Wednesday 2 March 2011
[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Miss Chloe Smith.)
St David’s Day
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to debate the designation of St David’s day as a public holiday. It is also a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and to belatedly wish everybody a happy St David’s day, or dydd gwyl Dewi hapus.
There have been many mentions of a St David’s day public holiday over the years, but this is the first time in my five years in this place that we have had a debate, albeit a short one, devoted wholly to the subject. This year, I hope that the celebrations in Wales will be much bigger. We celebrated St David’s day yesterday, but we will also vote tomorrow on whether the Assembly should be granted extended law-making powers, and it would be an added cause for celebration this week if, as I hope, we achieve a yes vote.
On that very point, and on the eve of an historic referendum that could give the Welsh Assembly defining legislative powers, does my hon. Friend think that it would be good for the organisation of public holidays in Wales to be within the competence of the Welsh Assembly Government?
My hon. Friend pre-empts my next line. Even with those powers—assuming we are successful in the referendum—the Welsh Assembly Government would be unable to designate St David’s day as a public holiday without the approval of the Westminster Government. A positive response by the Minister today could form part of a memorable Welsh treble, even if the triple crown will, sadly, remain elusive this year.
St David, or Dewi Sant, was renowned for his inspirational qualities as a monk, abbot and bishop. He is renowned for his achievements in spreading Christianity throughout western Britain and among the pagan Celtic tribes that resided there. He was the archbishop of Wales, and his fundamental importance to the establishment of religion in Wales cannot be underestimated. Colleagues in the Chamber will know that and they will understand that those traditions are as important in their constituencies as they are in mine.
St David had particular links with my constituency. He was the grandson of King Ceredig, the founder of Ceredigion. Dewi’s mother, Non—herself reputedly related to King Arthur—was born in the village of Llanon in my constituency and, indeed, gives her name to that village, whose name literally means “parish of Non”. St David was educated at the Henfynyw monastery near the newer village of Ffos-y-ffin, in the middle of Ceredigion.
St David’s day is already an extremely popular occasion for those inside and outside Wales. Yesterday, we had a fantastic service a few paces from this Chamber, and it was good to see the Speaker, the Secretary of State and all the political parties there honouring St David. It was especially good to see the children of the London Welsh school, who, through their dress and their singing for us, showed how vibrant our traditions are. Back home, there were eisteddfodau, a gymanfa ganu and a range of celebratory dinners. There was the legendary cawl. Even Google paid its tribute to Wales’s patron saint. However, we could and should make more of the opportunities with which St David’s day presents us.
I should congratulate the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on designating St George’s day as a public holiday before Christmas. In the debate on his Bill, he mentioned the case for a St. David’s day public day. I am not pushing the case for a St George’s day public holiday, although I am sure there is much support for that in England. My key concern is that a St David’s day public holiday should be a matter for the Welsh Assembly. It is a matter for Wales, it affects Wales uniquely and the decision should rest with the National Assembly.
Has the hon. Gentleman given any thought to border constituencies such as mine? Many of my constituents live in Flintshire, but work for the police, the local council and other agencies in Chester. Many people on the English side of the border, where there is a similar crossover, work in my constituency at the Airbus plant and other plants. What consideration has the hon. Gentleman given to that issue? It should be considered by this Parliament and, potentially, the Assembly.
I understand that point. Although the balance would still be in favour of the National Assembly making the decision, I well understand that transition and flow of people as someone who used to teach in the borders in Powys. Such things mean that people across the border in England are very interested in St David’s day and want to participate in the activities that I mentioned.
I warmly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing time for the debate. Following on from what he said, I should say that I have been a Member for nearly 20 years, and a St David’s day holiday has been argued for more or less every other year. If the issue remains within Westminster’s powers, nothing will happen. However, things are moving, and the Welsh Assembly should make the decision. This is a matter of great pride. Dewi Sant said that we should be careful to address the small things, but we are not necessarily talking about a small thing; indeed, it is a matter of national pride. Indeed, we are holding this meeting across the way from the Supreme Court, where y ddraig goch was flying for the first time yesterday. The hon. Gentleman is right: this is a timely debate, and I wish him well with his efforts.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. The important message that will, I hope, be heard—certainly in the National Assembly—is that there is wide cross-party support on this issue. As I will explain, all four parties passed a unanimous motion within a year of the National Assembly’s creation calling for a public holiday on St David’s day.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I understand his arguments about the Assembly making the decision, but I represent a constituency that is very dependent on tourism, and businesses there have expressed concern that a bank holiday that is not coterminous with those in, for example, the north-west of England, where so many of our tourists come from, would not give us the economic boost that some of those arguing for this proposal claim it would. That is one of my concerns about a decision being made without any reference to decisions in England.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will come on to some of the concerns that have been raised. I just cite the Welsh Tourism Alliance—I am sure it has as much of an interest in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency as it does in many other constituencies in Wales—which supports this move and sees huge opportunities for tourism in particular.
Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), is the hon. Gentleman arguing that St David’s day should be an additional public holiday or that it should replace an existing public holiday?
The Minister will have the chance to reply to my speech in a minute. However, I would point out that this country compares very favourably with others in the world when it comes to public holidays. We have eight public holidays, which is on a par with Australia and the Netherlands. I appreciate the sensitivities about this issue, and there is added sensitivity this year, of course, because of the welcome news of the royal engagement, which means that there will be a public holiday on the Friday, with another the following Monday. However, my cause in this debate is to argue the case for the National Assembly to make a decision about St David’s day on the basis of a full consultation—the precedent was set in Scotland—on the issues and the concerns of business people. The decision should reside with the National Assembly.
There is also considerable public support. BBC Wales commissioned a survey for St David’s day in 2006, which found that 87% of respondents supported the idea of a public holiday for St David’s day, which is perhaps not a surprise. I acknowledge that concern has been expressed by some parts of the business community, but there is generally a good deal of support for this proposal.
As I said, there was a unanimous vote in the early days of the Assembly in 2000 for St David’s day to be a public holiday in Wales, reflecting support for the proposal. Unfortunately, that proposal was not taken forward, and it was explicitly rejected in 2000 by the then Labour Government, who ruled out introducing it unless it was explicitly supported by business. That was disappointing, but, as a result of this debate, I hope that the Government will be willing to discuss the matter with Welsh Ministers in a reasonable manner—something the Minister always does in these debates—and in the spirit of the respect agenda that they rightly hold as their overriding principle in their dealings with the devolved Administrations. I hope that the outcome of the debate will be that the door is open for the Assembly—perhaps the new Assembly after the elections in May—to engage in dialogue with the Westminster Government on this matter and, as the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) said, advance it for next year.
There are some good precedents and the Scottish Government have made St David’s day a public holiday. [Hon. Members: “St. Andrew’s day.”] I am sorry; they have made St Andrew’s Day a public holiday, passing legislation after detailed consultation. However, banks are not required to close and employees are not entitled to the day off, but rather companies can choose whether or not to observe the public holiday, which is either on the day itself or the following Monday if it falls on a weekend. There have recently been calls in the Scottish Parliament for more public bodies and organisations to recognise the holiday, and it seems to have been a popular move but, critically, the debate is happening in Scotland. When the original proposal was made by the MSP Dennis Canavan, his consultation indicated 85% support from the public.
The Scottish Government took a very detailed look at the economic costs and benefits, the level of support from the public and the relationship between holidays and employment and productivity. I am loth as a devolutionist to give advice to the Welsh Assembly Government, but I hope that they would, if given the power to decide on the matter, examine the Scottish model closely, building on the considerable work that has already been done to consider the advantages and disadvantages of a public holiday.
St Patrick’s day became a public holiday in Ireland in 1903. It was granted by an Act of Parliament introduced by the Irish MP James O’Mara. St Patrick’s day remains perhaps the best example of a country using a public holiday to its advantage. It has built Ireland’s profile throughout the world, encouraged many more visitors, and provided a significant boost to the Irish economy. The St Patrick’s festival alone was estimated to have contributed €50.5 million to the Irish economy in 2010, €43.7 million of which came from overseas visitors. I do not necessarily claim that a St David’s day holiday would lead to similar encouraging revenues as St Patrick’s Day, but there are relatively few opportunities for a small country to publicise itself. A national St David’s Day and the boost from a public holiday would really help to put Wales on the map, particularly in the tourism sector to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) alluded in an intervention. It would also be an opportunity for a more prominent celebration for the Welsh diaspora which, although not as vocal as the global Irish community, is well established across the world. Anything that makes people look at their roots and ancestry, and perhaps even plan a visit to their homeland with their wallets, would be encouraging and welcome.
I understand the concerns of some in the business community. I do not mean the one-man bands, but what one of my constituents called the two or three-man and woman bands—the businesses that dominate much of rural Wales. It is vital to take into account the views of the business community, and I would expect the Welsh Assembly Government to consult the business community and work out the best way to advance the proposal. Even with established bank holidays, there is no automatic right to time off, and businesses can, if they wish, include bank holidays within the statutory holiday allowance. The Scottish Government have set up St Andrew’s day as a voluntary public holiday, with many businesses choosing to observe it as a holiday. I should like us to consider the Scottish model, but it is a matter for the National Assembly.
I want to stress the positive benefits that a St David’s day holiday would bring to Wales and the Welsh economy. The Wales Tourism Alliance supports the idea and has highlighted the benefits: a day when we can show off our culture, heritage and language, among other facets of the country, would be an important shop window for Wales and an encouragement to tourism operatives. As well as the obvious benefits to be gained for tourism from a St David’s day public holiday, it would be an opportunity to showcase Welsh products. To take the food sector as an example, when I became an MP I was able to initiate a Welsh cheese week at Westminster. It might sound like a small thing, but we have excellent cheese producers in rural Wales. We ensured that two cheeses from Ceredigion, Gorwydd Caerphilly and Celtic Promise, were served in this place. The initiative attracted some publicity for the excellence of the products. The following year, the cheeses returned and were joined by Golden Valley ale from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams). I do not know how much of a direct impact that had, but the promotion of excellent Welsh produce is crucial, and a St David’s day public holiday is another opportunity to promote Wales at its best.
For all the concern about the impact of public holidays on the economy—and I respect those concerns—we still have, with eight public holidays, among the fewest of any country in the world. We are level with Australia and the Netherlands and have half the number in Japan and India. In the past, some have suggested that there is a link between a high number of public holidays and a high unemployment rate. The Scottish Parliament information centre did research and looked into those claims during the consultation on St Andrew’s day, and found no obvious correlation between unemployment and the number of public holidays that a country has within the EU.
I hope that the Minister can provide a positive response and that he will argue that the decision should rest with the National Assembly, which would be right. I hope at the very least he will adopt an open-door policy for discussion of the matter with colleagues in the National Assembly, so that we can finally move forward with the decision on whether St David’s Day should be a public holiday in Wales. I will certainly support the campaign.
I shall finish with Dewi Sant’s last words to his followers in a sermon given on the Sunday before he died. Rhygyfarch translates them as
“Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed.”
As the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, who is familiar with the quotation, as many people are, said, the passage continues:
“Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”
“Do the little things” or “Gwnewch y pethau bychain” has become a well-known phrase in Welsh, and I hope that the Minister can give us an indication that he plans to do what I consider is a little thing: offering the Welsh Assembly the opportunity to designate St David’s Day as a public holiday. It would be a little thing but would have huge significance back home and bring huge opportunities for the future of Wales.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on securing the debate, and on very nearly securing it on St David’s day itself, missing by only 24 hours.
My hon. Friend is of course entirely right: St David’s day is hugely important to the people of Wales. He was also right to stress the importance of children in the event, because St David’s day would be nothing without them. All of us who were brought up in Wales will know what a magical day it is for schoolchildren and I am sure we all participated in school eisteddfodau. I remember learning, as a small boy, “Y Cudyll Coch” by I. D. Hooson, and reciting it—to no great success: nevertheless, recite it I did. Right across Wales St David’s day is recognised, and as my hon. Friend said it is not only the focus of school eisteddfods but the occasion for celebratory dinners. Indeed, it is already a day on which there is much celebration, when the Welsh people celebrate their unique culture, language and way of life.
Recognising as I do the importance of St David’s day, it is somewhat sad for me to have to strike the cautionary tone that I think my hon. Friend expected when he made his impassioned speech. My caution is of course that a public holiday on St David’s day, attractive as it would no doubt be, nevertheless would not be without any cost at all. In fact, there would be a considerable economic cost. In the current straitened economic climate, responsible Governments need to bear that in mind.
The economic point is important, but there would also be a cost for the social impact of St David’s day in schools and so on. Not every child in Wales gets the opportunity to celebrate St David’s day at home, whereas almost every child invariably gets the opportunity to celebrate our patron saint in schools and at concerts. Parents take great pride in preparing their children. Between us, my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and I have nine children, and I am sure that his four children and my five all celebrated St David’s day at school yesterday. I believe that there would be a cost if that was lost to communities in Wales.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I said earlier, children and St David’s day go hand in hand. School eisteddfods are tremendously important to the culture of Wales, and the St David’s day eisteddfods are a well-established tradition that I would not wish to see disturbed.
On the back of the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy, my four children will be taking part in our school eisteddfod, in ysgol Craig yr Wylfa, but that will be on Friday morning. It is not necessary to hold school eisteddfods on the day itself. Such school events are critical to the future of St David’s day, and they will happen regardless of whether it is a public holiday.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. As I said earlier, St David’s day itself is a magical day in Wales, and the eisteddfods held on St David’s day are equally magical. I, for one, would be rather sad to see the magic of the day lost. However, as my hon. Friend said, it is a matter upon which Parliament will shortly be able to vote, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) is promoting a private Member’s Bill that would create bank holidays on St David’s day and St George’s day. That Bill received its First Reading on 15 December and will have its Second Reading on 13 May. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion will participate in that debate. The Government will make their position on that Bill known in due course.
I return to more hard-headed matters and the unfortunate subject of cost. Bank holidays have an economic impact. A bank holiday across the country would cost in the region of £3 billion in lost wages, on the basis that everyone would be paid for an extra day’s work. Pro rata, the cost in Wales would be £138 million. Of course, we cannot take Wales in isolation because, as the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) pointed out, it will have an impact across the border. That is another factor that will have to be taken into consideration. Frankly, the right hon. Gentleman was entirely right to say that having a bank holiday on St David’s day should be a matter for the House.
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right. For that reason if for no other, it is a matter that properly resides with Parliament.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion made mention of tourism. The Government have received a number of calls from the tourism industry to consider spreading the United Kingdom’s bank holidays across the year. Evidence shows that when the Easter holiday falls close to the May day bank holiday, as it does this year, it does not promote the even spread of tourism across the calendar. This year is somewhat unusual because we also have a special bank holiday for the royal wedding. The Government have given those representations careful consideration, and I am sure that the House will be interested to hear that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is working on a new UK-wide tourism strategy, which is likely to include a proposal to consult on moving the May day bank holiday to another point in the year.
I asked the hon. Gentleman whether it was his vision to have an additional bank holiday or whether an existing bank holiday should be moved. If an existing bank holiday was to be moved, we suggest that it would be appropriate to move the early May bank holiday. That would not create a new bank holiday, but there will be consultation on whether it should be moved—for example, to St David’s day. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that there had been representations from groups within the Welsh Assembly that St David’s day should be a bank holiday. That would be an excellent opportunity for those groups and others such as the Welsh Tourism Alliance to make representations to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The Minister puts great emphasis on the economic considerations that need to be taken into account. In weighing those considerations, would it not be good also to weigh the spiritual consideration that it would be a good time for the nation to contemplate the life of our great saint? That might lead to greater individual benefits in the longer term rather than economic ones in the short term.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting argument, and he can put it forward during the DCMS consultation. I am sure that the Department will listen carefully to his spiritual arguments. The Government are not closing their mind to a holiday on St David’s day.
I welcome the tone of what the Minister says. Although many people will be baffled that the Welsh Assembly is not in a position to make the decision, the encouraging news that the consultation is to take place, and the expectation that the Welsh Assembly Government will participate in it, is most welcome.
I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes my remarks. Perhaps we have achieved something this morning.
My hon. Friend spoke of the life of St David. It is probably fair for me to conclude by pointing out that St David was noted for his ascetic life. It is said that he was sustained by a simple diet of bread and herbs and drank nothing but water—hence his being called Dewi Ddyfrwr, or David the water drinker. He is also reputed to have been in the habit of standing neck-deep in cold water, reciting from the scriptures. It is most unlikely that St David ever took a day’s holiday.
[Mr Jim Hood in the Chair]
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Hood. It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship today. I rise to speak on this subject in the reassuring knowledge that on the general thrust of this debate, it is more than likely for the most part that party political differences will be set to one side. I say that not out of any sense of presumption but from my own experiences as a Member of this House and from the united opposition to the obscenity that is child slavery. We may differ in our responses to particular examples, but right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House have a shared abhorrence of the ongoing present-day shame and nightmare of child slavery.
Recently, Save the Children UK reaffirmed the figures of the International Labour Organisation, which revealed that across the globe, something like 218 million children between the ages of five and 17 are working as child labourers or are in child slavery. 126 million of those children are involved in hazardous work. About 8.4 million are trapped in the very worst forms of illegal, degrading and dangerous work. That equates to the horrifying statistic that in the least developed countries, 30% of children are engaged in child labour in some shape or form. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are some 49 million children involved in this activity.
It is further estimated that some 1.2 million children, both boys and girls, are trafficked every year and exploited as workers in agriculture, mining, factories, armed conflict and the sex industry. Those children are modern-day slaves, and the numbers are greater than when the old historical slave trade was at its height. Their sufferings are no less wrong, and the injustice inflicted upon them is no less real than those that were endured by slaves in a bygone era.
I want to consider three main issues: forced marriage, which is a form of slavery for children as young as 10 and 12; the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation; and forced labour and the economic exploitation of children. When we consider the issue of forced marriages, it is worth remarking that the previous Government tightened up the situation, which is to be welcomed. However, the then shadow Minister, Baroness Warsi, had this to say in relation to the new laws:
“The onus to go for a civil protection order is actually on the victim of the forced marriage or somebody close to them. I know from speaking to victims of forced marriages that, when they’re in those circumstances, the last thing on their mind or the last thing that they’re able to do, is go to court and seek an order.”
Hon. Members will no doubt be familiar with the fact that between April 2009 and March 2010, the British high commission’s assistance unit in Islamabad dealt with 121 cases of forced marriages, and there were 124 cases previous to that. In August 2008, 22 new cases were taken on by the unit—equivalent to one every working day of that month. In reference to those figures, Baroness Warsi said:
“Forced marriage ruins lives. It can lead to rape, abuse, and unwanted pregnancies. This is a serious problem, and these figures are just the tip of the iceberg. Forced marriages have no place in Britain today. The Government’s current approach is clearly failing vulnerable people who need our help. It is now time for the Government to consider making forced marriage a criminal offence.”
I am sure that many hon. Members will also be aware of the story of 14-year-old Jasvinder Sanghera who was shown a photograph of a random man and told that she was going to marry him. She ran away from home. When she rang to say that she was safe, she was given an ultimatum: either marry the man in the photograph or, because she had “shamed” the family, she would be dead in their eyes.
Later, she heard that one of her sisters was brought to such depths of pain and despair by her own forced marriage that she set fire to herself and died in hospital from 80% burns. I have no doubt that hon. Members will know of the letter that the then leader of the Opposition and now Prime Minister sent Jasvinder in which he said:
“As a country, I believe that we are half-asleep to these issues.”
I am sure that many hon. Members will share my concern about the recent report in The Times on 2 February that stated that of the 254 protection orders issued, only five families have been brought back to court for breaching the order and there have been no convictions.
In the same report, Nazir Afzal of the Crown Prosecution Service said:
“You are easily looking at 10,000 forced marriages or threats a year. I keep asking myself how many unmarked graves are there where people are not even reporting that their child is missing.”
I commend my hon. Friend on the timeliness and importance of his debate. He is touching on the sheer volume of the problem and the lack of prosecutions. Does he agree with me that while we all share the outrage and anger at the prevalence of this activity, what we need to see is more activity in trying to bring those responsible, particularly those engaged in trafficking, before the courts to be convicted?
I agree with my hon. Friend. He has hit the nail right on the head; we need convictions. People involved in this—we may not be able to do this within the law—should be locked up and the key thrown away. I am sure that all Members will agree that forced marriages and slavery are horrific crimes.
The Times also quoted a police officer who called for this crime to be made an aggravated offence, which would hand the courts power to pass enhanced sentences. I have already mentioned the comments made by Baroness Warsi in relation to the whole matter of forced marriage and the new laws introduced by the previous Labour Government. At that time, she also made a commitment that the Conservative party would make forced marriage illegal. Given the current situation, I would suggest that the time has come to change forced marriage from a civil offence to a criminal offence.
When he was in opposition, the Prime Minister promised that that was a step that he would take. Baroness Warsi also made that commitment on behalf of what is now the senior partner in the coalition Government. I encourage the coalition Government to go that extra mile now and stop this form of child slavery. The trafficking of children for sexual exploitation is shameful. It is estimated that about 100,000 to 500,000 people are trafficked into Europe on an annual basis.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I also remind him that I have to attend a Committee this afternoon, so if I slip away shortly it is not because I am not interested in this debate.
When my hon. Friend looks around the devolved jurisdictions that now exist in the United Kingdom, does he think that they are doing anything on top of what our national Government are doing to address the slave trade? The slave trade is not a 21st century phenomenon. It has existed for many centuries, and sometimes expertise and other help is needed to address it.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and he is right. During the debate that we had some time ago in the House on slavery, the issue of the devolved jurisdictions was raised. I think that slavery has been discussed in the regional Parliaments and I know that the Northern Ireland Assembly unanimously agreed that something should be done about people trafficking. However, although we say that something should be done about it, we need to see tangible evidence that something is being done. Words are fine—they are nice on paper—but we need to see evidence that something is being done for these children.
I add my commendations on the fact that my hon. Friend has brought this important subject to Westminster Hall. As for what can be done about trafficking, is it not the case that something could be done in Europe through the European directive on trafficking? Does he agree that there are concerns about why the United Kingdom has not gone further in relation to that particular issue and sits outside that directive?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. He is 100% right. Britain should play a stronger role on this issue, and perhaps later in my speech I will address that point. It is important that Britain take the lead on this issue, because slavery is such an horrific crime.
The US Department of State has estimated that up to 800,000 people are trafficked across borders worldwide. Most of them are women and children who are trafficked for sexual purposes. That figure does not include people trafficked within individual countries.
Concerns about the trafficking of children and young people for sexual purposes in the United Kingdom have been raised for some time. I commend the work of ECPAT, which is a very good organisation. Its full name is “End Child Prostitution Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes”. In its October 2010 report, “Child trafficking in the UK: a snapshot”, it made 10 recommendations. They range from establishing a Government rapporteur on trafficking to the issue of departmental responsibility for safeguarding the child victims of trafficking. They also include very practical recommendations such as the appointment of
“a designated lead manager on child trafficking…in every local authority”,
the provision of
“safe accommodation for all child victims of trafficking”,
and the creation of
“a system of guardianship for child victims of trafficking. Such a system would mean that every child victim of trafficking would have someone with parental responsibility”.
I am sure that the Minister is well aware of those recommendations and I ask him to give us an update on what the Government are doing with regard to them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this timely debate. He has already given statistics about the exploitation of children, including statistics about forced marriage and sexual exploitation. I am sure that he will agree that, although the statistics themselves are horrifying, it must be remembered that behind each of them there is a horrifying experience. It has been reported that children as young as five are being bought and sold on the streets within the United Kingdom for £16,000.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I agree 100% with him. We need to have convictions. There must be a willingness from the Government’s point of view to do something about this issue. If there is a will within the Government to do something about it, we will see results and then convictions will come afterwards. That is why it is important that we listen when the Minister responds to the debate. Hopefully, some glimmer of light and hope will emerge.
Investigations by children’s charities have identified sexual trafficking not only through the United Kingdom to other destinations but to the United Kingdom itself, with children and young people ending up as sex workers in brothels in various parts of the country. That seems to be a very strong statement when we are talking about the United Kingdom—this United Kingdom, the modern United Kingdom, which emphasises its work skills, its technology and everything that goes with that. We are out there to market ourselves to the wider world and we have a situation today where children as young as five or six are being sold on the streets of England for £16,000. That is the evidence from the research papers that I have been given—I did not make it up. It is abhorrent that that should happen in any country.
UNICEF is a reputable organisation. It has said that about 250 children were known to be trafficked into the United Kingdom within a five-year period, but it added that the real figure is likely to be far higher. These children are brought into the United Kingdom as slaves for the sex industry. In 2009, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre published a report, “Strategic Threat Assessment Child Trafficking in the UK 2010”. That report identified 325 children in the United Kingdom as known or suspected victims of child trafficking in the year from March 2007 to February 2008. Trafficked children in the United Kingdom have been identified as coming from a widening range of sources.
In 2009, the then Government set up a national referral mechanism for the identification of children coming into the United Kingdom through the trafficking process. Between 1 April 2009 and 30 June 2009, 40 children were referred through that system, including two children under the age of 10. That is horrific.
Some children who have been trafficked may have been physically abducted, but many children are trafficked with the knowledge of family members, who believe that their children are being offered the chance of a better life within the United Kingdom or elsewhere and do not know that they may be destined for sexual exploitation. The vast majority of those trafficked for sexual purposes are girls, but trafficking of boys is not unusual.
UNICEF has also estimated that that figure of 40 children —those who were identified through the national referral mechanism—is likely to be higher. UNICEF has recently estimated that at any one time there are about 5,000 child sex workers—not five, 50 or 500—in this so-called modern United Kingdom. Some 75% of them are females, and the remainder are young boys.
The internal situation in other parts of the globe is worse, and even more distressing. It has been estimated that 30% of sex workers in India are children— between 270,000 and 400,000 child prostitutes. In Brazil, up to 500,000 boys and girls are commercially sexually exploited, and on the borders between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, 3,500 children are confined in brothels and clubs as slaves. We are talking about children who have not reached sexual maturity, and have no idea or understanding of what is happening to them. That is absolutely disgusting. Police in South Africa estimate that 28,000 children are coerced into the industry every year, and that in Cape Town alone some 25% of workers in the sex industry are very young children. In south and east Asia, one third of sex workers are children. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that those figures are shameful and beggar belief. Yet they are more than statistics: every figure represents the misery and loss that is routinely inflicted on a young life daily. Young lives are destroyed, and the very notion of civilisation or society debased.
On the sexual exploitation of children, does my hon. Friend agree that many of these children have been abducted from their families? No one can understand the anguish and pain that that causes a family. I say that as a parent who, many years ago, nearly lost one of his children, who was three or four at the time, in a hotel on vacation. My child was being taken away from us by a lady, and could have ended up in the industry. No one can understand the horror and pain that that can cause a family.
I absolutely agree, and I have mentioned the abhorrence, pain and anguish. I am sure that all hon. Members will have seen the recent news about a woman from New York who was abducted when she was very young and found out about it when she was an adult. There was a reunion, but it was miraculous that that happened, because so many times it does not, and people are left wondering how their children have turned out. It would be very difficult to live with the fact that a family member had been taken and used in such a way.
When it comes to the economic exploitation of children, including child labour, very often the United Kingdom is further downstream from the event, but the situation is no less real and no less dreadful for those caught up in the middle. Commodities—finished products that we buy—can have been produced, in part, by the efforts of forced child labour or slavery. In more than 50 African, Asian and South American countries, 1 million children are put into mines and quarries. That is a fact. About 40,000 children work in mining in the Congo. In west Africa it has been estimated that 200,000 children work in small-scale gold and mineral mines and quarries, and almost 18,000 children work in gold, silver and copper mines in the Philippines. Mining shifts worked by children can last up to 24 hours. Children work unprotected in mineral extraction, crushing ore using toxins such as mercury, at the risk of contamination. Children break and sort out rocks, water supplies are often contaminated, and there is the risk of underground explosions.
On top of those figures, we can add the number of children exploited as a result of bonded labour, in which a child is forced into slavery to pay off their family’s debt. It has been estimated that in India alone some 15 million children, most of them from low-caste families that have got into difficulties, could be working to pay off someone else’s debt. Many children across the globe, including in the United Kingdom, are beaten frequently, and passed from one owner to another as little more than a possession, or a dog. Save the Children has estimated that in Nepal there are approximately 200,000 bonded labourers, many of them children. In one province of Pakistan alone, it is estimated that there are almost 7 million bonded labourers, including children, and that around 250,000 children work in Pakistani brick kilns, and live there. Almost 70% of all child labour is in agriculture, with more than 130 million children involved in agricultural work each day.
Last year, the United States Department of Labour drew up a list of products produced by child or forced labour—slavery. The list goes from cocoa and cotton to rubber and coal; from gold and diamonds to emeralds and silver; from carpets and clothing to leather and silk; from garlic and grapes to bananas and rice; from salt and sugar to tobacco and tea; and from footballs and fireworks to fashion and furniture. All those products are made around the globe through the exploitation of children and the use of child slavery.
When it comes to both the sexual exploitation of children internationally and the kind of child labour that I have just mentioned, there are real issues for the United Kingdom Government. I am sure that all hon. Members will be able to identify numerous areas in which these issues cut across a number of Departments, but I draw specific attention to the Department for International Development. I emphasise that we are grateful for the assistance given by the UK Government to other countries, and that we are even more grateful to the many millions of people across the United Kingdom who donate money to special causes and needs, but surely pressure needs to be applied and greater emphasis placed on using our influence to end these practices. I think that all hon. Members will agree that the facts of life for millions of children across the globe, right now as we participate in this debate, are shocking and shameful.
As I said at the beginning of my contribution, I am certain that whatever minor differences hon. Members might have about individual incidents and the particular responses required, we all share a conviction that child slavery is wrong, unjust and unacceptable in this modern world. I have no doubt that that is the case. That fact draws out before each of us a question that might at first glance seem unusual, even unnecessary. Whatever our political background and personal experiences, why do we share an opposition to child slavery and a conviction that this evil should end? It makes no sense in evolutionary terms. Are we not told that evolution is about survival of the fittest and competition within species? So what if the poor, the weak and the helpless are exploited by the strong and the ruthless? But buried in the depths of every man and woman is a conviction that there is something better.
Every springtime—we are coming into spring now—nature stretches out and reaches up to bring forth new life and vigour, leaving behind the deadness of winter. Every year it is doomed to fall back in winter, but every spring it stirs and rises once more. Likewise, every human being stretches out and reaches up for something better and higher. It is inborn and embedded within us to be like that. What do we stretch out towards and reach up to lay hold of? In my opinion, it is the God who reaches down to us and who himself came down to us. It is the original created image in us—yes, it is tainted, marred and clouded, but it is still that part of man, made originally for God and in the likeness of God—that stretches out and reaches up for something better and higher. That is what tells every man that the wicked enslavement of children is wrong. Just as one came down to earth to open the soul’s prison, break its fetters, snap its chains and set it free, so we feel the urge and impulse to set at liberty children who are enslaved.
I do not intend to offend any right hon. or hon. Member by saying that I do not believe that there are many Wilberforces around today. However, I believe that in the breast of every hon. Member from every political party already beats something to which Wilberforce gave voice. Wilberforce said on one occasion:
“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”
It is my wish by this debate to make such fanatics of us all.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I congratulate the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on a moving speech—perhaps the most moving that I have ever heard in this Chamber. I think we all share an abhorrence of child slavery.
I, too, started by reading the Save the Children report “The Small Hands of Slavery”—it is an emotive title—and came across the disturbing statistics involving such large numbers. That was back in 2007. What progress are we making? As the hon. Gentleman said, the report states that 8.4 million children are trapped in the worst forms of illegal, degrading and dangerous work. It also identified the eight most prevalent forms of child slavery: child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, bonded child labour, forced work in mines, forced agricultural labour, child soldiers and combatants, forced child marriage and domestic slavery.
The hon. Gentleman provided many tragic examples from around the globe. It is, of course, a tragedy that there is such a variety. Our children are our most precious asset, and it brings tears to the eyes to think of children suffering in such ways. More recently, Save the Children published the report “Children on the Move”. We must remember that in high-profile conflict situations, such as in the middle east, children are particularly vulnerable to certain practices.
There is so much to be done. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must consider the problem from the UK’s perspective, looking outwards as well as inwards and across Departments. Clearly, in order to tackle it, we need national, international and strong local action. We need to consider poverty reduction. This Government’s commitment to increasing the proportion of GDP spent on aid must be welcome, as it is well targeted to reduce poverty. We need education, legislation—legislation must be appropriate, but it is also important that it is put into practice—and resources for prevention and rehabilitation. Those principles can easily be applied to tackling problems in the UK. In my brief contribution, I will concentrate on trafficking, but I recognise fully the scale of the issue.
Research by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre discovered that at least 287 children in this country were identified as potential victims of trafficking between March 2009 and February 2010. More than one third were brought to Britain for the sex trade. Amazingly, 18% were made to cultivate cannabis. I must admit that I have learned a great deal from reading ECPAT UK’s representations about the use of child labour in cannabis cultivation in this country. It makes us realise that we can tackle such issues. It must be possible to track them down and take suitable action.
Has the hon. Lady seen the CEOP study on strategic threat assessment? It states:
“There are only a handful of UK police forces which have units designated and trained in running investigations into trafficking.”
Does she believe that more should be done initially to change that?
I certainly believe that more must be done on a range of issues. I will address the hon. Gentleman’s point shortly.
Sadly, many of the victims identified go missing again and are obviously re-trafficked. We must bear that in mind. We need, of course, to think about what is happening in the countries sending these people. We need international co-operation.
It is interesting that, under the Labour Government, we finally signed up to the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, which came into force in April 2009. There had been questions over a long period from both sides of the House about when we were going to ratify the convention, but we did do so.
I hope that we will have some better news about the EU directive on human trafficking, which the European Parliament approved in 2010. So far, the Government have decided not to opt into it, which I find really difficult to understand. The UK and Denmark are the only EU states not to have opted in, even though we are told that everything we do complies. As I understand it, the directive improves existing EU legislation and provides better protection for trafficking victims, more rigorous protection measures and tougher penalties for traffickers. Signing up to the directive would make a clear statement about our Government’s support for trafficked women and Ministers’ willingness to provide protection and secure convictions.
An organisation called Care claims that this country is not really doing everything it could and that it is not doing everything in the directive. It says that forced begging is also trafficking. It says that we cannot prosecute crimes outside Britain. It says that Britain fails to provide universal access to safe accommodation and medical treatment for victims, fails to investigate cases after a victim withdraws a statement and does not always offer proper protection of victims in criminal proceedings. Those are all things that I believe we should be able to do.
As I understand it, the directive has a specific focus on child victims, so it is very relevant. It provides them with greater care and protection. It also directly calls for the UK to introduce a system of guardianship for trafficked children. I wonder whether that is the problem preventing us from signing up to the directive. Again, I want to be fair to both Governments. I have long argued for a system of guardianship for children who are unaccompanied asylum seekers, and I have tabled many amendments in Committees dealing with Bills on children, always to be defeated. We should not see this as a political issue, because we all need to work together.
On the EU trafficking directive, I agree entirely with the hon. Lady. However, given that we should all be working together and erring on the side of the caution in the protection of children and vulnerable people, does she understand the irony that even Eurosceptics—I include myself among them—have no problem with the Government opting in on this issue, although, of course, they opt in on a whole lot of other issues with which we do have problems? On this issue, however, there is a bit of agreement, so why not err on the side of caution, even if the Government are saying that they are doing these things already?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution. He makes a valid point. It is a strength of the EU that we can have co-operation over a large number of countries when crimes are being committed that are clearly not retained within the boundaries of an individual nation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, but I think he has answered himself. What he says is very true. The main thing is that we must be seen to be fighting this problem on all fronts, but there is a feeling that we are not.
I would be really interested to know whether guardianship is the issue that is holding us back from signing the directive. I strongly believe in the advantages of someone taking parental responsibility, and that has been alluded to. In a recent answer to a parliamentary question, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), said that responsibility for child trafficking victims lies with local authorities, but that can co-exist with parental responsibility. When it comes to children in care, for example, we are aware that we have not done enough about the concept of corporate responsibility. We are talking here about children who have been through so much, and it is not a big ask to ensure that there will be not only some corporate body, but an individual to whom children can relate and from whom they can get support.
At present, a number of organisations are being closed. That is a concern in itself, but I hope that the Minister can reassure us, perhaps by setting out an alternative way of doing things. I am by no means arguing that we must carry on doing things in exactly the same way as we have in the past, and I would very much welcome a brand new approach, but I just have to raise concerns. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority faces closure. We no longer have the Metropolitan police’s human trafficking unit and Operation Golf, which were particularly focused on child trafficking. The UK Human Trafficking Centre has been absorbed into another organisation. We are not clear whether all the POPPY project’s funding will be protected. CEOP itself will be absorbed into another organisation. That need not all be negative news—perhaps the news about the POPPY project is—if the Minister can assure us that we will do things better. In addition to those cuts, the voluntary sector, like all of us, is facing cuts, but the problem we are talking about needs resources as a matter of priority. The hon. Member for Upper Bann has shown us that it should be a high priority.
The key issues for me include preventing these problems in the first place. That has to involve working on a wider international scale. Another key issue is identification, which this country is not very good at. We do not really know how many sex workers or child victims there are in this country; we come up with numbers, but they are probably just the tip of iceberg. How can we have the right priorities and the right policies unless we have the knowledge? I hope that identification and raising awareness will be given priority in the national strategy on trafficking, which is due to be announced.
Local strategies are important, and I would like to be reassured about how they will be worked through. Our local safeguarding children boards have a lot to do on identification, raising awareness and making sure that the right services are developed and supplied locally. We all need to be aware of the dreadful issues around us.
Whether a person is under 18 is still a big issue. Representations have long been made to me to the effect that the immigration age assessment dispute process is often used to divert young people into the immigration system, rather than to protect them. Obviously, it is very difficult to determine the age of a child. We must have effective intervention, and I am sure that we can do so much more on that. We must have safe and appropriate accommodation, so that once children are rescued, they stay rescued.
We need better evidence. We need all agencies to share information and to work together. We need better prosecution procedures. We need to support victims so that they give evidence. I am a little concerned about the period of reflection allowed by the UK Border Agency. The time for deciding whether a person is trafficked is to be reduced from 45 to 30 days. In Italy, it is six months, which I have always felt gives people—particularly young women—time to build up their strength and the courage to bear witness against the perpetrators. It is very difficult for someone who has just been pulled away from a horrific situation to give evidence at that time.
We have been around the globe in the debate and finally I want to stop off in Dorset. I commend the work of Poole Soroptimists, who have done a great deal to highlight trafficking, through supporting the purple teardrop campaign. I went to a very well attended meeting in Dorset organised by the Soroptimists, and people there were deeply shocked. In Dorset we do not necessarily think that we have trafficked children in our midst; but we do—and we do all over the country. That is why awareness-raising is so important for me.
It is also important that there should be specialist police units. As with most areas, cutbacks in the number of police in Dorset are proposed. It has been suggested to me, although I have not had it confirmed, that one thing that might disappear is specialist police work on trafficking. That would be very sad, particularly in the light of my final point: we are all looking forward to the Olympic games, but we must fear what might happen in our country at that time. The evidence is that a major international sporting event causes an increase in sex exploitation, forced child begging and child labour. We are blessed to have the water sports in Dorset, but we are concerned that there should be adequate policing. Because we are a safe part of the country we naturally do not have the highest level of police funding, but we shall need adequate policing in the light of the issues associated with the Olympic games.
Like the hon. Member for Upper Bann I can say only that the problem is so serious that we would be very remiss as politicians if we were not to commit to work together and do our very best for children in such incredibly awful situations as he described.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) for bringing the matter to Westminster Hall for debate. Many of us are aware of the issue, both within and outside our constituencies. I prepared a speech about a month ago, when my hon. Friend told me about the debate, but it is still relevant today, because things have not changed since then. They are still the same. The research about the amount of slavery in the world shocked me. I was sickened to my stomach as I read some of the stories. If hon. Members have not read the background information provided by the House of Commons Library they need to do so. When they do, they will be as shocked as I was about what is going on throughout the world.
An estimated 27 million people live in bondage today, but we know little about their plight. It is easy to watch a red nose day special and regard those precious faces in Africa and other parts of the world with a sense of pity, sympathy and perhaps compassion, but it is harder to face the fact that the problem is not simply an African one, but a global one. It is shameful to say that we are not immune in the UK. The hon. Members who have spoken so far have underlined that, and so will those who follow. I read a report in The Independent—I do not buy it, by the way—that stated that more than 5,000 children are being forced to work as sex slaves in the UK. I find that almost impossible to comprehend in a modern, understanding and compassionate society. The figure includes thousands trafficked to this country by criminal gangs. Indeed, a study of global slavery exposed Britain as a major transit point for the movement of child slaves around the world. The United Kingdom, of which we are all members, with UK passports, is an integral part of child slavery, the sex trade and the exploitation of children that goes on.
The report paints a shocking picture of an international web of gangmasters exploiting children as young as five, as well as vulnerable women. Many are threatened with violence, then sold into the sex trade and forced to become domestic servants. The issue is not all about physical abuse or sexual exploitation, as people are also exploited as domestic servants. Some would say that they are paid to work, and in many cases they are, but they do not always retain their full wages, which are kept as “savings”. They are told that if they go to the police they will be imprisoned, and they live in fear. The human trafficking trade now generates an estimated £5 billion a year worldwide, which makes it the second biggest international criminal industry after the drugs trade. I ask the coalition Government what priority they give to tackling that form of exploitation and child slavery.
Children’s charities in Britain say that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of referrals of trafficked children to sexual exploitation services. An investigation by The Independent on Sunday has found that the gangs, especially those from Romania and Lithuania, as well as Africa, increasingly target Britain, because markets in other European countries, such as Spain and Italy, are saturated. Things have moved slightly, and the impact is different.
We need tighter rules, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) clearly showed in relation to the EU directive. I look for some hope in that regard from the Minister. Will we sign up to the directive? I think that we should, and sooner rather than later.
Abolitionists fighting sex traffic in both south-east Asia and Latin America report that parents commonly sell their kids so that they can make an improvement to their home or purchase a vehicle or other consumer item. Those stories align with a report in The New York Times that parents in Albania sold their children to traffickers so that they could buy a colour TV. Can you take that in, Mr Hood—that anyone would do that with their child for the price of a colour TV? My goodness me; that could be about £150. Is that the price of a child today? Going by the background material available, and press stories, some 70,000 children are kidnapped in China every year, of whom only 6,000 are returned to their parents. Every year 64,000 children in China go missing and disappear into child exploitation across the world.
I received a breakdown of facts from the International Labour Organisation about child labour, which more often than not translates as children being forced to work for little or no recompense, to all intents and purposes as slaves. There are 246 million children who are child labourers and 73 million working children less than 10 years old. No country is immune or outside the problem, which involves 2.5 million working children in the developed economies, and another 2.5 million in transition economies. Every year, 22,000 children die in work-related accidents. The largest number of working children aged 14 and under—127 million—are in the Asia-Pacific region. Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest proportion of working children: nearly one third of children aged 14 and under—I think it is about 48 million children.
Most children work in the informal sector, without legal or regulatory protection, and 8.4 million children are trapped in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities. Of those, 1.2 million have been trafficked. One out of six children in the world today is involved in child labour, doing work that is damaging to his or her mental condition and physical and emotional development.
The ILO study has shown that the economic benefits of eliminating child labour will be nearly seven times greater than the costs. That does not include the moral benefits, and the most basic fact—that children can then have some semblance of childhood. Nearly three quarters of working children are engaged in what the world recognises as the worst forms of child labour, including trafficking, armed conflict, slavery, sexual exploitation and hazardous work—things we in this Chamber would shun. What co-operation is there with other countries to ensure that child trafficking or illegal and criminal activities are curtailed or stopped?
Amnesty International has stated that the strategy currently employed to combat that in the UK is ineffective and must be revamped. That must be our ultimate goal and aim. We must work with the zeal, enthusiasm and energy of Wilberforce—his name has already been mentioned—and pray that our results will come a lot sooner. I support the point made by the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) about sporting activities. The information supplied by the Library refers to the under-age sex trade booming at the Superbowl. In modern society and in modern world, whether it is the United Kingdom, the USA or elsewhere, people have a responsibility due to their affluence, their money and what they can buy. A child—and the innocence of a child—cannot be bought; I feel very strongly about that. It amazes me to read that some
“300,000 girls between 11 and 17 are lured into the US sex industry”
every year. That shocks and worries me. The story was also in the press, and it notes that some 50 children were rescued during the previous two Superbowls. Those who follow the event will know from watching it on TV that it is a great sporting occasion, but in the background there is the shadow of criminal and illegal activity, which causes me concern.
In conclusion, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann on highlighting the issue again, and pledge to work with him, with others present and with the Government to ensure that we, as elected representatives, speak out for those who have no voice, and cry out for the rights of the oppressed. These children are the most vulnerable and we have a responsibility to them. Let us carry out that responsibility and I ask the Government—our Government; my Government—to work with us.
Thank you, Mr Hood. I expect my speech to be brief. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing this crucial debate, although I dearly wish that we did not need it. I also pay tribute to those who have spoken on what is a truly horrific subject.
I wish to highlight four areas of concern, and I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response. The first relates to the scale of the problem. I have done research and met organisations that wish to tackle the problem, and it is clear that, at best, the estimates are patchy, both in the UK and across the world. It seems that the true scale of the horror is all too often hidden away, lost in the system, or simply ignored. Far more needs to be done to make sure that we get a real understanding of just how horrific the situation is.
Secondly, if a victim is rescued in the UK and is brought in by the police, it worries me that, if they do not provide a statement or if they withdraw one, all too often an investigation does not follow. The main reason for that is that the victims live in fear of the gangs that control them. Unless we are able to convince them and give them confidence that we can provide them with sufficient protection, we will always struggle to get that evidence and break the grip of those gangs. I urge the Minister to look at whether we can proceed without getting all the evidence or statements from victims, or to make sure that those victims are given sufficient care.
The worst example is when a victim is released on bail and, as they leave the police station, the gangs are waiting outside to take them back. They are then lost to the system, the evidence trail is destroyed, and the cycle of despair continues. If the victim goes through the process and is placed in local authority care, the gangs will target those children and snatch them, often just days after they have been placed there. It is clear that the safeguards in such cases are woefully inadequate. Another worry is that, when rescued, the victims are often treated as criminals themselves, for either drug or immigration offences. They are treated as criminals, not victims.
Thirdly, on awareness, all too often, people acknowledge that this is an horrific issue while claiming that it does not happen in their area. But yes, it does—it happens under everybody’s noses. Gangs often target some of this country’s more affluent, new-build estates, where residents cannot name their neighbours, to be safe houses, cannabis-cultivating factories and brothels, because people do not notice when others come and go at different times. We all have a duty, as elected representatives and the Government, to highlight the issue. People need to be aware of it and understand that, if they see suspicious behaviour, they should report it to be investigated. I have been surprised a number of times to see that what seemed to be a quiet, well respected, crime-free area was actually hiding something pretty horrific behind closed curtains. We all have a duty to play a part in raising awareness of the issue.
Finally, I wish to highlight the issue of sex offences abroad by UK citizens, particularly the three-day loophole that allows known sex offenders to travel abroad for up to three days without notifying the authorities. In reality, that is a minor inconvenience if someone seeks to travel in Europe. It might stop them travelling to the other side of the world without supervision, but it causes no problem at all in relation to modern travel in Europe. Our record of prosecutions of British citizens for child sexual abuses overseas has been described by Christine Beddoe of ECPAT UK as “appalling”. Frankly, that is shameful and more should be done, because it relates to our citizens perpetrating horrific crimes abroad.
I shall conclude with a plea. There is clear cross-party support for action. Although the UK in many ways leads in this area, much more can be done to protect and rescue victims. It requires better co-ordination of services, because it is not just about the Government. It is a multi-service agency issue and we all have a part to play. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) has said, it is about fighting on all fronts, and we need real leadership to deliver. As has been said, behind every statistic is a real life horror story, and I urge the Minister urgently to deliver the leadership that we all want and that victims so desperately need.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I congratulate the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing a debate on this important issue, on which there is cross-party support, concern and willingness to address the problems that still exist and, as the hon. Gentleman said, to end the evil of child slavery once and for all.
The hon. Gentleman gave a powerful and moving account, with both a global and a focused, national perspective, which was helpful. It was also rich in reports, statistics and research, which is always helpful when dealing with an emotive subject such as this. He talked about the three key issues of forced marriages, sexual exploitation and economic exploitation, and addressed the problem of bonded labour, particularly in India. It was good to hear him quote at the end of his contribution the words of William Wilberforce. I am a Member of Parliament for William Wilberforce’s home city of Hull, and we in that city know that the problems of trafficking and child slavery are still with us today and that there is still much more that we need to do.
The brutal trade in trafficked children and child slavery is the modern-day manifestation of the slavery that William Wilberforce and others campaigned to abolish more than 200 years ago. We are concentrating today on child slavery, but it is so near to international women’s day that it is right to point out the overlapping trade in trafficked women around the world who are also kept in slavery.
We have heard interesting and thoughtful contributions from hon. Members during the debate. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who has a strong record in championing children’s rights and has been a strong advocate for standing up for the most vulnerable in our society. Her analysis—at the beginning she focused on the international perspective and she then moved on to the issue of trafficking—was very well thought through. What struck me about what she and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said was their comments on the issue of awareness. In many parts of the country, people think that child slavery or trafficking does not happen in their area—people have said that to me in Hull—but when we start to dig down, we realise that there are problems with trafficking all around the country. It was interesting to note the reading habits of the hon. Member for Strangford. He reads The Independent, although he said that he did not buy it.
Perhaps just once. The hon. Gentleman talked about the generation of £5 billion through the operation of slavery worldwide. That is a huge figure and we need to bear that in mind, because some very powerful interests will want to make sure that slavery continues. He also talked about Albania, China and the international issues there. The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) correctly reminded us about the victims. We need to ensure that we focus on the needs of those victims.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who is the chairman of the all-party group on human trafficking. He has done a huge amount of work on the matter and has followed in the footsteps of the former Member for Totnes, Sir Anthony Steen. Thousands of people—children, women and some men—are brought into the UK each year to work in the sex trade. In 2008-09, the Select Committee on Home Affairs claimed that more than 5,000 people were being trafficked. In 2003, the total economic and social cost of human trafficking for sexual exploitation was put at around £1 billion. Many more people, including hundreds of children, are smuggled into the country each year to be exploited as domestic servants, farm hands or drug cultivators. We know that that is a real problem in the Vietnamese community. Vietnam is the most prominent of the 47 countries of origin for trafficked children and there seems to be a particular focus on young boys between the age of 13 to 17, who act as gardeners and cultivate cannabis plants in various settings.
In the remaining time, I shall discuss the EU directive on human trafficking. We have had lots of discussion this afternoon about why the Government have chosen not to sign up to the directive. The Government have said that they are already meeting the requirement set out in the directive. If that is right, which is in dispute, I ask the Minister to explain what would be lost by signing up to it. If we are doing everything anyway, what is the problem? Many hon. Members and organisations think that the Government are not complying with the directive. That was pointed out by many hon. Members in the debate on human trafficking held in Westminster Hall on 12 October and in the anti-slavery debate on the Floor of the House on 14 October.
As the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole mentioned, a report was published by CARE—a Christian charity—on 7 February entitled, “The EU Directive on Human Trafficking: Why the UK Government Should Opt-in.” The report shows areas where the Government are not complying with the EU directive. They include support for child victims; widening the trafficking definition to forced begging; giving jurisdiction over UK citizens engaging in trafficking overseas; assistance to victims of trafficking in health care and accommodation; the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crime; protection of victims in criminal proceedings; and establishing an independent national rapporteur on trafficking. Such a role would be similar in nature to the one that Lord Carlile played in anti-terror policies.
The Government oppose in particular the measure on guardianship for child victims of trafficking—an issue that is referred to in early-day motion 513 tabled by the hon. Member for Wellingborough and which has been raised by a number of charities. I would be grateful if the Minister shed some light on that subject. The Minister for Immigration told the House that the Government do not want to be bound by measures that “are against our interests”. It would be interesting if the Minister responding to this debate explained what that means. To whose interests is the Minister for Immigration referring?
The coalition agreement states that tackling human trafficking is a priority. I ask the Minister how much of a priority the matter is for the Government. I am concerned that many measures have been introduced that will weaken the protection of children from exploitation and the protection of vulnerable children, trafficked children and children who are held against their will. For example—the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole referred to this—there have been Government grant cuts to children’s services in councils. We already know that there is a lack of awareness about trafficking and child slavery, and I am concerned that those cuts will have even further impact. There have also been cuts to specialist policing in the area of trafficking. Operation Golf has been abandoned, vetting and barring procedures have been weakened—as set out just yesterday in the Protection of Freedoms Bill—the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has been closed, and the UK Human Trafficking Centre and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre have been dismantled. In addition, last year, ContactPoint was abandoned.
On the issues of child slavery and trafficking, co-operation is the wisest policy for the Government to follow. The cost of not pursuing such a policy will be terrible for exploited children and other vulnerable people. Many hon. Members have discussed the need to secure convictions, but we need a comprehensive approach to do so. On 27 January, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), the Minister for Equalities, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), justified not taking a decision on whether to opt into the EU Directive, and stated that
“we will make our decision in due course.”—[Official Report, 27 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 440.]
That is particularly surprising bearing in mind the stance of the Liberal Democrat party on the issue and its long-standing view on the matter, which it has held for many years.
We all want to do everything we can to stop child slavery and trafficking. I very much look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government plan to address the issues raised in this afternoon’s debate.
First, I should explain that I am responding to the debate on behalf of my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, who is in Rome today. He apologises for not being able to be here, but I should emphasise that he is on ministerial business. I am pleased to be responding to this interesting and important debate, in which I am happy to be engaging as Minister for Policing.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing a debate on such an important subject: child slavery. Tackling the trafficking of children into the UK is a key element of the Government’s work to tackle child slavery in the UK. Children are brought to the UK to be exploited in domestic servitude or for labour, or to be used for sexual exploitation. The Government view human trafficking as an abhorrent crime. People are treated as mere commodities, exploited and traded for profit.
We have always stated very clearly our commitment to tackling the issue. The overall aim is to make the UK a hostile environment for trafficking and to identify and protect victims wherever possible. Children are included because they are, of course, the most vulnerable among those victims trafficked from various countries. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has done to raise the matter, and the contributions made by hon. Members from all parties. I agree that there is a large measure of consensus on the issue. I shall try to respond to all three of the key issues that the hon. Gentleman raised: forced marriage, the trafficking of children and sexual exploitation, and forced labour.
The UK leads the world in tackling forced marriage and places great emphasis on tackling early child marriage. It is an appalling and indefensible practice and is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights. There is no culture in which forced marriage should be acceptable. Victims can suffer physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse, including being held unlawfully captive and being assaulted and repeatedly raped.
The Government have stepped up their efforts to tackle forced marriage in a range of ways: by strengthening the legislation and providing statutory guidance, practice guidelines and online training for professionals; by raising awareness and understanding of the issues, including among children and young people; and by providing effective one-stop support to individuals through the Forced Marriage Unit, which is a joint initiative between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office.
The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 came into force on 25 November 2008, and offers civil remedies to protect victims or potential victims of forced marriages. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the question of whether forced marriage should be made a crime, which he raised as a potential solution. A national consultation was carried out in 2005 on whether to introduce a specific criminal offence for forced marriage. The majority of respondents felt that the disadvantages of new legislation outweighed the advantages. Many worried that criminalising forced marriage would force the issue underground. Victims of forced marriage can be unwilling to take action against their parents and many respondents felt that the legislation would not be used. Those at risk of forced marriage, or already in a forced marriage, can seek protection through the civil remedies in the form of a forced marriage protection order. Some 271 such orders have been taken out since 2008. The Government said that we would look at the legislation if it was not working, but those figures suggest that the civil remedies are working. Of course, we should keep such matters under review and we will consider any further representations that hon. Members make on the issue, but I hope that that is a reasonable answer to the hon. Gentleman’s particular concern on the issue of forced marriage.
On the issue of child trafficking, on 14 October, during the debate on anti-slavery day, the Minister for Immigration announced the Government’s intention to produce a new strategy on combating human trafficking. The strategy reiterates the Government’s intention to take a comprehensive approach to combating trafficking, both by combating traffickers and by looking after victims. There is a lot of extremely valuable work already taking place and there is a strong foundation to build on. The strategy will maintain the focus on supporting victims, while signalling a greater emphasis on tackling the root problem through more targeted activity in source countries, smarter multi-agency working at the border and more co-ordination of our law enforcement efforts in the UK. We are consulting with NGOs to ensure that their views on the strategy are heard and taken into account. We will certainly take into account the ECPAT report on child trafficking, to which the hon. Member for Upper Bann referred. The strategy will be published in spring and will build on the measures already in place.
Concerns were raised about the EU directive on human trafficking by my hon. Friends the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) and for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), and by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on the Opposition Front Bench. I will not dwell on that because much has been said already, but I will restate the Government’s position. The draft directive contains no operational co-operation measures from which the UK would benefit. It will help to improve the way other EU states combat trafficking, but it will make very little difference to how the UK fights trafficking. Opting in would also require us to make mandatory provisions that are currently discretionary in UK law. Such a step would reduce, in the Government’s view, the scope for professional discretion and flexibility and might divert resources that are already scarce.
If we conclude later that the directive would help us in the fight against human trafficking, we could opt in. However, by not opting in now, but reviewing our position when the directive is adopted, we can choose to benefit from being part of a directive that is helpful, and avoid being bound by measures that we judge are against our interests. However, I would not want the fact that we believe that it would not be helpful to opt in to the EU directive—indeed, that it may be unhelpful in some respects—to colour the absolute determination that the Government have to act on the issue.
The Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings came into force in the UK on 1 April 2009. To aid in identification and referral, the national referral mechanism was established as part of the ratification of the convention on 1 April 2009. The NRM is a multi-agency framework that allows us systematically to identify trafficking victims and to refer them to support where necessary.
In addition to victim care and work at the border, the Government have always been clear that we remain firmly committed to instituting a strong enforcement response against those who seek to trade in human beings. It is for that reason that we introduced dedicated anti-trafficking legislation through the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. I say “we”—I think that must refer to the previous Government, although I think there was broad agreement on those provisions. While the Government are committed to apprehending and charging those who commit this crime, we are also keen to ensure that victims, who are used by them for profit, are appropriately safeguarded. Our response must be international. Most victims of the crime are foreign nationals and there is an obvious need, therefore, to tackle the issue at source.
Hon. Members asked about the particular contribution of the Department for International Development. We have worked with DFID, the Foreign Office and the Serious Organised Crime Agency to support a number of initiatives that aim to tackle trafficking at the country of origin. DFID plays a key role in preventing trafficking at source as part of its work in combating poverty and social injustice through long-term development programmes. Additionally, DFID has supported programmes that are specifically focused on preventing child trafficking in such countries as Bangladesh and Uganda.
I would like to mention SOCA and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, as the status of both was raised by hon. Members. Both do valuable work in this area. SOCA has increased engagement through its global network of liaison officers in 40 countries. We intend to build on the work of SOCA by creating the national crime agency and maintaining the fight against serious and organised crime, of which that is an important component. Similarly, in relation to the important work of CEOP, to which I pay tribute, I reassure hon. Members that it is already a discrete part of SOCA. Should CEOP become a part of the successor body to SOCA, the national crime agency, it will remain a discrete part of the national crime agency. We are absolutely determined that CEOP should continue to be supported externally in the way that it currently is, and continue its valuable work. Nothing we will do will threaten the work of CEOP in any respect.
We will announce a strategy in relation to serious organised crime in due course and are carefully considering those matters.
On the issue of funding, which was raised by the hon. Lady and by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole, it is certainly the case that many agencies, including the police, are being required to save money. That must not deter them from their core business of providing front-line services. These are very serious crimes. Agencies and forces must remain focused on those crimes while they seek savings in other areas.
Finally, I would like to respond to the issue of child labour, which was raised by the hon. Member for Upper Bann. We are committed to the elimination of child labour and are working towards long-lasting changes to tackle the underlying poverty that is the root cause of that problem. Children the world over must be given the opportunity to achieve their full potential, as expressed in the UN convention on the rights of the child and other international and regional instruments. All children have the right to an education and should not have to work to survive. Entering the labour force too early significantly limits young people’s opportunities over their lifetime and helps to trap families in poverty from one generation to the next. We are working through DFID. In addition, our commitment to the education millennium development goals of universal primary completion and gender parity at all levels of education, is evidenced by DFID’s work in tackling poor working conditions in developing countries.
I hope that it is clear from my response to this interesting and important debate that there is a concerted effort taking place in this country and abroad, through a number of Government Departments and agencies, to heighten awareness of this issue and to ensure that assistance is given, where appropriate, to our overseas partners. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Upper Bann for securing this very important debate. The Government are committed to tackling this horrendous practice and, whether it is referred to as slavery or trafficking, it is clear that that terrible crime must be combated and child victims safeguarded.
In late January, millions of people around the world were deeply saddened to receive news of the horrific murder of David Kisule, better known as David Kato, the prominent human rights activist best known for his brave campaigning on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. David had been beaten to death in his home near Kampala. The shock at the killing was felt in this House particularly by colleagues such as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns), who is not able to be here today. He had met David Kato in his celebrated campaigning role for Sexual Minorities Uganda just before his death.
Since then, the Ugandan police have made a number of arrests and one individual has been charged with the murder; in fact, the trial begins tomorrow. However, the trial must not signal an end to David Kato’s case and all that it stands for, as some in Ugandan public life would, frankly, like. That is because the wider cultural and political backdrop in present-day Uganda is characterised by open and often vile homophobia. Uganda is hardly the only place where that is the case, but it is a country which, for the best part of a couple of decades, has had a broadly positive trajectory on democracy and human rights. It has not been perfect, and in some years people might have said that President Museveni had taken his foot off the pedal somewhat, but it is unquestionably the case that Uganda has been one of the better success stories in Africa.
When countries, particularly developing countries, skew their developmental trajectories, we should sit up and take careful notice, particularly when it is a country such as Uganda—there are others—of which, on the whole, we have had a good view. I have a personal record of involvement with politicians in Uganda. It is places such as Uganda that catch our eye. And so it is with human rights: we know which countries routinely abuse human rights and have done so for many years, and we try to do our best through campaigning, relationships with other countries and so on to change that, but when a country does not on the whole have a reputation for treating its population badly, it worries us when the quality of governance suddenly slips back.
The essence of the problem in Uganda, which David Kato’s death has thrown into sharp relief, is that some people in Ugandan public life—politicians, journalists, business people and others—have for some time been seeking personal gain through pandering to and even encouraging homophobia. Prominent among them is David Bahati, the Ugandan MP, who tabled a private Member’s Bill calling for homosexuals to face the death penalty. His name is ironic: I understand that “Bahati” means “peace.” He wants peace for most people, but he wants to kill those who are gay. The Bill whipped up a fervour of enthusiasm among some newspapers, and the oddly named Rolling Stone—a new newspaper, not the famous American counterpart, I do not hesitate to add—eventually published pictures of known members and campaigners in the LGBT communities and urged people to kill them. Not that long afterwards, and perhaps tragically unsurprisingly, David Kato was killed.
David Bahati and Rolling Stone are both a disgrace, of course, but even more worrying at the time was the slow initial response of the Ugandan Government. Some Members and politicians stoked the fire with gusto. Bahati’s private Member’s Bill proposed, among other things, a widening of the definition of homosexual acts and a toughening up of penalties. It called for fines or imprisonment for anyone found to be promoting homosexuality, and the death penalty as punishment for serial homosexuality—the mind boggles.
Some agencies in the developed world chose to view the debate that raged around Bahati’s Bill as providing an opportunity to present Africa through an African prism. In a sense, that is a noble, sound journalistic intent, but they used completely the wrong subject—again, the mind boggles. The BBC asked on its discussion forum whether homosexuals should face execution. That lent international legitimacy to the many people in Uganda and elsewhere who think that the answer is yes. I was reading the responses on my iPhone in the Chamber as they came out, and I was struck by the fact that no one who put a comment on the board was from Uganda. In effect, the BBC had stimulated a debate about whether homosexuals in the UK should be executed. There were people who said, “It is up to Uganda what is done in Uganda but we should probably do that here.” That was the level of debate that that completely insane question stoked. It was most unfortunate, and I subsequently spoke to the head of World Service-Africa. I believe there is an understanding that that question and that particular treatment should not be repeated.
That said, the forum was an indicator of how people sometimes confuse a perfectly noble intent to understand developing world countries and say, “It is not for us to impose our values”—we all know about the tricky relationship that we sometimes have with China in respect of democratic values and so on—with what was, in this case, a universal value. I believe we can all accept that what David Bahati is doing is entirely monstrous.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that proposed measures such as David Bahati’s Bill and some of the public and media debate in Uganda to which he referred provide exactly the right environment for people to be physically attacked and, in the most extreme cases, murdered?
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. I believe that everyone I have spoken to in all parts of the House would agree with that. It behoves everyone in the media to reflect on the BBC example, and to separate forcing a post-imperialistic, unacceptable perspective on a developing country from what is actually a perfectly reasonable, universally held value. In this case, the judgment was straightforward. That is something that not just journalists but everyone needs to reflect on when they think about such issues. We are not exercising some kind of imperialistic hegemony just by saying, “Don’t execute homosexuals.”
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which deals with a subject that has not been given the time in the public eye that I would have liked. The Rolling Stone publication that he referred to has been covered extensively in the UK media, but it is not always made clear that it was produced solely to out homosexuals and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said, to incite violence against those individuals. It has not been going for a long time—it was created in the past few months.
That is a profound point. To be honest, I did not know that. I knew that Rolling Stone was a new magazine, but I was not aware of that. When I think about it now, it is obvious. That is a potent point. It has struck me as odd that the proper Rolling Stone, the American magazine, does not sue for breach of copyright, but I am not sure whether the copyright laws would apply in Uganda. My hon. Friend points to part of the general persecution of gay and LGBT communities in Uganda.
It is fair to give President Museveni a bit of credit for establishing a commission to investigate the implications of the Bill. As it is a private Member’s Bill, it seems odd that it should need a commission, to be perfectly honest. The long and short of it is that the commission recommended that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill be withdrawn, although it is important to say that it is still, in fact, pending. It is also important to recognise that Uganda has just had presidential and parliamentary elections, and is now in a period of very little activity. It is possible, although I would hope not probable, that the Bill could go through in a wash-up on a truncated procedure. I suspect that President Museveni would not let that happen, but if the Minister or his diplomats in Kampala get the opportunity, perhaps they could make the point to the Ugandan Government whenever they can that the thing should be withdrawn, the sooner the better.
I shall conclude early so that someone else can speak. It is worth reflecting on the fact that the European Union has developed a set of guidelines for human rights defenders. It is very important, after David Kato’s death, that the issue is fully pressed home not just by our high commission but by representatives of the EU and any EU institutions in Kampala. I am not sure whether the European foreign service—I hesitate to use the name—could also press it home.
The UK is in a position to take a strong lead, as we have a good record on equalities issues. I hope that the Minister will feel able to raise the matter with his Ugandan counterparts when he has the opportunity, and make the strongest case to the Ugandan Government that the UK and perhaps millions of people, and certainly tens of thousands of campaigners throughout the world, will not allow the matter to go away. President Museveni has said that things are done differently there, but he also recognised that there are international standards, and he has openly referred to the UK and US Governments as Governments to which he should pay attention. I conclude on that point, and wait to hear what the Minister says.
Thank you, Mr Hood, for letting me speak in this debate. I also thank the Minister and the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) for allowing me to join in. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. I had asked for the same debate, but clearly because of his seniority the Speaker chose him instead of me.
The murder of David Kato demonstrates that despite some reforms under the newly re-elected President Museveni, aspects of his rule are a major concern, and speak as loudly against him as any successes have spoken for him. We know that David Kato was murdered with an iron bar or a hammer. That was first heard of under Idi Amin’s brutal dictatorship, which we certainly do not want to return to. Such methods of murder are vicious, and I hope that people in this country appreciate what an awful death it will have been for David Kato. He was not the only person to suffer that fate, but he was such a champion for gay rights and the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community that it is important to recognise what a serious event his murder was on the world stage. It was not just something that happened in Uganda; it has affected people throughout the world.
The spin and the lies about a burglar perhaps being the murderer—it was claimed that items were stolen—have started to fall away, and we now know that it is much more likely that he was murdered because he was homosexual. He had received threats from the paper that was mentioned. It is telling that society in Uganda was ready to believe that the murder occurred just because of a burglary, and not because David Kato had campaigned not just for himself, but for wider society in Uganda.
Since the murder, I have had the good fortune to meet representatives from the wider civil society in Uganda, who have all told me that they now fear for their safety, and that there is a climate of fear in Uganda. Because of safety concerns, it would be irresponsible to divulge who they are. Whatever their sexual orientation and views, no one should suffer such a fate or live in such fear. That would be like the 1950s in this country, and we should not encourage that.
Many people in civil society have received threats by letter, e-mail and text, notes have been left at their homes, and their friends and colleagues have been raped or beaten up. The way in which those messages have been sent is of grave concern and makes me think that the authorities may attempt to look the other way if another activist is murdered. That is a great concern, and we in this country can do something about it. One activist told me that the Ugandan Government regularly hacks into their phone and knows who they are talking to. It is only the worldwide network of support that protects them from being severely beaten or, even worse, killed.
Intimidation of civil society has always existed, and one has only to look at the 2009 draft Bill on public order management—if it goes through, it will restrict small meetings of more than three people from taking place—to see that the Government of Uganda view a more liberal civil society as a direct threat. Although Uganda has made many strides forward in the fight against poverty, there is still an important role for civil society in Uganda to ensure that the country continues to grow and to get its people out of absolute poverty and into a much more prosperous way of life. However, with unfavourable legislation and the increasing security threats highlighted by the murder of David Kato, civil society in Uganda is retreating. Its presence in Uganda not only feeds the hungry and heals the sick, but provides a voice for those marginalised by the Ugandan Government.
I hope that today's debate demonstrates to civil society in Uganda that we support its campaign for a fair society, and I also hope that it will take its place in the wider argument against the Bill on anti-homosexuality, which was tabled last year against the background of increasing hostility towards civil society. I hope that President Museveni, who was recently re-elected, will steer his next Parliament towards international obligations and will, in the light of the global uproar against David Kato's death, build a fair and just Ugandan society. I also hope that our Government will put pressure on Uganda and encourage other countries to do so to support international human rights standards and to uphold the Ugandan constitution.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) on securing this important debate, and I thank the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), and for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) for their contributions.
The hon. Member for Falkirk raises an important issue, on which the Government have been closely engaged for some time. Indeed, I welcome this timely opportunity to discuss an important and difficult issue in Uganda, across Africa, and elsewhere in the world. Today, I want to talk in as much detail as I can about the deeply worrying death of David Kato. I would also like to take the opportunity to discuss issues relating to the human rights of sexual minorities more broadly in Uganda today. In doing so, I intend to set out the Government’s position on the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender issue in Uganda, and to discuss our work in that area.
First, let me address the tragic death of David Kato on 26 January this year. He was well known to several hon. Members, and his killing saw the loss of one of Uganda’s foremost human rights activists. He was widely respected by both domestic and international colleagues, and his valiant efforts, especially his work as an LGBT activist and a Christian activist, was important in defending the human rights of all Ugandans. His death, unfortunately, represents a backward step for human rights in Uganda, and I am sure that his loss will be felt by many in Uganda and around the world.
It is vital, as the hon. Member for Falkirk suggests, that the Ugandan police force thoroughly investigates Mr Kato’s death. In my statement at the time, I urged the authorities to do that, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire said, it was a particularly vile, vicious and unpleasant killing. Our high commission in Kampala has reinforced the importance of this in subsequent representations to the inspector general of police in Uganda.
I am advised that the Ugandan police investigation has so far resulted in two arrests. One suspect was released without charge due to lack of evidence. The second, Enock Nsubuga, remains on remand in Mukono prison awaiting a recommendation from the magistrates court for the case to be heard in the High Court, which is a legal requirement when an offence is potentially punishable by death. I understand that in a statement to the police on 2 February, Mr Nsubuga, a convicted criminal who was apparently employed by Mr Kato, confessed to robbing and killing his benefactor. Our high commission will continue to monitor the case closely, and plans to be present in court during the next hearing. In the meantime, the coalition Government will continue to support the rights of LGBT people in Uganda, as we do elsewhere.
I want to say a few words about our policy more generally in Uganda. We are committed to combating violence and discrimination against LGBT people as an integral part of our international human rights work. We realise that sexual orientation is a sensitive issue in many communities, but we firmly believe that any illegality of consenting same-sex relations is incompatible with international human rights law, including the international covenant on civil and political rights. Laws should guarantee the same rights to everyone regardless of sexuality, and if LGBT people choose to exercise those rights, they should be free do to so.
The Foreign Office has a clear programme for promoting the human rights of LGBT people that focuses on the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the fight against discrimination. It includes taking action on individual cases where discrimination has occurred, lobbying for changes in discriminatory practices and laws, and helping individuals on a case-by-case basis. Although the debate focuses on Uganda, similar prejudices against LGBT people unfortunately exist in many parts of Africa, and in many other places around the world.
Although we fully recognise and respect cultural and religious sensitivities, we intend to be active about LGBT rights in Uganda in various ways. On a number of occasions, we have made clear to the Government of Uganda that the UK position on respect for the rights of LGBT people is not something from which we will deviate. We are opposed to any actions that have a negative impact on the human rights of Ugandans. The high commission in Kampala has regularly raised the issue with the Ugandan Government, including with the Prime Minister and other Ministers. I was in Uganda in July and I had a meeting with President Museveni. Among other things, I raised the issue of human rights and the proposed legislation and Bill, which I will speak about in a moment. I made our concerns plain and clear.
I welcome the strength of what the Minister has said in restating the Government’s policy, and I offer the full support of the Labour party for that. Does he see value in taking the policy further and working alongside our European Union colleagues? If he does, has he had the opportunity to discuss with his European counterparts the ways in which the European Union can put pressure on Uganda to guarantee human rights for LGBT communities?
It is essential that we work with our European counterparts, and if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will say something about that in a moment.
The Government will continue to take this matter very seriously, and we often take the lead on this issue, co-ordinating action across other diplomatic and donor partners. On the point about the EU, a formal démarche initiated by the UK was delivered by EU member states to the Ugandan Foreign Minister, and there have been regular meetings with LGBT activists. We have also been involved in the drafting and subsequent implementation of local EU guidelines for human rights defenders in Uganda. I hope that that will convince the hon. Gentleman—if he needed convincing—that we are very much on the case and working with our EU partners.
The UK has chosen to support the work of the Sexual Minorities Uganda group, which has acted as a focal point for a number of LGBT groups and activists in their work to protect those who have fallen victim of the law because of their sexuality. For example, we have enabled individuals to seek an injunction to prevent the publication of articles that incite hatred against the LGBT community. The high commission in Kampala remains in close touch with other Ugandan civil society groups that campaign for the rights of all minorities. I hope that that chimes with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire about how important it is to work closely with civil society groups throughout Uganda, and help them in their campaigns.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the hugely inflammatory articles that appeared in Uganda’s Rolling Stone magazine late last year, targeting David Kato and many others alleged to belong to the LGBT community. The articles, which included photographs of the people whom the magazine was attacking, were deeply disturbing and incited hatred and violence against homosexuals. Of course we commend Uganda for its largely free press—I know that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby shares that view—and the positive role that that often plays in generating debate. However, I absolutely and unequivocally condemn the type of journalism in that magazine.
We raised our concerns over the articles with Prime Minister Nsibambi and the Minister responsible for internal affairs, and we made clear the damage that we believe such things can do. I am glad that some senior figures in Uganda have highlighted the dangers that can result from insensitivity towards the gay community. Those people include the inspector general of police, Major-General Kale Kayihura, who cautioned the public and anti-homosexuality pastors against such insensitivity in an article in the Daily Monitor newspaper on 4 February this year.
Another related issue that has caused concern and was mentioned by the hon. Member for Falkirk and by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire is the anti-homosexuality Bill tabled in the Ugandan Parliament by David Bahati in 2009. This is a private Member’s Bill and has not—fortunately—been endorsed by the Government of Uganda. Nevertheless, we have made our concerns clear to that Government on a number of occasions, because the Bill seeks further to criminalise homosexuality. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the legislation has the potential to inflame and incite serious hatred and violence. As the hon. Member for Falkirk said, the Bill includes a provision to introduce the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, and a term of life imprisonment for anyone convicted of “the offence of homosexuality.” That is staggering and beggars belief. The Bill has not been adopted and remains at the Committee stage in Uganda’s Parliament. It will, however, be carried over into the new Parliament. We are doing all we can and are monitoring the situation. We will keep up the pressure on the Ugandan Government at every available opportunity.
The UK will continue to play a leading role in Uganda and worldwide in helping to end inequality and discrimination against LGBT people—indeed, against all minorities. In July 2010, the coalition Government published “Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality”, a programme of work to ensure that the UK continues to push for LGBT equality both at home and abroad. That includes robustly examining the human rights records of other countries through the UN-led universal periodic review, and seeking opportunities to raise the issue within the Commonwealth.
A meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government will take place later this year in Perth, Australia, and we will be active in preparing the agenda for that. Given some of the unfortunate trends on increased persecution of gay minorities that are regrettably taking place in a number of Commonwealth countries, we will ensure that the issue is on the agenda for discussion at CHOGM later this year.
Once again, I thank the hon. Member for Falkirk for securing this important debate. The death of David Kato was a terrible tragedy and a horrendous, gratuitous murder. We hope that his legacy will live on, and I am sure it will. It is equally important that the perpetrators of that ghastly crime are brought to justice, and we will make sure that we play our role and that the small assistance the UK can provide is made available.
We have good bilateral relations with the Ugandan Government. I visited Uganda in July, and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr O’Brien) also visited last year. Uganda is a country with which we have an intensified bilateral relationship and many equities at stake. We have important trade agreements with Uganda and it is an important partner in the UN. It has been a temporary member of the UN Security Council, and we have worked with the country on issues affecting Africa.
However, as a candid friend, we will not resile in any way from telling Uganda about our concerns regarding its human rights record. Uganda moves forward as a country that is playing an increasing role in the east African community. It has just had an election. That had its flaws, but in the main, it was free and fair. Nevertheless, the country does itself no favours when it persecutes minorities of all kinds, and we will continue to stand up for those minorities. Once again I congratulate the hon. Member for Falkirk on securing this important debate. I hope that I have answered his point, and if there are any outstanding matters I will be happy to write to him in due course.
Hospital Services (Worcestershire)
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I am delighted to secure the debate on hospital care in Worcestershire. To put hospital care in Worcestershire in context, I should explain that we have two acute hospitals and a treatment centre. The acute hospitals are based in Worcester and my constituency of Redditch, and the treatment centre is in Kidderminster. In other parts of the county, we have community hospitals, which play a great role in delivering the highest level of care to our constituents.
The emphasis today is of course on the new cancer care facility, but all areas of the NHS trust are working hard and playing important roles. Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust has recently appointed a new chairman, who is determined that the mission of the trust will be to make all care patient-orientated. To do that, the care offered, the facilities available and the attitude of all staff must put patients and their well-being first.
I shall begin by sharing with hon. Members some of the successes within the trust. The national target of ensuring that 80% of patients brought to accident and emergency by ambulance staff are seen within 30 minutes has been surpassed by our trust. The benefits of receiving treatment quickly are self-explanatory. Obviously, the more quickly a person is seen, the less likely they are to deteriorate, and the ambulance staff can get back to doing what they do best.
I spent some time in A and E at the Alexandra hospital and was incredibly impressed by what I saw. The staff do an amazing job, sometimes in very challenging circumstances. Guided by Mr Christopher Hetherington, a consultant in the department, I saw at first hand how staff dealt efficiently with arriving patients. I was struck by their professionalism and commitment to their patients.
Despite the added challenge of the snow and bad weather in December and January in Worcestershire, the trust’s ambulance staff achieved a performance rating of more than 90%—the result of focus and dedication. I look forward to seeing them later this month when I do a night shift with an ambulance crew in Redditch.
Successes have also been shown in the results of patient surveys. The national maternity survey from 2010 showed that mothers in Worcestershire were impressed by the maternity care that they received. Those who completed the survey were pleased with all aspects of care, including care at home after leaving hospital. The trust now ranks in the top fifth for offering mothers choice. Choice should be at the forefront of the reorganisation that our NHS trusts face. If we are to create an NHS that is centred on patient care, offering patients choice about and influence over their treatment is essential.
I echo my hon. Friend’s comments about Alexandra hospital. It is a hospital that people in her constituency and in my constituency share, and I know that constituents from far and wide respect the services that they receive, the quality of care and the dedication of the employees and the health care professionals. Does she agree that, along with Alexandra hospital and the other acute hospital that we have in our county, the community hospitals, such as the Princess of Wales community hospital in Bromsgrove, complement the health services on which our constituents rely in Worcestershire?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I totally agree with him. Many of my constituents in Redditch also use the Princess of Wales hospital. I have been there on many occasions and know what a fantastic job the staff do.
Effective hospitals rely on good facilities. Kidderminster hospital has recently acquired a state-of-the-art MRI scanner. It offers patients the best diagnostic procedures available. New services can now be offered, including breast scans and whole-body imaging. Some 9,400 scans a year can be performed with the machine. One-stop-shop access to out-patient clinics cuts waiting times and means that patients are in the clinics for as little time as possible. Developments such as those are lessening the postcode lottery effect in the NHS.
Worcestershire is awaiting a decision about whether a radiotherapy unit will be built at the Alexandra hospital in Redditch or the Worcestershire Royal hospital. I, of course, hope very much that it will be built at the Alexandra hospital in Redditch.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this extremely important debate, because it allows me to place on the record the thanks of the Malvern community for the opening of the new Malvern hospital by the Princess Royal last week. Does my hon. Friend agree that a key thing with radiotherapy services is the distance that people have to travel every day and that Worcester might be considered a very central location in the county of Worcestershire?
As you can see, Mr Hood, we have a debate among ourselves about where the cancer centre should be sited. Obviously, we in Redditch and Bromsgrove have the advantage of lots of space to build the cancer unit, and we have already started a local campaign to bring the unit to the Alexandra hospital.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) for the point that she made. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) would acknowledge that the Worcestershire Royal hospital already has considerable expertise in cancer treatment. Will she join me in urging our right hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that, wherever such services end up being placed, they are supported, as they are a vital component of a strong and much needed cancer strategy for our county?
As you can see, Mr Hood, the feeling among us is quite strong. We have all campaigned together to try to secure a unit in Worcestershire and we are all very grateful that we are to get that unit—we just need to know where it will be. But wherever it is built, I am very pleased that, by the end of 2013, 95% of the radiotherapy and chemotherapy patients will be treated in Worcestershire. That is the message that we all want to get across. The ability of my constituents battling cancer to receive their treatment close to home and to know that the treatment is the best available will, I hope, make a real difference. The new facility will match the already excellent care that the trust offers—care that means that it was ranked in the top 20% of trusts in the national cancer patient experience survey.
The news of the radiotherapy unit and other successes is encouraging. However, like many other MPs, I am very concerned about the money that is spent providing locum doctors to cover staff shortages. I hope that the Minister will deal with that today. The number of locum doctors employed has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. Trusts face acute shortages of middle grade doctors. Locum doctors are expensive. They should be used only to fill unforeseen gaps in staffing or when there is a dramatic increase in work load. They should not form part of the regular staffing arrangements as they do now.
We all know that we must make cuts in the public sector. However, I cannot see why my constituents should face reduced public services because money is being spent inefficiently. A cost-effective NHS will offer greater scope in how we care for people in our communities, both in Redditch and nationally.
The problem has been exacerbated by the European working time directive. Reducing—unnecessarily, I believe—the number of hours that doctors can work leads, of course, to a reduction in the number of hours covered by doctors available to hospital management. That is combined with the new strict immigration rules, which have resulted in far fewer doctors being able to emigrate from India and Pakistan and increased the pressure on hospitals as they try to fill an increasing number of vacancies.
The result in Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which has 24 vacancies at the moment, is that money that could otherwise be directed to caring for patients is spent on locum doctors, the agencies that they come from and the bureaucracy involved in short-term employment. If we are to succeed in reducing public spending, we can no longer rely on short-term solutions. I understand that the trust has been actively recruiting doctors from Poland and the Czech Republic. Initiatives such as that must continue. However, the idea being explored whereby non-medical roles are created to support rotas and treatment concerns me. The trust considers that option “undesirable”.
It is not only doctors in hospitals who are anxious about the impending changes. I have met GPs recently—I do so regularly—who have shared with me their concerns about the establishment of the NHS commissioning board. When each GP must be a member of a consortium, their job will have to include commissioning services. The doctors in Redditch whom I meet regularly are equally concerned about the unequal funding for shire counties. I hope that that will be addressed sooner rather than later. There are also concerns about the reorganisation taking away local knowledge of the complexities of our county and its problems. Bromsgrove and Redditch GPs will do their best for their patients—I hope that, when the changes are introduced, they will be fully skilled to do the best job that they can.
In summary, I am delighted that we are finally getting a cancer care unit for Worcestershire—I hope that it will be in Redditch. However, I hope that the Minister will address my concerns about the expensive use of locum doctors and the concerns raised by local GPs. I welcome the coalition Government’s commitment to local health care being delivered by local clinicians in our own localities.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) on securing what she rightly describes as an important debate. May I say how pleased I am to see my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), for Worcester (Mr Walker) and for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) here today? Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch, their commitment and interest in the NHS in Worcestershire is second to none. They make a fine team, fighting on behalf of their constituents for the finest health care, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch said in her closing remarks, is at the forefront of the modernisation of the NHS outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am delighted to hear of my hon. Friend’s commitment not only to increasing choice for her constituents but to our modernisation programme; local decision-making will give far greater flexibility in effecting local health economies.
I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the many who work so hard to deliver high-quality NHS services in Redditch but, equally important, across Worcestershire, for the benefit of my hon. Friend’s constituents and those of the other hon. Members who represent that fine county. They do a tremendous job, and the Government will support and empower front-line staff to continue improving services like none before them.
I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the creation of the Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust. The new trust will manage all mental health services in Worcestershire, and all community services currently managed by the PCT’s provider arm. That can only be of benefit to the people of Worcestershire. Sarah Dugan, formerly chief executive of NHS Dudley, has been appointed as chief executive of the new trust, and the full board should be in place by the end of March. It will officially come into being on 1 July, giving it sufficient time to complete its registration with the Care Quality Commission.
The people of Worcestershire are also benefiting from the new Malvern community hospital, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire said, was recently opened by the Princess Royal. The hospital brings together the expertise of nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, dieticians and a Macmillan team to provide integrated, patient-centred care for patients in the community and in their homes. Providing more NHS care in that way is essential if we are to improve health outcomes while making significant efficiency savings across the health service. Frankly, outcomes are of the utmost importance to our constituents, as part of their care pathway.
My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch is concerned also about the current shortage of full-time health care professionals, which is due in part to restrictions on recruitment from outside the European Union. I appreciate that she is concerned because of the impact that the problem is having on her constituency. The Government’s policy on immigration seeks to balance the obvious benefits that people can bring to the UK while limiting additional pressures on local services such as housing and schools.
We still want the UK to benefit from the brightest and the best individuals who can contribute positively to the UK economy and to the NHS. The Department of Health is working closely with the UK Border Agency to ensure that the NHS has continued access to the best candidates, in order to provide the best quality care for NHS patients. I hope that that goes some way to reassuring my hon. Friend that we are aware of the situation and are working to find a practical solution that stays within the general philosophy and the wider scope of our immigration policy.
My hon. Friend raised a related issue—the ongoing impact of the working time directive. The Government committed themselves in the coalition agreement to limiting the application of the directive in the UK. The Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are working closely together to achieve greater flexibility in the application of the directive in the NHS.
I understand that Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust currently has 24 vacancies for middle-grade doctors in specific specialities, including emergency medicine, paediatrics and anaesthetics. That has caused the trust to rely on expensive short-term locum doctors. I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a far from ideal situation. She rightly said that if one is paying more for locum doctors it means that there is less to be reinvested in front-line services. In the current economic climate, it is crucial that we save as much money as we can from inefficiencies, or working practices that need to be improved, and that every penny of those savings is reinvested in front-line services for the benefit all of our constituents.
It is the responsibility of NHS trusts to plan and manage their demand for temporary staff in the context of local business and work force planning. Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust is actively looking to recruit doctors from the Europe Union; as my hon. Friend said, the trust had success recently in recruiting doctors from Poland and the Czech Republic. Eight of the 24 vacancies have thus been filled, and I assure my hon. Friend that every effort is being made to fill the rest. I totally agree that it is crucial that the trust is able to fill those placements as quickly as possible.
My hon. Friend mentioned the success of cancer care in Worcestershire, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Worcester and for West Worcestershire. Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust has been held up by the national cancer survivorship initiative team as an example of how to run a successful prostate cancer service. It reflects extremely well on the staff of the trust that they have been able to deliver that quality of care—and received justified recognition for what they have achieved. The trust has just celebrated the first anniversary of its being declared a level 1 paediatric oncology shared-care unit, for providing better and more local care to children and families in Worcestershire. There is now a Macmillan cancer information and support centre at each of the three hospital sites. I join my hon. Friend in welcoming these developments, as it means better quality cancer services for her constituents and those of other Members.
I am glad to see that Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, University Hospitals Coventry and Worcestershire NHS Trust, and Warwickshire NHS Trust are working together to build a new specialist radiotherapy centre in Worcestershire. That is a subject and an interest that is close to the hearts of all Worcestershire Members, but particularly to those here today. As my hon. Friends will know, patients in Worcestershire travel in excess of a million miles every year for treatment, but by the end of 2013 the centre will mean that 95% of radiotherapy and almost all chemotherapy will be delivered within the county.
I am sure that my hon. Friends as well as the people of Worcestershire will accept that that is the right way to go, because when it is justified—it certainly is in these circumstances—care should be provided as locally as possible so as to reduce or eliminate the need for people to travel too far, especially if it is not necessary. My hon. Friends will agree, particularly for cancer care and radiotherapy, that it can be extremely upsetting, distressing and uncomfortable to people to have to travel long distances rather than being treated in the local hospital. For Worcestershire patients to have to travel in excess of a million miles every year for treatment is excessive, and I congratulate the Worcestershire trusts on coming up with such a proposal.
The trusts will work with existing cancer service providers to ensure that there is no disruption for patients who are currently receiving treatment. As my hon. Friend has said, they need to decide whether to locate the new centre at Worcestershire Royal hospital in Worcester or at the Alexandra hospital in Redditch. The local NHS will work with patient and clinical groups to make a decision as soon as possible based on the clinical and operational benefits of each site.
I understand that my hon. Friend has been encouraging the trust to locate the centre in Redditch. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester is doing exactly the same with regard to his constituency. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch that her views will be taken fully into consideration when the decision is made. I hope that she is satisfied with that. She realises that it would be totally inappropriate for me to seek to interfere with the process because it must be decided locally—by local clinicians and local trusts. I am confident that a decision will be reached at the appropriate time, and I urge all my hon. Friends to have some patience because an announcement will be made in due course.
Oncology patients and diagnostics will continue at Alexandra hospital, Worcestershire Royal hospital and at Kidderminster hospital. I hope my hon. Friends will be reassured and pleased by that.
My hon. Friend also raised concerns over the impact of GP-led commissioning on local NHS services, following her recent meeting with health care professionals in Redditch. While the new commissioning arrangements will be led by GPs, they will work not in isolation, but in partnership with their clinical colleagues. When one starts to bring together clinicians from primary, secondary and community care to discuss how best to design local services, organisational distinctions quickly fall away. The conversation instead becomes one about the most appropriate pathway of care for a particular group of patients. I am pleased to say that that is already starting to happen in Worcestershire. Again, that must be the right way forward.
There are currently two pathfinder consortia in Worcestershire: South Worcestershire GP Commissioning Consortium and Wyre Forest GP Commissioning Consortium, with a third group, covering Redditch and Bromsgrove, in the pipeline.
Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust is starting to build good relationships with these new consortia and has already had some very positive discussions with its GP colleagues. Indeed, each hospital, including the Alexandra hospital, has set up a commissioning board and is already meeting regularly with GPs. The trust’s recent restructuring has enabled its senior clinicians and management team to develop further the relationships, and individual boards are now in place at each hospital site. That will allow the hospitals to work with consortia on a regular basis and jointly to agree the most appropriate way in which to provide safe, effective, patient-centred care for the people of Worcestershire.
Whatever concerns have been voiced by local clinicians in my hon. Friend’s constituency, I hope that the practical experience of working with consortia—as opposed to working separately from them via primary care trusts—will soon change minds. Once the pathfinders have established themselves and their working practices and become more familiar with their enhanced role within the modernised NHS as laid out in our White Paper, I am confident that they will come to appreciate the system. GPs have the best knowledge of their patients’ requirements. For the vast majority of patients, their first contact with the NHS is through their GP, and GPs are best qualified to identify their needs and requirements. I am sure that as the system beds down, GPs will come to appreciate their greater independence and their proactive role. In effect, there will be a bottom-up provision of commissioning for the health care requirements of patients rather than the existing top-down procedures through the PCTs. It will be a boon not only for GP consortia in Worcestershire but throughout England as the system becomes more established.
My hon. Friend is concerned about the possible impact on the Alexandra hospital of the financial challenges that lie ahead. Last year, the Alexandra hospital made a surplus of approximately 1.3%, which was roughly in line with the trust’s surplus. Figures for this year are not yet available. However, as part of the need for the NHS to make up to £20 billion of efficiency savings in the coming years, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust faces a significant efficiency target in 2011-12. The Alexandra will have to find its share of those efficiency savings. Budgets are in the process of being set and hospital teams are currently identifying where savings and efficiencies can be made. I hasten to reassure my hon. Friends about the savings. Every single penny of those savings will be reinvested in front-line services, providing care for the constituents of my hon. Friends and people elsewhere in the county, and, indeed, the country. It is crucial that we make savings to cut out inefficiency and ensure that the provision of care is of the highest quality and delivered in the most effective and efficient way. Let me repeat again, all of the £20 billion that is saved over the time period will be reinvested in front-line services. That is what providing health care is all about. That is what we will do and what must happen so that we can maximise the money available for front-line care for patients.
The trust assures me that it has no plans to reduce the status of A and E services at Alexandra hospital, which I hope reassures my hon. Friend. Indeed, the terms of reference for the ongoing surgical review at the site state that there must be a viable A and E service in Redditch. I trust that my hon. Friend and her constituents will be reassured by that commitment.
My hon. Friend was also concerned that rural constituencies such as her own may be losing out under the NHS allocation formula. Rural communities generally have a higher proportion of elderly people and, because of the increased difficulty in reaching providers, rural populations may make less use of health services. Some argue that the previous formula may have disadvantaged such areas.
The Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation examined the issue but found no evidence that an adjustment was needed for rural areas other than the continued need for an emergency ambulances cost adjustment to account for geographical variations in the cost of ambulance services. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked ACRA to look again at the unavoidable cost differences in rural areas in the light of the move to GP consortia. ACRA is due to report its findings to the Secretary of State in June 2011. I cannot anticipate what those findings will be, but it is important to get an independent body to examine an issue that is of great concern not only to my hon. Friend but to other hon. Members who represent rural constituencies in England.
In conclusion, there is a great deal to be positive about in Worcestershire, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree with me on that. The addition of a new radiotherapy centre is a particularly exciting new development. Indeed, all my hon. Friends showed great enthusiasm for the centre, calling it a positive enhancement of local health care. They also expressed their wishes as to where it should be located. Even more exciting is the changing nature of the clinical relationships that our modernisation of the health service will bring and the potential for significant improvements in NHS services for my hon. Friend’s constituents.
I am delighted to have had this opportunity to discuss the local health service in Worcestershire. There is a lot of positive news. My hon. Friends still have to express some of their views to the relevant authorities, and in due course, decisions will be taken.
Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No.10(11)).