Because the Bridge community is divided roughly half and half between businesses and residents, the residents end up paying huge amounts of money to receive little more than landscaping services. They have no alternative but to pay the money, as they are committed through the service charge deed they have signed. These contracts are the source of the homeowner’s commitment. People unwittingly signed up to the contracts without fully understanding their implications.

Particularly when it is a seller’s market, people are desperate to buy their dream home and never expect that management companies will hike up their fees with little notice. When that is challenged, however, it soon becomes clear that the homeowners can do little or nothing about it. We simply cannot allow homeowners to continue to be treated in this way.

A constituent contacted me yesterday to say that they are being charged £2,500 a year for an extremely poor service. Such fees are in addition to the council tax that homeowners still have to pay in full. Homeowners understandably resent having to pay council tax and a separate payment for the maintenance of roads, pavements and play parks that can, of course, all be accessed by the general public free of charge. This is a problem that has to be addressed, and soon.

Residents of Ingress Park, another estate in my constituency, have contacted me to say that this beautiful place to live—and it is beautiful—is spoilt by the charges imposed on the homeowners there. The charges make the properties harder to sell and create bureaucracy that strangles the people living there. People complain of the accounts not adding up—and that is if and when they are able to obtain them. Again and again, I receive complaints from residents who ask for accounts to show them what their money is being used for but they are not able to obtain them. Residents have also complained of contractors clocking in late and leaving early, with nothing whatsoever being done to check their behaviour.

One of the worst instances that I have dealt with was in a road called Winston Close, which is in Stone in my constituency. Residents were given just two months’ notice that their annual fee was going to rise from just under £2,000 to just under £6,000, to pay for windows to be replaced. To be fair to the management company, it relented and phased that increase over a longer period of time during which the windows would be replaced, but it still led to huge increases for local residents, as well as a lot of stress and upset. Had the original demand been persisted with, the residents would have had no option whatsoever other than to pay. That clearly illustrates what is wrong with the current system of management fees. The management company can literally treble the amount that homeowners have to pay, with little or no notice, and the residents have no alternative other than to cough up.

A constituent in Castle Hill, which is in the Ebbsfleet Garden City area, also contacted me. He relayed to me that the fee for residents in that area has recently been increased by 30%, yet as a freeholder he does not have access to any dispute-resolution tribunal, so he has just had to take that increase on the chin. That cannot be right and this practice has to end.

I met residents of Bexley Park in my constituency who have managed to secure the agreement of more than 50% of residents that they should remove themselves from their management company and go to another. I am sure Members will agree that it is no mean feat to get over 50% of residents in an area to sign up and say, “We no longer want to use our management company. We want to transfer to a different one.” However, the original management company cleverly said to them, “That’s absolutely fine, but we want hundreds of pounds from you, and every single householder has to pay that money before they are allowed to transfer.” That was an impossible hurdle for those people to overcome, as the management company knew.

We have to make it easy for residents to move to another management company and thereby end the monopoly that such companies enjoy over homeowners. There is currently no competition because residents are stuck with their management company, which has no incentive whatsoever to improve its services or provide value for money.

Another constituent from Stone told me that they had questioned some workmen in their communal area who were there to change four of the fluorescent light fittings. It turned out that they had travelled from Leeds to Kent to do that job and were charging over £400 to do it. It was clear that that lady could do absolutely nothing about the situation. There in front of her was a clear example of the abuse that is meted out to homeowners in some of these newer housing estates, in the form of someone being sent from such a long distance away to carry out a fairly straightforward job and then charging an exorbitant amount of money for it.

Residents on the old Stone House Hospital site in my constituency, which I understand comprises purely leasehold dwellings, contacted me to complain that the freeholder was forever changing and rarely cared about problems on the development.

Another problem with the current system is that there is little or no co-operation between management companies. Two or even more management companies operate on some estates in my constituency, so we end up with a situation in which separate people come to mow the grass, with one at one end of the estate and another at the other, when that job could have been carried out by one individual mowing the whole estate. That lack of co-operation illustrates the poor value for money. The examples instances just go on and on—indeed, I could fill the whole 90 minutes of the debate with issues that have been raised with me about poor value for money, exorbitant fees and the unfair and unjust current system.

I genuinely believe that developers and management companies are taking advantage of how the public conceive of a freehold. Understandably, people believe that a freehold will give them full control over their property, but the reality on these new estates is very different. So-called freeholders are not only being forced to pay the charges, but when it comes to selling the property they have to effectively ask permission from the management companies to do so and have to pay a fee to those management companies for a seller’s information pack. One lady contacted me to say that when she questioned the management company over the contents of her seller’s pack, it responded that each query she raised with them would be charged at £60 plus VAT. Ironically, she was questioning the management company about mistakes it had made in the pack. Such a system of having to ask permission simply causes delay, unnecessary costs and, of course, extra profit for the management company.

Moreover, people have no say in the running of the management company or input as to what the priorities should be for an estate. Whatever the management company wants for an estate is done to the residents who live there. There is no way of avoiding the exorbitant fees, no right to challenge and no conceivable way of changing the management company. Quite frankly, it is a licence for those companies to print money. If we do not legislate quickly, we will create a legacy that will stay with the British housing sector for generations to come. We should not allow people to be treated in this way for simply wanting a nice new home to live in.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Sharma. I state for the record that alongside the hon. Members for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for St Albans (Daisy Cooper), I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform. We are ably supported in that endeavour by the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, which works alongside the National Leasehold Campaign. We have worked over a number of years to get this issue right to the top of the political agenda, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for what he has said.

It is coming up to seven years since I first described leasehold as the payment protection insurance of the housebuilding industry. A couple of years ago, I said that estate management fees would be the new PPI because, as we are hearing today, they are clearly replacing leasehold as the new revenue stream to fleece homeowners of money that they should not have to pay. I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why these companies need to exist on standard estates. They are simply adopting the works that the local authority used to do. When talking to people, it is difficult to imagine any justification for why they should have to pay twice for exactly the same services. That is what they are doing, with the only difference being that if people do not agree with the way council tax bills go, they can vote the council out. There is no such power over the management companies.

Management companies and fees will continue to be an issue: it sounds as though they are becoming more and more widespread, and there are now very few new estates where the model is not being used. Frankly, though, I do not think there is any reason for it to continue. It is beginning to raise some fundamental questions. For example, there is an estate where people pay for litter bins and collections, and they are saying, “Why should people who do not live on this estate get to walk their dogs on it, because they are not paying for cleaning the place up?” We end up in a very bad place if we do not tackle these issues and weed out the exploitation.

I say to those who raise these issues that we can see how knotty some of the legal questions are, and they do need untangling—an estate management company has a number of aspects to it—but despite the legal technicalities we have won the argument that leasehold is not fit for purpose, and that same argument needs to be applied to estate management companies. We also need political will to get the full reforms over the line.

Some might seek to defend the current system of leasehold. Perhaps the promises made by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government five and a half years ago have been forgotten; we have had quite a few changes since then. It would be churlish not to acknowledge that there has been some progress in cleaning up the mess, but in terms of legislation to help existing leaseholders, we have had very little action. The noises coming out of Whitehall in recent weeks have been concerning. For all the talk of change and promises made, perhaps nothing will actually happen. We cannot allow this to continue. We must ensure that justice is done.

People’s homes—the biggest single purchase they will ever make in their lives—have been turned into a cash converter, usually for an anonymous freeholder. It is the biggest insult in the history of housing that people pay ground rent. Although it is initially quite a modest fee, in the small print of a lot of these agreements—which are, thankfully, being exposed now—the price of ground rents goes up. With an escalator it can sometimes double after 10 years and then double again after another 10 years. That often means the property becomes unsellable.

The linking of ground rents to the retail price index is also becoming an issue given the rise in inflation, which makes some of the doubling ground rents seem slightly less outrageous than they are. This is now putting people in real hardship. The biggest insult of all is the fact that when people pay the ground rent, they get absolutely nothing in return. It is literally money for nothing and needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

The Financial Times recently reported that throughout the history of property the costs of leasehold and freehold homes have generally moved in lockstep, but over the past five years the price of freehold properties has continued to rise, whereas leasehold properties have not kept pace with that rise. No doubt Grenfell has played a part in that as the inadequacies of the regime that tragedy exposed have been laid bare, but the general toxicity of leasehold as a tenure has also made prices stagnate, and the stories of people who are unable to sell their homes because of unreasonable leases has played a part. The message is clearly coming through that leasehold has to be consigned to history.

The scandal has been going on for an awfully long time—for so long that the National Leasehold Campaign is having its activities immortalised in a play called “Fleecehold”, which will be coming to London next month. I hope the Minister will have time away from her duties to catch that. The fact that the campaign has become a piece of theatre shows us how long we have all been fighting for justice.

I absolutely agree that residents need greater power over the management of their homes, and flat owners need new rights to form residents’ associations. We need a simplification of the right to manage, leaseholders need the right to extend their lease to 990 years with zero ground rent at any time, and we need to bring forward the proposed reform of enfranchisement for leaseholders. We also need to deal with marriage value and prescribe rates for calculating the premiums.

We need to crack down on unfair fees and increase contract transparency, and we need to make sure that there is a proper reference document for fees so there is no longer a service charge rip-off. We need to give leaseholders the right to challenge those fees and poor performance from the service companies. We must also end the right of third-party landlords to build on other people’s homes without any consideration, which is another anomaly of the current regime.

We should regulate all managing agents and get rid of the frankly ridiculous situation in which the property manager of a high-rise building does not need to have any relevant qualifications. We should bring forward the statutory protection of all leaseholders’ funds, and give leaseholders the right not to pay if the landlord does not deliver their accounts on time. We should follow the example set by the Competition and Markets Authority and require some developers to reset ground rents to their original term.

We also need to look at shared-ownership properties, which are becoming a bigger issue. The triple whammy of service charges, rent for the bit that is not owned and ground rent is making it impossible for people to sell them.

I expect the Minister will say that the Government remain committed to leasehold reform but, with all due respect, it is not her we need to hear from: we need to hear from the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister himself. We need the Secretary of State to come to the Dispatch Box and tell us without any ambiguity what the Government’s position is. I say that because exactly one month ago the House resolved that the Secretary of State should make an oral statement by 23 June on the Government’s proposals for leasehold reform. Well, we are still waiting for that statement. What does the fact that the Secretary of State cannot even adhere to a motion passed by the House asking him to tell us what the plan actually is tell us about the Government’s commitment to reform?

Has the Secretary of State been gagged by the Prime Minister? There was a newspaper report last month that quoted someone from Downing Street saying that the Secretary of State wanted to be

“a maximalist on leaseholder reform, but we simply haven’t got time to be maximalist right now.”

I have to say that, given the fact that we are regularly finishing in this place three or four hours early, arguments about there not being enough parliamentary time are not going to wash.

Rather than relying on anonymous briefings to the press, the Government’s position on leasehold ought to come very clearly from the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box. He should tell us what he is going to do and when he is going to do it by. We have had enough false dawns and jam tomorrow; we need action and we need it now.

I certainly find little to disagree with in the speech made by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for bringing this issue to the House. The problem is prevalent. Many of my constituents are stuck in this time warp of managing their leasehold property, which they never expected to have to do.

As we have heard, there is cross-party consensus on the need for leasehold reform. I cannot put it better than the Government did themselves:

“The existing residential leasehold system is fundamentally flawed. It has its roots in the feudal system and gives great powers and privileges to landowners. Despite a series of reforms over the last thirty or so years, abuses continue to flourish causing misery and distress to leaseholders.”

Since then, the Government asked the Law Commission to advise on reform and made a manifesto commitment to advance it. They fulfilled the first part of the Law Commission’s recommendations by passing legislation to reform ground rents, but delayed on the second part, on reforming existing leases. Constituents write to me every month to ask when the second part will be introduced. They think the Government are wasting time. Their leases are a wasting asset; losing time means they lose part of their property.

We know that a property-owning democracy gives people security and the power to make choices, control their own lives, build their communities and plan for the future. Leasehold ownership puts limits on that power, and the Government’s delay to reforms is preventing homeowners from making plans for the future. Take the confusion about whether marriage value will be abolished so that leaseholders no longer have to pay a premium to extend a lease that has less than 80 years to run. One of my constituents, Stephen, holds a lease on a property with the National Trust. There are 81 years remaining, and he has to decide whether to pay for a new lease now or wait to see whether the Government will carry out their promise to abolish marriage value.

Another constituent, Amy, owns a leasehold property in London, which she has been trying to sell. She has very sensibly moved to my constituency to start a new life with her partner, but she cannot sell her property because of safety defects that have not been remedied. I will come back to Amy in a minute.

My constituency includes the beautiful Isles of Scilly, which have been exempted from leasehold reform in the past. The off islands and parts of St Mary’s are owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. The Duchy’s leasehold properties were shielded from enfranchisement because of their long historic or particular association with the Crown. Regardless of whether or not those properties should still be exempt from the Government’s reforms, the Duchy is waiting to see what the Government’s plans are before it even extends leases.

One of my constituents has been trying to extend the lease on his property for nearly two years. He runs a business from the property and needs to plan for the future. On each occasion, he has been advised by the Duchy to await leasehold reform. I have met the Duchy to challenge and address the situation. It is also faced by many constituents who are waiting to hear the guidance from Government, as it will have an impact on them.

I have worked with the Duchy and know its intention is to keep islands as a living community. The Duchy is not one of the ground-rent grazers we have heard about. It leases all untenanted land on the islands to the Wildlife Trust at a peppercorn rent of one daffodil a year. Some remnants of feudalism are charming; leasehold is not. Government should push forward with their plans for reform. This afternoon has shown that there is cross-party support.

I want to return to the specifics of Amy’s case. Amy moved from her flat in London three years ago to set up home with her partner, now her husband, in my constituency. She owns 50% of a one-bedroom shared-ownership flat. The housing association is Metropolitan Thames Valley, and the developer Mount Anvil. She put her flat on the market in August 2020, but it quickly became clear that it would not be sold, as it is unmortgageable under the current Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors guidance. Since then, she and I have been battling to get more information from Metropolitan Thames Valley housing association. It has undertaken inspections that show that cladding is not an issue, but there are missing firebreaks, and concerns about wooden walkways and balconies. Those relate to building regulations from when the housing was first built and are nothing to do with Grenfell Tower. Without those issues being fixed, under current guidance, Amy cannot get an EWS1 and, as such, cannot sell. Her building is under 18 metres, so she does not get the protections that others do.

The Building Safety Act 2022, which we all promoted and voted for, covers a lot of cladding, but is still very murky on other fire-safety defects. Under the new waterfall system, the first person to fix and pay for those issues should be the developer. In this case, that is Mount Anvil. We are told by Metropolitan Thames Valley that Mount Anvil had engaged in conversations but has been less receptive recently. I know from my own work, personally through my office and through Government Departments, that Mount Anvil is not meeting the expected requirements. As a result, potentially 50 properties in that block of flats are not in a state in which they should be and cannot be sold. There is no indication or hint that remediation work will start any time soon.

Amy has been allowed to sub-let her property, simply because it was unaffordable for her not to. She does not want to be a landlord. She pays a lot of tax on it as a result, and 50% of the property is owned by the housing association. The housing association has also added £50 a year to her charges, on a property she does not want to own. She wants to sell and is not being allowed, simply because of delays in leasehold reform. While she has shared ownership, she cannot get another mortgage. She and her husband live in a section 106 affordable home in Porthleven. They would move out of it tomorrow, releasing two affordable homes to other families, if they were in a position to sell the shared-ownership property. She cannot remortgage because of the issues around her property so she has had to extend her mortgage with Nationwide, which has allowed her to do that for significant extra monthly costs. She is paying another £200 a month for her mortgage, another £50 a month for her service charge, and there is no information whatsoever from the housing association or the developers about when they will do the work and there has been zero progress with Mount Anvil. The building is missing firebreaks, which have always been required under building regs.

In August, it will be three years since she tried to sell the property and started this journey. To this point we have not been able to resolve it and in that time she has had to pay a further £5,000 to deal with the lease extension, so she now has a 999-year lease, but, to add insult to injury, the Land Registry has said she will not receive the documents she needs for a further two years, which will make it even more difficult for her to sell her property.

The simple solution is for the Government to deal with Mount Anvil and the housing association and get them to do the work they should be doing, not just for Amy but for the owners of all such properties, as well as to further progress leasehold reform, which we have all been asking for and have been promised.

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate. I thank the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for securing it, and every one of us could amplify everything he said with very similar experiences from our own communities, even though the areas we live in are often very different geographically.

My constituency is spread between about 40% social rented, 30% owner-occupation and 30% in the private rented sector. The debate is essentially about owner-occupation and leaseholds, but within that 30% very few, or certainly a declining number, are in what I would call traditional freehold properties—where somebody owns the house and land, and their costs are their mortgage, if they have one, and all the relevant bills, but there are no service charges because there is no other involvement.

Any place that is now sold in my constituency as a single-family home inevitably gets bought by a property company and is divided up into a number of flats. Dividing a place up into flats is not of itself wrong, but the quality of the conversion is often a problem as is the resulting ownership issue. In my constituency, people who have bought a flat either in a new development or in a converted property are suffering appalling levels of stress; they believed they were going to have to pay a reasonable ground rent and reasonable service charges and management fees but then find after a very short time living there that they have no control whatsoever over any of those issues.

The system is very badly designed. Indeed, perhaps it was not designed at all, but it is so badly in existence that there is a positive incentive to manage badly, charge extortionately and be abusive towards those who live in these leasehold properties. This has been recounted by the hon. Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and for Dartford and I can absolutely relate to it.

Many people have got in touch with me about this and I want to give an example. In a sense, the business model of those who buy into the leasehold sector is appalling and offers incentives in all the wrong directions. There are five examples of that. The company that owns the property sets out charges to the leaseholders in the property and will directly benefit from having unnecessary work done in the building. Totally unnecessary work is created by the management company, and the leaseholder has no say in whether it is done and no say in the contractor who does it, yet they have to pay for it. There is an incentive for the company to choose the most expensive contractor and then charge on for it. Some of these companies are also incredibly litigious and threaten to take flat owners to court to start proceedings for repossession as soon as there is any element of late payment. Remember that many people who buy leasehold flats for the first time are young and have young families. They are in the most expensive and difficult times of their lives, and there is the greatest pressure on them as a result, so the stress levels are huge. The companies consistently use the same small set of suppliers across many of their properties, and those suppliers are also complicit in the running up or invoicing of ridiculously high charges across their whole estate portfolio. When residents try to communicate with the companies, they get fobbed off, blocked, or threatened with legal action and legal letters. The stress levels are appalling.

Let me give an example about electricity:

“In our most recent service charge 3 months ago, we were collectively billed £4k for commons parts electricity”—

the common parts have the amazing total of 10 LED lightbulbs in them, and:

“This was 10x the estimated expense for the period. Upon inspection it became clear that the power provider…chosen for us failed to take a single meter reading for the entire year and ‘estimated’ our bill.”

When the residents highlighted that, the company demanded they pay the total figure anyway. They are now in dispute over it.

There are many examples of excessive charges for minor or often unnecessary works or, as the hon. Member for Dartford pointed out, ludicrous charges for the almost non-existent cleaning of common parts. That can be just running a hoover over the carpet once a month, yet people are told to pay several hundred pounds a year for that kind of thing. It is the same with refuse collection, rubbish collection and so on. There must be some big changes to that.

The last testimony I will give is from somebody who bought a flat that they believed would be affordable. They then discovered that the company was

“proposing decorating works on our building at a cost of £19800. We received a quote of £7600 for exactly the same work from a local contractor. Although we nominated this contractor, as is our right, they have chosen to go ahead with the company that they always use. We can challenge this at tribunal but we would need £8-£10000 upfront costs”.

They have to pay that even to get a hearing. If ever there was an area that needed substantial investigation and reform, it is surely this one. People feel disempowered, angry and frustrated. They cannot sell and cannot move, and they have no idea what charges are coming down the road.

I have dealt with many cases of leaseholders who either bought their place from the local authority under right to buy or who bought it from somebody else who did. They often dispute the capital works charge or service charge. Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are not, but there is a clear process by which they can make that complaint. They can make it to the local authority, which is accountable. It is not always perfect, but there is usually agreement at the end, because there is a degree of accountability. With the companies, there is no accountability whatsoever. Every power lies with the person who has invested money to make a vast return, and the returns that are being made on leasehold properties are enormous.

I hope that the Minister will recognise that the stress that we are expressing—

I see the Minister nodding; I thank her. I hope that she understands that the issue is not isolated to any one part of the country. The whole country is suffering from this, and we urgently need a serious process of leasehold reform that gives people some power over their own lives and in their own homes.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak, Mr Sharma.

I support many of the comments that have been made, as I think we are all here today because we want to express a sense of deep injustice on behalf of decent, hard-working and responsible constituents. We are all aware that the situation with matters of property has prevailed for far too long without reform and is now an injustice. As we all know, justice delayed is justice denied. I know that the Minister is aware of the situation and has limited powers to influence the parliamentary timetable, but I implore her to go back to the Secretary of State following this debate and communicate to him the sense of injustice, which we are all communicating on behalf of our constituents.

I want to mention some of the multiple assurances on reform that the Government have given over many years, and I will focus particularly on the concern that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) highlighted: the need for freehold management reform. I do so on behalf of residents on several estates in my constituency, but I will highlight just one: Bath Vale. I will come on to give some examples of the injustice that residents there have experienced.

We all agree that whereas long leaseholders in England and Wales have a statutory right to challenge at a first-tier tribunal unreasonable service charges and the standard of any work carried out, freeholders do not have the same right. As long ago as July 2017, the Government recognised that in a consultation paper, “Tackling unfair practices in the leasehold market”, saying:

“The contrast between the positions of freeholders and leaseholders can be particularly clear where a developer retains the ownership of communal areas and facilities and the responsibility for their maintenance through a managing agent, or where a developer sells on the ownership of the communal areas and facilities to a private company”,

which often then appoints another management agent. The paper continues:

“In all these cases, even though freeholders may be paying for exactly the same services as leaseholders, they do not have a right to challenge the reasonableness of service charges…which qualifying leaseholders can do.”

In October 2018, the Government published a consultation paper, entitled “Implementing reforms to the leasehold system in England”. Again, the paper announced an intention to

“create a regime for freeholders which provides that maintenance charges must be reasonably incurred and that services provided are of a reasonable standard. We will also replicate consultation requirements and obligations on the provider of services to provide information to the freeholder. Finally we will provide freeholders with the ability to challenge the reasonableness of the charges they are required to pay towards the maintenance of communal areas and facilities at the First-tier Tribunal.”

The outcome of that consultation was published in June 2019, when the Government recommitted to equal rights for freeholders, and to a right to manage for residential freeholders, as part of creating greater parity between leaseholders and residential freeholders.

Time went by, and in August 2022 I wrote to the Minister’s predecessor to highlight the issue on behalf of residents of Bath Vale in Congleton. The difficulties that the residents have had started 12 years previously, when the first properties were built, and they still continue. The residents told me in 2020 that the reserves stood at several thousand pounds lower than what residents expected, and some of the charges were highly questionable—for example, a charge of £1,500 for insurance administration, which was cancelled when the residents challenged it. Similarly, water supplies had been charged for common parts, running into thousands of pounds over several years, even though there are no such water supplies. There were outstanding concerns regarding a road completion that was not adopted by the local authority, and woodland plans had not been implemented —to such a degree that the appearance of the site was affecting residents’ ability to sell.

I wrote that letter on 11 August 2022. I received a reply on 4 January 2023—not from this Minister, I accept, but from a predecessor—once again stating that

“the Government intends to legislate to ensure that freehold homeowners who pay estate rent charges have the right to challenge their reasonableness and to go to the tribunal to appoint a new management company if necessary. We will also consider introducing a Right to Manage for residential freeholders”.

That claim was repeated in a debate that took place on 20 April, and by then my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) was the Minister. She will remember that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) made an articulate case on this very issue, much as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford has today. The Minister repeated the Government’s response once again:

“We know that legislation needs to be introduced…We are committed to introducing legislation to plug this gap. We intend to create a new statutory regime”.

I do not need really need to go on, but the Minister said:

“We need to end this fleecehold situation where homeowners who thought they had bought a home to live in…are subject to abuse and find these charges escalating out of all proportion”.—[Official Report, 20 April 2023; Vol. 731, c. 478.]

To close, I will repeat what I said at the start. My question is: when? I urge the Minister please to inject a sense of urgency, which there has clearly not been to date. These are decent, responsible constituents who bought their own homes never expecting to be in this situation. It is unjust. Will the Minister meet me and residents of Bath Vale? She kindly offered a meeting at that debate on 20 April, and I know she was sincere and that her own response to this issue was genuine and heartfelt. Will she now meet me and take back to the Secretary of State that this situation cannot go on and that legislative time must be provided to sort it out?

I thank the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for leading this important debate on leasehold reform, or fleecehold as it might be for some people—I think everyone who has spoken has said that. As often happens in this House, whatever our political aspirations or affiliations, we have been bought together by this joint issue. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). We have been together twice in one day in Westminster Hall—we were here at 9.30 am and came back for more at 2.30 pm—and we have also had many meetings today on various issues. It has been a busy day for us all.

I have spoken on this issue many times in Westminster Hall and in the Chamber. I have raised the importance of protection for tenants regarding their leases and concerns about rising costs for ground rent. Security of tenure is imperative for our constituents, and we have to do all we can to assist them in these matters. All Members present put forward a clear case on behalf of their constituents, and I want to do the same. I look forward to the response from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), whose requests will be as illustrative as ours. I look forward to the Minister’s comments as well. As others have said, she has indicated a willingness to respond in a positive fashion to try to address these issues. Time is of the essence. That is the main point that has been put forward, and I wish to make that point as well.

In the past, colleagues of mine have raised the issue of leasehold reform in Northern Ireland. I will echo their comments and reinforce their importance. More than 4,000 Northern Ireland homeowners bought property under right-to-buy legislation, but they may struggle to resell their homes due to the fact that it is extremely difficult to obtain a mortgage on properties with less than 85 to 90 years left on the leasehold. Many constituents are only now becoming aware that many years of their leasehold have expired, making it extremely less likely that they will be able to sell their home. In addition, banks and building societies will not lend money to cash-buy those types of properties, so the hope that another cash buyer would even consider purchasing these types of homes in the future is slim or, indeed, non-existent. In theory, this will seriously disadvantage those working people and families who aspire to own their own homes but do not have the capital to purchase a home outright.

One of Margaret Thatcher’s policies—she had many policies; I did not agree with them all, by the way—was that people should own their own homes. I always thought that was as it should be; people aspire to own their own home and if we can help them to do so, we should. However, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has stated that there is currently no statutory provision to help deal with the problem that we are discussing today. From 1 April 1997 to 31 March 1998, 4,111 flats were sold with leases of 125 years or less. That leads me back to my earlier point that people are less likely to purchase such homes because the leasehold and ground rent can be quite debilitating. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive does not hold information for housing associations—they are different organisations, but still control some properties—so the number of people affected will be much higher.

I am aware that this debate is centred on England, but I always like to give a Northern Ireland perspective. Everybody knows that; I think Members expect it to be the case. It is how we illustrate the issues. In this great House, of course, we represent four regions—four nations within one—and it is what brings us together that cements and strengthens our position. This issue is a UK-wide issue and it must be addressed UK-wide. When the Minister responds to the debate, I would be very keen to know her thoughts on where the discussions will go with the responsible organisations in Northern Ireland.

Given that there is no limit on service charges, insurance, ground rent and forfeiture charges, leaseholders have been left open to exploitation by their landlords. Given that there is no such cap, we actively allow leaseholders to be taken advantage of and there is no regulation or protection for them.

I have spoken in the past about the necessity of a fair fee for a fair service. Other Members have also referred to that idea. A Government survey has found that 70% of leaseholders regretted buying a leasehold property. That is a staggering figure—almost three quarters of them regret it. Although in Northern Ireland there is the option to buy out a ground rent, that often comes at a fee that people simply cannot afford to pay.

Furthermore, land and property service fees and solicitor fees are paid separately, placing an additional burden on leaseholders. There must be more onus on the responsibility that ground rent must be paid. In Northern Ireland, if an individual tries to buy out their ground rent but there is a record of a missed payment, the additional payment can be up to six times the missed amount, which again would be detrimental to the finances of some families. There is something wrong with a system that seems to penalise leaseholders, with all the advantage lying with those who have control of their ground rent, or indeed landlords or owners of land.

I strongly urge the Minister to engage with the Department for Communities back home to see what steps can be taken to address these issues, as they have proven to be prevalent in all of our constituencies, whether in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales. That means that these crucial issues need to be tackled UK-wide.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Sharma. I declare an interest: my wife is the joint chief executive of the Law Commission, the work of which I will cite later in my remarks.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on securing this important debate, and I commend him for the remarks he made in opening it. I thought that he did an admirable job of bringing home to the House the poor service and, indeed, the abuses that many leasehold and resident freeholders on private or mixed-tenure estates routinely face at the hands of their managing agents. He also made a strong case for action to ensure that leaseholders and those residential freeholders are better protected.

I thank all Members who have participated in the debate. We have heard a series of excellent contributions that have highlighted—often in painstaking detail, because Members are engaging with this on a weekly and monthly basis at their surgeries—how, all too often, leaseholders in all parts of the country are treated by developers, freeholders and managing agents not as homeowners or even as valued customers but as a source of profit to be gouged almost as those parties see fit in many cases.

The hon. Member for Dartford focused his remarks on the problems associated with managing agents and estate management companies, and he was right to draw particular attention to them. The Opposition, of course, recognise that there are good managing agents who work hard to ensure that the residents they are responsible for are safe and secure and that the homes they manage are properly looked after. However, as we have repeatedly argued over recent years, the case for doing more to protect leaseholders from poor service and exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous managing agents is as watertight as they come. Relying on incremental improvement and the sharing of best practice within the industry to raise standards is bound to fail.

To bear down on bad practice and improve the lives of leaseholders, the Government need to act. They have a ready-made blueprint for doing so, because in 2018, Ministers tasked a working group chaired by the noble Lord Best with bringing forward detailed recommendations on how a new regulatory framework for property agents should operate. That working group’s final report, which made a series of proportionate and sensible recommendations, was published in July 2019, yet in the intervening 48 months, the Government have done nothing to progress the implementation of those recommendations.

It is not at all clear why that is the case, especially given the fact that there are clearly opportunities to bring forward and progress such legislation, with the paucity of business that the House is dealing with at present. Can the Minister give us a clear answer today to this question: do the Government intend to implement the recommendations set out in the regulation of property agents working group’s final report in what remains of this Parliament? We are looking for a simple yes or no.

Regulating the dysfunctional property agent market alone is not enough. It is the inherent flaws of the leasehold system that ultimately enable substandard managing agents to abuse and exploit leaseholders and residential freeholders. Even if the Government did introduce regulation to raise standards and drive change within the property agent industry, leaseholders would still struggle with punitive and escalating ground rents, unjustified permission and administration fees, unreasonable or extortionate charges and onerous conditions that are often imposed with little or no consultation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) argued in a powerful speech—I commend him for the dedication he has shown to securing change in this area—what is needed is fundamental and comprehensive reform of the leasehold system to address the historical iniquity on which it rests and to ensure it works in the interests of leaseholders.

However, having ostensibly agreed with us on that point, over recent months it has become clear that the Government are likely to row back on the commitments they previously made in respect of leasehold reform. Let me remind the House what those commitments were. In 2017, the Government asked the Law Commission to suggest improvements to both the leasehold and commonhold systems, and once the recommendations were published in July 2020, they made it clear that they were considering how to implement all of them. In 2022, the Government passed, with our support, the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022, which set ground rents on newly created leases at zero. Ministers assured us that that legislation was merely the first part of a two-part seminal programme to implement wide-ranging reforms in this Parliament.

In January this year, in an interview with The Sunday Times, the Secretary of State went further and unambiguously announced his intention to abolish the leasehold system in its entirety, raising expectations correspondingly among leaseholders across the country. Not only are leaseholders still waiting for the publication of the leasehold reform part 2 Bill—the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) was right about the need for urgency; leaseholders have been waiting for far too long for change in this area—but credible recent reports have suggested that while we will see a further piece of leasehold legislation in the King’s Speech later this year, it is likely to be a more limited one.

In the Opposition day debate we secured on this subject on 23 May, the Minister claimed that there had been no Government U-turn on leasehold reform, yet she also repeatedly refused to commit to the fundamental and comprehensive reform package that leaseholders had been led to expect was forthcoming, and the statement that the approved motion called on the Government to bring forward by 23 June has not materialised. I will give the Minister another chance today to unambiguously clarify the Government’s position. If she was correct in asserting that there has been no U-turn on leasehold reform, will she give leaseholders across the country a cast-iron guarantee that the Government will legislate to implement all the Law Commission’s recommendations on enfranchisement, commonhold and the right to manage before the end of this Parliament—yes or no? If she will not do so, will she at least assure leaseholders who are watching that a slimmed-down leasehold reform part 2 Bill will still contain the most significant of the Law Commission’s recommendations in relation to the right to manage and commonhold?

I put that question specifically to the Minister because, in the Opposition day debate on 23 May, Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to taking forward a number of measures relating to leasehold enfranchisement, from the abolition of marriage value to a cap on ground rents in enfranchisement calculations, but we heard next to nothing in that debate in the way of a solid commitment regarding the right to manage or commonhold. That is a matter of real concern because reform of both is essential if we are to fundamentally and comprehensively overhaul the current system.

Right-to-manage reforms are necessary to provide a remedy to leaseholders who cannot afford to enfranchise, and commonhold reforms are imperative if we are to have a viable system for regulating blocks of flats apart from leasehold.

I hope the Minister will not refuse to engage with the questions, because leaseholders across the country deserve answers now on precisely what the Government mean when Ministers state that the Government remain committed to bringing forward further leasehold reforms, not least because, as the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) pointed out, so many leaseholders have put transactions and their lives on hold while they have waited, and continue to wait, to find out what the Government ultimately intend to legislate for.

Unless and until leaseholders receive answers and a renewed commitment from the Government to enact all the recommendations of the Law Commission on enfranchisement, commonhold and the right to manage, leaseholders will reasonably conclude that the Government have scaled down their ambition, and that the only way to ensure that the leasehold system is completely overhauled to the lasting benefit of leaseholders, and commonhold reinvigorated to such an extent that it becomes the default and ultimately renders leasehold obsolete, is to vote Labour at the next general election.

It is a great pleasure to respond to this debate and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for securing today’s debate, in which there is strong parliamentary interest. As many Members have highlighted, I have spoken about these matters many times in this Chamber and the main Chamber, but I am happy to set out in a lot more detail the Government’s position.

I thank the other Members who have contributed, including my hon. Friends the Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who highlighted many of the things that we can learn from working across our United Kingdom. I am grateful to him, as ever.

There is a broad consensus on the case for change. I want to reassure Members that the Government remain committed to creating a fairer housing system that works for everyone. We will introduce further reforms in this Parliament to address the historical imbalance in the leasehold system.

As this debate has shown, the imbalance stems from the unequal power dynamic inherent in leasehold ownership, in a system with landlords often acting in their own interests and leaseholders bound by a lease that can be decades old and not easily changed. As we have heard today, particularly from my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford, freehold owners may also be subject to the will of third party interests.

We have already taken important steps to address the matter, having introduced the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill in May 2021—I thank the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) for his and his party’s support in passing that Bill. Since coming into force on 30 June 2022, it has prevented landlords in most new leasehold homes from charging any financial ground rents at all. That was a very important first step, but there is more to do to tackle the power imbalance.

We are committed to improving leasehold tenure—by helping existing leaseholders to better understand and challenge their charges or the services they pay for, take control of their homes or buy their freehold—and to providing a freehold alternative from the outset, with improved rights for those that pay estate charges.

As a tenure, residential leasehold is time-limited and control is shared with the landlord. The leaseholder’s decisions about their home, including the charges that they pay for services, are usually made by someone else—the landlord or the managing agent working for the landlord—but paid for by the leaseholders. The landlord might not even live in the building or have the same priorities and motivations in mind. We have heard multiple examples today about how that negatively impacts leaseholders. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton is completely right to say that those are decent, hard-working people who have done the right thing and deserve to live in their homes in peace and security. It is the largest asset they are likely to buy, so it is wrong that they are being ripped off—if that is a parliamentary term.

High service charges are being levied for carrying out simple requests. Managing agents are not providing a level of service that leaseholders should expect. Urgent repairs are being neglected, crippling costs are levied for buying out or extending a lease and leaseholders are charged exploitative and increasing ground rents in exchange for no services at all. For freehold homeowners who already have an expectation of control over their properties, we understand the concerns raised today and we will act. We will continue our programme of action to remedy those abuses and provide the vision of home ownership that leaseholders should expect, which is greater control over their own home, greater accountability or involvement in key decisions on what they are paying for and, ultimately, a place of safety, comfort and security for them and their family.

The Minister says in her speech that the Government will act to deal with the abuse by management companies and the imposition of fees for freeholders. Does she mean by “act” that legislation can be expected?

I ask my hon. Friends and other Members for a little patience while I proceed through my speech. I want to set out precisely the Government’s commitment to legislation because I know that is the question that everybody wants to be answered and I have limited time in which to do that.

My hon. Friends the Members for Dartford and for Congleton pointed out that freeholders on new estates must pay charges towards the maintenance or upkeep of communal areas. The obligation to pay those charges might be provided by a deed of covenant or through an estate rent charge that forms part of the purchase contract. The Government believe that when buying a home, it should be clear to potential purchasers what the arrangements are for the maintenance of roads and upkeep of open spaces, public or otherwise. That information is most often set out in a freehold management inquiry form, which is published by the Law Society and widely used across the sector. However, I know that that information was not provided to some, or perhaps not drawn to their attention, at the point of purchase. Furthermore, in many cases contracts do not specify, limit or cap those freeholder charges. To compound matters, when people receive an invoice, they are not provided with information about what the charges cover. Much as with leaseholders, that lack of transparency, both at the homebuying stage and when people have settled into their property, leaves homeowners in a vulnerable position and is something that the Government intend to address.

Leaseholders already have certain protections and rights that will enable them to hold management companies to account. Freehold homeowners have no equivalent, even though they might be paying for the same or similar services, as highlighted in the remarks by my hon. Friends. The current situation is unfair. Where they are required to contribute, it is not appropriate that people have limited rights to challenge those costs, and we are committed to introducing legislation to plug that gap. We intend to create a new statutory regime for freehold homeowners based on the rights that leaseholders have, ensuring that estate management charges are reasonably incurred, that services provided are of an acceptable standard and that there is a right to challenge the reasonableness of charges at the property tribunal.

We will also give a right to change the provider of maintenance services by applying to the tribunal for the appointment of a manager. That might be useful if a homeowner is dissatisfied with the service they are receiving or there is a significant failure by the estate management provider in meeting their obligations. We will also consider the option of introducing a right to manage for freehold homeowners. It is not only estate management charges that need to be reasonable; that principle must also apply to administration fees that individual homeowners may face in their dealings with the estate management company.

Turning back to leaseholders, as highlighted by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston and the right hon. Member for Islington North, there is a similar situation. Leaseholders complain of unreasonable and excessive service charges and we strongly believe that service charges should be transparent and communicated effectively, with a clear route to challenge or redress if things go wrong. Many landlords and managing agents already demonstrate good practice and provide relevant information, but too many do not and are failing to provide sufficient information or clarity to leaseholders, especially over fees and service charges.

We recognise that the existing statutory requirements do not go far enough to enable leaseholders to identify and challenge unfair costs. That is why we will take action to support and empower leasehold homeowners. We will take action to increase service charge transparency to help leaseholders better understand what they are paying for, make it harder for landlords or managing agents to hide rip-off charges and enable leaseholders to more effectively challenge unreasonable fees or charges. I also want leaseholders to know that they can seek free advice from an organisation funded by the Government, the Leasehold Advisory Service, if they are concerned about charges that they are asked to pay.

That sounds like a very promising development. Is the Minister aware that there is sometimes a problem with the ability to challenge because of legal processes or the enormous costs involved, so some people, such as the residents I was referring to, do not have the power to make a challenge even though that would be very justified?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that point and he is absolutely right. He will hear about some of the things we are going to do to make it easier and fairer and not as expensive to challenge, and I shall to set out some more detail now.

When leaseholders challenge their landlord, we know, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that they are sometimes subject to unjustified legal costs, and we are committed to ensuring that leaseholders are not subject to them and, where appropriate, can claim the legal costs from the landlord, which certainly seems fairer than the current situation. Currently, if set out in the lease, leaseholders might be liable to pay their landlord’s legal costs regardless of the outcome of a dispute—even if they win the case. That is a classic case of heads you win, tails you lose. Also, the circumstances in which a leaseholder can claim their own legal costs from a landlord are currently very limited. That may lead to leaseholders facing higher bills than the charges being challenged in the first place and can deter leaseholders from taking their concerns to the courts or property tribunal, as the right hon. Gentleman says.

Whether on freehold estates or in leasehold or commonhold blocks, we are committed to raising professionalism and standards among all property agents, protecting consumers while defending the reputation of good agents from the actions of rogue operatives. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford has been working on that issue in his constituency, and I can assure him that I will continue to work with industry—I have regular dialogue with it—on improving best practice across the sector, including on codes of practice for property owners.

Ground rent was particularly highlighted by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and we are concerned about the escalating costs of ground rents for leaseholders who still pay them. As many will know, we asked the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate the potential mis-selling of homes and unfair terms in the sector and it has been successful in securing commitments benefiting over 20,000 leaseholders, including removing doubling ground rents.

Both enfranchisement and the right to manage help give leaseholders greater control. In most cases managing agents would still be used, but they would be accountable to leaseholders directly, rather than a third-party landlord, ensuring that interests are aligned. For those who want greater control over their homes, many leaseholders find the process for extending their lease or buying their freehold prohibitively expensive, complex or lacking in transparency and we equally understand that many right-to-manage applications fail on technicalities attributed to overly detailed procedure, which is why we asked the Law Commission to look into that. It has since published reports on enfranchisement, valuation and the right to manage.

To reduce the cost of enfranchisement, we are committed to tackling the problems with these existing arrangements at their root. We will abolish marriage value and cap ground rents in enfranchisement calculations, so that leaseholders who currently pay onerous ground rents do not also have to pay an onerous premium to buy their freehold. These changes will result in substantial savings for leaseholders, particularly those with less than 80 years left on their lease. These changes will also make sure that sufficient compensation is paid to landlords to reflect their legitimate property interests.

To make the process simpler and more transparent, we will introduce an online calculator to help leaseholders understand what they will pay to extend their lease or buy it out, and the Government are committed to reforms to improve access to the existing right to manage, whereby leaseholders may take over the management of their block without having to buy the freehold. We want to make the process of exercising the right to manage simpler, quicker and more flexible, and make the operation of it more effective. To that end, we are carefully considering the detail of the Law Commission’s recommendations.

To give homeowners greater control, we want to make sure that the benefits of freehold ownership are extended as far as possible. We remain committed to banning the sale of new leasehold houses so that, where possible, all new houses are provided as freehold from the outset. For flatted developments, we want to reinvigorate commonhold so that it can become a mainstream and widespread freehold alternative to leasehold for both new and existing flats. Again, we are reviewing the Law Commission’s detailed recommendations, which propose legal fixes that will make commonhold a desirable alternative in more and more settings. We have established the Commonhold Council, made up of consumer and housing industry experts, to advise the Government on how to prepare both consumers and the market for the widespread use of commonhold. Furthermore, the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 is levelling the playing field for future commonholds as well as benefiting new homeowners. It removes ground rents from new leaseholds, and the associated financial incentives for developers to build leasehold over commonhold, where ground rents were never permitted.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford for prompting such a vital debate and everybody for their contributions, and I am pleased that we have been able to discuss these issues properly. We plan to introduce reforms in the King’s Speech, which will take place in the autumn, so the reforms should take place within this Parliament. I recognise that every single Member would like a more detailed timeline, but I will continue to have these discussions, as Members have implored, both with my colleagues in the Department and with those across other channels who are responsible for tabling legislation.

Would the Minister be willing to have a discussion with the residents I have referred to in more than one debate? I would be very grateful.

Of course. I would be absolutely delighted to meet my hon. Friend’s residents. I implore her to contact my office so that we can arrange that as soon as we can.

I hope this debate has demonstrated to the House, leaseholders and homeowners on freehold estates across the country our continued commitment to reform and to making things better. I am grateful to Members across the House, campaign groups and members of the public for highlighting the difficulties that homeowners face. As I am sure Members can appreciate, this is a significant undertaking, and I look forward to coming to the House with more detail as soon as I am able to.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to the debate. The consensus on both sides of this Chamber is that we need to see a transfer of power from management companies to homeowners, so that we can end the poor value that is too often provided by management companies, end the exorbitant fees and, perhaps most importantly of all, give homeowners the power to transfer from one management company to another, which is currently restricted. I am grateful to both the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), and the Minister for their responses, and I certainly look forward to His Majesty’s speech.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered freehold and leasehold reform in England.

Sitting suspended.

Thornbury Health Centre

I will call Luke Hall to move the motion and then the Minister to respond. As is the convention for 30-minute debates, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Thornbury Health Centre.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Sharma. It is a genuine privilege to have the chance to debate the important matter of how we deliver good local health services on such a symbolic and important national day: the 75th birthday and anniversary of our national health service. Today, it is quite natural that politicians from all political parties will be discussing the NHS—whether it needs to reform or innovate more, and how it can improve—but I take this opportunity to thank everybody who works in the NHS for all that they do and achieve every single day. Like so many others, my family has relied on their dedication, expertise and, at times, compassion in some of the most difficult times in our family’s life. I will never stop saying a huge thank you to the team at Southmead Hospital for all that it did for my family, and of course for so many others in the region.

People access healthcare in a variety of ways: through their GPs, through local hospitals and, increasingly, in their own homes. South Gloucestershire, where my constituency is based, is a growing community. We have new developments all the time, and there are more residents to support. If we are to meet the growing demand for local health services in the years ahead, it is vital that capacity in our local health service is extended, that pressure on the main hospitals is reduced and that our community receives the financial investment in local health services that it requires. That is why I called for this debate—to highlight some of the challenges that we face, but also some of the opportunities ahead of us in the west of England, in building a state-of-the-art Thornbury health centre to provide health services to people right across South Gloucestershire.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I join him in wishing the NHS a happy 75th birthday, and I thank all those from the Havant constituency who work or have worked for the NHS.

Earlier this year, I helped to launch the construction of the new emergency department to boost capacity at the Queen Alexandra Hospital, which has benefited from Government funding. Does my hon. Friend agree that local integrated care boards and other NHS bodies should use this special 75th anniversary year to redouble their efforts to plan for the needs of their communities in the future, including by taking account of campaigns run by Members of this House?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Like him, I have used my time in Parliament to campaign for improved health services in my community. In Yate, for example, the minor injuries unit has moved to a seven-day service with extended opening hours, and it is delivering extra services, such as X-ray services, at the weekends—a drastic improvement for the community. We are working towards a redeveloped site at Frenchay, which would focus on delivering services as a centre of rehabilitative excellence.

The plan for Thornbury is to focus on primary care, outpatient care and preventive care. The combination of those three local facilities will take pressure off Southmead and the surrounding hospitals and allow people to be treated and cared for in a facility closer to their homes and families. It is important that I put across to the Minister that the campaign for Thornbury health centre is a campaign not just for a new building, but for an integral part of the health offering right across the west of England, which relies on those different parts of the health jigsaw.

Thornbury is a vibrant and growing market town that has already seen significant demographic growth. People who live in Thornbury, Olveston, Tytherington, Tockington, Alveston and all the surrounding towns and villages have been crying out for the upgraded health centre for many years. It has been a difficult and frustrating journey at times, because we have had a number of false dawns—there were consultations in 2010 and 2013—but local support remains extremely strong. It is important to the community that we get this delivered, and the clinical need to deliver it grows week by week and month by month.

This redeveloped Thornbury health centre would include greater access to GP services, greater primary care and out-patient services, mental health provision, social care beds, support to carers and their families, and a specialised frailty hub that would support keeping people in their own homes for longer, with the care that they need. There is political support, clinical support and public support to get this done.

In October 2021, I opened the new Emsworth surgery building, after a six-year campaign that I led to secure funding. Local community groups in Emsworth played a key role keeping up momentum. Does my hon. Friend agree that NHS bodies should always take account of public views, not just clinical and political perspectives?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he has done to improve health services in his community. He is right that, when delivering these services, there is a clear need for local leaders, political leaders, healthcare leaders and clinicians to work together, to deliver the best possible type of healthcare services for the community.

I would argue that the clinical need for Thornbury health centre is extremely clear. Estimates from the integrated care system for Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire expect the population in our area to increase by around 18% by the end of this decade. At the moment, the area is served by three GP practices, providing care for a population of around 21,500 patients. The estimate is that that will grow by a further 4,600 patients by 2030. The new health centre would see these services brought together, providing an integrated service, to the substantial benefit of local people.

Projections from the integrated care board show that substantial medical demand exists for this project. In its Thornbury primary and community care report, it outlines the business case for sustainable primary healthcare services in Thornbury and highlights the specific strain experienced by the neighbouring health services. That report makes clear the clinical need to develop and deliver these new facilities. Out-patient services across a range of specialties have had to face interim relocation during the course of the process. Physiotherapy services are currently being carried out at Thornbury leisure centre, while in-patient rehabilitation beds are provided at the Grace care home. That again would be brought together under one roof under this proposal.

Commercial space would be allocated for pharmacy and dental services, and there is potential for a wider service offering from South Gloucestershire Council, to be delivered as part of this overall project at the site. The clinical and healthcare benefits that a newly developed Thornbury health centre would bring the community are clear and, I would say, inarguable. The ICB is now looking at the Government to provide an answer on the next steps.

On public support, I want to lay out for the Minister and Department the fact that I recently launched a survey in Thornbury and the surrounding towns and villages about healthcare services in the area. As of today—just a few weeks later—I have had more than 2,000 responses, with more coming in every day; some 97% of those making those responses have signed my petition, calling on the Government to deliver the funding required to upgrade Thornbury health centre. More than 90% of those who responded agreed that upgrading the health centre would substantially reduce pressure on the surrounding health infrastructure around Thornbury, and take pressure off the hospitals.

There is significant support in those responses for increasing some of the out-patient care services, with many listing that as their top priority for Thornbury and the surrounding area. That is closely followed by increasing the number of GP appointments, which would be achieved by this development. Proposals to provide more social care beds, a frailty hub and better mental health support also have widespread support in the community. It is clear that there is widespread community, as well as clinical, support for this project to deliver a new health centre, and for the extent to which it would reduce pressure on some other medical services.

Although this project has been frustratingly slow, there has been progress in the past few years. In 2016, the Department of Health, as it was then, opened the estates and technology transformation fund, which was aimed at helping practices to establish the infrastructure to support improved access to a wider range of different services, and increase capacity for providing alternatives to hospitals and facilities for training. We made a local £10 million bid to the fund, seeking to deliver the integrated unit and bring together the GP practices, but it was unsuccessful.

Local discussions continued. I pushed at the highest levels of Government for the prioritisation of Thornbury health centre, which resulted in the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), coming to South Gloucestershire in November 2019 and confirming that he had asked NHS Improvement to take a lead on delivering a new Thornbury health centre. Following that intervention, and with support from NHS England, NHS Improvement and the Department, we submitted a new bid for over £13 million to the sustainability and transformation partnerships wave 4 capital funding pot to deliver a redeveloped Thornbury health centre. Since then, we have regularly raised the importance of getting this done with Ministers, including in a roundtable with a former Minister of State, our clinical commissioning group, the local council, Sirona Care and Health and lots of the other bodies who would be involved in delivering the bid, including officials from the Department.

That was followed by the decision of South Gloucestershire Council, the unitary local authority, to purchase the former Thornbury Hospital site from North Bristol NHS Trust. Locally, we have taken this as far as we can. We have jumped through every hoop and followed every process. We have a huge appreciation of the challenges the Minister’s Department has faced in recent years and of the pressures the pandemic put on the Department. However, health services were given a laser-like focus from Government and are now delivering with the after effects of that pandemic. Clearly, those services must be a priority.

It has been two and a half years since that bid was submitted. Even accounting for all the challenges that we have all been facing and that the Department has been facing, that is a substantial period of time. I want to make the point to the Minister that it is vital that, even though the Department is dealing with significant, nationwide challenges such as tackling the backlog—and it is quite right to focus on them—Thornbury health centre must also remain a priority because we must find a way to deliver services for the changing demographics in South Gloucestershire. This project is ready to go if the Department is willing to get behind it. People in South Gloucestershire are in desperate need of this new health centre. We need a response to our bid so that work can finally get under way to deliver on a project that we all want to see.

I am grateful for the work of a number of different Ministers, particularly the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who took the time to meet me earlier this week to discuss how we can get this project delivered and make some progress. I think and hope that the detail and time that he and other Ministers and officials have given to the project demonstrates its importance, and the level of interest from the Department to get this done.

I hope the Minister can update us and the community on some of the remaining questions surrounding this debate. First, can he confirm that Thornbury health centre remains important to the Government and the Department and that there is the will to get this done? Does the Department have any outstanding concerns that have not been addressed as part of this process? We have had a long and collaborative relationship, but if there is anything that those at the Department are not sure about, they need to let us know. Will the Minister confirm that progress is still being made behind the scenes on the project? Are officials still meeting with the local ICB to discuss its delivery? Also, are they looking at other examples around the country to find ways in which modern methods of delivery could ensure that we deliver this health centre within the financial envelope in the face of escalating costs? Crucially, when will we hear the bid’s outcome, which we have waited so long for?

It is vital that we deliver an upgraded Thornbury health centre. Our bid would allow us to do so. It would provide more GP appointments and better access to primary care, out-patient services and mental health support, as well as a frailty hub to support people in their own homes for longer. The clinical need is there, as is the public and political support. The bid is with the Department, but the project has dragged on for too long. It is time for the redevelopment of Thornbury health centre to really get moving, so that we can deliver the high-quality, local public health services that South Gloucestershire is keen to see. We need it now more than ever.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) on securing this debate. I know from the many conversations that we have had that it is a hugely important subject to him; he said that he has also raised the issue with the Secretary of State. I know how tirelessly my hon. Friend works for the people of Thornbury and Yate on healthcare and numerous other matters. I join him in referencing why today is very special; it is the 75th anniversary of the formation of our national health service. I too pay tribute and offer thanks to all those who work, or have worked, within our NHS.

My hon. Friend has made a characteristically eloquent and articulate argument for a new Thornbury health centre that would bring together services and provide an integrated service for patients and his constituents. I note that the community is growing, as he said, and that further growth is planned in future years. I also note the specific case my hon. Friend made about the demographics.

Before I turn to the specific issues in Thornbury, I will highlight how the Government are prioritising capital spend in the NHS to transform and improve healthcare outcomes for people, and, importantly, to put healthcare financing on a sustainable footing. The Government are backing our NHS with a significant capital investment that will create a step change in the quality and efficiency of care up and down our country—that, of course, includes South Gloucester. We have already provided record sums to upgrade NHS buildings and facilities so that trusts can continue to provide the best possible quality of care.

[James Gray in the Chair]

Currently, the Department of Health and Social Care’s capital budget is set to reach upwards of £36 billion for the period 2022-23 to 2024-25. That is a record capital settlement. We are using that level of investment to address current care delays—for example, by creating surgical hubs to bring down waiting lists, and an increase in beds that was recently announced as part of the urgent and emergency care recovery plan. That investment will transform the quality of NHS care. We are putting new community diagnostic centres across England, investing in genomic medicine and delivering the new hospital programme.

Despite the eye-wateringly large sums that have been made available for capital within the NHS, demand is high and the calls on that budget from all across the country are significant. That presents us with challenges, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate rightly alluded to, and therefore we need to work innovatively with local integrated care boards on things such as modern methods of construction. I will come to that in a moment.

I want to touch on wider capital funding, because Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire integrated care board has been allocated some significant funding in recent years from those national programmes. That is in no small part due to the tireless championing of the area by my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate, and MPs in his neighbouring constituencies. The funding includes: over £17 million from our elective recovery targeted investment fund for a period of estate works and digital initiatives; over £20 million in 2020-21 and 2021-22 from our critical risk infrastructure programme for A&E improvement; and over £5 million in 2020-21 to 2023-24 for mental health schemes, such as eradicating mental health dormitories and improving mental health crisis centres. In addition, the integrated care board has been allocated over £70 million in operational capital funding, making a total of over £223 million made available during this spending review period. I know my hon. Friend will agree that this investment has been invaluable in updating outdated infrastructure and, of course, in ensuring modern and sustainable facilities for both staff and patients.

I now turn specifically to Thornbury health centre, which is the crux of my hon. Friend’s speech. I certainly understand the need for investment in the area—my hon. Friend has made that case incredibly powerfully today—and I am of course aware of the plans to integrate community services at Thornbury health centre. Furthermore, I recognise that he is keen to see progress on this investment as soon as possible. That is why my officials at the Department of Health and Social Care are working at pace with NHS England, and of course the local trust, to assess how we can take it forward. To answer one of his specific questions, a meeting to discuss options for that investment is scheduled to take place shortly and we are considering examples from recent similar programmes around the country as a template for how to deliver Thornbury health centre.

My hon. Friend asked about MMC, which I alluded to a few moments ago. Modern methods of construction are considered as part of the business case process, and the Department has already raised this point with his integrated care board and will discuss it further at the meeting, at which next steps will be discussed.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s continued involvement in and support for this project, and I am certain that his efforts will help to ensure that we can find a way forward that delivers quickly for the people of Thornbury and delivers value for money for local taxpayers. I can certainly commit that the Department’s ministerial team will continue to work closely with my hon. Friend, and I will personally ensure that the Primary Care Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) —keeps him regularly updated on progress following the meeting to which I referred.

Let me turn to Frenchay Hospital, which my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate also referred to. I thank him for his dedicated work in campaigning to secure a return of health services to the site. I understand that the new health and social care facilities at Frenchay Hospital are a key element of the integrated care board’s plans to transform and of course improve rehabilitation care for local people across South Gloucestershire. When those plans are complete, there will be a centre of excellence, with between 40 and 50 beds, for intensive rehabilitation, which will be co-located with new extra care housing. I know that the North Bristol NHS Trust remains committed to its plans for new rehabilitation facilities on the Frenchay Hospital site, and continues to make good progress on its plans, working with the local authority and other partners.

In conclusion, I again pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate and the work that he is doing to support healthcare provision across South Gloucestershire. I can certainly confirm that this Government are committed to delivering transformational investment in the NHS estate across the country and that we look forward to delivering a step change in the quality and efficiency of care. The Primary Care Minister and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend to bring about the local changes to healthcare provision that he and his constituents want to see.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Charity Lottery Fundraising Caps

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential merits of removing the caps on charity lottery fundraising.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and to bring forward this debate on the important work of Britain’s charity lotteries. I must first draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a vice-president of the Lotteries Council. The charity lottery sector is worthy of Members’ time, as I am confident today’s contributions will demonstrate, and I am grateful to Members present. As I found when researching the debate, the interest of Members from across the House is evident from Hansard and, as I am sure the Minister is aware, from the number of questions to his Department on this important topic.

Back in 2017, the now Lord Bellingham secured a Westminster Hall debate on the future of society lotteries and the limits on prize values. I remember it well because I attended. The debate was well supported by Members from all sides of the House. A little over six months after that debate, the Government concluded their consultation on society lottery reform, and recommended that the maximum draw prize increase to £500,000, that the draw limit be raised to £5 million and, most importantly, that the annual cap increase to £100 million. In 2020, a revised annual limit came into effect, albeit that it was a reduced amount of £50 million.

Today, charity lotteries, or social lotteries, as they are more formally known, generate over £400 million a year for charities and good causes the length and breadth of Great Britain, meaning they constitute a significant funding stream for many well known charities and local community groups alike. I am sure we will hear from Members today about some of their local charities that benefit from those lotteries. Charity lotteries are regulated via the Gambling Act 2005 and are subject to heavy bureaucratic burdens, though the national lottery is not. For example, charity lotteries are subject to stringent caps on annual sales, caps on sales in each individual draw, and caps on the prizes that operators are allowed to offer, and there is rightly a statutory minimum return to good causes—I completely agree with that.

To put it simply, despite existing to fund charities and good causes, the sector is mired in exactly the sort of red tape that our Conservative Government should be focused on eliminating. To be honest, given that charity lotteries predate the national lottery by at least three decades, it is somewhat baffling as to why such a heavy regulatory burden exists at all. From the mid-2000s, the idea took hold in some quarters that the national lottery required protection from charity lotteries, and that is a myth that I am keen to see debunked on the basis of the available evidence. For example, years of Gambling Commission industry statistics show continued growth in sales, and returns to good causes from both sectors have reached record levels.

The recent Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on the national lottery explicitly acknowledged that charity lotteries do not negatively impact the national lottery, and called out the oddly hostile attitude that Camelot has shown to the sector over the years. It is imperative that we do not lose sight of the fact that when both sectors thrive, it is the charities and good causes in all our constituencies that stand to benefit the most. The complementary nature of both funding streams cannot be understated—sorry, overstated; we must ensure Hansard gets that right.

I am sure that many Members present will be familiar with the People’s Postcode Lottery through their constituency or the effectiveness of its advertising, which, as well as admirably shining a spotlight on supported charities, has been known to feature the likes of Jason Donovan. I am certainly aware of fantastic work done in my constituency by a number of organisations that are in receipt of funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery. Such organisations help to deliver vital funding for voluntary sector groups of all sizes.

Funding has been delivered locally to RicNic, Walsall’s “own the stage” project, which provides drama-based classroom resources and workshops to get children to participate in the arts; the Canal & River Trust, which has restored the Black Cock bridge, a Victorian bridge that was built in around 1880 in Walsall Wood, over the Daw End Branch canal; the Royal Voluntary Service, which operates locally from Brownhills Memorial Hall on Lichfield Road, a building known locally as the Memo, where the RVS runs groups who help elderly and vulnerable people to keep active and socially engaged; the Walsall-based Cats Protection, which also has a retail base in my constituency; and Manor Farm Community Association, which was awarded funding for the Silver Connections outreach programme for older people. I could go on, Mr Gray, but I will not. I hope I have given you a flavour of the type of organisations in receipt of this support, and I am sure you have some in your constituency.

Given the huge benefits of those and many other organisations to communities across my constituency—a pattern that I know is mirrored in constituencies right across the country—I am proud to play my part as a champion of the low-risk, not-for-profit charity lottery sector, which exists to fund good causes, some of which I have just name-checked. That is the reason why I felt it was important to secure today’s debate.

In addition to confirming the complementary nature of charity lotteries, the DCMS Committee report to which I referred made clear recommendations on empowering charity lottery operators to set their own prize limits of up to £500,000, and on ensuring a level playing field with unregulated prize draws. Those are important recommendations that I would like the Government to adopt as policy. I urge my good friend the Minister and the Government to remove the annual sales cap on charity lotteries without further delay, to ensure that this vital fundraising stream can maximise its charitable returns. It is open to Ministers to deliver that crucial reform, and most of the other reforms I have mentioned, by way of a statutory instrument. I do not believe it needs parliamentary legislation, so I hope that the Government can find time for that.

An analysis undertaken by the People’s Postcode Lottery demonstrates that the £50 million annual sales cap on the sector is restricting the funding that can be provided to 40 large charity partners, depriving them of millions of pounds in funding annually. That is despite the success of the brand in generating lottery ticket sales well in excess of the £50 million permitted annually per licence. Newly released analysis shows that over the next five years, caps on annual sales will deprive more than 70 People’s Postcode Lottery-supported charities of some £200 million in vital funding. It almost goes without saying that charities can ill afford to lose those funds.

I was astonished when I heard that the People’s Postcode Lottery has to operate a structure encompassing over 40 individual gambling licences in order to comply with the law on annual sales limits. That creates a heavy burden of duplication, which constrains the scale and flexibility of the funds so generously raised by the lottery’s players. The over-regulation of charity lotteries means that some well-known charities—for example, Girlguiding, Keep Britain Tidy, Young Lives vs Cancer, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Royal Voluntary Service—are losing out. Put simply, the sector is mired in needless red tape that could easily be removed by us in the House of Commons with Government support.

The Government previously committed to a £100 million annual sales limit for charity lotteries. However, if they removed the cap completely instead of increasing it, that would benefit not only the largest operators but smaller charity lotteries such as Essex & Herts Air Ambulance and the local hospice lotteries. It would be a more efficient use of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s time, as it would remove the need to revisit the sales cap frequently. Operators such as those that I mentioned could also shed the additional licences associated with the requirements of the Gambling Act 2005, which operators say are difficult and costly for small not-for-profit lotteries to navigate.

It is completely unclear why the sales limits exist. In fact, the Gambling Commission is on record as saying that it has been

“unable to uncover any reference as to why these limits were put in place”. 

The sales limits cannot affect player behaviour in any way, so they do not impact on sales, but they have a negative impact on the charities that receive funding, and they add to the bureaucracy for lottery operators. It seems counterproductive to continue limiting charities’ income in such a blunt manner, particularly at a time of growing charitable need.

Removing charity lotteries’ annual sales limits could better equip the third sector to support those most in need, without costing the Treasury or the taxpayers a single penny. That makes the argument even more compelling. I put it to the Minister that this aspect of the debate is very much worthy of the Chancellor’s consideration, as the change would be cost-neutral fiscally. Perhaps the Minister will put a good word in with the Chancellor ahead of the autumn statement.

As I draw my contribution to a conclusion, I draw attention to the striking support that lifting the cap on charity lotteries and these common-sense sector reforms have attracted from colleagues from across this House, as we see today. That speaks volumes about the value of the charity sector, and of charity lottery reform. I acknowledge that the Government have shown themselves willing to act in support of Britain’s charity lottery sector in recent years—my good friend the Minister comes from a background of fundraising in the charity sector. I commend the reforms to date, but it is clear that further action is required now.

I recognise that the Government have to manage many competing priorities, but charity lottery reform can be undertaken via a simple statutory instrument, or by including the changes in any new gambling Act. Reform has the support of over 100 of Britain’s best-known charities, the sector itself and Members from across the House. I politely call on the Minister to please prioritise action on this worthy issue.

I warmly welcome this debate, and congratulate the right hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) on securing it and on her excellent speech. Members have made a strong case for removal of the charity lottery sales limits, although in some ways those are badly named; they would be better described as fundraising limits, as they effectively limit the annual fundraising by any one charity. Several of the lotteries run by the People’s Postcode Lottery are already at the limit, which prevents growth of the grants provided by those lotteries to the charities they support. However, even if they were not already at the limit, the fact that the People’s Postcode Lottery requires a bureaucracy of 20 separate trusts simply to get the funds that they raised distributed to the charities they support seems nonsensical to say the least.

It does not seem to be the Government’s policy to work with charity lottery operators to provide the best legal and regulatory environment possible for growing the funds that operators provide to the communities that we all represent. I do of course recognise the need to get a balance in the marketplace, so that fundraising by the national lottery is also maximised and not impacted in any way—in fact, I was proud to host an event in Parliament yesterday celebrating the launch of the new national lottery strategy; the Minister was in attendance—but as was said, that has been reviewed and discussed multiple times, and no evidence is forthcoming that removing the sales limit would impact the national lottery in any way. Indeed, it is difficult to see how it could, as the sales limit does not impact consumer behaviour in any way. I also note that in the last few years, since the 2020 changes to the limits, the national lottery has shown record sales and funding for good causes, proving yet again that the argument about a negative impact on the national lottery is a red herring.

As the Minister may be aware, prior to entering Parliament I was an ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation, which was set up to take forward the work of my sister. It has a focus on tackling loneliness and community building. I therefore have experience, as I know the Minister does, of the challenges of running a charity, including the need for reliable, long-term sources of funding. It is clear that the operational environment for charities is more difficult than ever.

In March, the Charities Aid Foundation surveyed 547 UK charity leaders to identify key concerns, specifically regarding charities’ cost of living issues. What the foundation found about the impact of the cost of living crisis on charities is not surprising, but that does not make it any less worrying: 59% are concerned that people will not continue to, or begin to, donate to their cause because of the cost of living crisis; 71% per cent expressed concern about managing increased demand for their services; and a shocking 35% believe that their organisation will struggle to survive altogether. I do not know if those statistics have rung alarm bells in DCMS, but they certainly should have.

In addition, polling of the public in March showed that 14% of people plan to cut back on charity donations in the coming year. I worry that that figure will only rise in the coming months, yet here we have a policy proposal that would help charities and charity lottery operators across the country, but unfortunately it feels like an uphill battle to get DCMS to do anything about it.

The statistics from the Charities Aid Foundation also reflect my experience at constituency level. In March, I visited three local projects in Batley and Spen that have received funding raised by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. I went to Magic Breakfast and visited the breakfast club it runs at High Bank Junior, Infant and Nursery School in Liversedge. I met many of the pupils and teachers there, who were enthusiastic and clear about the difference that the breakfast club makes. I also visited the wonderful Rainbow Baby Bank in Heckmondwike, which provides a wide range of baby clothes, supplies and equipment to families across the area who are desperately in need of support. Finally, I visited the Riding for the Disabled Association project at Cliffhollins riding school and pony club centre in East Bierley, which is a brilliant facility run by an enthusiastic and talented team who are helping many local people regain confidence and undertake an activity that would otherwise not be available to them. It was certainly a very eclectic day.

I was struck not only by the difference that the funding raised by the People’s Postcode Lottery made to those organisations and the local people who used them, but by the links between the organisations. Charity lotteries are creating and supporting a network of organisations, which are in turn supporting communities such as those that I have the honour of representing. In many cases, those organisations, groups and charities are propping up society and stepping in to provide services that, in my view, the state should be providing. That the Government seem at best reluctant to help them do that work is bizarre. I hope that today’s debate will show Ministers the breadth of cross-party support for removing those limits. If they cannot move quickly to abolish those limits, they should at the very least start a consultation in the months ahead, so that all our constituencies can benefit.

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), not only on securing this important debate but on her fantastic speech, in which she sought to persuade the Minister by various means. Indeed, the Minister has been persuaded by a number of women today, though I must not forget the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

Like many other speakers today, I want to put on record my support for removing the charity lottery sales limits, and for the fundraising work done by charity lotteries, which is hugely beneficial in loads of ways. There has been a lot of discussion in Parliament over the last couple of years about problem gambling, and I share many of the concerns raised, but charity lotteries have a product that could not be more different from online betting and casinos, both in terms of problem gambling risk and the purpose of the activity, which is to raise funds for good causes as opposed to private profit. However, charity lotteries are not just about raising funds for good causes; the players, who ultimately raise the funds, get to have a little fun, and perhaps win a prize, while doing good for charities. It is a great model.

In February last year, over 600 of my constituents shared a £7.9 million cash pot when the People’s Postcode Lottery’s monthly millions draw landed in Wishaw. Players won between £8,000 and £368,000, and I can truly testify that there was a great deal of excitement in Wishaw. Of course, many local businesses will have benefited too. Charity lotteries can provide a bit of fun and excitement, as well as supporting good causes.

Charities in my constituency have also benefited. Over £100,000 has been provided to community charities, including Basics Food Bank, Wishaw YMCA and the North Lanarkshire Disability Forum. I am a great supporter of all those local charities. Larger charities that have received funding include the Scottish Wildlife Trust, which runs the Garrion Gill nature reserve, and Street League, which does fantastic work using sport as a pathway to get young people into employment.

I have supported the campaign to remove the charity lottery sales limit for some time, and at the SNP conference last year I joined the Deputy First Minister of Scotland, Shona Robison MSP, at a panel debate to discuss this very issue. It is shocking that many excellent charities stand to lose funding because of this piece of Government red tape. I draw Members’ attention to the words of Dame Laura Lee, the chief executive of Maggie’s cancer centres, which is a fantastic charity. She said:

“If limits aren’t lifted it is estimated that charities across the UK could lose out on nearly £200 million over the next five years – for Maggie’s alone that’s over £4 million that could fund vital free psychological, emotional and practical support for thousands of people living with cancer.”

She also said:

“We could reach even more people living with cancer – people who are experiencing possibly the hardest time of their lives – if charity lottery limits were abolished.”

There we have it: current Government policy will cost Maggie’s £4 million. That alone should be enough, I hope, to convince the Minister to take action. We are really good at having a go, us ladies.

Looked at another way, here is a great opportunity for the Minister to make a real difference, with lots of support across the political spectrum, to ensure that charities get the funding they deserve from charity lotteries and that charity lottery operators do not spend time dealing with needless bureaucracy. I hope that he will take it.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray. It is also a real pleasure to hear from the right hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), who set the scene so well. It is ladies who are leading the debate, but I am happy to add my support. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) certainly set the scene too. I did not know that Wishaw had benefited from the People’s Postcode Lottery—well done. We heard from the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) about her visits around her constituency and the clear benefits of charity lotteries.

We do not have the People’s Postcode Lottery in Northern Ireland. We are not allowed it—for whatever reason, our laws prevent it—but it is advertised on the same TV stations that we all watch, so we feel somewhat concerned that we cannot participate. It is the law of the land. Nobody is trying to stop us; it is just that the gambling laws in Northern Ireland are a devolved matter. I know that the Minister will summarise that issue.

As all the hon. Ladies who have spoken referred to, charity lotteries generate moneys for good. On Friday, the National Lottery Community Fund—I have a really good working relationship with it, as all MPs do—notified me, as it always does, of the moneys coming to my constituency, and I want to use that to illustrate what can happen if the opportunities are there.

I understand that deciding whether or not to gamble is a personal choice, just like deciding whether to take alcohol. Similarly, the overuse of either is not good for an individual or, indeed, for a family unit. That is why I believe in the regulation of gambling, to the extent that we can regulate it, but I also believe in adding layers of protection where possible, for the sake of family units. That being said, I am aware of the wonderful work done by lotteries throughout the United Kingdom; the hon. Ladies all illustrated that very clearly and I know that the Front-Bench spokespeople will too.

I recently received an email about hundreds of thousands of pounds of national lottery funding making a difference to community organisations in my constituency, from Comber Regeneration to the Women’s Institute in Ballyblack outside Newtownards, and from Community Advice in Newtownards to the Portaferry gala, Portaferry Men’s Shed and the Killinchy social club. The benefits to all those groups are clear, but so is the regulation of the national lottery. We need to ensure that any changes to remove the cap on charity lottery fundraising will not adversely affect the regulatory protection that is in place. I believe that is the key to any changes. We all admire and appreciate the Minister for his frankness, but also for his humour and the way he puts his case; he is much loved by all of us in this House because of the way he approaches our questions.

In Northern Ireland, we are governed by stricter regulations regarding gambling under the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which is why we do not have the People’s Postcode Lottery. I will outline some of the order’s key provisions. A society must register with the district council specifying the purposes for which it is established and conducted. Tickets may have a maximum price of £1. Each ticket must specify the name of the society, the name and address of the promoter, the date of the lottery and the name of the district council that registered the society. The price of every ticket must be the same and shown on the ticket. It is therefore not permissible to offer, for example, a book of six tickets for the price of five; it just cannot be done. The total value of tickets or chances sold in any one lottery must not exceed £80,000. No more than 50% of the proceeds of a lottery may be used to provide prizes.

It is clear that regulation remains much tighter in Northern Ireland than on the mainland, but I am keen—I have made this plea in Westminster Hall before—for the People’s Postcode Lottery to be able to come to us in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw described how it descended on her constituency and disbursed money in great amounts; perhaps someday that will happen in Strangford. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see my constituents benefit too.

I know that the Minister and Government have been considering the issue, and I understand that the small changes proposed today focus on allowing charities to raise more money and thereby do more good. I am keen to see that happen, because it is certainly admirable and welcome, but regulation must be in place to protect families as much as personal choice allows. I will always support good regulation when it comes to gambling; I know that the right hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and everyone else who has spoken have the same opinion. I thank the right hon. Lady again for bringing the matter to Westminster Hall for consideration.

I too am delighted to participate in the debate. I thank the right hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) for bringing the issue to our attention. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that we in the SNP fully support the removal of the cap on charity lottery fundraising. He will be aware that last year the People’s Postcode Lottery published a report entitled “Limitless potential: The case for raising the cap on charity lottery fundraising,” which highlighted that charities are losing out on millions of pounds due to legal limits on lottery fundraising.

We all know that charity lottery funding can make a huge difference to communities across our constituencies. It is simply not right that capping charity lottery fundraising creates red tape, bureaucracy and, for some charities, stagnation of funds, causing groups in need of funding to miss out, potentially, on millions of pounds that could make such a difference to the lives of our constituents. Their efforts are being undermined by the cap.

In my constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran, £319,000 has been awarded to local charities, in 56 separate grants. In addition, numerous national charities with a footprint in my constituency, such as the Royal Voluntary Service, have received support. The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust operates in Largs, providing sailing trips for young people recovering from cancer. The trust has received £4.1 million of funding so far, and receives £450,000 each year to help change the lives of so many young people. With many other charitable groups in my constituency benefiting from funding, I know how important this issue is.

We need to remove the cap. The Minister will be aware that his Government committed to do so in 2020. It is not controversial or a contentious ask for the cap to be removed. Those calling for its removal should be pushing at an open door, but we have not seen anything done to progress that commitment. There is support across the House for the measure, so it is hard to understand why it has not happened. I hope the Minister will be able to respond positively to the calls he has heard today.

The measure could be implemented immediately. Importantly from the Minister’s perspective, it would not cost the Treasury a single penny. What are we waiting for? The Government have closely examined this area of charity lottery reform, and found that charity lotteries make a hugely positive difference. We already knew that. It is really important that the value we place on charity lotteries, the work they do and the support they can provide are recognised.

It is important to note that the cost of living crisis means soaring demand for the services of charities, as well as an increase in their costs. Many charities are suffering a huge drop in donations, as those who would ordinarily donate willingly find that they have much less money to go around and therefore cannot contribute as they may have done in better times. Removing the cap as soon as possible will support funding streams such as charity lotteries so that they can continue to provide the additional support that many groups in our constituencies need.

Charity lotteries are the only type of charity fundraising and only type of gambling capped by law. The reason for the cap is not entirely clear or logical to everyone but, while it remains in place, it limits the funding available to charities from charity lotteries. Last year, three key postcode trusts, funded by People’s Postcode Lottery players, each lost out on around £1 million of potential income due to the lowering of ticket prices from 85p to 80p, which was required to avoid breaching the current £50 million annual sales limit. Further ticket price reductions will be needed as player numbers grow. As a result, those trusts’ incomes will stagnate, as will the value of the grants that they are able to award, despite growing ticket sales and ongoing charitable need. It does not seem to make any sense.

That all means a real-terms decrease in funding over time. Charities are already losing out, and they will continue to lose out unless this issue is addressed urgently. Over time, more postcode trusts will be affected, impacting charities more deeply. From the annual funding fairs that I organise in partnership with the constituency MSP in Saltcoats town hall, I know all too well—as everyone else will from their own constituencies—the huge demand for funding from very important charitable groups, which undertake a range of vital work to improve the lives of my constituents and to support the work of local charities.

The Minister knows that when we get down to brass tacks, this is quite an easy thing to fix, and he will have the whole House behind him in doing so. It will cost the Treasury nothing, which is always a bonus for a Minister, and it will have an immediate positive impact on hard-pressed charities in our communities. I urge him just to get on with it so that our vital charity sector can continue to do what it does so well: helping to improve the lives of our constituents.

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray, and to respond on behalf of the Opposition. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) on securing this important debate, and all Members from across the House for their contributions. It is rare that this House speaks with one voice, but on an issue of such importance it is great to see. I do not think that the Minister can have failed to hear the pressure from across the House. In a crowded policy field, charity lotteries often do not get the attention that they deserve; however, they do excellent work in supporting communities, as we have heard, especially where so-called Government investment has failed to appear, let alone deliver.

In my constituency of Pontypridd, many local charities and community groups have received funding by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, myself included—I should probably declare an interest as a player of it. Already this year, Miss Tilley’s CIC, a social enterprise that works alongside disabled people in Pontypridd and Cardiff to help them access work, learning, volunteering and other opportunities, has received £25,000. That is a lifeline to a small charity. Last year, 13 other organisations based in my constituency received funding, including All Stars Gymnastics club, Llantwit Fardre cricket club, Rhondda Cynon Taf Scouts and Rhydyfelin Community Group. As I said, they are small local organisations delivering vital work in communities that would be unable to operate without that funding.

Those are community charities, but some of the country’s best known and well-loved charities working in my constituency are also in receipt of charity lottery funding. We have heard about some of them today: the Royal Voluntary Service, which has seven local groups; the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, which runs Y Gweira nature reserve; and the Ramblers, Breast Cancer Now, and Volunteering Matters, which have a presence in all our constituencies. Charity lotteries are not the only source of funding for those charities, but they are a vital one, especially as they provide unrestricted and ongoing funding, which is essential.

I am sure that the Minister has a number of projects and groups in his constituency that have benefited from such funding. It is therefore even more shocking that during a cost of living crisis that is affecting communities the length and breadth of the country, and which is largely of the Government’s own making, Ministers have failed to properly support charity lotteries, despite their incredible work. I have no doubt that the procrastination that has been exacerbated by the revolving ministerial door at DCMS means that such important issues have not been given the focus that they deserve. I have a lot of respect for the Minister, and I hope that this will be at the top of his policy agenda. I hope to hear more about that today.

Charities are facing a triple threat because of the current economic situation: their own costs have gone up, they face an increasingly difficult fundraising environment, and many are having to respond to increased needs in the communities that they serve. Against that backdrop, it is frustrating that a valuable source of charity funding is being stifled by a policy of this Government. We have heard today how easily a different policy could be implemented. There is widespread support for the removal of the cap on charity lottery fundraising. Indeed, my colleague Jane Hutt, the Minister for Social Justice in the Welsh Government, has written to DCMS to ask why the Conservative Government have not taken action.

Charity lotteries do a great deal of good across Britain. They support charities in every single constituency in Britain and provide millions of pounds of funding that otherwise would not be available. Earlier this year, 100 of the best-known charities in the country wrote to the Culture Secretary on this specific issue, so the Minister knows just how significant a feeling there is about it in the sector as well. Many charities are aware of the negative impact of the annual sales limit on their work; indeed, many of them are losing out because of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) referred to Magic Breakfast, which is a brilliant organisation. The recent comments of its chief executive, Lindsey MacDonald, highlighted the fact that unless the limits are removed Magic Breakfast expects to lose out to the tune of £1 million, which equates to more than 3.5 million breakfasts. That would be a colossal impact on just one charity out of the many affected. The issue also affects homelessness charities, environmental charities, international development charities, youth groups such as the Girl Guides, cultural organisations such as the National Trust and vital cancer charities such as Maggie’s, as we heard.

Of course, a crucial point is that it would not cost the Treasury a single penny to resolve this issue. I hope the Minister has heard that message loud and clear. Why has he or a succession of previous Ministers not taken action? What is preventing the policy from being implemented? It should not be the case that it is about any perceived impact on the national lottery, because the Gambling Commission’s own statistics show that lottery fundraising across Britain is at an all-time high.

It should also not be because of a lack of awareness of the problem, as both the charity sector and the charity lottery sector have made a strong case for change for many years, and they are to be commended for their perseverance on this issue. Nor should it be because removing the limits could impact on player behaviour in some way. As we have heard today, this is about a behind-the-scenes bureaucratic measure that most of the population will never even have heard of. Unless we see some action soon, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Government do not care about the negative impact of the current policy.

Impactful organisations such as the People’s Postcode Lottery do some excellent work on the ground. The organisation’s staff and players should be proud that they have raised more than £1 billion for charities and good causes in every corner of Great Britain, although sadly not in Northern Ireland, as we have heard. We often hear much from the Government about the strain on public finances; perhaps responsibility for the current state of the economy is a debate for another day, but I encourage the Minister to consider the important role that charity lotteries play in plugging vital funding gaps.

We can all agree that many of our constituents are struggling and that times are tough. However, the cost of living crisis is not only impacting households: many charities and businesses have seen their costs shoot up at the same time as fundraising has become more difficult and the services they provide have increased, so they are impacted by a triple whammy. Indeed, I am really concerned that some charities will not survive this crisis, and I am sure the Minister has heard similar concerns. With that in mind, I urge him to give serious thought to the merits of lifting the cap. I am sure he has heard the arguments for doing so. Lifting the cap is a simple process that would have huge benefits for all our constituencies. So come on, Minister—do the right thing.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) for securing this debate and I thank everybody who has taken part. It has been good to take some time out from the complexities of the gambling White Paper and the questions about levies, betting terminals, casinos and loot boxes, and instead hear about and discuss the fantastic work of the society lottery sector, the great things that it does and the funding that it provides. That includes organisations such as the air ambulances, hospice lotteries, Age UK, the Royal British Legion and so many others up and down the country.

As I said in the House recently, in a previous role I set up a society lottery for the hospice that I used to work at, so I understand the important contribution that society lotteries make to charities’ incomes. I am absolutely committed to doing everything that I can to make sure that charities get as much money as they can. That is precisely why I fought for the £100 million with the Treasury: I went into battle to help with the current situation that many charities, which have been so brilliantly celebrated today, are facing.

Through my wider ministerial role, I have seen at first hand the real impact that funding from charity lottery players has in supporting a huge range of good causes, and it often sits alongside grants from the national lottery. For example, just last week I visited the London LGBTQ+ Community Centre in Blackfriars, which receives funding from the National Lottery Community Fund. Ahead of the Eurovision final in Liverpool, I saw the support that the fund had given to Daisy Inclusive UK for the work it is doing with youth social action groups in that city.

Members have articulated the tremendous amount of work that goes on in their constituencies. Indeed, the People’s Postcode Lottery has supported a range of projects in my constituency, including some that have been mentioned—the Woodland Trust, Magic Breakfast and Farsley Community Orchard. I also recognise the fact that many good causes receive funding from both the national lottery and society lotteries. The V&A in Dundee received over £19 million from the national lottery and £1.2 million from the People’s Postcode Lottery.

As Members will be aware, following a comprehensive consultation, which received more than 1,500 responses, the Government legislated in 2020 to introduce a wide package of reforms to the framework that governs society lotteries, and as a result of those reforms we significantly increased the annual sales limit, from £10 million to £50 million. For many charities that are running their own lotteries, there is plenty of headroom there, but I will come to some of the specific issues shortly.

We also increased the draw sales limit from £4 million to £5 million, which was warmly welcomed by the sector, and the increases also enabled lotteries to offer a prize of up to £500,000. I believe that package of reforms struck the right balance to achieve the best possible outcome at that time. It is important to remember that there were different stakeholders with different perspectives and priorities then. Some wanted us to go further, and called for an increase in the sales limit to £100 million and a maximum prize limit of £1 million, but others thought we had gone too far and felt that those increases would have a negative impact on, say, the national lottery and the good causes it funds.

I think we all recognise and welcome the changes that the Government made at the time, but having listened to the Minister I want to press him on two points. First, does he accept that there is a place for both the national lottery and the society lotteries? We are not talking about either/or; it is not competition. When we get it right, both sectors can benefit.

Secondly, I appreciate that when there is a consultation there will be lots of different stakeholders to accommodate, but when it comes to the People’s Postcode Lottery specifically, the issue is that charities are being negatively impacted and that, with a bit of tweaking and adjustment from the Government, charities could benefit a lot more.

I take those two points. I absolutely agree that society lotteries and the national lottery can coexist; they have done throughout the existence of the national lottery. I will come to the point about the People’s Postcode Lottery in a moment.

Just last week, I met the current operator of the national lottery. It reminded me that the national lottery was purposefully set up to be the most efficient way to get money to good causes. It is important to remember that since it began in 1994, more than £47 billion has been raised for good causes. That is significant, and it equates to the national lottery raising more than £30 million each week. The majority of that funding goes straight to the heart of all our communities. We obviously need to ensure that that continues, because it delivers to a diverse range of groups and organisations in our communities. Given my wider portfolio, I know it is also critical for sport provision and elite sports. It is important to think about that.

In recent months I have learned a great deal about the complexities of transitioning from one national lottery licence to another and about transitioning for the first time to a new operator. It is clear that our objective for the lottery sector is for the national lottery and society lotteries to thrive together. It is also important to remember that our Secretary of State has a statutory duty to enable national lottery receipts to be maximised, and the continued growth of society lotteries needs to sit alongside that.

From the evidence that I have seen, we seem to have got the balance right to date, but, as with most things, there may be a tipping point, and I continue to bear that in mind. We last reviewed the 2020 reforms 12 months after they were implemented. We concluded that there was not yet enough available evidence to determine the full effect of the changes, and we wanted to see more substantive data over a longer period before considering any further changes. It still feels like the right approach to me, but I strongly believe that an evidence-based approach is always the right one. That is why we got the gambling White Paper into a good place: because it was all based on evidence.

We also want to make sure that the regulatory requirements placed on society lotteries are proportionate to their size. Should we enable society lotteries to sell £100 million-worth of tickets each year, we would also need to consider whether the largest lotteries should have placed on them further requirements, such as on the level of information they provide to consumers, and whether the percentage of sales they return to good causes should increase. It is important that we make those challenges too and look at some of the comparisons. I want to make sure that not just one area sees an increase but there is also an increase to charities.

The guiding principle, then and now, is that the regulatory framework regime that governs society lotteries should encourage the maximum return to good causes, and that the licensing regime should be light, protecting players without placing unnecessary burdens on operators. We will continue to work with the Gambling Commission as it keeps the sector and the case for further changes under review.

It is also not certain, when we look at the detail, that a further increase to the sales limit would necessarily result in a significant increase in funding for good causes. For example, despite a five-fold increase in the annual sales limit in 2020, I understand that what the People’s Postcode Lottery returned to good causes did not increase by nearly the same amount. We have to consider such things, so evidence and the consideration of conditions are important. For those who ask me to make further changes immediately, even if there were robust evidence to do so, there are processes that we are obliged to follow.

May I press the Minister a little more on that? If he is not willing to deal with it immediately, would he look at it as a matter of urgency, given the number of charities that are being detrimentally affected?

My right hon. Friend has obviously seen a copy of my speech, because I am coming to that in a moment. We will need to carry out a consultation—we have to do that— take account of those views, study the evidence, seek the views of other Government Departments and find time in a busy parliamentary schedule to bring any proposals to the House. It is not as simple as might sometimes be portrayed. Nevertheless, I have heard in the debate, and throughout my time in post, that there is a desire for us to be clearer about when any such review may take place, so I will ask officials in the Department to consider the matter in more detail with the Gambling Commission to see what is realistic. I will provide an update in the autumn to those who have attended this debate.

As I said, I met the People’s Postcode Lottery just this morning, and my priority remains delivering our ambitious commitments in the gambling White Paper, because I think there is some serious work that needs to be done there. I am also keen to ensure the smooth transition of the fourth national lottery licence and to make swift progress on the horserace betting levy review, which is really important. In this morning’s meeting, the People’s Postcode Lottery recognised the considerable work that we are trying to get through.

The consideration of any further changes to the framework for society lotteries needs to be considered in the context I have set out, but I have committed to continue to explore what flexibility there already is within the system to get us through the interim period ahead of any further detailed review. In the meantime, I am confident that, thanks to the millions of people who enjoy playing the lottery or buying a scratchcard, both society lotteries and the national lottery will continue to raise much-needed funding that benefits so many people. For many independent society lotteries there is plenty of headroom. I recognise many of the points that have been made about the specifics of the People’s Postcode Lottery and assure Members that I will keep a close eye on the matter.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for responding to the debate, and I am equally grateful to everyone who has contributed. The message was very clear: we understand the value of the charities and the work they do in our communities. I welcome, and look forward to receiving, the autumn update. However, although I understand the importance of the gambling White Paper and know that we have to get that right, some of the women in this place—and gentlemen—will continue to gently push the Minister, because we are so passionate about this. I also recognise the passion that the Minister has for the charity sector, given his experience before he came to this place.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the potential merits of removing the caps on charity lottery fundraising.

Sitting adjourned.