Watch Sharon Hodgson's contribution here:
Sharon Hodgson MP King's speech debate 9 November, 2023 >
Sharon Hodgson MP spoke in the Chamber on the 9th of November, following the Kings’ Speech on the 7th to discuss three key policy areas this King’s Speech failed to address; namely action relating to the Electric Vehicle Industry, her ongoing campaign against Ticket Abuse, and the funding crisis facing the School Food sector.
9 November, 2023
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
Unfortunately, as we have heard from other hon. Members, both today and yesterday, the King’s Speech failed to address some key policy areas, and I am going to highlight just three missed opportunities.
In 2024, automotive companies such as Nissan in my constituency will experience new financial and regulatory pressures, including the zero-emission vehicles mandate, which requires 22% of new cars sold in 2024 to be zero emission, and that will increase to 80% by 2030. Nissan, of course, is confident that it will meet all these new measures, but instead of helping manufacturers cope with the increased pressures, the Government have pulled the rug from under them by changing strategy and delaying their electric vehicles net zero 2030 commitment. That has inflicted uncertainty on investors, which will only delay the critical infrastructure that must be built for electric vehicle use. It also gives consumers less incentive to buy electric vehicles, which will simply leave manufacturers footing the bill as a result of decreased demand. That is the opposite of what should be happening: the Government are in the way of progress, not supporting it. We need them to move out of the way, get out of the seat of power and make way for a Government who have a plan, and indeed a mission, to reach net zero in a timely manner.
In the meantime, however, the Government must find a route forward that ensures that manufacturers are not left to deal with the consequences of Government indecision. The 2030 target is right for the public, right for manufacturers and right for the planet. We must ensure that the right signals are sent to investors and customers by delaying no longer and supporting the financing of key infrastructure such as much-needed battery gigafactories —I have one in my constituency, but we need at least another eight or nine to reach the 2030 target—and charging points at home and in public spaces.
As well as our manufacturing sector, the UK is known around the world for punching above our weight in music, theatre and sport. We as a country should be proud of our cultural industries, and that brings me to my second point. We are plagued by online touts who, often with the help of bots and other malicious software, buy tickets on an industrial scale and then resell them at hugely inflated prices. That is occurring everywhere, from local football games to our theatres, music venues and arenas and, sadly, even our much-loved Royal Albert Hall, where Ed Sheeran tickets originally costing £200 were resold for up to £6,000—30 times their original value. That comes despite Ed Sheeran and other artists, such as Taylor Swift before her forthcoming world tour, explicitly condemning inflated ticket resales and putting measures in place to prevent them. Ed Sheeran even wrote to all the seat holders at the Royal Albert Hall pleading with them not to resell their tickets at inflated prices. However, some still did.
Sites such as Viagogo, which resell huge numbers of tickets at vastly inflated prices, buy themselves to the top of every Google search by using paid-for ads. Regulatory bodies such as the Competition and Markets Authority—our enforcement body—lack the powers to tackle these secondary sites appropriately even when criminality is known to be present, and it is almost impossible to enforce against them. When the CMA asked the Government for much-needed extra powers in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill to tackle this ticket abuse, the Government said no. One can therefore only assume that they are on the side of the touts—they are certainly not on the side of the fans.
I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse, and our demand is simple: ticket resales should be capped at face value plus a small amount up to a maximum of 10% to account for booking fees— I do not want this to affect anyone who genuinely buys a ticket and then cannot go to the event. These reforms have already seen great success in Ireland, where a version of my 2011 private Member’s Bill—the Sale of Tickets (Sporting and Cultural Events) Bill—became law a few years back, although my Bill was, sadly, talked out in this Chamber. It is time that we sent a clear message to touts that the UK cares about live events and genuine fans, not touts. When the Labour party is in government, I hope we will back that sentiment with legislation, as Ireland has.
Finally, since the pandemic, we have seen a public outcry of support for policies expanding school food programmes but almost nothing from our Government, including in this King’s Speech. As the cost of living crisis rages, more and more families are struggling with rising food costs. However, the cost of living crisis is affecting not only families; it is also crippling the catering services that deliver school meals to our children. The current funding allocation of just £2.53 per meal still massively fails to keep up with inflation and has increased only by 5% since 2014—that is 5% in almost a decade. In the same period, the national minimum wage has increased by over 60%, and rightly so.
Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but perhaps the reason why there is not a note in the King’s Speech about school food is that we introduced the Procurement Act 2023, which is very much designed to shorten those supply chains to make it easier for that food to get into our schools and public organisations. As I understand it, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has promised to look at models such as in Denmark, where there are these targets, to ensure that we can improve the quality and value of the food we are giving to children.
Absolutely, and that might help, but that does not take away from the fact that £2.53, which is what schools get to procure food from wherever they do so, is not enough. Every day, providers tell me they are having to start to cut back on the quality of ingredients and, at the same time, raise the prices for the children who pay for their school food; otherwise, literally the whole service will collapse. In my opinion, that is just unacceptable. Providers tell me that funding for free school meals and universal infant free school meals needs to be increased to well over £3 per meal just so that they can break even and provide the high-quality, nutritious meals that we all want to see our children eating in our schools.
Shockingly, 200,000 children in England are technically eligible for free school meals but are missing out on this important service because we do not have auto-enrolment. Implementing auto-enrolment would resolve that injustice quickly and easily. It would prevent more eligible children from slipping through the safety net that is there for them and be a great support for struggling families, meaning that they do not have to provide a packed lunch every day for their children when they are actually eligible for free school meals.
In an even more shocking statistic, there are 800,000 children whose families receive universal credit and are identified as living below the poverty line, yet they are ineligible for free school meals due to the ridiculously low earnings eligibility threshold of £7,400 before benefits. That threshold needs at least to be almost doubled to £14,000, which it currently is in Northern Ireland. With those 800,000 and 200,000 children I just spoke of, there are a million children in need being failed every day, with many going hungry. Our school food system is in crisis, and it cannot go on like this, but the King’s Speech did nothing to address any of that. In my opinion, that is shameful.