Skip to main content

Westminster Hall

Volume 494: debated on Tuesday 16 June 2009

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 16 June 2009

[David Taylor in the Chair]

Heathrow Airport Expansion

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mark Tami.)

It is a pleasure to open this debate. First, I would like to issue some thanks. I thank the campaign against the third runway for maintaining unity in the face of a Government who seem hell bent on bulldozing the proposal through. I thank the Labour party members and MPs who, for the sake of their constituents and their beliefs, have united behind the campaign against the third runway. I thank the Liberal Democrats for being behind the discontinuation of the project to develop the third runway wholeheartedly. If you will indulge me for a moment, Mr. Taylor, I also thank our party leader and party for taking the bold decision to make it a policy not to continue with the third runway should we come into office.

I thank HACAN and the 2M group. I also thank the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which was one of the founding members of the 2M group, for understanding that although there are sometimes small differences between constituencies and borough councils, overall we are united in trying to prevent the third runway. I thank the bold business men who put it on the record that they were not in favour of the third runway in the south-east to hold at bay the impression the Government intended to give that business was unanimously in favour of it.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the business community is not totally supportive. I remind him that not every MP near the airport is on the same side.

I recognise that. I respect the views of other MPs and hope that they are working in the interests of their constituents wholeheartedly. It is a matter of record that my hon. Friend is in favour of the third runway.

As always, the hon. Gentleman has started his speech graciously. He said that the Conservative party is against the runway and I welcome that. What is Conservative party policy on an alternative to the third runway? Will he fight with me and others against the estuary airport, which a number of Tory MPs from Essex, the Mayor of London and others are promoting actively? I understand that the Mayor of London has spent more than £100,000 on consultants to consider the estuary airport.

We are in favour of considering all the alternatives with an open mind, especially given that the facts have changed since the White Paper of 2003.

From the point of view of the Conservative party, there is no well-established case for an additional runway at Heathrow or elsewhere in the London area. A great part of the economic case has disappeared because of high-speed rail. Other steps could be taken to ensure that the amount of traffic that flows through airports in the London area does not grow as originally anticipated.

I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point clear. That illustrates why I wanted to indulge in thanking our party leader and party for taking their current position. As I will explain, the Government have failed to secure virtually every leg of their case, whether on economics or the environment.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned in passing the letter from business leaders to The Times. I do not think that he should underplay the significance of that. It is new information that has emerged since the House last debated this issue. The bosses of Carphone Warehouse, BSkyB, Sainsbury’s and many other businesses concluded that the business case for the third runway did not stack up.

I was hoping not to underplay that and will discuss it further. The letter included many well-known business men and businesses, such as BSkyB and KKR. I said that they were courageous because it is bold to put one’s head above the parapet when faced with an onslaught of all the energies and powers of the civil service and Government working in favour of the opposite argument. Those businesses have my congratulations and thanks for doing so.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the six trade unions that signed up to an advert opposing the third runway were also courageous? Those were Unison, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the Public and Commercial Services Union and Connect. Bearing in mind the current economic conditions, those unions recognised the importance of stopping this project.

Absolutely. Such unity is the beauty of the campaign for reason over the third runway. There is unity across parties among those who are not members of the Government, and I suspect among some who are. There is unity among businesses and trade unions. There is a coalition of people who have the country’s interests at heart, including economic and environmental interests and the interests of workers. Those of us who are against the third runway are often painted as being against economic development. That is a lazy argument for the Government to deploy. The third runway will not necessarily work in favour of the economic interests of this nation. It is neither in our environmental interests, nor in the interests of our quality of life.

I am pleased to open this debate because I want to keep this issue live. I have made the case before on a logical and rational economic basis. I have made the argument about noise on behalf of my constituents in Horton, Wraysbury, Old Windsor and Datchet. I have set out a case based on changing circumstances and made the observation that some of the information in the 2003 White Paper is 10 years old. A lot has changed over those 10 years. Any reasonable Government—indeed, any reasonable person—would look at the new evidence and at least question the decisions they made in the previous circumstances.

I also want to give the new Minister an opportunity to reconsider. Once he hears the various comments and observations from hon. Members, I hope that he will give just a spark of light to show that the Government are not rock solid in their decisions. He has the opportunity to indicate that there is some chance that they might begin to see reason, especially as he is fairly new to the role.

I want this debate to be an opportunity for other hon. Members to speak. There is much strong feeling and logic behind the opposition to the third runway, so I will not hog the entire hour that I am allowed. I will keep my comments as close to 20 minutes as I can. If it is okay with you, Mr. Taylor, I invite hon. Members to intervene whenever they wish.

As I said, those of us who are opposed to the third runway are often caricatured as being against any form of economic development and in favour of closing Heathrow airport and undermining it. That is not the case. As an Old Windsor resident, I know that it is infuriating to have noisy aircraft going overhead at 4.30 in the morning. Many hon. Members will appreciate that. The airport may be a noisy neighbour, but it is a neighbour nevertheless. Heathrow serves more than 180 destinations around the world and 70,000 jobs are dependent on it, directly or indirectly. There is no truth in the argument that those of us who oppose the third runway wish to see the airport closed.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that Heathrow’s position as a competitive international hub is already being damaged? The number of destinations that it can serve is decreasing, while competitor hubs such as Schiphol, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Madrid, which have built extra runways, are increasing the number of destinations that they serve. That is bad for the whole UK economy.

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable observation: the number of routes from Heathrow has declined, marginally, over the past 10 or 15 years. However, I have had meetings with BAA and British Airways, and for the past four or five years I have been asking them for a look at a model that mathematically or even logically demonstrates the minimum number of destinations that would constitute a viable hub. So far, that number has not been forthcoming. I understand the reasoning that a hub is needed for international transfer in order to keep routes open, but I cannot see any direct evidence that Heathrow has suffered from that marginal reduction in routes over the past several years. I am a reasonable person; I am the shadow Minister for Science and Innovation. If the evidence existed that the hub would fall apart if the number of destinations were to fall below 130, for example, I would certainly accept it, but it simply does not exist at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that BAA itself has briefed us for debates on the Floor of the House that even without a third runway, the number of passengers will expand to as many as 94 million. There will be dramatic growth even without a third runway.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way repeatedly during his eloquent speech. It is extraordinary that the aviation industry should argue, and even find supporters for the argument, that the loss of a few of the thinnest routes and their replacement by more planes on more popular routes should somehow constitute a threat to the British economy. Where is the evidence? If the industry cannot do better than the Oxford study, it should not be trying to put the case at all.

In addition, the pro lobby often makes the observation that the hub is Heathrow. A strong case could be made that the five airports in the south-east together form a hub.

On that point, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the period during which Heathrow has concentrated on a slightly narrower range of destinations has been matched by a period of rapid economic growth in the London area, the turnaround of the London population and the establishment of such a solid financial base that it seems to be coming out of the financial crisis rapidly?

That is an astute observation. If one is looking for correlation, the correlation appears to be between insufficient capacity at Heathrow and in the south-east and a boost in economic growth. We must be careful about how we use figures, and we must be particularly cautious about the Government’s use of them.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that in all the projections on which the Government have relied so far, there is a thundering silence about the effect of high-speed rail on passenger growth? Without that, there is clearly no serious study.

That is right. My right hon. Friend brings me to a key point that I will be making in a few moments. Without serious consideration of the alternatives of the past couple of years—not 10 years ago—the Government’s bulldozing through of the proposal can be taken more as an act of political positioning, which might be backfiring on them, rather than a genuine search for the best solution for our country.

There is no doubt that Heathrow is in the wrong place. Were we to start today, I am sure that we would not put a major airport with 480,000 flights a year right in the heart of a populated area. If we were starting now with a new project for an international airport that might arguably be a hub, we would look to position it where noise levels would not disturb people, in a location more easily accessible by high-speed rail or existing road infrastructure.

I note that France’s main airport was moved twice in a period of 20 years. I am not suggesting at all that we should move London Heathrow, because so many jobs depend on it, but it shows a lack of ambition that the Government cannot envisage or even entertain the concept that a new airport could be forthcoming elsewhere, in a better location linked by high-speed rail to existing airports and city centres.

I must celebrate on behalf of my constituents in Windsor. I am delighted that the Cranford agreement is no longer in existence. I will not dwell on that point, as I recognise that if BAA decides that it wishes to rebalance flights across the area, that simply means that other areas may well be adversely affected by larger numbers of flights. I suspect that the Transport Secretary’s announcement is a trap by the Government. I think that he is hoping that the unity of 2M and of MPs around the south-east will be broken if Windsor begins to argue that the abolition of Cranford should be implemented immediately.

I do not think that we will fall into that trap. I shall certainly be pressing BAA as to what its plans are to implement it—I have been doing so on behalf of my constituents and will continue to do so—but there is no way that I will break the unity of the campaign against the third runway, for two reasons. A prisoner may be tempted from his cell with the question, “Would you like to stretch your legs, sir? That’s a nice benefit,” only to realise a little later that he has been let out in order to be hanged at the gallows. In a way, the announcement could be seen as part of a plan of creeping encroachment to put the criteria for the third runway in place. The other thing to bear in mind is that even if the abolition of Cranford were implemented fully, any benefits would be negated immediately by the extra 220,000 flights a year. We must be careful what we hope for while working in our constituents’ interests.

I shall run briefly through the criticisms of the Government’s case, because on every count the case falls over or is at least deeply questionable. The Government have argued that there is support from the entire business community. As we have seen, businesses are not united in the desire for a third runway at Heathrow. Indeed, business men have been bold in putting their heads above the parapet to say that they are not in favour of it at all. At best, the Government can argue that some businesses—I suspect that BAA might be on the list—are interested in a third runway at Heathrow.

The second count is an environmental one. The Government say that they have put conditions in place so that the third runway cannot be used to full capacity unless the environmental concerns—they involve nitrogen dioxide more than CO2—are met. However, that seems absolutely bizarre. If they are saying that the third runway cannot be used to full capacity initially, that completely undermines the economic case, or would if there were one. A partially used third runway will not deliver the benefits that the Government argue, on the basis of the Oxford Economic Forecasting report, will be delivered. There is no doubt that hitting nitrogen dioxide targets will be a stretch even in existing circumstances, and any reasonable person who looks through the numbers and projections will recognise that a third runway would merely add to the problem.

My hon. Friend is focusing on NOx, but he will know that the elephant in the room is carbon and climate change policy. Does he understand the confusion in my constituency? People are coming up to me to say, “Hang on a minute. On one hand, the Government are telling us that climate change is the most important risk of our time, and on the other, they’re giving a green light to the fastest-growing source of emissions. How do we make sense of this?”

There can be no greater contrast, especially as the Government do not even attempt to say that the building of a third runway will help towards their goal of reducing carbon emissions in the short term. It seems rather bold and impressive of the Government to tie us into targets 40 years from now, when—I had better be careful what I say—many hon. Members may no longer be in this place. On the other hand, the Government’s actions in the short and medium term will lead to an increase in CO2 and nitrogen dioxide emissions. We recognise that technology moves on and that some of the new aircraft in development, although not the fantasy aircraft that have been mentioned, will improve emissions. However, there is no way, looking at the charts and calculations, that they can deliver those improvements in time to meet the goals that the Government have set.

On quality of life, I refer to an observation that I made about four years ago in a civil aviation debate and in one or two other debates. Often, it is not the average noise made across a noise-quota period that causes disturbance, but the noise of an individual aircraft that wakes someone during the night and ruins their quality of life for the following day. Something else needs to be looked at here: it is not only aircraft movements that one needs to take into account, but the reality on the ground. The simple testing of noise in aircraft hangars and the theoretical testing of aircraft engine noise is not enough. I urge the Minister to attempt to address that point.

Anyone who travels up and down the M4 will know that it is constantly congested, even in the current economic downturn. Similarly, anyone who drives around the M25 will know that, even with six lanes in places, it is still constantly congested. Clearly, there is a problem with road access to Heathrow, and that has not been addressed in the Government’s case so far.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Surely there is a further point about not just aviation carbon emissions, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) has mentioned, but ground emissions. Even if a high proportion were, as some argue, to be displaced elsewhere, there will be more ground emissions as more people get stuck in congestion in the south-east instead of using regional airports, which have been growing healthily.

The point is well made, and I shall not labour it other than to say that in the absence of high-speed rail linking domestic locations, it is very difficult to see how any of the targets, even for future generations, can possibly be met with the existing road network, even with the modifications that the Government have suggested.

On noise, there has been a lot of noise from the campaign against the third runway, and a lot of noise from the Government arguing a case that seems untenable. As the shadow Minister for Science and Innovation, it seems to me that one must base one’s judgments on evidence and studies as far as one can, where such evidence is available. The Government commissioned the ANASE—“Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England”—study, which, even though the data range was, to a certain degree, fixed to include noisier aircraft from the past, concluded that people are more irritated by noise than they ever were. What did the Government do? They simply said that the study was marginally flawed and that they were not going to pay much attention to it. That is not the behaviour of a Government who want to engage in rational and reasonable debate to find a solution to the challenges.

Following on from the issues of noise and increased road congestion, particularly on local roads in Hillingdon, there are also health implications. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there has been no local health impact assessment and that Hillingdon primary care trust has not been consulted on the expansion of Heathrow?

Absolutely; this is a fascinating story is it not? It is bizarre that every Government who wish to appear to be caring and to work in the interests of the economy and people’s quality of life fail to consider the health impacts. I hope that the Minister has a sensible and reasonable answer as to why the Government do not wish to look into the health of people in and around the airport.

I return briefly, as we have already covered it marginally, to the concept of hubs. I have spoken to BAA and BA, I have scoured the internet and I have researched the issue as best I can to try to work out mathematically and logically, on whichever calculation should be used, what constitutes a hub and whether the five airports can be considered part of a hub. So far, I have failed to come up with anything other than people’s bold assertions that if we have two or three fewer destinations, the whole thing will crumble. However, with the projections for just the existing two runways, we are already hitting the flight limit of 480,000 flights, so the evidence does not seem to be there.

There is also the issue of transit passengers and what contribution they make to the UK economy. I do not have the quote to hand, sadly, but several notable people have pointed out that simply having the wheels touch down and people transit to another country does not add much to the UK’s gross domestic product. Indeed, it does not add a vast amount to BAA’s revenue. One must consider that BAA is merely one company of thousands in the UK, and one has to look at its profits and revenue in the light of those of other organisations.

I have heard time and again the argument that transit passengers are only worth a cup of tea. Does my hon. Friend accept that if 35 to 40 per cent. of passengers—indeed, well over half on some flights—are transferring through Heathrow and going out again on different flights, many flights would not be economically viable, and more routes would be lost, if that were to change?

I do not say that there is no value from transit passengers; I merely observe that there is little value from them directly to the UK economy.

There are a couple of broader arguments that we sometimes overlook. If we are saying that the UK aerospace and airport industries, or even BAA, the Spanish company, would suffer from a gradual reduction in the number of routes—not that that will necessarily continue—can we not look at the issue more broadly? If we think that transit passengers will begin to go via Schiphol or other European airports, what is to prevent people from investing in airports elsewhere?

I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he has been very patient with interventions. May I urge him to consider that, as far as we can make out, as the Government have never produced a study that has shown this definitively, a high proportion of so-called transit passengers come from other parts of the UK and transfer to flights out of the UK? Again, with high-speed rail links into Heathrow, a great number of those passengers will find their way to Heathrow and take off on the same flights, but will not have to come in on a flight to Heathrow. Do we need clarification from the Government—

I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point very clearly and, I thought, rather succinctly, but I accept the steer of the Chair in these matters. I shall attempt to bring my remarks to a close in approximately two to three minutes.

May I make a point speedily? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many other hub airports across the world operate with something like 20 per cent. transit passengers and find that more than sufficient? Heathrow is out of the league altogether in trying to go for 35 to 45 per cent. transit passengers.

I accept all those observations, particularly about high-speed rail. If a large number of transit passengers are from within the UK, it makes complete sense environmentally, and probably economically, for them to come to Heathrow that way or to fly direct, point to point. I have been in business for many years before becoming a Member of Parliament and to try to second-guess the detail of somebody else’s business model is never a wise idea—although it is, of course, interesting to make observations on it.

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes looking at the objective facts about aviation and the airport system in the south-east seriously. I suggest that he looks at international experience, and the experience of Glasgow where they have tried but failed to use more than one airport as a hub. In Toronto, Washington and Glasgow such airports eventually had to be consolidated.

That is a fair observation, but if we look at various places around the world, we could make all sorts of observations—for example, the Government have tried to harangue and make light of the idea of having an airport offshore somewhere. However, Hong Kong has managed very well to have such an airport. That should certainly inform our debate.

There is also a world trend towards point-to-point travel, but if one looks at the examples in the United States we see a different picture. That is why the issue of aviation is not as simple as the Government try to make out, why a hub is difficult to define and why no one has managed to come up with a proper tangible or robust definition.

My hon. Friend mentions Hong Kong and makes the point well that the new Hong Kong airport flourishes and is wonderful. The old Hong Kong airport is a golf driving range.

Okay. As I said, no one is arguing for Heathrow to be closed down, and I do not want the debate to be characterised in that way. We are happy with the level of employment there and we hope that the levels of noise and pollution are reduced.

The Government have not studied the alternatives properly in light of the developments in technology and the proposals put forward for high-speed rail. Various models have been put forward and it is time for the Government to step back and give them consideration. The Government have not properly looked at the alternative of having a new airport. If air travel is to double over the next 20 or 30 years, none of the airports will be able to take that level of capacity, so surely now is the time to have a bit of vision and look towards the long-term rather than the short-term goal.

Briefly, I have the following questions for the Minister. We are going through a massive economic downturn at the moment and air travel has been declining—I think there was an 8 per cent. reduction in the last month of 2008. That buys us a window for decision making and, on that basis, I urge the Minister to step away and perhaps give us a chink of light—a possibility that the Government will reconsider the matter. Is the Minister honestly confident that the Government can meet pollution targets if we have a third runway at Heathrow? Is he genuinely confident of that? Have the Government recently—not five or 10 years ago—looked seriously at the alternatives to expansion at Heathrow? If I go back to the ancients, I think the Greeks said that we can win the argument or get our way by force, trickery or persuasion. I have seen a lot of force and a little bit of trickery in the Government’s argument. Will the Minister now resort to the means of persuasion, rather than using more brutal methods?

I thank the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) for initiating the debate. I agree with him: we should use the debate as a progress report and as an opportunity to consider some of the issues again so that we will perhaps get some assistance from the Government on how we can move forward.

The hon. Gentleman has covered the economic arguments. The intervention of the business sector—the representatives who came out against the expansion—was catastrophic for the case of the Government and BAA. May I update him on the union side? During the past week, we gained another union when the Communication Workers Union came out against the third runway at its conference. There is mounting trade union pressure against the development of the third runway. On the economic arguments, it is interesting to note that the Government and others are preparing alternatives in terms of high-speed rail—there is the Government’s HS2 development study and, obviously, 2M is now looking at the high-speed north link. Those matters have moved on.

On the environmental impact, the Committee on Climate Change will look at reducing the CO2 emissions of aviation to below 2005 levels by 2050, and it will be reporting in December. Again, that study will look at the modal shift and—exactly as the hon. Gentleman has requested—will provide the Government with the opportunity to stand back at that stage and see whether the target of reducing emissions can be achieved with the expansion of Heathrow.

On noise, BAA’s plans on the reduction of the noise impact are now being produced in a consultative form. Having looked at the draft, I know that much of what has been said in the draft proposals is not much different from what is happening at the moment. Many of us cannot see what the visible impact will be as a result of the plans being introduced. In addition, there has not really been any movement on air quality because it now seems that Heathrow will remain an air quality hotspot into 2010. The Government will look for a derogation from the EU limits that come into force at that stage, and yet no quantifiable measures have been put forward to mitigate the air quality problems in our area. If the Government are to seek a derogation, they must at least put forward some form of a plan. However, there does not seem to be anything forthcoming.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) made a point that has also been made by hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and me when meeting the local primary care trust: we have had no information about the health impact assessment that is supposed to be undertaken by the Government. That was promised to us on the Floor of the House by the Secretary of State. The PCT has not been approached, and there has been no consultation or discussion. We thought that, at least at this stage, we would be examining the brief for that health impact assessment because our constituents need some assurances about that matter. We have seen the issues that have come from the Chicago study with regard to cancer and we have had survey after survey in the areas around Heathrow about the respiratory conditions from which our constituents suffer. It behoves the Government to come rapidly into discussions with the PCT and bring forward the proposals on the health assessment.

On the question of who will cover the cost of the expansion of Heathrow, the situation gets worse. Demand for air travel is plummeting at the moment and the aviation industry is, in some sectors, in crisis. It does not inspire confidence that there was a story in The Guardian business pages over a week ago that BAA has approached the Government to talk about what happens if it goes into administration. It has asked for the arrangements to be changed so that the Government no longer appoint the administrator—it has asked for it done by BAA or whoever its successor is in terms of ownership.

As I say, that does not inspire confidence, but it also worries me because it raises fears that the Government will be forced to subsidise this development. We know that if the development goes ahead, the Government will have to pay for the collateral damage that will impact on local communities—the shifting of populations, the new schools that will be needed and the creation of new communities elsewhere for people to live in. We now believe that there will be direct subsidy as a result of BAA’s precarious financial position and the precarious position of Grupo Ferrovial globally, and that the development itself—the construction of the runway and the terminal—will have to be subsided. Again, I do not think that that information was available to Members when the decision was made by the Government earlier this year. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), who is not in his place at the moment—I know that he has other business—that if we have to intervene on any significant scale to subsidise the expansion of Heathrow, it will impact on the Government’s transport investment programme for the next decade.

On the legal challenge, letters of action have gone in and we will know the decision on whether a judicial review will take place in the next few weeks. I believe that it will take place and that we will be in court in the autumn. That case will inevitably drag on for a time. I say to the Government that the information that will come out will expose not only their argument, but the collusion that has gone on between BAA and the Government at various levels. On the planning process, we are now told that BAA will not even be in a position to put forward proposals about what could be laid before a planning inquiry until late 2010 at the earliest.

Is this not the nub of the issue? By the time we have a national policy statement it could be 10 years from when the White Paper on aviation was published, yet that is still the key document on which everything is based. What has been said today has shown that so much has changed that surely we need an independent review of aviation policy, on which the planning process can be based.

That is exactly the point. It has been made on a cross-party basis repeatedly over the last few months as we have come to know more clearly not just how the aviation White Paper will be converted into some form of national policy statement but also the fact that we will have no say about it on the Floor of the House. There will be no vote on the national policy statement itself. We have been told that it may be ready for consideration by April 2011 at the earliest.

The process that we are involved in now is an absolute pig’s breakfast. There is mounting unrest and protest, and people are not accepting the Government’s decision because they do not believe that they have in any way participated in consenting to it. In Iran, demonstrations have resulted in even the Supreme Leader getting the message. Perhaps we could take a message back to our supreme leader, Lord Mandelson, the First Secretary of State, that we have a problem here. Perhaps that message could go out from this debate, because we need rationally to stand back and see where we are.

Let me briefly outline what the uncertainty, which is worsening, is doing to my constituents. The uncertainty and blight mean that they cannot plan for their future. They live under the threat of the loss of their home and the destruction of their community. They cannot plan the basics of life. Their homes are threatened with demolition, but they cannot plan where they will live in the long term. Those in Sipson and other parts of the area where it has been confirmed that BAA’s plans will involve demolition have been offered a bond scheme to pay for relocation—not compensation but simply payment for relocation—but it will be implemented only when the planning application is submitted. That could result in another year or more of uncertainty for them.

BAA refused to attend a public meeting that I convened. I spoke to the then Secretary of State, and BAA eventually decided to come. It told us at that meeting that it wants to bring forth implementation of the bond scheme. We were told that that would be done in weeks, but residents associations at the meeting said that they had been told that six months earlier. We have heard nothing further. Why? Because BAA is dependent on individual airline industry companies standing to cover the liabilities of the bond scheme if it is implemented earlier, and it cannot get agreement among them.

For those who live in the other villages of Harmondsworth, Harlington, Longford, Cranford Cross and, yes, parts of Hayes itself, there is no scheme on offer whatsoever to pay or compensate for relocation. People do not know where the final boundaries of the airport will be or even whether their homes are threatened with demolition. They do know that their homes will be rendered unliveable as a result of noise and air pollution, but they have not been offered a penny except for limited amounts of support for additional insulation, which will fail to protect them.

Because schools are to be demolished or rendered unusable, families cannot plan the education of their children. Because there is no binding commitment on whether a road will go through our local cemetery at Cherry Lane, we cannot even plan where we bury our dead at present. Local businesses, some of which are small businesses, will be affected. Jacqui Clarke, the local hairdresser who lives above her shop, will get nothing; there is no compensation for her. Several local businesses are in a precarious position because they cannot plan for long-term investment in their businesses, and that will impact on local employment.

We know from the Government’s figures that 2,000 people will be relocated, but more likely it will be 10,000—the largest evacuation of people in living memory, given what we know from studies done in the 1990s. The Government’s response up until now has been that it is up to individuals themselves to plan their future. The then Secretary of State said that at a public meeting that we had with local residents. Well, they cannot. The alternative is that it is up to local authorities, Hillingdon in particular, to plan for the development of new communities and the relocation of individuals, but local authorities have had no guidelines from the Government. There has been no consultation or extra resources for Hillingdon to enable it to start the planning process.

My constituents have been left in limbo. Most want to remain, but they want to know what their position will be in the future. They want a secure future. Some inevitably have to move—families grow up, or the elderly may want to relocate to live with their families elsewhere—but they are trapped because the bond scheme cannot be implemented, the Government’s decisions have been so tentative, and the process is so long-winded and insecure.

Residents are protesting. They resent how they have been treated as a result of their peaceful protests. They have been harassed by police, and photographs and films have been taken of them. They want the evidence that has been collected to be given to them or destroyed. They are not criminals; they have simply been involved in peaceful protests. The use of anti-terrorist legislation to stop people photographing homes that will be demolished is extraordinary behaviour and an inappropriate use of legislation.

Yes, there is anger at the Government’s decision—of course there is—but people are worried about their future. That is fuelling a growing fury at the way in which the whole process has been handled by the Government.

Finally, we still have not had a single Minister visit any of the villages to meet local residents. That is an abrogation of ministerial duty and the Government’s responsibility to my constituents. We will continue to fight the proposal, but we expect to be treated in a manner that respects people’s concerns about their future. We will continue to protest and to demand a change in Government policy, and I make it clear that at the next election, whatever is in the Labour party’s manifesto, I shall stand on a manifesto that opposes the expansion of Heathrow. The democratic wishes of the population around Heathrow should be respected.

Order. Two hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Please bear in mind that there are 14 minutes left before I call the Front-Bench spokesmen. I call Mr. John Randall.

Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I shall try to keep my remarks short in order to ensure that we hear at least one person from the other side of the argument.

It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I was glad to hear him say that he will stand on a different manifesto, because standing in his constituency on the manifesto that the Government will put forward would, I am afraid, be dramatically difficult.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate, because we need to be constantly updated. One of the great shames of the last reshuffle is that we now have a Secretary of State for Transport who is in the Lords. When we actually have a debate on the subject on the Floor of the House—they are relatively few but have been forced from time to time by Opposition parties, and there has been the odd statement—we will not be able to question the Secretary of State to find out what is happening. I know that the Secretary of State is an honourable man, but it will be difficult for us to explain to our constituents, many of whom are bitterly opposed to the expansion, that we do not even have the democratic right to question the person who will ultimately take the decision.

I agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. He is right to say that the noble Lord is an honourable man; he is also known as a rail man. He has been kind and courteous to me in visiting west London whenever I asked him to visit schools in the area. Perhaps we could make a joint approach to get him to make the kind of visit that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington described and to see the sites of devastation that his policy is creating.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the Secretary of State. He was always courteous and helpful when he was a Schools Minister, and he is very much a fan of rail travel. I find that encouraging, particularly as that seems to be the way in which the argument is going.

There is no need for me to repeat in the limited time left all the arguments that we have heard. All I will say about the situation is that it is exactly the same in my constituency. My constituents, particularly those in West Drayton, are suffering exactly the same problems.

I just cannot get my head around the fact that we are constantly being told that climate change is the greatest threat facing the planet, yet here we have a Government who are proposing something that will not reduce emissions but actually increase them. I can never get an answer from the Government on how they can justify that. It is absolutely appalling.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) has done his usual trick of making an intervention and whizzing off, but I would say to him that I am opposed to any development in the Thames estuary. I have said from the outset that if we oppose in our area the expansion of Heathrow, the traffic should not go somewhere else—for example, to Gatwick or Stansted. It is not fair to dump the problem on somebody else. We as a nation have to tackle the problems of aviation, including its increase, because nobody wants an airport in their back garden. We have had that happen in Heathrow. I have to say to the Minister that I get fed up with people—not necessarily the Government—saying, “People who move there know it was there.” That does not apply to lots of my constituents, including my family. My mother was born in the constituency a long time ago, when Heathrow was just a market gardening area. So it is wrong to say that we knew what was going to happen. We have lived with it in our back garden and now it is at the back door. That is what is really so galling for us.

The Government keep talking about listening to people and going on about how they want to change everything and get people involved. This is an ideal opportunity for them. The argument is falling away rapidly. If they could bring themselves to be brave and courageous enough to say, “This is not the time. We cannot go ahead with it. We got some of the arguments wrong,” I would salute them. But, unfortunately, I know that they will not, because I can see that, given the way they have run this country for the last 12 years, they do not listen to the people.

There is one message. We should have an election and let people make their own minds up about whether they want this Government and whether they want this third runway.

Having 51 minutes versus nine minutes is a bit of an imbalance when putting such cases. May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate? Had he been a bit more astute he could have got the second debate, in which case I would have been in the Chair and therefore silenced. I am sorry about that.

The House knows my views, Mr. Taylor, so I will not bore you by repeating them. I will just say that they are the same as they always have been. I shall, as I always do, see if I can agree with hon. Members, first of all. I agree with my hon. Friend on three things. First, some of us will not be here in 40 years. At my age, I think that that is a fair assumption and I agree. Secondly, he said that Heathrow is in the wrong place. Yes, it is, but we cannot say, “I wouldn’t start from here.” We must start from where Heathrow is. But I agree with him. Thirdly, he said that he welcomed the disappearance of the Cranford agreement. I agree with him on that as well.

I like to call the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) my friend, because he is my neighbour and we have never argued with each other nastily and I appreciate that. I agree with him. He has problems with his party line and I am in the same position, so we have something in common.

I also agree with my genuine hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—a real friend—who says that the Secretary of State should be in the House of Commons.

As far as I am concerned, the position remains the same. Provided that the real environmental issues can be overcome, I am still of the view that Heathrow needs another runway; the need is now more urgent than it was. I accept that there have been changes since the last debate. The economy has made life more difficult for everybody. I realise that the amount of air travel is decreasing. I am conscious of the issue of whether Ferrovial will be able to finance the project in the current climate; but I do not know about that. The forced sale of Gatwick and Stansted has come into the equation and will have some impact. In addition, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, any legal challenge could slow the process.

I am a realist. I see what is going on. But my views are not just mine; they are the views of the majority of my constituents, which is probably not surprising, because of all the boroughs around Heathrow mine has the highest percentage of people working directly at the airport. My view is also shared by my local council, which is not represented by the 2M group, despite its claim to represent everybody around the airport.

The reasons are fairly obvious, but in the little time that I have may I comment on one or two things that my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor said? He started by saying that there were 70,000 jobs at Heathrow, directly and indirectly. With the greatest respect, that is not so. There are 70,000 jobs inside the boundary fence and at least as many again outside depend on the airport, directly or indirectly. So the number of jobs is probably double the figure that he gave us.

My hon. Friend suggested that destinations do not matter, but they do. People only have to talk to the airlines to get an answer on that. It is not surprising that the airlines will not put in the public domain the routes that would be under threat if Heathrow declines, because if they were to announce that routes were dodgy, people would go somewhere else and it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My hon. Friend also said that there can be growth without another runway, but one of the big arguments about another runway at Heathrow is not about growth. I know and accept that growth is involved, but growth based on the existing runways is related to the larger-aircraft issue. It is not just about the growth of the other airports, but about the need to solve the problems of delays, circling and lost baggage, all because the two existing runways are vastly overused and any delay produces lots of cancellations. There is an opposite argument to be made in that regard.

My hon. Friend also mentioned a five-airport hub. I do not think that there will be many volunteers to fly into Gatwick to get a bus to Heathrow, en route to somewhere else. Instead, people would go to Schiphol, Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle and save making a bus journey between airports.

A lot is made of the economic case and much is said about the Oxford Economics report, which is now out of date. I have Oxford Economics’ new report, which has just come into my hands, although I must be honest and say that I have not had a chance to read all of it. But, again, it is new information and it deserves study. I think that we will find, from what I have seen so far, that it reinforces the economic case for another runway.

My hon. Friend said that he did not want to close Heathrow, but also said that there is a need for a new airport somewhere else. One only has to look at the experience around the world.

I am not sure that I said quite that. In fact, I am not sure that I said quite what my hon. Friend said I did in respect of the other points that he made. I was not arguing for an airport elsewhere; I was arguing for the alternatives to be looked at seriously.

Okay, if one looked at the matter seriously and decided that it would be a good idea to have another airport elsewhere—I take my hon. Friend’s point that he did not say that he wanted one—the idea presumably would be to have one. Looking at the rest of the world, in Montreal, for example, where they have done just that, the new airport is now being closed because the old one is still open and everybody uses it. In Hong Kong, which I have mentioned, and in Denver, the old airports were shut and the business was transferred. That is the way that a new airport can be made to work. Let us not hop about. A new airport somewhere else replaces Heathrow: it does not complement it.

On using runways to full capacity, we did not get a definition of “full capacity”. At the moment, we are running at 99 per cent. capacity, which is causing problems. The airports elsewhere, which are Heathrow’s competitors, are running at about 75 per cent., which they think is about the capacity that is justified to offer a decent service. The same argument applies at Heathrow.

Carbon emissions are mentioned regularly. Yes, if the world can come to an agreement that everywhere will do something about carbon emissions, that is a case to follow. However, if one says, “We unilaterally will do something that will harm the British aviation industry while everybody else doesn’t bother,” why should we want to undermine our own economy and watch other people benefit from that point of view?

On high-speed rail, the best figure that I have, which is recent, shows that no more than 11 per cent. of transfer passengers using Heathrow are domestic passengers. If we take 11 per cent. as the only number involved, not all of them will use a high-speed rail link, so not many people will not take flights and instead get there by train. That would be an awfully big investment to make to solve nothing much of a problem.

Many people who currently fly into Heathrow from other parts of the country and are not in transit would be coming by high-speed rail.

That is highly unlikely. These figures are the best one has in respect of passengers in the domestic market coming into Heathrow. That market is not big. Almost all the flights are international. The number of regional flights is declining as ever more people go from regional airports to Schiphol, Amsterdam and Charles de Gaulle. That is another reason why not much is done about carbon emissions, because somebody makes the same flight but goes to a different destination. In addition, the great bulk of transit passengers is not from the United Kingdom, as I have just said. Those are the brief responses that I can give in the time available.

We are in an economic downturn, which is hurting all of us and includes hurt to Heathrow and the airlines that use it. Instead of putting off the runway issue, that is an argument for bringing it forward. Unless the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is correct, no public money is involved. If there were I would rethink the matter, but at the moment, no public money is on offer. The project would provide 6,000 or 7,000 construction jobs when we desperately need jobs, and Heathrow would be ready to benefit before anyone else when the upturn comes.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate. I speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, and also my constituents in Richmond Park, who are utterly determined to continue to resist the third runway. They are glad that Members of Parliament are continuing to find different mechanisms to ensure that the matter remains on the public agenda, and that Ministers continue to answer their questions.

We have had a change of Secretary of State for Transport and the complete ministerial team, and I hope that that will be an opportunity to rethink past decisions, particularly as some key members of the team have a track record and expertise in transport, which could not be said of the previous Secretary of State, whose speeches about Heathrow were described as disgraceful, and rightly so. I hope that the change will be a new opportunity.

I am glad that we have had a statement from the Conservative party on its policy on a Thames estuary airport. The local prospective parliamentary candidate in my constituency has written to the papers arguing for the closure of Heathrow and its replacement with an estuary airport. That would definitely be a wrong decision. An estuary airport would have four runways, the climate change implications would be phenomenal, and the impact on the surrounding area and the loss of jobs would be dramatic. I am glad that we have had clarification on that.

Several hon. Members referred to financing and it was pointed out that the recent economic recession has changed the picture. Obviously, the impact of BAA’s financial condition on its parent company has raised genuine concern. The recession has hit the aviation industry extremely hard, but I hope that the new administration that is examining transport issues will consider the financing issue more closely. The various statements to justify rejecting most of the comments and protests during the Heathrow consultation suggested that environmental safeguards had been put in place to limit use of the third runway to half capacity or, if the appropriate aircraft were not available, to prevent it from opening. I see no way in which any financial institution would fund around £16 billion in construction and financing costs with that possibility on the horizon without Government guarantees or letters of comfort plastered all over it.

I have received letters from the Department saying that that has not been discussed or even contemplated, and that it would never happen, but we need reassurance. All those issues are reinforced by the current financial pressures that the aviation industry and BAA specifically are facing. I was interested to hear that our one voice so far in support of the third runway is concerned about public money and resources being pumped into the third runway proposal.

Many of the comments that have been made, particularly those from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), covered the issues that I would like to cover, so I shall limit my speech and align myself with those. The blight that faces the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is totally unacceptable. There is great anxiety among my constituents after suddenly learning that the national policy study for aviation will not appear in draft before 2011. My constituents fear that that will leave a period in which BAA may make an application and ask for it to be dealt with under a different regime, which might be much more favourable to a yes answer, rather than raising even the relatively weak questions that would arise in an aviation national policy statement.

Residents living under the flight path need a lot of clarification on the process. The timetables that we have been able to download from various Government websites seem to be completely irrelevant to trying to understand what the procedures will be. Serious local concerns arose from the residents’ meeting with the former Secretary of State for Transport, and the current Secretary of State in his then role as Minister with responsibility for railways, which failed to address local traffic issues. That contributes greatly to air pollution in the area, but the answer in every case was, “We are not considering that; it is for local authorities to do so.” That was extremely disturbing because we will almost double the number of passengers at Heathrow, and consequently the number of people trying to reach Heathrow, many of them by road. Business leaders have been courageous in finally coming forward and exposing the hollowness of many of the arguments, and I associate myself with all those.

I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak, and I am anxious to hear the Minister. I reiterate my party’s ongoing opposition on grounds of climate change, and the impact of noise and air pollution on local communities. A final request to the Minister is that he tells us at some point what will happen with the application for derogation from air quality. I again congratulate the hon. Member for Windsor on raising the issue.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing this debate, and on his excellent contribution on a matter of great concern to all hon. Members here. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on their typically robust comments about their constituents’ concerns, which were echoed by the Liberal Democrats’ spokesman. If there were a contest between the bulldozers and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, I know whom I would back in a straight contest.

I shall endorse rather than repeat the various plaudits for the environmental groups, trade unions, and business men who have stepped out of line with what was briefly consensus among the business community and are speaking out against a project that we believe will inflict devastating damage on the environment and the quality of life of millions of people in London and the western home counties. The Conservative party plans to make Heathrow a better airport, rather than a bigger one.

Three arguments are usually made in favour of a third runway at Heathrow: the UK plc argument and two aviation-specific ones. Despite a number of voices, including that of the CBI, the UK plc argument is extremely weak. It has been heavily based on one study—the Oxford Economics study, which has nothing whatever to do with Oxford university, whose transport unit takes a different line. The study is full of one-sided assumptions. It prices none of the downside of expansion, apart from carbon, and even ignores road congestion. It centres its calculations on assumptions mostly at the extreme favourable end of each scale. It bizarrely includes aviation tax as a net gain to the UK economy, and it assumes that BAA will be allowed to continue to operate one of the stingiest schemes for noise insulation in the world. However, that document is still the only major study behind the UK plc side of the argument.

Even before the recession, BAA admitted that only 36 per cent. of passengers travelling through Heathrow were business passengers. If we remove the transit ones, barely one quarter of the passengers going through Heathrow are British business men or people coming to do business in Britain.

I have not been through the new one in detail yet. I look forward to doing that, but if the quality of the work compares to the quality of the work in the last one, it will not add very much to the argument.

The proportion of business passengers is likely to fall still further—indeed, it has already done so—and not just because of the recession, but because of the growing sense of corporate responsibility and the active steps by businesses to reduce the amount of flying that they do. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor referred to the letter in The Times last month, from which I shall quote just one sentence:

“We recognise the business need for air travel and that strong air links between the UK and the rest of the world are required, but the business case for the third runway simply does not stack up.”

As much of business joins the growing consensus against runway 3, the Government are increasingly isolated.

I shall now consider the general capacity argument—an aviation-specific argument. Many regional airports have plans for more capacity. Since 2001 the percentage of passenger traffic going to regional airports has increased from 39 to 48 per cent. and, despite the recession, many have plans for further expansion in the medium term. Of course, regional plans must be considered on a case-by-case basis—each on its own merits—but far too much emphasis has been placed on the big three London airports and not nearly enough on regional development, which boosts local economies and, crucially, reduces ground-based emissions and congestion on the traffic infrastructure in the south-east.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) while he made his typically courteous and well argued speech. He argued that somehow a large part of the extra capacity that would come out of a third runway would go into reducing overstretch, rather than extra flights. That would have been a difficult case to make even a year or two ago, but let us consider it in the light of the current financial strains and the difficulties that Ferrovial will have in putting this package together. If that assumption was worked into it, it would be impossible to finance in the private sector.

The last argument in favour is the hub argument. Refusing to allow the third runway at Heathrow will mean that other aviation hubs continue to grow larger than Heathrow. That is unavoidable. We have lost a few thinner routes already, but with 180 routes from the airport and a transaction just over a year ago of £30 million for two slots, Heathrow remains an important hub. The focus should be on making it a better airport.

Let us remember the environmental price of a third runway. There is no time for me to restate the very strong arguments advanced by all three major parties—arguments on noise and the fantasy aircraft that the Government are arguing will protect the footprint and on nitrogen dioxide. Frankly, even with the derogation, there are question marks over whether the 2015 target can be met, let alone the 2010 one.

We want Heathrow to be better, not bigger. It is true that many of its problems are related to runway overcrowding, but there are many other issues too. That is why we supported from the beginning the idea that BAA should be broken up by the Competition Commission, although we accept that the recession makes BAA’s welcome decision to sell Gatwick immediately harder to implement. None the less, we will keep pressure on BAA to improve the quality of service that it gives customers in the airports that it retains. That will help to address the Heathrow hassle. Baroness Neville-Jones is carrying out a comprehensive study on security, which, by learning lessons from best practice abroad, should show how to improve security and reduce unnecessarily burdensome queues.

However, the most important issue for passengers, especially business passengers, is the wretched ongoing links from Heathrow. Most modern airports allow passengers to get off an aeroplane and straight on to a train to go to a range of destinations. From Heathrow, passengers have two choices: to climb, with all their bags, on to an underground train, crushed between commuters at many times of the day, or to take the link to Paddington to transfer on to the underground to transfer again to a station that takes them somewhere.

A Conservative Government would give the go-ahead for a high-speed rail line linking Heathrow with the channel tunnel, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Our proposals for a Heathrow rail hub, linked into several existing rail arteries, as well as HSR, would give us a Heathrow with links to be proud of. Experience in the rest of Europe shows that HSR provides an attractive alternative to short-haul flights. We believe that the link that we propose could replace virtually all flights between Heathrow and destinations such as Manchester, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Flight figures published by the Government for 2007 suggest that trains to those destinations could replace up to 30 per cent. of the capacity of a third runway. That figure could rise further as HSR expands in this country and on the continent.

By relieving overcrowding problems at the airport, our proposals would do a great deal to make Heathrow into a modern airport of which we can be proud. Our plan would also leave a lasting legacy for the future, freeing up capacity on the existing network for more commuter services. It would contribute to a more balanced UK economy, providing growth for the midlands and north and reducing the pressure on roads, land and housing in the south-east. It is a long-term project and would start in the most challenging economic circumstances, but our transport system has suffered from short-termism for far too long. Sometime in the next 12 months, the British people will have a clear choice. A Conservative Government will cancel the third runway and instead take steps to make Heathrow a better airport.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing the debate and allowing an opportunity for the issues to be raised again; no doubt they will be raised in further debates in the ensuing months. We are talking about the important issue of meeting the aviation demands of our country, whether that relates to private travellers, travelling for leisure purposes or to visit friends, or to travel that is necessary to have a successful and thriving economy as part of UK plc.

I have been particularly interested to listen to all the comments that have been contributed to the debate by the hon. Member for Windsor, my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), and to the interventions from the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter). I have listened particularly to the comments of Front-Bench spokesmen and women with regard to meeting the challenges and making the hard decisions that have had to be faced by those in government. I shall run through some of those points now.

First, let me make it clear that although there may have been a change of team to an extent, I was present in March when the hon. Member for Windsor accompanied a delegation from his constituency, along with other representatives, including in this Chamber today, to discuss the issues with the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon). I noted the comments from the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) that the contributions by the former Secretary of State were outrageous. I suspect that the reason for her saying that was that his comments did not find favour with her view. As I said, I attended that meeting with hon. Members and other representatives and I listened with interest to many of the views that were expressed by local residents—views that were clearly held firmly and expressed robustly. I am happy to confirm that information on a number of the points raised at that meeting has now been posted on the Department for Transport website. I am talking about issues that were raised at the meeting but could not be fully answered in that forum. I want to make it clear that those are on the Department’s website.

I am pleased to hear about the continuity in the Department because the Minister will be able to confirm or deny the persistent press reports that it has been collating information about those who oppose the third runway.

The continuing work of listening to the views that are raised across the board—by those who are for or against—in this important debate is absolutely essential for any Government worthy of their name.

May I make some progress? I may well cover some of the points that have been raised. There has been more than an hour and a quarter of debate, and I am trying to respond in 10 minutes.

I welcome the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Government, but I preface my remarks by noting that the decisions that we announced on Heathrow in January are subject to an application for judicial review, which was brought by a number of local authorities, including the royal borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, as well as by other parties. That application relates to a number of the issues that right hon. and hon. Members have raised, including noise impacts.

The decisions that we have taken and announced on Heathrow, as well as the reasons for them, have been clearly spelled out, including in the documents published on 15 January, which are freely available. You will be pleased to know, Mr. Taylor, that I do not propose to go over all of those this morning, but I can say that the Government are happy to defend those decisions in court if permission for judicial review is given.

One issue that has been raised in the debate is that people do not understand how the Government can make such a decision when climate change is meant to be the most important thing that exists. Of course climate change is critical, which is why the Government commissioned studies by Stern and Eddington, and those are the driving forces behind the Department’s work. However, although we must recognise that climate change is fundamental, we cannot make decisions by looking at one part but not the others. The needs of business, the UK and, indeed, the residents of all the constituencies that are represented here are equally important in this framework. A hard decision has to be taken in the light of all these important issues, and none is more important than climate change and getting the balance right.

The further development of Heathrow has been debated in Parliament on many occasions—most recently on the Opposition day on 28 January, shortly after the Government’s decision was announced. At the time, we were told that Heathrow was “the wrong decision”, that “the world had changed” and that the Government should delay their decision for “three or four years”, and that argument has been made today. We have also heard that “some of the alternatives” should be considered, and that, too, has been repeated today.

Although the office holders in the Government who took the decision that was announced on 15 January may have changed, the arguments have not. The fact has not changed that the transport system is the lifeblood of Britain’s economy. The fact has not changed that Heathrow is our only hub airport, that it is a vital international gateway for us, that it is vital to our economy and that it connects us to the growth markets of the future. The fact has not changed that Heathrow, as the hon. Member for Spelthorne said, is operating at near capacity and losing ground to international hub airports in competitor countries. Those are still the issues with which we have to deal, whether the Government’s transport team is led by the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) or Lord Adonis. We are talking about a Government decision, and it has to be taken on the basis of facts and information. We have to reach a decision, but not at any price.

I want to return to the serious point made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge. I do not expect the Minister to answer today, but we would welcome a letter on the issue. There have been reports in the press recently suggesting that the Department has provided BAA and others with information on opponents of Heathrow’s expansion. I would welcome confirmation or not—hopefully not—of whether that has occurred. If the Minister could write to us, that would be helpful.

I am more than happy to write to my hon. Friend on that.

I want to deal now with some of the substantive issues that have been raised. As I was saying, there is the economic side, the demand and the capacity issues, and we clearly said that we believed in principle that there should be a third runway. However, we said that that should not be at any cost, which is exactly why we set criteria on the issues of noise, air quality and surface access. In that respect, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who represents Her Majesty’s Opposition, made a fascinating statement about the investment that he would make in surface transport. I do not know whether he has discussed that with the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), who may have different ideas about the amount of public investment that his party would put in if it ever came to power.

The short answer is yes. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition are committed to the high-speed rail link. In fact, only the first stage—the stage that links into the fast link to the channel tunnel—is needed to achieve nearly all the aspects of flight replacement.

I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says. He will be well aware that the Government are getting on with the job of making sure that there is a robust case for a High Speed 2 link that meets the requirement of linking into an expanded Heathrow. There are also the investments that we have put into the Piccadilly line to increase capacity, as well as the commitment that we have given on Crossrail, and the hon. Gentleman would no doubt wish to put on record that he is totally committed to that scheme.

In terms of industry and business, I accept that individuals have made a number of statements arguing one side of the case. Equally, however, I can quote from the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and the TUC—we must be the only Government to have got everyone on side in that way, because they recognise the importance of our announcement on the Heathrow expansion.

Interestingly, the hon. Member for Uxbridge said that when his family moved there—

They were already there. However, he said that hardly anything was operating, and that was, indeed, the case. That is why Heathrow is fundamentally important. Some 70 per cent. of foreign businesses locate their headquarters within an hour of Heathrow, as right hon. and hon. Members will be well aware.

In the last couple of minutes, let me bring in some of the other issues. The hon. Member for Windsor said that international routes had declined marginally. There were 227 international destinations in 1990, but 180 in 2006, which is not a marginal decline. Heathrow now serves only nine domestic airports, but it served 18 in 1990. Some 21 domestic airports are served by Amsterdam alone. Hon. Members will therefore recognise the issues involved.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset referred to High Speed 2. We are going down that line because we have witnessed a 40 per cent. increase in the demand for rail and we are planning ahead to make sure that Britain remains competitive.

We have taken opportunities to ensure that there are robust processes in place, including the national policy statement process. In terms of—

Addiction to Medicines

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr. Taylor. This is my valedictory address as chairman of the all-party group on drugs misuse. I hope to hand over the group’s chairmanship this very afternoon, after serving in that capacity for 10 years. I am sure that I will leave it in good hands.

I am introducing this debate on addiction to and physical dependence on prescription and over-the-counter medicines in the hope that the Government will take the issue on board when they make policies in future. It is now recognised by many that the war on drugs has caused displacement—substance displacement, geographical displacement and even policy displacement. The press kit for the United Nations 2006 International Narcotics Control Board annual report states, at page 11:

“The abuse and trafficking of prescription drugs is set to exceed illicit drug abuse, warned the International Narcotics Board in its Annual Report released today”.

That was on 1 March 2007. The passage continues:

“The Board added that medication containing narcotic drugs and/or psychotropic substances is even a drug of first choice in many cases, and not abused as a substitute. Such prescription drugs have effects similar to illicit drugs when taken in inappropriate quantities and without medical supervision. The ‘high’ they provide is comparable to practically every illicitly manufactured drug.”

Why should a person risk a fine or prison sentence when perfectly legal substances can give them a buzz equal to that obtained from street drugs such as heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine? As we increase the penalties for those who use controlled drugs, as we have done, again, for cannabis users, or increase the number of classified substances—perhaps it will be khat or other legal highs next—people will seek alternatives to give them a buzz. Stronger enforcement merely leads to what I and others term substance displacement.

Concerns have been rising in recent years about the number of people who have become physically dependent on or addicted to legal substances, even overdosing on them, which has sometimes resulted in tragic deaths. The high-profile death of the famous Heath Ledger was only one example of very many. Soon after my election to Parliament in 1997 I came across a former policeman from Dumfriesshire, called David Grieve, who had been addicted to cough mixture containing codeine. He had been drinking litres of it every day. As a result he lost his job in the police force, and he started a charity, called Over-Count, which he still runs today, to give online advice to those who have become addicted to over-the-counter medications. Young Americans who are keen to avoid the risks associated with taking controlled, or street, drugs, have been pharming for several years now, which means that they have been taking cocktails of prescription and over-the-counter medicines to get their high.

The all-party group on drugs misuse decided to launch an inquiry in the 2007-08 parliamentary Session into physical dependence on and addiction to prescription and over-the-counter medication. We published our report in January and it has attracted a lot of media attention. During our research we came across two other reports, one published in the state of Victoria, in Australia, and another in Scotland, whose findings are very similar to ours. Our inquiry was carried out along the lines of a parliamentary Select Committee inquiry. We issued a call for evidence, using a press release, and then on the basis of the more than 100 pieces of written evidence that we received we invited two groups of witnesses to give oral evidence. One group represented organisations such as the royal colleges, trade associations and regulators, such as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, as well as the pharmaceutical companies, of course. The other group was of patients who had been affected, or organisations representing them. My researcher, Gemma Reay, organised the inquiry and wrote the final report, which can be accessed through a link from my website at, or through the DrugScope website.

The evidence that we received suggests that there are two main groups of legal substances that are causing significant problems: the benzodiazepine tranquillisers and their successor drugs, the so-called zed drugs, and products containing codeine. Nevertheless, we recognise that millions of people have benefited worldwide from the use of those drugs.

Will my hon. Friend say more about benzodiazepines? Is there a further case for getting more statistical information about addiction levels, across PCTs? Is that a possible role for Government? Also, does my hon. Friend recognise that where there have been specialist clinics those have made quite a difference in dealing with addiction?

I shall say more about benzodiazepines in a moment, but yes: I cite the clinic run in Oldham by the well known Barry Haslam—or rather it is not run by him, as it is run by the PCT, but he was instrumental in persuading it to set up the clinic. It is a very useful one, doing excellent work for benzodiazepine addicts.

Benzodiazepines, of course, are class C drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. They are popularly known as “benzos” and are used as downers by those who use stimulant street drugs or uppers such as cocaine and crack cocaine. Evidence available from the NHS suggests that there about 200,000 illicit users of benzodiazepines in the UK. The drugs are being smuggled into the UK now in considerable quantities. The ready availability of drugs on the largely unregulated internet has exacerbated drug abuse problems, in my opinion. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain has estimated that about 2 million Britons now get access to medicines through online pharmacies. The Society has devised a logo scheme for online pharmacies that follow its code of conduct for use. However, there are lots of websites on the internet that allow the purchase of prescription medicines without a prescription.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that there is a role for Government in restricting the quantity that can be supplied? For instance, in the press pack provided by the Library the example is given of 60 Solpadeine Plus tablets being made available for a low price from a pharmacy website, with “fast and discreet delivery”. Is the hon. Gentleman concerned about that, and does he think that perhaps the quantity should be controlled?

I do, and shall refer to that issue later, but of course the internet is a very difficult animal to control. We rely on international agreements. We can regulate it domestically, but not as well as we should want to internationally, at the moment.

At least 10 per cent. of the drugs sold on the internet are counterfeit, which adds to the complexity of the problem. An article from the university of Edinburgh published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology reported the discovery of 35 websites from which prescription-only pain relief medicines, some containing codeine, could be purchased without a prescription. The all-party group came across the case of a Welsh woman who had died of an overdose caused by self-medication using medicines available online. Other legal drugs, such as laxatives and antihistamines, are also misused, but we received no individual accounts of misuse of those medicines during our inquiry.

The benzodiazepine class of drugs—Valium and Librium came first—was introduced in the 1960s, and was welcomed by clinicians as a way to treat anxiety and insomnia, in place of the much more toxic barbiturate drugs that had resulted in far too many overdose deaths. At first they were seen to be quite safe, and their addictive properties were overlooked for a number of years. By the 1970s, benzodiazepines were the most widely prescribed of all prescription medicines. They are still widely prescribed: 11.7 million prescriptions were issued for them in 2007. However, many who have tried to stop taking them have experienced severe withdrawal symptoms as a result of their involuntary addiction. I remember Esther Rantzen and her “That’s Life” team highlighting these problems in the early 1980s, and a book was published in 1984 as a result of her campaign. I note that the authors are Ron Lacey and a certain Shaun Woodward—someone who has gone on to other things.

In 1988, the Committee on Safety of Medicines issued clinical guidelines, recommending that the drugs should not be used for more than four weeks at a time and that patients on those drugs should be closely monitored. Sadly, many of our general practitioners have ignored that advice and, as a result, an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million of our citizens are now addicted to the drugs. The all-party group came across patients who have been prescribed benzodiazepines for more than 30 years. Evidence suggests that repeat prescriptions being handed out without the doctors monitoring their patients is a common cause of such involuntary addiction.

Is the hon. Gentleman of the view that GPs do not have enough information to discern whether any of their patients may be addicted in the way that he describes?

There is a bit of that, but if a GP knows the patient well, he should be able to diagnose the problem. The trouble is that many patients who are refused the drugs by the doctor will revert to the internet for supplies. One cannot blame the GPs for that.

Just as ceasing to use controlled drugs such as heroin and cocaine results in severe withdrawal symptoms, the same symptoms will be felt by patients who cease to take benzodiazepines if they have become dependent on them. Professor Heather Ashton of Newcastle university has developed a withdrawal protocol for such patients. Many of them have struggled to cease their dependence on benzodiazepines for many years, often without knowing about the withdrawal protocol. Patients are commonly incapacitated through their dependence on or addiction to benzodiazepines, or through their self-withdrawal from these medicines. Some are left with long-term health problems, even after withdrawal. Many would say that their lives have been wrecked as a result of being introduced to these drugs.

Many patients, who have not been supported by their doctors and who have become addicted to benzodiazepines, have turned to voluntary organisations for help. I praise the work of groups such as Benzodiazepines: Co-operation not Confrontation, Battle Against Tranquillisers and CITA—the Council for Information on Tranquillisers and Antidepressants. They have worked extremely hard over many years to support benzodiazepine addicts.

It is more difficult to estimate the number of people addicted to over-the-counter products containing codeine, but estimates suggest that the figure is at least 20,000 or 30,000 and that it may be as high as 150,000 or 200,000. The products that cause the most problems contain higher than usual doses of codeine, at 12.5 mg per tablet, and usually the codeine is admixed with another drug, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. The most common of these products are household brand names.

Is it not a paradox that the manufacturers of brand names such as Solpadiene and Nurofen Plus should be criticised for pushing the analgesic uses of their drugs and for giving insufficient information about the down-side, the risks? They are criticised for not telling us of the alternative and more recreational uses of their drugs, but if they were to warn people they would draw attention to them. That might put ideas into immature heads, which could increase addiction and the abuse of those drugs. Is that a factor, or do people know about it anyway and I am simply being naive?

It is a factor, and I shall comment on what the hon. Gentleman said later in my speech.

Codeine is more abundant in the latex obtained from the poppy papaver somniferum than from its most desirable constituent, morphine, which is turned into heroin using acetic anhydride. The all-party group received evidence to suggest that those addicted to codeine-containing products are taking between 30 and, amazingly, as many as 70 tablets every day. One woman who gave evidence to our inquiry described how the 48 to 60 tablets she was taking every day gave her a “lift” and “helped her along”, and a male respondent told us how much he enjoyed the feeling of “calmness, happiness and control” that his 32 tablets brought him.

Unless the codeine is separated from co-medications such as ibuprofen, those dose levels can cause medical complications such as serious internal bleeding, which often results in death. The codeine can be easily separated from the co-medication, and the methods to achieve this separation can be obtained from the chatrooms regularly used by young people.

The stereotypical addict of codeine-containing products is a middle-aged female. However, more and more people are becoming addicted to them as a result of treating of chronic pain by using codeine-containing drugs and in the absence of an adequate pain management strategy by local clinicians. It would seem that a significant number of codeine addicts also have a co-morbid mental health problem. Some addicts also have a poly-drug problem, involving, for instance, alcohol or other prescription drugs.

Mark Edwards became addicted to codeine following complications arising from an operation that left him with chronic pain. If he had received help to manage his pain, he would probably not have become an addict. Following his experience, he established “”, an online site to support those who have problems with over-the-counter medicines, especially those that contain codeine products.

People who regularly suffer headaches and who self-medicate with codeine-containing products may develop a symptom that has been termed medication overuse headache. When they are enabled to give up the products, the headaches disappear. The overuse of codeine, of course, desensitises the pain receptors, particularly those in the brain.

People who become addicted to over-the-counter medicines believe that the products that they are buying without prescription are safe and therefore that they cannot become addicted to them. Similarly, patients who receive prescriptions from their doctors believe that they will be protected from serious side-effects, and they too cannot believe that they might become addicted or at least physically dependent on a product prescribed by their GP.

With both tranquilliser and codeine addiction, we found that most GPs either do not recognise the problem that their patients have or are at a loss to know how to deal with them. The plain fact is that it is probably easier today for an illegal drug user to get a referral to a drug and alcohol action team—a DAAT—than it is for those having problems with legal drugs, other than alcohol, to get treatment for their condition.

Our report contains 24 recommendations. They include the adequate training of medical professionals; raising awareness of the problem; proper prescribing and the monitoring of patients; more research to establish the scale of the problem; and, most important, recognition of those patients with problems and the ability to refer them to an appropriate treatment centre.

It is vital that all who work in the health care field, especially nurses, doctors and pharmacists, receive training in substance misuse as well as good prescribing practice. We live in an era of a pill for every ill, yet many patients require only to be listened to and perhaps referred on; for example, to a cognitive behavioural therapist.

The pharmaceutical industry and the patient both have responsibilities, the former to make patients aware of potential problems such as physical dependence or addiction—for instance, in the patient information leaflet or PIL—and the latter to ensure that they read the PIL or listen to the advice given by their doctor or pharmacist. Trade organisations, such as the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain, also have responsibilities to ensure that the products produced by their member companies are safe at the point of sale, as does the MHRA, which licenses and monitors the sale of medicines in the UK.

All those bodies should raise awareness of the dangers of buying products on the internet. The MHRA works with internet service providers to close down websites found to be operating illegally, but it has jurisdiction only in the UK. In the past five years, however, it has been successful in 18 prosecutions of operators of websites trading medicines illegally in the UK. Primary care trusts also have a responsibility to ensure that benzodiazepines and zed drugs are prescribed responsibly, that general practitioners who prescribe outside the guidelines justify that behaviour to them and that the patients affected are monitored adequately so that the problems described this morning do not develop.

Our all-party group believes that codeine-containing packs should contain no more than 18 tablets and that all sales should be accompanied by appropriate advice on the addictive potential of these medicines. In some countries, the advertising of codeine-containing products has been banned and, in others, such as the USA, they have been made prescription-only medicines—POMs. However, we would not wish to burden doctors any more than they are already, and, in any case, there is a move in this country towards self-medication, with a greater role for pharmacists in advising patients. I welcome that. A 2006 study conducted in Northern Ireland concluded that, on average, a pharmacist would see about two over-the-counter medicine misusers a week, but a 2001 study conducted in Scotland put the figure a little higher—at an average of five per pharmacy per week. So the problem is not unknown in pharmacy shops.

The National Treatment Agency was set up in 2000 and has been very successful in treating those referred to it who are addicted to controlled—or street—drugs. However, we believe that it is not geared up to treating those with the problems that I have been describing. The stigma associated with controlled drug addiction, and the shame associated with those who have become involuntarily addicted to prescription and over-the-counter medicines, means that such patients are hardly likely to volunteer for referral to the facilities provided by DAATs. In our report, therefore, we have recommended that the Department of Health provide centres for treatment within the NHS, but separate from those provided by DAATs. Throughout our report, we stress the importance of voluntary organisations in helping patients, but their resources have become extremely stretched in recent years. I plead with the Government to support them more.

Finally, it is important that the Department of Health commissions research to measure the extent of these problems and monitor future prescribing and sales of the problem medicines. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister—I am glad that he is answering this debate—can persuade the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) to meet me with a small delegation to discuss these problems in more depth and to seek a sensible way forward.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). His all-party group was the first that I joined when I entered this place; his leadership is exemplary and a fantastic example of how an all-party group should be run. It is one of the most proactive groups in this place. He has done a fantastic job and will be a great loss to this House.

I joined the group owing to personal involvement: my mother was an addict. When she was originally diagnosed with alcoholism, in the 1970s and 1980s, the answer was to prescribe medication, which is what the GP did. But he did not stop at one prescription. After five or six years, she ended up taking about seven or eight types of medication. She would not stop taking one type, but simply start taking an extra one. At that time—this remains a huge problem—there was very little understanding of the interaction between all those types of drugs. But the situation gets even worse than that. Although the situation with prescription drugs has improved over the past 10 to 15 years, there remains a problem with their interaction with things that can be bought in the supermarket. For instance, cough mixtures contain morphine and codeine, which simply fuel past addictions. However, in my experience, assistance with, and understanding of, full-blown addiction to over-the-counter drugs is very limited.

There are huge differences between an illness, a condition and an addiction, and the treatments for all three have their own peculiarities. However, each one is also inter-linked, and treating an addiction, like treating an illness or condition, can actually make it worse, so education on those three terms is extremely important. I recently attended a seminar, in this place, run by Mind and spoke to some of those present. Until then I had never thought about the difference between mental health and mental illness, but the issues involved are quite different. Over-the-counter drugs have a hugely detrimental effect on people with mental illnesses. It is easy to overdose on these drugs, whether through, for example, paracetamol, codeine in tablets or Nurofen. It is extremely easy to get into that position. The problem affects all age groups, and is not confined to the old, the young or the middle-aged. One of the huge tasks before us is on education, not just of individuals, but of service providers.

Hon. Members should try this for themselves: enter a supermarket and try to buy three or four bottles of cough mixture. It will sell them. Then go to a pharmacist and ask for the same. It will say, “You can’t have them.” There is a huge imbalance in the controls for pharmacists and off-the-shelf buys, and obviously that is exacerbated by the internet.

The hon. Gentleman raised another huge concern about the support services. During a recession, budgets are always cut, whether through local health boards, PCTs or borough councils, and I am worried that the fringe element—as it is seen—of support will be the first to be hit, despite being the very services that support people with addictions. For example, the Drug and Family Support Group, in my constituency, relies on donations and funding from borough councils. It is one of the few organisations in my borough that deals with such problems, and the consequences of losing that support will be dire.

Counselling services—we have heard about some today, but there are many others—need to be core funded. Too many support groups have to go cap in hand for funding. We also need to consider how people are signposted to services in our local communities and constituencies. Through GP services, they tend to be signposted to the first support group in the book, but there are so many groups helping so many different things. From personal experience, I know that it is very difficult to work through the minefield of support.

I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to read the report, of which I had the privilege to be a part, and to consider its recommendations. They were made in the hope that we can improve the situation. The suffering of an addict spreads throughout their family; it affects not only the addict, but so many others within the family and the community. I fear that the problem is growing. People often turn to some form of medication during periods of recession, depression and anxiety, and before they know it, their drug taking can spin out of control.

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I urge everyone to read this excellent report—I was part of it, so I would say that, would I not?—and I hope that its recommendations will be taken forward.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on his years of service on the all-party group on drug misuse. He will be sadly missed when he leaves. He has brought to that group a scientific rigour from his professional background that has been a continual challenge to the evidence-free policies on drugs, including medicinal drugs, by a succession of Governments.

I had a striking contribution yesterday from someone whom we will call “John” who illustrated vividly how society has been conditioned to believe that there is a pill for every ill. His 11-year-old daughter was asked in school to make a list of 10 medicines that she had taken, or that she knew about. Coming from a family who do not use medicines for ordinary complaints—they allow the ordinary diseases of life to take their course—she could only manage to write down one medicine while the rest of the class had no difficulty in writing down 10 that they had taken themselves. The school was so alarmed by that that it contacted my correspondent and asked him whether he belonged to a particular religious sect and whether he wanted his daughter withdrawn from the class because he might have objections to drugs. A parent who takes a purely rational approach to drugs, to the great health of their children, is treated as someone who is so exceptional that they have to be asked whether their children should be taken out of the class.

However, such drug taking is not a new phenomenon. If any of us had gone to see Dr. Freud in Vienna, he would have prescribed for us the drug that he took himself. He gave it to all of his family and every one of his patients in the belief that it was greatly beneficial and harmless. That drug was cocaine. A generation later, the drug of use for what we would now call depression or mild exam sickness was bromide, which created its own psychosis.

Going on from that, in the ’50s and ’60s, we had the dibenzodiazepines. Following that came the tricyclics and then the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. When those drugs were introduced, they were all said to be beneficial, which they rarely were, and it was said that they would not create dependency, which they did. In fact, they all did a great amount of harm, so it is not something that is just happening now. None the less, the examples quoted are striking and important. The pharmaceutical industry has done a great deal of good. In many ways, it has produced miracles of science. On BBC 2 tomorrow night at 9 o’clock there is a programme called “The Price of Life”, which I recommend everyone to watch. It looks at the way in which medicinal substances are marketed, created and sold. Behind the many good things that are done is a greedy, self-absorbed market that puts its profits as its highest goal.

We must look at the way in which lives have been damaged by our belief that for every moment of boredom, distress, grief, pain or discomfort, there is an answer in a pill; it is not true. I should like to talk at great length about the problems of pain. Pain is a construct, and the least successful way of dealing with it is to take a pill. There are much more sophisticated ways in which to deal with pain. I constantly say that if Beethoven had been on painkillers or Michelangelo had been on antidepressants, we would never have heard of them. Such pills are the antidote to the creative process. There are other ways in life in which we can deal with the affliction of pain. Often, the least successful and most dangerous way to do it is through using drugs that are vastly overused to the detriment of the happiness and health of millions of people.

I commend the all-party report. I had the great privilege of being invited to chair one of the group’s evidence sessions. I learned a great deal from it. I saw how people had had their lives deeply affected by the overuse and misuse of medicinal drugs. On the evidence of this report, I hope that my hon. Friend will hear that there will be a meeting with Ministers and that there can be a major advance in the way in which we dispense drugs.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor. Like previous speakers, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and thank him for providing leadership on this issue. Moreover, I echo the comments made by the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) when he said that this debate shows how powerful all-party parliamentary groups can be when they do their job and provide leadership on an issue. In this case, the issue was not getting sufficient public attention or leadership. I should like the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East to pass on our thanks to the whole group.

Rightly, successive Governments have spent a lot of time, energy and money dealing with the problems associated with illegal drugs. I am sure that we all support that effort. There have been different ways of approaching the problem, but the thrust has always been to deal with the social and personal impact of illegal drugs. None the less, we must start by saying that such an approach has led to the more difficult problems associated with perfectly legal drugs—prescription-only drugs and over-the-counter medicines—not receiving the attention that has so rightly been brought into focus. However, we must strike a balance between dealing with the problems associated with those drugs and allowing people to continue to benefit from their appropriate use. The all-party report provides some practical suggestions on how the issue can be taken forward.

I also want to draw attention to the all-party parliamentary group on involuntary tranquilliser addiction, of which I am a member. It focuses on a specific part of the problem. Today, the hon. Members for Blaenau Gwent and for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) described very powerfully their personal involvement in the issue. Although I have had no personal involvement in such matters, I have had to deal with a number of constituent cases, including that of Simon Kaberry, whose father, Sir Donald Kaberry, was MP for the constituency of Leeds North-West for 33 years. Whether or not I can match that length of service, we will have to see, but it has been a pleasure to work with Simon and to hear about his problems. His prescription of daytime tranquillisers, in place of sleeping pills back in the early 1990s, has ruined his life. He was defrauded of a significant amount of money, and was granted legal aid to sue those who were responsible for his negligent prescriptions. That case is still going on. That is a high-profile and extreme case, but, as we have heard, the cases of addiction are all too common. We do not know exactly how many people are addicted to prescription-only medicines let alone those who are addicted to over-the-counter medicines. Could more work be done to establish that figure? Difficult though that would be, it is important to understand the scale of the problem.

There are guidelines on prescription-only tranquillisers, including of benzodiazepines, which have already been mentioned, but are they working? We know that such tranquillisers are widely abused drugs. Wasted medication, over-prescription and mis-prescribing, as in the case of Mr. Kaberry, are potential explanations for the availability of drugs. It has been estimated that prescribing medication that is wasted costs £100 million a year, which must be a concern. Where have the substances that we are talking about today gone, and into whose hands have they been put?

As the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East said, an estimated 1.5 million people are addicted to benzodiazepine drugs and 2 million people were addicted to a broader group of drugs. He also said that some drug users are using prescription tranquillisers as part of a regular drug routine. However, other people are stuck in a cycle, having been properly prescribed drugs—at least they believe that they have been properly prescribed them. Again, people access the drugs for different reasons, which is another factor that makes the situation difficult to deal with.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain has expressed concerns that there is currently no referral system specifically for misusers of prescription-only and over-the-counter medicines, yet pharmacists have an important job in signposting people to other health professionals and organisations as appropriate. Will the Minister consider action that would assist and educate pharmacists in that regard? Does he have any plans to regulate pharmacy technicians through legislation? That could also have a part to play. What training is given to pharmacists to provide them with more information on dealing with abuse of prescription-only and over-the-counter medicines, including information on identifying the signs, as we have heard that pharmacists play an important role in that area?

Another problem is that drugs are widely available in supermarkets. That will clearly be more difficult to target, but could the kind of restrictions that registered pharmacists rightly operate be at least put in place for supermarkets to ensure that people do not have easy access to inappropriate quantities of drugs that are likely to be indicators of abuse?

As with so many areas of public policy, the internet presents a difficult challenge. One problem is that by trading on the internet or in supermarkets, we lose the link that has traditionally existed between the community and the pharmacy. Pharmacy staff might have a good and close relationship with other organisations, including the doctors who prescribe the medicines and, when necessary, the local police, but supermarkets and the internet do not. It is much more difficult to monitor the patterns of purchase that suggest misuse in supermarkets and on the internet than in pharmacies.

No one is suggesting that we can turn the clock back and that drugs should not be available on the internet, but we need to review access to over-the-counter medicines on the internet. Does the Minister see any way of applying the control of entry requirements for pharmacies to online mail-order pharmacies? I do not know the answer to that question, and I suspect the Minister does not, but it might be worth considering the matter. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has suggested that its logo could be used to identify bona fide pharmacies, whether they are existing chemists, as we call them, or supermarkets or online facilities. That could help. If the Minister thought that that was appropriate, there would need to be guidelines and a system for monitoring the logo and, especially, a system for clamping down on anyone who used the logo fraudulently. That would have to be traceable.

The debate on such drugs should now change. The practical solutions that the all-party group on drugs misuse have suggested could and should be looked at as a framework. The Government should consider the solutions—they do not have to accept all of them—and introduce measures to tackle this difficult issue. It would also make sense to look at labelling and further education so that people can become more aware of the dangers. As has been shown, many are not aware of those dangers. As the hon. Member for Newport, West said, there must be more education within and outside the medical profession about other treatments and therapies, particularly for pain. I am glad that the Government have been moving in that direction. Bringing the subject under discussion into that debate could be extremely helpful.

Would there be a risk of increasing abuse if the labelling was made more explicit to increase awareness? I genuinely do not know the answer to that question.

As with many questions on this matter, we do not know the answer—it is important to say that—but we clearly agree that the solutions must be research based. On labelling, we must be mindful of the danger that the hon. Gentleman described, but we could deal with that problem by talking about the dangers in an appropriate way.

This is an important debate. I thank the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East for introducing it and the all-party group for its report. I would like to think that we will come back, perhaps in a year, to see how much of the report the Government have taken up. I hope that the matter will be taken very seriously by the Minister and that we see progress on this difficult but very important issue.

I am pleased to be under your guidance again this morning, Mr. Taylor.

I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on the comprehensive and detailed way in which he set out the contents of his report this morning and on the enormous amount of work that he and his colleagues have done to collate all the evidence that they took in an easily understandable way. His introduction clearly highlighted some of the key issues. He described the scale of the problem, even though further research is needed to get a more accurate handle on the numbers. He also mentioned substance displacement, as well as an issue referred to by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland)—internet regulation and the complex problem of regulating online pharmacies—and called for greater acknowledgement that further research is required on a range of issues.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) made an interesting contribution that highlighted his own and his family’s personal experience of the problem. He was right to raise the issue of mental health, to which I will return, and pointed out rightly that drug misuse can affect people of all ages, although one interesting fact in the report is that the majority of misusers are female. I could not find any detailed analysis of why that is, so perhaps the solutions need to address the core of the problem. The issue certainly requires further investigation and research.

Some research highlights the fact that analgesics in particular are advertised in women’s magazines and programmes that women watch, whereas they are never advertised in men’s magazines. That is suggested as one reason why abusers are predominantly women.

I am grateful for that intervention. I am sure that that is a contributory factor. It is in stark contrast to the recent report demonstrating that men are much more likely than women to die of cancer. There are interesting divergences across many of the illnesses and problems from which people in the UK suffer.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent made a good point about supportive services in his constituency. I can assure him—not that it is any consolation—that in my constituency in rural Lincolnshire, we have exactly the same problem with funding streams coming to an end, normally after three years, and councils being squeezed for money to spend. There are issues across Wales and England with regard to support services.

It is clear that misuse has an impact not only on the lives of those who suffer but on the lives of their carers or wider family and community supporters. I suspect that that impact will be exacerbated by the current recession. The hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) was right to point out that the problem is not a new one but has a long history, and to point out the impact of pain and pain relief. I am sure that he would be the first to acknowledge that one of the main factors that seems to lead to misuse is a lack of pain management, as the report highlighted. There are clearly two sides to the issue.

There has been a great deal of debate, research and Government policy thinking on the misuse of illegal substances, but the report rightly highlights that to date, there has been no significant focus on the misuse of legal substances. Clearly both the current and—hopefully—the future Government will need to consider it more closely. There is evidence to suggest that prescription drugs are often used in conjunction with illegal substances. The two are not mutually exclusive, which makes research even more complex than it might seem at first. It might increase the effectiveness of the overall war against drugs if the misuse of some prescription and over-the-counter medicines were considered alongside the misuse of illegal drugs and, indeed, the combination not just of illegal and legal drugs, but of legal drugs and alcohol, which is another legal drug.

It is a challenging topic, and the report went into exactly the right amount of detail, highlighting analysis of the problems while including the personal experiences of some of the people to whom the all-party group talked. Some people might dismiss the problem as superficial, but it is clearly not. It is serious when it leads to loss of life and suicide, which are mentioned in the report.

The hon. Gentleman might have seen in the pack kindly provided to us by the Library that in 2005 some 8,500 deaths resulted from the use of OxyContin, as we call it in this country, in the United States alone. That number exceeds the combined number of deaths from cocaine and heroin use that year in the United States. That is how serious the problem is becoming across the pond, and it is drifting across to this country as well.

I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight that; I did see that figure. One suggestion made in the report deserves further consideration: many coroners are saying that when suicides occur, any prescription drug that the individual was taking should be noted and investigated further.

[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

In many cases of addiction to prescription medicines, the GP is aware of the situation. As the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East said in response to my intervention, GPs know their patients best, but GPs often do not feel suitably qualified to assist patients in reducing their dependence. More must be done to make GPs aware of the possibility of addiction and help them to deal with patient dependence. Part of that could involve ensuring that GPs are aware of the British national guidelines on the optimum length of prescriptions for medicines. They must also be suitably trained to prescribe alternative treatments, such as talking therapies—I will have some questions about that for the Minister in a moment—without being hindered by excessive waiting times or limited access, as currently happens too often.

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s interesting speech, but I am greatly encouraged by the idea that he might have a leading role in a future Government. We know that all parties act against illegal drugs, because no one who has a vested interest in defending them can do so publicly, but if a future Government were to campaign to reduce the use and abuse of legal medicines, they would meet ferocious opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, which would denounce the Government for keeping medicines away from the public. If his party were in government, would it be courageous enough to take on the pharmaceutical companies?

I do not see that as the issue. The issue is ensuring that over-the-counter and prescription medicines are used responsibly. Most patients in this country use access to medicines responsibly to better their lives, but we are discussing misuse. Any responsible Government should focus on misuse, which is not necessarily the same thing as attacking the pharmaceutical industry, as the hon. Gentleman suggests. The pharmaceutical industry plays a significant role in alleviating the pain and suffering of many people in this country. It is misuse that we need to focus on, not the market as a whole.

One way to do so—I know that the Government have started to think about it, and we are certainly keen to find ways to facilitate it—is to ensure that GPs and pharmacists work together more closely for the betterment of patients in their respective communities. In the Prime Minister’s constituency in Scotland, I went to a GP’s surgery with an embedded pharmacist. She holds her own surgeries, where people come to discuss what prescription medicines they are on and GPs come to her for advice. That is something that we need to consider. Some primary care trusts are reducing the number of prescriptions for medicines that could be classed as addictive. I would certainly like to see examples of best practice replicated more widely across the country. As hon. Members have said, it is difficult to get a handle on the number of people who are affected by misuse, particularly as many become dependent on painkillers after inadequate pain management strategies for existing conditions. That deserves greater focus.

Pharmacists could play a greater role in treating minor ailments and illnesses so that GPs’ time is freed up to deal with more serious cases. We support an increase in the use of medicines use reviews, which can be early indicators of unhealthy or over-extensive patterns of prescription medicine use. They also provide a good opportunity for pharmacists to discuss a patient’s use of over-the-counter medicines. As the report stated, the issue of unsupervised repeat prescriptions should be considered. Pharmacists could play a greater role in disseminating to patients information about public health, the dangers of taking too many over-the-counter or prescription drugs that might have an addictive quality, and access to local drug and alcohol teams and talking therapies.

We are concerned about the high concurrence of drug dependency and mental health problems and believe that more must be done to tackle underlying mental health problems. There should be greater focus on the provision of mental health services. We supported the roll-out of crisis resolution teams, early intervention and assertive outreach. In what has been an apolitical debate, I am sorry to say that mental health services still do not get the priority that the depth of suffering demands on many issues, including resources, waiting times, quality assurance mechanisms and health outcomes. When there is a concurrence of drug dependency and mental health, it must be addressed.

We support more use of talking therapies and cognitive behavioural therapies, rather than the prescription of medicines for mental illnesses. However, people can wait for up to two years for those treatments. I understand that 86 per cent. of people with schizophrenia do not receive such treatments. The Minister will recall that in October 2007, the then Secretary of State announced a £170 million pledge for talking therapies. Has all that money been spent, and if so, how? How many of the additional 3,600 therapists have been recruited? In 2004, the Government announced that they would locate employment advisers in GP surgeries to assist people in tackling their mental illnesses and returning to the workplace. How many have been appointed? When does he expect the national outcomes measurement project, which will result in standardised outcome measures for mental health, to be fully operational?

Do the Minister and his civil servants agree with the report’s recommendation that further research should be undertaken into the scale of the problem of prescription and over-the-counter drug misuse, and into the long-term impacts of such addiction? If so, when will the research funding allocation be made and when does he envisage the research being completed?

I shall reiterate some points made by other hon. Members. On pack sizes, the British Medical Journal has reported that fewer people have been admitted with, or have died from, paracetamol poisoning since the pack size was reduced. How far has the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency got in considering a reduction in pack sizes for medicines that contain codeine?

What stage have the Government reached in their consultation on the point of sale of medicines? The Minister will recall that the pharmacy White Paper proposed changes to the sale point of medicines to correct the anomaly that makes it possible to buy paracetamol at a petrol station, but not at a GP surgery. Has that consultation been completed? If so, what decisions have been taken about increasing access to over-the-counter medicines and when were they taken? The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West rightly said that pharmacists should receive additional information to enable them to look for and recognise the symptoms displayed by people who misuse prescription or over-the-counter medicines.

Will the Minister confirm what progress has been made on the barcoding system that was mentioned in the excellent report? Has the pilot shown that barcoding reduces the availability of counterfeit products? Will that measure be rolled out more widely?

I will not reiterate the points that have been made on internet pharmacies. That issue is extremely complex, especially given the international element. It would be helpful if the Minister explained what progress the Department is making on that.

The Department should consider a few other areas that were highlighted in the report. First, it should look at research into depression. There is a clear link between depression and the misuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Secondly, we should have more clinical trials in this country. Hon. Members will be aware of the reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to enter into clinical trials in this country for a variety of reasons. We must have a broader representation of such trials in this country. Thirdly, as I mentioned earlier, attention should be given to the fact that the majority of misusers are female.

The lack of a pain management strategy often leads to misuse. Clearly, there should be public education about the harm that can be caused by the misuse of the illicit drugs we are discussing and by mixing them with other illegal and legal drugs such as alcohol. That information and education must be accessible and understandable for those at whom it is targeted. Far too often, such information is inaccessible, particularly for those who are digitally excluded. We must find ways of taking information to people and patients, rather than waiting for them to access it.

As hon. Members have mentioned, the Government should also consider the potential benefits of alternative treatments. However, such provision must be relevant to the circumstances of each patient.

The report makes it clear that there should be greater focus on this issue. I hope that in the time they have remaining, the Government will provide that focus.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing this important debate. As hon. Members have said, he has taken a keen interest in this issue over many years, not least through the all-party parliamentary drugs misuse group, which he has chaired with great distinction over the last 10 years. I was unaware that he would be standing down from that role today. I put on record our thanks and congratulations to him on the excellent job he has done. He has been determined through his efforts to raise the profile of addiction to prescription and over-the-counter medicines. He will be a hard act to follow.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) spoke movingly of the impact his mother’s experiences had on his family and the wider community. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) and the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) talked about constituents who have come to them with experiences of misuse and about how they have responded to them. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West also highlighted the complexities and dilemmas in this difficult area of policy.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) has clearly read the pharmacy White Paper because he has been reading it back to me. I am pleased about that and was grateful to hear his suggestions. He will be glad to know that the White Paper is being implemented as we speak and that many of his thoughts about the role of pharmacies and pharmacists are part of Government policy.

For the Government, it is important to address all drug addiction, including addiction to prescription and over-the-counter medicines. We want to make it clear that tackling drug misuse of any kind is a Government priority, and we have made massive strides in reducing the harm that drug misuse can do to individuals and to society as a whole. We have made a substantial investment in drug treatment through the pooled drug treatment budget that has been allocated to primary care trusts on behalf of local drug partnerships. In the past 10 years, investment has increased from £142 million in 2001-02 to £406 million in this financial year. Of that sum, £24.7 million has been earmarked specifically to support treatments for young people.

We are committed to getting drug misusers off their drugs of addiction, and we are supporting drug users in working towards that goal. As we have heard today, drug addiction can be a long-term, chronic, relapsing condition that requires treatment over an extended period. Independent research shows that drug treatment is one of the most effective treatments in the NHS. For every £1 we spend on drug treatment, we make a saving of £9.50 for society as a whole. Some 83 per cent. of those treated in 2007-08 either completed treatment successfully or were still in treatment on 31 March 2008, so we are keeping 78 per cent. of people in treatment for at least 12 weeks because we know that staying in treatment for 12 weeks has a lasting and positive impact on reducing the harms associated with addiction and that it is a key measure of effective treatment.

In the three years from 2007 to 2010, we are investing £54.3 million of new funding, over and above the pooled drug treatment budget, to fund the expansion of in-patient detoxification and residential rehabilitation services to help drug users to beat their addiction. The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent spoke of his worries about cuts to public spending affecting this area. As I have just described, the Government have invested considerable extra money in drug treatments and dealing with the causes and effects of addiction, and we will continue to make that investment. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness said that he did not want to introduce a discordant party political note into the debate, but perhaps he should suggest to his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench that his party’s pledge to cut public spending on health, education and other public services by 10 per cent. would have a devastating impact on the NHS services that we seek to deliver. I am pleased to tell the House that we have recently made available an additional capital sum of £11.8 million in the current year to enhance further the quality of drug treatment services.

The all-party group on drugs misuse has made several recommendations on issues such as training for medical professionals, awareness among prescribers about the potential for dependency and the need to monitor prescribing practices. Let me address the specific concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East has raised. We have a new national initiative to improve the training of all future doctors regarding substances of misuse. In 2007, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Dawn Primarolo), then the Minister for Public Health, launched the “Substance Misuse in the Undergraduate Medical Curriculum” guidance document for all medical schools. That innovative work was funded by the Department of Health and was produced with the agreement of all UK medical schools and all the key national bodies involved in undergraduate medical education. It describes the core substance misuse curriculum that has been agreed and that should be used for the comprehensive training of medical students, and it has now been published and widely distributed.

The project is now in its final phase of implementation, and further Department of Health funding is being made available to all the medical schools in England, over the next two years, to incorporate the curriculum into all the schools’ training programmes. As a result, on qualification, medical students should be able to demonstrate awareness of the range of substances that can be misused, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and should be able to describe the principles of good prescribing. The impact of that will be significant. Some 6,000 new doctors qualify each year, and it is estimated that the combination of undergraduate training and continuous professional development training will, over the next 10 years, ensure that approximately 60,000 doctors are better equipped to deliver competent practice in substance misuse.

The second area that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East talked about was awareness. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which monitors the safety of all medicines in the UK, is working with over-the-counter trade associations on a package of measures to support the safe and effective use of codeine, and advice on that will be sought from the Commission on Human Medicines. In addition, strengthened patient information and warnings about the risks of addiction and overuse were introduced in 2005 for medicines containing codeine and dihydrocodeine. At the same time—for the benefit of the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness, who asked about this—a voluntary agreement was reached with manufacturers to restrict the size of over-the-counter packs to 32 tablets.

The MHRA, in association with its expert group on patient information, has reviewed patient information for the products that are most often subject to abuse or misuse, such as laxatives and sleeping aids, and has produced best practice advice on minimising the risk of abuse or misuse. The MHRA uses a variety of methods to collect information on the safety of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and health care professionals and patients are encouraged to report suspected adverse drug reactions to it via the yellow card scheme. Also, there is a legal requirement on pharmaceutical companies to report reactions to their products. If action is needed to address safety concerns or problems of misuse and dependence, a number of regulatory options are available, such as withdrawing the product from the market or amending the labelling and patient information leaflet that accompanies a medicine to warn health care professionals and patients about such risks—a point was made about labelling earlier. Similarly, the legal status of medicines may be changed.

Is the Minister satisfied with the yellow card scheme? Only half a dozen adverse reactions to Vioxx were reported here, but the United States, which has a more rigorous way of measuring adverse reactions, decided that there had been 144,000 heart attacks and strokes as a result of using Vioxx, and it was therefore banned in this country and in America. Had we depended on the yellow card scheme, we would never have discovered the danger of that simple painkiller. Do we not need to improve the current system?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point about comparisons between strategies that work in different countries. These matters are never quite comparable, but I shall certainly draw his concerns about the efficacy of the yellow card scheme to the attention of the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), who has responsibilities for public health and this area of policy.

Several hon. Members have expressed concerns about the internet and how people obtain prescription drugs. We know that some people obtain benzodiazepines and other medicines through internet pharmacies, from abroad and by other illicit means. The MHRA continues to monitor internet activity and takes action against any identified breaches of legislation, where possible. The safety, quality and efficacy of medicines purchased via the internet cannot be guaranteed, and their effects on patients cannot be monitored, which is why we control tightly the supply of medicines and prescription-only medication in the UK. The MHRA has warned that online supplies of medicine may well pose risks to consumer health, and recommends that prescription-only and pharmacy-only medicines should be obtained through registered pharmacies.

Action is also being taken through designated internet days of action, which are organised and conducted on a number of dates during the year. They involve working alongside international regulators with the specific aim of taking down websites that act illegally. More such days of action are planned throughout 2009 and beyond.

On the question of prescribing and monitoring, we are using a number of mechanisms to promote and support high-quality, clinically effective prescribing and medicines management right across the NHS to ensure patient safety and to help improve patient care and service delivery. We have made sure that prescribers have access to a wide variety of impartial, trustworthy information resources to support their prescribing, including resources from the British National Formulary, National Prescribing Centre information and advice, and guidance from the independent National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Such resources will assist prescribers in making clinically cost-effective prescribing decisions. A wealth of information is available through the National Library for Health and various academic and professional journals. NHS prescribers also have access to advice from the network of local drugs and therapeutics committees, and from PCT pharmaceutical advisers.

It is an obvious thing to state, but no medicine is 100 per cent. risk free. However, we expect individual prescribers to be aware of the potential for addiction and to ensure that medicines are prescribed appropriately depending on a patient’s individual needs. In exercising their professional and clinical judgement, prescribers should always consider the available guidance and the best practice that is shared within the prescribing community. At a more local level—this has been raised in the debate—pharmaceutical advisers, who are mainly pharmacists, are employed by strategic health authorities or primary care trusts with the common aim of encouraging and securing rational and cost-effective prescribing and providing a source of advice and support for prescribers in their area. There are now more than 1,200 advisers, many of whom conduct face-to-face reviews with GPs and carry out reviews of prescribing activity.

In this country, primary care trusts and their pharmaceutical advisers have very effective electronic information systems for prescribing in general practice. They routinely monitor detailed prescribing information and can easily identify unusual or excessive prescribing by individual doctors. Such a system further supports the monitoring of the quality and safety of prescribing and is another important factor that contributes to improving practice in this area. The General Medical Council has produced guidance for doctors to ensure that proper standards in the practice of medicine are maintained, including in relation to the prescribing of medicines. If the proper standards are not maintained, the General Medical Council has the power to remove a doctor’s right to practise medicine.

A fourth area mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East was research. The 2008 drug strategy highlighted the importance of further research in the drugs field to boost our understanding of addiction and to identify opportunities for new forms of treatment or prevention. Since then, work has been under way to develop a cross-Government research programme on drugs. Our analysis in the Department of Health has revealed—I think that my hon. Friend pointed this out—the need for additional information about dependence on prescribed drugs and over-the-counter drugs.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to let the House know that, starting next month, resources have been identified in the Department to undertake a review of the information that we already have. That review will identify the key gaps in data and consider what additional work needs to be taken in hand, and it will take the points made in the report of my hon. Friend’s all-party group on drugs misuse very seriously; indeed, it will also take seriously the points made by him and other hon. Members today.

On treatment, in line with what my hon. Friend seeks, primary care trusts are responsible for deciding on the provision of treatment and services that reflect local needs and priorities, including in relation to tranquilliser addiction.

I also want to talk about the availability of other treatments in providing support for mental health problems. In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness, I can tell the House that the Government are investing significantly in the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme—IAPT, as it is known—to widen the range of treatment available for people with common mental health problems. The hon. Gentleman was critical of the funding and the support that has been provided for mental health services. Let me tell him that mental health services have received a 44 per cent. increase in funding and only a few months ago—just before Christmas—the World Health Organisation commended highly the strategy for mental health services in England and said that it was one of the best in Europe.

I will not accept any criticism from the hon. Gentleman and his party about the work that we have been doing to support and invest in mental health services. IAPT offers a range of NICE-approved therapies, including guided self-help, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, behavioural activation and exercise. Annual funding is rising to £173 million in the third year—2010-11—to train 3,600 extra therapists and treat 900,000 more people in those three years. This Government are proud of that record of investment and progress, which will make a real difference to supporting people with mental health problems. Those services can be provided in primary care, secondary mental health services or secondary substance misuse services depending on need.

The current range of measures that I have described might, in part, explain the fall that we have seen in benzodiazepine prescribing over the last decade. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East for noting that in the all-party group’s report. In terms of over-the-counter medicines abuse, it is likely that the range of measures and safeguards that we have established in the UK have contributed to our having fewer problems than other countries. I recognise that, considering the size of these problems, the evidence is limited and I assure my hon. Friend that I am not complacent about such an important issue. I will, of course, draw to the attention of the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln, my hon. Friend’s request for a meeting with him and other officers of the group to present the findings of the report. I am sure that she would be delighted to meet him—although it is a bit naughty of me to say so on her behalf because she is not here—to learn about and discuss these issues in more depth.

I hope that what I have highlighted today reassures my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East and, indeed, the whole House that, as a Government, we are determined to do all in our power to minimise drug dependency in all its forms. This debate has been very useful in highlighting these important matters, and I congratulate the all-party group and my hon. Friend on securing the debate and presenting the findings of the group’s report here today.

UK Deaf Sport

I am enormously pleased to have secured this debate in the ballot because, as I will come to in the course of my comments, this issue is not just about athletes, but about the way that we treat people with hearing disabilities generally. I am also pleased to have secured the debate because, until a couple of years ago, we had a remarkable school called Hawkswood school in my constituency. It was a school for the hearing impaired and profoundly deaf, and although we fought long and hard to keep it open, sadly, we failed—although we secured other special needs schools. I will come back to the issue of why that particular school ended up going when we were able to save other special needs schools, because that matter has a bearing on the nature of this debate.

In essence, this is about a constituent called Ollie Monksfield. I want to set out the particular and rather personal story of Ollie because it illustrates the problem of a group of young men and women who have aspirations like everybody else to compete on behalf of their country, but who will find doing so impossible or so difficult that it is a scarring experience. Ollie Monksfield is profoundly deaf but he was selected to play for the British football squad at the deaf Olympics in September. He was part of the team that won gold at the last deaf Olympic games in Melbourne. I do not think that the deaf Olympics has ever been broadcast across the media but, none the less, I hope that we are proud of it—we certainly should be.

Interestingly, like many people with hearing disabilities, Ollie was not born profoundly deaf. He became deaf at about nine months when he was diagnosed with meningitis C. Ollie has always excelled at football. Interestingly, he was selected for trials for a major club. I was astonished on hearing that upon learning of his disability, the club refused him a place despite his obvious and impressive talent on the pitch. The Minister, who is on the other side of the House but is a good friend of mine in footballing terms, would be appalled by that, but that is another story. However, it illustrates what I am saying.

The point I wish to make today is that Ollie has managed, under a great deal of pressure, to raise some money towards fulfilling his dream of helping Team GB successfully defend its title in Taipei, but he and the others need to raise much more money. He personally has to raise another £1,000 by 30 June but is hitting brick wall after brick wall to secure his place. When I speak to him, he tells me that there is now every chance that he may not be able to go because he will not raise the money. Frankly, that would be a tragedy for him and the others.

I raised this debate because I am concerned that Ollie and his team mates should ever have been put in such a position. In a funny way, they are the little group that has been swept under the carpet without—I hope—anyone quite realising what was happening. I have never met anyone with disabilities who wants to rely on handouts, and these people are legitimately proud. They are proud particularly as athletes of what they have achieved in their own right.

I am enormously pleased—I know that the Minister is as well—to see how the Paralympics and other competitions have grown in the public’s imagination. It is a sign of a just and decent society that we find a place for people with huge difficulties, not necessarily caused by anything that they had done to them during the course of their lives. That is a matter to be proud of.

It is almost as though the group has been cast aside. Ollie does not want to rely on handouts. He is a secondary school physical education teacher who works very hard every day. The decision to withdraw funding for the team to go out to compete in Taipei sends the wrong message. We should be doing all that we can to support all people with any disability, not just some while leaving others out.

I know, Mr. Wilshire, that we are not meant to refer to people in the gallery. None the less, I shall refer to someone who is not here. Ollie is too busy at school, but also, in conversations with him, he told me that he was concerned that he may not have been able to follow the proceedings. That, too, illustrates my point.

The fact is that the UK Sport grant of £42,000—that is all—to UK Deaf Sport was withdrawn, with effect from April 2008. The reason for withdrawing the funding is that UK Sport is apparently focusing mainly on the successful delivery of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. I shall come to the budget later, but I ask now why that £42,000 had to be withdrawn from the deaf Olympic group. I find that rather strange.

UK Sport attempted to justify the cut, or reduction—whichever term one wants to use—by claiming that it needs extra funds to support British elite athletes in their goal to meet the target medal haul set for 2012. Like every citizen of this country, I was proud of what our athletes achieved at the last Olympics and Paralympics, and I hope that they do better next time around, but UK Sport has given a poor excuse to justify taking away that small sum of money. That cut clearly suggests that UK Sport does not value the success of all athletes, including those who do not have specific disabilities that are often in the public eye and, as a result, obvious, as well as mainstream athletes.

It appears that since the withdrawal of the money, no specific guidance has been given by anyone to Deaflympic athletes as to how they should go about raising alternative funds. Little consideration has been given to the communication difficulties that many of them have. I remind hon. Members that they have particular problems in this area.

I raise money for an organisation beyond politics, and for charities generally. Raising money requires a massive ability to communicate using the media, telephones and conversation, which makes things much more difficult for these athletes. There has been little or no support or help to pave the way for them to find money. After all, they never required a huge sum of money to go. I shall come on to the figure in a second. How are athletes with speech impediments and hearing difficulties supposed to raise funds effectively, when the majority of fund-raising practices involve one-to-one contact with potential donors, possibly even by telephone?

I understand that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has said that deaf athletes are eligible for funding through the Paralympics, but I cannot believe that, as a majority of deaf athletes cannot join the Paralympic games because there is a shortage of international deaf athletes to compete against. Perhaps the Minister has not been told about that. Theirs is a peculiar and particular problem. I did not know about it when I first had Ollie in my surgery talking about the matter. Once it was explained to me, I could understand how the problem may have been swept out of sight. No one has focused on this particular, necessarily small but none the less remarkable group of people.

It seems unfair that the UK Deaflympic team now does not receive any form of funding when the Paralympic team is in receipt of such funding, and in sizeable amounts. I shall come back to that in a second. The loss of funding means that each member of the Deaflympic squad will have to raise thousands to pay for their flights and accommodation. I do not understand how we got ourselves here, and I hope that the Minister is big enough—I know him personally and believe that to be the case normally—to think again about this and to find a way through.

I remind hon. Members of the history of the situation. The Deaflympic football team won gold at the last games in Melbourne in 2005. What a remarkable feat—I hope that we are all proud of it. What is also remarkable is that the team may now not be able to get to the next games to defend its title. It would be a matter of shame for us all if a group of athletes who have struggled and trained so hard were not able to assume their rightful place at the Olympics.

The figures speak loudly. UK Sport has pledged some £292 million—it is worth emphasising the figure, because it is so large—for the 2012 games to ensure that Team GB finishes fourth in the medal table. I hope that it finishes higher. The British Deaflympic team has not received anything like that level of consideration over the years.

In comparison, it would cost UK Sport approximately £500,000 in total, all done, to send the British Deaflympic squad to the games in Taipei this September. It is interesting that the cost per medal for a Deaflympic athlete amounts to £1,400, if one bases it on the last Olympics, as compared with the cost of funding an Olympic medal, which is about £1.6 million. We live in an age with much talk of value for money. That speaks loudly to me about value for money. I would suggest that another good reason for considering this group is that it tends to return the money invested in it many times over. It is worthy of major consideration.

Sadly, in May 2009, the independent appeals panel rejected UK Deaf Sport’s appeal against UK Sport’s decision not to help deaf athletes with funding. I hope that the Minister will not fall back on that as some kind of justification for the failure. The panel was fundamentally wrong and misguided, and I have no hesitation in saying that I hope that it realises what it was doing when it made that decision.

In the last few minutes before I conclude and give the Minister a chance to talk about what is happening, I want to raise a general issue. I would like to return to the subject of Hawkswood school, which is no longer in being. When it was closed, we were told that the children, many of whom signed and did not lip-read, would be fine because local secondary schools would cope with them when they went to those schools. After all, they were only hearing impaired, were they not? However, many of them did not lip-read and they had to learn a whole new culture of communication, which is a major change.

I do not know how many people listening to the debate or reading the report would be able to undertake such a change at reasonably short notice. More than that, I have since discovered that even those who lip-read have been in major difficulty—in a culture that, as is so often forgotten, sets deaf people apart from others—because teachers, for example, do not realise simple little things about children with profound hearing difficulties in their class. For example, the teacher may carry on with their normal routine of turning to face the white board while talking about what they are writing. However, the moment they break visual contact, that child is isolated from the rest of the class. Or teachers may do what they have done down the generations and walk to the back of the class while carrying on talking, leaving everybody looking at the white board. In those circumstances, deaf children who rely on lip-reading do not know what the teacher is saying. These little things are forgotten about because that child looks just like every other child in the class.

Too often, many deaf children are isolated and are mocked because they sound strange when they talk, which is often interpreted as their being stupid, although they are not. These children are sometimes definitely, as the play once said, regarded as children of a lesser god; they are people with severe disabilities, but nobody quite recognises that or feels comfortable in that recognition.

How galling for deaf sports people to find that, right now, essentially for a paltry sum of £42,000 a year, their hopes and aspirations are likely to be tossed aside. Other athletes who are perhaps more visually disabled—we can see and understand that they have suffered and struggled to get to their position as athletes—receive all our plaudits. These other athletes sometimes receive the sympathy of society far more easily than those who have a hearing impairment. Other disabled athletes have essentially been granted the £47 million and the rest of the athletes receive the £256 million, which, as I said, is a sizeable sum on which the Government and others should be congratulated. But people should remember that all the deaf athletes were asking for was a small sum to make it back to defend their title and compete successfully in the Olympics, as I believe they would have done.

No wonder, then, that deaf athletes too often see themselves as being shunted out of sight and out of mind. I plead with the Minister, who I know is a reasonable individual, simply to review this situation and recognise that no matter what happens, these athletes deserve a better deal than the one they have had. Society cannot simply shunt them off into a corner. These young men and women deserve the chance to reach their full potential, whether in football teams or in the Paralympics. It is time for us to change our attitude to people with a hearing impairment and give them the opportunity to play a fuller part in society and to receive the plaudits that are their due when they compete successfully.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Wilshire. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) on securing this debate and for the spirit in which he has put forward the case for his constituent, Ollie Monksfield, to whom I send my regards and best wishes on his career. I was appalled to hear what happened to him in respect of the football club and I am happy to speak to the right hon. Gentleman afterwards to talk about that. It is appalling that that happened to somebody with Ollie’s talents.

I am aware of the long and proud history of the Deaflympics, which held its first summer games in Paris in 1924. Both the summer and winter Deaflympics are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee. Although I acknowledge that the Deaflympics is not a contest between nations and that there is no classification at national level in the transcript of results, it would be remiss of me not to add my congratulations to the team on its success in Melbourne 2005, when it won 16 medals in eight sports—more than the host nation, Australia. I take great delight in our teams beating Australia at so many things, as the right hon. Gentleman knows.

I understand UK Deaf Sport’s disappointment with the decision to cease funding the football team from this year. I should like to clarify why this difficult decision has been taken. That is not just a decision made in respect of UK Deaf Sport: nine sports were affected by UK Sport’s decision. I will write to the right hon. Gentleman, setting out the details of those sports.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, UK Sport’s primary goal is to support our ambitious targets for places in the top four on the medal table at the London Olympics and for second place in the Paralympics. This is clearly set out in the formal funding agreement between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and UK Sport. As a result, UK Sport has focused its investment on providing funding support to our very best Olympic and Paralympic sports and athletes through their world class performance programme. This focusing of investment—this no-compromise approach—helped the Olympic team to achieve its best performance in 100 years in Beijing and it is why the Paralympic team maintained its second position in the medal table, despite an increasingly competitive field.

UK Sport’s policy does not discriminate against deaf or hard-of-hearing athletes. Deaf athletes who meet the criteria for UK Sport’s world class performance programme in either an Olympic or Paralympic sport will be supported. There are currently three athletes on the programme who are deaf or have declared a hearing impairment. In the past, that programme included the diver Antonio Ally, who competed in the 2004 Olympics.

UK Sport has taken a hard look at all its funding over the past few years to align it with its Olympic and Paralympic goals in the lead-up to London 2012. UK Deaf Sport has been impacted by this review, but it is not the only organisation to be affected. Neither I nor UK Sport revels in these difficult decisions that disappoint people, but we need to take them and to decide where best to place our resources to make the biggest impact on our goals. The outcome of this consideration is a focus of our resource on Olympic and Paralympic sports and athletes, but even these sports are not immune to the current financial restrictions. That is why we have tasked UK Sport with leading on a project to develop a permanent private sector funding stream for Olympic and Paralympic sport.

I should also like to put on the record that I am satisfied that UK Sport has treated UK Deaf Sport fairly during this difficult process. It provided a one-off payment of £75,000 to support our team at the 2005 Deaflympics in Melbourne. In addition, it committed to provide funding of £42,000 per year for the three-year period from 1 April 2005 to 31 March 2008. At the time, UK Sport made it clear that this funding was being provided to help UK Deaf Sport develop its organisational structure and other streams of revenue and that such funding would cease after 31 March 2008. This position has been reaffirmed to UK Deaf Sport on a number of occasions since then. As the right hon. Gentleman said, UK Deaf Sport appealed against UK Sport’s decision to an independent panel chaired by a Queen’s counsel. The panel dismissed the appeal, finding in favour of UK Sport.

I want to continue in the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman raised this matter. It is right and proper for me, as Minister with responsibility for sport, to outline the Government’s wider commitment to improving equality of opportunity from the grassroots up. The right hon. Gentleman will know that Sport England has recently made awards totalling £480 million over the next four years to 46 national governing bodies. For the first time, this includes funding for four Paralympic sports—boccia, goalball, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair rugby—with awards worth in excess of £2 million.

All NGBs have been challenged to come up with plans that deliver participation growth right across the community. The criteria on which plans were assessed included their ability to deliver for priority groups. Those willing and able to do more are able to access more funding and, as a result, several sports are adopting challenging participation targets in this area. I was interested to notice that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention the Football Association. I am not sure whether the FA is contributing to deaf football, so perhaps we need to discuss that further afterwards.

Direct support is also provided through the English Federation of Disability Sport, which includes UK Deaf Sport amongst its affiliates. The EFDS was provided with more than £1 million of core Exchequer funding last year, with additional lottery grants to support disabled participation in sport. As part of the new award process, Sport England will also be offering new two-year funding settlements to its national partners from a £10 million pot. That is open to the EFDS and other organisations such as Sporting Equals and the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. The EFDS is working on its bid and how it will make connections into the NGB delivery system. I encourage UK Deaf Sport to work closely with the EFDS and its other members to ensure the best outcome for deaf sport.

Hon. Members should be aware that we have committed a further £4 million over the next four years to the EFDS and partner governing bodies to work with Sport England, the Youth Sport Trust and Paralympics GB to roll out the new playground-to-podium programme. That will ensure that our young disabled people in the community and schools are exposed to the highest quality development programmes, and that talent is given a chance to shine through. That will, of course, benefit young deaf athletes who want to progress to UK Sport's world-class pathway programme.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are also investing more than £780 million through the PE and sport strategy for young people over the next three years. The strategy has equity at its heart and will reach out to all groups of young people who have been historically underrepresented in sport, including young people with disabilities. For example, by 2011 we will have in place a new network of 450 multi-sport clubs for young disabled people. The clubs will provide high-quality participation alongside competitive opportunities, as well as a focus on progression through high-quality coaching in a variety of sports. As importantly, we will provide schools and teachers with appropriate assistance and support to make those clubs successful. I fully understand UK Deaf Sport’s disappointment and frustration, but these are difficult times, and we want to support our elite athletes for the London 2012 cycle. On behalf of the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent, I am happy to explore the football element of his problem and to see what could be done.

The thrust of what we are trying to do is to ensure that EFDS puts itself aside from the main interest of each disability and tries to find a co-ordinated response on disability sport. We must give weight to the EFDS, to ensure that it can get to the NGBs, to which we have given funds. The bureaucracy has gone from Sport England, and the money goes straight to the NGBs.

The Minister is being helpful and lucid, but the complaint is that more help was needed to find other sources, and that help was not as forthcoming as it should have been. I agree that many of the contacts that he is suggesting, such as the Football Association and others, should have been included, but the help should have been forthcoming, and it was not. I hope that he will be able to speak to the organisation to persuade it that its job is not just to disburse money, but to help people to whom it is not disbursing money but who have a legitimate cause and an accepted name to find people from whom to raise that money.

That is a fair point, and I will speak not just to UK Sport, but to Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust when such situations arise. I am hoping that the English Federation of Disability Sport will become a stronger advocate for disability sport with the national governing bodies. One element of the support for governing bodies is that they have varying capacity to deal with certain issues. I want to set a standard for governing bodies, and to support those that do not reach that standard through no fault of their own—perhaps because they are run by volunteers or because of their capabilities. I am encouraging Sport England to examine each governing body to see what can be done to raise their capacity, and to consider where the gaps are in their whole sport plans, which each national governing body has submitted, and their priorities for how to reach hard-to-reach groups, of which disability sport is a key element.

I will take away some of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman has raised. I cannot make any promises about UK Deaf Sport and other sports that lost funding, but I hope that the EFDS review will be more forthcoming in the longer term. The right hon. Gentleman was right to raise the matter, and I will consider what can be done for the individual to whom he referred.

Sitting suspended.

Minerals and Food Supplements

This subject is familiar to me. Insomniacs will find that I have spoken on it in the past and that I led an Adjournment debate on it some years back. I will explain why there is an interest in my constituency in the subject, but first I shall set out a basic principle. I regard the consumption of food supplements in the same way as I regard the consumption of foods. It is largely a matter for the individual consumer to decide what they eat, based on advice from the Government about safety and an appropriate balance in the diet. Therefore, the key driver in this area should be the determination of safe levels of supplements that people should be entitled to consume. I am a libertarian in this matter and always have been.

However, the approach in this country differs from that taken in many other member states in the European Union, with which we are attempting to reach agreement on how to regulate the sector. Our approach is not common elsewhere in the European Union. Here, supplements can be purchased in a wide range of places: supermarkets, high street retailers, pharmacies and online. In some member states that take particularly restrictive approaches, these items, if available at all—many cannot be obtained at the dose level available in this country—are obtainable only through a pharmacist.

Therefore, when the European Union decided that we should seek to produce a single market for the products, it was entirely predictable that it would be hard to achieve that goal and impossible to achieve it through total consensus. I should make it clear that nevertheless I support the efforts to achieve that goal. It should be possible for a consumer in any part of the European Union to be assured of receiving a quality product and to be able to purchase it freely. That should be possible whether they are in our country or any other part of the Union. Furthermore, that would benefit companies operating in the UK—manufacturers and retailers—that are experienced in selling these quality products to consumers and that would welcome the opening up of opportunities elsewhere in the Union. It is certainly not my view that we should resist that process. However, I want to ensure that we do not sacrifice important UK consumer freedoms in achieving that goal.

As I said, I have a local interest in the matter. Although the company has gone through a variety of owners in my time as a Member of Parliament, it remains a substantial manufacturer in my area, and is now owned by Brunel Healthcare. Its site in Swadlincote is the No. 1 supplier of private-label vitamins and mineral supplements in the UK. It employs 180 staff. The impact on that business of the manufacturing of generic products, although by no means immaterial, will be relatively small. However, the parent company owns a collection of specialist health food brands that would clearly suffer from some of the possible consequences of the regulation.

The critical points that now need to be resolved—we are part-way through this process—are the maximum permitted levels of nutrients to be provided within supplements. The first test is safety: what is safe for a human being to consume? That is not an entirely straightforward question to answer. We have had difficulties in the past with the debate about vitamin B6. That has shown that achieving a degree of scientific consensus is not easy in an area that perhaps has not been subject to as much scientific scrutiny as others. Nevertheless, a reasonable body of research is available and it should be possible to produce a degree of certainty in this area.

The European Food Safety Authority has produced a list of safe levels for nutrients as part of the exercise. Understandably, however, that is not the whole answer, because those levels have to be moderated to take account of the quantities of nutrients present in other food sources and then assessed against the typical diets of European citizens. Those of us who travel reasonably freely will find that diets vary quite a lot across Europe. One might hope to be able to reach a standard position that says, for example, “This is how much fish oil might be consumed.” However, it is by no means obvious that that is common across the European Union; nor is access to sunlight, which is a critical issue in deciding on vitamin D, for example. It is necessary to take account of a range of factors. In relation to the kind of nutrients that a particular diet should contain, there are also important ethnic characteristics to consider.

Producing a solid set of recommendations with firm certainty about them will not be possible; there will be substantial variances. Therefore, the culture of how that is done is quite important. The temptation, which the industry feels people will give in to, is to set the limits at the lowest conceivable level, taking into account all the variables that might be present and disregarding the consumer’s own wish to make many of their own judgments. It is felt that one outcome would be to bar quite a number of products that British consumers have been used to having access to for a very considerable time, without any side effects that have concerned them up to now. It is not desirable for us to take that chance, so how we represent the UK position to the Commission is vital.

The Government, after a somewhat sleepy start a few years back, have been vigorous in arguing for the sector’s interests and discussing with the sector the implications of possible models of regulation. However, we must face the fact that we have relatively few allies. As I said, much of Europe operates on a different model for the distribution of the products. Out of self-interest perhaps or, to put it more charitably, genuine anxiety at the lack of familiarity with the availability of such products in their countries, many countries will be inclined towards setting very low maximum levels.

I want to suggest some ways through the situation. We should prepare the way for a solution that permits some UK exceptions to the maximum levels that may be agreed. We have had the intellectual argument—I strongly endorse it—as to the principles of how the regulation should be set. However, it is reasonably clear that we shall not be able to assemble a blocking vote to support our position, so how do we ensure that we proceed in a way that will not harm our industry or the interests of UK consumers?

First, clear communication to consumers about the function of supplements in any diet can help. The Government already promote the use of supplements in certain circumstances. Advice is given on the supplements that a woman ought to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, we also give advice in respect of those whose sun exposure may be very low, children in certain circumstances and those of particular ethnic origins who may need to supplement their diet in certain ways.

The UK national diet and nutrition surveys of 1998 and 2003 showed various deficiencies in diet, on which any Government could provide proper advice. The surveys showed that 86 per cent. of UK adults consumed less than five portions of fruit and vegetables and that adults generally consumed less than one third of the recommended levels of fish oil. Dosages in the UK can be set in the context of robust information, permitting UK departures from any limits that vary materially from our current approach.

As I have discussed with industry participants, eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and consuming the correct amounts of various items—the perfect balanced diet—is how we should aspire to provide the nutrients that we need, but given the complex lives that many of our citizens lead, and the conflicting advice that some of them feel they receive about what they should eat, many of our aspirations will be thwarted. We must be realistic. Stronger communication can be provided about how to supplement inadequacies in diet.

Secondly, our northern location should, in any case, justify higher limits for certain supplements, such as those based around vitamin D. Clearly, we are different from Greece and southern Italy, and it is simply crazy to set a measure that ignores our climate and our geography.

Thirdly, we should ensure that the industry attaches appropriate warnings to items whose dose levels might be higher than the recommended maximum levels that emerge from the Commission process. Consumers should be allowed reasonable discretion based on a stronger knowledge of the place that a supplement might have in a diet. Part of the package that I am suggesting is more robust communication of any remaining risks, although, to be honest, such risks would be small, given the way in which we regulate the sector. Nevertheless, such measures would provide some reassurance to our European partners.

Finally, and generally, any limits that are set should permit revision based on new research and new models of consumer behaviour. Diet changes over time, and so, too, does sunlight. We must therefore accept a variety of factors as part of the matrix in determining policy. Any limits should not, therefore, be set in stone; there should be a process for revising them and bringing them closer to the reality of life on the day in question.

I turn now to the industry’s role. The industry must be realistic. Simply opposing the setting of maximum dosage levels and implicitly resisting the directive cannot be effective in the long term. We simply do not have the votes to carry that position, because the UK has few allies on this matter.

At some point—the expectation is that it will be early next year—the Commission will press ahead with its initiative. If the industry can agree a combination of a distinctive UK market difference, leading to derogation in certain aspects and backed by clear obligations, and some minor concessions on dosage levels—that important qualification will not be welcomed by the whole industry—a deal can perhaps be struck.

One difficulty has been the understandable unwillingness to define where the priorities lie in protecting the ramparts. Protecting everything that is currently available may not be a realistic position, but it may be possible to make some small concessions. If we do not take that approach, we will be forced to accept a position that will disadvantage our consumers and disable our manufacturers, who would otherwise be well placed to exploit single-market opportunities. Not taking such an approach will also distort a currently very diverse sector.

Major UK manufacturers will face a short-term, relatively minor loss and then, we hope, enjoy the benefit of a larger marketplace. Generally, it will be the smaller specialist retailers and manufacturers who suffer and whose distinct offerings will be removed. One large retailer with a strong higher-dose product range will also face major damage and challenges.

The industry and the Government have not always managed to work well together. We need a determined effort over the next six months to produce a sustainable UK position that protects what we have. Such steps do not suggest that we have lost the argument, and I myself powerfully expound the argument that safety is the bottom line in what we are doing. As I said at the start, I firmly believe that our approach has been right and that our sector is vigorous and competitive and that it serves consumers, but we must face the reality that others do not accept our philosophy and we must construct an appropriate and robust plan B.

It is a pleasure to be with you today, Mr. Wilshire. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) on taking on the issue, obtaining the debate and putting his case so well. This is not my policy area, but I have learned much in preparation for the debate, and my hon. Friend’s contribution has been interesting and informative.

I reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are aware of the concerns of the supplements industry, which have been raised today. Compared with other member states, the UK has a very liberal supplements market, which obviously pleases my hon. Friend. UK consumers therefore have a wide choice of products, including high-dose products that exceed recommended upper safe levels. The Government recognise that consumers who buy such products are extremely concerned that new regulations will reduce their choice.

The Government’s objectives are twofold. First, we want to maintain consumer choice in the UK and continue to protect consumers. Secondly, we want to minimise the impact of future proposals and regulations on the UK supplements industry.

The supplements industry in the UK has two main sectors, which have different views on the legislation. The first, which makes up 72 per cent. of the UK market, is represented by the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain and is broadly supportive of the directive. The larger manufacturers represented by those organisations retail in the UK, but wish to expand their markets across the EU. The second sector, which makes up 20 per cent. of the market, comprises smaller companies and specialist shops and is represented by the Health Food Manufacturers Association and the National Association of Health Stores. That sector wants to preserve the current UK market and the wide range of products that are produced and sold by its members. It is more likely to be adversely affected by regulations on food supplements.

The European Commission proposed the food supplements directive to introduce a harmonised safety-based approach to food supplements and to promote free trade across member states. It came into force in July 2002 and has applied in full since 1 August 2005. As my hon. Friend explained, it provides for the setting of maximum levels for vitamins and minerals in food supplements. It recognises that it is necessary to set maximum safe levels, as excessive intakes of vitamins and minerals may have adverse effects. Safety is therefore the key driver.

The European Commission has yet to publish proposals for setting levels. However, over the past four years, there have been a number of initiatives at national and European level to inform the process. The Food Standards Agency, which is the lead Government department, has played an active role in that respect. The FSA board and Ministers originally agreed the UK’s negotiating position in 2005. That was done in the absence of Commission proposals and to allow the UK to begin discussions with its counterparts in other member states. The two-tier approach would achieve the Government’s objectives on food supplements and it remains our negotiating line. It would allow higher-dose products with appropriate warnings, as my hon. Friend said.

In 2006 the Commission published a technical discussion paper in which it raised questions about the setting of maximum levels for vitamins and minerals. The FSA discussed those with stakeholders before preparing a response to the Commission. In 2007 an orientation paper prepared by the Commission identified models that might be used to establish levels, taking into account intakes from the diet, and suggested that levels might not need to be established for all vitamins and minerals. That is an approach that the Government support, in line with the principles of better regulation. Commission working group meetings with member states, to discuss maximum levels, started in 2007.

To focus on setting levels, taking into account national intake data, the Commission has invited member states to take part in an ad hoc working group. The FSA is participating in that group along with Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, Poland and the Netherlands. In contributing to that work the FSA is working in partnership with all sectors of the UK industry to carry out simulations using our national diet and nutrition survey data, and is presenting the work to the Commission and the ad hoc group.

We recognise the concerns of small and medium-sized enterprises and the potential impact that maximum levels may have on businesses and consumer choice. The FSA, in conjunction with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has been working with the Health Food Manufacturers Association to consider the impact in a number of hypothetical scenarios. My hon. Friend has spoken about Brunel Healthcare and the potential impact on its business of the setting of maximum levels. I encourage the company to forward the information to the FSA, so that that can inform discussions with the Commission on the effect that the setting of such levels will have on UK companies. Of course, I hope that other companies will do the same.

Separately to that work, the industry has also actively participated in an analysis by the European Commission of the economic, social and environmental impact of the setting of maximum levels of vitamins and minerals that can be added to food supplements. The UK, along with Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Denmark, was used as a case study in the work, which will inform the Commission’s impact assessment. My hon. Friend has noted that certain member states support much more restrictive levels than are currently available in the UK. The directive is clear about the idea that levels should be based on scientific risk assessment, taking into account intake of vitamins and minerals from the diet. The FSA is able to advocate that approach with its counterparts in other member states, and I would encourage the industry to do likewise.

The industry, however, must prioritise its objectives if the UK is to be successful in future negotiations. When the proposals are published, the Commission will hold a consultation on the proposed draft levels. The FSA will also undertake a consultation with its stakeholders before the Government position is finalised.

One element that might be considered is the degree of proportionality that should be applied to the matter. Risks in this area are tiny. In the debate on vitamin B6, for example, it was shown that there might be a short-term effect from taking the vitamin at extreme levels, but that it could be reversed relatively quickly just by ceasing dosage at that level. There is an issue of proportionality, concerning the genuine risk to consumers.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and I know that officials who have heard it will take it into consideration. It is envisaged by the Commission that the maximum levels will be reviewed where there is new scientific data to support that. As has been mentioned, the industry should not therefore assume that the levels are set in stone.

Although my hon. Friend has not mentioned this point today, the Government are aware that the industry also has concerns about nutrition and health claims. EC regulation 1924/2006, on nutrition and health claims made on foods, has applied from 1 July 2007. It requires claims to be authorised and listed for use on food products in the EU. That is an important consumer protection measure, to help consumers to make healthier choices by removing from the market misleading and false claims that might be made about food, including food supplements. The Government believe that the regulation should be proportionate, and we achieved a number of successes during the negotiations to make the claims legislation more proportionate.

One of the anxieties that the industry has in this context, which Brunel Healthcare has raised with me, is about the timing of the implementation of any obligation to discontinue certain claims. Obviously, repackaging products is an expensive business, and so is designing new products that are compliant. One issue, therefore, is whether implementation is to be instant or whether it should happen over a period of time, taking account of the realities of a business.

The Government are aware that the supplements industry continues to have concerns about the legislation, including those that my hon. Friend has just outlined, and particularly on the scrutiny that the European Food Safety Authority will apply to the claims that have been submitted for assessment. As a result of those concerns, the FSA has persuaded the Commission and the EFSA to work more transparently.

The Commission has enhanced access to papers on its website and the EFSA has begun a process of stakeholder engagement on its assessment practices. I hope that I have addressed the points raised by my hon. Friend today. The FSA meets regularly with all the sectors of the supplements industry to maintain an open dialogue on both supplements and health claims, and I urge them to continue to meet on the issues debated today. I reiterate the Government’s support for proportionate regulation. On the matter of maximum levels, we must re-emphasise that the aim is to protect consumers by setting levels based on safety, in addition to maintaining consumer choice.

Aerosol Technology (Climate Change)

I am pleased that we can start a little early, which may enable us to dwell at greater length on the subject of the debate, which is the potential of aerosol technology to play a major role in tackling some issues relevant to climate change. I see the debate as having a six-fold objective: first, to highlight a technology that could assist in the battle against climate change; secondly, to highlight a technology that I believe could be a world leader, and therefore of huge benefit to UK plc; thirdly, to draw attention to the work of Mike Garrett MBE, who is the innovator with respect to the technology; fourthly, to give the Minister an opportunity to set out the Government’s position on this important issue; fifthly, perhaps to secure a meeting with the Minister and her officials at a later date, to discuss the matter in greater detail—particularly with reference to what assistance the Government may be able to give; and, finally, to clarify what action the UK Government can take at European level to promote the type of technology in question.

Before I go into detail about the technology, it may be worth recognising that with respect to climate change the Government have taken some significant steps, most recently with the Climate Change Act 2008. The Minister will be very familiar with the legally binding targets in that measure, which also set up the carbon budgeting system, with its caps on emissions over five-year periods, and created the Committee on Climate Change. I acknowledge that the Government have taken action to date.

It is also worth dwelling on the fact that perhaps the best example of international action on CFCs that directly affected aerosols was the Montreal convention. Only when the international community identified the problem—the hole in the ozone layer—and finally decided that it had the will to do something about it was it possible to address that serious environmental problem. I acknowledge that the Montreal protocol has not completed the job, but 190 countries and the European Community have ratified it. By 2005, the parties to that protocol had phased out the production and consumption of more than 95 per cent. of all the chemicals controlled by the protocol, and we are now beginning to see a reversal in the damage being done to the ozone layer. The protocol’s provisions should ensure that the ozone layer will return to pre-1980 levels by 2050 or 2075. I refer to that only to show that when a decision is taken to do something it is possible to achieve a global change.

I turn to the meat of the debate. KBIG is the company driving the challenge. I have no interest to declare other than the fact that the business is based in my constituency. I have met people from the company on a couple of occasions, and I believe that it is doing work of great value. It was co-founded by Mike Garrett, who invented the Vitox oxygen dissolver. I hope that the Minister will not ask me to give a precise explanation of what it does.

Vitox is a market leader. It is used for the highly efficient addition of oxygen to polluted and waste water treatment plants. That is my understanding of what it does; it clearly plays an important role. Many such units are operating throughout the world—for instance, in reclaiming polluted waters in Hong Kong harbour and in emergency use on the River Thames. Indeed, many here today will be familiar with the Thames Bubbler, which runs along the river putting oxygen back into the water. It is one example of the work being done by Mike Garrett on aerosol technology, which I am about to outline in some detail. It is a creditable product, which has been rolled out worldwide. As an inventor, Mr. Garrett should be credited with identifying and developing new products.

I now come to a more detailed description of the aerosol technology, which I believe could make a substantial difference to climate change. I do not apologise for the technicality of the description; it is necessary to demonstrate that the technology is viable, well researched and is not lacking in credibility or substance.

KBIG’s technology provides a new form of propellant for use in delivering products, especially in aerosols—a propellant that is more environmentally safe than conventional liquid gas. Given concerns over CO2 emissions, it is important that it is recovered from existing industrial processes. It is not newly created CO2, but is recovered from other industrial processes.

It works by using an activated carbon adsorbent. The properties of the propellant are modified to produce a low pressure drop from a full to an empty canister as the product is dispensed. The pressure change is lower than that of a liquid propellant subjected to the typical variations caused by changes in ambient temperature. Furthermore, the pressure drop can be largely tailored to a value commensurate with the required properties of the canister in use. For those familiar with aerosol products, the technology is particularly suitable for use with internally bagged products. The aerosol contains a bag with the propellant, so it is commercially viable but cost neutral as against petroleum-based products.

Members will know that liquefied gas propellants have been used in aerosols for many decades, although everyone will be familiar with some of their drawbacks. They contribute to major environmental damage. Aerosol cans should not be put on a fire as they are flammable, and explosive when mixed with air. Aerosols also feature in solvent abuse—something that all Members will want to reduce. Members may not be aware, however, that aerosols can cause allergic reactions; and important to the manufacturer and retailer is the fact they can introduce undesirable odours into the canister product.

Pressure changes in liquefied gas propellants caused by changes in the ambient temperature can lead to a complete loss of propellant effect in cold weather. One solution to this is the use of permanent gases such as air or carbon dioxide; the pressure alters less in response to temperature changes but it is rapidly lost as the contents of the canister are expelled. A propellant system is required that captures the better features of both systems—one that is not dangerous but one that will ensure that the aerosol does not experience the significant drop in pressure that makes the remainder of the product redundant.

The sort of propellant developed by KBIG was first proposed decades ago. However, until recently no viable commercial implementation had been secured. KBIG developed the product, asking manufactures and others to challenge it and say whether it would do the job, and then refined the process to ensure that the product was commercially viable and functioned as the manufacturers wanted. A programme to achieve this was initiated by KBIG in 2003, with a number of industrial partners. Solutions were tested and refined to enable the technology to meet the exacting criteria necessary for commercialisation.

I have a physics degree, but I do not know what the Minister’s background is. However, although I understand something of how the propellant works, some of it required a little explanation from Mr. Garrett. Adsorption is the phenomenon of gas molecules becoming reversibly attached to a surface of a material by the interaction of molecular forces. The number of molecules held on the surface is dependent on the surface area, the temperature, the pressure, and the nature of the gas and the surface. Normally the adsorption is not very evident, but some materials have a porous or layered structure that results in much larger surface area. In case that was not understandable, I shall illustrate the important point: given the nature of the element, 2 ml of activated carbon has a surface area of 1,500 sq m. Considering that 2 ml is smaller than the inside of the circle that I am making with my finger, to have a surface area of 1,500 sq m is quite dramatic. That is why activated carbon is so useful in providing the propellant capacity needed for aerosols.

Workers attempting to incorporate activated carbon as an aerosol propellant encountered problems. For example, initially, the heat generated was sufficient to melt the plastic components in the canister, and other difficulties were encountered in ensuring consistent performance. Also, a priority was to ensure a product without impurities, which—I guess—reduce the level of adsorption and, therefore, the efficacy of the propellant. However, various ways of reducing and eliminating such problems were identified.

I must now get very technical again on the manufacturing of aerosols. However, I am sure that if my technical description is inadequate, the representatives of KBIG here today will set me right. The system is designed to be incorporated into existing bag-on-valve gassing and filling lines. To keep out impurities, the activated carbon granules are added under an atmosphere of carbon dioxide. The source material for the carbon granules is coconut shell. This widely available waste product has the advantage of providing both the activated carbon and the energy source for firing the furnaces needed to create it in the first place. It is a very environmentally friendly process fired by carbon already created through the process of generating the activated carbon. The carbon granules are then absorbed by the aerosol, and as the aerosol is used and the product expelled, creating a vacuum within the aerosol, the gas caught in that 1,500 sq m of surface area can be released into the aerosol. It will maintain the pressure and ensure that the product continues to work. That is a layman’s explanation of how it works.

KBIG thinks that this technology will be attractive to fillers—it is already in discussions, but I shall mention no names—because adding the granules to the production line, and placing them in the canisters, is a very simple process. Very little, if anything, is required for the re-tooling of manufacturing lines to put that into operation. The inertness of carbon dioxide, combined with its non-flammability—there are no worries about putting the aerosol on a fire—makes it a good replacement for LPG-type propellants. Given the flammable nature of existing propellants, it will also ensure a lower risk of incident within the manufacturing environment.

I hope that I have given the Minister a reasonable feel for this technology, how it works and why it has significant and very positive environmental implications. However, in case I have not already convinced her, and to illustrate my point further, I shall give some figures. She will be aware that, between 1990 and 2006, UK emissions from volatile organic compounds fell by 62 per cent. However, as of 2006, it is estimated that solvent and other product use accounts for 44 per cent. of VOC emissions. That will have a climate change impact. Providing an alternative type of propellant and doing away with LPG-type propellants will reduce those emissions and have the associated and very positive climate change benefits.

I hope that the Minister will agree that this type of product has the potential to be a world leader and of huge benefit to UK plc, and KBIG is certainly willing to put its product to any test that interested companies or bodies want to put it to. I also hope that the Minister has noted the work done by Mike Garrett MBE on the product. I would now like to give her the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on aerosols, climate change and, perhaps, on this particular technology. Is she willing to meet with those involved, should it be thought helpful? I also hope that she will set out the action that the UK Government can take to ensure that this type of technology is promoted within the European Union, which is considering the issue of aerosols, gases and so on. There might be an opportunity to push for these measures in Europe.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on securing this useful debate. I can assure him, as a science graduate myself, that I was able to follow his technical explanations. This debate raises an important environmental issue with implications for addressing climate change. It is certainly helpful to consider possible alternatives to the use of volatile organic compounds in aerosol propellants.

The UK aerosol industry is a dominant player in the European market, producing 25 per cent. of all the aerosols used in Europe. The UK produces 1.4 billion aerosols annually, of which more than 50 per cent. are exported, and consumes about 600 million units across the different application sectors. The aerosol industry has reacted responsibly to past environmental issues. After chlorofluorocarbons—CFCs—were found to be the ozone-depleting substances causing the so-called “ozone hole” over the Antarctic, the industry voluntarily removed CFCs from consumer aerosols 20 years ago—ahead of the ban under the Montreal protocol.

Hydrofluorocarbons—or HFCs—were then found to be greenhouse gases, and a voluntary restriction on HFC use in aerosols has been in place since 1995. The aerosol industry has worked with the European Commission to revise the 2008 aerosol dispensers directive to try to solve issues associated with the use of compressed gas as a propellant. It is important that the industry continues to keep developments in propellant technology under review, in relation to both environmental and application issues.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that it is usual to use propane and butane as the main propellant in aerosol products for most applications, as it enables them to meet the efficacy and high-level performance required from these products. The VOCs utilised in aerosols serve three main functions: first, they generate good quality sprays; secondly, they are quick-drying solvents that allow the product to be applied in the correct proportions; and finally, they keep the pressure in the can constant, so that the aerosol stays in an effective state until it is finished. Consequently, these sprays emit VOCs into the atmosphere. However, it is worth noting that they are only one of a number of emission sources of man-made VOCs. There are also natural and biogenic volatile organic compounds that are emitted from trees and vegetation, particularly in the summer. As a result, VOCs from aerosol sprays account for a very small amount of all VOC emissions and, where feasible, the industry has developed products so that they contain the minimum amount. To put this in context, inventory estimates show that total anthropogenic emissions of VOCs in the UK in 2007 were 940,000 tonnes, of which about 6 per cent. were estimated to be from aerosols.

I hear what the Minister is saying about how, relatively speaking, it is a small percentage of overall emissions, but she will also be aware that the Government have a very challenging target of 80 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 and that they will need to take every single measure that they can from wherever it is available.

I could not agree more. Having just set the world’s first carbon budget in this Parliament I am more than aware of just how stretching our targets are. It is important to get the context and to see what the contribution might be, which is what I am currently doing.

A reaction with nitrogen oxides in the lower atmosphere produces ground-level ozone and other photochemical oxidants. It is worth bearing in mind that we have identified around 200 different VOCs that can contribute to ozone formation. Some are more reactive and so cause more ozone to form than others. If present at high enough levels, ozone can be harmful to human health and damage vegetation. Ozone is also a greenhouse gas, so VOCs have an indirect, though small, effect on the resultant warming of the atmosphere. The hydrocarbons in LPG have a low global warming potential, owing to their indirect effects on ozone and also methane, but the warming caused by VOC emissions from aerosols is only slight. Although their environmental impact is relatively small, the Government welcome any further reductions in aerosol emissions of VOCs into the atmosphere. We are willing to hear direct from any company that has developed aerosol products that are potentially beneficial to the environment, such as those based on alternative propellant systems using compressed gas, so that we can consider whether to factor them into our environmental policy as appropriate. We are interested in being informed about the activated carbon and carbon dioxide propellant system to which the hon. Gentleman referred in this debate.

I should like to raise a health issue, which I know is slightly outside the Minister’s remit. Do the Government also take into account the possible health impacts of some VOC propellants against other alternatives that might be available?

Indeed we do, as does the European Union, which has been progressing discussions on how to reduce the level of VOCs that people are exposed to.

As a result of hearing about this technology, my officials have contacted the company concerned to find out more about the product, and to provide details of relevant contacts in both my Department and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As for the question about whether a meeting could be facilitated, I am more than happy for that to happen, and I am sure that the officials will be delighted, too.

I have noted from the hon. Gentleman’s comments that this particular technology is claimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. He made the point that it was the use of existing CO2 that was coming from waste products. Clearly, any use of CO2 causes concerns as do whole life cycle analyses. When he talks about producing activated carbon and using furnaces to do that, there has to be a whole life cycle analysis to make proper comparisons. We would need to be convinced that there is such a benefit, despite this apparent contradiction—CO2 being our major greenhouse gas—and that using CO2 in that way would not produce the problems that were encountered when replacing CFCs and then getting a gas that in itself was even more problematic. If this technology does indeed have the net effect of removing some CO2 from the atmosphere, then it would certainly be welcomed. However, the efficacy of such so-called “green” propellant systems is also a key factor to consider, as well as their overall carbon footprint. My understanding is that although the aerosol industry—both in the UK and worldwide—has a strong interest in developing compressed gas systems, which offer a similarly high level and consistency of performance as liquefied gas systems, so far they have had only limited applicability. Clearly that is another factor that needs to be considered.

On a broader point, perhaps more consideration should also be given to alternatives to aerosols. I stress that point because behaviour change is one of the keys to reaching our carbon targets, and there are many means by which people can dispense the products that they seek to use, particularly when it comes to products such as deodorants and antiperspirants that do not require the use of aerosols themselves.

If there is behavioural change within the consuming public because they identify a product that is greener than the alternatives, does the Minister believe that the Government have any role in trying to encourage that process to increase the uptake and highlight the environmentally preferable option?

Indeed we do, and we have a major programme of public engagement that addresses all forms of behaviour change. There is also the European directive on energy-using products. We have a whole team of people located within DEFRA who work on sustainable consumption and production. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Behaviour change depends not just on asking people and educating people about how they might change but offering them choice about products and giving them appropriate advice.

This autumn, DEFRA will be consulting on its green claims code, which outlines current UK and EU legislative requirements, and provides guidance on how to make self-declared environmental claims. The consultation will seek comments on whether new sector specific guidance is required.

There is also the prospect of future legislation on VOCs. The European Commission is considering whether to amend existing legislation on the emissions of VOCs from certain products, which could have wider implications for some aerosol products. Under the paint products directive, the marketing of many paints and varnishes is prohibited if more than the specified amounts of solvents are included in the product. I understand that the European Commission has employed consultants to advise on whether that approach might be extended to other products, including aerosol hairsprays, deodorants and antiperspirants, which use organic solvents as propellants.

DEFRA officials attended a recent workshop in Brussels to discuss the matter. The Commission plans to complete its assessment and, if appropriate, adopt a proposal for amendment of the directive in two years’ time. That is another reason why we would be interested to hear details of this and any other environmentally “green” aerosol product that may inform the development of the UK position should such a directive be brought forward.

Another factor to bear in mind is that the current EU national emission ceilings directive sets annual emission levels for VOCs for the UK to achieve from 2010 onwards. A proposal to revise the NECD is expected towards the end of this year. A revised NECD is likely to set more stringent emission ceilings for VOCs. The ceilings are intended to tackle transboundary air pollution problems, including the formation of ground-level ozone, and also acidification and eutrophication. The European Commission proposal has been delayed until this year to allow co-ordination with action to set greenhouse gas targets—a move proactively supported by the UK. The National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory is currently within the 2010 emission ceilings set out in the existing NECD.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this debate on aerosol technology and its potential connection with climate change. Climate change is a priority for this Government and we are interested in any forms of new technology that can enable us to meet the stringent domestic targets that we have set in law for ourselves and also to enable us to make a contribution to a global deal, which will depend on the transfer of new technology around the world.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.