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Commons Chamber

Volume 745: debated on Friday 23 February 2024

House of Commons

Friday 23 February 2024

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation Bill

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Second time.

I have been a Member of Parliament for nearly 23 years. [Hon. Members: “No!] I know it is difficult to believe for some, but it is true. This is the first occasion on which my name has been drawn in the private Member’s Bill ballot; I am pleased to say my name was drawn fourth. I thought long and hard about the most appropriate and best piece of draft legislation to bring forward. I decided on this Bill, because I genuinely think it is incredibly important, and I will set out to the House why that is.

The Bill tackles strategic litigation against public participation cases, widely known as SLAPPs, in all their forms. Last year, I and the Labour Opposition welcomed the measures enacted in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 that ensured that SLAPPs relating to economic crime can be tackled. I am pleased to bring forward a Bill to expand on that. Reform to protect freedom of speech and the public interest is something that all parties in Parliament hold dear. In all debates in this House and the other place there has been a broad consensus about the need for reform to tackle the pernicious effect of SLAPPs. However, in both Houses it has been clear that the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act does not go far enough.

SLAPPs have taken and do take many forms. It is vital to bring forward legislation that genuinely tackles the issue in a holistic and rounded sense. There are many examples of SLAPPs. I will refer to a few high-profile cases that have reached court and received some publicity, and to others that have not received that much publicity.

I begin with a case that I am sure hon. Members will be aware of, because it has attracted a great deal of attention. In 2022, a defamation case was reportedly brought against the journalist Tom Burgis, the Financial Times and publishers HarperCollins by a Kazakh mining company. The case concerned a book by Burgis entitled “Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World”.

A defamation case was brought by Roman Abramovich against journalist Catherine Belton and HarperCollins regarding her book “Putin’s People”. It is an excellent book and well worth reading. There was a legal assault on the book through a number of lawsuits in quick succession, justifiably provoking a group of campaigners for free expression to state that London’s courts were becoming the venue of choice for legal action designed to “quash critical journalism”. Catherine Belton, the author of “Putin’s People”, has called for the introduction of reforms to tackle this global industry, based here in London. Hopefully, the Bill will begin to address this significant problem seriously.

Then there is the case of Amersi v. Leslie. A British business owner, Mohamed Amersi, brought a defamation case against Charlotte Leslie, a former Conservative MP and managing director of the Conservative Middle East Council. I am familiar with the case, because I am the shadow Minister for the middle east and north Africa. The case concerned a memo on Amersi’s background and dealings with Russia. It was put together in response to his attempt to become the chair of CMEC. The claim by Amersi was struck out, because he had failed to show how the memo caused serious harm to his reputation.

It is not only high-profile cases that involve SLAPPs. There is the case of Nina Cresswell who named a person who violently sexually assaulted her after her original report was dismissed by the police. She commendably wanted to alert other women who may become victims of sexual assault. The man who was named sued her for defamation. Ms Cresswell won a landmark judgment last year, but the very fact that she had to fight the case at all demonstrates the huge gaps that SLAPP claimants are only too ready to exploit, and we need to address that fact.

I have also heard stories of patients who have left negative reviews for botched plastic surgeries being issued with SLAPP claims by the surgeons. I have heard of tenants who have spoken out about their uninhabitable housing being issued with SLAPP claims by their landlords. That is wrong and it must be stopped.

I have given a few examples of relatively high-profile cases, and also of some that are not so well known. There are many cases that do not attract any attention in court and there are many more that we do not know about because individuals are intimidated before legal proceedings actually commence. The data that the Government have is only the tip of the iceberg. As I have suggested, SLAPPs are extremely pernicious before any action reaches court. Pre-action letters and legal pressure are applied well before proceedings are initiated. This often results in the search or the investigation being withdrawn before publication, or, in some cases, in a whole variety of different areas, the effectiveness of threats and intimidation are such that the cases never see the light of day. Accordingly, that will never be reflected in available data.

Then we come to the press in this country. Let us remember that, as a country that champions freedoms both here and abroad, we must ensure that our free press, which is a real pillar of our democracy, never feels so vulnerable that it self-censors on vital matters in the public interest. No one in the United Kingdom is above the law. Furthermore, no one should be above proper scrutiny on a matter of public interest.

As to the data we have, the provision of figures from the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe are deeply concerning in themselves. It estimates that there were 29 SLAPPs in England and Wales in 2022. That is up from 25 in 2021 and 11 in 2020. CASE’s August 2023 report recorded that the total figure in Europe over the past decade was 793.

The hon. Member mentions the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe. I wonder whether he agrees with the Anti- SLAPP Coalition that the proposed Bill, as drafted, would introduce a subjective test, requiring a court to infer the state of mind and purpose of the filer. Does he agree with me that that would create complexity, costs and delay, which would potentially make the Bill ineffective?

It is an issue that has to be considered carefully, and, indeed, it has been given a great deal of consideration and much debate.

May I just respond to the other point that has been made? It is vital that this issue is considered properly and deeply. I hope very much that, if we are successful today, the debate will continue into Committee, so that further consideration may be given to that issue. At the moment, I am erring on the side of what is suggested by my private Member’s Bill. I think the Bill strikes a balance. It is not quite accurate to talk about subjectivity and objectivity, because a judge will have to make a determination on the facts that are presented and his knowledge of how the case is being conducted. At the moment I err in favour of saying that there is a false dichotomy, but it is something that should be considered further in Committee.

I join in concordance with the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David). This is an excellent piece of legislation and I am very broadly in support of it. I just wanted to respond to the comment from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord). Subjectivity is actually a fundamental part of our legal system already: we talk often of the man on the Clapham omnibus. It is the reasonableness test, so I do not think there is anything in the Bill that is out of scope or inappropriate.

I am inclined to agree with that comment, as my Bill suggests, but it is something that needs to have more airing and more consideration. Detailed consideration in Committee would be an appropriate place for that to happen.

As others have said many times, most SLAPP-related activity takes place below the radar before a formal court case and court claim is issued. There are a number of reasons why SLAPPs are so bad, and why SLAPPs claimants are so successful in their warped objective of perpetrating them. Commonly, the comparatively modest means of a defendant are leveraged against them to encourage retraction or the abandonment of the important research that would shine a light on questionable behaviour. Bullying tactics can include huge threatened litigation costs and damages, and all of the unbearable consequences such as bankruptcy and loss of homes and livelihoods, as well as the emotional distress that entails. All of that can cause huge hardship and psychological pressure.

Sadly, many people are not able to withstand all of that. So many of the cases are like David and Goliath, but if David had no slingshot. I should be clear about why the unfairness of a legal system that allows all of that has to be challenged and changed. That is why I am bringing forward the Bill today. We must eradicate the harms caused by that kind of aggressive litigation. We must protect publishers, authors and advocates from spurious claims and empower them to forge ahead with publishing legitimate stories. Grounded, well-researched investigative reporting must be protected, not reined in for fear of colossal legal costs. We must do our utmost to protect and empower ordinary people, and give them the confidence to use the legal system of this country to ensure fairness in the public interest.

Of course, protecting journalists or anyone else cannot be at the expense of denying claimants their rights of access to justice. But at present, the fact that claimants can wrongly exploit the justice system to obfuscate the transparency that is essential in a healthy democracy means that an important balance must be struck. As things stand, that is clearly not the case, and that is why I call for urgent reform today. Robust action to counter SLAPPs in all their forms is needed and it is needed now.

I have sought to work alongside the Government to ensure that the approach underpinning the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act—which was positively received across civil society, media and the legal professions, including the regulators—remains largely intact in the Bill as it achieves what is necessary. The Bill will therefore keep, for the most part, the definition of a SLAPP claim in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act, but it will also broaden the scope and capture all SLAPPs in future. In future, any SLAPPs cases in which speaking out is in the public interest, including for publications on economic crime, will be caught.

Let me address the components of the definition. First, the claimant will have acted to restrain the defendant’s exercise of their right to freedom of speech. Secondly, the exercise of that right will have been in the pursuit of the public interest, or exposing potential wrongdoing or other bad behaviour, such as illegality or untruths, or matters to do with public health and safety or the climate and the environment. Thirdly, the claimant will have misused litigation for its threat to cause harm to the defendant, specifically through harassment, stress or expense, which is beyond that which can be ordinarily expected in properly conducted litigation. The last point includes an important distinction. Legal cases almost always bring a measure of stress and expense to the parties involved, given their serious nature.

As I have said, SLAPP claims are often designed to generate excessive stress and expense in pursuit of a remedy that is a mere fig leaf, or excuse to allow the real harm that the claimant wishes to cause. One thing that distinguishes a SLAPP claim is that the legal action is not pursued for the appropriate remedy, but as a means, in its own right, of bringing oppression to bear. To safeguard against that harm in an effective and proportionate way, including by ensuring that legitimate claims can proceed, the Bill will introduce a new early dismissal test. Claimants will have to show that they are more likely than not to succeed at trial. Where they cannot do so, the case will be struck out.

In addition, much of the harm in SLAPP claims lies in the risk of adverse costs that defendants face. A properly functioning early dismissal mechanism will assist in removing many of the risks to the defendant. However, for SLAPP claims that are not dismissed early, the Bill will introduce a new costs regime that protects defendants from costs that they would usually pay if they lost the case. That will ensure that defendants can defend themselves properly and that the risk of costs does not force them to settle claims unnecessarily. The underpinning principles of that new cost regime are included in the provisions, but the detail will be introduced under the usual cost regime-making powers through rules of court.

Together, those provisions will initially require only new civil procedure rules to give them shape and maximise their effectiveness, as the evidence available shows that SLAPPs are focused on civil proceedings. However, the provisions can be extended by regulations to any other proceedings as necessary, such as the online procedure rules. I trust that the Government will make necessary regulations when claimants who are well resourced and able to exploit any perceived loophole choose other courts in which to pursue SLAPPs. That will also help to ensure that the Bill is future-proofed. SLAPPs are likely to evolve, and we need legal infrastructure to be robust enough to meet future challenges.

As a result of the Bill, the courts will have the necessary tools and guidance to deal swiftly with all SLAPPs, which aim to stifle freedom of speech. Investigative journalists will also be empowered to expose wrongdoing in all its forms, whatever that may be. It is my hope that defendants in such cases will, as a consequence, feel safe from attempts to wrongly exploit our legal system. Journalists and others will be empowered to shine a light on criminal misconduct wherever they find it, whatever form it takes, without fear of spurious claims being made against them.

Unscrupulous individuals or corporations brazenly misuse our courts and legal system to further their agendas, to the detriment of the public interest, though it is wrong to do so as a matter of principle. The public must know about wrongdoing and corruption, so that our democratic society can function and the rule of law can be preserved. This Bill recognises the breadth and depth of SLAPPs; currently, the law focuses solely on economic crime, but SLAPPs can be found in all areas of the law. This all-embracing legislation against SLAPPs is, I believe, a truly significant step in ensuring freedom of speech and removing a clear abuse of our legal system. I therefore urge colleagues across the House to give the Bill their full support.

We in this House should all be proud of this country’s international reputation for upholding the rule of law. In the current global climate, and following the recent murder of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, that is a freedom that we cannot take for granted. Navalny was an incredibly brave man, and his wife should be an inspiration to us all. Navalny wanted the world to know the truth about what kind of man Putin is, and today, we are helping him in that aim. The protection of our legal system must be a priority for all in this House, ensuring that this country’s reputation continues long into the future. For that reason, I thank the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) for bringing this Bill before Parliament today, and I urge all colleagues to support it. We are here because we have to beef up the law to further ensure that we do not allow our legal system to be manipulated and abused by bad-faith actors wishing to shut down freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

In 2021, an investigation by The New York Times found that in four of the six prior years, litigants from Russia and Kazakhstan had been involved in more civil cases in England than any other foreign nationals. Those cases sought orders to freeze the assets of people worldwide. Individuals and corporations—many from countries where the freedoms we enjoy in this country do not exist—use strategic litigation against public participation claims to harass and intimidate journalists and authors out of sharing information that those parties do not want seen or known. The prime example is a case brought by multiple Russian billionaires, including former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who attempted to sue the author and publisher of the book “Putin’s People”. That book delved deep into the relationships between those oligarchs and Russian President Vladimir Putin—a relationship that those individuals cared deeply about when it suited them, but journalists can face legal action for pointing that out.

As has been mentioned, a Kazakh mining company brought a case against another journalist, Tom Burgis, over the contents of a book that he published about illegally gained money in the global economy. Thankfully, that attempt to silence a journalist failed. I have raised the issues surrounding “Putin’s People” before in this Chamber, alongside many colleagues from across the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely), whose work on this issue I commend. The point of these lawsuits is to threaten the defendants with colossal legal costs—we are talking about amounts that no normal person can afford—and harass and intimidate them into capitulating. “Putin’s People” author Catherine Belton and her publisher were left with a staggering £1.5 million legal bill following the case brought against them.

Today’s Bill presents us with the opportunity to further prevent such attempted silencing of authors and journalists by Russian billionaires, or any other bad-faith actor. It would put in place new rules, so that claims deemed to be SLAPPs could be dismissed and defendants could be protected from paying the claimant’s legal costs, unless that was justified. The Government have been strong in their condemnation of SLAPPs, and I was proud to see the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 recently receive Royal Assent. That Act allows judges to throw out SLAPPs relating to economic crime, which is a good first step: at least 70% of the SLAPP cases identified by the Foreign Policy Centre in 2022 were connected to financial crime and corruption. However, we cannot and must not stop there, so I welcome the fact that the Government are supporting the Bill. We need to prevent all forms of SLAPPs once and for all, and this Bill is the mechanism for doing that.

The urgency of this issue cannot be overstated. The Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe found that 820 SLAPPs took place in Europe in 2023, compared with 570 in 2022—a 44% increase. The United Kingdom was named a SLAPP hotbed, and the forum of choice for would-be SLAPP initiators. A Birmingham Law School professor has said that the high costs of defamation litigation and the ability of foreign claimants to resolve disputes in the UK has made this country an ideal location for SLAPPs.

Other legislatures have already taken action. Several US states have introduced similar laws, and the European Parliament is expected to approve similar anti-SLAPP directives next week. As a result, if we do not pass this Bill today, Britain risks being left behind in an area in which we should be proudly leading. As more places prohibit SLAPPs, the chance that more cases will be brought in the UK increases further.

We must be clear that the only purpose of SLAPPs is to silence critics; they have no legal merits. We must act to protect this country’s international reputation for upholding the rule of law, and our hard-fought freedoms of speech, justice and the press. We must ensure that journalists and publishers can publish information, backed by sources and facts, concerning any individual, no matter the size of their bank account.

We in this country are proud of the leadership we have shown following the bloody Russian invasion of Ukraine, and passing this Bill would be a small but important way of contributing to that leadership. I again thank the hon. Member for Caerphilly for bringing this Bill to the Chamber, and I look forward to supporting its passage through the House.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) for his work in bringing this Bill to the House, and I thank campaigners for what they are doing to prevent the misuse of litigation to suppress freedom of speech. Democratic and press freedoms are fundamental to our rights and to challenging corruption and the abuse of power. When whistleblowers speak out and journalists and a free press report the truth, society is better for it.

Just this week, Julian Assange’s extradition appeal closed at the Royal Courts of Justice. It is concerning to hear that he is unwell and unable to appear in court. I am conscious that the proceedings are ongoing, but I want to say that human rights are central to what is happening in his case. The issue is not just how he has been treated, simply for telling the truth; if extradited, he could be at risk of treatment amounting to torture, and other forms of ill-treatment and punishment, including the death penalty.

Julian Assange’s case has profound consequences for press freedom and democracy around the world. We cannot say that we stand for press freedom if that freedom exists only if it does not challenge certain powers, or go beyond what they want. As my hon. Friend said, our freedoms are undermined when the rich and powerful use the threat of costly legal action to suppress public criticism. That is why, last year, many of us welcomed amendments to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 that gave UK judges new powers to dismiss lawsuits that attempt to silence those speaking out about economic crime. However, given the limited scope of the Act and certain shortcomings in its text, those amendments fell short of providing meaningful protection against SLAPPs.

There is inequality under the legislation for those subject to SLAPPs that do not relate to economic crime and corruption. We know that powerful men use their power and the law to silence women. The purpose of such proceedings, often described as gagging orders, is to silence, intimidate, discredit and further disempower survivors. Some campaigners call it gendered censorship. It happens in the UK, but it is also a global phenomenon.

Although I welcome the ambition of the Bill, I believe there may be scope for further amendments about the definition of a SLAPP, so that domestic abuse is fully covered, particularly in the understanding of “public interest”. I say that because we all know of a series of libel cases in which wealthy men have sought to protect their reputation when women accuse them of abuse. Current legislation puts survivors at a disadvantage. For example, under the Defamation Act 2013, the defendant in libel cases can argue a public interest defence, but that is not available to survivors. I appeal to the Government to look at that carefully, and at how the Bill can be extended beyond the civil courts to the family courts.

In January 2022, I participated in a Backbench Business debate on the use of lawfare and strategic litigation against public participation by those seeking to suppress public debate, bully people into submission and conceal vital information that is in the public interest. I described my experience of lawfare being used against me. The House will be aware that I was completely cleared and vindicated in Snaresbrook Crown court after what I and many others in my constituency and around the UK viewed to have been vexatious litigation, pursued with the purpose of shutting down my public participation as a democratically elected socialist Member of Parliament and a survivor of domestic abuse.

The use of lawfare by abusers to pursue their current or ex-partner is coming to light more and more. I am aware that the occurrence of civil litigation cases of this nature has drastically increased, particularly following the widely publicised Amber Heard versus Johnny Depp case in the US. The most common proceedings we see brought are by men accused of sexual misconduct and/or domestic violence launching vexatious cases in relation to defamation, libel, the misuse of private information, harassment and press injunctions.

The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Irene Khan, writing in a dedicated report on gender censorship in 2021, said:

“In a perverse twist in the #MeToo age, women who publicly denounce alleged perpetrators of sexual violence online are increasingly subject to defamation suits or charged with criminal libel or the false reporting of crimes. Weaponising the justice system to silence women feeds impunity while also undermining free speech.”

In addition, barristers Jennifer Robinson and Dr Yoshida make the argument in their book that the current situation strikes an unfair balance between his right to reputation and her right to freedom of speech. What is missing in the legislation in the UK as it stands is a recognition of the importance of her additional rights: her right to live a life free from gender-based violence and her right to equality.

The practice of abusers weaponising civil litigation against survivors is a continuation of abuse, as well as additional trauma. I often find myself asking, “If we cannot speak about violence against women and girls, how can we even tackle it?” By their nature, these cases misuse the courts and are brought against survivors to silence them and re-victimise them emotionally and financially. I urge the Government to look at the situation in the family courts, as well as the civil courts. No one should suffer domestic abuse, and anyone in such a situation should be supported in speaking out. It is a matter of public good and public interest.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum). May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David)? He has brought forward an excellent private Member’s Bill, and this is entirely what we should be doing with Friday sittings. I love Friday sittings; I have outed myself as a geek on multiple occasions. For me, this is what the job is about—coming here and talking at length about stuff that is important to people.

I also out myself as a lawyer and wave my LLB about. I am passionate about our legal system and believe keenly in it. It is the jewel in the crown of our state. It is par excellence and second to none. It deeply grieves me when something so important is perverted for the narrow interest of a small cadre of people who have rightly deduced that a technical flaw is available to them, and they have enough money to exploit it. The system should not be exploitable purely because someone has the financial resource to do it. We should not be able to purchase justice in this country—but people do that.

I will speak to two main issues only that I have deduced from reading this private Member’s Bill—which I will support fully, I hasten to add. The first is a matter for when the Bill reaches Committee, and that is how we address the serious problem of forum shopping. This country has a particularly robust approach to defamation legislation. Imagine that I publish a book like “Putin’s People”, for example: it could be the case that it is published in 18 different countries but that I only get sued in this one, because this country is the one that is most technically adept at allowing somebody to get money out of me and keep me quiet. That will then prevent me from being able to publish that book in other places; effectively, that process in one country will gag me in other countries. I think we can do something in that space. The hon. Gentleman has put together an excellent Bill. It is one for the pinstripe-suited—I am actually not wearing a pinstripe suit today—geeky bods to get into. We will have to drill down into the Bill to ensure that it is as robust as possible, but I am happy with its direction.

My second point is about addressing what the Bill is really about. It is about not technical amendments to the legal system—as much as I love those—but freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental rights in every democracy. The United States constitution starts with:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting…the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That is an incredibly powerful and potent set of clauses that prevents the situation we are discussing from happening in the United States. We have to rely on article 10 of the European convention on human rights; and I will say now, for the avoidance of doubt, that you will get me through a wood chipper faster than you will get me through a Division Lobby to take us out of that.

Article 10 is incredibly important, but it is not adequate for the task ahead of us, and that is why this is such an important Bill. As a Member of Parliament, I want to be able to go out and talk about what is correct, right, proper and decent, without having to rely on the fact that I have immunity in this Chamber, but I cannot do that without fear or favour at the moment, because this lawfare system—I think the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse coined that term, which is an effective way of describing what is going—is basically being used to destroy one of the fundamental principles of our democracy.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly is entirely right and proper to bring us this Bill. I will enthusiastically support it; if he needs people for Bill Committee when it gets to that stage, I will be there—and I am afraid I will be talking a lot.

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, particularly with you in the Chair, Mr Speaker. This is essentially a debate about free speech, which I know is of great concern to you not only in this Chamber but outside it. It is also of particular concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), and I congratulate him on bringing the Bill forward. He is quite busy with his other hat on, as the shadow Minister for the Middle East, so it is good that he has time to be here on a Friday to promote his Bill. I hope he has the Government’s support.

I would say that this became a live issue for the House when the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Sir David Davis) held his January 2022 debate on lawfare and the UK court system; as with everything American, the terms “SLAPPs” has taken over the language here, but lawfare is effectively the same thing. On that day, which was really the issue’s first run-out, I replied for the Opposition. There were many strong contributions, and the debate put the issue on the map, including on the Government’s map.

Let us give the Government a little bit of credit, although not too much; there has been some progress. We have heard about what is in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023, dealing with the issue of SLAPPs, but in a particular way and for a particular type of offence—that is, around economic crime—and the anti-SLAPPs taskforce also meets, but it is somewhat disappointing that the Government have not brought forward their own comprehensive legislation on the issue. I hope they will use the agency of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly to get something on the books in the time available in this Parliament. Nevertheless, we have not done the entire job. That is no criticism at all of my hon. Friend, and I do not know whether that is an invitation for me to be on the Bill Committee as well.

I will deal with three points that need slightly further attention. The first, which my hon. Friend mentioned, is the issue of SLAPPs taking place in the dark—pre-issue, as it were. There has been some attention by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to that in issuing guidelines, but there is still quite a strong feeling that many SLAPPs were effective long before getting to the courtroom because of the intimidation—which we should not underemphasise—placed on individuals. They may be authors or journalists, but they may just be individual members of the public. The intimidation may even be of corporations, and yet they cannot take the risk because they are up against people with not just deep, but bottomless, pockets. We heard about the £1.5 million cost for Catherine Belton in relation to “Putin’s People”. That was pocket money for Abramovich, but for a publisher—let alone a journalist—it is a significant sum of money. A more comprehensive view of how SLAPPs act is important in relation to resources.

I do not want to disagree with my hon. Friend, but we need to look at the point that the Anti-SLAPP Coalition and the NUJ have raised—and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord)—about a subjective or objective test. That is not easy. Obviously, there are subjective as well as objective tests throughout the legal system. Nevertheless, there is a real fear that the need for a defendant to show subjective elements will be a path for the claimant to tie proceedings up in knots, complicate things and drag them out. I do not know what the solution is, but we should at least explore that and listen to the expert organisations, particularly the National Union of Journalists and the Anti-SLAPP Coalition, which are urging us to take that course.

Does the hon. Member think that a minor amendment could be introduced to add an objective test based on observable features of abuse, to help prevent litigation from being misused to suppress freedom of speech?

It sounds like the hon. Member wants to be on the Bill Committee and is drafting his amendments in his head. I have never known a private Member’s Bill Committee to be so popular. I am not a legal draftsman and I do not know the answer to his question, but we need to bottom out this issue, because it seems to be attracting the most attention.

Other issues have been raised about overlaps with the Defamation Act, and costs. There are provisions on costs in the Bill, but it is about whether they are driving down costs as far as they can, and about public interest. A number of areas could be further explored, even in this short Bill. Costs are a vital but often neglected part of the legal process. This is a hobby-horse of mine. We have just discussed the Media Bill in the House, and the repeal of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which in effect takes Leveson part 1 out of the equation with regard to having a level playing field for victims of press abuse—if I can put it that way.

On SLAPPs, the Government appear to support legislation such as this to prevent costs being used as a weapon to prevent people getting their just deserts and their day in court, but there is a different situation when it comes to the media itself—I cannot for the life of me see the difference. Of course, Leveson cuts both ways; Leveson also provided a formula for protecting small publishers against exactly the sort of people who take part in SLAPPs—indeed, he could have used the word “SLAPPs” in his report. It also protects the innocent victims of press abuse because the press magnates—not journalists and small publishers but major publishers—also have bottomless pockets.

In his response or during the passage of the Bill, could the Minister think again, at the very least, about how the Government will approach the issue of small publishers and journalists being sued in order to protect the so-called privacy—often the nefarious activities—of very wealthy individuals and corporations. This can affect anyone, including journalists like Tom Burgis, who won his case. The experience did not discourage him, because next week I am hoping to go to the launch of his latest book, “Cuckooland: Where the Rich Own the Truth”. Let me give him a little plug—it will soon be available from all good bookshops. It takes huge courage for someone to risk everything simply in the course of prosecuting their employment, when there is the risk of bankruptcy or being dropped by their publisher—although that was not at risk, I have to say, in Tom’s case.

We heard about the case of Charlotte Leslie, a former colleague of ours, who was effectively persecuted through the courts. We are lucky; we have the protection of privilege here. However, when we step outside this place, we can become a victim in that way, just like anybody else who is, with good intent, simply trying to tell the truth.

This even affects organisations such as the Serious Fraud Office, which is still being prosecuted through the courts by the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation. The Serious Fraud Office launched the action in good faith, and there was what I would call retaliatory SLAPP action. Although the original action by the SFO has been discontinued, the SLAPP continues. It really does look like a topsy-turvy world when organisations that we should rely on to regulate society—in which I include investigative journalists, Members of Parliament, and certainly criminal investigation organisations—themselves become the victims of those they wish to call out.

That is why we urgently need a much more comprehensive approach to SLAPPs, and that is why I fully welcome the Bill and will support it today. However, I think we can do more work on this. In responding today, I hope the Government will express their strong support and their desire to go further.

This could be quite a big day for the Welsh, with my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) introducing his Bill and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) introducing hers later, I hope. I also hope to move from the Front Bench to the Back Benches to introduce my own Bill later in proceedings, so that is three Welsh Bills this morning. Of course, on the Front Bench we also have my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) from the Opposition Whips Office, so it really is a big morning for the Welsh.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly and I came into the House together in 2001—it is hard to think that that is nearly 23 years ago. I congratulate him on his first outing in all that time promoting a private Member’s Bill this morning. I am glad he was successful in the ballot, as it is an important Bill. For years, strategic lawsuits have enabled the wealthy and powerful to weaponise their wealth to sue critics into silence. As hon. Members have said, it is important that this House votes to put an end to these tactics that gag the press and intimidate people asking legitimate questions by threatening them with enormous legal costs—lawfare, as it has been referred to today.

I thank those who have participated in the debate: my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), and the hon. Members for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) and for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards). They all spoke extremely effectively in support of the Bill, but also raised appropriate questions about how it should proceed in Committee. I am pleased that the Bill has cross-party support, and I understand the Government are in full support of it. I can confirm that it has the support of those on the Labour Front Bench as well.

It is a step forward that the scope of protection provided for in the Bill is not limited, as is currently the case, to economic crime. SLAPPs, often masquerading as defamation or privacy claims, are not really about seeking justice, but about imposing silence—exploiting the financial and emotional strain of proceedings to discourage individuals from exercising their right to speak on matters of public interest.

Labour has long recognised the danger posed by SLAPPs to our democratic values. We have already committed to introducing legislation to halt the ability of Russian oligarchs and the super-wealthy such as Roman Abramovich, who has already been mentioned today, to use their wealth as a weapon against those who dare to scrutinise their actions. The background to my hon. Friend’s Bill is rooted in a disturbing trend of legal harassment. From aggressive pre-action letters to the targeting of vulnerable financial defendants, SLAPPs undermine the foundations of accountability and freedom of speech. The enormous legal costs threatened by SLAPPs serve not justice, but the suppression of truth.

The Bill is not merely a response to a growing trend of legal harassment, but a declaration of our values as a society that cherishes free speech and the rule of law. It broadens the scope beyond economic crimes, offering protection across all public interest discourse to ensure that no avenue is left for the misuse of our legal system to suppress legitimate scrutiny and accountability. The legal reforms proposed by my hon. Friend in his Bill are both necessary and timely. They reflect a deep understanding of the challenges posed by SLAPPs, as outlined in the evidence sessions of several parliamentary Committees. By providing mechanisms for early dismissal and costs protection, and extending protections to all courts and tribunals, we are fortifying our defences against the abuse of legislation.

As we consider the provisions of the Bill, let us remember the individuals—and, indeed, institutions—who have been unjustly targeted by SLAPPs. Their struggles underscore the imperative for this legislation. I acknowledge the efforts of campaigners, including the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition, for their tireless work in bringing this issue to light. We must ensure that our legal system serves justice, not the interests of those who seek to wield it as a tool of oppression.

I acknowledge the issues that have been raised about the Bill. I am sure they will be rehearsed in Committee when we will have a deeper discussion on them. In addition to the concerns that have been raised, we need to make sure—although I am sure it does not—that the Bill does not prevent ordinary people who wish to restrain the publication of libels and intrusions by wealthy publications from being able to do so in law. As my father always used to say, in life we should help the weak against the strong. I know that that is my hon. Friend’s intention in bringing forward his Bill.

I urge all hon. Members to support the Bill. In doing so, we are taking a stand against the tactics that gag our press, intimidate our citizens and erode our democracy. It is a step forward in an ongoing effort to protect freedom of expression and to ensure that those who seek to report on wrongdoing can do so without fear of retribution. In the fight for justice and accountability, there is no room for silence. The Bill can help to end the scourge of SLAPPs and reaffirm our dedication to the principles of democracy and freedom.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) on bringing forward the Bill, and the numerous campaigners who have been pressing this issue for many years. As we have heard, SLAPPs are an abuse of our courts and our laws by corrupt individuals who seek to stifle free speech and a free press—two of the linchpins of our democracy.

I cannot talk about the specific case that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) raised, but I can reassure her that the Bill widens the scope beyond what is in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 and that it now talks about all kinds of behaviours. I am more than happy to discuss the specific issues with the hon. Member for Caerphilly, as it is his Bill, to see what we can do to ensure that we either reassure or accommodate her on the specific issues she wishes to see covered.

This issue became increasingly pressing when the Russian oligarchs and allies of Putin used this process for their own ends. Alongside them, we saw behaviour by multinational corporations or disreputable landlords to use and abuse our processes. SLAPPs must always be taken seriously and tackled swiftly. In this House, we have the ability and the privilege to ensure that such abuses are addressed head-on. This House stands for free speech and for holding the powerful to account, and for always seeking to ensure that the best interests of the public, in the widest sense, are being served by the law.

SLAPPs-style litigation is an abuse of power designed to inhibit public interest investigations and reporting. The harm that SLAPPs cause is not only that they stifle public comment by forcing its removal or editing it; they also discourage journalists, academics and campaigners from investigating issues in the first place, leaving matters of public interest undiscovered and the British public in the dark. In this way, the effect of SLAPPs is far more pernicious. We cannot sit by and allow our media to feel that some people and organisations cannot be subject to scrutiny just because they have unlimited financial firepower to mobilise aggressive legal tactics. To quote Andrew Galizia, whose mother Daphne, a Maltese investigative journalist, was murdered in 2017:

“The aim of these lawsuits is to deprive the target of time and resources, and to deter others from taking up the same story.”

His mother was subject to 43 lawsuits at the time of her death.

Regardless of whether a claim is aimed at an author, an academic, a journalist or a private individual, this abuse of the law to muzzle the free press must not go unchecked. We will not allow our justice system to be abused. In the Government’s response to our original call for evidence, we said that although there are powers enabling courts to strike out cases as an abuse of process, these powers need to be strengthened to counteract the very sophisticated and aggressive actions brought by SLAPP claimants.

The House will be aware of some high-profile cases that have shone a light on SLAPPs—cases such as that brought against the British journalist Tom Burgis, whom Members have already mentioned, who was sued for libel in the High Court by ENRC, an oligarch-owned mining company, following his publication of “Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World”. There were multiple claims issued against Tom Burgis by ENRC, targeting him as an individual author rather than his publisher. These claims concerned his tweets, podcasts and articles that mentioned his book. The case was dismissed early on. The statements complained about were found not to be defamatory and Mr Burgis was vindicated, but how many more cases do not reach our courtrooms due to the intimidatory tactics and costs run up by aggressive claimants before proceedings are even initiated? I think that is the point made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), and I will address a couple of his points at this juncture.

We have engaged with the SRA and will continue to do so. As the hon. Member mentioned, warning notices have already been issued. The fines for misbehaviour by solicitors firms have been increased, and pre-action behaviour is a legitimate cause of concern. The Government will continue to engage with the regulator to see how that can be further addressed. As so many people have volunteered to be on the Public Bill Committee, I am sure that, with the indulgence of the hon. Member for Caerphilly, we can look at the issue in more depth.

There is evidence that the number of SLAPPs is increasing year on year. There were 11 cases in the UK in 2020, 25 in 2021 and 29 in 2022. Such worrying and abusive conduct, whereby those with deep pockets attempt to financially bully dissenting voices, is unacceptable in our democracy. The courts must not be a pawn in these underhand attempts to cover up corruption and wrongdoing.

SLAPPs are a modern-day struggle between David and Goliath: we have individual journalists, academics and authors up against extremely wealthy individuals and corporates with unlimited resources on their side. We cannot let this type of intimidation and harassment stand. It is right that wrongdoing and dubious deals are laid bare for the world to see, and those who expose such behaviour should not be afraid of the repercussions of doing so. That is why the Government listened and introduced the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 to tackle SLAPP claims connected to financial misdeeds.

That Act meant we were the first country in the world to legislate against SLAPPs at a national level. Although we can argue over whether it was overdue, we were certainly the first to do it, and we ought to take pride in the fact that this legislature acted faster than most. The Act gave cover to only a small part of the SLAPPs regime, and it targeted only one part of economic crime, which is why this private Member’s Bill seeks to address the gaps. It will make sure that the definition of SLAPPs is more comprehensive.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) raised the issue of behaviour in the test of objectivity and subjectivity. The issue of subjectivity is not unusual, and the court will consider all evidence before it comes to an assessment, including an explanation from the claimant as to why their claim is reasonable. The courts are, of course, well versed in taking that information into account. The test of subjectivity or intent is not unusual, and it is well established in our court system. Clause 2 gives specific examples of SLAPPs-type behaviour. I believe there is a careful balance between the standard practice of intent and tightening things up to give objective guidance to the judiciary on what constitutes SLAPPs-type behaviour.

The Bill follows the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act in establishing a cost-protection regime that limits legal costs in SLAPPs claims, protecting defendants from the obscene costs run up by claimants to increase the intimidatory effect of their claim. This will also help to address the glaring inequality of arms between the parties in these cases.

Of course, one of the big steps forward is the ability to secure early dismissal so that these cases do not rumble on and rack up fees, particularly for defendants. The ability to strike out cases at an early stage is a big part of the cost-protection armoury. Our reforms also have to ensure a balance between defending people from SLAPPs-type behaviour and protecting access to justice, which is a fundamental part of our system. It is for the courts and the judiciary to determine whether a case is a SLAPP and whether it has merit. We have acted to remove the level of fear and risk that these cases can engender. The Government are glad to welcome and support this Bill, which builds on the important progress already made.

I thank the hon. Member for Caerphilly for seizing the moment to introduce a private Member’s Bill. This is an opportune time to build on what we have done so far, and to make it more comprehensive. As he outlined so well, the Government have found that the scourge of SLAPPs is unfortunately spreading into new areas, such as sexual harassment, clinical negligence and landlord and tenant disputes. The purpose of this Bill is to tackle such behaviour. If the behaviour looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a SLAPP. [Interruption.] Sorry, that is rather clumsy English. I am sure Hansard will correct me.

This Bill is a major step forward, and it is time to legislate. The majority of SLAPPs were thought to be linked to economic crime, but it is time to move on and make the definition more all-encompassing.

I will cover a couple of points raised by hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) raised the Belton case again. Information from all SLAPPs cases formed part of the call for evidence, so I can reassure her that the activities in the Belton case will be part of the foundation of this Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) spoke about forum shopping, which I will look at, and I am sure he will raise it in his customary fashion in Committee. I am sure the hon. Member for Caerphilly will urge him not to talk quite as much as he promises.

It is a credit to this Parliament that Members of all parties have rallied to support action on this issue and to introduce new laws to help ensure the integrity of our justice system and to support the freedoms and protections that we all cherish. In some ways, a private Member’s Bill is the most fitting way to complete what the Government started.

I have spoken about the work we are doing with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to ensure that it tightens up its regulation, and we will continue to engage with it. I pay tribute to the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition, which has been an enormously effective stakeholder. The coalition has supported the Government’s efforts, and I thank it for its consistent engagement and clarity on this issue.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport launched the SLAPPs taskforce last September, with a remit to develop non-legislative recommendations to tackle SLAPPs. Good progress is being made on a number of fronts, and I thank the Secretary of State for her tireless commitment.

Internationally, the UK was represented as an expert member of the Council of Europe’s Working Group on SLAPPs, which concluded its mandate in December 2023. The draft recommendation which was produced over the course of two years will now make its way to the Committee of Ministers, and we trust that it will be eventually adopted in all 46 member states.

The Government acted last October by legislating against SLAPPs, because we must not allow our courts to be abused and our legal system manipulated. We are therefore pleased to support the Bill, and will continue to ensure that those who speak out against corruption, who hold the powerful to account and who guard our freedoms through their voices are protected.

Let me again thank the hon. Member for Caerphilly for promoting the Bill. I also thank the officials at the Ministry of Justice for providing all the necessary support as we move forward.

With the leave of the House, I am very pleased that we have had such a good debate. It is laudable that so many Members in all parts of the House have taken the time to attend and to make such excellent contributions. I also pay tribute to people and organisations outside the House, notably the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition. It has worked tirelessly on this issue for some time, and its input has been of tremendous value. I thank the Ministry of Justice and its civil servants for their assistance, its briefings and its constructive engagement at all times.

There are a number of issues that many Members consider particularly important, such as the so-called issue of subjective tests. I am inclined to agree with what the Minister said in summing up the debate, but I accept that there is room for further discussion, and we will be able to deal with it in some detail if the Bill goes into Committee.

I agree that cost is a fundamental issue. A number of Members have cited examples in which it is enormously important in ensuring that justice is done and is seen to be done. In her evidence to a Select Committee, the author Catherine Belton said that in London a single letter cost as much as £9,000, addressing concerns that had been expressed by a number of people. If one letter costs £9,000, we all know how much an entire case could cost. Surely that cannot be right in a democratic country which prides itself on freedom of speech, in which freedom of speech is pivotal, and which allows justice for all.

I hope very much that the Bill will continue its progress through the House and will reach the statute book, because I think that that would be a huge step forward for parliamentary democracy.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

Space Industry (Indemnities) Bill

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to be here to introduce a Bill that will help to support our thriving and dynamic space sector. It will amend section 12(2) of the Space Industry Act 2018 to make clear in legislation that all spaceflight operator licences must specify a limit on the amount of the licensee’s liability under section 36 of the Act.

The 2018 Act enables commercial spaceflight activities, which include launching a spacecraft and operating a satellite in orbit, for example, and other activities such as the operation of a spaceport and management of a range, to be carried out under a licence in the United Kingdom. The 2018 Act sets out the broad licensing and regulatory framework for carrying out such activities and is underpinned with more detailed provisions in the Space Industry Regulations 2021.

United Nations space treaties place obligations and responsibilities on states for activities in outer space. In particular, UN space treaties make states liable for damage or injury caused by their space activities or those of their nationals. Section 36 of the 2018 Act requires persons carrying out spaceflight activities to indemnify the UK Government and a number of named public bodies against any claims brought against the Government or bodies in respect of damage or loss arising out of, or in connection with, those spaceflight activities. However, that is subject to any limit on the amount of an operator’s liability specified in their licence, except in prescribed circumstances, such as where the operator is liable in respect of gross negligence or wilful misconduct.

The 2018 Act currently provides powers for the regulator to specify a limit on the amount of the operator’s liability in their licence, but the Act does not make it mandatory. Currently, section 12(2) of that Act provides that an operator licence may specify a limit on the amount of a licensee’s liability to indemnify under section 36, but this contrasts with regulation 220 of the Space Industry Regulations 2021 made under powers in section 34(5) of the 2018 Act, whereby an operator licence must specify a limit on the amount of a licensee’s liability for damage or injury to third parties. It also contrasts with section 5(3) of the Outer Space Act 1986, which regulates UK nationals, Scottish firms and bodies incorporated under the law of any part of the UK that carry on space activities from outside the UK. These require a licence to specify the maximum amount of the licensee’s liability to indemnify the Government under section 10 of that Act.

Through responses to the Government’s consultation on spaceflight liability, insurance and charging, the Government are aware that operators holding unlimited liabilities could be a barrier to conducting spaceflight activities from the UK. The same consultation confirmed that other launching nations limit liabilities or provide a state guarantee for spaceflight activities conducted from their territory.

Current Government policy and guidance is that all spaceflight operator licences will contain limits on the amount of the operator’s liability and the amount of insurance that they are required to hold, so that no operator will face unlimited liability. However, industry operators continue to lobby for legislative certainty and have raised that, for spaceflight activities in the UK to be commercially viable, there needs to be a clear mandatory cap on the amount of liability to indemnify under section 36 of the 2018 Act.

The Bill will provide legislative certainty by amending “may” to “must” in section 12(2) of the 2018 Act, so that an operator licence must specify a limit on the amount of the operator’s liability under section 36. The Bill makes a small amendment to section 36(3) of the 2018 Act. The proposed amendments to the 2018 Act will meet a key ask of the space sector on regulatory improvements to provide assurance to investors that limits on the amount of an operator’s liability will be included in licences. The Bill will also address a recommendation made by the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform.

There has been parliamentary scrutiny. The Science and Technology Committee raised the question of operator certainty on liability caps in its second report of the 2022-23 Session, “UK space strategy and UK satellite infrastructure”, published on 4 November 2022. The Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform considered current requirements and viewed them

“as discouraging investment and making the UK uncompetitive”.

Recommendation 15.1 was to

“Amend the Space Industry Act 2018 to cap liability and indemnity requirements for licence applicants to launch and operate satellites from the UK.”

There has also been consultation. On 13 October 2020, the Government published a consultation on spaceflight liability insurance and charging. Respondents raised concerns about the wording of section 12(2) of the Space Industry Act 2018, under which a licence only “may” contain a limit of liability with respect to claims made under section 36 of the Act. On 5 March 2021, in response to the consultation, the Government said in their regulations and guidance on spaceport and spaceflight activities:

“If another suitable piece of primary legislation is brought forward, the Government may seek to amend the wording in section 12(2) from ‘may’ to ‘must’.”

We all benefit from the services provided by satellites. We might pay for our morning coffee using contactless payment, Google Pay or even cash withdrawn from an ATM; none of that would be possible without satellites. Satellites provide precise references for navigation, communication to remote places, and pictures of our changing planet, not to mention the support they provide to the defence and security of the United Kingdom. Satellite data, space technology and space applications are used to enhance our everyday life.

The space sector is hugely valuable to the UK’s economy. It is worth over £17.5 billion and directly employs more than 48,000 people. It supports over 126,000 jobs across the supply chain. The UK is already one of the world’s strongest centres of advanced satellite manufacturing. Thanks to this Government, it is now possible to launch satellites from UK spaceports, rather than relying solely on overseas spaceports to launch UK-built satellites into orbit. Last year, an historical first launch from UK soil was made by Virgin Orbit at Spaceport Cornwall. In December, SaxaVord spaceport in the Shetland Islands became the UK’s first licensed vertical launch spaceport, with more to follow. New launch companies such as Orbex and Skyrora have built factories in Scotland, creating hundreds of new jobs, ready to take advantage of the new opportunities that the Government have created.

In preparation for this debate, I have been asked questions by several Members, and I will address those now. I have been asked what effect the Bill will have on public expenditure, and I can assure the House that it will not entail any additional expenditure, as the amendment is in line with Government policy. I have been asked whether there are any transitional arrangements. There are not. Clause 2(3) provides that the Bill will come into force two months to the day on which it is passed. Transitional arrangements are not required because no licences have been granted that do not have a limit on liability specified in them, by virtue of the Government’s policy on limiting liability.

I have been asked whether I have ensured compatibility with the European convention on human rights. As this is a private Member’s Bill, no statement of compatibility is required. However, as recorded in the explanatory notes, the Department for Transport considers that the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the convention. I have been asked whether it is compatible with environmental law. Again, as it is a private Member’s Bill, no statement under section 20 of the Environment Act 2021 is required, but as the explanatory notes say, the Department for Transport is of the view that the Bill does not contain provisions that, if enacted, would be environmental law for the purposes of section 20.

This is a narrowly focused Bill addressing what the space sector has asked for. I hope that no further amendments will be tabled, as it would be a shame to be unable to progress or deliver this key ask from our increasingly important space industry because of amendments or additions.

Let me give a final summary of the purpose of the Bill, why I think it is important and how it will benefit our space industry. Before a company can operate a satellite in orbit or carry out a launch mission from the UK, it must first obtain a spaceflight operator licence under the Space Industry Act 2018. The licence process ensures that spaceflight activities are undertaken safely, securely and in accordance with the UK’s international obligations. Under United Nations space treaties, the state is ultimately liable for any damage or injury that may be caused by its space activities, even when undertaken by commercial space operators.

The Space Industry Act contains provisions to help mitigate potential costs to UK taxpayers arising from UK commercial spaceflight activities. That includes requirements for operators to hold insurance and, under section 36, to indemnify the UK Government and other named public bodies against any claims brought against the Government or body in respect of damage or loss. It is recognised, however, that unlimited liability on commercial space activities would be a barrier to their operating in the United Kingdom. Other space nations, such as France and the United States of America, limit liabilities, or provide a state guarantee for the launch activities that take place from their territory. The Space Industry Act contains powers to specify in a spaceflight operator’s licence a limit on the amount of an operator’s liability, in order to indemnify the Government and other public bodies. Government policy is that the regulator should use those powers to specify a limit on the amount of the operator’s liability in the licence, so that no operator will face unlimited liability. It is essentially a form of risk sharing between the commercial operator and Government. This policy is set out in guidance, and I understand that all spaceflight operator licences issued under the Space Industry Act to date contain a limit on the amount of an operator’s liability.

However, the industry has made it very clear, in response to consultation and in other fora, that it would welcome legal certainty that it will not face unlimited liability when launching or operating a satellite from the UK. Setting that clear requirement in law would provide UK industry and those looking to invest in the UK with greater certainty, and would carry more force than reliance on policy statements and guidance. This Bill will provide that legal certainty by amending section 12(2) of the Space Industry Act, so that spaceflight operator licences must specify a limit on the amount of the operator’s liability under section 36 of that Act. As such, the Bill will provide a vital further boost to our burgeoning UK space industry. I am particularly mindful of the benefits it will bring to growing and innovative companies such as Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd on the Surrey research park, many of whose past and current employees live in my constituency of Woking.

Our UK space industry is thriving, but this measure is vital to secure an equally exciting and dynamic future. It is companies such as Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd —just outside my constituency, and many of whose employees live in my constituency—that will benefit. Other firms, large, medium and small, will grow in the UK and come to the UK if this measure is passed. To ensure that exciting and dynamic future, I commend the Bill to the House.

I rise to speak in support of the Bill in my capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for space. Before I get to the thrust of my speech, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. My interests are both financial and non-financial, and I have a number of outside roles that are relevant to the UK space industry.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr Lord) on introducing a Bill that appears extraordinarily simple but, as we heard from his well thought through and well delivered speech, would actually have a profound impact on a lot of technical areas in the space sector. It shows a great deal of skill on his part that he can do something quite so complex in such a straightforward, intelligent and elegant way.

As my hon. Friend said, the Bill seeks to enhance the UK’s position in the space industry by making changes to liability for spaceflight risks. That is a wholly pragmatic and welcome change. The Bill’s purpose is to make the UK an even better place to operate space businesses from, and it follows on from the space strategy published two or three years ago.

The Bill seeks to resolve some technical anomalies in the insurance sector in a goo and sensible way. Importantly, it clarifies aspects of risk in a way that should provide comfort to those financial wizards supporting our superb space innovators, many of whom I have met. I am delighted to say that many came to Parliament for one of the regular space sector showcases run by the all-party parliamentary group for space. The next one, which will be in the Attlee Suite on the morning of 19 March, is on the sustainability and future of space activities. All Members and Members’ staff are welcome to come along to hear about that fascinating area.

The space sector is incredibly important. People do not realise that every time they use a cashpoint, their transaction is confirmed through positioning, navigation and timing that comes from navigation satellites passing overhead. We can do an amazing number of things. We can analyse a country’s economic activity through heat sensors from Earth observation satellites, which can tell us whether a city, a port or a railway station is busy. We can look at any number of different things. We can predict the use of crop fertiliser, planting and distressed crops through Earth observation satellites.

I am delighted to say that I chair the advisory board of the Space Energy Initiative—this is a non-financial interest—and we are looking at whether beaming energy from space can be part of the future of a secure and safe planet. What we can do is absolutely extraordinary. In 1969, we first landed a man on the moon, and we are doing an enormous number of brilliant things. I am delighted to say that a number of UK space industries are now looking to get involved in the Artemis programme, whereby NASA is looking to take astronauts back to the moon, possibly as early as next year. This is a very exciting time for space in a wide range of areas.

We can go wrong by focusing specifically on the space sector itself; I would suggest that there is an increased benefit to the UK that go further than the space industry. The space industry is important for a number of reasons, one of which is that, because of the high value of this type of activity, it addresses exactly what Adam Smith proposed in his 1776 book “The Wealth of Nations”: nations should try to create greater wealth by having greater productivity. This country has had a productivity conundrum for a number of years, and concentrating on the space sector could increase our productivity and therefore benefit the whole of the country.

The Bill also talks about the service sector—the insurance industry. Members will be aware that before coming to Parliament, I was in financial services—investment banking and small investment fund management—so when I look at the opportunities presented by something such as the space sector, I tend to look at the many UK opportunities, in the context not just of the direct beneficiary but of how the sector helps the wider economy. The UK has one of the best—certainly the oldest—wholesale insurance markets, located in the City of London. It must be the aim of the whole of Government to ensure not just that spaceflights and operations are controlled from the UK but that all involved in the space industry come to London to seek insurance and other financial services from our financial services experts.

I have argued for some time that the UK should do more to align the interests of our space industry with the interests of the UK financial markets. I take inspiration from a former Chancellor of the Exchequer. When he was newly appointed Chancellor after the 1997 general election, many years ago, the former Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath recognised the UK’s good but small film industry. He chose to make a small intervention in the tax system to incentivise investment into UK films. As a direct result, he helped to rebuild the UK film industry into the vibrant and innovative industry that it is today.

I suspect that when we look at some great films, a direct thread can be traced: between that intervention by the former right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath back in the late 1990s and, for example, the success of the “Harry Potter” franchise right here in the UK. Harry Potter is a brilliant export, and was always going to be a great film success, but I am certain that without that intervention, the heroes of the Harry Potters may well have cast their spells with American accents. I think we can look to that, dare I say, great former Labour Chancellor, for the huge amount he did for the British film industries. It may be the only time that the House hears me say “great” and “Labour Chancellor” in the same sentence, but he did an important job, and we should recognise that. Of course, there was a little bit of abuse of the system by one or two people enjoying it, but notwithstanding that, the intervention has been important.

A similar intervention can be made to support not just the space industry but our world-class wholesale financial markets. It is important that the City of London does not just think about what it does today and whether it does markets well; it should be completely innovating the whole time to seek opportunities that come in the future. We should not think about any industry only in terms of what we can offer it; we must think about our ambitions in any sector with a view to how it can enhance wider service sectors.

In the case of financial services, investment bankers raising capital investment and insurance services securing risk cover for innovators or helping investors to find a way to maximise their opportunities in the sector, we should be thinking how a fiscal intervention might benefit all concerned. After all, our brilliant innovators, research institutions, network of catapult accelerators and universities, and all the rest of it, already attract a great deal of international business to the UK. That is a very good thing. We also need to appreciate that we need the best space industry financiers in the world to come to the UK and locate their expertise right here in the City of London, and the best insurance experts and the best space lawyers. We need to seek to achieve, in the space industry and the wider economy, the UK being the best place to come for everything needed to support space ambitions.

I believe the Government are enthusiastic about this private Member’s Bill, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Woking for bringing it forward. It is a truly innovative Bill. The City of London, as I think I have mentioned, needs to remain relevant. The City of London is an incredible jewel in the crown of this country. It has had its problems, but none the less, it pays through taxation for an awful lot of hospitals, police officers and schools. A lot of good things come out of the City of London, but it needs to be relevant the whole time for the future. We need to be making sure, as we develop something like the space industry or AI or any of these other industries, that we help the City of London to focus and be a part of that, so that there is a symbiotic relationship between the financial services sector and these other sectors that will benefit our economy. I am delighted to support the Bill; it is fantastic.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr Lord) on bringing forward this private Member’s Bill, which I rise in support of. Following my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), I will take us from the City of London, on which he made some brilliant and valid points, to the space sector—we are almost in danger of having some joined-up thinking in this place today!

One would not be surprised to see a Cornish MP rising on these Benches when we are speaking about space. We have a lot to say in Cornwall about the space sector. Cornwall is in fact at the forefront of the UK’s developing space economy and is playing an increasingly important role in the national space programme to ensure that as many people as possible contribute to and benefit from the economic growth. Cornwall’s data, space and aerospace strategy ambitions include: mitigating and reversing environmental degradation; restoring nature and seeking to protect businesses and communities from the impact of climate change, both locally and globally; working with the Government to grow the UK space economy as a whole; and, growing the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly economy to deliver jobs and international investment, while offering an outstanding quality of life for its people.

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly local enterprise partnership made space one of its main priorities some time ago. If the House will indulge me, I would like to pay tribute to one of the key players, Mark Duddridge, who we lost suddenly last year. Mark used to be chair of the local enterprise partnership. Sadly, a matter of hours after I was in a Zoom meeting with him from this place, he tragically and suddenly died. Mark has left a hole in the industry and business community in Cornwall, and is very fondly remembered. New MPs look for the people they can trust, with knowledge in all these things, so that we can gain our own knowledge and learn about them, and Mark was certainly one of those people for me.

Mark said of the space industry:

“We’ve backed Cornwall’s spaceport bid from day one because we saw the potential for Cornwall to play a vital role in the UK’s space economy ambitions and create high value jobs.

The global space industry could triple in value to more than $1 trillion by 2040 and what’s driving that is climate change, security and telecoms. The facilities we are helping to fund at Spaceport Cornwall are already having a catalytic effect and attracting new space companies to Cornwall.”

One of those is international space logistics company D-Orbit, which will establish a satellite assembly, integration and testing facility at Spaceport Cornwall’s Centre for Space Technologies, with support from the European Space Agency. Mark played a key role in that, and others are continuing his work. He was a talented and passionate advocate for Cornwall, and has left a large hole.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Woking for bringing clarity to the industry as a whole. As he has mentioned, where we had a “may” we will now have a “must”. That is always important so that industry knows what it is doing. Members may not know that Cornwall has more than 150 business involved in the space industry, and 35 local and national partners. In 2023, 1,300 people in Cornwall were employed in the space industry, which was worth about £88 million; by 2030, we expect more than 3,000 people to be employed in it, with a potential value of £1 billion.

My hon. Friends have mentioned some of the businesses and services employed by the space industry. Let me add to that list the marine protection areas that we are deploying not just around UK waters but globally, because that is done via satellite. How do we know how bad climate change is in different parts of the world? Satellites do that for us.

When I was a Cornwall councillor, we had interesting debates about the benefits of the spaceport in Cornwall. Some of our environmentalists were concerned that we were sending huge great jumbo jets off into space and that it would cause a lot of pollution, but my belief— and that of a lot of my constituents—is that the good outweighs the bad given the amount of information that we can now get, and that surely we in Cornwall want to provide the jobs and infrastructure to allow that information to come back to Earth.

So what else is Cornwall doing in the space industry? There is artificial intelligence and professional services—we have space lawyers in Cornwall. This legislation will be of great interest to them and how they can help their clients, and they are abreast of it all. Foot Anstey is one such firm providing those services.

We recently had drone tests over the bay of Falmouth by a company called Open Skies Cornwall. I pay tribute to the Falmouth harbour commissioner, Miles Carden, for spearheading that project. When huge tankers are ashore in the bay of Falmouth, or if in high seas it is too dangerous even for pilot boats, drones can take out medical supplies and bits for the boats. That could save lives, and could certainly save a lot of money for those companies, so they are a great investment.

Another tech company, Farfields, operates at Mylor boat harbour with Mylor Boat Hire. It is testing electric eco-launches using a low-cost satellite network rather than wireless systems so that checks on the battery voltage of a boat’s electric motor can be done via GPS. Checks can be done on bilge pumps and all sorts of other things on boats. All that is happening as part of the space industry, which is not just about launching rockets into space, and it is vital.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking mentioned the Newquay spaceport. That was 10 years of work. I again pay tribute to Melissa Quinn, who spearheaded much of that project. Despite what people have said in the press, the Newquay spaceport was a huge success; everything that Newquay and Cornwall did worked perfectly. Cosmic Girl ran into issues—sadly, the mission was unsuccessful—but Newquay proved that we could have a spaceport in the UK. That is what mattered to Cornwall.

To reinforce that point, it is a rather peculiar thing about the British that we tend to look at failure as a problem. Exactly this type of thing happened with the launch of the SpaceX Starship. The minute it cleared the pad, the mission had been entirely successful. When that enormous rocket—bigger than a Saturn V rocket—went spiralling out of control and blew up, the SpaceX team let out a cheer, because they had got it right. We sometimes get it wrong in the UK. As my hon. Friend mentions, there was a problem with the rocket itself, but the UK got it absolutely bang on the money in every single way. The licensing and everything went perfectly right. The fact that a second-stage fuel filter went wrong has nothing to do with Newquay or the Government. The spaceport is a real success story.

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I will pass on his regards to the good people of Cornwall. He is absolutely right: it was a brilliant project from start to finish. We had engagement locally and nationally, and the local MP, my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), worked with the project from start to finish.

Let me explain what it meant to the people of Cornwall. It has inspired a whole generation of children in the county. I actually feel sorry for colleagues who go into schools to talk about mining and renewables, and who try to inspire children to go into such careers, because Melissa Quinn went in and absolutely wiped the floor with them. She has inspired a whole generation to go into space careers. A lot of kids and families in Cornwall think, “Because we live in Cornwall, this isn’t for us,” but it absolutely is for us and our children.

Because of the project, we have seen investment go into Truro and Penwith College, which now has the facilities to train engineers and to do virtual welding and all sorts of things. I have no idea what goes on there, but the facilities are very shiny and fabulous. Martin Tucker, the principal, has been fully engaged with this project and others to ensure that the kids who were inspired in primary school at the beginning of it can carry out their training in Cornwall and go into careers in the county. Cornish MPs have been fighting for this for a decade or more, and it is starting to happen now, thanks to that project.

Cosmic Girl ran into problems. Newquay was only ever supposed to have one or two launches a year. Are we going to get another one? Yes, I absolutely hope that we are, but it is not just about working towards launches. The project means that we have the know-how, the supply chains and the knowledge to support other launches around the country and across the world. It is fantastic that the spaceport is still there, and we should keep it going. I know that the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly local enterprise partnership and Cornwall Council are still very enthusiastic about ensuring that we harness the expertise and do not let any of it go.

The other large company that Members may or may not have heard of—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Woking has heard of it—is Goonhilly Earth Station. When people drive right down into the west of Cornwall and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), they will look across the moorland, see huge satellite dishes and think, “My goodness! What on earth are they doing there?” Goonhilly is fantastic—the world’s first private deep space communications network. It provides additional capacity to the NASA and European Space Agency networks. Any deep space mission that Members have heard of will have been supported by Goonhilly and the team there.

I do not know whether Members have seen the Australian movie “The Dish”, in which the characters have a small amount of time when they are the only ones on Earth supporting whatever deep space mission or moon landing mission is taking place. Goonhilly started a bit like that, but it has developed so much more. I cannot remember the figures off the top of my head, but the capacity for the amount of data that can be stored at the facility is phenomenal. Ian Jones, who runs the facility, is always looking for people to go and see what brilliant things they are doing, such as radio astronomy, supported by cryogenically cooled 30-metre antennas. It is a part of the global space communications network.

On our ambitions, we hope that by 2030 Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will be a leader in the national space programme, exploiting the physical, digital and intellectual assets of the area, and using satellite data to overcome local and global challenges, such as the impact of climate change, which we have heard about. By 2030, data, space and aerospace will have contributed an additional £1 billion to the economic value of Cornwall and the Isles and Scilly through increased productivity and jobs turnover, creating twice the average gross value added per capita of £45,000 or more.

To facilitate those strategic ambitions, we have identified local and national strategic leads to support us in maintaining awareness of the priorities. That is vital following the aftermath of what happened at Newquay. As I say, this is still very much part of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly LEP’s priorities. It is interlinked with all the other industries we are trying to promote in Cornwall, such as renewables and the resurgence of critical minerals. Critical minerals will need to come out of the ground in Cornwall to ensure that we have all these satellites.

As I mentioned earlier, 150 companies are doing all sorts of amazing things. Satellites that are only the size of a Ford Fiesta can now be built and go up into space. We were going to launch a satellite—hopefully this is still a reality—that takes a deep-dive look from space at Cornwall’s landscape and at what we are and are not doing. For example, we have slightly different graded agricultural land. Grade 3b land, which is vulnerable to proposals for solar farms, is actually the most fertile land we have in Cornwall. We are learning all that because of satellites. I could go on and on.

The change my hon. Friend the Member for Woking is introducing today may look like a small change, but it is huge. It will bring clarity to all the companies in the City of London that my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest talked about, and to every single company I have mentioned and more, to ensure that there is a level playing field for everybody, that everything is clear and that they can continue to build and build and build. This is a very exciting future for our country and for Cornwall. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Woking for introducing the Bill.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory). There are few more intrepid voyagers in this particular enterprise, defiant in the face of adversity but also on a voyage of discovery. She made an excellent speech and picked up on what the Bill is really about.

My hon. Friend rightly identified that this not just about putting big shiny things on rockets and firing them into the sky; it is about unlocking other important bits of the economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) also made that point incredibly eloquently. We can go back to Adam Smith and see the cosmic threads, if you will. We are opening up new sectors for the UK economy and empowering our people.

I am delighted by the idea of space lawyers. I promised not to go around waving my LLB about, but that sounds awfully like the superhero name I would end up giving myself. I am really excited about this. I am a member of the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, so I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr Lord) mention our report. A lot of love went into it—we enjoyed ourselves a bit too much, I am not going to deny it!

I find this entire sector incredibly fascinating and extremely exciting, not just because of the aforementioned geekery but because of its potential. I think about kids in my constituency who are now being exposed to opportunities and new horizons that simply were not on the radar of young people even five or six years ago. Apprentices in my patch are talking about working in this area. Some have gone to work for Airbus, which is doing fantastic things with satellites. I recently went to its Stevenage factory as part of my Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship, which is in space and aerospace. One thing it purports to be doing is transferring energy from space, which will genuinely be a game changer. I was flabbergasted when that was explained to me.

To monitor climate change, satellites will tell us how much heat is transferring out of wood in forests, so we know whether rainforests need to be reforested and whether we are facing climate change at 1.5° or 2°. That is mind-bendingly brilliant stuff, and it is now available to kids who, five or six years ago, might have been told, “Right, once you finish school, you either go work in the JJB Sports factory down the road or in a shop.” It is exciting, fantastically valuable and hugely important for things like our financial sector. Greater Manchester has a fairly sizable financial sector, which is great for us. We also have a large legal sector—I know because I used to work in it. I would love to be a space lawyer. Let’s see how the rest of the year goes; I might need to become one.

Ultimately, the Bill is about empowering us. The other thing I love about it—again, I promise not to wave my LLB about too much—is its simplicity and elegance. It is that Coltrane sax solo: so simple that it is brilliant. Changing a word effectively empowers us to do so much more. The power of that is inestimable. That is why it was part of the report that the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee put out.

At the moment, we are disincentivising people from innovating, and that is not what we should be about. We are saying instead that people should go out and take risks, and we will ensure that they can be rewarded. They will not be completely and utterly obliterated for having a go. Even if the second-stage fuel pump does not work, it will not be the end of the business. We need to be alive to that because we need risk takers, as we do in every sector. We need people who are willing to boldly go into the final frontier. [Interruption.] I have not finished yet. When I shout “House!” everyone will know that I have done them all. Fundamentally, this is about ensuring that Britain’s future is not just here on Earth, but in the stars, and we have every right to be there—as much as any other country.

I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene, especially given that I have just rambled on for who knows how long. One thing I did not mention that he might be interested in is the defence sector. Again, when I visited Goonhilly, there was a huge amount going on there. We talk about our maritime fleet being bothered by the Russians and the Chinese on a daily basis, but our satellites and space are as well. It is hugely important that we are at the forefront of this. Does he agree?

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. Like me, she has been on the armed forces parliamentary scheme. I was restraining myself from mentioning Culdrose when she was giving her excellent speech, but of course I have now done it. Our defence sector is incredibly important. Again, we are making this stuff here at BAE Systems and Airbus, and defence manufacturers in this country create jobs and opportunities. That is hugely important, and I am absolutely delighted to support the Bill. I love its technical merits.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking has played an absolute blinder in doing something quite sensible. I will give a lived example because, quite frankly, the Empire would not have been able to build the second Death Star if it had been on the hook for the price of the first one. My hon. Friend has stuck the landing. I congratulate him and look forward to supporting the Bill.

It is an honour to follow Jean-Luc Picard—sorry, I mean the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson). That was pun-central. I may have a few of my own in this speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for Woking (Mr Lord) on bringing the Bill this far. It has been brought before us for Second Reading. The aim of the Bill is to help support our space sector, as he eloquently said.

I was born in 1969, as it happens—the same year we took

“one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,”

as the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) said. It feels with recent technological advances that we could be on the threshold of another such leap. We woke up to the news today that Odysseus had landed on the lunar plains, on the face of the moon—the first private mission by the Americans since 1972. We have always as a species looked to the stars and hoped one day to dwell among them, and I felt the enthusiasm in the House for that mission today. The hon. Member also mentioned the Artemis mission, which will be the first staffed space mission that will orbit the moon, hopefully next year. Artemis was the goddess of the wilderness, so the mission has been aptly named as we begin our new era of exploration of the stars.

The Bill amends the Space Industry Act 2018, which was written with the purpose of regulating space activity, sub-orbital activities and associated activities carried out in the United Kingdom. The space industry and its trade body, UKspace, welcome the Bill, as we do. The Space Industry Act enabled spaceflight activities from the UK, such as operating a satellite in orbit and enabling launches to orbit from UK spaceports for the first time. Companies that conduct spaceflight activities from the UK must hold insurance and indemnify the Government against possible third-party claims for damages. Currently, the Space Industry Act says that there is no limit to the amount of compensation that must be paid if anything goes wrong with UK-owned satellites in space. Industry believes that addressing this will prevent satellite operators from registering satellites in other countries to get a better liability deal. Space is becoming more congested. It is right that we amend legislation as the industry develops.

We are now at a key point in developing a thriving and dynamic space industry—an industry that we now know is worth £17.5 billion to the UK, employing up to 50,000 people. I was speaking recently to Airbus, which the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton also mentioned. As I am sure Members are aware, Airbus is the second biggest global space company and the largest in the UK. Its representatives told me that they operate over seven key sites in the UK, principally Stevenage and Portsmouth. From Stevenage to Saturn has quite a ring to it—pardon the pun, I was just following the puns of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton. As he says, why should this industry not feature in every sector and in every constituency. We are developing the new Atom Valley in Greater Manchester, to the north of the conurbation. The supply chain is vast. There are almost 2,900 space suppliers, half of which are small and medium-sized enterprises, and it is vital that we support the industry here in the UK. I happen to know that in 2022 in my constituency £1 million was spent with space suppliers. It is good to see procurement in the sector that benefits the bottom 10% of the most deprived areas of the land.

There are so many good reasons to support the sector. We want to remove barriers to new businesses setting up here in the UK. We want companies to be incentivised to set up in the UK, rather than taking their business elsewhere, whereupon they are likely to use suppliers geographically local to themselves. We do not want to lose out on these jobs; we want these jobs of the future to be here in the UK.

Interestingly, one of the other main sites that is strong in the space sector is Newport. As we heard from the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), jobs have been at risk in that area because of the Tata Steel plant. Unite the Union and my own union, Community, tell me that well-paid, highly skilled, unionised steel jobs are at risk in the area, so we must ensure that these areas are not de-industrialised so that there are opportunities available for our workers and for our young people. We also want our own SMEs to be part of the supply chain. Encouraging businesses is what we should be all about.

The Bill addresses what happens if anything were to go wrong, from launch failure to satellite crashes. However, this is not just about UK launches, but UK ownership, as the Government have the final liability on any space item that is owned by the UK Government.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Woking on bringing his Bill to the House today. I thank the hon. Member for Wyre Forest for his work with the all-party parliamentary group for space. He quoted the “The Wealth of Nations”, which is much-favoured by Conservative Members. I remind him of Smith’s treatise “The Invisible Hand”, in which he said that economic activity should enrich the whole community. We know that space can do that.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth. I was intrigued by what she said. Our nation contains a number of left-behind areas, including—I am not trying to make a party political point—some of our coastal areas, market towns and suburbs. Through an agglomeration of the maritime, aviation and space sectors, we can really begin to think about how we can regenerate those areas by giving people opportunities, just as, when I was a young councillor in Manchester in the 1990s, we created a legal sector, a banking sector and a media sector. People will not have to leave their communities when they turn 18, or turn 22 and get their degrees, because those technological jobs of the future will be in the areas in which they grew up, and that, I think, is one of the greatest hopes that we politicians can give our young people. This is what the space sector provides through the supply chain across the country, but particularly in the south-west and the Shetland Islands: a diverse geographical spread.

To the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton I say thanks for all the puns, and I wish him good luck with his career as a space lawyer after—well, whatever happens at the general election! I wish him well.

Industrialists tell us that the Bill will give them confidence and will encourage investment in the UK, providing highly paid, highly skilled and yes, unionised jobs throughout the nation, and on that basis, we support it.

May I say how privileged I am to be chairing this debate? I once hosted the astronaut Nicole Stott and the crew of Discovery in the Public Gallery and then took them over to No. 10 Downing Street. I am also honoured and privileged to have met Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, on two occasions—once here and once at Cape Canaveral—and I have seen a few launches. So space is very important to me.

This is probably the most enjoyable debate I have ever taken part in. Particularly after Wednesday night’s activities, it is nice to have a debate of a cross-party nature in terms of its support and enthusiasm.

He has gone and spoilt it all, Mr Deputy Speaker.

A few months ago I went to see the show “The Moon Walkers”, with narration by Tom Hanks, about the 12 men —and they are all men—who have walked on the moon. It is a remarkable exhibition, and I highly recommend it to everyone, particularly you, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you are interested in space. It is about an age of adventure, an extraordinary era 50 years ago when people were walking on another celestial body. We thought it was the dawn of a whole new era and that mankind, and womankind, would carry on and explore the rest of the universe, but that did not happen, and no one has been back to the moon since. Yesterday, however, the United States returned there, for the first time for 50 years, as the shadow Minister said, although it was not a person but the Odysseus robot that landed near the moon’s south pole.

The real significance of this event, however, is not the 50-year gap but the fact that Intuitive Machines, a Houston-based company, sent that robot to the moon. The space age has entered a completely new era, which is not about states and Governments of big countries trying to prove how powerful and effective they are for the purpose of national pride, but about real commercial opportunity. Many of my hon. Friends have mentioned all the commercial opportunities that are out there. People are doing this not for reasons of national pride, but because it is so useful to humankind, and so important for communications, sensing, geographical information and all the other elements that have been mentioned.

This is now a properly based commercial opportunity for the UK, and that is why I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr Lord) for bringing this short but impactful and timely Bill to the House. I also greatly enjoyed the contributions from all the other Members who have spoken. I am pleased to confirm that the Bill has the Government’s full support. Let me briefly explain why.

As my hon. Friend and others have said, the UK has a thriving space sector. In fact, I learned this morning that Cornwall has 150 space companies. We have a far more thriving space sector than most people realise. Did you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the satellite capital of Europe is Glasgow, and that more small satellites are built there than anywhere outside California?

The UK is now the second most attractive destination for commercial space investment after the United States. We get more space investment in the UK than any other country in the world apart from the United States. Given your interest in space, Mr Deputy Speaker, did you realise that no rocket has ever been launched into orbit from European soil? We have a European Space Agency, which has launched rockets into space, but it does so largely from French Guyana in South America. Rockets have been launched into space from Kazakhstan, but never from European soil. We now have a spaceport in the Shetlands preparing to do just that—SaxaVord, which many hon. Members have mentioned. We might end up with one from Cornwall as well, but Shetlands might be the first. That will be a truly historic moment.

Let me clarify that rockets are launched into space from Europe, but they are suborbital. From Norway and Sweden, they go around the earth once or maybe twice, and then come back down to Earth. Never has a rocket been launched into sustained orbit from European soil. The UK plans to be the first European nation to do that, which marks a huge opportunity. We set up the regulatory and licensing regimes to license the spaceports because, not just in the UK but in other European countries, companies are making satellites and rockets that they want to launch into space. It will be far easier and cheaper for them to do it from European soil than having to transport the rockets to America, French Guyana or Kazakhstan.

On more of a technical point, if the Minister does not mind, I know that we have done an awful lot in a very short space of time to get our regulatory system up to scratch. How do we compare with the other European nations, or Europe as a whole?

This has been a Brexit opportunity, dare I say. Leaving the EU enabled us to set up a whole new regulatory regime in great detail. Other European countries have regimes for space activity, but none with the same detail or launch opportunities as the UK. In the UK we are blessed with our geography, for various reasons. To launch a rocket in space, it needs to be launched from somewhere where there are not a lot of people, and with a trajectory so that if the rocket has a splashdown, it will not land on any other people. Cornwall is obviously very interesting, as is the north of Shetland. If a rocket is launched into orbit from there, it goes north and through the Bering strait. The first land it would hit would be New Zealand, but hopefully it will be up in orbit by that time. Not many other European countries have such geographical opportunities. It would be very difficult for Switzerland or Germany to do that. We are blessed with our geography.

Another difference—and why there is an opportunity for the UK—is that if we go back a couple of decades, the main focus was on big rockets launching satellites into geostationary orbit, which is 47,000 miles out, where they stay above the same point of land as the Earth rotates. A very big rocket is needed to get a satellite up there and into place. It is far easier to do that if the rocket is launched close to and in the direction of the equator. The European Space Agency’s launch site is in French Guyana because it is close to the equator. We now do not send geostationary satellites that far out into space—all the interest is in low Earth-orbit satellites. All the satellites launched by SpaceX for its internet service are low-orbit satellites. It is easier to do that over the north pole.

The changing technical nature of the use of space and satellites represents a huge opportunity for the UK. The satellites themselves are getting a lot smaller. Going back 20 or 30 years, the satellites were the size of buses, whereas now they can be the size of fridges or microwaves. They require much smaller rockets to launch them into space. I hope you enjoyed all that explanation, Mr Deputy Speaker.

As we have heard from various hon. Members and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), the UK space industry supports an industrial base of over 1,500 space companies and provides highly skilled, high-quality jobs across the UK, with over 77% of employees holding at least a primary degree. We heard about jobs in Cornwall and Manchester; this is true levelling up. I also mentioned space jobs in Glasgow and at SaxaVord in the Shetlands. In 2018, Orbex, another Scottish company, opened a new facility in Forres, incorporating design and manufacturing facilities for its Prime launch vehicle. The Prime project has created more than 140 highly skilled jobs in the local area so far, with many more anticipated as the company continues to grow.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise anticipates that the Sutherland spaceport will support around 613 full-time equivalent posts throughout the wider Highlands and Islands, including an estimated 44 full-time equivalent posts on the site. SaxaVord anticipates that by the end of this year, its spaceport site could support 605 jobs in Scotland, including 140 locally and 210 across the wider Shetland region. As we heard, Spaceport Cornwall anticipates that its project will deliver 150 direct jobs and 240 indirect jobs by 2030.

I am a little bit anxious that the Minister will forget Airbus, which is in Newport West. I am sure that he was going to mention it. As the shadow Minister said, it is really important for cyber-security and tech jobs in south Wales. It is a vital part of our network, and I wanted to remind him about it.

The challenge is that there are so many businesses and companies involved in aerospace in the UK, and in the space industry generally, that I cannot list them all. The shadow Minister mentioned Airbus. Clearly, Airbus and British Aerospace are the two really big aerospace companies, but the industry is not just about those two giants. There are many thousands of small and medium-sized companies, and there is a whole supply chain, creating jobs, value and economic opportunities for the UK, which the legislation is designed to help enable.

Building on the success of the UK space sector, the Government have set out bold spaceflight ambitions—the text I was given by officials is definitely bold. In our national space strategy, the UK is boldly going where no country has gone before. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] The puns are not stopping. That includes making the UK the leading provider of commercial small satellite launch in Europe by 2030. As I say, the small satellites present the opportunities, not the big ones. To achieve our ambition, the Government have invested over £57 million so far through the Launch UK programme to grow new UK markets for small satellite launch and suborbital spaceflight.

Before I come to the regulatory aspects of the Bill, let me say that many hon. Friends have talked about the commercial opportunities. I will not talk only about that, but the choice to land the Odysseus robot on the moon yesterday was interesting. Why go to the moon? I am trying to paint a bigger picture, rather than concentrating on the immediate commercial opportunities, because lots of people see opportunities for further space development. Elon Musk, who has a few achievements under his belt, has said that he wants to die on Mars. I do not know how realistic that is, but he has launched a Tesla, or one of his cars, into orbit. There are plans to send humans back to the moon next year, and plans to send humans to Mars.

Humans have looked to the skies since time immemorial and dreamed about what is up there. Human instinct is to go and explore, which is why we went around the earth. In Polynesian culture, people went from one island to another. They set forth in their boats without necessarily realising what they would find when they arrived. The human instinct is to explore the universe. We do not know what we will find there, or what the opportunities will be, although I do not think we will find the Clangers or the Soup Dragon on some other planet.

I never thought I would intervene on the word “Clangers”, but there we are. I chair the all-party parliamentary group for critical minerals. Obviously, critical minerals are another huge industry in Cornwall. As we know, globally, we still do not have enough supply for the future—certainly not from friendly nations that we can trust. Does my hon. Friend agree that in future generations, space could be another source of critical minerals that we need for our supply chains?

Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for that point, which was very well made. The Odysseus robot went to the south pole of the moon because that is where the supply of water is. Water is obviously not a critical mineral, but it is a source material for energy and oxygen. We can get hydrogen out of it, but the reason why commercial companies and, indeed, Governments are interested in the moon and Mars is exactly that: critical minerals. We have a limited supply of those minerals on Earth, but we may be able to find them in other places.

While we are waiting to get to infinity and beyond, it is important to highlight other very innovative British companies that are looking at doing extraordinary things in the area of critical minerals. They are seeking to take the lunar regolith—moondust, which is a metal oxide—and use robots to create 3D printing powder, which could be used to print a moon base through additive printing. The by-product of the powder is oxygen. Keep in mind that it costs $1 million per kilogram to get a payload to the surface of the moon, and that we need not just breathing oxygen, but energy and oxidants for propulsion. It is extraordinary what British companies are doing to make it possible to not only get to the moon and occupy it, but use it as a launchpad to get to further places—such as Mars, speaking of Elon Musk’s ambition. The Americans need us; I think we should remember that.

My hon. Friend has expounded a very important point: we are critical to the space industry, and to space exploration more generally.

Coming back to the issue of regulation—coming down to Earth from our big visions, the Clangers and so on—the Government have been funding the industry. We put in place the Space Industry Act 2018, which my hon. Friend the Member for Woking talked about, and appointed the Civil Aviation Authority as a spaceflight regulator—that is why I am answering this debate, as a Transport Minister, rather than someone from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Getting into space and orbit is a DFT responsibility. The civil aviation regulator—which has licensed SaxaVord, for example—enables the licensing of spaceflight activities from the UK, such as operating a satellite in orbit, and enabling a launch to orbit from UK spaceports for the first time.

The Government recognise that the issues of liability and insurance are of the utmost concern to the space sector, and they are obviously the entire point of the Bill. The industry made clear in its responses to the consultation on the then draft space industry regulations in 2020, and in response to the Government call for evidence to inform orbital liability and insurance policy in October 2021, that holding unlimited liability will have an adverse effect on the UK space flight industry. People sometimes object to private Members’ Bills because they are not based on consultation, but this issue has been endlessly consulted on and negotiated with industry, and the industry is calling for this Bill.

The industry has advised that it is impossible, not just difficult, to obtain insurance for an unlimited amount. Members might ask, “Why is that, if the chance of something happening is infinitesimally small?” The reason is that it is impossible for the actuaries to quantify it; with infinity over infinity, one could come up with any value. Also, insurers are required by regulation to show that they have the capital to meet any claim on them. Clearly, insurers cannot have unlimited capital, so it is regulatorily and legally impossible for insurance companies to insure to an unlimited amount. It is very difficult for the industry to say to investors, “Please give me money to fund the launch of a rocket, even though I may not be able to insure it.” We need liability limitations so that launch companies and other space operators can get insurance, and so can get the investment that they need.

If a spaceflight company cannot get unlimited insurance, it obviously cannot get full insurance. As a number of hon. Members have said, if the Government did not limit a spaceflight operator’s liability, spaceflight companies and investors would instead look to more favourable regulatory regimes in other countries, where Governments share the risks involved by limiting an operator’s liability and offering a state guarantee. The United States already does this, as does France with French Guiana.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking has explained, there are powers in the Space Industry Act that we can and do use to limit a spaceflight operator’s liability when carrying out spaceflight activities from the UK. Government policy is that the regulator should use those powers and specify limits on operator liability in the licence, so that no operator faces unlimited liability. However, the law sets out that the Government “may” do that, rather than “must”.

The Government fully support the Bill for two key reasons. It is consistent with our policy that all spaceflight operator licences should have a limit on liability. It will not, therefore, impose any additional liability or risk on UK taxpayers. My hon. Friend made that point. The Government also recognise the value that the industry places on legislative certainty on this matter. As I pointed out, if investors are to make an investment in a space company, they need to know that the company will be able to get insurance. The report by the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform—the TIGRR report, for short—published in May 2021, expressed concerns from the space sector over the use of the word “may” in section 12(2) of the Space Industry Act. The Bill would replace that “may” with “must”.

I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) explained his great interest in space, and mentioned financial services, which I want to come on to. The point was well made that before the UK was a spacefaring nation, we were a seafaring nation. London was the biggest port in the world for more than 200 years, which led to a whole maritime industry with insurance around it, including Lloyd’s of London, and lawyers. We have a huge maritime industry in London as a result of having a maritime fleet, and we now have the same opportunity with space. We can have space investors—I have met some of them—as well as space lawyers, space insurance companies, regulatory experts and so on. It is a huge opportunity. The Government and the regulators need to ensure that the industry has the right incentives.

The Minister mentions ports. Obviously, quite a few of our maritime assets are considered critical national infrastructure. Have any discussions been had on whether our space assets will also fall into that category? That applies particularly if we are to launch a 3D printer so that we can build on the moon, which is apparently the only place where the Liberal Democrats will not try to block house building.

My hon. Friend asks an interesting question. I will raise it with officials and come back to him with an answer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) gave the most fantastic and enthusiastic speech about the space opportunities for Cornwall. I bet most people in Britain do not realise quite how important space is for Cornwall. There are 150 different companies; I had no idea that Cornwall had its own space lawyers, so that is a great insight. We also heard about the use of satellites for the maritime sector and various other issues to do with Cornwall. I want to make sure that my hon. Friend knows that as the Government Minister responsible, I fully agree that the Cornish launch, which was before my time as a Minister, was absolutely a success from a regulatory and investor point of view. I agree that the whole regime worked.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest made the point that we in this country tend to overemphasise the negative, and we always look at the bad things that happen. I think I am right in saying that the first three launches from SpaceX did not get into space, but were actually seen as successes because they contributed to the whole launch operation. Lots of things were learned from those launches, and the same is true of the Cornish launch.

I do not think I said earlier that the Cornish launch did actually make it to space; it was during the secondary bit that the fuel problem happened and it went wrong. However, we did launch successfully from British soil, and did make it to space.

I would not want to malign the Cornish space launch in that way, so I fully accept my hon. Friend’s point. It is great to hear that Cornish children are so inspired by space now. As we have heard, there are huge commercial and job opportunities, and I am sure there will be many great careers that will come from children having an interest in space.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) for his general huge enthusiasm and countless puns, which have livened up this day. We could all do with a bit of levity. I thank the shadow Minister for his great speech and for some of his puns, as well as his call for me to resign—[Laughter.] I am grateful for the Opposition’s support for the Bill.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking for his Bill, which would amend section 12(2) of the Space Industry Act and meet a key request from the sector, as well as address a recommendation made by the taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform. Indeed, by turning that one word “may” into “must”, the Bill will enable Britain’s space industry to reach the final frontier and beyond.

I thank honourable Members on both sides of the House for attending the debate and for their support. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) , who so ably and knowledgeably chairs the all-party parliamentary group for space. In his wise and interesting speech, he touched on many things, but in particular how important the growing space industry is and can be to our financial and insurance sectors. I thought that was a very interesting point to bring out.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) made a passionate and eloquent speech, particularly pertaining to how the space industry is already changing Cornwall for the better, adding to the Cornish economy and with huge amounts of scope for future growth and engagement. I was particularly taken by her points about how schoolchildren and students are being enthused by the space industry. I thank her for her support.

My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), in a very witty and engaging speech, alighted on a number of interesting and important points, but particularly how our legal services industry—the legal sector—can and will benefit from a growing space industry. I am also extremely grateful to the shadow Minister and the Minister for their support for the Bill. As we would expect, they were masters of their brief and spoke with great insight, but also enthusiasm, about this growing industry and the help that the Bill will give it. For that dynamic, innovative and growing future for our space industry, I urge the House to support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

Unauthorised Entry to Football Matches Bill

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Yes, it’s me again; earlier, I was playing up front, but I am back at the back for this debate, and I hope to be back on the Front Bench later if my Bill makes the progress that I hope it will after Second Reading.

On Sunday 11 July 2021, the final of the men’s Euros football tournament at Wembley could have resulted in not just the sad loss for the English football team, but in a tragic loss of life. That was the finding of the independent review that was conducted by Baroness Louise Casey into the events of that day, suggesting that we narrowly escaped a disaster that could have resulted in fatalities or irreversible injuries. For everyone here, the mere thought that such a catastrophe is still possible in this country at a football match in the 21st century, after the tragedies of the latter part of the last century, is profoundly unsettling. Some Members of this House were present at the Euro 2020 final, which took place in 2021, and witnessed at first hand the reckless behaviour of some people seeking to enter the stadium without a ticket.

I admit that I was genuinely shocked to discover, when the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, of which I was a member at the time, undertook an inquiry following the Euros, that entering or attempting to enter a football match without a ticket is not a specific criminal offence. That is why that Committee acknowledged the need for my Bill in a recommendation in its “Safety at major sporting events” report, published in December 2023. That demonstrates the broad cross-party recognition of this problem, and the consensus on the need for legislative action to put it right. If hon. Members take a glance at the Bill, they will see that all the members of that Select Committee with seats within its territorial scope—Wales and England—are named co-sponsors, so it has the full support of that Committee. My Bill would bring into law recommendations that came out of the Select Committee’s findings and the Baroness Casey Review by amending the Football (Offences) Act 1991 to introduce a new offence of unauthorised or attempted unauthorised entry to football matches.

It is estimated that at the Euro 2020 final, somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 ticketless individuals were able to gain entry. Many people will have seen the disorder, the overcrowding and the safety hazards that resulted from those events. Those actions not only compromise the safety and security of stewards, police officers, spectators, players and officials, but greatly tarnish the reputation of the sport and this country.

The thing that really surprised me was that Wembley is not just your average stadium; it is a purpose-built stadium that we would expect to have the best security, yet that number of people were able to get through. As my hon. Friend said, that could potentially have caused the loss of life.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We were all shocked that those events were able to take place at a relatively new flagship national stadium, so we must think about how stadiums are designed. Wembley has a particular feature—the long Wembley way, which goes back to when the stadium was originally opened in 1923. Traditionally, lots of fans approach in that direction in very large numbers.

One thing that my Bill does that might address my right hon. Friend’s concerns is to make it possible for the offence to be enforced not just at the turnstile but around the premises on private land, so an outer security cordon can enforce the offence that the Bill creates. That should help in a place like Wembley. As he says, it was shocking to see the number of people who were able to get past the stewards and rush entry into the ground.

I support the hon. Gentleman’s Bill and think he is right to introduce it, so I say this in the spirit of scrutinising legislation: he is using what happened at the Euros as a justifiable reason for his Bill—I go along with that—but by increasing its scope to include areas that the explanatory note seems to suggest include bars and car parks, it seems that he is making someone trying to blag their way into a car park the same offence as trying to tailgate their way into the semi-final of the Euros. Does he really think that those two things should be treated in the same way?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. He is always assiduous in his scrutiny of legislation, and rightly so.

In isolation, it will not be an offence to try to get into a car park, but the Bill reflects the reality of the areas around football grounds. Cardiff City stadium, which is located in my constituency, was built a few years ago to replace the old Ninian Park stadium across the road. Like a lot of newer stadiums, it is in a slightly more out-of-town location, surrounded by car parks that specifically serve those attending matches.

In some instances, to enforce the intention of this new offence, it might be necessary to set up an outer cordon immediately outside the premises of the stadium itself, which is the purpose of the provision. There may be other hospitality settings close to the stadium but outside the turnstiles. In that instance, if another security cordon needed to be set up, my Bill could be enforced to prevent people who came along not with a ticket and with the intention of attending the match but simply to try to jib their way into the ground from doing so. Such actions compromise the safety of individuals and potentially tarnish the country’s reputation. The Euros are returning in 2028, and we cannot afford a replay of those events.

The current legal framework does not address the problem. Those caught entering a stadium without authorisation face no legal repercussions. Those attempting to enter are simply moved on, and often try to gain entry multiple times. There are no consequences for their selfish actions, which risk jeopardising matches and could recklessly endanger the safety and lives of others.

The Bill is intended to respond directly to those challenges by making unauthorised entry into football matches a specific offence. The aim is to deter people from attempting to enter stadiums without a valid ticket. Before the debate, I did an interview with, among others, Martin Keown—the former Arsenal footballer—on talkSPORT. There was a feeling in our discussion that the deterrent effect is a significant part of this measure. A fine of up to £1,000 might be a deterrent but, under the Bill, a conviction for this offence could lead to a court-imposed football banning order, under the Football Spectators Act 1989 and the Football (Offences) Act 1991, which would prevent a person from attending football matches for a specified period of between three and 10 years. That would be an even greater deterrent. This Bill seeks to address all forms of unauthorised entry, recognising the broad spectrum of tactics employed to gain illicit access to stadiums.

That raises the question of why the Bill is designed only to apply to football. The same thing could apply to a Rugby world cup final at Twickenham, the Olympics—we might have them again in the future—or any other big sporting event. Is this problem unique to football? Is there any reason why the Bill should not apply to any major sporting event that might have the same problem?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I have spoken to the Football Supporters Association about this Bill, and it is concerned about any legislation that singles out football in this way. The reality is that the current legislative framework includes a significant suite of legislation that applies particularly to football, born of the events of the latter part of the last century. We have moved on hugely, and I think we all thought that we had moved on permanently, from the sorts of scenes that were witnessed at the Euros final.

Because there have been problems at other types of event in recent years, I accept that there is a case for taking a wider look at the issue of gaining illicit entry to venues, whether for a music concert, a festival or another type of sporting event. The Government—and His Majesty’s Opposition, if they are to become the next Government shortly—should look further into the best way to achieve that outcome.

In the relatively narrow confines of my private Member’s Bill, when there is the opportunity to amend legislation already on the statute book and when significant football events are imminent, I think it is justified to bring forward a measure that applies specifically to football, but the hon. Gentleman’s broader point is absolutely valid.

The scope of the Bill extends across the top tiers of domestic football. We are not talking about the local park match. The Bill includes the premier league, the championship, leagues one and two, the national league, the women’s super league and championship, and the Cymru premier competition, as well as international matches in England and Wales.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I am glad he has clarified that the top tiers will be included. Although we hear about the super leagues and all the rest of it, teams like my own beloved Newport County are important, too. Although they might not be in the very top tier—they are obviously as good as those clubs, but they are in a slightly lower tier—it is important that we have clarification that they will be included, because it is important to them.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Someone chuckled when she said Newport County are as good as the top tier, but the fright they gave Manchester United in their recent FA cup tie confirms the veracity of her judgment.

I remember as a young man who grew up only 5 miles up the road from the old Somerton Park—they play at a different ground now—often sneaking away without telling my mother on the 123 bus to watch Newport County play. It was always at 3.15 on a Saturday afternoon, because of the proximity to the Llanwern steelworks. It allowed the steelworkers finishing their shift to attend the match. When the results were read out, those of us who are old enough might remember that Newport County’s home games were always “late kick-off”, rather than being announced at 4.45 in the usual way.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill will apply to Newport County and right down as far as the national league in the men’s game in England and the other leagues I mentioned.

In fact, Cardiff City’s stadium, which as I have said is in my constituency, hosts the home games not just of Cardiff City, but the Welsh national teams, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the impeccable behaviour of Welsh fans attending matches there and the cracking atmosphere they create with their passionate renditions of songs such as “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” and “Yma o Hyd”. The vast majority of football fans across the country supporting clubs such as my team, Cardiff City, or any others do so in the right spirit. It is important that they feel safe and secure when supporting their football teams. I make it clear that the intention of the Bill is to support real football fans and to keep them safe and secure while they are enjoying the spectacle of supporting their team.

Football is a big part of our culture. As Members know, I represent a Welsh constituency and was born and brought up in Wales. We are often associated with rugby, and I hope after today’s debate to hop over to Dublin for the Wales-Ireland rugby match in the Six Nations at the weekend. However, in recent years, football has grown ever more important in the national culture of Wales, and it has always been of huge importance across the rest of the UK, bringing together individuals from all walks of life in shared support of their teams. The actions of a few should not be allowed to compromise the safety and security of the majority.

In drafting the Bill—I thank civil servants for their help in that—I have been mindful of the balance between enhancing security and maintaining the open and inclusive nature of football matches. The intention is not to criminalise fans or create barriers to genuine supporters enjoying the game; instead, the focus is on preventing those who would seek to cause disorder and harm from entering stadiums, thus ensuring a safer environment for all. By strengthening the legal framework, we can deter unauthorised entry, reduce the risk of disorder and violence, and ensure that football continues to be a source of joy and community for everyone.

I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading—

Before I finish my remarks, I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has just successfully got his Bill through Second Reading, and will, I am sure, want to reciprocate for this one.

I am highly supportive of the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing it. Back in 2011, I had another successful private Member’s Bill, which is now the Sports Grounds Safety Authority Act 2011. His Bill is another in that fine tradition of improving safety at our sports grounds for fans and people in the area. If I heard him correctly, the territorial extent does not include Scotland and Northern Ireland. If his Bill succeeds, will he and the Minister share their learnings with colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland—we are all delighted that we have a Northern Ireland Assembly again—so that if they host future Euro and World cup events, they have this sort of excellent measure in place, as England and Wales will?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting his Bill through its Second Reading—his second such Bill, which is quite an achievement—and I hope that he gets it through its remaining stages before the general election. I do not usually approve of Lords, but he is an elected Lord, so I approve of his Bill going through. He is absolutely right that my Bill applies to England and Wales, because that is the scope of the legislation that I am seeking to amend. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own laws on safety at football matches and so on, but I certainly encourage them to take a look at my measure. I am a big believer in devolution, so I would not tell them what to do, but they might find some useful ideas in it. He is right to point that out to the House.

We can, from all sides of the House, come together to send a strong message that such behaviour will not be tolerated and that the safety and security of people attending and working at football matches are of absolute importance. The Bill reflects our collective responsibility to address the challenges facing the sport and to ensure that football remains a positive and uniting force in our society. I thank the English Football Association and the Football Association of Wales, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, civil servants, Clerks and so on for their support in drafting the Bill. I also thank Mary in the Members’ Tea Room, with whom I discussed my Bill this morning. She gave it her full support, showing that it passes the common-sense test. I commend it to the House.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). I am delighted that he managed to get “common sense” in before the end of his speech, because my wife would not have forgiven me if I had not mentioned common sense in my speech, and he gave me a perfect opportunity to do so, for which I thank him.

I rise to support the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, which is important and worthwhile, and to wish it safe passage through both Houses of Parliament. However, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I take my role on Fridays very seriously. The danger with private Members’ Bills is that they start with a worthy sentiment but end up going through both Houses with very little scrutiny because everybody agrees with that sentiment, so we end up with bad legislation and unintended consequences. I raised a couple of points with the hon. Gentleman earlier, and I want to test them and maybe another point or two a bit further. It will be interesting to get the Minister’s view when he responds, and the hon. Gentleman’s view when he winds up the debate, on whether or not—it may well be that the answer is “not”—any amendments may be considered in Committee or on Report to improve the Bill or take out something that was not intended. I do not intend to speak for long, which will be a huge relief to everybody, particularly on a Friday. I make my remarks genuinely and in the spirit of trying to be constructive and raise potential issues. It is important that they are considered, even if they are then dismissed.

The hon. Gentleman set out in his opening remarks why the Bill is important. It is about what happened at the Euros final, where it is estimated that 3,000 to 5,000 people without tickets gained entry. They did not just try to gain entry; they actually did it through mass forced entry at turnstiles. I do not think that they necessarily gained entry by tailgating; it was through the deliberate ploy of forcing their way into the stadium.

Of course, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the problems that such behaviour causes. It is unfair, because people might end up sitting in seats that others have legitimately paid for, and ticket holders cannot get to their seats. That is bad enough, but there is also a massive issue with safety and security. Tragically, we have seen in the past what can happen at football stadiums when things are not as they should be. On that basis, he is absolutely right to introduce the Bill, and I would not want to gainsay any of what he said.

Although I accept that my concerns are minor, they are genuine. I would not want to see rules that are designed to tackle very bad behaviour being applied excessively to people who I do not think the Bill is necessarily aimed at. I talked about people blagging their way into a car park, and I am slightly concerned about the way the Bill is written. I do not know what you think, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I have always considered the hon. Gentleman to be a bit of a cheeky chappie. He looks like the type of person who, before his political career—not today, as he is a serious politician—may well have tried to blag his way in somewhere. He just has that look about him.

The hon. Gentleman is a very astute individual. I first attended Twickenham in 1978, when I was very young indeed, to go and watch Gareth Edwards win his 50th cap for the Welsh rugby team. I and three of my friends got into the ground by virtue of a £5 note, for which we were given £2 change, even though we did not have tickets. I was very young, but I should confess that, as he has raised it.

I am sure we are all very grateful for that intervention. It is amazing what you find out on a Friday, isn’t it, Mr Deputy Speaker? It is like a confessional. Perhaps other Members will want me to give way so that they can declare their interest as well. We have probably accidentally found out why the Bill applies only to football and not to any other sport.

My point is that there is a world of difference between a group of people who have a deliberate strategy of engaging in public disorder to force their way into an event through sheer weight of numbers, causing all sorts of potentially serious repercussions, and people who are desperate to get into an event who do not have tickets and who cheekily try to blag their way in through one means or another. I think most people would accept that there is a world of difference between the two. What I would not want to see is the full weight of the law clamp down on the second group in the same way as it would on the first. My slight fear is that that that could happen, given the way the Bill is written.

A young person who tries to cheekily blag their way into an event could find themselves facing the same repercussions as others. I do not think that anybody would want that to happen. I am not sure whether there is a legal way to differentiate between those two things—it may well be that we say it is for a court to make that adjudication—but I would not want somebody who tried to cheekily blag their way into an event to find themselves treated as severely as a criminal making a forced entry with public disorder designs. It would be nice if we could at least think about how we could do that.

The explanatory notes make clear that the penalty is a fine “not exceeding” £1,000. We could argue, with justification, that the fine should be varied according to the situation, so that a minor offence would be reflected in the fine. However, the explanatory notes go on to state:

“A court must”—

not may, but must—

“also issue a football banning order following conviction for the offence”.

They go on to state:

“unless it considers that there are particular circumstances that would make it unjust”.

I accept that, but in effect they are saying that ordinarily, whatever the scale of the offence, that is what the court should do. It does not even say that it should do that, but that it must do so.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that that is the way the legislation currently operates, but there is discretion available to the court not to issue a banning order in exactly the sorts of circumstances he describes, where somebody is not intent on causing serious disorder but what might be referred to colloquially as a cheeky bit of attempted jibbing. I would envisage that in those circumstances someone might at first get turned away, but that if they were persistent they could be subject to the offence in the Bill.

I am very grateful for that clarification, which was genuinely useful.

The other point I want to spend very few minutes on, which I raised in my intervention on the hon. Gentleman, is about other events. If such unauthorised entry is an issue, it should not apply just to football matches. I would be very interested to hear what the Minister and the shadow Minister have to say about that. This country is renowned for hosting world-leading sports events across the piece: the rugby world cup, the rugby league world cup, the Olympics, athletics and so on. Most of those events have tickets that are very much sought after and oversubscribed—we are a sport-loving nation. The Bill has been brought forward largely as a result, as the hon. Gentleman said, of what happened at the Euros—the UEFA European Football Championship. Often in this place, we pass legislation as a result of something happening. Something goes wrong and we think, “Something must be done,” so we pass legislation reactively to deal with an issue that has already happened. To the best of my knowledge, what the Bill addresses has not happened—it may well have happened, but I am not aware of it; other people with more expertise will know—at the rugby world cup final or the rugby league world cup final, so nobody has brought forward any legislation on that.

It might seem unusual—I am unusual, before you get in there first, Mr Deputy Speaker—but rather than just always passing legislation reactively, perhaps we might sometimes have a crack at passing legislation proactively, and try to anticipate things that might happen and nip them in the bud beforehand. The hon. Gentleman has brought forward the basis of a Bill which we could use to do something a bit more proactive. Is there any reason why the provisions in the Bill could not apply to a range of other major events, in particular major sporting events, so that we do not have to wait for such things to happen before we do something about it? We could actually get in there first and try to stop them from happening in the first place, or at least make sure we have appropriate penalties.

The hon. Gentleman is renowned for his huge support for the music industry, and I commend him for everything he does for that industry. He is one of its greatest champions in the House. I am not an expert in the way that he is; I may be enthusiastic, but I do not possess the same expertise. However, as a layman, I should have thought that this would be more of an issue at music events than at sporting events. I could be completely wrong about that, but I suspect I am right. I will certainly bow to the hon. Gentleman’s greater expertise if I am wrong. There may well be existing legislation to deal with these matters at music events. I admit my ignorance in that regard, but it seems to me that legislation of this kind must be just as important for big music events such as concerts—which, by the way, are often held in stadiums and other locations that are also used for sporting events, such as Wembley—so why are we restricting ourselves to football? I genuinely do not understand why this is seen as just a football issue, although I suspect that it is because of the reaction to what happened at the Euros. Surely we in this place must be able to use our wit to say, “It has been a problem in this location”, while also anticipating that it could well be a problem at similar events, whether sporting or musical.

May I just ask the hon. Gentleman and the Minister, who I know will continue to take a great interest in all these issues anyway, and also the shadow Minister, to give this some thought? If we are so adamant that the Bill is necessary in this regard—and I think it is; as I have said, I support it, with a couple of reservations—I urge all those with far more influence than me to think about whether we could introduce similar legislation, if necessary, to cover other big sporting events and perhaps music events as well.

I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for introducing the Bill. He has done a great job in setting out the reasons for it, and I am happy to say that I support it. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) asked a couple of questions, and I want to ask a couple in a similar vein, but let me first explain why I think the Bill is important.

People who aggressively try to enter events without tickets are not just putting their fellow attenders at risk, but potentially putting the stewards at risk. At the Euros, as we saw, extra security staff were drafted in. They are often people who have had only a basic level of training from their company, and when faced with tens if not hundreds of people, individuals who were trying to do the right thing and protect the establishment were put at risk during those events—apart from the potential risk to attenders posed by overcrowding. Let us never forget the tragedy that was Hillsborough, although, as we now know, it was not connected with the issue of non-ticketed fans. Large groups of people in small spaces are a frightening prospect, and can lead to a tragic loss of life. I want everyone to understand that we need to look out for those who are seeking to uphold the rules, as well as those who have paid for their tickets.

There are, however, a couple of exceptions that I hope can be explored in Committee. I do not think that either the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) or the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) subscribes to the Manchester United fan club, as I do. I suspect that the hon. Member for Nottingham North may even be a Manchester City fan, which probably explains his positive reaction to the—totally under control—Newport game that took place earlier in the season. Arguably, being a United fan in recent years has been a triumph of loyalty over pleasure or enjoyment. Just as an aside, let me say that, not so long ago, my father and I took my nephew to watch United at Old Trafford and we discovered that he was the fifth generation of Fletcher to do so. I can be accused of being very many things, but a glory supporter is not one of them.

United are experimenting with changing tickets from paper or plastic card to QR codes. Although this is happening only in the premier league, it is likely to roll down to the lower leagues. Quite famously, there was a problem with that ticketing system—Members can look back at the press reports. I will make a confession to the House, in the spirit of the admissions made by the hon. Member for Cardiff West. I was in possession of a valid ticket for that game, but the failure of the system led to a huge number of fans being locked out. There was a big press of people, so I, along with hundreds of others, hopped over the turnstiles. I did so partly in fear of the crush of people behind me. They could not hear what was going on and did not understand why people were not flowing through the turnstiles as normal. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that incident. I seek assurances that we will not criminalise people such as myself who, although in possession of a valid ticket, did not make the most legitimate entry to the grounds, but did so through genuine reasons of fear for personal safety—and a desire to watch United lose again. I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to that and provide some assurance that that consideration will be taken on board should the Bill reach Committee stage, as I hope it does.

Finally, being a member of the Stretford End, I hear chats and noises. In particular, I have heard how people have been accidentally caught up in football banning orders. Let me just say this for the record: it is absolutely abhorrent when people go to football games to cause trouble, to have fights and to put people at risk. Football has transformed over my lifetime. In the past, children could not be taken to football because it was not safe for them, but that is no longer the case. It is now a family-friendly activity that people can enjoy. It has some edge to it, but I do not want to see that go. Football is almost the acceptable face of the Iron Age tribal system writ large. I think it was Arrigo Sacchi who said it is the most important of the not important things.

There have been instances of people who were just bystanders to trouble being sanctioned by clubs or given a football banning order. If we are seeking to extend those orders from people committing violence to people trying to get into grounds without a ticket, which I agree is important, are we confident that those who both evaluate and issue those football banning orders uphold the levels and standards of evidence that we would expect to see as part of a law? Who has the final say? What is the mechanism of appeal? We need some clarity on that. I understand the point that the hon. Member for Cardiff was making about including car parks, especially at out-of-town stadiums, but what threshold of evidence would be used? Is somebody hopping into a car park to get an autograph the same as somebody aggressively trying to knock down a turnstile? How do we make sure that we find the right level of justice?

My hon. Friend is making a very serious and a very good point. On a more humorous level, could it not be argued that, given the way that Manchester United have been playing in the past few years, a banning order would be a reward rather than a punishment?

When my hon. Friend next comes over to watch Manchester United at Old Trafford, we should make sure to check his passport as he comes over the top. Manchester United is one of the greatest and most important clubs. It is important to remember the Busby Babes and this year’s important anniversary of the Munich air disaster. However, I concede that future peaks are to be scaled by our magnificent team, and I will support them all the way. Let me give an honourable mention to Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who this week got final confirmation of his purchase and support of the club. On a serious note, how are Leeds doing these days?

I have always enjoyed the colour of the kit. Mustard is such an aggressive colour to go to battle in. Semi-seriously, my hon. Friend makes a very good point—football is about fun, banter and local pride. People seeking to aggressively get into grounds without tickets puts all that enjoyment at risk. I support this legislation, but perhaps we could get some clarity to make sure that the enthusiastic kid, as my hon. Friend says, or perhaps the overenthusiastic tourist, is not caught up by it. Crucially, if someone is caught by this law and wants to appeal, can we make sure that they get the right level of justice? Going to see Manchester United may not be the most edifying experience at the moment, but being accidentally banned for life would be a travesty, and we should make sure that does not happen.

It is a pleasure to speak for the Opposition. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) on his Bill, which I support. He is a skilled parliamentarian, but he has demonstrated—as the hon. Member for Woking (Mr Lord) did, who is no longer in his place—that the best “skill” is to be drawn in the private Member’s ballot. It is also a skill to choose a Bill that has a chance of succeeding. Keeping it narrow, short and cheap is generally a good way to do that. My hon. Friend’s Bill has passed those tests.

Britain does sporting events really well. We have great infrastructure and stadiums, and volunteers flock to be part of those events. Who could forget that, having seen the Olympic games? Whether it is the Olympics, the champions league finals or games every weekend, we do them very well. We also do football better than any other place on the planet. A huge part of brand Britain is the global TV product, but the beauty is in the fact that every weekend—this weekend will be no exception—for the premier league alone, half a million people make journeys, short, long and in some cases very long, across the country to see their team, share allegiances, perhaps swear at other fans and sing songs with incredible creativity. There is a real beauty in that; it is very British and very special.

Those two things together—that success in holding major events, and that love of football done well—made what we saw in 2021 at the final of Euro 2020 even more shocking. We do not want to see 3,000 to 5,000 people jibbing in, as my hon. Friend said. It is dangerous. As we read in the independent report, it was very lucky that greater harm was not caused. What my hon. Friend proposes is a good, smart way of addressing that. I want to cover some of the points made by him and other hon. Members. What my hon. Friend said on the radio earlier about the deterrent effect is exactly right, and what he predicts is likely to be the case. It cannot be overstated that the maximum fine of £1,000 is a lot of money by anyone’s standards. The banning order in particular will get people’s attention, because that is a really serious sanction. For a fan, supporting their club becomes a big part of their identity. For a fan who goes to matches at home and away, that is a huge part of their lifestyle and involves their friendship groups. That gets people’s attention, so it is a good sanction.

Let me address a couple of points made by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I share a lot of his views when it comes to sport; he knows what he is talking about. He is a match-going fan, and he talks a lot of sense on sport. His point about scrutiny on Fridays is important. We owe it to our constituents to perform that scrutiny as well as we can, whatever day of the week it is, because the intention is for these Bills to become the law of the land. We always have to keep in mind the test: hard cases make bad laws. I always think about that, particularly on Fridays, but I think the hon. Gentleman has passed the test today.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about un- intended consequences. Proposed new clause 1A(3) to the Football (Offences) Act 1991 should give quite a lot of comfort in that regard. The explanatory notes are very comprehensive about what the Bill is not intended to do, and certainly gave me comfort, particularly about proposed new subsection 3(b)(i). A 17-year-old using an under-16’s ticket is a breach of terms and conditions, and they probably should not do it, but the law should not criminalise that individual. The club can manage that with a sanction, which is likely to be a short internal ban. That is the right level, so I think that the right balance has been found.

I might disagree with the hon. Gentleman on the cheekiness point, though. These are big stadiums; as the hon. Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) said, we are talking about large concentrations of human beings in one place. The capacity at Wembley is 90,000. The hon. Member for Shipley and I may agree a lot on sport, but I suspect we disagree quite a lot on health and safety legislation—on its effectiveness and necessity. In this space, health and safety is exceptionally important, and for a stadium to be even one person over capacity is dangerous. I agree with his sentiment that someone just trying their luck should not have a criminal record and face a really significant sanction, but we should not encourage such behaviour in general. People need to know that it is dangerous, and that they should not do such things.

Turning to the hon. Member for Shipley’s point about breadth, my view is that the approach taken in the Bill is good and right for football; it follows that in those other examples he mentioned, it would be good and right, too. I understand and agree with the approach that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West has taken: keeping the Bill narrow and basing it on legislation that is already on the statute book is the best way to ensure that the Bill succeeds. Going broader may imperil the Bill as a venture, but it is incumbent on both the Government and the Opposition to look at what approach could be taken to broaden it. Of course, we will need to follow the evidence and consult relevant organisations, but the basic principle applies: people entering an event for which they have no ticket, which is a really dangerous health and safety breach, is bad, whether at the football or elsewhere. As the hon. Member for Shipley pointed out, football fans often get a rough ride; they should not be unduly singled out. I think everyone has said that, but we should make that point.

The contributions of the hon. Member for South Ribble again show the cultural hegemony of football, and its importance in British life. The first conversation that I had with her, near the doorway to the Chamber, was about football.

It was a very pleasant way to be welcomed into the behind-the-scenes bipartisanship that is not always visible to the public. I think it is important to get that on the record, even if the hon. Gentleman does support totally the wrong football team.

I absolutely agree. My friendship with the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley) came about because she goes to City, as I do—that is something we talk about—and as does the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan). In fact, I can name every City fan in Parliament with absolute certainty, and I reckon I could do pretty well at naming everybody’s teams, although not that of the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat).

I am absolutely shocked that the hon. Gentleman is not an avid follower of the Tonbridge Angels.

There we go. I will resist the temptation to ask the right hon. Member who their left back is, because I think that could expose him.

I risk the wrath of my colleague on the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), if I do not mention that he is a United fan.

I can name similar miscreants on our Benches very well. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) is the first who springs to mind.

Football is part of our cultural life. It is part of the bonds that bring us together. That is why it is important that it is safeguarded, and done properly and safely. I think quite a lot about the point that the hon. Member for South Ribble made about security staff, and I will talk later about recent experiences at football that have really concerned me. Those staff, who are generally not permanent employees of the club—they are probably third-party contractors—and not necessarily well paid, are in dangerous circumstances. Frankly, I worry less about those near the pitch than those who have to steward near the toilets. Again, I will talk about that shortly.

The hon. Lady made important points about what the Bill is and is not designed to deter, and she used her own example. We can take comfort from the fact that she would have had a defence under proposed new section 1A(2) of the 1991 Act, as she had a ticket. As she said, that was not a desirable way for entry to happen, but she would not have committed an offence under the Bill, which speaks to the effectiveness of its drafting.

In closing, it is important that we do not demonise football fans. I am no match-going fan, though I was for a bit. I think we were all legacy fans, though I do not take kindly to that term. However, my love of Manchester City is a huge part of my life and personality. My wife might say it is a much bigger part of it than it ought to be. From the third tier to the champions league final, I have been there and seen it all. Every so often, on my social media feed—I apologise in advance to the hon. Member for South Ribble—the İlkay Gündoğan goal in last year’s FA cup final will pop up, and I cannot go past it; I am incapable of doing that. I will watch it at least half a dozen times, because it was just such a great moment.

Football fans are having a tougher time. They are messed around with kick-off times, and being asked to take long journeys. City fans will be at Bournemouth on Saturday for a game that will end at nearly 8 o’clock at night, and then have to get back to Manchester. That is very difficult. There is also still some stigmatisation, which is not good. Some of these challenges are present in other sports, too, so it is important that football fans are not singled out.

I think that we have found the right balance, but there is an issue coming down the line that either this Government or a future Government will have to address: some of the things that are happening at football matches. What happened at that Euros final did not happen in isolation. Social media can skew our perception of these things, but we see videos that show that behaviours are changing.

As I said, this year, I have witnessed some things in toilets, both away at Brentford and at home to Chelsea, that really shocked me—illegal acts, generally centred around drugs. Poor stewards are left to try to deal with that. There are behaviours at football matches that should not be condoned. People go to have fun, and we know that they are going to shout, swear and drink. All that is fine, but the laws of the land must still apply, whether in public or in the toilet of a football stadium. It behoves us to look at some of that, but what we do must be evidence-based, and we must work with the Football Supporters Association, which does such good work, to ensure that interventions are proportionate. The Bill is absolutely a proportionate intervention, and I give it my full support.

It is a huge honour to be here under your chairship, Madam Deputy Speaker, and a huge pleasure to speak about a Bill on what I must admit is not what I would have immediately thought was my specialist subject.

Hang on—that is a bit harsh. The Bill raises very important security considerations, so it has been an enormous pleasure to read about the Bill and the impressive work done by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). The debate has shown quite simply that the passion in the House for what has always been known as the beautiful game twins with the passion for it in our country. Though it does not always attract the affections of everybody in the Chamber—I know that I disappoint some in the Tonbridge Angels when I say that, though many other sports clubs are obviously spared the pain of my support—it really does bring people together. When travelling or serving overseas, I was often touched by the fact that a community of Brits from any part of our country could immediately find an easy conversation and bond over various football teams, which some may support and others may vigorously and majestically oppose. I do not know why I find myself looking at my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher), as a Manchester United fan, but for some reason Manchester United seemed to come up quite a lot as a divisive subject.

Like the Minister, I have lived and worked around the world. He makes a humorous point about the opportunity for bonding, but I would say that it happens not just with Brits. I lived and worked in Africa: at that time, the first words out the mouths of people there were “Bobby Charlton” and the second words were “David Beckham”. Although “jumpers for goalposts” is often used and can be a trite phrase, I have had conversations with people whose language I could speak not a jot, but we were united by the language of football. Does the Minister agree and is that perhaps something he has experienced?

Funnily enough, I agree that it is something I have witnessed; I have always struggled to join the conversation. I recently found myself in New York at the funeral of Henry Kissinger, and a few people there were discussing his passion for Arsenal football club and asked me about the latest season in London football. I have to confess that I found myself slightly wanting for words, but it was an environment in which many others were able to supply them, so I was delighted to stay silent as the prowess of the various football teams was discussed. As we are discussing Arsenal, among the research I have been doing into the Bill, it turns out that Cardiff City won the FA cup in 1927 by beating Arsenal, which is a remarkable achievement.

One-nil. I believe Hughie Ferguson was the goal scorer—there you go; it’s amazing what you can get help with if you ask the right questions, isn’t it? That game was on St George’s day as well. How is that for a triple? It is absolutely true that football binds people together around the world. The number of conversations that one can have travelling and meeting Heads of State, Heads of Government, Ministers, officials—and, indeed, taxi drivers and folk around the world—is extraordinary, because football really does unite. That is why the Bill is so important.

I will start with one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) raised, when he asked, “Why does this apply only to football and not other sports?” The reality is that football is hugely dominant in terms of sporting appearances and interest in the United Kingdom. It is clear that, over the past few decades, football has dominated that sporting appeal for spectators. It has been so dominant and, sadly, that has caused problems. I do not want to blame fans—that would not be right—but when large crowds gather, there are challenges with managing those crowds. Sadly, other sports are yet to attract quite the same interest.

I understand the point the Minister makes, but last year at the grand national at Aintree, we saw lots of people entering the racecourse without a ticket whose only purpose was to cause as much destruction and misery as possible, and it led to quite a lot of disorder. I could be wrong, but my understanding is that nobody has been punished for that particular outrage and carnage, which also led to animal welfare issues. I gently say to him that this issue applies to more than just football, and if he wants to look for another sport, horseracing—what happened at the grand national at Aintree last year and may well happen again this year—would be a good case in point.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point; I will certainly look into it. I will ensure that we have a proper scrub of other sporting events that might qualify. The point I was making was that the vast majority of such situations are football events, but he is right that there are standalone sporting events, like Aintree, that attract huge crowds as a one-off. I was delighted to be at the fantastic Market Rasen ground and at Lingfield not long ago, but the reality is that the crowds were not quite the same. It is not quite the same pressure that my hon. Friend describes, but I take his point and he is right to make it.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West has made an extraordinary effort to bring together hon. Members from across the House and to ensure that previous work is summarised into this short Bill to keep fans safe. I am very grateful that he has done that because, as Members have demonstrated, the words he has chosen have reached across the House and united people. When we think about our own sporting events, we know that those precious moments of family time can be threatened by individuals who might disrupt them.

The hon. Gentleman carefully made the point that automatic bans are not within the scope of the Bill. Such bans can be issued only by courts following a conviction for a football-related offence and are covered by other legislation. In reality, the Bill is constrained. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, the key to good legislation is to write it in a way that works—not so that it expands—and this is a tight piece of legislation that does exactly what it is supposed do.

The Bill will not do some of the things that were feared. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble raised a question about whether it would criminalise those who were in possession of a valid ticket, as she was in her leapfrogging days. It certainly will not do that. Those who are in possession of a valid ticket are free to enter a ground and should be able to access the ground. The fact that the turnstile does not work really is a test of her athletics, not of the law. I am delighted to say that I have no doubt that she would vault it again were the same situation to arise.

A question was asked about whether an offence is committed only if a person is attempting to attend a football match. The Bill does not cover those trying to get into pubs or car parks unless they are part of the controlled zone. As we all know, some football stadiums have a controlled zone; others do not. Anybody who has been to the Army and Navy rugby match will know that the car park is the most important part of that controlled zone. In fact, I have had the great privilege over many years of attending the Army and Navy rugby match—I have been on half a dozen to a dozen occasions—and in that time I am proud to say that I have watched 15 minutes of rugby in total. Although I should acknowledge that it is a security nightmare, it is the most extraordinary reunion and the car park of Twickenham stadium becomes a gathering of people who have not seen each other since Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever it might be. It is extraordinary how many formerly terrifying sergeants major or generals seem to be somewhat more friendly shortly before kick-off—I am sure it has absolutely nothing to do with extremely generous sponsorship of Pimm’s, Greene King or any of the other suppliers who ensure those events go with the passion and drive hon. Members would anticipate.

On a more serious point, the Minister has prompted me to think more about the subject of car parks. Maybe I am dwelling on this too much, but if somebody has a valid match ticket but does not have a valid car park ticket, would they be committing an offence? The Bill says that an offence is committed only if they do not have a match ticket at the time of entry, so it seems to me that they may have a match ticket but they could still be trying to enter a place that they are not entitled to enter. I just wondered whether that is by design or a problem in the Bill that needs to be ironed out.

At the risk of being corrected by officials, I am going to say that clearly this is about the match ticket, not about the car park ticket. The reason is that the match ticket allows access to the stadium—to the event—and that is what is being criminalised. The access to the car park, as long as it is not within the controlled zone or an area that would otherwise be impermissible without a match ticket, is not covered by the Bill. A car park ticket can usually, mostly, be bought later. In this circumstance, we are not seeking to criminalise that. We are seeking to make sure that the Bill allows those who have a valid right of access to the event to get into the event without allowing those who think they have grounds for disruption, tailgating or whatever it may be to exploit a loophole in the law to get away with jumping over a wall, pushing through turnstiles or whatever it may be.

The Minister is being very generous, and his explanation makes a great deal of sense. But if he wishes to come to Bradford City on any match day, as part of his research for the Bill, he would be very welcome. I will let him come with me and I will make sure he has a valid ticket so that he does not fall foul of the legislation. What he would find at Bradford City is that there is limited car parking, which is often at a premium and people would very much like to take advantage of it. There might be an issue with lots of people trying to tailgate in and barge their way into the car parking. Even though they had a match ticket, it would still cause quite a problem, but they would not fall foul of the Bill because they had a match ticket.

I would be delighted to take up my hon. Friend’s invitation. I have never seen football played in Bradford—

I will ignore the contribution from the hon. Member for Cardiff West, who is very disparaging about Bradford City. I am sure Bradford City would offer a fantastic afternoon and I would very much enjoy it. I simply cannot believe that my hon. Friend would not be backing a winner, given his reputation, so I will stay silent on that accusation.

The Bill deliberately does not go into car parking. As my hon. Friend will be well aware, in many areas car parking is very different. Some stadiums have car parking available and some have car parking on the street or in neighbouring car parks which would be covered by local government ordinances and so on. It would add complication and not clarity to the Bill. To his eternal point, Occam’s razor is to get to the heart of the matter; he would rightly be the first critic of any Bill that started to be expansive and to look like it might include supermarket car parks, or indeed any other kind of car park. That is why the Bill is written and drafted as tightly as it is, and why so many of us support it—the Bill has given us the space to focus on that part of the offence that is actually important.

The Bill has been very carefully drafted to set out this new offence of unauthorised entry or attempted unauthorised entry to designated football matches in England and Wales. In practice, “designated football matches” really means elite football matches. For these purposes, that does include Manchester United—[Laughter.] The Bill will also enable a court to impose a football banning order against a person convicted of this offence. Banning orders provide an effective tool to combat football-related disorder by preventing disruptive individuals from attending regulated matches for between three and 10 years.

I would like to pay my own tribute to Baroness Casey and her extraordinary work, not just on this issue, but in reforming and reviewing various other aspects of our national life that have required attention. Her independent review of the appalling disorder that occurred during the Euro 2020 final resulted in a clear recommendation that action needed to be taken to deter the practice of tailgating, which is the phenomenon that we have been covering of a ticketless person following a legitimate entrant into the stadium. Of course, the Bill is drafted in this way because tailgating is not the only problematic behaviour.

There are many other routes to attempted entry into football matches, such as jumping over walls, which we have seen at some stadiums, or hanging down from buildings and jumping through windows—we have occasionally seen videos of that happening abroad. That is extremely concerning, not least because it can lead to enormous personal harm and can encourage people to take extremely unwise risks. It can also lead to a crush within the building that could cause harm not just to fans but to those working in the stadium. As we know, stadiums these days are major businesses, and many employ a large number of people on match days.

Estimates suggest that somewhere in the region of 3,000 to 5,000 England fans without tickets gained entry to the Euro 2020 final, largely through mass forced entry. Witnesses spoke of being terrified by their reckless and aggressive behaviour. Despite my own lack of passion in this regard, I have taken my children to football matches and have enjoyed the days with them. I must admit that my children were much more impressed with the games than I ever was, but I enjoyed the experience very much. The opportunity to see it through their eyes was a great blessing; I found it enormously warming.

Thank you very much.

It would be concerning—this is why the Bill is so important—if football were closed off to families because people felt threatened and wished to keep their kids away from such events.

Exactly—my hon. Friend correctly points out that they used to be. I suspect that that is one of the reasons we were not encouraged to attend when I was a child, despite my uncle’s great passion for Tottenham Hotspur. In fact, happy birthday to him. It is his birthday today—he is in the other place, so maybe if we shout loudly enough he will hear it.

The reality was that at that point in our national life, football was disrupted by significant violence. Indeed, some areas appeared to be almost lawless. I am very grateful not only to the Football Association but to police forces around the United Kingdom and the various organisations that contributed to making football safe. Even at the Tonbridge Angels, which is not traditionally a hotbed of dissent, the family welcome is remarkable—that is extremely important.

There are other unauthorised methods of entry at football matches, ranging from surreptitious entry—including, as the hon. Member for Cardiff West said, bribing club staff—to various forms of deception. I am therefore very pleased that the Bill seeks to make all forms of unauthorised or attempted entry an offence. That is eminently sensible, given that all attempts at unauthorised entry draw upon stadium security resources and can result in individuals with dangerous disruptive intent gaining access to the stadium and to spectators, and that overcrowding has health and safety risks and implications. This is therefore an important change in the law.

It is also right that the Bill includes not just the entrance points but the outer perimeter security. As the hon. Gentleman set out clearly, it is about preventing a concertina effect, whereby pressure on one area has repercussions on others. He is correct that the Bill sets out carefully why that is so.

We cannot tolerate decent, law-abiding football fans being left frightened or distressed, and neither would it be acceptable for football stadiums to become unsafe because of a selfish minority. The Government are clear that the safety of those attending sporting events is of the highest importance, and it is imperative that football fans are able to enjoy the sport safe in the knowledge that those who attempt to cause disorder will be dealt with swiftly. The Bill will help to achieve that, which is why we support it.

It is right and proper that those who engage in unacceptable criminal behaviour face the full force of the law, and the introduction of a new football-specific offence will send a deterrent message to would-be perpetrators. The measure enables the courts to impose football banning orders against offenders, and I remind the House that football banning orders have historically proved successful in preventing known troublemakers from continuing to offend, and in deterring others from offending. As such, the Government wholeheartedly support their use in the context of unauthorised entry to matches.

The Minister speaks with great passion, and I know this subject is close to his heart. Who among us has not enjoyed a matinee performance by England Rovers at the Oval? I must press him on a technical detail raised by the shadow Minister. Who plays left back for Tonbridge Angels?

Discretion is important at such moments. As my hon. Friend will be aware, Tonbridge Angels have recently bought a few new players. It is far too early for me to start picking the team, which is the manager’s job after all. He would not thank a Minister of the Crown for stepping on his hallowed turf.

It may be helpful for Members to be aware that both the police and the Football Association are similarly supportive of the Bill and have contributed helpfully.

Once again, I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff West for introducing the Bill. I also thank the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) and the Opposition for their approach. I hope the Bill sets an example that is adopted by other Assemblies, which seems appropriate given the importance of football in the national life of Scotland and Northern Ireland. I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate.

This important measure will ensure that the perpetrators of these disruptive and dangerous offences face justice, and it should provide a strong deterrent effect. I therefore join the hon. Member for Cardiff West in urging the House to get behind the Bill.

With the leave of the House, I will briefly sum up. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed and intervened. This debate has given an extremely useful airing to the issues related to Bill. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) raised some very valid points, some of which were subsequently addressed in interventions by me, the shadow Minister and the Minister. I am sure we will delve further into those points in Committee.

I thank all Members who contributed to the debate. The hon. Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) is obviously very knowledgeable about supporting football, even when it is painful. We also heard interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), who is now sitting in the Whip’s seat, having moved from the Back Benches during the debate.

The Bill has had a good airing, for which I thank everyone. I thank in particular the Minister and the shadow Minister. The Minister mentioned the Football Association, which covers England. The Football Association of Wales has also been very supportive of the Bill. All members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee have supported the Bill, which featured in the Committee’s report. I also thank the civil servants; the Clerks; you, Madam Deputy Speaker; Mr Speaker, who was here earlier; Mr Deputy Speaker; and everyone else in the room. The Whips on both sides of the House have been extremely helpful. And I thank Mary in the Members’ Tea Room for supporting the Bill.

That is a fitting end to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. We are always thankful to Mary and everyone else who looks after us in the Members’ Tea Room, especially on a Friday.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

Community and Suspended Sentences (Notification of Details) Bill

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to rise to bring this Bill to the House today. It is an important but focused Bill that will amend the 2020 sentencing code to create a duty on offenders to notify the responsible officer of any change of name or contact details if they are sentenced to a community order, a suspended sentence order, a youth rehabilitation order or a referral order.

The Bill will place a new duty on offenders who are serving a sentence in the community and who are being supervised by the probation service or a youth offending team to ensure that any change of name or contact details is notified to the relevant responsible officer. That captures not just any formal legal changes of a name, but the use of an online alias. Offenders will need to notify their responsible officer of any change as soon as is practicable. My Bill will apply to adults and child offenders alike, so that we can create some form of consistency across all offenders who are on licence. Importantly, it will extend to offenders serving community sentences.

In 2022, secondary legislation was passed requiring offenders on licence to inform their probation officer if they changed their name or contact details. The Bill will help to ensure consistency across the sentencing framework and that offenders serving community sentences have their risks managed effectively. For those offenders who are serving community orders, youth rehabilitation orders and referral orders, the requirements contained in the Bill will last for the whole duration of the order while the offender remains supervised by probation or their youth offending team, until it reaches the end date set by the court, or is otherwise terminated. For suspended sentence orders, this requirement will last for the period when the offender must keep in touch with probation. Once the offender is no longer required to keep in touch with probation or the youth offending team, this requirement will also end.

Failure to comply with the duty will be treated the same as failure to comply with the requirement of the order. An offender could be taken back to court. When an order is returned to court, the court can make the requirements of the order more onerous, impose a fine or even sentence the individual to custody. The management of offenders in the community is of the utmost importance to protect people in Newport West and across the United Kingdom and to reduce reoffending.

It is vital that probation and youth offending teams have the information required to be able to effectively manage offenders in the community, and the ability to take swift enforcement action where needed. The Bill will improve the ability of probation and youth offending teams to monitor offenders. It will help to protect the public by ensuring that while an offender is serving a sentence in the community, the responsible officer has the information they need to keep an eye on that individual. As I have noted, that requirement already applies to offenders released from custody, so I believe it is important to ensure that the same requirement applies to offenders serving sentences in our community.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on safeguarding in faith communities, I have heard harrowing accounts of offenders who have changed their name—legitimately, at present—by deed poll and then gone on to commit harrowing offences again and again. That is not acceptable.

The people of Newport West elected me to this place in April 2019, and since then, I have sat through many a Friday sitting, listening to detailed and, on occasion, lengthy opening remarks on Second Reading. In the hope of getting this Bill speedily through to the next stage of its journey in this House with support from colleagues on all sides, I will bring my remarks to a close shortly.

In supporting the Bill, this House has an opportunity to improve the ability of probation and youth offending teams to monitor and support offenders in the community as effectively as possible. Most importantly for me, it allows us all to better protect the people who sent us here—the British people. Keeping our people safe, from Newport West to North Down and from Newcastle upon Tyne Central to North Devon, is our most important responsibility as Members of Parliament. With that in mind, I urge colleagues from all parts of the House to give the Bill their full support today.

I am very pleased to be supporting the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones). I am what would be typically referred to as a Tory wet, which means that I do not think locking up everybody is always a panacea for everything. Community centres have an important role to play; not only do we have a particularly crowded prison estate as it is, but the prison estate is not the best place for the rehabilitation of offenders who have shorter sentences because their crimes are their first offence or relatively minor. If we are talking about a proper lag or villain, then let us lock them up for 20 years, but fundamentally we should be trying to get people into the habit of improving their lives. We should be creating productive citizens.

I support the Bill very much; the hon. Lady has alighted on an important point. When somebody leaves a custodial sentence, there are rules and regulations in place to ensure that they do not change their identity or somehow get around the system in order to reoffend, although there will be some who go on to reoffend. There will sadly also be those who go on to reoffend after having had one of these non-custodial sentences. By applying to them the same regime that applies to people who have been in the prison estate, we are not introducing a new special punishment and they are not under any extra burden. They are being asked to comply with a perfectly sensible regime. I therefore very much welcome what the hon. Lady has done.

We will all know of at least one or two heartbreaking cases from our constituencies where the system has not worked quite as it should. When I first started in this place, I met the family of a constituent who had been murdered by somebody who was out on parole. There had been a similar issue with identity: documents had been lost; meetings were not taking place. This man had basically just disappeared into the ether of the system. I cannot guarantee that, had the safeguard in the Bill been in place, it would have saved my constituent’s life, but it certainly would have made it much less likely that a little boy was left without his dad and parents were left without their son.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on introducing this Bill, and I look forward to supporting it.

I, too, thank the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) for bringing this important Bill to the House today, and I congratulate her on its Second Reading. What my constituents in Truro and Falmouth want and care about above all else is the ability to live in a safe and hospitable community. The way that we deal with those who break that safety or our laws and disrupt our towns and villages is incredibly important to them; it is one of the most important things that they need to feel safe, and it comes up time and again when I am out and about talking to my communities. However, not everybody who commits a crime is considered dangerous, and I am therefore pleased that we have levels of punishments that are appropriate to each crime.

Before I go on to what this Bill might mean to the people of Truro and Falmouth and Cornwall and beyond, I want to say a little about women prisoners and offenders and why the Bill will be so important to them. In Cornwall, the nearest women’s prison is His Majesty’s Prison Eastwood Park, which is in south-west Gloucestershire. For those who are not from the south-west, that may sound close, but in actual fact it is nearly 200 miles away from Cornwall. A low-level woman offender who happens to have a small baby or child, or is pregnant, will potentially have to move 200 miles away from her children. Courts understand that these days, and they want to keep women who are not a danger to society nearer their families. Levelling up the submitting of names and contact details, as offenders would if they were in prison, is therefore another safeguard that courts will have in their back pocket in cases where they wish to give a low-level sentence to somebody who, for whatever reason, they need to keep track of.

Maternity imprisonment impacts an average of 17,000 children each year. By keeping criminals with a sentence of less than 12 months in the community, we are able to prevent hundreds of children from being brought into our prisons and growing up in those unsuitable and unstable environments. It is much better for children across the south-west to live in their communities and grow up with a parent who has clearly given back to the community, albeit through an imposed sentence. Making clear connections between crime, the community and the locals who are affected means that both parents and children will be more aware of the impact of crime.

It is no coincidence that our police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, is leading the charge in Devon & Cornwall police with combined treatment orders, which deal directly with mental health issues, alcoholism and drug addiction for those with community sentences. They keep people out of toxic prison environments where such flaws are likely to be exploited and made unmanageable, and instead support the criminal in the community with regular treatment and programmes. Tackling these factors is essential to reducing reoffending rates and repairing the routes of addiction that may have contributed to people finding themselves in a position where lawbreaking became an option. Helping to rebuild lives is the best way of ensuring that they continue to feed back into their local community. The south-west was the first region to secure funding for mental health treatment requirements as part of a community order. That is because we work as a team in the area—again, led by Alison Hernandez. The work of the Plymouth team in particular, as part of the original pilot schemes, has been held up as good practice to the rest of the country.

There is an opportunity for community payback to expand, hopefully under the Immediate Justice funding of about £500,000 that will come to Devon & Cornwall later this year. Our police and crime commissioner is determined to get offenders filling potholes. Again, we will be working as a region, and we think that it will be rewarding work, building on the precedent achieved in Devon where it has been done by volunteers.

People may think that this does not matter to life in general, but community orders are seen as being important to the community in other ways. In Cornwall everyone knows everyone else, and if someone is seen to be having to pay back to their local community, there is a slight issue of peer pressure. People do not want to be seen doing this, so it can be used as a deterrent. It is different in cities, where people do not know others in their locality to the same extent.

St Agnes parish council, one of the proactive parish councils on the north coast of my constituency, has taken advantage of payback schemes to improve local amenities. People have been sweeping the library building, and litter-picking, weeding and hedge-cutting around the library car park and on the verges. They have been painting benches, cutting back the ivy on buildings owned by the parish council, cleaning noticeboards and bus stops, pressure-washing to deal with slippery pavements, painting toilet blocks and the lych-gate at the Garden of Rest, cutting grass, painting the equipment in Beaconsfield play park, implementing the installation of water pipes, and maintaining the allotment site at Mount Hawke. Those are really useful jobs, and fabulously innovative when parish councils are strapped for cash. Local people who have fallen foul of the law but are not a danger to society are doing something brilliant for the local community. However, as I said earlier, the Bill will level things up so that these people are still recognised as being under a sentence, albeit not a custodial one.

I hope that the Bill will also help those who are covered by Clare’s law. People who are convicted of domestic violence but not seen as a danger to the rest of society are often not given custodial sentences, which is quite frustrating for me and for others in my position. Under Clare’s law they must be on a register, but sometimes, as we know, they change their identities and move to another part of the country or their locality. I should like to know from the Minister whether the Bill will help to strengthen Clare’s law for those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

This is a very useful little Bill. It is hard to argue with any of it, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) for introducing it.

When I was reading about the Bill, I immediately thought of a case that I had encountered a couple of years ago—I was already a Member of Parliament at that time— which resonated with elements of it. That case originated in an email from an individual. The name that came up on my computer was different from the email address, which was itself different from the name used in the sign-off. Let us just say that the email in question was not necessarily sympathetic to what I thought was the fine work that I was doing in North Norfolk. As a fairly nice chap, which I consider myself to be, I wrote back to the individual and said, “Of course, I will meet you.” I did my own bit of research—MPs’ security is very pertinent at the moment—to discover, from the three different names that I was given, who that individual was. I do not want to give too much away—doing so would reveal that person’s identity—but I found out who they were, and they had served a prison sentence for a crime and were now out. I shall not go into the nature of their crime, but it immediately rang alarm bells, and I contacted the police to request their presence at my surgery.

When reading about the Bill, and how people on community sentences are weaved into it, I thought that that case was pertinent. There are individuals out there who are hiding behind aliases—effectively trying to be anonymous—to contact and meet MPs and other public officials, so this is a good Bill. It is ironic and incredible that in today’s life, in which everything we do is tracked by our smartwatch, mobile phone and Alexa—other brands are out there—people cannot be found. Of course, if someone is using an alias and trying not to be detected, those things can clearly happen.

One reason I thought this Bill so important is that it reminded me of the experience of my friends in the Probation Service. In his remarks, will the Minister set out whether the Probation Service can cope with the additional workload required by the Bill? Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A year ago, I took generators to Ukraine. It takes about nine hours of solid driving to get from North Norfolk all the way across to Ukraine. When driving a Transit van that far, one gets to know one’s cab mates pretty well. I was sitting with a friend who is a probation officer. After hours on end, when every other possible conversation between two blokes had been exhausted—many of which cannot be repeated in the House—we started to talk about his life in the Probation Service. It made me realise just how tough and important a role that is.

In my previous career—I will openly admit that I was an accountant—I had absolutely no idea about the criminal justice system, and did not until I became an MP. The comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) about being a Tory wet were really interesting. I am probably a bit of a Tory wet, but I did not realise it. Before I was an MP, I certainly was not, but now, having learned about the criminal justice system, I have far more awareness of just what the hard-working men and women in our prison service do, and they are quite phenomenal in their roles. After that small conversation about the Probation Service with my friend while travelling to Ukraine a year ago, and with much more understanding of the criminal justice system today, I have far greater awareness of and respect for what those men and women do.

My first trip of this year, on 3 January, when we were in recess, was a visit to HMP Bure, a category C men’s prison in my constituency, right on the border. It is home to 643 prisoners and is run by Governor Rhoden and the other fine men and women who work there. All the strands I have talked about today were conceptualised when I went on that visit, because I realised just how tough a job those working in prisons do, and that rehabilitation is so important. I had been completely unaware of what those incredibly hard-working and decent men and women do behind the scenes. For a few hours, I got to see what prison life is like, what prisoners do and how their rehabilitation works. I admit that I had not taken into account that I would see prisoners on bicycle mechanic courses, art courses and welding courses, which prepare them for life outside prison, and give them a skillset, so that they can find employment.

Again, I want to place on the record—I have said it a few times—my thanks to the hard-working men and women at HMP Bure. They are not respected enough in society, or paid enough, for the hard work they do, and the conditions are not always good. One of their biggest concerns is their retirement age. There is campaign to lower it from 68; perhaps the Minister could comment on that. Is it in the public’s interest or fair that police officers retire at one age and prison officers at another, much older age, which is 68 for new intakes? These people are on their feet all day long, and often put themselves at high risk. In a civilised society, we need to look at their retirement age.

I am astounded to hear that it takes only nine hours to get from Norfolk to Ukraine, given that it takes five hours to get from Westminster to Cornwall, but that is a different matter.

I agree with all my hon. Friend’s points about prison officers. Does he agree that asking somebody who needs to use their physical strength in their job to work until they are 68 is often quite a big ask?

I do, which is why the retirement age needs to be looked at properly, in the context of the retirement age for those in similar roles in society, such as police officers. Getting from Norfolk to Ukraine involves nine hours’ driving a day over about two and a half days—my apologies if I did not make that clear. I went through Holland, Germany and elsewhere. It is a long way; let me put it like that.

I will finish there. I again thank the hon. Member for Newport West for introducing a very interesting Bill. It feels like complete common sense, and I hope it is supported.

I am back again—this time on the Front Bench—for a third outing today. I apologise for my ubiquity. It is a pleasure to support this Bill, which was presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones). I congratulate her on her success in the private Member’s Bill ballot.

It really is a great day for the Welsh. By the sound of it, this will be the third Bill from a Welsh Labour Member of Parliament to gain support from across the House and receive its Second Reading today. For those who say that MPs from the devolved nations do not play a role in this place, the proof that they do is the fact that these three Bills have reached this stage today. I thank everyone across the House for their support for our Bills, and it is a pleasure to support my hon. Friend’s Bill from the Front Bench.

I thank Members who have contributed to the debate, including the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), who, like me, has been on his feet a lot today, and the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), who I would never have guessed was an accountant in a previous life, as he revealed in the debate. He spoke with a lot of compassion and sense, and he mentioned probation, which relates to a point that I want to make in my brief remarks. Twenty years ago—I was here—the last Labour Government introduced community orders and suspended sentence orders in their current form. They were designed to be robust alternatives to prison in cases of less serious offending. It has been disappointing to note that the use of community sentences has declined sharply, particularly in the last decade, and particularly between 2012 and 2022.

In 2017, a survey of magistrates found that over a third were not confident that community sentences were an effective alternative to custody, and two thirds were not confident that they cut crime. It is plain to see that more must be done to strengthen the confidence of the courts and the public that sentences served in the community are effective, appropriate and, above all, safe. That is particularly pressing given the Government’s proposals in the Sentencing Bill—we are waiting for Committee of the whole House, hopefully soon—for a new presumption that all sentences of less than a year will be suspended unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as the breach of a previous order, or a risk to an individual.

The Bill before us makes an important contribution to that effort. It will require offenders serving community or suspended sentences to alert their probation officer or youth offending team if they change their name or contact details. The question is how these necessary measures will be properly enforced while the Government continue to load more and more pressure on to the probation service, without giving it any additional resource. Sentences served in the community can be effective only if there is a functioning probation service rooted in the area that can enforce sentences and keep offenders on the right track.

I am sure that the Minister can see that our probation service is already critically understaffed, undervalued and overstretched. Probation workloads are soaring. Almost 50,000 working days among probation staff have been lost to distress, with 68% of probation officers rating their case load as unmanageable. More and more experienced prison officers, who were also mentioned, are leaving the service, and there are over 1,000 vacancies for probation staff. A recent watchdog report warned that such understaffing is having a devastating effect on delivering the good outcomes that the Bill is intended to support. In September, the annual report of His Majesty’s inspectorate of probation said that 31 inspections of probation delivery units had been completed since the probation service was reunified in 2021, and only one unit was found to be good. The rest were rated either “requires improvement” or “inadequate”.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West for bringing forward the Bill and urge all Members to support it as a necessary step forward. I challenge the Government to ensure that the probation service is given the resources that it needs to ensure that the reforms are successful, and that the public remain protected, as they and the courts expect. I call on the Government to affirm their commitment to enforcing the crucial measures in the Bill when it becomes law.

I thank the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) for bringing forward the Bill. I am grateful for the support of the Opposition. I will address some of the comments that the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) made, although I do not necessarily agree with his characterisation of the probation service.

Let me start with the main thrust of the Bill. It will place a new duty on offenders who are serving a sentence in the community, and who are being supervised by a probation or youth offending team, requiring them to inform the responsible officer if they begin using a different name or change their contact information, including telephone number or email address. We have a separate youth justice system, but it is of equal if not greater importance that youth offending teams are able to keep tabs on children and have the right information about them to do their job. We welcome the fact that this policy applies equally to offenders of all ages, and will create consistency across offenders on licence and offenders serving sentences in the community who are overseen by probation services or youth offending teams.

The offender will be required to comply with the requirement while their order is in effect and has not been revoked or discharged. For suspended sentence orders, the requirement will last for the period for which the offender must keep in touch with probation. For offenders serving community orders, youth rehabilitation orders and referral orders, the requirement will last for the whole duration of the order, while the offender is supervised by probation or their youth offending team, until the end date set by the court is reached, or the order is otherwise terminated.

Sentencing in individual cases is a matter for our independent judiciary, and the courts have a broad range of sentencing powers to deal effectively and appropriately with offenders. They can impose discharges, fines, community sentences, suspended sentences and imprisonment. This Government are clear that delivering public protection means imposing custodial sentences when the offence is so serious that custody is justified. It is worth noting, however, that even when that threshold is met, the court should consider whether a community sentence would be more suitable in a particular case. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) talked about some of the challenges on the women’s prison estate, including the prison’s distance from home. Clearly, that is a factor that the judiciary can take into account.

My hon. Friend also mentioned Clare’s law. My understanding is that the Bill does cover those covered by that law, but I will double check, so that I do not mislead her or the House. I will write to her and place a copy of the letter in the House of Commons Library.

In many cases, there is persuasive evidence that suspended and community sentences can be more effective than short custodial sentences in reducing reoffending. More than half of people given a custodial sentence of less than 12 months reoffend within a year. For offenders punished with suspended sentence orders that are served in the community, the reoffending rate is much lower. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) was making that point when he said that sometimes prison does not work and, in fact, makes things worse.

Under our sentencing framework, there is the flexibility to choose from and balance a range of community-based requirements, such as unpaid work, drug and alcohol treatments, curfews and electronic monitoring, with the intent of punishing the offender, ensuring reparation to the community, and addressing any criminogenic—that is a new word for me—or rehabilitative needs of the offender that might give rise to an increased likelihood of reoffending. Rigorous community offender management is vital to build confidence in the orders made, and to deliver effective rehabilitation while keeping the public safe.

The shadow Minister mentioned the probation service. I can reassure him that we share his commitment to making sure that the probation service is effective and is funded appropriately. We value its work, which is why we are investing an additional £155 million a year in the service, so that it can recruit record levels of staff, and are investing up to £93 million in community payback as a way of complimenting that. I would like to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), who raised the same points. In December 2023, recruitment numbers for band 4 probation officers were up 6.3 % on the previous year, and the numbers for band 3 probation officers were up 2.1% over the same period. We are confident that our probation service can deal with this issue.

However, I must point out that in the Bill, the duty is on the offender, not the probation service. Colleagues will see the words “duty of offender” repeated throughout the Bill. It is loud and clear that it is the responsibility of the offender to comply, and if they do not, they will have to bear the consequences.

As well as the investment in the probation service, there has been £532 million invested through the Department of Health and Social Care to increase substance misuse treatment provision in all local authorities in England. Of course, that will be devolved in Wales. Dedicated criminal justice staff have been recruited to increase the quality of treatment and assessment delivery. We believe that this approach dovetails with ensuring that community sentences support people with other issues.

The effectiveness of community sentences relies on probation and youth offending teams being able to manage offenders in the community successfully. That means having the right information about them. We agree that the Bill helps to strengthen the means that probation and youth offending team services have at their disposal to monitor offenders, but I reiterate that in the Bill, the duty rests with the offender. The Bill builds on secondary legislation passed in 2022, requiring offenders on licence to inform their probation officer if they change their name or contact details. We welcome the Bill from the hon. Member for Newport West, and we will continue to do all we can to assist its passage. In my view, these provisions are robust, and while the name or contact details change could be for valid reasons, they require any difference from what is being kept on file to be reported. They capture not just formal, legal changes of name by deed poll, but—for example—the use of an online alias, another issue that my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk highlighted.

As I have set out, we recognise the importance of ensuring that the public are protected, that rehabilitation can be effective, and that there is confidence in non-custodial sentences. That means ensuring that offenders managed in the community are being properly monitored by the probation service, with the ability for that service to take robust enforcement action where necessary. We agree that this Bill will make sure that our probation and youth offending teams undertake that monitoring effectively by ensuring that, while an offender is serving a sentence in the community, the responsible officer has the information that they need to keep tabs on that individual.

I will end by again congratulating the hon. Member for Newport West on bringing this Bill before the House. I am grateful to the official Opposition for their support of the Bill, and I place on record my thanks to the officials at the Ministry of Justice for assisting the hon. Lady in drafting it.

With the leave of the House, I rise to close the debate. I thank everybody who has taken part today for the atmosphere of co-operation and consensual politics—it is very different from what happened earlier this week. I start by thanking the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson); I agree with him that the “lock them up” philosophy is not always the way forward, and community sentences are a vital part of our punishment options. I was recently fortunate enough to go to Cardiff Prison with the Welsh Affairs Committee, where we saw for ourselves prisoners who might be in for just seven days. Seven days is not long enough to do anything useful in terms of rehab or breaking the cycle of offending, so the points that the hon. Member made were very important.

I thank the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) for her very important points about female offenders and the distances involved. We do not have a single prison for women in Wales—I am not saying that we should have one but, like her constituents, those women in Wales have a long way to travel. That means women being apart from their families. That is disruptive, and it is very costly to visit. If anyone is in any doubt about female prisoners, they should watch “Time” with Jodie Whittaker; it is a very powerful series.

The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) made an important point about aliases and social media. I am sure we have all had issues with people who have had different names on emails; it is a concern that I share. He also highlighted the importance of staff working in the criminal justice system. I, too, pay tribute to those staff and thank them for all their efforts.

I thank the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan)—I hope he can put his feet up on the plane to Dublin after this, because he has been very busy today. I also thank the Minister and the team in the Department. The Minister rightly highlighted that the responsibility for reporting a change of details is on the offender; it is very important that we know that. Finally, I thank the Whips, the Public Bill Office and Adam Jogee in my office. This week has seen our Parliament—the mother of Parliaments—at a low point, but I wish the media could be here to see and feel the atmosphere today. I am not a fan of adversarial politics; I believe consensual politics is the way forward. That has been the case today, and I thank the House for it.

I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I think this is my third attempt to make progress on this issue in this House. I want to end the constitutional sexism that means that an eighth of the seats in the other place are reserved for men only. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who tried to introduce the Bill in March 2019; he is a champion of true equality. I pay tribute to Charlotte Carew Pole of Daughters’ Rights, who helps to keep this just cause alive in this place. Our former colleague Mary Macleod also tried to bring in a similar Bill. Even though this is this Bill’s Second Reading, it is not the second time that the issue has come up in the Commons, and it will keep coming up until things change.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for her good, kind words. This has been a long battle. I thank her for her persistence on the issue. It is a battle worth fighting, and I hope that she will continue to fight for it. Does she agree that the issue we are discussing is completely and utterly unacceptable—one of the last bastions of unacceptable discrimination—and that this House should have nothing to do with it any longer?

I thank my hon. Friend for his endorsement. I agree, as does almost everyone I have met, and I will go through some of that agreement in my remarks.

As someone who has had the privilege to be both a Foreign Office Minister and the chair of the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union, I found it hard to meet parliamentarians from other parts of the world and say that our unwritten constitution had created a great outcome for women in this Parliament, because we still have this anomaly of inbuilt sexism. For over 70 years, our country was graced by a female sovereign, who was the perfect embodiment of the benefits of female succession. That is probably one of the reasons why this place changed the succession to the Crown in 2013.

The Succession to the Crown Act 2013 meant that the firstborn child of Prince George will be in line to succeed him. The Act ended male primogeniture for the Crown, but we left undone any wider reform to make male primogeniture in the United Kingdom a part of history. As a result, in this very Parliament, a quarter of the way through the 21st century, we still have a situation where an eighth of the seats in the other place are reserved for men only. I will repeat that because I find it so shocking: an eighth of the seats in the upper House of this Parliament are permanently reserved for men only, through the system of reserving 92 seats for hereditary peerages.

Whatever our views of the other place or of hereditary peerages more generally—personally, I value the contribution that they make and the perspective they bring, but I understand that there are other points of view—I hope we can all agree that, in 2024, embedded sex discrimination is simply not acceptable. Women are being treated unfairly for no reason other than that they are women. That has terrible real-world consequences. In fact, 13% of the land in the UK is owned by women and 87% is owned by men. Boys are twice as likely as girls to inherit the family business. If we cannot change inequality at the top of our society, we will never be able to change inequality for the whole of our society. Put simply, daughters should be treated the same as sons across society. If it is good enough for succession to the Crown, it should be good enough for everyone else. Hereditary peerages in the other place should go automatically to the eldest child, which at the moment very rarely happens.

I have listened to many points of view on this topic since I first introduced the Bill, and I have reflected on those comments and changed it; it is not the same Bill that I presented last time. I hoped that by making these changes, I might persuade the Government to support it. Clause 1(1) provides that succession to hereditary peerages only does not depend on sex. I have deliberately narrowed the scope of the Bill to focus on peerages because of the constitutional implications, as they are eligible to be elected to our upper House. On the register to stand as hereditary peers, there are 210 people who wish to put themselves forward should there be a by-election, and I understand that of those 210 people, only one is female. That demonstrates that it is already possible to be a female hereditary peer, but under the current system it does not happen as routinely as it does for men.

Unlike my earlier Bill, the scope does not include baronetcies and other titles, in order to address the objection that the Bill has too wide a scope and would intrude into the private lives of those 1,500 to 1,800 families who would never be in our legislature. I have done that with some reluctance, but in order to get the Government to support my Bill.

Clause 1(2) would phase the provision in gradually and—again, listening to comments from people—when there is already an identified male heir in the line of succession, the change would take place at the next point of succession. That would gradually phase in the change, which is another concession I am making to get the Government’s support.

Clause 2 makes it clear, again in response to objections, that the Bill is entirely about the titles and that any decision about wills, property or inheritance is completely distinct from the issue of the title. Clause 4, again addressing an objection, would exempt the peerages and titles that are still held by the Crown. I have, therefore, gone a long way in this new version of the Bill to address the concerns I have heard. As a Conservative, I stand for equality of opportunity. We should want every person born in this country to enjoy the same chance to make a difference, to thrive and to prosper. I personally will not give up until this posh glass ceiling is broken.

Another concern that I heard raised was, “What about their lordships? What might they do if, Lord forbid, this Bill should reach the other place?” I want to put on record my gratitude to the Earl of Devon, no less, who has agreed to take the Bill through the other place. Fortunately, we have some recent comments from Hansard that reflect the mood in the other place, because on 9 February, Lord Northbrook secured a Second Reading of his Succession to Peerages and Baronetcies Bill, which takes a different approach; it would allow female succession only if no man was available—no comment needed.

Lord Northbrook said,

“As I said in 2015, I understand that Section 14 of the Human Rights Act 1998 now makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex where both sexes may perform the function required. This would apply to peerages. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, mentioned to me at the time that if a legitimate female issue, where the peerage would otherwise become extinct, referred a case to the European Court of Human Rights, they could well have a chance of success. I would perfectly well understand if some heirs might wish to take this route.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 February 2024; Vol. 835, c. 1915.]

Male primogeniture could therefore be illegal anyway in some cases, if tested by the courts.

On Second Reading in the other place, the following supportive points were made about my Bill. The Earl of Sandwich said,

“The campaign for female succession must be encouraged, and has had approval, if not support, from within government at a high level. Harriett Baldwin’s Private Member’s Bill in another place attracted a lot of attention, while, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned, Penny Mordaunt”—

the Leader of the House—

“referred to this as a ‘posh glass ceiling’. Even our own noble Lord, Lord True, seemed to be sympathetic, though could not actually support the Bill. Let us see if His Majesty’s Government can look more favourably on it this time.”

Viscount Astor said that Lord Northbrook’s Bill

“does not go far enough… it should be a Bill that brings the peerage into line with the Crown.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 February 2024; Vol. 835, c. 1919.]

Lord Lucas said,

“I share the vision that…women are equal with men in every respect…and I would very much like to see that applied to peerage inheritance.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 February 2024; Vol. 835, c. 1920.]

Lord Addington said,

“However, if we are going to do this, we should follow the example of the Royal Family. The oldest child is the only way you can really make this equal going forward. It”—

Lord Northbrook’s Bill—

“could be interpreted as an attempt at a small step forward, but it is out of date and out of time.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 February 2024; Vol. 835, c. 1921.]

Baroness Noakes was supportive of the way forward being inheritance by the eldest child, and of course Baroness Chapman for the Opposition was supportive, too. In fact, I have personally contacted every single one of the 92 hereditary peers and not had a single person object. If there are objections, they are well hidden in the other place.

In fact, I have had the following supportive replies. Lord Hampton told me that he supports the principle behind my Bill. Earl Howe said,

“I am very much in favour of the principle behind your Bill.”

Lord Willoughby de Broke said,

“I will certainly support it, if only because two of our best monarchs have been Queens and it’s absurd that girls are excluded by male primogeniture.”

What are the Government’s objections and why are they not supportive of the Bill, because I fear that I will be talked out? Many members of the Government are supportive, and I am sorry that the collective decision of the Government is not a supportive one. This is a missed opportunity for the Government to champion wider support for women with another step forward.

I commend my hon. Friend for all her extensive consultation on this issue. It seems from what she says that no logical reason has been given to be against the measures in the Bill other than self-interest and pure old sexism. Those seem to be the only two possible ways someone could oppose the Bill. Given that, I encourage her to keep going with this Bill and to find further dates down the line. In the meantime, we can hopefully encourage the Government and Opposition to find their way to supporting the Bill, and it can then be nodded through at a later date.

Such wonderfully encouraging words from my hon. Friend! I believe that by making the changes I have to the substance of the Bill, I have addressed any substantive concerns that the Government might have. I have heard the objection that it is just too complicated, too time-consuming—basically, a faff for which there is not enough parliamentary time. I have been told that it is not a doorstep issue or retail issue, and it is true that few people would ever raise it with me on the doorstep. I am sure that colleagues would say the same. However, it is important because when we mention what it is about, people immediately understand how pernicious it is if sexism is embedded in our legislature in this way.

May I take this opportunity to put it on the record that the hon. Member is doing an amazing job on an important subject? It is quite depressing, as a relative newcomer to this House, that in 2024 we are still having to make these arguments.

Perhaps 2024 will be the year when these things are finally heard. I have heard concerns that the Bill could be used to abolish hereditary peerages altogether, with an amendment in the other place, but the primary advocate of that—Lord Grocott—has assured me that he will not use this Bill for that purpose.

I will conclude my remarks by saying that my only interest in the issue is as a female parliamentarian—the 341st woman ever elected to this place in our nation’s history.

My hon. Friend refers to the number of female MPs ever elected. I was elected in 2019 and I am No. 523—her experience shows in the number she attributes to her name. There are 650 MPs in this place, yet we still have not got to 650 women ever sitting on these green Benches. Does she agree that that is the context in which her speech should be seen?

I am encouraged to hear a Government Parliamentary Private Secretary, no less, making supportive remarks in this debate, and I agree with my hon. Friend. I want to say for the record that I am not posh. This Bill does not affect me at all. I care passionately about equality, equality of opportunity, girls getting a great education, women succeeding in the workplace and in their lives, and achieving a 50:50 Parliament in my lifetime.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this Bill. Lord Trefgarne, one of the most distinguished peers living in my constituency of Woking, is a long-standing opponent of my hon. Friend’s proposal, but he is a very agreeable and thoughtful man and I am sure he would be delighted to meet her to discuss it.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for finding someone who objects to the principle of the Bill. I have not yet had a reply to my inquiry of Lord Trefgarne, so I will certainly follow that up in due course.

I want to end my remarks with an inspiring quotation that I heard this week, which sums up why am persisting with this issue. I was very inspired to hear these words by Nora Ephron, the great US screenwriter:

“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”

So I say to my Government: “Come on. I will continue to make a little trouble on this subject until you let this Bill pass.” Alternatively, we could agree today to make this small and symbolic change for our country’s sake and for the sake of equality between future generations of men and women.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) on her dogged determination. Sometimes, we just have to keep going with these things, and she is entirely right that this is a private Member’s Bill whose time has come. Trying to justify to anybody that we reserve a portion of seats exclusively to one sex or the other in either part of our legislature is a sticky wicket; certainly, I could not make a good fist of it. Women have had to fight for the same treatment as men—not better treatment or different treatment—at every stage of the way. I am extremely proud that one of my forebears was chained to the front of this building with Mrs Pankhurst.

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s supportive tone. I note for Hansard that he is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the House of Lords.

That is not the first time I have been outed. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: I spend quite a bit of time at the other end of the building with their lordships. In fact, the current Chief Whip in the House of Lord was my sponsor for my parliamentary assessment board. I must say that I am not the child of a peer or in line to inherit a peerage. The running joke is that I have been treating the PPS job as an apprenticeship for the past three years. However, I see the immense value of what happens in the other place, and the quality of some of the people there. It is baffling to me that we have a system designed to filter people entirely based on whether they have a Y chromosome.

We have already reached the determination that our royal family does not need to follow that precedent, and we reached it in conjunction with all the other Commonwealth realms. I also have Canadian heritage, so the King is my monarch twice over. I am very happy to know that, at some point, there will be a Crown Princess or a Princess of Wales who will be the substantive holder of that title.

I am very thankful to my hon. Friend for taking on some of the feedback she received about the previous iteration of the Bill on grandfathering in some of these titles.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire said that people have said that this is not a retail issue—it does not come up on the doorstep. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton agree that it does not matter whether it comes up on the doorstep or not? As she said, women here are being discriminated against simply because they are women, and that should not stand whether it comes up on the doorstep or not.

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. However, the idea that saying, “Actually, we shouldn’t bother about women being treated differently in any walk of life,” would not get a reaction on the doorstep is bonkers, especially when it comes to female voters, who we certainly rely on—let’s not kid ourselves—in the Conservative party. I would not be able to justify saying that. I was shocked to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire was told that the Bill was too much of a faff to carry out.

On that subject, the best way to find out if there are any objections would be to give the Bill a Second Reading today, send it to the other end and find out what is in that can of worms. Then we can move forward on that basis.

Order. I am truly sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady in the middle of such an interesting and important debate, but I am required to do so.

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 21 June.

Business without Debate

Prison Media Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 1 March.

Highways Act 1980 (Amendment) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Covid-19 Vaccine Damage Payments Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Statutory Instruments Act 1946 (Amendment) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would it be possible to take all 17 Bills that the Government are objecting to together so that we do not have to go through them seriatim? There are some very worthy Bills among them, but if the Government want to object to all of them, why not just say so now?

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I do not know the Government’s opinion or decision on these Bills and the Government cannot state their position until I have put the question. I will do so properly and in normal order.

Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (Amendment) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I detect a little irritation in the hon. Gentleman’s tone because this is a somewhat repetitive procedure, but I remind the House and the hon. Gentleman that the Bills are all his. We are going through this procedure because he has submitted 17 Bills, which he has every right to do. When he submits his 17 Bills, I will deal with each of them in turn properly, according to the rules.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I make it clear that my frustration is not with you, Madam Deputy Speaker? My irritation is with the Government.

I am glad for that clarity. I suspected it might be the case. It is not for me to say whether anybody has any irritation with the hon. Gentleman and his 17 Bills, because I will treat them fairly and reasonably, as I do all Bills.

Exemption from Value Added Tax (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Covid-19 Vaccine Diagnosis and Treatment Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Domestic Energy (Value Added Tax) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Wednesday 6 March.

Caravan Site Licensing (Exemption of Motor Homes) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

NHS England (Alternative Treatment) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

British Broadcasting Corporation (Privatisation) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Children’s Clothing (Value Added Tax) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Regulatory Impact Assessments Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Barnett Formula (Replacement) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Rule of Law (Enforcement by Public Authorities) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Illegal Immigration (Offences) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

National Health Service Co-Funding And Co-Payment Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Caravan Sites Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Local Government (Pay Accountability) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 1 March.

Multi-storey Car Parks (Safety) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March.

Military Action (Parliamentary Approval) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 21 June.

Child Criminal Exploitation Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.


Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 1 March.

Building Societies Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill

Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee

NHS Property Services

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Joy Morrissey.)

My aim during this Adjournment debate is to get a plain answer to one simple question: to whom does NHS Property Services answer? That is a crucial question, because the organisation is in possession of an estate of more than 2,700 properties with a value of more than £3 billion. The company is responsible for roughly 10% of all NHS facilities, yet there is a need for clarity on how it is overseen. I aim to unpack some of the key questions that need answering and outline some ways in which we can improve the situation we find ourselves in, specifically in relation to Seaton Community Hospital in my constituency.

What exactly is NHS Property Services? I had to answer this question myself several months ago, when I learned of plans by NHS Devon to hand back part of Seaton Community Hospital to NHS Property Services, from which NHS Devon had been renting the building. I had little idea why NHS Property Services was the nominal owner of a full wing at Seaton Hospital. That is in spite of the fact that the wing was funded entirely through donations raised by the local community before the hospital was built and opened in 1988.

NHS Property Services is a Government-owned company with one single shareholder, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. To me, that implies that Ministers are ultimately responsible for the oversight of that company, even though I accept that the day-to-day running of the organisation is delegated. Yet ask a Minister about this, as I have, and Members might hear a rather different story. Each Minister who I have asked questions of has simply said that they cannot get involved in the decision-making processes in NHS Property Services in any meaningful way. I can understand Ministers not wanting to tinker in operational decisions, but there are some principles at stake in relation to Seaton Hospital that means it is not just an operational matter. Surely a company should be accountable to its shareholders—how otherwise can the company and its board be held accountable for their actions?

That is the paradox: we have a company worth billions that is solely owned by the Government, yet Ministers protest that they can have almost nothing to do with it. Far from being entirely detached from Government, the framework within which NHS Property Services operates is set by the Department of Health and Social Care. When I talk to regional representatives from NHS Property Services, as I have several times, they make it plain to me—in what they say and what they do not—that they are bound by policies emanating from Whitehall. That affects everything from how the organisation was established to its current operating framework, including how much NHS Property Services charges as rent for spaces that it lets to local NHS organisations such as integrated care boards.

That is a key barrier in the fight to save Seaton Hospital as one single entity. The current £140 per square metre market rent puts the embattled wing far out of the price range of any local, community-based organisation that wants to take over the space and use it for the improvement of health and wellbeing in the Axe valley. That is a crazy price: it is well over double what one would have to pay for office space here in Westminster—and, trust me, real estate prices in Seaton should not be comparable with those in Westminster.

My concern is that, on the one hand, the rent is extortionate because it is based on a clinical rate, and yet, on the other hand, the property directors—the people charged with running NHS Property Services—have a background in infrastructure and estates and want to get the maximum income they can from the estate they are running, so they pay little heed to the health context.

I will talk a little about the health context to bring this Seaton Hospital case study to life. The chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty, in his annual report last October called “Health in an Ageing Society”, wrote specifically about the tendency of older people to retire and move to rural areas, and specifically to coastal areas such as Seaton. He said:

“We’ve really got to get serious about the areas of the country where ageing is happening very fast, and we've got to do it now. It’s possible to compress the period of time that people spend in ill health...because otherwise we will end up with large numbers of people leading much more dependent lives.”

The report recommends:

“Providing services and environments suitable for older adults in these areas”

as an “absolute priority”. Sir Chris Whitty says that, specifically, we need policies to reduce disease, to reduce disability and to help people to exercise, eat well and stay fit.

That was the chief medical officer, and I will also refer to a report written just a couple of weeks ago by Beccy Baird from The King’s Fund. It calls for a radical refocusing of health and care, with primary care and community services at its core. The report says that

“progress has been hampered by an incorrect belief that moving care into the community will result in short-term cash savings. Other factors include a lack of data about primary and community services leading to a ‘cycle of invisibility’”,


“urgent challenges such as A&E waiting times and planned care backlogs becoming the priority for politicians tempted by quick fixes instead of fundamental improvement.”

Sir Chris Whitty and Beccy Baird are up against some in the public sector who are tempted to treat all estate management matters as the same. The head of the National Audit Office, Gareth Davies, talked in Parliament in January about asset management being one of the

“main areas of financial opportunity”

for the Government. I would caution the National Audit Office and NHS Property Services to read the Whitty and Baird reports, rather than simply seeking to divest all property in the NHS for as much as Property Services can get.

Seaton Hospital was transferred to NHS Property Services in 2017. The purpose of Property Services at that time was to centralise the holdings of various strategic health authorities and primary care trusts under one umbrella organisation. The aim was to remove the burden from local NHS organisations, and offer greater financial security by holding all those properties centrally. It was intended to provide better management of these important spaces, so as to ensure value for money and quality facilities, using economies of scale and of scope.

Fast forward to 2024, and it is clear that the model is broken. Rather than ensuring that our local health services get the space they need, we seem to be making perverse, false economies. The Government give money to integrated care boards only to have Government-owned NHS Property Services recoup a large portion of that money in rental fees for the buildings that ICBs use, at a rent set and advised by market rent auditors. This offers very little flexibility or security for our local NHS services, which, as in the case of Seaton Community Hospital, are left in a scenario in which the ICB is forced to cut services while still being lumbered with a bill for the space those services used to occupy. We lost the clinical beds we had at Seaton Hospital in 2017, and the space has since remained vacant. The only way to remove this item from the budget line is to turn over the space to NHS Property Services, which becomes liable for the amount charged in rent.

As hon. Members can see, this system is not only complex but incredibly backwards. The Government are effectively renting these buildings from themselves, despite the fact that many were previously directly owned by local health bodies. They are not even rented out at a fair price, despite the stated commitment to achieving fair market rates. These facilities are rented out as clinical spaces, even when they are not used for clinical purposes. This is based on an evaluation that must have been completely off the scale when it was made in 2016. Seaton Hospital was evaluated by the assessor Montagu Evans, and I do not know who it could possibly have talked to if it thinks that Seaton Hospital is worth £300,000 rent a year.

Why, we might ask, is the rent not adjusted to reflect the building’s current status? So far as I can gather, it is because the Government’s rental framework does not allow it. It places a huge roadblock in the way of community groups and hospital friends organisations that seek to convert such spaces into new settings aimed at providing non-clinical services of the sort to which Sir Chris Whitty and Beccy Baird were referring. Instead, the system seems analogous to a self-licking lollipop, or a dog blindly chasing its evasive tail without ever stopping to think why it cannot catch it.

During my many conversations with NHS Property Services in recent months, individual employees have sought to be helpful. However, they find themselves handcuffed by Government policy. They are unable to deviate from the Government’s framework, which, through the consolidated charging policy, first introduced in 2016, sets the rate that ICBs and, now, community organisations need to pay. The rate was introduced when the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer, was Health Secretary.

In effect, the Government own all NHS facilities and have the power to direct the arrangements under which they are rented out, including the wing of Seaton Community Hospital that was funded, in whole, by local villagers, townspeople and the Seaton and District Hospital League of Friends charity. What on paper might seem like a prudent way to manage NHS facilities, and to make sure that they are properly maintained, means in reality that, in places like Seaton, the community no longer has a stake or a say in how its local hospital is used.

That begs the question: who is in charge? The answer should be the Secretary of State and Ministers reporting to her, but given her Department’s attempts to point the finger at this operational body and to divest itself of responsibility, it seems that nobody is in charge. People are pointing in several directions, and I cannot identify exactly who is setting the market rate. Simply put, the Government have let go of the wheel, and are content to let the car spin out of control so that they do not have to take responsibility. That is not good enough.

Our NHS is the envy of the world and one of our country’s greatest achievements. When the great Liberal thinker William Beveridge conceived of a service that was free at the point of use all those years ago, it was revolutionary and re-shaped the way in which modern democracies have approach public health. We cannot allow it to be eroded because of the unwillingness of the Government to face up to the challenge. The mark of leadership is honesty and accountability. I would like to see that from Ministers. Rather than the Government saying, “This is an operational matter for NHS Property Services, not me,” I would much rather someone from this Conservative Government admitted that they know what the so-called market rent is, why it is charged at that rate, and why the community must pay if it wants to use that space. Better still, that community should be given a concessionary rate, in recognition that clinical activity is not going on in that wing of the building at this stage. The community ought to be able to hire the space for a much more affordable rent.

I have three questions for the Minister. First, is the Department for Health and Social Care responsible for setting the amount that NHS Property Services charges local NHS services such as ICBs to rent the space? Secondly, could the consolidated charging policy, which I understand sets out those prices, be changed by the Secretary of State or Ministers? Thirdly, if the answer to those questions is yes, why have I been told repeatedly that Ministers cannot, so they say, get involved in operational matters relating to NHS Property Services?

Many ICBs are struggling to balance the books—NHS Devon is no different in that respect—and are seeking to downsize the space that they rent to make ends meet. This situation is not specific to Seaton, although I think it is a good case study because of the way in which local people bought a brick and built the hospital themselves with many small donations. The situation facing our local community hospital strikes me as an illustration of why change is needed. I have been campaigning with the Seaton and District Hospital League of Friends charity, which supports Seaton Hospital, to change the charging policy, so that NHS Property Services can have flexibility on rental fees. I want the company to enable underused space in NHS facilities to be rented out to local community groups that want to invest in preventive health and community wellbeing, and that want to fulfil some of the vision that Sir Chris wrote about in his annual report last October.

Ultimately, I would like an affordable concessionary rate to be offered to Seaton and District Hospital League of Friends and the working group that works with them. That would be of benefit to rural and coastal communities such as Seaton. We need to know how to ensure accountability for the current arrangements, and I hope that there can be concessions for local communities, such as the one that I represent in the Axe valley. I look forward to the Minister’s responses to my questions, and I hope that he is willing to engage with me to enact meaningful change that will benefit communities and constituents, such as those in my Tiverton and Honiton constituency.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) on securing the debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to set out the role of NHS Property Services. This subject is understandably of great interest to right hon. and hon. Members across the House.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the future of Seaton community hospital. I will come to that in the latter part of my speech, but let me say for the record that I completely understand his desire to protect a much-loved community health facility. As the Member of Parliament for Pendle, I successfully fought to keep open Pendle Community Hospital in Nelson, and in the neighbouring constituency of Ribble Valley, the new £7.8 million Clitheroe Community Hospital opened in May 2014, so I recognise the importance of community hospitals, not just in offering in-patient care, but in acting as a hub for other healthcare services. It will be most useful for me to first set out to the House why and how NHS Property Services came into being.

Under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, the coalition Government abolished primary care trusts and transferred their commissioning responsibilities to clinical commissioning groups. Their property interests transferred to either NHS trusts or NHS Property Services, which was established in 2013 for this purpose. That decision was made because it allowed commissioners to focus on providing care for patients, rather than managing property. NHS Property Services took ownership of nearly 3,500 local facilities, such as community hospitals, health centres, GP surgeries and care homes. In the past 10 years, NHS Property Services has reduced the size of that estate by a fifth, saving over half a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money, every penny of which has been reinvested into the NHS.

I understand the Minister’s point about reinvesting the proceeds from selling what might have been regarded as excess NHS property, but my concern relates to where that money goes. My understanding is that, following a sale, half the money might go back to the integrated care board, which would be Devon in this case. The problem with that situation is that it does not take account of the fact that local communities donated the money to build the infrastructure in the first place. That is certainly the case in the Axe valley with Seaton Community Hospital.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I hope to provide reassurance in the latter part of my speech that the sale of Seaton Community Hospital is certainly not on the cards and is exceptionally unlikely. However, I appreciate that when property is sold, there is always tension between how much of that money will be reinvested in local communities—many of which have a stake in having created the facilities in the first place—and how much goes into the general NHS pot. The important point for me to land today is that all the money remains within the health services and none returns to the Treasury, so any sales of property from this portfolio are not a way for the Government to generate income, but simply a way of ensuring that the property estate is managed in the most effective fashion.

NHS Property Services was established as a limited company and is led by a board of executive and non-executive directors who are appointed for their property and healthcare expertise, including a departmental shareholder representative. The board’s directors all have the usual responsibilities relating to the proper governance of a limited company, with certain shareholder matters reserved, such as share issue or senior appointments. The board must work within the wider frameworks across Government, such as the Treasury’s guidance on managing public money, which rightly sets out the strict rules for delivering value for taxpayers’ money. The company therefore works with the Department to agree fiscal targets to work within, and is rightly held accountable for its use of public money. However, it is important to emphasise that my Department is not responsible for operational decisions, which are taken by the board and its executive management team.

One reason for the creation of NHS Property Services was to ensure that decisions could be taken without political interference. Although I appreciate that the hon. Member and others across the House may be of the view that my noble Friend Lord Markham, who has ministerial responsibility for NHS Property Services, can intervene to reduce the rents for unoccupied space at Seaton Community Hospital or similar facilities across the country, it would simply not be appropriate for him or any other Minister to intervene in any individual case.

The coalition Government established NHS Property Services through the cost recovery principle, which is the broad framework that the organisation works under. This means that it is funded through charging its costs to the occupiers of its buildings and the recipients of its services. As such, every pound it spends and does not recover is a pound that cannot be spent on delivering frontline care.

The Devon properties were transferred to NHS Property Services on the basis that their ongoing running costs would be funded through rents at market rate and service charges. This approach was taken to give real incentives to local commissioners to take the tough decisions on which properties were most suitable for delivering their clinical strategy, looking at areas as a whole and moving away from a situation whereby subsided property costs could lead to a less effective approach. I accept that that can sometimes lead to tensions about how reasonable charges are set, but the aim is that NHS bodies, and other voluntary and charitable organisations that wish to occupy NHS premises, must factor in the full cost of occupying and maintaining specialist facilities in their decision making.

I will now turn to the future of community hospitals in Devon, including Seaton Community Hospital. As the hon. Gentleman set out in his Adjournment debate in November, Seaton Hospital was part of a group of community hospitals that transferred to NHS Property Services in 2017, when large parts of Seaton Hospital and others in Devon were already vacant. The clinical commissioning group carried out a consultation on the model of community care and a new model of care was introduced, making it more integrated and more community based, with more people receiving care at home. That resulted in a significant reduction in the number of community hospital beds required across Devon. Since then, progress has been made to identify sustainable alternative healthcare uses for vacant spaces in community hospitals in Devon, such as Ottery St Mary and Axminster. In addition, NHS Property Services and Devon ICB have worked with the voluntary sector to support local initiatives in some properties, such as, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the Waffle café at Seaton Hospital.

I understand that Seaton Hospital and some other hospitals still have significant amounts of vacant space. Despite their best efforts, NHS Property Services’ commissioners have been unable to identify relevant services that could fill this gap. NHS Property Services has continued to manage the property, with the costs of the vacant space being charged to the ICB to ensure the costs attributed to the property are fully recovered, but recently the financial challenges facing Devon ICB have called the sustainability of that position into question and it has explored options for alleviating those costs. However, as I explained, simply seeking to pass those costs back to NHS Property Services would not result in the Department having any more money to spend on local healthcare services in Devon.

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the responsibility for decisions about where to locate clinical services in Devon is a matter for the ICB. It is not a matter for Ministers. However, NHS Property Services is working closely with local leaders to identify options that would help to mitigate the cost pressures arising due to Seaton Community Hospital not operating at full capacity. If, and only if, the ICB determines the property is wholly surplus to its requirements, NHS Property Services would have the responsibility for selling the asset, following Treasury guidelines, but it is important to stress that the site remains an operational site and NHS Property Services therefore has no plans to sell it.

As has been mentioned in the local media, the idea of partial demolition of the hospital has been floated. Again, there are no plans for that course of action, which would very much be a last resort in any event. I believe the site has now been listed as an asset of community value, which means that such a drastic step is exceedingly unlikely to be supported by the local planning authority or other local stakeholders.

It is true that the property has been registered as an asset of community value. To my mind that gives it a stay of execution, rather than that it is inevitable that it will be preserved intact. NHS Property Services talked through the very many options—I think 28 options—on the table for the vacant space at Seaton Hospital. One of that long list of options is indeed selling off the redundant ward, which could be demolished and used for houses. Did the Minister not know that?

I know the idea of demolition has been floated in a meeting, but I have been assured that there are certainly no plans for demolition. As the hon. Gentleman will know, an asset of community value nomination was accepted by the local authority, and as an ACV nomination remains live for five years, it will expire in January 2029, although I am pretty sure that local community groups and others would campaign for that to be extended. It is certainly much more than a stay of execution. I hope that has provided suitable reassurance to the local community that the threat of demolition is exceedingly remote, because the local planning authority and other local stakeholders simply would not agree to the demolition of this much-valued community asset.

I fully recognise that the local community has invested in the building of the hospital in the first place, and therefore is a key stakeholder in its future. The ICB and NHS Property Services continue in ongoing dialogue with a range of community groups about potential future uses, and the community has been invited by the ICB to develop a business case for the future use of the property by the end of June 2024. Any future decisions on the future of Seaton Hospital will be taken following evaluation of that business case. I sincerely hope that a financially sustainable solution can be found locally and in the best interests of the people of Devon.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.