I beg to move,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker; I thought that this moment would never arrive. A total of 66 Members want to participate in the debate, including our newest Member—my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie)—who is hoping to make his maiden speech. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It is unfortunate therefore that two Government statements, important though they both were, have taken almost two hours out of Back Benchers’ time. To set an example of brevity and to prepare us for all the constituency carnivals and fairs at which we will be spending most of our time during the recess, I hereby declare the debate open.
We are now coming to a maiden speech, and I remind hon. Members not to intervene on it.
Business, innovation and skills
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this debate to make my maiden speech. I regard it as both a privilege and an honour to represent the constituency of Inverclyde. My constituency has been served extremely well by many accomplished individuals; however, I am only the second Member for Inverclyde to have been born in Inverclyde. The first was, of course, David Cairns.
My two immediate predecessors in my seat, which has often had its boundaries changed, were Dr Norman Godman and the late David Cairns. Dr Godman served in the House for 18 years, and his hard work and enduring commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland earned him a great deal of respect and admiration. David Cairns was an excellent MP for Inverclyde; his parliamentary career was cut all too short by his sudden death, and I am well aware of the great respect that all parties had for David, as did the people of Inverclyde, as reflected in the large majority he held in the 2010 general election. If I can serve my constituents half as well as David, I shall be doing well indeed.
Like David, I was born, and for a time grew up, in a small part of Inverclyde. It is, I think, unique that an area of Greenock known as Broomhill should produce two MPs virtually from the same street. Back then Greenock’s population was growing, and my parents, guilty of participation in the ’60s baby boom, moved to a bigger home in the new housing being developed in the south-west of Greenock in the appropriately named Fancy Farm. Its housing was truly both modern and very fancy indeed, boasting electric underfloor heating, and even a rear door to the home.
My constituency is now composed of the towns of Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow, as well as the villages of Inverkip, Wemyss bay, Kilmacolm and Quarriers. We are surrounded by some of Scotland’s most stunning natural beauty. From the Lyle hill in Greenock, one can look down to Gourock’s Cardwell bay and watch the ferries head off to Argyll. Stunning views can also be enjoyed from the amazing engineering feat that is the Cut—a waterway cut into the hillside some six miles in length, with a precision gradient that offered steady and constant water power to our industries of the 19th century.
As anyone who recently visited Inverclyde in the by-election will confirm, at times it seems we do get more than our fair share of rain—an abundant energy source, water. From the Cut we can look across the Clyde and see the Gareloch, the Holy loch and Loch Long. Beyond the Rosneath peninsula lies Ben Lomond and the majestic Lomond range. To the west there is the unmistakeable figure of the Sleeping Warrior of Argyll, and to the south lies the Burns country of Ayrshire.
Our history is the history of the River Clyde—the lifeblood of my constituency. We continue to be a maritime people, either seafarers or shipbuilders, and two of our most historic sons are connected in that way. One of them, the great inventor and scientist James Watt, who captured the power of steam, was sought after by leading authorities in industry; the other, the pirate Captain Kidd, was just sought after by the authorities!
Shipbuilding was, not surprisingly, our dominant industry over the last 300 years. We built the finest ships ever to set sail. Even today, many years after shipbuilding is all but gone from my constituency, Clyde-built ships can still be seen travelling the oceans—testament to quality in design and craftsmanship. It took us a long time to recover from the devastation of the closure of our shipyards. The cruise ships that visit the deep ocean terminal in Greenock no longer carry the label “Clyde built”, but are increasing in number year on year, bringing tourists into the west of Scotland. Again, the River Clyde seems to be playing its part in—we hope—delivering a new industry, tourism.
Only two weeks ago Inverclyde welcomed the tall ships race, a four-day celebration of all things maritime, and our young people took the opportunity to volunteer to help with that great event. Indeed, some sailed on the tall ships as crew to the next port of call. We have found that they return the better for the experience, motivated and energised, and ready to contribute positively to our communities.
Inverclyde has also shown its resourcefulness and determination to apply itself to new emerging industries and technologies. The 1980s saw us pioneer the mass production of the personal computer, adapting our skills to revolutionise the speed of communication across the globe once again, as once our ships did. A Labour Secretary of State for Scotland had the good sense some 50 years ago to persuade IBM to set up a plant in Greenock. IBM Spango Valley, which lies between Greenock and Inverkip, was to write itself into history as the venue where the world was first introduced to the mass-produced personal computer. So Inverclyde embarked on a new journey building and exporting computers, earning itself the title of the export capital of Scotland. A short distance from Spango, over the hill in Larkfield, ground-breaking work on processors by National Semiconductor pioneered the way for much of today's hand-held technology.
Unfortunately, with the decline in electronics Inverclyde again finds itself in the shadow of rising unemployment. Notwithstanding the delivery of new school buildings, new housing and modern leisure facilities, unemployment stubbornly remains our biggest challenge. On average, more than 30 people are chasing every job vacancy in my constituency, and an even higher average number of young people do so. That is an appalling and depressing level of unemployment. To retain and attract population growth we need employment, and a variety of employment, giving opportunity and hope, especially to our young people.
Full employment is a great and fine principle, as enunciated in the House by Keir Hardie when he spoke of the right to a job. The people of my constituency ask for the right to work: they are social people, who truly believe in a society in which all have a job, and they believe that it is the duty of Government to deliver full employment.
The number of tourists on the last cruise ship that visited Greenock was greater than the combined number of votes—3,000—for the Government’s candidates in Inverclyde’s by-election. It would seem that the people of Inverclyde need a lot more convincing that their ship has indeed come in.
Several hon. Members
Order. Time is pressing, so I am introducing a four-minute limit.
Let me first pay tribute to the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) and commend him on his maiden speech. It was good to hear from a Member who, like me, was born in the constituency that he represents. Given his description of his constituency’s stunning natural beauty, it clearly has similarities with Cleethorpes.
I will be as brief as possible, Mr Deputy Speaker. The economy of northern Lincolnshire could be described as “stuttering” at the moment. It has taken many knocks, but it has the potential of a new dawn from the renewables sector. Despite its name, Cleethorpes is a highly industrialised constituency, containing Immingham docks and much of the Humber bank. Associated British Ports operates the Grimsby-Immingham docks complex, which is the largest in the country. However, expansion and regeneration are being held back by transport infrastructure that is in urgent need of improvement.
The northernmost town in my constituency is Barton-upon-Humber, which is just 20 minutes’ drive from the centre of Hull, but Humber bridge tolls are a tax on jobs. The free movement of labour is restricted. It is totally unrealistic to expect someone in Barton to accept a job in Hull paying the minimum wage, and even more unrealistic to expect people to take part-time work.
The hopes of all local people are resting on the current Treasury-led review, which is due to report in November. The business community and local people are encouraged by the work of the review team, and by Ministers’ determination to deliver a sustainable solution that may well be based on a social enterprise model. It is essential to have lower tolls in the relatively near future; we do not want promises that may never materialise.
In the East Halton and Killingholme area of my constituency sits the site of the proposed south Humber gateway development—in which Able UK Ltd has invested £100 million—alongside the largest undeveloped deep-water channel in the UK. It is thought that £1.5 billion of private sector development may follow, much of it in the renewable sector. That would offer an opportunity to develop a cluster for the sector, involving the construction of wind turbines. The ports of Immingham and Grimsby are ideally located for the service and supply of offshore wind farms—and offshore is where we want them to be, rather than in the countryside.
A major problem with the gateway development is the bottleneck in the planning process. It has been caused by a number of Government agencies, notably Natural England. Such agencies, including the Environment Agency, must appreciate that planning issues are commercial issues, and that they must move at the same speed as the demands of investors and developers. The current leisurely pace is not acceptable.
Northern Lincolnshire has taken a bit of a body blow in recent times, with the announcement of 1,200 job losses. Many of those jobs were done by my constituents at the Tata Steel works in Scunthorpe. It is encouraging that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will be visiting the steelworks tomorrow. It is also encouraging that the Prime Minister has taken an interest, and we eagerly await a meeting with him. I hope, however, that Ministers will be able to give us some confidence that not only the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, but the Government as a whole, will support the local infrastructure. The highways, particularly the A160 route to Immingham, urgently need an upgrade, and it is desperately important for that to be included in the first phase of the next building programme. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that he will press our case with transport Ministers at the earliest opportunity.
The area is building itself up for the renewables sector. There are great training prospects at the Grimsby institute, Lincoln university and other institutions—
Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.
Let me begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) on his eloquent and passionate maiden speech. Having made a maiden speech myself only two months ago, I can imagine the relief that he is feeling now that he has got through it and sat down, but his speech was excellent. I am also pleased that I am no longer the new boy in the House.
I welcome the equality impact assessment that was published yesterday. I think that some Opposition Members would have preferred it to have appeared a little earlier, but we are none the less grateful for its publication in time for this debate. I also thank other Members who have secured debates on English for speakers of other languages—commonly known as ESOL.
As many Members will know, Leicester is a richly diverse city, and for that reason the changes in ESOL provision are causing much concern in areas throughout the city, including my constituency. Five thousand learners in Leicester, 2,000 of them in Leicester South, have benefited from ESOL provision in the past year, with some degree of fee remission. A total of 1,500 learners were enrolled in the Leicester adult skills and learning service, 84% with fee remission, of whom 75% were not receiving work-related benefits. As the equality impact assessment showed, many of those people are women. That does not surprise me, because when I visit providers, such as Highfields youth and community centre, I am particularly struck by the number of low-income women, usually from Asian or African—particularly Somali—backgrounds, who are benefiting from ESOL provision.
Women have told me moving stories about how they would never leave the house before they went on ESOL courses, but had to wait for their husbands to come home. Other women have told me of wanting to help their children at school. Given that Leicester has one of the highest levels of child poverty in the country, I think that the ability of a mother to help her child at school is vital. As we know, education is the fastest route out of poverty for many of those children.
I have also heard stories of men and women who have moved into work, and even started their own businesses, after taking ESOL courses. As a result of the state’s investment in them, they are now investing in the local economy by employing people. Although I understand that ESOL provision will be maintained for those receiving jobseeker’s allowance and other active benefits, colleges and providers fear that following the cuts they will no longer be able to sustain courses this September.
For example, on the St Matthew’s estate there is a course just for Somali women. Its providers are worried that the course will have to end this September if the Minister does not change his mind. Although I have not met the Minister directly, I know he has met many Members, and I appreciate that he has listened on this topic. In his statement yesterday he made some concessions, such as saying he wanted to provide more support, but there is still a lack of detail, so will Minister say more today about how he expects the new changes he is working on with the Department for Communities and Local Government to develop? Also, will the new scheme be unveiled by September or August?
We talk a lot about community cohesion. Indeed, when the Home Secretary launched the Prevent strategy a few weeks ago she said that this Government would
“do more than any Government before us to promote integration”—[Official Report, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 53.]
I therefore ask the Minister this: has he discussed the impact of his ESOL changes with the Home Secretary? In cities such as Leicester ESOL is absolutely vital to community cohesion and integration. I am worried that the ESOL changes would not serve to back up the Home Secretary’s grand statement that this Government will do more than any other to promote integration. Will the Minister give us more detail in his summing up, and will he at least delay the changes in ESOL provision planned for this September? If not, I will be worried about the consequences for my constituency.
I am looking around at a very quiet Chamber, with no Members standing to indicate they wish to speak.
Several hon. Members
I call Justin Tomlinson.
Before turning to the exciting subject of Swindon town centre regeneration, may I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) on his excellent maiden speech?
We in Swindon have had our challenges. For the past five years there has been an annual drop in footfall in the town centre of about 22%. Swindon has dropped 10 places to 65th in the league table for the best places to shop, with our neighbouring competitors Bristol in 12th place, Reading in 15th, Bath in 22nd, Cheltenham in 27th and Gloucester in 107th. In 2010, 17% of retail units were empty and local Labour politicians had seemingly given up on any hopes for town centre regeneration. But fear not: all is not doom and gloom, because we have seen some dramatic recent improvements.
The local council has introduced cheaper car parking, focusing on a flat £2 for four hours. That has reversed the fall in footfall; there is now a 10% increase. Crucially, there has been a significant increase in dwell time as well. Instead of shoppers popping in to do one task, such as banking, they are now staying and spending. Café Roma in the Brunel centre has reported an 18% increase in its business, and I salute it for helping refuel our shoppers. The new £10 million central library has been delivered on time and on budget. There has been significant private sector investment, which shows that there is a belief in our town centre, with a £20 million investment in the Parade, and new BHS, Topshop and River Island stores opening. The dirty old canopies have been removed from the Parade and replaced at the Brunel centre, and we have a refurbished Debenhams. Some £2.8 million has been invested in public open space, improving the shopping experience to Canal walk, Regent street and Wharf green.
In Swindon, the town centre business improvement district company, which is responsible for helping traders improve their business, is making a real difference, such as through marketing support for retailers, the town centre website, the four-page monthly promotional newsletter in the Swindon Advertiser, the events it organises—including the 2010 Christmas campaign, partnered with Walt Disney World, when 20,000 visitors came to the turning on of the Christmas lights—and additional street cleaning and security. I wish those people the best of luck in their re-election campaign for a further five-year term in early 2012. There has also been a significant fall in the number of empty units. The vacancy rate in the Brunel shopping centre is now only 4%.
Turning to the future, as developers once again gain confidence and access to funding, it is essential that we are first in the queue to secure further regeneration, in particular for Union square, a £350 million scheme which is one of the largest non-Olympics construction programmes in the past 10 years, and for the College site, which was delayed at the last minute due to Labour’s wrecked economy. To help achieve that, Swindon borough council set up the arm’s-length urban regeneration company Forward Swindon.
We must also embrace the Mary Portas high street review. In particular, I fully support Mary’s mantra that customer service is king. For example, the Forum, an independent clothes store in the Brunel centre, has traded from strength to strength for over 20 years. It has managed to survive the economic cycles and relentless competition as it focuses on providing an alternative with exceptional customer service.
We can all play a part in delivering Swindon town centre regeneration. As the local MP, I will continue to champion all that is good about Swindon, and through my work on the all-party parliamentary groups on retail and on small shops, I will continue to push opportunities for retailers. Swindon borough council must remain committed to town centre regeneration as set out in the central area action plan. Local traders must continue to focus on customer service and offering alternatives to our neighbouring competition. Finally, as local residents, where possible we need to continue to support and use our town centre, building on the encouraging recent increase in footfall.
It is fortunate that today’s debate follows yesterday’s ministerial statement accompanying the publication of a new equality impact assessment of courses in English for speakers of other languages. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth), I welcome its publication and I am pleased that the Minister has asked the Association of Colleges, together with Lord Boswell and Baroness Sharp, to advise on how funds can be targeted. However, I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that this is too little, too late.
Colleges have already planned their provision for September. ESOL learners who are no longer eligible for fee remission will have already decided whether they can afford to enrol on courses or continue their studies, and ESOL tutors will have made plans for the future. My first questions to the Minister are as follows, therefore: when does he expect to receive the report that he has commissioned, and why does he not delay these changes to allow him time to respond?
Not all Members will have had the opportunity to read the equality impact assessment, so it may be useful to highlight some of the key findings. Last year, there were 187,000 adult ESOL students, 68.1% of whom were female. The vast majority of them came from black or ethnic minorities. Some 42% of women enrolling on ESOL courses last year received fee remission because they were in receipt of income-related benefits. A further 2% of women and 7% of men were asylum seekers. If those learners were enrolling this year, they would have to pay hundreds of pounds towards their course costs. That is why 75% of colleges have scaled back ESOL provision. In the most basic terms, people on low incomes will no longer be able to afford to learn English. BEGIN —Basic Educational Guidance in Nottinghamshire—published its own equality impact assessment in April. It found that 73% of adult ESOL clients were from black and ethnic minorities, 83% were not on active benefits, and 84% could not afford new or higher fees.
The Government’s report summarises the evidence they received, stating that those required to contribute from August 2011 would be unable to afford to take up ESOL provision, that people will be increasingly reliant on their own families and communities to interpret for them, and that this change would deter people from accessing public services. It also stated that people would be unable to obtain work or make progress in the workplace, that parents would be unable to support their children’s learning at school, and that more would need to be spent on translation services. Members should note that the Government did not engage in an open public consultation, and by the report’s own admission it is “speculative”.
I therefore have a number of questions. The Department says that public funding should not substitute for employer investment and I agree, but what measures are the Government taking to ensure that employers do contribute to the cost of training for their workplace? What measures is the Minister taking to ensure that women learners who care for small children or dependants are not penalised for their caring responsibilities? The document also refers to the single learner support fund, but how much is available, and how much of this will be available to ESOL students? The report states that informal learning opportunities are expected to be available for older Asian learners, but what evidence supports this view?
The needs of asylum seekers do not appear to be addressed in any meaningful way, despite significant concern expressed by the Refugee Council. I know from my own discussions in Nottingham that it is vital that those who have been subject to persecution are not isolated and excluded due to lack of English. How can asylum seekers be expected to cover half their course fees when they are unable to work?
I would like to thank the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning for the constructive way he has kept colleagues on both sides of the House informed about this matter, but I have to say that, despite his good intentions, I fear his Government have fundamentally misunderstood the importance of ESOL to the communities we represent, and I urge him to think again.
I declare a lifelong interest in this subject and refer Members to the Register of Members' Financial Interests. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, because I want to talk about a tale of British craftsmanship at its best, our failure to compete and a remarkable industrial revival.
The automatic watch is almost the same now as when it was invented in 1770 and it has often triumphed over computers. For example, in 1970, after Apollo 13 was crippled by a ruptured oxygen tank, Jack Swigert’s Omega Speedmaster was famously used to time the critical 14-second engine burn, allowing for the crew’s safe return. Even today, the Omega Speedmaster is still the only watch to have been worn on the moon.
Secondly, I wish to discuss British craftsmanship. London led the world, changing the course of history in the 17th century by manufacturing accurate clocks that allowed us to sail throughout the world, trade, make maps and acquire the British empire. British companies such as Smith and Son, George Graham, Josiah Emery, and J. W. Benson forged the first clock-making industry, despite outbreaks of the plague and the great fire of London. Many hon. Members will know the story of John Harrison, a self-educated English clock maker who solved the problem of longitude and was eventually awarded thousands of pounds from Parliament.
Sadly, in the 18th and 19th centuries Britain lost its expertise. The decline of our watch industry is a British parable, just like the tin can.
My hon. Friend shares with me a love of watches. I know that he is also passionate about apprenticeships, so does he have anything to say about their importance in this area?
I will answer my hon. Friend in my later remarks, and I thank him for his intervention.
The decline of our watch industry is a British parable, just like the tin can and the car assembly line: we invent but others capitalise. In 1800, London was producing some 200,000 watches a year, which were exported not just to Europe, but to Russia, the middle east and even China. However, we became trapped by tradition. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, the Swiss started to make machine-made copies of London clocks and flooded the market with cheap products. Britain responded with protectionism and price controls. We failed to compete, and our expertise was lost to Switzerland, America and even the far east.
However, there has been a revival in recent times. In 1923, the British National Physical Laboratory produced quartz oscillators, and we all know about the production of the atomic caesium clock in 1955. These are the foundation of telecommunications, satellites and space travel. Famous British household names in horology have resurfaced: Dent & Company, and J & T Windmills, which even has a factory in Essex. Today, we have one of the greatest living names in horology, George Daniels, a British man who invented the coaxial escapement, which is the first practical new watch escapement in 250 years; it is a smoother watch movement that almost eradicates friction, and it was commercialised in 1999 by Omega. Those who have done the most to support this revival in Britain are the British Horological Institute and the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. We have lost out to Switzerland and the far east, but we still have repair shops, a wealth of academic study and some ultra-high-end manufacturing.
So what is to be done? I welcome the Government’s policy on apprenticeships and the work of the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, who is in his place, in his promotion of craft. As I mentioned in my early-day motion 623, our funding for skills qualifications must be open to small specialist courses for industries such as horology. I strongly welcome what the Government did last year to extend funding for BHI certificates in clock and watch servicing, and repair, and I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his letter of support in that campaign.
However, there is a wider issue to address: many smaller qualifications are being discontinued because they are not profitable enough for awarding bodies. There are now just three horology training facilities in the UK: Birmingham City university; West Dean college; and the British School of Watchmaking. In Harlow, we are very lucky to have the Eversden family of watchmakers, and they show that in an age of digital technology there is still a public demand for the crafts of old. As George Daniels proved, there is still a demand for British horological genius. I hope that all possible support will be given to the watch-making and clock-making industry, which was once dying but is now showing signs of life in Britain today.
In the four minutes available to me, I wish to say a few words about the extractive industries in Africa. The UK has an important role to play, because some of the large mining companies from across the world are listed in London, and that brings a certain amount of responsibility to those companies. Most people recognise that, and I have had the good fortune to have long conversations with representatives of a number of mining companies based in the UK, which, naturally, operate mainly in Africa and across the rest of the world. Most of them seem to approach their role responsibly. New measures that are emerging, such as the Dodd-Frank legislation in the United States, which increases the transparency on payments made to Governments in some of those countries, are generally accepted as very important by most of the mining organisations that I have encountered.
I have spoken before in this place about a company whose way of operating in one particular country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has troubled me. I will not go into that today, but it is good that there has been some response by all the other companies. As they have seen that debate unfold to some extent in the newspapers and in the media, they have asked to have a chat with me and some of my colleagues who are interested in the issue. I think that these matters are taken very seriously across the industry.
The Secretary of State for International Development recently made a speech at the London business school about the importance of ideas that Paul Collier, an academic, has reflected on over the years. He wrote a very famous book called “The Bottom Billion” and what he says epitomises the argument that many others have put. He says that we should help these African states, which are potentially very rich in minerals but are very poor otherwise, to benefit from extracting the stuff that is beneath the ground and sometimes beneath the sea. Of course, such countries cannot always do that for themselves and need assistance from outside companies. Standards of governance apply to those companies, both in London, if they are listed in the UK—or in any stock market, for that matter—and in the countries concerned. The transparency with which payments are made is increasingly crucial.
For example, I discovered recently a number of cases in the Congo—I shall not give the names of companies or particular mines—where it seems that a mine may have been expropriated by the Government or may already have been owned by the Government and sold on. The World Bank has an understanding that it will be told the price for which state assets are sold, because that allows us to see how much is actually going back compared with the worth of the asset. It is clear that how much has gone to the treasury from a number of sales in the DRC in the past couple of years has been far from explained. I suspect that it is a very small amount compared with the large sum—hundreds of millions—that has been made available to private entrepreneurs.
The World Bank has an understanding with countries such as the DRC that when assets are sold to mining organisations it is known how much was paid for them. That is not happening in the DRC as far as I can tell at the moment. The UK Government, to their great credit and following on from the Labour Administration, make a very large contribution each year to the DRC and to other developing countries, such as Rwanda next door. The UK Government are doubling the sum at the moment and the Labour Administration ramped up expenditure too, moving towards a figure of 0.7%, but the amount that we give in aid is dwarfed by the amount that is not accounted for when such assets are sold on. It is completely pointless giving aid to a country if we cannot be sure that we are going to get the benefits, because money is simply being extracted from another place by the sale of assets. I hope that both our Administration and the European Commission, which will introduce regulations soon, will look very carefully at that.
I very much welcome this debate and the opportunity to speak about the importance of the growth of business to our economy. In doing so, I should express a personal interest, in that I have a majority holding in a small private company.
The Government have set the stage well for business growth, in that we have at least avoided being where Greece and Ireland are and where Portugal is teetering on the brink of being. Our economy is fundamentally sound and growing. That is happening against a backdrop of our having inherited the worst budget deficit in the G7 and against the more recent headwinds of the spikes in the oil price—it has increased by 60% in the past year—and the eurozone crisis, which we are all facing at the moment. Although some of the Labour Members who are shaking their heads may disagree with that, I am sure we can all agree that if we are to move away from a debt-driven, public sector-reliant economy into manufacturing and exporting, creating private sector jobs will be vital. I welcome the fact that the Government have done that over the past year, creating 500,000.
We must do whatever we can to support business and I welcome the fact that the Government have intervened in a number of critical ways. The first is Project Merlin, which aims to get the largest five banks lending another £190 billion to small and medium-sized businesses. I know from such businesses in my constituency that that is vital and I urge the Government to maintain that progress.
I also welcome what the Government are doing about red tape through the one in, one out rule on regulation, through embracing the recommendations of Lord Young’s review, which is extremely important, and through the work done by my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning on apprenticeships, on which this Government have a particularly proud track record, much of which is down to the personal commitment that he has shown in this vital area.
I also think that Government should get out of the way of business. It is important that we get taxation on businesses down. Over the next four years, as hon. Members will know, the corporate tax rate will fall by 5%, but that is not good enough. We need to do even more. When our local and national tax rates combined are compared with those of other countries in Europe they show that we are doing pretty well: in Germany, they are at 30%, in France at 34% and we are at 26%. However, when we look further afield, as we must when we consider the competitive pressures of the future, we see that places such as Hong Kong and Singapore have combined rates of 16% to 17%. I urge the Government to keep pressing firmly in that direction.
Let me make two more important points. First, although we have avoided the worst excesses of what Labour planned to do with national insurance, although it is expensive to lower national insurance as it is one of the three great revenue raisers of taxation and although I recognise and applaud the fact that the Government have introduced national insurance holidays in most regions of this country for new business start-ups, we must do more. It is a tax on jobs and we must start to get the figures down.
Secondly, micro-businesses—those that employ 10 or fewer employees—represent 96% of the businesses in this country and employ 700,000 people. We must get the number of onerous regulations for that group down. In particular, we should consider paternity and maternity rights and the idea that employees can leave the work force for 26 weeks or up to 52 weeks-a-year and their jobs must be held open. That needs to be considered and perhaps relaxed for those businesses, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise the concerns that have been expressed on both sides of the House about the impact of the Government’s plans to reduce funding for English for speakers of other languages courses, plans which undermine the Prime Minister’s own vision for community cohesion. Members will remember that earlier this year he said in Prime Minister’s questions
“we will be putting in place…tougher rules”
to ensure that
“husbands and wives, particularly from the Indian sub-continent”
“learn English, so that…they can be more integrated into our country.”—[Official Report, 2 February 2011; Vol. 522, c. 856.]
It is deeply irresponsible to talk tough on language skills while removing the opportunities to develop them.
When the Government’s decision on ESOL funding was announced in the skills White Paper, the accompanying equality impact assessment said of ESOL that the changes
“should result in a very small overall impact on protected groups.”
That is not an assessment that those of us who are familiar with ESOL provision would have made and I welcome the fact that the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning did not accept that either and commissioned an equality impact assessment.
We have been wanting that impact assessment to be published for quite some time and were assured in the Westminster Hall debate on 3 May that it would be
“published in good time—certainly before the summer recess”.—[Official Report, 3 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 211WH.]
I am sure that the Minister would have wished it otherwise, but the assessment was published only yesterday, 24 hours before the start of the recess. Better late than never, but what does it tell us? On gender, nationally 68% of ESOL learners over the age of 19 are women and in my city, Sheffield, the figure is even higher, with 83% of the 3,310 ESOL learners being women. That is a much higher proportion than the 50% of women learners in further education as a whole. On ethnicity, as would be expected a higher proportion of ESOL learners identify themselves as black or minority ethnic than those in FE overall.
In Sheffield, our local college is advertising a 34-week ESOL course, starting in September, at a cost of £715. Contributing half of that sum, as would be expected under the new rules, is simply unaffordable to those who depend on those courses so the college is planning for a “huge drop” —these are the college’s words—in numbers. Women who will be affected have written to me and they describe movingly how they rely on ESOL courses to interact with each other, with society and with their children.
I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged the negative impact, reflected in his Department’s own assessment, of the introduction of the changes. I welcome the fact that he is considering, in partnership with the Department for Communities and Local Government and in consultation with the Association of Colleges, ways in which the Government can mitigate that impact. I hope he will explain more about his plans to the House today and, crucially, the timetable for their introduction.
The problem is that the new rules for ESOL funding take effect in just 12 days, so I urge the Minister to give us an assurance that before the start of the new college year he will put in place measures to avert the unfair impact—or, if he cannot do that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth) said, I hope that he will tell us that the new rules will be put on hold.
I want to raise an issue on behalf of my constituent, Mrs Noureen Shah. She is one of several people caught in the same nightmare, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) have constituents who are also affected.
Mrs Shah was persuaded in 2006 to invest in the Cube, a development in the Westside district of Birmingham. It includes offices, an hotel and 244 apartments. Mrs Shah paid a deposit of about £65,000—her children’s legacy—and like other investors she was told that the properties would be completed in 2008. Gateley solicitors say that that is not the case and, apparently, buried in the large contract is a clause that covers delays. That is just as well, because the building contract was not let until 22 June 2007—two days before the cut-off point—which, not surprisingly, made a 2008 completion date impossible.
Early in 2010, the developers, the Birmingham Development Company, went bust and PricewaterhouseCoopers was called in as the administrator. The company was eventually restructured as Aruna Project LLP. Nearly half the investors cannot raise a mortgage because of the collapse in the value of the properties, but director Neil Edgington of Aruna is not too concerned, telling Property Week in April 2011,
“I’m sure some”—
that is, some investors—
“will need more of a nudge than others. Some people will need a bit of encouragement via the legal route”.
Such intimidation has been the hallmark ever since. Lloyds TSB claims that it is
“working closely with administrators to ensure all outstanding cases are handled fairly”,
but it appears that “fairly” means that the Cube, which started out on the loan book of HBOS, is going to be paid for by bankrupting and evicting from their own homes the small investors who have been foolish enough to believe the sales pitch.
Lloyds and Aruna are now using the solicitors Gateley to threaten those small investors. It is a disgrace, and I would appreciate it if the Secretary of State would agree to have a look at what has happened in this case.
I declare my interest as a former college principal. As such, I am well aware of the need for local practitioners to make sense of the impact of decisions taken here on real people in the world out there. At least in the skills Minister we have someone who is truly committed to and genuinely cares about learning and learners. Unfortunately, the original decision regarding eligibility for free access to ESOL learning was probably taken to make the high level numbers add up, without the consequences being properly thought through.
The Minister’s written statement yesterday, however, makes it clear that he intends to take steps to address the shortfall in the equality impact assessment also published yesterday. I welcome this and thank him for contacting me this morning to ensure that I was apprised of the context of both documents.
A reasonable proportion of ESOL learners at North Lindsey college in Scunthorpe are currently working and already pay for their courses, so they will be unaffected by the changes. However, a significant number of North Lindsey’s adult ESOL learners, who are in low-skilled, poorly paid jobs in local factories, currently benefit from free tuition, but will not do so in future. Many of the college’s ESOL learners are highly motivated parents who learn English in order to help their children with homework and to not be reliant on them to be translators when accessing public services, such as the health clinic. Many of these mainly women learners will not be able to access ESOL and could therefore become isolated, rather than more integrated into our local community.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published the equality impact assessment yesterday, just in the nick of time to deliver the Minister’s promise that it would be published before the recess. Paragraph 53 of the assessment indicates that the policy changes
“may have a disproportionate impact on some groups or sub-groups of learners.”
Paragraphs 30 and 35 confirm that there are more minority ethnic groups and women studying ESOL than there are among FE students as a whole.
I ask the Minister to consider delaying the removal of fee concessions until a major change in the benefits system—the reclassification of claimants on to employment support allowance—is completed. The Government’s target timetable for this change is four years. The delay would allow current ESOL students on income support to remain in free provision, rather than be at considerable risk of dropping out of education for several years.
To ensure that parents are enabled to give the best possible support to their children, the Government might also consider giving all parents with children aged 0 to 7 fee concessions, regardless of their benefit status. This is essential if we want to prepare them to take an active part in their children’s education and be ready for work later on. These changes would not impact on Government budgets this year as the funds are already allocated to colleges. It is the restrictions and the changed policy in relation to ESOL that is preventing colleges from meeting those needs.
None the less, like my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), I welcome the Minister’s commitment to work with the Department for Communities and Local Government on developing new forms of community-based learning of English and working with the Association of Colleges to determine how best to target funds at settled communities where language barriers prevail. The involvement of Lord Boswell and Baroness Sharp, who are well respected and have much expertise, is also welcome.
I begin by thanking the Chief Whip for indulging me this one time by allowing me to speak. As the House is aware, in the Whips Office we take a vow of silence, so I am particularly pleased to be given this opportunity to respond to Members in the area of business, innovation and skills, and to thank everyone for their excellent contributions. I feel a little like Garbo in her first talkie, when the next day’s headlines were, “Garbo Talks”, although when tomorrow’s press reports that “Brooks Talks”, I suspect it will not be about my performance at the Dispatch Box.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for organising today’s debate, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for organising the format, which I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is known as the Hollobone format, in which there is a rapid-fire series of short debates and short replies—a sort of political speed-dating, in which the Member raises his or her questions and sees whether or not he or she fancies the relevant Minister’s replies. I shall therefore do my best to make the Government as attractive as possible in relation to all the areas covered in the debate.
Before I begin my formal response to hon. Members’ contributions, I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) on his excellent maiden speech, which was delivered with warmth and a deep understanding of the community he represents.
Let me respond first to the hon. Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth), all of whom rightly drew attention to the important issue of English provision to speakers of other languages. I know that hon. Members have previously campaigned on this issue and have highlighted the importance of English language provision to members of their respective communities. I am sure that they will agree that, although the ability to speak English is important to ensuring integration, if employers wish to recruit abroad—I address this point particularly to the hon. Members for Nottingham South and for Sheffield Central—they must not expect the state to pick up the cost of teaching their workers English. The reforms will target public funding to those in the greatest need and will ensure that higher standards are set for providers, thereby making ESOL provision work better for learners, employers, and taxpayers.
I am sure that hon. Members will have seen the second impact assessment, and yesterday’s written statement by my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, in which he further clarified our policy in this important area. Members will be aware that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will work with the Department for Communities and Local Government to formulate a strategy specifically to target vulnerable communities and particularly women and families who rely on community-based English language learning to help them gain access to public services and to communicate with their children’s schools. That point has been stressed by all the hon. Members who spoke on this issue. The Government are anxious to ensure that women and families do not lose out on this important provision.
My final point on this issue is that my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has listened to and worked with the Association of Colleges and other key providers to make sure that we make rapid progress in this area—we hope by September when we reconvene—to ensure further and better integration in our communities.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who has demonstrated his lifelong interest in horology and has done much to promote that sector. I particularly appreciate his concerns about horology training facilities in the UK and the need for small, specialist courses, and I agree that we must support specialist British industries such as the watch-making and clock-making industry. I add that, although there is a British watch maker called Newmark, we are not related. My hon. Friend rightly cited the importance of the Government’s internship programme, and I assure him that the Government are exploring the opportunities for the craft sector to engage with the apprenticeship programme. I have met my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning to discuss this matter, and he will write to my hon. Friend about the progress that the Government are making to boost craft apprenticeships so that Britain will become the international centre of excellence in horology that he so rightly wants it to be.
On regulation, the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) should be commended for his continued focusing of attention on the behaviour of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, which he has mentioned in this place in the past. I particularly thank him for drawing my attention to the need for greater transparency and good governance, especially for companies dealing with developing countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Government expect and the law requires all UK directors of companies to adopt high standards of business conduct. We rightly focus on bad behaviour and we certainly do not condone criminal offences such as bribery or phone hacking. We need to help directors and shareholders through a strong system of corporate governance. Overall, the current system works well but needs to evolve continually to meet new challenges.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) for highlighting the importance of having a strong town centre and a vibrant community, as well as for continuing to be a strong champion for Swindon and for mentioning the importance of supporting retailers and small businesses in his area. I agree that having a successful and buzzing town centre helps to create and maintain jobs in shops and offices. A vibrant town centre creates a positive image that attracts new businesses and employment. Indeed, we should applaud the work of independent groups such as Forward Swindon and InSwindon which, in conjunction with the local council, have sought to revitalise growth and prosperity in the town centre.
I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) for focusing on Lloyds TSB and the sale of flats in the Cube in Birmingham, and for highlighting the concerns of Mrs Shah and other small investors. He raised the inability of flat owners to secure mortgages, and I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be made aware of his concerns.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) is right to raise the important issue of Tata Steel and the development of north Lincolnshire. He mentioned the importance of renewable industry in Lincolnshire and the need for improved transport links. The pan-Humber local enterprise partnership has focused on strategic opportunities growth based on renewable energy, ports and logistics, and chemicals among other things. The Humber LEP is bidding for an enterprise zone to support the creation of renewable clusters in the area. I shall of course pursue that matter with the relevant Ministers to ensure that the demands of local people and investors can be met. On Tata Steel, the recent meeting between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Members to discuss the issue was cancelled, and will be rearranged, as is the case with a visit by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. The Prime Minister has expressed disappointment at job losses resulting from reductions at Tata Steel, but he is working hard with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to bring a taskforce together to ensure that we do everything possible to mitigate the impact on local jobs and communities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) is right to emphasise economic growth. He mentioned the importance of not driving growth with debt, and the need to reduce unnecessary regulation. Growth remains at the centre of the Government’s strategy, and the growth review will work throughout this Parliament to address barriers facing industry. The Government’s role is to create the conditions conducive to private sector investment and to make long-term choices, not offer short-term fixes. We continue to listen to businesses to understand how to help them.
Finally, on maternity and paternity leave, Government proposals will allow both parents to take an active, caring role while retaining their attachment to the workplace. Our proposals allow more flexibility, because one size does not fit all firms or families. We will work with businesses to help them to adapt to these changes. My hon. Friend made a specific point about national insurance, and I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is made aware of his concerns. Once again, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for arranging this debate, all the speakers for their contributions and wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all Members a relaxing summer break.
Thank you, Minister. Before we move to the health debate, I remind Members who are taking part that page 5477 of the Order paper states:
“Members are expected to attend throughout the debate for which they are grouped.”
That includes listening to the Minister at the end of the debate, so it is regrettable that some Members who participated in the debate that has just concluded are no longer in the Chamber. I am sure that the Whips will inform them.
There is increasing evidence that the number of people taking part in shisha smoking is on the rise. Hookah pipes have become a regular sight on university campuses, and shisha cafés or bars are springing up across the country. I have seen evidence of this in my own constituency of Preston, and it is particularly true of young people from ethnic minority Asian communities, as shisha smoking is seen as a legitimate social activity compared with drinking alcohol. This is creating a number of issues for both the Government and local authorities. Chief among them is how best to educate smokers about the health risks associated with shisha.
First, what is shisha? To avoid confusion, let us be clear that shisha is the process of smoking tobacco through an ornate water pipe. Tobacco is mixed with fruit or syrup and then wrapped in aluminium foil before being heated by charcoal. The smoker then uses a pipe to breathe in, forcing the smoke through the water, producing bubbles, before it is inhaled. Shisha is also referred to as hookah, hubble-bubble, goza and narghile and is a common pastime in parts of Asia and Africa, where it dates back around four centuries.
There are a number of myths surrounding shisha, the most prevalent of which is the belief that it is either not a danger to your health, or much less serious than smoking cigarettes. This is simply not the case. There is of course variety in what is smoked, but in the majority of cases it is tobacco. The fact that it is flavoured or described as herbal hides the impact it can have. I stress this because reports have suggested that some people do not realise that tobacco is involved and many do not regard the activity to be the same as smoking cigarettes.
In addition, there is a belief that the process of passing the smoke through water filters out many of the harmful chemicals that are released by burning tobacco, but it does not. Shisha smokers expose themselves to nicotine, carbon monoxide, heavy metals and other cancer-causing chemicals, and they do so in much greater quantities than those smoking a cigarette. Research carried out by the World Health Organisation found that the average cigarette involves eight to 12 intakes and produces a total of between 0.5 and 0.6 litres of smoke over a five to seven-minute period. When looking at shisha, it was found that the average smoking session involves between 50 and 200 intakes, producing between 0.15 and 1 litre of smoke per intake, over a 20 to 80-minute period.
The health dangers associated with smoking tobacco are now well established. Shisha smokers expose themselves to the same risks as those who smoke cigarettes. Increased risks of heart disease, cancer and gum disease are all direct consequences of smoking tobacco. As I mentioned at the start of my speech, the increasing popularity of shisha smoking as a social activity is resulting in a number of challenges. How can we effectively regulate shisha cafes and bars to ensure that they comply with the Health Act 2006? How can we ensure that safety is maintained and risks minimised?
In short, Britain is witnessing the emergence of a shisha culture. Young people from a range of backgrounds, but especially those from ethnic minority communities, are taking up shisha smoking. We need to do more to dispel the dangerous myths out there relating to shisha smoking. Today I call upon the Government to instigate a nationwide campaign, similar to that instigated by the Labour Government, to talk about the dangers of this type of smoking.
Before the House rises for the summer recess, I would like to draw attention to the importance of speech therapy and communication aids for profoundly disabled young people, and to raise a query about care home costs.
I am privileged to have in my constituency, in Ivybridge, the Dame Hannah Rogers Trust, which for over 220 years has provided education, therapy, care and respite for children and young people with profound physical disabilities. It is a genuine centre of excellence and has been rated as outstanding by Ofsted since 2006. A few weeks ago, I attended one of its special assemblies, which was designed to promote a greater understanding of the importance of electronic communication aids for people who have no other way of communicating. A number of dignitaries and members of the press were invited, along with parents and friends of the students.
During the time together at the assembly, we were given a presentation by a young man called Ben, whose sole method of communicating is by pushing a yellow button with his cheek to select certain words and phrases from his computer. In a very powerful presentation lasting about 15 minutes, he sat in his wheelchair in front of the whole assembly and told us, with a large screen behind him to illustrate his computerised words, about his family, his likes and dislikes; about his life. He told us that when we spoke to him we should look at him and not at his carer, and that when we asked him a question we should be patient when waiting for his response. I will never forget those words of guidance.
Ben did something else: he told us a joke—in front of all those people, using just his cheek, his yellow button, and his computer. I was so impressed that I promised him that I would share it with the House of Commons, and here it is: “I say, I say, I say, why did the fish blush?” “I don’t know,” came the reply, “Why did the fish blush?” “Because he saw the sea weed!” As you can imagine, the assembly dissolved into laughter. I am sure the House agrees that that would be a pretty good joke at any time, in any place, but for it to be delivered by a fine young man facing so many challenges, in a school assembly, with dignitaries and press present, was quite remarkable. I went up to him afterwards and told him that his presentation was awesome. I pay tribute to Ben, to his family and to his carers. I acknowledge the wonderful work done by Nicola Blundell, the speech therapist at the school, and her team, and of course to Dame Hannah Rogers Trust itself for so many years of astonishing service and dedication.
I intend to return to my second issue, which relates to the cost of residential and nursing care, in the autumn, but I wish to put down a marker at this early stage. It was recently drawn to my attention that local authorities are operating one set of charges for residential homes run by themselves and another, much lower, set for care homes run in the independent sector. I have taken these issues up with councils in my area and wish to share my findings with the House. In one local authority area, the going rate for a person entering one of its council-run care homes is £630 per week, while in independent homes in the same area the going rate is £429 per week—a differential of £200 per person per week. A similar disparity appears in neighbouring authorities.
My immediate reaction was to wonder why it is possible to have such a discrepancy. I have visited many care homes in the private sector and the public sector over the years, as we all have, and I would certainly not say that local authority care homes are necessarily superior. I took up the discrepancy with the council and received an interesting response:
“the £630 per week cost of in house services includes nationally agreed terms and conditions for local authority employees to include pensions, absenteeism, sickness and leave entitlements. This makes it difficult to compare rates with the independent sector.”
I do not agree with that. The Minister needs to look into this—no doubt he can do so in his thorough review following the Dilnot report on the costs of residential care—as it is something that possibly needs to be changed.
The hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) makes the House a better place with his story about Ben. I am delighted to follow him on that basis.
I, too, want to talk about care homes, particularly in relation to Southern Cross. The House will know that not so long ago Southern Cross announced its intention to go into liquidation—to cease trading. That means that the 750 Southern Cross homes in this country now face a varied and uncertain future. Some 250 of those homes will pass automatically to landlords who intend to continue to offer care, but that means that the majority of homes, and therefore the majority of residents, are still in a kind of limbo as to what their future is. In my own city of Manchester, where the local authority has already made contact with one of the care home owners who intends to carry on the process of caring for the residents, things are proceeding in a sensible way. However, my local authority has found it difficult to have any dialogue with some of the offshore companies, which are merely rentiers, that own the property in the Southern Cross homes system but seemingly have no interest in pursuing the care packages involved.
Everyone on both sides of the House would agree that the care of the 31,000 elderly people affected should be the paramount consideration. It should not be a question of the profits of these companies. The care element must come first and foremost. A secondary issue, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for South West Devon, is the important employment base involved. These homes do not exist to create employment, but they do have employees who are entitled not only to reasonable working conditions but to some certainty about continuity of employment. However, the primary need must be to give reassurance to the 31,000 care home residents that their future is secure.
In previous exchanges in the House, the Minister has rightly said that the regime that allowed Southern Cross to operate as it did was not the right one, and that people need to look back and accept responsibility for that. I absolutely agree with him.
I would ask the Minister to do two things. First, up and down this land there are people who are genuinely concerned. They want to know that the offshore landlords will not simply take the roofs from over their heads, and that there will be continuity of care. We need an absolute statement that that will be the case. I know that things have progressed with NHP, one of the property owners, and that it made a statement yesterday. We need a much more positive approach that tells people home by home, or residence by residence, that their future is secure, who their landlord will be, and how their care will work.
Looking to the future—the Minister has hinted that he is sympathetic to this—we need a system that locks in a process whereby in all circumstances the needs of the residents, not the needs of the private operator, are the paramount driving force. We must not have the kind of unseemly operation that applied with Southern Cross, where profit was filtered from the homes and some people made an awful lot of money. Those people are long gone, and the people facing uncertainty are the elderly people and their carers. I hope that they are not facing too much uncertainty, and that the Minister can put the uncertainty to rest today. We have to move on, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give some clarification.
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak, and for your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise if I am unable to be here for the winding-up speech, but I have to be in Westminster Hall at 4.30.
This is an important opportunity to raise issues that are close to our hearts. I want to talk about the potential contribution of the NHS to medical innovation in the life sciences sector and in this country, and to driving economic growth. Before coming to Parliament I had the privilege of working for 15 years in the biomedical industry. It is a subject close to my heart, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to raise it. I draw Members’ attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
My key message is that because of major changes in biomedicine and the structure of the pharmaceutical industry, including in the disciplines of drug discovery and drug development, the NHS is now one of the most valuable assets in global biomedicine. It is vital that Parliament and the Government support the NHS in unlocking that opportunity, ensure that our NHS reforms recognise and support it, and recognise the global potential of our health care sector and our NHS to drive growth and revenues around the world, which can be reinvested back into our research base.
The life sciences are an important sector in the UK. Some 27,000 people are employed in UK pharmaceutical research and development, and there are 250,000 employees in life sciences-related industries. Employees working in the highest value sectors each generate more than £190,000 in gross value added. We are of course home to GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, but we also have a range of specialty pharma, biotech, device and diagnostics businesses.
However, there is a problem: the pharmaceutical sector has been a victim of its own success. While research and development spend has doubled in the past 15 years, the rate of success in new chemical entities discovered has fallen by about a third. That crisis is driving a wave of consolidations and restructurings in the industry, some of which we have seen recently, and the rapid closure of some of the older-style, Fordist discovery structures. The increasing trend in biomedical discovery is towards patients and getting back to the places where one can observe disease and watch it taking hold in tissues. The trend is to look at anonymised, consented mass patient data to understand how it is that different patients respond differently to diseases. That is undermining the global pharmaceutical business model. These days, a one-size drug does not fit all. The industry needs to understand why it is that people react in different ways.
As the industry looks around the world for places where it can access large repositories of anonymised, consented patient data that are in the hands of world-leading clinicians and scientists with an ethical regulatory framework, this country and the NHS stand out. This is a massive opportunity for our sector and the NHS to unlock new revenues around the world. The benefits for us are obvious. We can accelerate new medical discovery, cut costs, generate new funds for the NHS and give our sector a position of global leadership. The irony and the challenge is that the NHS itself is an obstacle to the rapid uptake and adoption of some technologies and innovations because of its centralised and bureaucratic budgeting, its lack of empowered and devolved responsibility, difficulties with its reimbursement and procurement structures, which are often dominated by the bigger companies rather than smaller more innovative companies, and problems with career structures for our most innovative scientists.
I know that Ministers and officials at both the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are considering this matter. I merely wanted to take this opportunity to highlight how important it is, not just for our medical innovation and health care but for our global growth imperative, for the UK to unlock that potential and ensure that the NHS reforms, far from undermining that important sector, support it.
NHS changes and the drive to achieve efficiency savings are causing a diminution in health services in my constituency. Salford has fewer GPs than the national average, and the Little Hulton ward is in the most deprived 3% of areas for health, yet the Little Hulton walk-in centre, which has served 2,000 people a month, is set to be closed by the primary care trust—a real blow to local people.
Salford PCT has also consulted on ending active case management for people with long-term conditions. Active case management is aimed at co-ordinating health and social care interventions to prevent deterioration, enable the patient to stay at home and avoid an emergency admission. It has had positive benefits for my constituents, and the loss of that support is another blow. Health Ministers say that they are protecting NHS budgets, so can the Minister tell me why my constituents in Salford are losing those vital health services?
GPs in Salford are also in the final year of moving on to practice-based commissioning budgets, which are based on the Department of Health’s fair shares toolkit. Two local GPs have alerted me to a problem with the way budgets are calculated. Their practice had 70% of its patients from the most deprived categories, whereas another practice had only 58%, yet the toolkit weighting applied to list size gave an uplift of 9% to the more deprived population’s practice but a 21% uplift to the less deprived. We could call that a lottery within a postcode. That calculation means that the practice in the more deprived area is faced with an apparent overspend of £200,000, and that GPs have to re-examine referrals and cancel activity for patients, giving them an increased work load and potentially having an impact on treatment for patients. Will the Minister find out why the toolkit gives a smaller uplift in weighting to a practice serving a more deprived area? As GP practices move on to real budgets, getting those calculations right is vital, as is dealing with the anomaly that I have outlined.
On social care, I welcome the report of the Dilnot commission and the opportunity to deliver a settlement on the funding of care and support. We need to work together across parties to agree a solution based on the report’s recommendations, and that work has already started in Parliament. I feel that it must include an acceptance of the report’s clear finding that additional public funding is required now for social care. As the Dilnot commission says,
“the impact of the wider local government settlement appears to have meant that additional resources have not found their way to social care budgets”,
“the current social care system is inadequately funded. People are not receiving the care and support they need and quality of services is likely to suffer”.
Social care provision is suffering as councils struggle with the Government’s front-loaded cuts of 27% over four years, and research by Age UK has highlighted cuts of 8.4% this year in council spending on older people’s social care. The social policy research unit has projected that spending cuts of 6% to 7% would mean that 250,000 older people would lose their services, so cuts greater than that would mean more than 250,000 losing services.
Back in 2005-06, half of all councils provided support to people with “moderate” care needs, but now only 22 councils provide that level of support. In its document “Care in Crisis”, Age UK states that there are
“huge discrepancies in the quantity and quality of support offered to older people by different local authorities”.
We have to deal with the current crisis as well as working to carry forward the reforms in the Dilnot report.
The principle that the national health service should be free at the point of delivery and based on clinical need, regardless of background or wealth, is one that few in the House would disagree with. It is a principle that we are all proud to defend, knowing that there is nothing as important as the health of the nation. We recognise that the NHS is paid for by taxpayers’ money and is the result of the hard-earned wages of citizens and taxpayers, and as citizens we are happy to provide for those in the greatest need—the vulnerable, the elderly, those who cannot care for themselves and those who are dying; we know that one day that fate will be ours, and we hope that the NHS will be there for each of us then.
We also recognise that the NHS must make record efficiency savings over the next four years, savings that will be reinvested in the service so that the NHS can meet another challenge—rising demand and an ageing population, which will put ever greater pressure on health care services. As a result, NHS spending is coming under greater scrutiny than ever before. But in recent years there has been a rise in the number of foreign nationals, ineligible for free care, who have been using NHS services. A recent parliamentary answer that I received on this issue revealed that since 2002-03 the Department has written off, and is no longer seeking to claim back unpaid bills, of nearly £35.4 million. The figures show that last year alone £6.9 million was written off, three times the £2.1 million lost in 2002-03.
It was made clear in the Minister’s reply to me that this figure does not include money yet to be collected, or money owed to foundation trusts for which the Department does not hold data. I have now begun to collect these data, which the Department does not keep, as a result of a freedom of information request to each trust. As a result of this, a picture is beginning to form that points to a far deeper problem than perhaps we recognise. So far 31 trusts have responded, stating that they have written off a total of £7.8million. This includes my own local trust, North Bristol NHS Trust, which has written off a total of £1,727,000 since 2003. That is as unacceptable as it is unsustainable.
The problem is not just one of cost. The variation and discrepancy in the collection of data is astounding. It seems that no criteria or framework exists under which one hospital or trust might charge another for its services. As soon as I have a more detailed and complete picture, I shall be happy to share these findings with the Minister.
I know that the Minister and the Department have been actively consulting on the problem of how to deal with the use of NHS services by foreign nationals, and I would welcome an update on the Department’s current thinking on how to tackle this issue for the future. We need to expose the reality of the problem, especially at times when the NHS seeks to make savings. We need a comprehensive plan to ensure that local services are not put under pressure by what many are now calling “health tourism”. The NHS may be free, but it is not a free-for-all. It is a national health service, not an international health service. Let us do all that we can to ensure that that remains the case.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the critical issue of public health. This time I want to look at the importance of exercise to promote health and well-being. Like many people, I have been alarmed at the rising levels of obesity in the UK and its associated diseases. Treatment of chronic conditions now takes two thirds of the health budget.
The problem is complex. The chair of Public Health Wales, Sir Mansel Aylward, believes people have lost their sense of belonging—once so evident in the south Wales valleys when heavy industries, coal and steel thrived. So he has called for local communities to be made formidable again—a bold ambition.
The latest figures for Wales show that one in three children are overweight. The costs of obesity are huge. If you include the wider cost of days lost from work and out-of-work benefits, they nudge £8 billion. Given the complexity of the problem, we need a much stronger regulatory and policy toolbox. Only 25% of children are getting the recommended 60 to 90 minutes of daily exercise outside school. Nothing can be more fun, or better exercise, than taking a young child to the park. So it is important that we invest in play for young children, and veto charges for playground entry.
Encouraging youngsters to keep active can take patience, good humour and a tailored delivery. Teenage girls sometimes feel that sport at school is a “boy thing”, so I applaud the BBC for its recent coverage of the women’s football world cup. But if young women do prefer dance, martial arts or yoga, they should be timetabled and encouraged. Swimming is a great way to exercise for all ages, all sizes and both sexes. I therefore regret the coalition’s removal of free swimming for under-16s and over-60s—a Labour Olympic legacy initiative.
Buzz Bikes in Blaina, in my constituency, was founded by teenage boys hanging around on their bikes. They received money from the Prince’s Trust, which helped them to set up an outdoor cycling club, and now they run a small shop, and repair and hire out bikes too. Funding was given not to improve the boys’ health, but rather to keep them out of trouble, but it has been a great boost to their physical health and self-esteem.
Finally, I would like to comment on the need for the elderly to keep active. In my area up and down the country, bowling is a popular pastime enjoyed by all ages. It is a source of physical, social and mental activity. It makes for better neighbourhoods, and opportunities to play should be increased, not jeopardised. I understand that the Government’s new obesity strategy should be published soon, and I hope that it will be the subject of a full parliamentary debate. If people of all ages are to become and keep active it is critical that local infrastructure, and play and leisure facilities, be maintained, and that charges be kept low. Many people cannot afford a gym subscription to keep fit, and investing in projects with longer term dividends is always difficult. Nevertheless, if we do not do it the cost to the NHS could be overwhelming.
I wish to bring to the attention of the House and particularly the Minister the east midlands cancer drugs fund. The original concept of the fund was to help thousands of extra cancer patients receive treatment if their clinicians believed it would help them. The policy was warmly welcomed by cancer patients and their families. I have had two patients come to my surgeries on different occasions trying to access the life-prolonging drugs Avastin and Rituximab.
Since my election, I have discovered enormous anomalies between different parts of the cancer drugs fund. The East Midlands strategic health authority provides Avastin for the first-line treatment of both metastatic colorectal cancer and renal cell carcinoma, but it will not make provision for the use of Avastin as second-line treatment. In fact, it has been rather obstructive in giving us information about what it does. That has turned the life of one of my constituents, who is a cancer patient, into a living nightmare. In order to prolong her life, my constituent, who wishes to remain anonymous, has to date spent more than £50,000 of her own money on funding second-line treatment with Avastin. That included money that she got from taking early retirement. She has also sold many of her possessions, including her car and family heirlooms, to continue her treatment. But now she is running out of things to sell.
The drug costs my constituent £1,600 every three weeks—a sum that most people would find very hard to find—but she is still alive, which she would not be had she not funded it herself. She is living proof of the effectiveness of the drug in second-line treatment. However, if she resided just 12 miles away in Staffordshire, she would fall under the West Midlands SHA, which has confirmed that it provides Avastin—the drug that she so desperately needs to stay alive—for patients on both first and second-line treatments to treat the type of cancer that she is suffering from. However, the East Midlands SHA has not approved any applications for Avastin for second-line treatment of bowel cancer. This lack of consistency across the country is appalling. The Avastin that my constituent has funded herself, when used alongside chemotherapy, has seen her tumour levels drop from 41 to five—so clearly it is working very well. She is naturally infuriated that the east midlands cancer drugs fund is so resistant to funding Avastin for second-line treatment. I cannot understand why it is not looking at the clear medical evidence that she personally presents showing the effectiveness of the drug. She is living evidence that the medicine works, and she needs such help now.
I know of another patient with scleroderma who has been refused Rituximab. Hers is a terminal illness and she is being refused the drug. According to her doctors, she has three years left to live. She was told seven months after she applied that she could not have it, and it takes six months to take effect, so this lady is having enormous difficulty in understanding why she is not allowed it. She has been to London and been told that, yes, people get it there, but she cannot have it in the east midlands. I would therefore like to ask the Minister whether he will see how he can help those two brave individuals, because although I believe in local decision making, the current situation is just not fair, and they are not getting the treatment that they both deserve.
I rise to speak briefly in the time available to me about mental health services throughout the country. The Government are quite rightly focusing on mental health, as well as on provision in the acute sector. Their commitment to “No health without mental health” is absolutely right, and the £400 million being put into the early prevention of mental health conditions through talking therapies is an important commitment.
Before I go any further, however, it is worth highlighting how mental health services have historically been something of a Cinderella service in the context of the NHS budget. A good reason why we need reform to get rid of primary care trusts and put medical professionals in charge of service delivery is that mental health services have been particularly targeted for front-line cuts by PCTs over the past few months. For example, Leeds has seen £3.5 million cut from mental health budgets, with Oxford and Buckinghamshire withdrawing all police mental health liaison officers from their services. I am sure that the Minister would agree that mental health services are already under-invested locally throughout the country, and also that such cuts to front-line services are not desirable given the importance of early primary intervention in mental health. Indeed, that is exactly why we need reform to put professionals in charge of the NHS, so that they can deliver the community-focused services that we need.
It is also worth pointing out that nearly half of all adults suffer from depression at some point in their lives. We know that 60% of adults in hostels and the homeless have some form of mental health condition, while 90% of prisoners are estimated to have one too, so there is a big issue. We know that intervening and helping those individuals earlier in the disease process—through exactly the sort of commitments that the Government are making, with their £400 million commitment to talking therapies, and through commitments on a local level throughout the country—would make both a difference to health care economics, by driving down the cost of care for mental health patients later on, and a huge human difference to the patients themselves.
In the time available to me, I want briefly to call on the Minister to reconfirm the Government’s commitment to early intervention. We know that too many people are presenting with mental health conditions in the acute sector too late, when they are already in crisis, which is expensive for the NHS and bad for those people. The failure of mental health services has been to become a responsive service, rather than what we need, which is a service focused on patients and developing a properly community-sensitive approach, particularly in isolated rural areas and areas of high population churn, such as the inner-city areas over the river from this place.
I am not going to say much more; there is no time to develop a full argument. What I would like to hear from the Minister—I am sure that he will give us this—is a confirmation of the Government’s commitment to one of the key reasons for the NHS reforms that we are putting through, which is that we need much more of a community focus to mental health services, much less reactive mental health services and a much more proactive focus on helping people early on in their condition. Such a service would be good for them and good for the NHS, not only because it would reduce the cost to the taxpayer, but primarily because it would be good for the patient.
I really enjoy these pre-recess Adjournment debates, which give us Back Benchers such a useful opportunity to raise issues that otherwise might not get discussed. However, this is a slightly bizarre pre-recess Adjournment debate, given that we shall be back tomorrow to discuss phone hacking.
I want to talk about an issue that is pretty topical, given today’s reports about the Government reviewing private finance initiative contracts to save the taxpayer £1.5 billion. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who has been a thoughtful and tireless campaigner on the issue. We have all heard stories of the catastrophic mistakes made in relation to PFI that have resulted in astronomical costs to the taxpayer. We should also have a debate about another classic example of Labour’s poorly executed attempts to bring the private and public sectors together. I want to talk about private sector contracts with the NHS.
The Cheshire and Merseyside NHS Treatment Centre was located in my constituency, in Runcorn. It was run by private company Interhealth, on a fixed-term, five-year contract between Interhealth and the Department of Health. The contract ended on 31 May, and the terms imposed by the Labour Government mean that the operating contract cannot be renewed. The high-quality care provided at the treatment centre very much fits as part of a modern national health service. The treatment centre is in a new building with high-quality facilities, and it has received excellent patient satisfaction feedback. The centre was also extremely popular locally, as demonstrated by the thousands of constituents who signed a petition opposing its closure.
That shows that, given the right conditions, the private sector can work with the NHS for the benefit of both organisations and the patients. Indeed, I agree with the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who said when he was Labour’s Health Secretary that we should celebrate the role of the private sector in the NHS. Even if orthopaedics do not return to the treatment centre site in Halton Lea, patients are almost certain still to be treated in the private sector under the “any willing provider” guidance.
However, it is essential that any private sector contracts with the NHS are undertaken for the benefit of the taxpayer. Due to Labour’s poorly thought-out contracts, treatment centres under private ownership were paid a fixed amount regardless of how many patients they treated. The Runcorn centre did okay, and the local primary care trusts did their best to fill it to capacity, but others paid out millions for operations that were never carried out. Private providers were also paid a premium above the national NHS tariff. This is why I strongly welcome many of the aspects of the coalition’s NHS reforms, which will prevent the taxpayer from getting ripped off in bad private sector deals and ensure that patients get better choice and high-quality treatment.
Going back to the local case in Runcorn, the treatment centre building has now reverted to the ownership of NHS Halton and St Helens PCT, which is running a consultation on its future. It is vital that this world-class facility should continue to be used for the benefit of the local area, and I continue to urge my constituents to respond to the consultation to make certain that their voices are heard.
I should like to start by responding to the hon. Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick), who talked about the impact of shisha water pipes. I entirely agree with his comments about the need to dispel the myths surrounding them. They do endanger health, and it is not the case that they are less harmful than smoking cigarettes. The flavours might hide it, but they can still kill people. The hon. Gentleman was right to bring this matter to the House’s attention today. Water pipe use might actually increase exposure to carcinogens by smokers and those exposed to second-hand smoke. The evidence is clear that water pipe usage can increase the risk of cancers of the lung, mouth and bladder. It is also associated with markers of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and an increased risk of mouth and gum disease.
A number of local councils are already doing work in this area, not least the London borough of Tower Hamlets and Coventry city council, which are implementing enforcement strategies that include information and advice on the health hazards from smoking water pipes. We believe that, as local authorities take on their new public health responsibilities over the next few years in conjunction with Public Health England, they will be well placed to improve awareness of the risks of these practices, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing the matter to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) raised two issues. He highlighted the work of the Hannah Rogers Trust on speech and language therapy, and I can tell him that Health Ministers have been working closely with their Education colleagues on the production of the Green Paper on special educational needs that was published earlier this year. We are now looking at the results of the consultation. He included a well-delivered joke from Ben in his speech, which demonstrated compellingly the importance of ensuring that people have access to appropriate communications technologies, so that they can fully express their views, wishes and feelings and live full lives.
My hon. Friend talked about the differential fee levels that are paid—on the basis, it seems, of ownership rather than anything else. The Government have set their face against that when it comes to the NHS. My hon. Friend rightly raised some issues that need to be looked at. Particularly when local authorities are facing resource difficulties, they need to look challengingly at how they use resources to ensure that they deliver quality, while also delivering value for money for the taxpayer. In that regard, we will certainly look at such issues as part of the work we are doing on the White Paper.
That brings me to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) and his questions about Southern Cross. Here, too, we have work in hand around the need to reform social care in England to make sure that it is genuinely fit for the 21st century. Earlier today, I laid before Parliament a written ministerial statement to update hon. Members on further developments in the restructuring of Southern Cross. The Government’s overriding concern is and remains the welfare and safety of the 31,000 residents in Southern Cross care homes. Whatever the outcomes of the restructuring processes to which the hon. Gentleman referred, no one will find themselves homeless or without care. We expect Southern Cross, its landlords and lenders to continue to work together to secure a consensual, solvent restructuring of the business that meets their collective responsibilities to secure the welfare and care of residents.
My officials continue to maintain close contact with Southern Cross, its senior management, lenders and landlords. We continue to stress to them the need for timely announcements of the sort we saw from NHP yesterday about who will be taking on the operation of homes as we go forward. We need the necessary work to be done by the Care Quality Commission to ensure that the operators meet the necessary standards to be able to operate these homes in the first place. I entirely understand the concerns of hon. Members of all parties about this matter. That is why I have undertaken to keep Members informed while we are in recess. I will do just that as matters progress.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) raised issues about the NHS’s contribution to economic growth. As he rightly says, the NHS has huge potential for supporting UK innovation and research. We are increasing investment in health research by more than 8% in real terms over the next four years. That includes the £775 million that we are providing to promote translational research and development through biomedical research centres and units, and an additional £220 million for the construction of the Francis Crick Institute. My hon. Friend is right to say that we are, in a way, passing from the era of industrialised medicine into one of personalised medicine; that will certainly transform these things.
The Health and Social Care Bill, which has been the subject of much of my life over the past few months, includes measures to place duties on commissioners to promote and drive forward innovation and research. We think that that is a crucial way of unlocking the potential of the NHS to secure for patients the full benefit of research in that regard.
The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) talked about social care funding and resource allocation in the NHS. She will know that in last year’s spending review, the Government identified the need to support the fragile social care system that they inherited. That is why by 2014-15 an additional £2 billion of support will be going into social care. In fact, over the next four years, £7.2 billion extra—over and above what was committed previously—is going into social care.
We recognise that local authorities have to make tough decisions, but some of them ought to be about ensuring real efficiency in the way social care services are delivered. That means looking at things like telecare and reablement, and looking critically, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon said, at the way local authorities procure the services they provide for people in need. I think I need to write to the hon. Lady in more detail about the questions she posed about the working of the fair shares toolkit in active case management and the Little Hulton walk-in centre. I will write to her about that.
The hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) raised issues about foreign nationals’ use of the NHS. While we have a clear entitlement to a free NHS based on current residency in the UK, it is not based on nationality. There are exemptions for some categories of visitor, which are set out in the arrangements that have been in place since the 1980s. I commend the hon. Gentleman's research, and, along with my ministerial colleagues, I look forward to seeing the results of his freedom of information requests. As he said, the Government announced back in March that we would conduct a fundamental review of current rules and practices. That work is just beginning, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will contribute to it.
The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith)—I apologise for my mispronunciation of his constituency—made a compelling case for the benefits of exercise. We know that the taking of more exercise is linked to a reduction in the risk factors connected with coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, musculoskeletal conditions, and much more besides. Some of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman should be addressed to the devolved Administration in Cardiff, but the Government remain aware that a cross-Government approach is needed to issues that involve transport, planning and housing if we are to secure the public health dividends that we need to see.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) raised an important point. Notwithstanding the success of the cancer drugs fund, which has already delivered relief to 2,500 patients, it seems that the situation is different in her local strategic health authority in the east midlands. I will look into the matter carefully, and will seek explanations for the difference. I shall also want to be assured that these processes are genuinely transparent, so that justice is seen to be done and people can gain access to the benefits of the fund.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) talked about mental health. In February, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I launched “No health without mental health”, a cross-Government strategy. I believe that our “life course” approach sends the clear and powerful message that prevention and early intervention are key mental health priorities for the Government. The strategy also recognises the critical interdependencies between physical and mental health. The bulk of the strategy will have to be delivered by experts on the ground working with service users and their families and carers, but the Government are absolutely committed to integrated services. On the day on which I have launched the consultation on our new suicide prevention strategy, I should make clear the need for us to ensure that we no longer have a health service that patches people up physically while leaving them struggling mentally.
We must tackle stigma. Given that one in four of us in this country suffer from mental health problems, this is not about “them and us”; it is about all of us. We need parity of esteem between physical and mental health services, and that is a task for commissioners as well as those who provide services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) raised the subject of the independent treatment centre in his constituency, and the consultation that is currently under way. I will certainly undertake to look at the report of that consultation. My hon. Friend rightly raised some of the downsides of “one size fits all” contracting, which cost the taxpayer large sums under the last Administration without delivering any benefit for patients.
This has been a good debate. I will look again at the contributions made by all Members, and if I have not responded to all their points, I will write to individual Members about those points. Let me end by wishing all Members and Officers of the House a healthy, productive and refreshing recess.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister has just replied to the debate very fully, and I thank him for responding to my points and those raised by other Members. A while ago, however, his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), was answering a debate in Westminster Hall, ran out of time, and said what Ministers frequently say: “I will respond later to the points with which I have not managed to deal today.” I have received no replies to the questions that I raised on that occasion, and I wonder if you can advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on what we can do when Ministers make pledges of that kind and do not follow them up.
That is not a point of order for the Chair. However, the hon. Lady has taken the opportunity to make the point directly to the Minister. I am sure that he has heard what she has said, and that he fully intends to reply to the points that have not been dealt with today.
I entirely take the hon. Lady’s point. I will certainly ensure that I respond to the questions that I did not cover in the debate, and I will ask colleagues in the Department what has happened to the replies to the hon. Lady’s earlier questions.
I am grateful for the Minister’s assistance.
Communitites and local government
It is a great pleasure to be able to speak in this debate. I have chosen to speak about an issue that, although it is of great importance in my constituency, is not just a local, parochial issue. Rather, it should concern all of us, because if we do nothing about it, we risk losing a large part of what makes the places we represent unique.
The health and diversity of our town centres and high streets are at risk. They are increasingly dominated by chain stores and businesses that have a national profile. This is now so much the case that it is often difficult to tell different places apart when we go shopping. The phenomenon has been dubbed the “clone town” by the New Economics Foundation.
We are fortunate in Cambridge to have several streets that buck the trend of the “clone town”. One road in particular, Mill road, has been renowned for decades for its vibrant mix of independent shops and restaurants from all around the world, yet not even Mill road is immune to the danger of slowly becoming another “clone street”. A couple of years ago there was a major campaign to prevent Tesco from having one of its express stores there which, sadly, failed. It became Tesco’s 14th store in Cambridge—there are now 15 in Cambridge—and now Sainsbury’s wants to open one of its express stores further down the road.
I do not want to criticise these businesses. They are successful British companies that employ a large number of people, and they did not get where they are by missing opportunities to expand. It is entirely reasonable for them to want to acquire new locations, sell more products and make more profit, but they do cause harm. They drive other shops out of business, employing a range of tactics.
Order. May I help the hon. Gentleman? The clock is not ticking down. When he resumes his speech, he will have two more minutes, which will mean he has had his four, without my intervention being counted, of course.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall do my best to comply.
Such chain stores drive other shops out of business, and we need to have some tools available to limit their growth. Local people should be able to find an appropriate balance between the convenience of the familiar and the excitement of the eclectic.
This has been a live issue for a number of years, and Cambridge city council has worked with the Local Government Association and Lord Greaves to table an amendment to the Localism Bill in the other place. This amendment—153AKC, according to the other place’s rather opaque numbering and lettering system—has become known in some circles as “the Cambridge amendment” because of the key work done by Sian Reid, leader of Cambridge city council. It sets out in simple steps how we can give local communities the tools they need. Put simply, the amendment adds to the duties of a local planning authority the requirement to assess the vitality and diversity of local shopping areas. It does not bar specific companies; it does not set targets for the number of independent retailers; it would not, in itself, have any bearing on the current make-up of our high streets; but it would give local communities such as Cambridge the freedom to decide whether a planning application will add to, or detract from, the vitality and diversity of the area. In some areas of the country a Tesco store may increase the viability of the high street, whereas in others, such as Cambridge, it would decrease it. Communities will get the decision they want.
It was clear in the debate on the amendment in the other place that many people shared the concerns I have set out. The question is: what can, or should, be done about it? This does, of course, require people to vote with their feet as well, but I hope that Members on both sides of the House will agree that giving local authorities the right tools to strike the right balance is desirable, and I also hope that the Government will support the Cambridge amendment and allow communities around the country to have more say on their high streets, such as Mill road.
On 14 June I led a Westminster Hall debate on the effect of property regulations on holiday lettings. In that debate, I urged the Department for Communities and Local Government to look again at the effect that changes to property regulations would have on holiday lettings and domestic tourism. The key regulation I talked about relates to the fact that as of 30 June new rules, introduced by DCLG, came into force requiring the owners of holiday lettings to obtain an energy performance certificate, or EPC. That is being defended as a European Union requirement when it is not being adopted by any other European country. This will force an unnecessary, costly, pointless and, I believe, legally questionable burden on holiday lettings, doing damage to British tourism in my constituency and many others.
In my Westminster Hall debate, I examined a range of possible reasons for this change and discounted each in turn, concluding that the only possible justification could be that this is being demanded by Europe. However, as I pointed out, it is not being implemented by any other European Union country. In response to my concerns, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), made a number of points. In reply to my assertion that England and Wales would be the only countries enforcing this, I was told that it was already a requirement in Scotland. However, I would like to make him aware that the regulations in Scotland are somewhat different from those being imposed by his Department in England and Wales.
An answer from the Directorate for The Built Environment in Scotland states that EPCs are not required for holiday lettings unless the property is let to the same person for more than 12 weeks. The advice is clarified by the Building Standards Agency in Scotland, which also says:
“An EPC is not required for a property sold for the purpose of a holiday”,
so the regulations in Scotland are very different from those in England and Wales. Very few people rent a holiday property for 12 weeks of the year and if this rule was applied to England and Wales, the number of holiday lets requiring an EPC would fall dramatically.
On the way in which other European countries are implementing the directive, the Minister went on to say:
“My hon. Friend produced some information about what France had done, and referred to the fact that a provider of holiday lets in his constituency had evidence from a much wider field around Europe. I hope that he will accept, as a glimmer of light, that the very first thing I shall do after the debate is seek whatever validation we can for those two pieces of evidence. We do not want providers in England to be at a disadvantage to other European countries simply because we have taken too robust a view of how the directive should be interpreted.”—[Official Report, 14 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 236WH.]
I welcomed that commitment from my hon. Friend. I know that he is not due to give the response today, but I wonder whether the Minister who is present has received validation on the two points. I ask because in addition to the much more sensible interpretation in Scotland, my research still indicates that EPCs are not required for holiday lets in France, Denmark, Sweden or Germany. Given that, it seems likely that they are not required in other European countries.
That brings me on to the question of who we class as a “tenant”. During the debate on 14 June, the Under-Secretary made the point that the way in which the DCLG was interpreting the European directive was that people renting the cottages in this country were “tenants”. That view has been robustly rejected by the English Association of Self Catering Operators, which has obtained a 16-page Queen’s counsel’s opinion on this matter.
In conclusion, my intention all along has been to help Ministers to reduce the burden of red tape on small business. I feel that they have done a good job so far, but with these new regulations they are going in the wrong direction. I ask the Minister to reconsider them.
I am most fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the country and to represent my neighbours, as they are my constituents. They enjoy communities with access to the countryside, from which so many of them benefit. Although I am sure that there is much to commend in other places such as Swindon—I am sure that other Members have commended them in this debate—the fact is that my constituents chose not to live in Swindon but to live in the market towns, villages and countryside of Wiltshire and they wish to keep them that way. It is therefore with some alarm that they hear of the Government’s determination to assume a presumption in favour of sustainable development. That is not because my constituents do not believe in sustainable development—far from it; it is because they do not have confidence that the Government will be sufficiently rigorous in imposing the test of sustainability in respect of development which may be permitted.
It was thus with some relief that I read in the natural environment White Paper of the Government’s enthusiasm for a new designation of “green areas” in the planning system. In addition, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), gave me a commitment on 20 June that they would seize on that definition in the planning system through the use of neighbourhood plans, and I wish to focus my remarks on them this afternoon.
It seems to me that the way that neighbourhood plans work in the planning process is essential to their effectiveness. In Wiltshire, we are watching our council embark on consultation for a 15-year core strategy on a local development framework. In many cases, it is consulting on proposals that my constituents do not consider to be sustainable development. Ultimately, the decision about that plan will be made by just under 100 councillors from across the county—yet the Government believe in empowering communities through neighbourhood plans, adopted with the support of local referendums, to set the direction for the future of where they live.
I want the Department to address some important questions and I hope that the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), the Whip answering the debate, will be able to speak about them this afternoon. The requirement is that a neighbourhood plan should be in general conformity with the local development framework and it is important that we understand exactly what the Government mean by that. In the old planning policy statement 12, the definition of general conformity began:
“The test is of general conformity and not conformity.”
The key to that definition is that it should be possible for a neighbourhood plan to conflict in some way with land allocations that have already been set aside in a core strategy or local plan, so long as the general thrust of development can be achieved, perhaps by bringing other land into use.
Who is to judge whether a neighbourhood plan is in “general conformity” with the local plan? I hope it is not the local authority, because if such bodies are the ones to judge they will effectively exercise a veto over neighbourhood plans. I hope that the Department will issue some guidance on this point. Once land is allocated in a core strategy, is it then unassailable for development?
In conclusion, giving local people a meaningful say in the development of their communities is, I believe, an excellent idea. I am keen to ensure that the details are thought through so that not only are their voices, including those of “Save Lacock” and of Chippenham’s community, heard but they are truly empowered.
I am delighted to participate in today’s debate. I want to talk about the recent National Audit Office report on fire control centres and the lessons learned. The FiReControl project was introduced to replace 46 local control rooms around the country with a network of nine purpose-built regional control centres using a national computer system. In many ways, on the face of it, Members might have thought that that was a good idea, but the NAO’s report describes the plan as “flawed from the outset”, with “unrealistic estimates of costs”, an under-appreciation of the complexity of IT involved, hurriedly implemented and “poorly managed”, and concluded that at least £469 million will have been wasted.
As many Members will know, the project was doomed to failure but was sadly continued with for a very long time. It is of particular sadness to the people of Gloucester, my constituency, that the tri-service centre—a centre combining police, fire and rescue and ambulance services, which was a model of its kind when it was created only a few years ago and which performed strikingly well during the 2007 floods—was to be replaced by a regionalised fire control centre at Taunton. Despite that sadness and the irony of the then Minister with responsibility for fire services having been my predecessor, I want to discuss the lessons that can be learned from that botched project. There are four particular aspects that I would like the Minister to consider.
The first lesson concerns the plan for regionalisation. Over the past 13 years, we have seen a series of attempts to regionalise our country. That was particularly the case in my constituency with the attempt to regionalise the Gloucestershire constabulary and then the fire control centres. I hope this Government will never again try to regionalise services that are best delivered locally through the long-established shires, cities and districts of our nation.
The second lesson concerns large IT projects, a lesson that has surely been learned time and again by Governments, at least over the past quarter of a century. When IT projects are large and complex, they tend to be beyond the hopes and expectations of Ministers, Departments and the companies implementing them. I hope that our Government will look closely at the issue as we take forward important new projects, such as the single universal benefit.
The third lesson that the Government will want to study concerns project management, which bedevilled the previous Government in relation to Building Schools for the Future, the rising costs of architects’ and consultants’ fees, and the unnecessarily complex procurement mechanisms and processes. In the case of the regional fire control centres, project management was a skill sadly lacking at the top of Government. Again, as this Government look at reducing costs, taking out waste and making government more efficient, I hope we will focus on the most effective project management skills available.
The final lesson in this unhappy saga comes from the role of the Select Committees. It is still not clear to me whether the Communities and Local Government Committee of that time, over the 10 years of the project, firmly identified to Government the error of their ways by pointing out the likely problems at the beginning, where—
I was privileged to be here earlier, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) on his maiden speech.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), who was due to speak, has not managed to get here, which is a great shame.
I shall deal with the speeches in the order in which they appear on the Order Paper—
Order. I should inform the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) withdrew and is not required to explain why.
It is a great shame none the less, but thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) spoke about the National Audit Office report on FiReControl and the lessons learned from that disastrous project. I can assure him that the Government will not repeat the mistakes of the previous Administration—mistakes that led, as he rightly pointed out, to £469 million of taxpayers’ money being wasted on an over-complex, centrally imposed solution that was not proportionate to the risks faced and failed to engage with the fire and rescue services. When it was clear that the main contractor, Cassidian, could not deliver the IT system within an acceptable time frame, we had no option but to close the project down last December. We were not going to commit any more resources with no certainty of delivery.
Following the closure we made it clear immediately that we would not impose a central solution. There would be no large-scale national IT systems with such a long lead-in time that the pace of change overtook the promised advantages. Last week the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a new £83 million scheme that builds on locally determined solutions and encourages collaboration and innovation. Every fire and rescue authority can apply—for up to £1.8 million, as a guide—to improve the efficiency of its fire and rescue control services. This will cover the installation of Firelink interfaces to give enhanced voice and data services, which is the priority for most in the sector, according to the Department’s recent consultation.
Through sharing these interfaces, fire and rescue authorities can use the funding for further enhancements that improve the service that they provide for their communities and for firefighters. In addition, we have put aside a further £1.8 million for sector-led initiatives that will deliver benefits to all fire and rescue services. For example, in the recent consultation many responses from the sector emphasised the need for common standards. These would underpin collaboration and interoperability between fire and rescue services, facilitating improved overload and fall-back arrangements. The Chief Fire Officers Association has already indicated its intention to apply.
That brings me to another lesson learned. We have taken careful account of the consultation responses and we are working closely on both the political and the operational sides of the fire and rescue sector. The Department is grateful to the Chief Fire Officers Association and the Local Government Group for their help in developing the new scheme and agreeing to be part of the oversight measures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) spoke about the effect of property regulation on holiday lettings. This Government are committed to being the greenest Government ever and improving energy performance by encouraging energy performance certificates, like those that one sees on white goods, showing an A to G range, depending on how energy-efficient they are. We want that process to take place for every building; in this case an EPC is required for the construction, sale or rent of a building. The EPC shows how energy-efficient the property is and includes recommendations about how to improve energy efficiency.
The Government recognise that this issue is important to holiday home owners and creates a problem for that industry. We do not want to impose unnecessary burdens on the industry or to gold-plate this directive, and we are seeking to establish why it has been interpreted in the way it has. We are also prepared to seek further legal advice to ensure that we are not going beyond the minimum requirements imposed by the directive. I have investigated this and it seems to be a classic case of gold-plating. We have made inquiries to establish the position in other European Union countries and it seems that, as my hon. Friend said, EPCs are not required for holiday lets in a number of other member states, including Germany, Sweden and Denmark—he also mentioned France and Scotland. It gives me great pleasure to tell the House that we should have a clearly defined position on this within the next few weeks.
On the issue raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), I think we all agree that there is tremendous value in having a prosperous and diverse high street for all the community. Mill road is undoubtedly an area of local importance and value, and reads extremely well on the internet. Town centres are key to sustainable growth and local prosperity and are at the heart of our neighbourhoods, giving communities easier access to shops and services. The Government gave a clear commitment in the debates on the Localism Bill, most recently on 12 July, and as part of the Budget, that we will put town centres first for new retail development. We will set out planning policies on retail to support competitive town centres through the new national planning policy framework and we are determined to give local communities greater power to shape their areas and to be clear about the balance of uses they want in town centres. We are legislating to introduce new local level neighbourhood plans to give local people greater control over the future of places that are important to them.
Neighbourhood plans are a positive planning tool that will have real weight in the planning process, but we must be clear about what planning can and cannot do. Planning policy on town centres is not pro or anti-supermarkets and it cannot seek to restrict lawful competition between retailers. It is and always has been blind to the issue of who the operator of a retail proposal would be—whether a supermarket or an independent. We want the right scale and type of development in the right location to meet people’s shopping needs. That is what planning policy can support local councils in achieving in a more practical manner than by legislation. Local neighbourhood plans and low rates for small businesses should help in encouraging new shops and businesses so that we do not lack variety—the hon. Member for Cambridge referred to clone towns—in our high streets.
The hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) also raised this issue. The Government believe that planning is most effective when local residents, businesses and civic leaders are in the driving seat of planning for their areas and when they can deliver the development they want to see. Neighbourhood planning is a radical new right being introduced by the Localism Bill. It enables communities to shape their local areas in a manner that can respond to local needs and ambitions and is part of our reforms to ensure that the planning system delivers sustainable economic growth and should be used to shape, rather than prevent, development.
Neighbourhood plans and orders are prepared by the local community and can be used in a flexible manner to suit local circumstances. They will result in better, more effective and more locally responsive decisions that will deliver an overall increase in sustainable growth and will change people’s attitudes to development. They will become an important part of the planning toolbox, while existing planning tools will remain entirely open to communities and local authorities working in partnership. The hon. Member for Chippenham asked who will decide. Local councils will have an important role in helping communities to produce plans or orders through a duty to support, and an independent qualified person and the local planning authority will check plans and orders to make sure that they are legally compliant and take account of wider policy considerations.
I shall touch briefly on the national planning policy framework, which will consolidate more than 1,000 pages of planning policy documents into a single, streamlined document. The framework will be strong where it needs to be, and it will include policies that support the Government’s priorities for economic growth and infrastructure. It will also set out the Government’s priorities for environmentally and socially sustainable development. The policies will provide local communities with the tools that they need to protect the environmental and cultural landscapes that people value so much. It will make a presumption in favour of sustainable development, and a working draft was released in June. We have made a commitment to publishing the framework for full public consideration and consultation in July. It is a privilege to answer hon. Members’ questions, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in wanting to wish Daphne Neill a speedy recovery.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Approximately 7.5 million to 8 million tonnes of waste wood is produced every year. It is mostly construction waste, and the greater part—some 80%—is landfilled, which is a far higher proportion than for other waste items. About 1.2 million tonnes is recycled and reused for animal bedding, plywood, fibreboard and so on, but energy is recovered from only about 0.3 million tonnes or 4% of the total. However, according to Eunomia Research & Consulting, a net estimated saving of 1,400 kg of CO2 per tonne of wood can be made where waste wood is used as fuel for biomass energy. If waste food in landfill was sent to digestion with wood to energy recovery, the joint product would be about 42 TW of energy a year, or getting on for a fifth of our renewable energy target, by 2020.
The benefits of diverting wood and indeed other categories of waste from landfill are clear and straightforward. Despite the strides that have been taken to reduce landfill as a destination for our waste, we still have a long way to go, and for some waste streams, as I have illustrated, almost the whole distance. So how might we get moving on this diversion? There have been suggestions that such wastes should simply be banned from landfill. That is what a number of countries do, and that in itself stimulates substantially the sort of use that I have outlined. That appears to be the Government’s intention, because in the waste review 2011 they stated:
“As a starting point, in 2012 we will consult on whether to introduce a restriction on the landfilling of wood waste…Building on this we will review the case for restrictions on sending other materials to landfill over the course of the Parliament”.
That is encouraging until we recognise that that is exactly where we were in 2009. The 2009 renewable energy strategy stated that the Government would consult later that year on banning certain kinds of material from landfill. In March 2010, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did indeed produce such a consultation with a view to banning a number of wastes from landfill. That consultation set out an EU target that by 2020 a minimum of 70% by weight of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste should be prepared for reuse, or should be recycled or recovered. We have a long way to go on that target.
The results of the consultation were “published”—I say that advisedly—in September of last year. Hon. Members will have to work very hard to find them because, astonishingly, they were published straight to DEFRA’s archive, and I am not sure that that counts as publication at all. Fortunately, the Welsh Assembly Government published the responses to their part of the consultation on their website, and hon. Members can access the results there. I suppose that it is not surprising that the consultation responses were smuggled out and filed away so abruptly, because a landfill ban was supported by over two thirds of consultees. However, the Government’s response was that they were
“not minded to introduce landfill bans in England at the present time”
but would reach a view on the best way to ensure waste was dealt with in the most appropriate way as part of the waste policy review that was announced by Secretary of State earlier this year.
Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker, that waste review was under way at the same time as the consultation, following which the Government decided to consult on a landfill ban of wood followed by other waste, with a view to banning them between 2012 and 2015.
If a consultation had taken place, why have another one? And why did the Government say that they were not minded to introduce a landfill ban if they might do so just a few months later? Why hide the results of such a consultation from public view at a time when they were consulting on something very similar? If we really wanted to make progress on such a ban—and I think the case for doing so is overwhelming—would it not be easier to note the consultation results and get on with it? I fear that I am missing something, but I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate he will be able to put me right. At the very least, I hope that he can restore the results of the consultation to the DEFRA website so that we can all see what has transpired, then perhaps get on with it substantially before 2015.
I call Chris Kelly—as long as you do not call me Madam Deputy Speaker.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this pre-recess Adjournment debate. We have a problem in Dudley borough: the number of roaming horses that residents have to put up with, particularly in the Brierley Hill, Brockmore and Pensnett, and Wordsley wards in my constituency. The problem of roaming horses is now so widespread that residents have set up an action group, Dudley Borough Against Roaming Horses, with nearly 600 people having signed up to the group’s Facebook page—not quite as many as the 1,500 members of my Facebook group.
The problem of roaming horses has been widely reported elsewhere in the country. Indeed, the Highways Agency reported in 2009 that more than 200 stray horses are removed from its roads across the country every year. It might be helpful to highlight the fact that the methods used to address the problem vary by type of land, depending on whether it is highway, public land or private property. Public authorities appear to interpret the rules differently, as do third-party organisations. I will concentrate on the actions of my local authority, Dudley metropolitan borough council, later in my remarks.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs cites three pieces of legislation that can be used to remove roaming horses: the Animals Act 1971, the Highways Act 1980 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Other organisations advocate the use of other legislation or regulations to address the problem, including section 24 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847.
Having researched the problem on behalf of my residents, it quickly became clear to me that different councils appear to be deploying different legal approaches. For example, Cardiff council has used antisocial behaviour orders to punish the owners of stray horses, and my own local authority has used section 24 of the 1847 Act, which states that officers are permitted to seize cattle, including horses, found on the highways. I commend Dudley metropolitan borough council for the innovative way it is trying to tackle this costly and worrying problem. I support the council, West Midlands police and the Highways Agency in using any of the methods at their disposal to protect the taxpayers of my borough and safeguard the welfare of these poor creatures, which is an issue I will return to.
There is a long tradition of horse ownership in the black country, and there are many responsible owners who legitimately graze animals and whose horses are legally insured, passported and chipped. There is also a long history of less responsible horse owners, who often tether their horses on council land so as to avoid grazing charges and food costs. Their horses are normally secured with chains and moved from site to site to feed, which is known as “fly-grazing”. I do not think that any of the owners of these tethered horses in my constituency have received or read DEFRA’s code on tethering, which has been available on its website since March.
The amount of grazing land in the borough is limited, and I am told that the council’s current waiting list exceeds 200, with little likelihood of many on the list ever obtaining grazing space. The council does have the opportunity to develop more grazing fields, but horses can be powerful animals and there would need to be significant investment in new fencing and infrastructure to release the fields for use.
The problem of stray horses and illegal grazing has been a long-standing problem in the borough. In the latter part of 2010 and early 2011 the number of stray and illegally grazing horses reported to the council increased, which in turn raised considerable concern within local communities. The cause of the problem was irresponsible horse owners abandoning their horses on open land with no regard to the potential danger to their animals or the public. Inevitably, these animals strayed while looking for food and water and got on to the local road network, causing significant upheaval.
Today I call for clear guidance to be placed on the LocalGov.co.uk website, based on best practice from across the country on how to tackle the issue, and for advice to be placed on Direct.gov.uk to advise people in my borough and across the country.
I wish to speak about something that is a great boost for the countryside—rural country sports and the benefits that they bring to the countryside and to the economy. In the time it takes me to load two cartridges into my over and under shotgun and shoot the pheasant on the far side of the Chamber, my time will be up because I have only four minutes.
Eighty thousand people participate in country sports in Northern Ireland, contributing £45 million to the local economy in the past year. Some 480,000 people are involved in country sports across the whole of the United Kingdom, with the equivalent of some 70,000 jobs in primary and secondary roles. They contribute some £2 billion each year in goods and services and some £6 billion in the whole UK economy. The role of country sports is critical. Shooting, in particular, is important to the management of two thirds of the rural land area. Two million hectares are actively managed for conservation as a result of shooting. It is recorded that shoot providers spend some £250 million a year on conservation. Indeed, shooters spend some 2.7 million days on conservation—the equivalent of 12,000 full-time jobs.
There are 17 hunting packs in Northern Ireland and some 325 registered hunts across the whole of the United Kingdom. Eight hundred people in Northern Ireland are involved in hunts, and some 45,000 people are so involved in the rest of the UK. The benefits are clear—they come from the farriers, the veterinary surgeons, the feed merchants, the insurance companies, the saddleries, the horse box people and horse lorry suppliers.
Point-to-points have been described as
“the lifeblood of the racing industry in Ireland”,
and they clearly are. They contribute some £5.3 million to the economy, and on the UK mainland they do even better than that. Point-to-points are a good opportunity for horses to graduate to national hunt racing—ultimately, to the Cheltenham gold cup. One example of that would be the aptly named Looks Like Trouble, who was born and bred in Northern Ireland. This is clearly how champions are created. The overseas interest in the horse industry is also of great importance, and a great many people can see the benefits of that.
Shooting takes care of almost 1 million hectares in Northern Ireland, with £10 million spent on habitat improvement and wildlife management, and some 640 jobs created in Northern Ireland and some 12,000 jobs across the whole of the United Kingdom—Scotland, Wales and England. It can do better, and I believe it will. Some 150,000 people regularly shoot clay pigeons. There are about 1,000 shooting clubs in the United Kingdom, and the benefits and spin-offs that they bring are very important for the industry and the sector.
Angling in Northern Ireland is worth about £40 million. Some 420 angling destinations in Northern Ireland are open to tourists, and Northern Ireland is one of the best places in Europe to fish. We have some 800 jobs in angling in Northern Ireland, and by 2015 there will be 2,000. In relation to antisocial behaviour, of 660 youths in England who took part in a police angling scheme, 98% are still fishing and not one has reoffended. There is clearly a lesson to be learned from that. Casting for Recovery, a unique charity specially designed for women who have or have had breast cancer, uses angling to promote mental and physical healing.
Time has not permitted me fully to express the benefits of country sports to the economy, but I hope that I have managed to highlight the great spin-offs that come from this thriving industry. Perhaps Members have seen it as being more than what they thought earlier on. Now I will go and collect that pheasant on the far side of the Chamber.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, about the TB situation in my constituency. I very much welcome the statement made by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier today, and I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister here this afternoon. He, too, has put a lot of work into putting proper controls in place to try to eradicate TB eventually.
Many people do not realise the emotional effect that this disease has had on farming. Someone who has TB in their cattle is unable to trade, especially in young stock, and it affects their business extremely badly. Where testing of cattle is taking place, someone’s cattle might be grazing in the summer, they bring them inside for the winter, they are tested, some of them prove positive for TB, and they are then culled to take the disease out of their herd. The farmer then puts the rest of the cattle back out in the field the following summer, only for them to be infected by the wildlife, such as badgers, roaming around in the fields. If we are going to test cattle successfully and take out the infected animals, it is absolute nonsense if we do not tackle the problem in wildlife.
What I like about what the Secretary of State said this afternoon is that she had consulted everybody properly to get a scientifically backed way of culling badgers, to reduce the reservoir of disease. In the long run the farming industry is losing. Devon alone is losing nearly 2,000 cattle this year. It is terrible because not only are those cattle being lost, but it is very much the heifers, the young stock that are the seedcorn of the dairy industry for the future, that are affected. We want to see excellent milk production and good-quality milk in this country. That can happen only if we have the necessary stock to carry on the dairy industry. Across the country, 10 times as many cattle are now taken with the disease as was the case 10 or 12 years ago. We cannot go on like that, because eventually the industry will be destroyed. This country has such great grass-growing potential, particularly in the west country. The Blackdown hills in Tiverton and Honiton are probably one of the best dairy areas in the country.
We must be sure that cattle can be out grazing without being infected with TB. Everybody wants to see cattle out in the fields. That is what people come to Devon to see. This issue affects not only good agricultural production, but the tourism that benefits from the cattle. The last thing we want to do is to shut them up in sheds all summer to keep the badgers out. It is right to tackle the pool of disease, and I welcome the Government proposals. I look forward to the pilot schemes. I suspect that pilots will take place in the west country, possibly in Devon, which is one of the great hot spots. Let us consider how the controlled shooting will work and ensure that we do it humanely, and then we can go forward to an even greater cull.
I am not interested in media-driven lynch mobs. I am not interested in the politically motivated settling of personal vendettas. The big issue in my Colne Valley constituency is the wanton destruction of beautiful and historic countryside.
Thousands of concerned local residents have attended public meetings, registered their objections via e-mail and on the council website, written letters and contacted their local representatives to oppose plans to bulldoze the countryside for hundreds of new homes and industrial developments. I called one such public meeting in Lindley in north Huddersfield to oppose plans for 300 new homes and a data campus on Lindley moor. The church hall was packed on a Friday evening with hundreds of concerned local residents. There have been other recent meetings in Slaithwaite and Meltham.
These plans are being forced through with little meaningful consultation and little regard for the already creaking local infrastructure. Roads are clogged, schools are oversubscribed and people are extremely lucky if they can get an NHS dentist. That all stems from the previous Government’s regional special strategies and top-down housing targets, which were imposed on local communities. My local Kirklees council was given a figure of 28,000 new homes. It is still pursuing that figure via a blueprint for development called the local development framework, which has been widely lambasted—rightly so.
The consultation has been flawed, with thousands of homes failing to receive the consultation leaflet that had supposedly been delivered to all homes in the area. As a result, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Simon Reevell) and I called for the LDF consultation to be suspended. That was because the LDF in our area was not
“reflecting local people’s aspirations and decisions on important issues such as...housing and economic development.”
A High Court judgment on 7 February this year stated that councils should make the intended abolition of the regional strategies, otherwise known as the top-down targets, a “material consideration” pending enactment of the Localism Bill. However, the housing target numbers remain at Kirklees council.
I warmly welcome the Government’s promise to reform the planning system radically and to give neighbourhoods much more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live. The Localism Bill will give local people a real say in what developments go on in their area. Community groups, parish councils and local business organisations will be involved in developing neighbourhood plans. However, we have to wait for the autumn for that to happen.
Another change that I would like to see is related to the new homes bonus. I have proposed in the Chamber a higher rate of bonus for homes built on brownfield sites, to incentivise developers to go for those sites over and above greenfield sites. I really believe that developers and my local council need to engage better with local communities. That will happen after the Localism Bill becomes law later this year, but planning applications also need to demonstrate clear improvements to local infrastructure. The plans for housing at Lindley moor, for example, show little regard for the heavily oversubscribed schools and clogged roads.
Finally, I stand side by side with the many people in my constituency who are deeply worried and angered by the way in which plans for homes and the data campus are being railroaded through with little genuine consultation, no regard for infrastructure and little explanation of the need. We are not anti-development, we just want better, sustainable developments that involve the whole community.
I want to talk about bioethanol. As Members may have heard in other debates, there is a strong vision, both cross-Humber and cross-party, in our area, in that we want to see the Humber being developed into a renewables centre hub. Indeed, we have Siemens coming to the area, and we have huge progress on carbon capture and storage. A key part of our vision for the area involves bioethanol, for which we will have two plants in the Humber—one is in Hull and one is proposed on the south bank.
There are concerns about the future of UK bioethanol because of what seems to be some confusion in policy and the legislative framework, emanating from both the European Union and the UK. The UK bioethanol industry has invested more than £550 million in the past five years, with a further £200 million to be invested imminently. It has created thousands of highly skilled jobs and reinvigorated manufacturing communities in the north and north-east of England, where we especially need those jobs.
In my own area, northern Lincolnshire, the proposed Vireol plant would provide 750 jobs in construction and a further 70 directly at the plant, plus those in the supply chain once it was up and running. However, there is concern that because of policy uncertainty and the tough financial climate in which we find ourselves, bioethanol projects in the UK may have stalled. Recently, the Ensus plant in Teesside had to shut down temporarily.
Biofuels have been controversial in the past, and I am certainly not talking about biodiesel. I am talking about bioethanol production that would also produce a high-quality feed product, so we would get two uses from the crop. It is an entirely sustainable process, which is why the Conservative party’s policy Green Paper on a low-carbon economy signals support for sustainable biofuels.
However, there is a problem at the moment with biofuels in the UK, particularly bioethanol, because of the domination of US imports. I am pro-free trade, pro-United States and pro-transatlantic agreements, but we have to accept that those US imports are supported by a domestic subsidy in the United States that is designed to support the industry and blending over there. It is not aimed at undercutting UK bioethanol production. A number of countries in the European Union, such as France and Germany, have already categorised those imports differently, and I ask the Minister whether the UK will consider doing that.
I am conscious of the time, so it is difficult to go into all the details of this important issue—[Interruption.] An extension would be nice, but that is not going to happen.
There are four things that we seek from the Government: a commitment that the UK is committed to bioethanol; a confirmation that we will make it part of our carbon reduction target; a clear signal that bioethanol is part of the 10% target for renewable transport; and action to ensure that the problem of bioethanol imports from the US, which seem to undercut the UK with the domestic subsidy that I mentioned, will be addressed. I apologise to the Minister because this issue cuts across, by my count, five different Departments, and I am sorry that it has landed in his lap today, but perhaps that demonstrates why we need more clarity and direction from one Department on this. Any assurance that the Minister can give us will be greatly appreciated by my constituents.
I thank all the hon. Members who have contributed to this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) suggests, I am surprised by some of the issues about which it has fallen to me to respond, and which have—at least for today—fallen under the DEFRA umbrella. I will do my utmost to respond to the points that have been made, in the order in which hon. Members spoke.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), whom I have always respected for his knowledge of waste and renewables policies, rightly raised the issue of landfill bans. I hope that he will understand that I answer on behalf of Lord Henley, who leads on this issue and is therefore far more acquainted with it than I am. We have immense sympathy with the hon. Gentleman—and in fact there is very little difference in what we are trying to achieve. I know that he chided us a little, and I will try to answer him, but we are trying to prioritise efforts to manage all our waste—not just domestic waste, but also industrial waste. We tend to concentrate on worrying about what councils do with domestic waste and ignore the wider issues of industrial waste, but we are trying to prioritise our efforts in line with the waste hierarchy and reduce the carbon impact of our waste, as well as considering what sort of inheritance we are leaving for future generations in terms of the contents of holes in the ground.
We are rightly concentrating on the higher levels of the hierarchy, including reducing waste in the first place, and then working through reuse, recycling and energy recovery before we end up at landfill. Clearly we want to move to a zero-waste economy in which all our material resources are fully valued or used in one way or another. The hon. Gentleman talked particularly about landfill, and I am sure the House will agree that landfill should be the option of last resort for most waste, especially for biodegradable waste.
We need to move towards eliminating landfill, and landfill volumes have fallen by a third in the last three years. That must be good news and the waste review, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, will play a substantial role in pushing wastes up the hierarchy and away from landfill. We are going further, and that is why we are maintaining landfill tax increases towards a floor of £80 per tonne in 2014-15.
On the specific issue of the consultation on restricting wood waste being sent to landfill, I can say from a personal perspective that I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a huge waste of a valuable resource. There have been times when I have been known to fumble around some skips to fetch decent bits of timber out for a bit of DIY at home. I commend that approach to other hon. Members—if we all did our bit, perhaps we would not need to ban landfill.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the consultation that was begun under the previous Government—one of a number that they set in train in the last few weeks of their life and left to the new Government to resolve.
The Government were committed to a waste review, which is why we had to respond to the earlier consultation, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. That consultation—on banning individual items from landfill—was very general, unlike the specific and more targeted consultation on wood waste, which we are talking about now. That consultation allows us to explore in much greater detail the practical implications of dealing with different types of wood. For instance, some wood waste might be treated with toxic materials that we cannot burn. There is a raft of issues. However, he raised a specific point about the previous consultation and criticised us for putting it in the archive. This is not an issue of secrecy; it is just where these things eventually belong. The DEFRA website has been refreshed over the past year under the new Government. The material has not been buried—or even put in landfill—but is freely available in the archive. I can assure him that we take this seriously.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Chris Kelly) referred to the problem of roaming horses. I am sure that that is an issue of which most of us, whether we have urban or rural constituencies, have some understanding, although perhaps not in the fine detail to which he referred. He referred to fly-grazing—horses being chained on the verge. I suspect that virtually every Member has witnessed that and, if nothing else, questioned the welfare of those horses. He rightly listed the three pieces of legislation to which DEFRA Ministers usually refer—in fact, he virtually delivered my speech. I am not going to waste time, or insult him, by repeating them. He also rightly referred to the innovative use of other legislation, particularly by Dudley metropolitan borough council. I congratulate it on that sort of innovation; it is what we expect from local government. However, if he can think of other areas, we would be happy to consider them. He specifically referred to putting guidance online, and I am happy to consider that and respond to him when we have had time to reflect further.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was not on my list of speakers—so, not for the first time, I will have to wing it. Fortunately, he spoke about a subject extremely close to my heart, and I could not disagree with any of his points about the value of country sports, not just to the country’s heritage, but to the economy and job creation. There was one important point that he did not make but which I feel strongly about: although country sports might provide only a handful of jobs in a particular area, in a rural area a handful of jobs can be very important. We need to understand that point. He referred to the racing industry. As he knows, I represent the area surrounding Newmarket, where about 7,000 jobs are dependent on the racing industry. I can assure him that the Government strongly support the continuity of country sports and recognise their economic contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) had the good fortune to raise an issue that we have largely answered today already, so I hope that he will forgive me if I do not wax too lyrical about bovine TB, as it was discussed earlier in the Chamber. I would make one critical point, however. He spoke about the trauma to families of disease breakdown. For the past four years, more than a quarter of the herds in Devon have been under restriction at some time during the year. That is a huge proportion, and demonstrates just how bad the problem is in Devon. Unusually, he underestimated the seriousness of the situation. I think that he said that about 2,000 cattle were slaughtered in Devon, but the actual figure is 5,700. That, too, demonstrates the seriousness of the situation. I cannot tell him the location of the pilots because we have not got to that stage yet. We expect applications for licences to be made, but as I have said in the media today, I would be astonished if one of them was not in the south-west somewhere.
Well, there are a lot of counties.
Even I do not think that Shropshire is in the south-west. Two suitable sites will be selected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) referred to the green belt. Let me make it absolutely clear that this Government will maintain the green belt, despite some spurious reports about how the national policy planning framework will weaken it. It will not. The Government have no intention of weakening the key protections for the green belt. Inappropriate development should not be approved in the green belt except in very special circumstances. This is a matter for local planning authorities, through the planning process. Clearly my hon. Friend has differences of opinion—on the face of it, it sounds as if I would entirely agree—with his local council about the number of houses. I need to stress, as he did, that our commitment to abolish regional spatial strategies means that there is absolutely no obligation for local authorities to pursue the planning policies that they may have been forced into by the previous Government. Local authorities can stop, as mine has, and start again if they so wish. I wish him success in persuading his local authority to do that.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) spoke about the bioethanol industry. In answer to his final point, the Department that is primarily responsible is the Department for Transport, as he probably knows. The Government strongly support the use of biofuels, as long as they are sustainable. The industry—particularly the ethanol sector, to which he referred—has done a considerable amount to improve its greenhouse gas savings. The latest data suggest that bioethanol from home-grown wheat and sugar beet achieved direct emissions savings of 60% and 77% respectively, compared with fossil fuels, which is a significant gain. However, there are concerns, particularly about the indirect effects of displacing food production, which is why sustainability is so important.
I can also assure my hon. Friend that we are looking carefully at the issue of tariffs, to which he referred. I fully understand what he was saying; it always amazes me that although the United States is very good at telling others to practise free trade, it then introduces its own domestic support—in this case for the ethanol sector, taking something like a third of the corn production in the United States for that purpose. As he said, other countries in the EU have not allowed the use of the chemical tariff for fuel ethanol, which attracts lower duty than the other categories. At present the British Government are examining the legality of that and looking into whether we can learn lessons from the approach taken by other EU countries. Let me conclude by assuring my hon. Friend that we support the domestic bioethanol industry, which has shown the way forward. Clearly sustainability is at the heart of it, but so too is fair and free trade. We must ensure that that does not work against our own domestic industry.
I thank you for the opportunity to respond on DEFRA issues, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish you and all Members of the House present a very pleasant summer recess.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You may not have heard of the drug khat—indeed, many people in the United Kingdom have not—but it is a plant that is grown in the middle east and Africa whose leaves are chewed among Somali, Ethiopian and Yemeni communities here. Its effects are similar to those of better known substances, such as amphetamines. Khat is a stimulant, creating euphoria. Like nicotine, it is highly addictive; like cannabis, it is linked to mental health conditions; yet unlike those drugs, khat is not controlled in this country. Despite its physical effects, including liver and kidney problems and mouth lesions, it is neither classified nor regulated. Yet khat’s main component, cathinone, is a class C drug —the same cathinone that is found in mephedrone, the drug that this House was so quick to act on last year. Khat is illegal in 16 European countries, as well as in the United States and Canada. It is legal in Holland, but regulated.
However, rather than the physical effects, it is the social impact that many ethnic communities in the UK are railing against. Khat can easily become a way of life. One former addict in my constituency described his routine: waking at 3pm, buying the leaves from a local house or car boot, and assembling in a local living room, or “khat house”, with around 20 others to begin an eight-hour session of chatting and chewing—a bit like the House of Commons. The inevitable come-down involves many users sleeping all day after a session before resuming the routine. Unsurprisingly, unemployment is rife in such communities. The habit perpetuates a lack of integration on those diverse estates and creates tensions. I have had complaints from residents about the obstruction caused by people queuing for khat, about night-time disruption and about intimidation from nocturnally high neighbours.
Meanwhile, family breakdown is often fuelled by khat. The financial strain increases the problem in deprived areas. Although khat costs only £3.50 a bunch, up to four are required per session, so the habit can cost £98 a week. Abandoned mothers and community leaders, and even users themselves, are crying out for something to be done.
The problem might come as news to many people, but it is certainly not new to Parliament. It was first raised in 1996, when the then Government said that they were monitoring the issue. In 2011, we are still monitoring it. Meanwhile, the problem continues to grow. Usage has risen with immigration, with the UK Somali population doubling in a decade. The way in which khat is used is also shifting. In its countries of origin, elders chew it on special occasions, but in Europe, contemporary patterns of consumption are excessive. Anecdotal evidence suggests that consumption is spreading to women, teenagers and even indigenous residents on our diverse estates.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs considered classifying khat in 2005, but declined to do so because its prevalence in the UK was relatively low. Therefore, while the plight of those addicted to cocaine, cannabis or alcohol is well documented, the fate of those who are under the spell of khat rarely comes to light. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has stated that
“khat use is both common and commonly overlooked”.
It has 20 million users worldwide. It is thought that about 7 tonnes of khat are imported into the UK each week, but we do not have a full picture of its effects, as the police do not collect data on khat, and hospitals do not collect admissions statistics related to the drug.
Those omissions need to be rectified. While that is being done, with a view to possible classification of the drug in future, will the Minister tell us whether he believes that, after 16 years of inaction, the time has come to regulate khat as a first step? If sellers required a licence, antisocial behaviour problems would be reduced. A minimum age for purchase would stop the drug’s popularity spreading to youngsters, and it would at last register on the Government’s radar.
One of my priorities as MP for Brighton, Pavilion is to tackle our city’s sad reputation as the drugs death capital of the UK. Since being elected, I have met many of those in my constituency who are most affected by drugs to explore ways of reducing the harms associated with drug use. Based on those meetings, I have two proposals for the Minister today. The first is that future drugs policy be based on evidence. The second is that responsibility for drugs policy be moved from the Home Office to the Department of Health, and I hope to demonstrate why such a move would be commensurate with an evidence-based approach.
Drug-related harms and the cost to society remain extraordinarily high in Britain despite decades of prohibition, yet successive British Governments have put their faith in the illegality of drugs being a deterrent in itself. Just last weekend, however, new research published in the Journal of Substance Use corroborated previous studies that suggested that whether a drug was illegal had very little bearing on people’s decision to use it. Why do we not look at the evidence?
In Portugal, the number of people taking heroin has halved since its use was decriminalised. In Switzerland, a series of new policies based on public health rather than on legality has led to a sharp decline in heroin demand and crime. A comparison between Norway, which has a very liberal regime but similar levels of drug use to Sweden, where strict controls are in place, shows very little correlation between levels of punishment and levels of drug taking.
In other words, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that prohibition is not the most successful way to reduce drug-related harms, and that there are other approaches. As the chair of the UK Bar Council, Nicholas Green QC, has said:
“A growing body of comparative evidence suggests that decriminalising personal use can have positive consequences. It can free up huge amounts of police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health. All this can be achieved without any overall increase in drug usage.”
The Government, however, appear to be unwilling to countenance any approach other than prohibition. Their 2010 strategy makes a firm commitment to evidence-based policy making, yet in the very same document, the Home Secretary completely dismisses alternatives such as the decriminalisation of personal use.
There has never been an impact assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971; nor has there been a cost-benefit assessment, or any attempt to compare its effectiveness in reducing the societal, economic or health costs of drugs misuse with the alternatives. Yet we surely owe it to those affected to ensure that the overall policy framework—as well as spending decisions about particular treatments, for example—is informed by the evidence. Evidence-based prevention needs to be considered as well. If we want fewer young people to use drugs, we must craft messages that work, and we must do so in the context of the Equality Trust research that shows a clear and demonstrable correlation between high drug use and high levels of inequality.
The message I am hearing loud and clear from those I have met in my constituency is that rather than criminalising drug addiction we need to give people treatment and support. That view is echoed by Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett of Brighton and Hove police, whose personal view is that
“the use of drugs is not well addressed through punitive measures.”
As he goes on to say,
“Providing people with treatment not only resolves their addiction—thereby minimising risk of overdose, drug related health issues, anti social behaviour and dependence on the state, for example—but cuts the costs to the community by reduced offending.”
That is why my second recommendation is that we decriminalise personal drug use and remove responsibility for drugs policy to the Department of Health. I am hosting a round table in Brighton in September to discuss how we might move forward as a city on this issue. It is clear that any changes need to be brought in slowly and carefully, but if the Government were to lend their support to such an approach, committing to a drugs policy that is evidence based and treatment led, I am confident that we could save lives locally.
I want to speak about an issue that affects a growing number of women and girls right across our country—female genital mutilation. It is the third time that I have raised the issue in the Chamber over the last year, and it has been raised by Members in both Houses in recent weeks, with a thoughtful debate taking place in the other place on 30 June.
FGM is not a religious issue; nor is it restricted to one ethnic group. It is a cultural practice prevalent in Africa, the middle east and parts of the far east. But behind the acronym FGM is a crime—a brutal crime perpetrated against those who are least able to protect themselves: little girls and young women.
FGM is the full or partial removal of, or injury to, the external female genitalia for non-therapeutic reasons, which means that there is no beneficial medical basis for the practice. In every case, the health of the girl or woman is damaged, often irreparably. What is most shocking of all is that a great many of these criminal acts are perpetrated against girls aged 10 and under, right down to infants. It is “the unkindest cut of all”, as FGM is carried out in the full knowledge of those who are supposed to protect their children—their families.
FGM causes all kinds of severe problems for girls and women’s sexual and reproductive health and general well-being throughout their lives. The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development, FORWARD, estimated that around 66,000 women and girls in England and Wales have already been subject to FGM and that well over 22,000 should be considered as “at risk”. In some areas of London, about 5% of women giving birth present with signs of FGM. Those grim figures are based on the 2001 census. Given migration patterns over the last decade, these figures are likely to be much higher today.
In a recent article in The Guardian, Hugh Muir stated that some 6,000 girls in London were taken abroad and subjected to genital mutilation. Head teachers have described to me happy and outgoing young girls who have returned from their summer holidays withdrawn and distressed. I struggle to understand why the systematic and brutal wounding of young girls is not considered a national scandal. I know that right hon. and hon. Members would not tolerate a situation in which little British girls were taken abroad and returned missing their fingers. Likewise, we should not tolerate FGM. It is a child protection issue. FGM in the UK is child abuse; it is that simple—yet FGM continues to grow, largely unchallenged, in British society.
Since 2008, there have been more than 100 metropolitan police investigations into cases of FGM, but despite that, and even though FGM has been illegal since 1985, there have been no convictions to date. France has made more than 100 successful prosecutions. Ms Efua Dorkenoo, a leading expert in the field, believes that we must make it clear to communities where FGM is prevalent that the Government, police and courts take this issue very seriously and that it is completely unacceptable. Prosecutions would make that clear. We need to understand the barriers to prosecution. Have Ministers discussed with their counterparts in France how that country’s successful prosecutions were secured?
Prevention is even more important. Are we focusing on children aged under 10? Are Departments such as Health, Education and the Home Office working together to make the existing framework of child protection even more effective? Are we urgently addressing the need to update the evidence base on FGM? Figures that are now more than 10 years old suggest that the practice affects more women, in the number of new cases, than ovarian or cervical cancers—yet female genital mutilation can be eliminated, and I would like to see it given the emphasis it deserves.
I want to talk about the innovative and excellent work done by Fortalice house in my constituency. Before I explain why I believe that its work should interest Back Benchers as well as Ministers, let me give some statistics for domestic violence.
Domestic abuse accounts for almost 25% of recorded violent crime. An average of two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner, 30% of domestic violence starts during pregnancy, women are assaulted an average of 35 times before seeking help, and every six seconds a woman is assaulted in her home. Those are staggering statistics in a modern, advanced, civilised society such as ours.
Fortalice house, which has existed for three years, accommodates up to 22 women and up to 70 children in fully furnished, self-contained flats with 24-hour supervision. Its ethos involves not just providing physical shelter, but re-educating women and children so that they can change their own patterns of behaviour. Its staff work with women to deal with issues such as alcohol, drugs, living skills, relationships, money and physical health, and to motivate them to take responsibility for their own mental and emotional health. The skills that they teach include managing money and using IT, sewing, and cooking healthy food. As a result of their work, in the last year only 5% of women who went into Fortalice house went back to the perpetrators of violence: it had a 95% success rate. Staff also provide practical help, filling in forms and liaising with different agencies to ensure that the ladies receive the benefits to which they are entitled, which helps them to look after themselves and their children.
The work of Fortalice house is, by nature, people-intensive, and funding cuts of more than 18% will have a severe impact on its ability to deliver the excellent services that it currently provides. Domestic violence is an issue in Bolton, where, between April 2010 and March 2011, there were 8,160 incidents of domestic violence, more than in any other area in Greater Manchester. Twenty per cent. of recorded crime in Bolton is domestic violence, and 50% is alcohol-related. I know that there are budgetary constraints, but I urge Home Office Ministers to recognise that some of the work that is being done is so vital and crucial that it must be supported. I ask the Home Office to consider not just funding Fortalice house so that it can continue its work, but enabling that work to be extended to other domestic violence refuge centres throughout the country. Ultimately more money will be saved, because prevention is always better than cure.
Finally, I invite Ministers to come and see for themselves the excellent work being done at Fortalice house, and ask them again to consider providing resources so that domestic violence refuges—
Order. The hon. Lady’s time is up.
I want to draw the House’s attention to increasing concern in my constituency about gang-related crime.
Let me begin by saying that the London borough of Harrow is the second safest borough in London in terms of crime. The police do a brilliant job in apprehending criminals and ensuring that they are processed through the courts and punished accordingly, and they have my huge support. The Mayor of London has increased the number of police officers available to the borough, as well as the number of police community support officers. However, there is a great fear of crime in the area, which has been exacerbated by recent events. It stems from what happened two or three years ago, when Wealdstone was essentially a no-go area after dark because of the gangs in the area. The situation culminated in the stabbing of a young man at a petrol station. I am delighted to say that the police apprehended those responsible and broke the gang, and that those responsible are now in prison, but, of course, gang membership starts at different ages.
The police cracked down in Wealdstone, and that was a tremendous success, but the gangs then moved north into Harrow Weald. A gang has terrorised the local neighbourhood there. There are recorded crimes. On Friday 24 June, nine of the gang’s members were arrested after a young man was stabbed in the street at night. Happily, the young man was not severely injured, but he was badly injured. On Sunday 3 July, there was another incident in which a young man was stabbed. The criminal involved has, we believe, been apprehended, and will be processed.
This is the tip of the iceberg, however. The gang is causing mayhem in the area. Young people on their way to and from school are frequently mugged—relieved of their money and their mobile phones—and are in fear of going about their normal business in daylight hours. We must combat that.
I ask the Minister for one simple action that we promised before the general election, and which I hope will happen. Those who are apprehended carrying knives should face a custodial sentence, regardless of their age. Even if they are under 18, we need to challenge young people and say, “Do not carry knives, because if you do so and you’re apprehended, you’ll face a custodial sentence.”
We must go further, too. We must encourage parents to make sure that young people do not join gangs in the first place, and we must offer alternatives for young people. Just yards away from where this gang is operating, there is a tremendous initiative in Harrow: a joint arrangement between Watford football club, the lottery and Harrow council to open a state-of-the-art youth centre, which will offer an excellent set of facilities for young people. My fear is that parents across Harrow may be discouraged from allowing their children to go to the youth centre because of the activities of this gang. We must take strong action to remove the gang from the streets, so that young people are given positive outcomes for their future development and positive things to do. Over the summer, I hope to see this youth centre, which I shall visit this week, start to come into operation so that we can see a more positive future.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to this short but varied debate. I should apologise to all Members who have taken part, however, as I will not be able to give them the detailed answers their contributions deserve in the time available, but I do want to respond to some of the points they raised.
My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) expressed concerns about the drug khat. The Government share his concerns. He rightly pointed out that we do not have a great deal of information about the extent of the use of khat. What we know at present is based on a 2010 estimate that about 0.2% of the population reported using it. My hon. Friend asked about acquiring more information. I can tell him that there are now—since, I think, October 2009—questions in the British crime survey about the use of khat, and I hope that will lead to the Government having more information in making appropriate decisions.
In 2006, the previous Government decided to accept the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs not to ban khat at that point. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wrote to the ACMD in February of this year asking it to review the available evidence now, and to reconsider the question of controlling khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. I can tell my hon. Friend that that work will begin in the autumn, and that we therefore expect in the fullness of time to have a good deal of information available from the ACMD and conclusions the Government can consider in deciding what to do next.
My hon. Friend would not expect me to prejudge the outcome of that ACMD review, and I will not do so. However, I can tell him that it will be thorough, and I am also sure that the ACMD will be interested in any evidence he and others can bring forward for its consideration. As I say, the decision that it takes and the decision that the Government then take will be based on evidence.
That brings me neatly to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). She made two proposals to the Government, the first of which was that drugs policy should be evidence-based and the second that we should move away from the criminalisation of drug use towards a more health-based model. I shall deal with both of those in turn.
The first point to make is that we already have a balanced drugs policy. It is right that drugs policy should be based on evidence and that it should be balanced, not just on criminalisation but on other issues. The title of last December’s drugs strategy, to which the hon. Lady referred, starts with the words “Reducing Demand, Restricting Supply, Building Recovery”. All those elements are important, and we will continue to evaluate the strategy to make sure that it is delivering what it should. The strategy set out, for example, that the commissioning of drug and alcohol treatment services will be a core responsibility of local directors of public health, so there will continue to be a health-related element to the Government’s drugs strategy, and that is as it should be. There will also be an education element to the strategy. It is right to say also that young people need to understand exactly what they are dealing with when faced with a variety of illegal drugs and they need to be discouraged from taking them.
That brings me on to the second area. I understand that the hon. Lady had a very limited time in which to make her case on this important issue. I have an even more limited time in which to reply, so I understand that we are restricted in what we say. However, I disagree with her view that the right answer is to decriminalise the drugs that we are discussing. The simple reason for that is that legalising something that was previously illegal sends out a very clear message, and that message is that society no longer disapproves of this item in the way that it previously did. That would be acceptable only if the effect of these drugs was not as damaging as it is. The hon. Lady says that she is interested in evidence when it comes to drugs policy, so she must accept that the evidence clearly shows that illegal drugs of the type we are discussing are extremely damaging. They are damaging to the individual who takes them and to their family, and to the wider community. Therefore society should not take a neutral view on whether these drugs are a good or bad thing; society should take a strong view that they are a bad thing. The Government’s view is therefore that those drugs should remain illegal.
I will certainly pass to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), the invitation from the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) to visit the Fortalice refuge, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will consider it. The hon. Lady was right to say that the people who work there do a remarkably good job and offer a service that many people find extremely valuable. However, I do not think it is right to conclude that the funding difficulties with which the Government certainly have to contend on a range of fronts mean that these types of services cannot be provided.
The hon. Lady will know that a substantial part of the local funding to refuges such as the one in her constituency comes from the Supporting People programme. In relation to that programme, £6.5 billion-worth of funding has been secured for the current spending review period. Admittedly, that represents a reduction, but the average annual reduction over the four-year period is less than 1% in cash terms. Central funding is also available and the Government are making available £28 million of stable Home Office funding over that period for specialist services, including independent domestic violence advisers, independent sexual violence advisers and co-ordinators for multi-agency risk assessment conferences. Those are all important services that she will recognise, and they co-ordinate with the types of services at the refuge in her constituency that she is describing.
I was discussing the Government’s commitment to preventing violence and abuse against women and girls, not just in the UK but more broadly so I shall move on to deal with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison). As she said, she has spoken in this House before—and powerfully—on female genital mutilation. She has done so again today and she is right to say that this practice constitutes horrific abuse of often very young children. It remains a crime, as she says, and it has been a crime since 1985. More specifically, under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 the maximum sentence for this offence has been increased to 14 years’ imprisonment. Crucially, as she said, this Act allows the behaviour of British citizens abroad to be punished, whereas previously it could not be. That is an important point for the reason she gave, which is that occasionally such activity was transferred abroad to avoid the effect of the criminal law.
My hon. Friend would probably also agree that there are a number of things we can do. We should look not only to punish those who are responsible for committing these offences but to improve the guidance available to prosecutors so that they can prosecute more often. She is right that there have been no prosecutions, but it is worth noting that there have been some 58 investigations into this offence. If there are difficulties with prosecuting, they might be to do with the types of information and understanding that Crown prosecutors need to have, and later this summer the CPS will therefore be issued with new guidelines to assist, we hope, in taking forward prosecutions where appropriate.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that we can do more. We can raise awareness of the issue, which remains in many ways a hidden crime, and we will therefore attempt to get more Government guidelines to teachers, general practitioners and nurses, who need to understand the signs of such offences so that they can identify them. We also need to broaden awareness more generally and we have sent out some 40,000 leaflets and 40,000 posters to schools, health services, charities and community groups, because wider society needs to understand what is happening. We also need to assist victims, which we are doing with 15 specialist NHS clinics offering a range of services, including so-called reversal surgery. Women can go to those centres direct and do not need to be referred. Finally, this is a cross-government issue. It is not simply the Home Office that must act but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Education and the Department of Health.
Let me turn finally to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who spoke, as he has before, about the tragic and worrying events in his constituency. He is right, of course, that the Government should be very clear about the consequences of knife crime not just for the victim but for the offender. Let me make it very clear that so far as this Government are concerned, those who commit a criminal offence using a knife can expect to go to prison. As my hon. Friend knows, a prison sentence is available not just for adult offenders but for young offenders, and in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is making its way through the House, the Government propose a new offence of having an offensive weapon in a public place and threatening someone with it. That offence will receive a mandatory six-month prison sentence, unless that would be unjust in all the circumstances.
My hon. Friend is also right to point out that we need to ensure that resources find their way to the problem. On that front, he might know that the Home Office has committed £18 million over the next two years, up to 2013, to support police, local agencies and the voluntary sector in tackling crime involving weapons and youth crime more generally. That includes £3.75 million for the three police forces where most knife crime occurs, and, as he would expect, that includes London.
It is also important, as my hon. Friend said, that we support those community projects that help to deter young people from involvement in knife crime. On that front, he will be interested to know that the Government have committed £400,000 to an organisation known as Kids Taskforce, which helps to educate school pupils about knife crime. He may have come across the organisation, because its materials are used by schools in Harrow.
My final point—I know my hon. Friend would support this—is that we must make those who are tempted to carry a knife understand that doing so does not, as they might believe, make them safer but makes them less safe. That is part of our education task when we deal with knife crime. I know that he would wish us to pursue that and that he would hope that it would be pursued in his constituency.
My speech has not covered all the contributions that have been made in the detail that would be justified, but I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to respond to the extent that I have. I wish you and all those who work in this building a very prosperous and happy recess.
Several hon. Members
Order. The final debate is the general debate and, as Members can see, it is well over-subscribed and we will finish at 7 pm. Although there is a four-minute limit, if Members have only one point and can make it within those four minutes, they will help other colleagues.
I shall be as brief as I can. It would be an understatement to say that there has been a great deal of interest in the national media and, in particular, in newspapers in recent weeks. Indeed, that interest continues today. Whatever we think, a free and thriving press is undoubtedly important to us all. In any vibrant democracy there are two important ingredients—the first is competitive politics. We need parties competing with each other, and of course the battle of ideas. Secondly, we need diverse, challenging and inquisitive media, which legitimately hold to account politicians and others in positions of power and responsibility. Those media should be diverse, with a variety of radio stations, newspapers, television channels and the new media.
We often underestimate the importance of the media at the local level. That is the subject of my short speech today. Strong local media are equally important to hold people to account, whether they are politicians or others in local communities or regions who have positions of influence and power. In my area I am fortunate to have a diverse range of media. We have a daily newspaper, a weekly newspaper, two radio stations and two TV channels, all covering local issues in and around the Carlisle area, north Cumbria and south-west Scotland. However, if we scratch beneath the surface of those media, we discover that all is not necessarily as good as we would hope.
The papers are struggling because the recession has affected advertising and the income that that generates for them. The purchase of papers has fallen in recent years, which is worrying for the sustainability of the local newspaper. One of the TV channels is, in effect, a north-east channel and only occasionally covers Cumbria. The second channel has been greatly reduced. It was once known as Border TV. Now it is, to a certain extent, an outpost of the north-east. As for radio, we have CFM, which functions well on limited resources. The real strength is in Radio Cumbria, but that is under potential threat from BBC cuts. I shall concentrate on that.
We cannot underestimate the importance of Radio Cumbria and its contribution to local community. Back in 2001 we had the foot and mouth crisis, and in 2005 the Carlisle floods. In many respects it was the only source of information during that period. Then in 2009 there were the west Cumbrian floods. More recently Radio Cumbria provided information and reassurance to many people when Derrick Bird was murdering people in west Cumbria. Radio Cumbria is also a source of local news, information about community events, coverage of the local football team and coverage of politics. It is one of the most listened-to radio stations in the country.
I support other radio stations up and down the country, as I believe that local radio is extremely important for local communities. The danger is that with the proposed cuts by the BBC, that will be a much diminished service. I therefore call upon the Minister to put as much pressure as he can on the BBC to ensure that local radio is taken care of and is supported properly. I would rather see local radio survive than channels such as BBC 4. There is enough national coverage already. What we need is more local support.
According to a European comparative study of children’s exposure to accidents conducted in 2005, the fatality rate for child cyclists in the most vulnerable group—10 to 14-year-olds—was found to be around five times worse in the UK than in the Netherlands and Sweden. Every year about 50 cyclists are killed in collisions with cars. Many more are badly injured.
For health and environmental reasons, there is a consensus across the House and the country that we need to encourage more people, including children, to take up cycling. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to consider how we can improve the cyclist safety record in this country, hopefully bringing it into line with other European countries. A good starting point is to look at the difference between our country and countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands. I am sure there are several differences, but one thing stands out. Here in the UK, if a cyclist or pedestrian is injured or killed in an accident with a motor vehicle, it is for the victim or the victim’s family to prove that the driver of the motor vehicle was negligent. In Europe, we share that approach only with Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.
In every other European country, stricter liability applies for insurance purposes. Under stricter liability, which reverses the burden-of-proof balance, it is for the driver to prove that the cyclist or pedestrian was negligent and therefore caused or contributed to the accident. As Lord Denning said, as long ago as 1982:
“There should be liability without proof of fault. To require an injured person to prove fault results in the gravest injustice to many innocent persons who have not the wherewithal to prove it.”
I believe that adopting stricter liability in this country for road accidents would be an important step forward for justice and, more importantly, would save considerable numbers of vulnerable people from injury and even death.
A report produced for the Department for Transport in 2004, “Children’s traffic safety: international lessons for the UK”, attributed at least some of the differences in the safety record here, as compared with other European countries, to the law of stricter liability in those countries. The evidence points to the fact that stricter liability has the psychological effect of making drivers more aware of the vulnerability of children, cyclists and pedestrians. That is what the 2004 study concluded and it is also the conclusion of many cyclists who have experience of cycling in this country and on the continent. My constituent, David Naylor of the Swansea Wheelwrights cycling group, who first raised this issue with me, is one such person. He wrote informing me that he has toured in the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. He went on to say:
“This has made me aware of how much safer one is over there. Motorists treat cyclists and pedestrians with respect. The better infrastructure helps but my judgement is that the existence of stricter liability is more important”.
When I took that up with the Department for Transport earlier this year, the Minister replied: “Even if there were some benefit for road safety such benefit would need to be weighed against the disbenefit which might result from overturning the well established and effective law that applies in civil liability.” Personally, I think that road safety should trump legal tradition every time.
We would not be revolutionising British law if we applied stricter liability in these cases because it is already part of our civil law on workplace health and safety incidents and on product liability. It is even in the field of motor insurance already, as it applies to car passengers. Extending it to protect cyclists and pedestrians makes sense and I urge the Government to give serious consideration to making the necessary changes even if the insurance industry does not happen to like the idea.
I would like to make the case for including body image classes in schools. We already recognise the need for our schools to inform young people about a wide range of issues such as the dangers of drugs and alcohol misuse, how to have a healthy lifestyle, and basic financial literacy in relation to mortgages, interest rates and debt. I believe that these personal, social and health education classes should now include body image.
We live in a looks-obsessed society and huge commercial and social pressure is placed on young people to aspire to unachievable body “ideals”—so much so that half of young women aged between 16 and 21 say that they would consider cosmetic surgery to change the way they look, and half of young men feel bad about their body after reading men’s magazines. Eating disorders now affect 1.6 million people in this country. Most worryingly perhaps, the prevalence of eating disorders doubled between 1995 and 2005. Even when the situation is not as serious as a full-blown eating disorder, negative body image can have a real impact on educational achievement. A study in 2005 by Lovegrove and Rumsey found that 31% of teenagers—almost a third—say they do not engage in classroom debate for fear of drawing attention to their appearance and that one in five pupils reported staying away from school on days when they lacked confidence in their appearance.
Channel 4’s “How to Look Good Naked” is a fabulous example of what the media can do to play a positive role in developing body confidence. Its presenter, Gok Wan, has also championed the cause of body image classes in schools. In May, he brought a massive body confidence lesson to Parliament. There are lots of great examples up and down the country. Y Touring, the theatre arm of YMCA, has taken its discussion-provoking play “Beautiful” into schools, and the campaign group Body Gossip has developed “gossip school”, in which individuals who have recovered from eating disorders go into schools and lead discussions about body confidence. In the US, the body project, which got young people to critique the “thin ideal” in essays and role plays, was shown to reduce the risk of participants’ developing eating disorders by 61%.
The university of the West of England’s centre for appearance research will soon publish its evaluation of different types of body image lessons. It suggests that the technique of cognitive dissonance—putting young people in a position in which they challenge the stereotypical, ideal body themselves—is the most successful in changing attitudes, and can reduce body dissatisfaction and the likelihood of developing eating disorders.
What should the Government do? First, the issue needs to be examined in the context of the forthcoming review of personal, social and health education, and I hope that the Government will conclude that body image should be taught in all schools, just like education on drug abuse and safer sex. Secondly, the Government should work with various partners to develop a range of resources that teachers can use for those lessons. My hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities has entered into discussions with Media Smart to develop a media resilience and body image toolkit that can be offered to schools. It is a great start, and we should undertake more initiatives like that.
Thirdly, we need to encourage teachers and schools to use those resources by sharing best practice at education conferences, in teacher training colleges and by using the media to highlight successes. Setting time aside in the curriculum to develop teenagers’ body confidence makes sense for the sake of both the academic performance and the long-term health and well-being of our young people.
Defence is the first and most important duty of Government, and it demands particular responsibility when, as now, we face the need for significant reforms. If we do have to cut, we must do so with care. Instead, the Government are making changes that will greatly affect our capabilities and our role in the world without a proper assessment of our needs, without proper consultation, and without proper scrutiny in Parliament. It is unacceptable that the Secretary of State should have appeared in the House yesterday to announce major changes across four critical policy areas with less than an hour for the House to debate them. The British public, and our armed forces, deserve better.
The problems facing our armed forces have grown under successive Governments. Labour’s record included reducing the number of civil servants in the MOD by more than a third and by making reforms to the structure of the armed forces after we came to office. We recognised the need for further reform, which is why we commissioned the Gray report on defence acquisition. We could have done more, and we must take our share of responsibility, but we should not stand by and watch when the coalition Government get it wrong.
I accept that there are genuine challenges facing the Secretary of State, but it is increasingly clear that the strategic defence and security review was a rushed and compromised process, driven by a Treasury agenda and a Treasury timetable. That is not just my view but that of the Defence Secretary himself, who said that
“this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR and more like a ‘super CSR’.”
It is no wonder, that nine months on, the incoherence of the review has been exposed.
It is always difficult to second-guess military decisions in opposition. However, is the Prime Minister’s judgment not called into question, given that he argued that there are few circumstances in the short term in which the ability to deploy airpower from the sea is essential? Libya undermined that assertion after just five months, and it could be 2020 before we have full carrier capability again. The Royal Navy as a whole has been cut to the bone, even though it is important to the flexibility and reach set out by the national security strategy. At the same time, our island nation is eliminating our maritime patrol aircraft. We now know that there are more cuts to the Army to come. In reality, as Chatham House put it,
“the cuts are actually far greater than those that were imposed by any previous UK defence review.”
Finally, the SDSR fails to deal with the underlying problems in the way the military is structured and run. That is why more than two thirds of defence experts described it as a missed opportunity. It put in place a number of piecemeal reviews that will not deliver the structural and coherent changes needed to address the organisational problems at the Ministry of Defence. I do not believe that that is good enough, so once again I ask that the Prime Minister do the right thing for our armed forces and our country and order a new chapter to this outdated and inadequate review.
May I first put on the record my disgust at the fact that this House, having summoned someone to appear before a Committee, has failed to protect them, and that they have been assaulted? Regardless of the politics and the accusations, we have a responsibility to look after them, and we failed.
Over the past year I have spent a long time talking about educational attainment, particularly the need to ensure that young people in my community speak English. If they are to reach their maximum potential and take advantage of all the opportunities life brings them, we must encourage them to speak English and reach the highest possible educational attainment. I would like to ask the Secretary of State for Education to go further than the response he has given so far and identify interventions that he will put in place to hold parents to their responsibility to ensure that their children reach their maximum potential. I would like him to respond in writing on how we will do that.
When we return after the recess, I hope that the Localism Bill will go through. There is a long-outstanding call in Keighley for independence, not from the rest of the world, but from Bradford council, and I hope that a referendum conducted under the Localism Bill will offer that opportunity. There is a strong call from the community I represent to break away from Bradford and ensure that they get value for money and local representation. I would like the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to outline clearly when such a referendum can be held and give an associated time line so that we can start to talk to the public about this issue.
I raised during Prime Minister’s questions the VAT that the Sue Ryder Manorlands hospice has to pay and whether we should think about an exemption. There has been a long debate with the Treasury on how this problem could be solved. This is Government, and we need to have a can-do approach and to find a solution. I ask the Chancellor to write to me on the debate that has gone on so far, outlining clearly what is holding this back and how we can find a solution to the issue. I know that there is support from both sides of the House on the matter.
While many people have been damning the big society, the members of the Worth Valley young farmers club in my constituency have been rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it, with 80 young people aged 10 to 26 out there in the parks, working for local groups and really making a difference. I want to celebrate that, as we are extremely proud of what they have done. Lots of people put their hands out and ask for something, but these young people are really making a contribution. I say well done to the leadership of the club, and the young farmers themselves have our support and are proud ambassadors for our town.
Worth Valley railway, Ilkley moor, the Brontë parsonage and the landscape of “Wuthering Heights” are great tourist attractions in my town. I would like to invite the Minister responsible for tourism to come up and talk with businesses in my constituency and listen to them about how we can make their business work better.
There is a large Kashmiri population in Keighley, and one of the big issues for them is independence and self-determination for Kashmir. My final point is to ask the Foreign Secretary to reiterate the Government’s position on self-determination and to write to me to let me know what we have done over the past year in government to address the issue.
In 2010 more than 234,000 people were claiming employment support allowance for a mental or behavioural disorder, which is 40% of the total and by far the biggest single group. The figures are similar for other sickness benefits. The Department for Work and Pensions is now in the process of migrating all sickness benefit claimants to employment support allowance, which includes reassessing their fitness to work through a work capacity assessment, but there are huge doubts about the fitness of this work capacity assessment for people with mental or behavioural disorders. Over 40% of people who lost their benefit won again at appeal—that is, over 20,000 in 16 months, which is far more than for any other refused benefit. After waiting for many months they had their benefits reinstated, but they should not have had to suffer that wait. This number does not include the people who had a decision reversed at an earlier stage or who gave up their struggle to make a claim.
This is a benefit claim system that is not fit for purpose. I have heard numerous examples of people with very serious and apparent mental illness having been found to be “fit for work” because they do not happen to meet the descriptors used as part of the work capability assessment. I do not need to remind the House that many of these people are highly vulnerable. The heads of a number of leading mental health charities and the Royal College of Psychiatrists wrote to The Guardian following a poll which showed that over half of those surveyed reported suicidal thoughts as a result of the prospect of a work capability assessment, while 95% said that they did not think they would be believed at their assessment.
In recognition of this failure of the work capability assessment procedure for people with a mental illness, the Government are enacting Professor Harrington's recommendation for mental health “champions” in every assessment centre. Professor Harrington is also, at the request of the Government, working with leading mental health charities to review the mental, intellectual and cognitive descriptors used in the work capability assessment. Despite this, not all assessment centres yet have an assigned mental function champion, and where they do, they have not had the time to bed in and change practice in their centres.
The mental, intellectual and cognitive descriptors are recognised by the Government to be in need of review. In the meantime, tens of thousands of vulnerable people are being forced to undergo an assessment procedure that the Government acknowledge is failing them. I call on the Government to suspend all reassessments of those with a mental or behavioural illness until such time as Professor Harrington’s recommendations are fully implemented. The descriptors of mental, intellectual and cognitive impairment and the mental function champions need time to change working practices within the Department for Work and Pensions. We cannot allow hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people to undergo a process that we know to be flawed, risks suicide, causes huge distress, and is denying benefits to an unacceptably high proportion of those who are, in fact, entitled to them.
Returning officers play a very important role in our democracy, notwithstanding some of the difficulties that we saw in 2010. They need the statutory protection of their appointment to make sure that they are not influenced by council groups or Members of Parliament at election time. The costs that they incur in running elections are fully justified, but it is my strong contention that the fees that they are paid personally for their services are not justified, and cannot be justified at this time, and that the continued payment of these massive fees to returning officers is wrong and must be stopped. At a time when there are cuts in mobile libraries, bus subsidies and some leisure services, we continue to pay these enormous fees.
Let me give some examples from seven different authorities. In Liverpool, the returning officer was entitled to £14,000 on top of a salary of £217,000. In Islington, there was an entitlement of £13,800 and the returning officer had a salary of £210,000. In Newcastle city, there was an entitlement of £9,880 on top of a salary of £150,000. In Manchester, there was an entitlement of £19,251 on top of a salary of £199,000. In Leeds, there was an entitlement of £27,654 on top of a £176,000 salary. In Bedford borough, there was an entitlement of £18,241 on top of a £170,000 salary. Lastly and most enormously, in Glasgow city there was an entitlement to a £44,000 fee on top of a salary of £170,000. How can we justify such payments? Those sums are many times the amount earned by many of my constituents.
If the Deputy Leader of the House is asked by the Leader of the House, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Prime Minister to do an extra job, he does not say, “I’ll do it for an extra £5,000 or £6,000.” He gets on and does it, because he is a public servant in a leadership position. Why should we have extra payments for returning officers? In my view, we need urgently to amend the relevant sections of the Representation of the People Act 1983.
These fees are a large, undeserved cherry on top of an already very well-iced cake, and it is time that they went. I look to the Deputy Leader of the House to do something about it.
Upon my re-election, I declared that the big issues for my constituency were investment and jobs. Unemployment in my constituency in June 2011 was 3,082, which is far too high—the 132nd highest in the UK. This Friday, I will attend a meeting with Department for Work and Pensions officials and other MPs where we will analyse in some detail the statistics and trends of what has happened in the last year. However, my constituents are not statistics. They are decent people, neighbours, friends and families who are worried about their future. My constituents want action from the coalition Government and the Scottish Government.
One example is the regeneration of Gartcosh. Starting in 1986, a multi-million pound investment of public money was spent on creating this new industrial park. For far too long, there has been a lot of huffing and puffing from the Scottish Government about planned jobs. This is turning into a national scandal. Massive public investment has not yielded one job. The Scottish Government and all the agencies accountable to them are in the dock. My constituents want answers, and they want them now.
Equally, the communities that I represent do not want jobs at any price. For example, the planned incinerator was rejected by North Lanarkshire council. In my view, Councillor Jim Brooks has skilfully exposed the Scottish Government’s role as pathetic and like that of Pontius Pilate.
I invite the First Minister, for the second time, to visit my constituency so that he can listen to the sincere views expressed by decent, hard-working people who value their health and that of their children.
I will make three quick points that are important to my constituents. I believe that the scandalous domestic energy prices should be subject to a full investigation by the Competition Commission, and I urge the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey) to order an inquiry.
Credit unions in my constituency perform an outstanding role in helping people with their finances. Because of their differing values, the banks have bombed and the credit unions have boomed.
Financial constraints led North Lanarkshire council to consider parking charges. I have recorded my view with the chief executive and I met the leadership of the council to explain that our economy is too fragile and our town centres too vulnerable, and that above all else our people are being hammered enough without the imposition of such charges.
I will end on a positive note. Jobs can come from superfast broadband in the future. Pauline and Robert Bell, the energetic owners of Skyline Installations, a burgeoning company based in my constituency, have a legitimate interest in the new infrastructure. On their behalf, I wrote to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and in all fairness, I have to say that the Secretary of State replied immediately. However, the response from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was less than satisfactory. As a consequence, and consistent with my support for small businesses, particularly in my constituency, I have decided to request a meeting with the appropriate Minister. As a former Minister in that Department, I do not think that that should be too difficult. My constituents would expect no less.
Before the House adjourns for the summer recess, there are a number of points that I wish to raise. Mrs and Mrs Tweed came to see me at my last surgery. Mr Tweed is 52, and he has terminal cancer of the bowel, liver and lymph nodes. He had disability living allowance turned down. It went to appeal, and that was turned down, and in October he was told, “Wait another year”. He has not got a year, so let the Department for Work and Pensions act now.
My constituent Jean Judge’s daughter suffers from severe dyslexia and Asperger’s. She gained a place at University college London as a mature student. I thought that people with special difficulties would be given extra help, but she has not been. I hope the relevant Department will see what it can do to help.
Brian West is one of the 10,000 people who took out an Equitable Life policy before the September 1992 cut-off date. I hope that the Government will look again at trying to help people in that situation.
Southend West, having the most centenarians in the country, depends on its bus services. Again, I ask the Government to see what they can do with subsidies. I have organised a public meeting for 5 August at 11 o’clock at Iveagh Hall, at which elderly people can tell us how urgently they need support for bus services.
Recently I went with the town clerk of Southend to see local businesses in the town. A number of business premises are empty, and we need to reconsider rate relief for empty business properties.
There was an increase of 3% in the number of animals used in experiments last year compared with 2009, and it is particularly worrying that there has been an increase of 10% in speculative research. As I served on the original Bill Committee on the matter, I am very disappointed with those figures. Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House will pass that on to the appropriate Department.
There are between 250,000 and 466,000 people in the UK infected with hepatitis C. We could do far better in treating them, and I hope the Department of Health will consider that issue.
The Royal College of Midwives has said that there were 687,000 live births in England in 2010, a rise of 123,000 since 2001. I hope that we will do all we can to recruit more midwives.
Mrs Karen Glassborrow is looking to set up a free school in Southend, and I hope that the appropriate Department will help her.
On Parliament square, it is terribly sad about Brian Haw having died. He was the only person who was given permission to stay there, and I do not understand why on earth we have all those tents in a dangerous roundabout. Let us get on with it and do something about it instead of having the weasel words.
I end with phone hacking. I get on the tube at night listening to endless telephone conversations, which I find very boring indeed. Unfortunately no one has hacked my phone, so I am not entitled to any money. The Labour party raised this issue, but we had a rotten Labour Government from May 1997 until last year. When we have the inquiry, let us start by having the former Prime Minister Tony Blair give evidence. Secondly we should have the noble Lord who was his deputy for 10 years, and then we should have the last Prime Minister.
I hope everyone has a wonderful summer recess.
I wish to raise two issues. The first involves a group of eight banks, particularly the Royal Bank of Scotland, which has lent money to Davenham Trust Ltd. Davenham intends on Thursday to seek the bankruptcy of my constituent Mr Mark White, having lent one of his businesses £1.7 million. He has repaid approximately £2.2 million, so that is Davenham’s capital plus interest, albeit not the full sum that Davenham is demanding.
I have written to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to raise concerns about other aspects of the case, but there are four questions that the Treasury should demand that the Royal Bank of Scotland answer, in its role as administrator of a £300 million lending facility to Davenham. What knowledge of Davenham’s financial problems has it had; how involved has it been in the effort to keep Davenham afloat; what knowledge has it had of efforts to replace Davenham’s board; and finally, what knowledge and scrutiny of Davenham’s business strategy did it have before granting it extended facilities earlier this year, and does it have now?
Bankruptcy would not only mean my constituent losing his home—a bad enough outcome and traumatic for him and his family—but would put at risk a separate company with 200 employees. At that company’s request I spoke to representatives of the Royal Bank of Scotland on Friday, and they made it clear that it is anything but their normal practice to intervene in such a situation. However, I repeat in the House today the request that I put to them on Friday. The times that we are in are tough enough, and RBS should recognise the opportunity to do the right thing and intervene to try to prevent bankruptcy. I hope the Treasury will encourage it in that view.
The second case that I wish to mention involves my constituent Mr Ashok Chatterjee, who was allowed to submit claims for overnight stays that he made while working at RAF Wyton, first at the Alconbury House hotel and later, after it closed, at the Alconbury motel. The Ministry of Defence for a long time believed that my constituent had falsified claims for the one hotel, long after it closed, when in actual fact he was claiming, as allowed, for a stay at a similarly named but different premises. My constituent’s nightmare began when he was formally interviewed concerning possible abuse of his monthly claims. Over the next two years, he was suspended from duty, then reinstated, and then threatened with criminal charges, which were dropped. He was eventually reprimanded, but at the end of the MOD’s appeal process, when the then Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, Sir Kevin Tebbit, revoked the charges against my constituent, he noted significant procedural flaws in how the MOD had handled the case. Sir Kevin also concluded that the personal record of my constituent in his time at the MOD should be restored to one of integrity and honesty.
I feel a deep sympathy for Mr Chatterjee and his family, for whom this has been a terrible experience. He has not been able to put it behind him and move on with his life, suffering considerable stress and illness as a result. I have written to a number of Secretaries of State for Defence, who have not been willing to consider the case for compensation. Mr Chatterjee could not afford to take the financial risk of court action, so I use this debate to ask the MOD to look at all the papers relating to the handling of the original disciplinary charge, in particular, and his appeal, one further time, and consider whether the handling of his case does not in fact merit some out-of-court compensation for the trauma he has gone through, and indeed is still going through.
Before the House rises for the summer recess, there are a number of points that I would like to raise on behalf of my constituents with those on the Treasury Bench, none of which—the House may be pleased to learn—relates to News International.
Many of my constituents write to raise concerns about the Child Support Agency and its manifold failings. It is clear that the CSA is in need of reform, as is the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, or CAFCASS, the dispute resolution mechanism. Parents in Tamworth tell me that communications from CAFCASS are often vague, sometimes complex and are almost always sent only in response to parents’ questions and complaints. CAFCASS, in my own experience of dealing with it, seems to be reactive and unhelpful. Yet day in and day out it is dealing with the some of the most upset, angry and worried parents. It seems clear that we need better dispute resolution procedures between parents so that fewer cases go to court and disputes are resolved more quickly. I would be grateful if the relevant Minister would write to me outlining any proposals that they may have for CAFCASS reform.
Additionally in connection with the CSA, my constituent Mr Paul Doxey, a CSA adviser from Tamworth, has raised a number of cases with me in which local parents, paying child support, are unfairly penalised by a quirk in the system and the whim of their variations officer. Parents who own properties and rent them out for income often find that CSA variation officers capitalise the value of those assets when assessing the child support payments they are required to make. The result of that capitalisation, in many cases, is that the parents are required to pay more in support than the rental income they receive from their properties, forcing them to liquidate their assets, which are their main or only form of income. Then, in logic of which Kafka would be proud, the CSA variations officer has to reduce the payment award because the parent’s income has reduced—because of the original capitalisation decision. I would be grateful if a Minister would look into that anomaly with HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions, and let me know of any action that they propose to remedy the situation.
During the next few weeks, scores of landlords of the Southern Cross care home company will be asked to nominate alternative operators who they wish to operate their properties following the failure of Southern Cross to meet its liabilities. In each case, any new operator will need to satisfy local authorities and regulators of their credentials before the transfer of any homes. Haunton Hall care home in my own constituency is one of those homes. I know that the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) mentioned this earlier, but I would be grateful if he would write to me outlining any actions or guidance that he proposes to ensure that the transition to new landlords is as orderly and as transparent as possible.
As the fickle finger of time is against me, I shall conclude by reporting to the House that during the recess the magnificent Staffordshire hoard, the cache of beautiful carved gold objects that were buried for more than 1,000 years at Hammerwich on the border of the Tamworth and Lichfield constituencies, will be on show at Lichfield cathedral between 30 July and 21 August, and then at Tamworth castle between 27 August and 18 September. I encourage you, Mr Speaker, all Members and certainly all Ministers to pencil those dates into their diaries so that they can see the haul for themselves, and local trades people in Tamworth can see the colour of their wallets. They can even visit Drayton manor park on the way. It is great for the kids. I assure you, Mr Speaker, that the experience will be, as the young people say, golden.
I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to this debate, which I consider to be the anchor leg of the relay race that is the Hollobone pattern of pre-Adjournment debates. I shall have to sprint even to recognise all the Members who spoke, let alone to respond to them properly. As usual, however, I shall ensure that those to whom I, inevitably, will not be able to give an adequate answer will receive a substantive reply from colleagues in the relevant Departments.
I normally try to weave a connection between contributions, but that is impossible today—they were all on different subjects and there is no logical connection—so I shall simply deal with them as they came. The hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) talked about the importance of local radio stations, local newspapers and regional television. Of course, he is absolutely right. There is a saying that all news is local. It is essential that we maintain the local media that give people a sense of what is happening in their areas, and the issues that are important to them. I know that he has been a strong advocate of Radio Cumbria. He raised the threat that he perceives to its future, but which I do not think the BBC entirely accepts. I know that he will continue to argue for the existence of that station. I think that Members across the House will recognise the importance of BBC local radio.
The hon. Member for Gower (Martin Caton) raised a matter of particular relevance to myself and the Leader of the House, because we are both more often seen on our bicycles than in a ministerial car. Cycling safety is a crucial issue. I know that the Department for Transport has recently launched the strategic framework for road safety, and that it is particularly conscious of the dangers to cyclists as road users. It strongly encourages a wide range of measures that local authorities and others can take to make the roads safer for cyclists. He has raised a particular issue—that of stricter liability—and he knows that the Department does not currently accept that rationale for a change in the law, but I hope that he will accept that the Government are very aware of the dangers to cyclists and the need to provide better protection. He has raised an important point, which I shall make known to my ministerial colleagues.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) talked about something on which she has been campaigning very effectively—body confidence. It seems to me a basic tenet of education that we help young people to feel positive about who they are. That is essentially what she is saying. She knows about Reg Bailey’s review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. It has reported and the Government have accepted the recommendation that children should always be helped to develop their emotional resilience—the word that she, too, used—in the face of the pressures put on them by what are often impossible images propagated by the press and media. We should support those efforts, because it is important for kids to realise that we do not all have to look the same, and that there is not a “good” sort of person and a “bad” sort of person based on appearance. I hope that she will continue with her effective campaign.
The hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) has a great deal of experience in defence matters, and I listened carefully to what he said. I have to argue with him, however, when he says that it is a disgrace that my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary came to the House to make a statement yesterday. I think that it would have been a disgrace had he not done so, and not made the House aware of the Ministry of Defence’s current thinking. Let us be clear: the strategic defence and security review was a huge challenge, partly because it had not been done by the previous Government. If they had not failed to do what was necessary, perhaps it would have been easier to bring forward sensible planning for our military. However, the decision to take an adaptable posture with flexible forces was right, and has been proved right by subsequent events.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) raised an important point about what happened this afternoon. I am not aware of the circumstances, so I make no judgment. I simply say this: it is absolutely and wholly wrong that a witness before a Select Committee should be assaulted in this House. Let us be in no doubt about that. That is a shameful act, and cannot be acceptable in any circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman then raised a number of other issues, which he asked me to pass on to the relevant Secretaries of State, and of course I shall do so. He talked about the teaching of English, and about independence for Keighley from Bradford. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government knows a thing or two about Bradford, and he may have some opinions on that subject. The hon. Gentleman also talked about tax exemption for charities, and Worth Valley young farmers club. I used to be on the executive of a young farmers club in Somerset, and I know the value of the work done by young farmers. The hon. Gentleman also talked about tourism in his constituency, and about Kashmir. He knows that I cannot respond to all those points adequately, but I will ensure that he receives appropriate answers.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) raised work capacity assessments, with which there has been a continuing problem—I remember raising it under the previous Government—and the inability to deal with mental health issues effectively. She knows about Professor Harrington’s review, because she talked about it. That review is an important step forward on the part of this Government.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) talked about returning officers. He engendered great sympathy from me—as a Minister without salary in this Government—when he talked about having additional responsibilities without any additional salary. He will be aware that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 allows the Electoral Commission to withhold all or part of the fee available to counting officers. The Government are considering whether that should apply to returning officers as well. However, on the other hand, returning officers have considerable responsibilities and they have them—to coin a phrase—all the year round, not just at elections.
The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) talked about a number of issues in his constituency. Many of them are devolved issues, as he understands, and are the responsibility of the Scottish Government. However, he made a specific request for a meeting with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I will pass that request on, and hopefully that can be arranged.
The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), as always, put in a wonderful performance, in which he managed to include more subjects than I can possibly respond to: constituents with a number of problems, buses—I am afraid that I cannot guarantee that I will attend his public meeting—rate relief for empty properties, animal testing, hepatitis C, midwives, free schools, Parliament square and phone hacking. He knows—because he has enough experience to know—that I will ensure that he receives replies to his queries from the relevant Departments.
The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) raised some important points about Davenham Trust Ltd. I do not know the answers to those, but I shall pass them to the Treasury to reply to him directly. He also raised an important issue—on which it sounds as if he has been fighting on behalf of his constituent Mr Chatterjee for some years—concerning the Ministry of Defence. Again, I will pass that on to the MOD.
Last but not least, the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) raised the CSA and CAFCASS. I take careful note of what he said. As for the particular circumstances involving the CSA to which he referred, I will read out the note that I have here: “In short, the situation described can arise only where the income a non-resident parent derives from a property—which must be a second property and not their home—is not declared as part of the non-resident parent’s net income, and if the parent with care of the child believes the non-resident parent has undeclared income and asks the agency to include any such income in the maintenance liability.” I have no idea whether that satisfactorily answers the hon. Gentleman’s point, but if it does not, I will ensure that he receives a more satisfactory response in due course.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Staffordshire hoard. In return, I shall ask him to come and see the Frome hoard, found in my own village, which is on display in Taunton castle.
Mr Speaker, may I wish you and your colleagues, and all Members of the House, a very positive and valuable recess? I also thank all the Officers of the House for all the hard work that they do on our behalf.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the rather unusual circumstances of the debate tomorrow, we have not yet had notice of the motion or the terms of the debate. However, the 17 Select Committee Chairmen, plus the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party and the chairman of the 1922 committee, and representatives of the four leaders of the devolved Administrations, have all expressed their concerns about the terms of the inquiry. I simply ask you whether it will be possible for us to table a manuscript amendment tomorrow, in the event that the motion requires amendment to satisfy the terms of early-day motion 2088.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He is even further ahead of the game than usual. As he has acknowledged, there is, as yet, no formal recall tomorrow, as the Standing Order does not operate until this sitting is adjourned. I can assure him and the House, however, that shortly thereafter, I shall sign the necessary order. Only after that will we know the form of the motion for tomorrow. So his point is hypothetical at the moment, but I have noted his words, as I invariably do. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman and to the House.
CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT
That Cathy Jamieson be added to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.—(Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)