Skip to main content

Westminster Hall

Volume 536: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2011

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 30 November 2011

[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]

Organ Donation

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

This is the first time I have served under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and it is a pleasure to do so.

I have several brief comments to make before I start on the substance of my speech. First, I must declare an interest, although not a pecuniary one. I am a member of the Kidney Wales Foundation and it is important that I make that clear at the start. I have been interested in this subject for many years because a very dear friend of mine was one of the first to receive a heart and lung transplant at Papworth. She died about two months ago, but for 20 years we discussed the subject on a monthly basis. We did not agree, but our discussions inspired my interest in transplantation as a whole. In particular, we worked on local dialysis provision in Montgomeryshire.

I thought very carefully about becoming involved in a high-profile way because most of my friends and colleagues in the Kidney Wales Foundation take a different view from me. I am not in favour of presumed consent, whereas nearly all of them are. In my view, the way forward is to ensure that everyone knows about the issue so that people’s views are known when they die. Having a public debate is in itself a very good thing to help to achieve the objectives I want.

I think we all agree about the need to increase the availability of organ donors—those who are in favour of presumed consent and those who want to retain the informed consent system. The difference is that I do not believe that presumed consent will deliver an increase in organs for transplant. The evidence tells me that it makes no difference. The reason I sought this debate is that the Government in Wales have proposed to opt for presumed consent, which would inevitably have an impact on the rest of the United Kingdom and makes this a very proper debate for this Chamber.

I must make it clear that my opposition to presumed consent has nothing to do with ethics or morality, though I believe that there is a strong ethical case for opposition to it. Others, including the Archbishop of Wales, have articulated the ethical arguments much better than I can. It cannot be right to interpret the absence of an objection as a considered declaration of support. They cannot be seen as the same thing. Changing the system from an act of giving by the citizen to an act of taking by the state is a genuine ethical consideration, but my opposition to presumed consent is based not on ethics but on efficacy. There is simply no firm evidence that it will deliver any more organs for transplant.

In the final years of the previous Labour Government, the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), began advocating presumed consent, as some hon. Members here may remember. He established a Department of Health organ donation taskforce. I believe that the chief medical officer at the time also supported a change to presumed consent. The taskforce was instructed to examine presumed consent in detail and to provide a report for the Government. The taskforce consisted of a large committee of specialists under the chairmanship of Dame Elisabeth Buggins, with several sub-committees to consider particular issues. Its report, published in 2008, made it absolutely clear that presumed consent was unlikely to increase organ donation rates in the UK and risked diverting substantial resources—it would cost £45 million to establish and several million pounds a year thereafter—from effective solutions. The report is the most comprehensive analysis of presumed consent ever carried out. It runs to several hundred pages.

I have a copy of the Buggins report here. Did my hon. Friend take from his reading of it the fact that at the beginning of the process many of the people who were part of the taskforce were strongly in favour of presumed consent, and it was as a result of the detailed work undertaken that their viewpoint came to be changed? That was a crucial part of what emerged from the report and is highlighted in the conclusions.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Because of the brief that the British Medical Association has circulated to Members, I want to quote the report’s conclusions so that we know what the taskforce actually said. One of the main recommendations states:

“The Taskforce’s members came to this review of presumed consent with an open mind, with many sympathetic”

to presumed consent. It went on:

“the more the Taskforce examined the evidence, the less obvious the benefit, and the more multifaceted and multidimensional the issue of increasing donor numbers was revealed to be…The Taskforce reached a clear consensus…that an opt out system should not be introduced”

as it could impact negatively on organ donation.

I was quite shocked to receive the BMA parliamentary brief because it sets out without the slightest doubt to give the impression that the taskforce recommended the opposite of what it did recommend. That is verging on a lack of professionalism. I have huge respect for the BMA and I was very disappointed to receive its parliamentary brief. It will seriously damage my confidence in such briefs in the future, whereas I depended on them in the past.

When someone dies it can be very difficult for doctors to talk about organ donation at that time. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what we need is a huge drive to get families to talk about consent well in advance? We must be honest and acknowledge that organs that are fresh from healthy bodies are the most desired, and it is often the tragic deaths that lead to organ donation. We need to get as many people as possible signed up, other than those with strong religious objections. If people are signed up, doctors can have an informed discussion with them.

I absolutely agree, but I do not necessarily agree with having a list identifying people. I hope to cover that point. Having people’s views identified outside the traumatic circumstances that surround a death is absolutely key if we are to increase the number of organ donations in this country. That is what the evidence in other countries tells us.

When the taskforce was set up, the Prime Minister of the day expected it to support a transplant revolution, but of course it did not. A similar conclusion was arrived at by a cross-party group of Assembly Members who looked at the same issue. The Members I talked to went into that committee expecting to support presumed consent, but they said in the Assembly that it should not be presumed. They did not think it would deliver the increase in organ donation levels that was generally anticipated.

The second report of the organ donation taskforce in 20008 recommended an improvement in transplant co-ordination, and that is being implemented. The number of organ donors in the UK has risen from just over 800 in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year. That is an extraordinary and dramatic improvement that has saved hundreds of lives. I have searched pretty hard, and the evidence I found is that the way forward is to look at the problem logically and in depth, conduct serious research and then take well-considered action.

Many people support presumed consent because they intuitively feel that it must make a difference. Opinion polls show support, and it is not surprising that they do. When people are going around saying that the change to presumed consent will increase the number of organs available, others will automatically say that they are in favour, but the reality is not what they think. There is a misconception that, if a citizen does not put their name on a centralised, opt-out register, their organs can be used for transplantation. This is a half-consent system, and it is not the presumed consent system that is being proposed. With soft opt-out, or presumed consent with safeguards—these are the phrases used—the actual decision to donate still rests with potential donor’s family, as happens under the current system. The key issue—the point raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Mr Evans)—is that the donor’s wishes are known by his or her next of kin.

It is always dangerous to draw conclusions from international examples but, for many years, Spain was presented by those who support presumed consent as proof of the effectiveness of that system. Since the late 1980s, Spain has had the best rate of organ donation in the world and has rightly been recognised as a model for other countries. Because Spain legalised presumed consent in 1979, it has been assumed that this played a key part in its success. However, the 1979 legislation to introduce presumed consent had no impact whatsoever on Spanish donation rates. Key organisational changes introduced 10 years later, in 1989, delivered the success of which Spain is so rightly proud. Spain does not have, and has never had, an opt-out register.

The director of the Spanish organ donation body, Dr Rafael Matesanz, has said that the 1979 legislation is dormant and plays no role in Spain’s outstanding organ donation rates, but this fact does not deter the supporters of presumed consent. They now ignore Spain, citing cultural differences to explain why Spain is not a good example to follow. They also ignore the fact that the United States has one of the best organ donation rates in the world, despite there being no presumed consent there. In fact, civil liberties issues in the States would almost certainly prevent presumed consent being introduced there.

The focus now has moved to Belgium and to studies performed in Belgium 25 years ago, between 1984 and 1987. I tried to discover what happened, because I want to see more organs donated. If a system works, and there is evidence to show that it works, it is important that we study to such examples, so I have gone to a lot of trouble to find out what happened in Belgium.

Belgium introduced presumed consent legislation in 1986. The key result was that the rate of kidney transplantation in Belgium rose from 200 per annum in 1984-85 to 300 per annum in 1987. Again, under more detailed examination, the claim that this is the consequence of presumed consent just does not stand up to scrutiny. The results of these studies were published, as a page and a half meeting report, in 1990, by L Roels and co-workers, Transplantation Proceedings, volume 22, pages 2078 to 2079. The authors state clearly that the presumed consent legislation

“was consolidated by a nationwide information campaign about the benefits of organ donation…and is being maintained by continuous efforts to inform healthcare professionals about the modalities of organ procurement procedures.”

More importantly—crucially—the authors go on to say:

“Whereas before 1986 most smaller non-university hospitals were reluctant to participate in organ donation activities, by lack of any legal security in the absences of an adequate legislation. The majority of organs harvested” —

I do not like that word; I prefer “donated” —

“during the last 3 years were performed in this particular group of hospitals.”

Presumed consent was clearly a major factor in increasing organ donation in Belgium in the 1980s, but it is irrelevant to the current position in the UK because the legal certainties have never been an issue. It may have had some influence in Belgium but it is clear that Belgium is a very weak example of evidence on which to base a major change in UK policy.

As I understand his argument, the hon. Gentlemen is saying that in other countries other measures have worked to increase the level of donation, but he also seemed to be arguing that presumed consent would make matters worse, and reduce the number of organs donated. Can he explain how that mechanism would work?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because I would not want there to be a misunderstanding. I gave a direct quote from the organ donation taskforce set up by the previous Government, which said that there was no evidence of an increase, and indeed some danger that there might be a negative effect. I used that quote as a challenge to those who are suggesting that the taskforce report shows positive support. I did not suggest that presumed consent will decrease the level of donation.

It strikes me that the hon. Gentleman is saying that we have a choice – either presumed consent and no awareness-raising, or awareness-raising in the hope that that will generate more organ donation. From our nation of Wales, in the UK, we know that one person a week dies because they cannot have a transplant. I was on the Welsh radio programme “Dau o’r Bae” recently when one of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, the Rev. Felix Aubel, was adamantly in favour of presumed consent, and felt that there were very few ethical considerations against. There is quite a diversity of views, but I would contend that there is not the polarity that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution, but I have not thought of this as being in any way a political issue. I know that there will be members of my party who will take a different view. For me, this is an issue purely outside party politics.

Of the people who died last year waiting for organs, 50 died in Wales, and the evidence from the world experience is that the system being proposed by the Welsh Assembly will reduce that number of deaths. The hon. Gentleman has produced nothing to suggest that that is not the case.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I simply do not accept that. The evidence actually shows the opposite of what he has just said, and he is ignoring that evidence. This is an issue of such importance to me—probably the most important issue to me since I have been a Member of Parliament—that I have looked carefully at the evidence. I do not want to be advocating a course of action that in some way negates that evidence, and I do not think that that is what I have been doing.

The hon. Gentlemen has been very careful. He has cited the experience of Belgium and Spain. Would he also cite the experience of the survey held by the Kidney Wales Foundation, looking at 22 different countries, comparing the rates of donation and concluding that presumed consent would increase the rate of donation by up to 30%?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I referred to Spain because that is the example that all those who seek presumed consent have quoted for many years. I then referred to Belgium because when it was shown that the evidence from Spain did not support that argument, the example then used was Belgium. If there is evidence from 22 more countries, then I will have to see the results from them as well. I just do not accept that the international evidence supports the move to presumed consent at all.

I would like to explore this issue for slightly longer. The evidence indicates that what is important is the awareness, not the presumed consent. The Minister, on a point that I hope to raise with her later, wrote to me to indicate that awareness-raising, from just undertaking the taskforce report, has resulted in donation rates increasing by 28% over the last three years. Nobody could say that that is because of the system – it is because of communication and information.

I am hoping to come to this issue if I have time at the end of my speech. It is a crucial issue. I value the help that the British Medical Association has given me over the years. However, the Parliamentary brief from the BMA, which I referred to before, shocked me a bit; so I have gone to some trouble to understand its position. The BMA agrees with the move to presumed consent, and has done for many years. The position of the BMA is of great interest. It has been a vocal supporter of presumed consent since it adopted the policy in 1998, long before the report of the organ donation taskforce, which was a comprehensive study into the issue.

The BMA’s current position was overwhelmingly endorsed a few months ago at its annual representatives meeting, a very important meeting which was held in Cardiff and attended by hundreds of doctors representing regional groups throughout the United Kingdom and some special interest groups. Many dozens of motions were discussed over three days and votes are taken. A vote of 51% of those in the hall makes what is being discussed policy for the BMA. It seems scarcely credible that an important organisation can make policy on a complex issue in this way—as a sort of public speaking competition, rather than on the basis of detailed research. I do not accept that the BMA’s position on presumed consent can be treated seriously until it reforms the way it makes policy on complex issues. Given the influence of the BMA on public opinion, and that patients’ lives are at stake, there is a powerful moral obligation for it to undertake substantial research into this position before it continues to carry forward an issue that in my view damages the cause that it purportedly supports.

What is the way forward for patients who are at the heart of the debate? I want to come to the positive way forward. We know that the rate of organ donation is influenced by three crucial factors. The first is the number of potential donors. With rare exceptions, potential donors are comatose patients on life support machines in intensive care units. Inevitably, the level of intensive care provision is a crucial aspect of organ donation, and it is relatively poor in the United Kingdom.

That is one factor. Identification of all potential donors is another. Every patient who is a potential donor should be given the opportunity to become a donor, by early identification and discussion with his or her family. The Spanish have an extensive system of transplant co-ordinators, involving mainly part-time intensive care physicians. There is a lesson there for the UK.

Consent from the patient’s family is also key. This is influenced by background knowledge of transplantation and organ donation; the professionalism of timing, as to when we approach the family; trust in the medical profession and knowledge of their loved one’s wishes. Spain has a national training programme for its co-ordinators and a 24-hour information helpline open to the press and public, and places a high priority on public relations.

Consent cannot be legislated for. In 1990, the refusal rates in the UK and in Spain were the same, at about 40%. Over the last 20 years, the refusal rate in the UK has stayed roughly the same. In Spain, it has fallen gradually to the current level of 15%. There is a dramatic difference in what has happened in Spain, as a result of the systems outside presumed consent. That is the example that we should be following.

The second report of the organ donation taskforce recommended improvement in transplant co-ordination, which is being implemented. This is where the numbers I referred to earlier become apparent: the huge 25% rise in the UK and the 60% rise in Wales. It is a fantastic achievement. This is the approach we should be taking forward, which leads me to the final part of my speech this morning.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a particular problem with organ donation in black and minority ethnic communities? What does he think we ought to do, if we are not aiming for a soft opt-out, to raise the profile of organ donation to tackle health inequalities in these communities?

The figures that I have seen show that the refusal rate in those communities is much higher in Britain. The rate of allowing organs to be donated by the next of kin is actually reducing among the non-BME population in Britain. So there is a lot of work. I do not know the answer to that. I do not want to make suggestions that I have not researched. I am trying to stick to the research, and I have not done research into that, although it is clearly an issue. It was a specific part of a debate here about two months ago and it is an issue we must tackle.

Finally, those of us who disagree with the proposals being put forward by the Welsh Government and advocated by my friends at Kidney Wales Foundation and the BMA have a responsibility to engage seriously with what is a genuine attempt to increase the availability of organs for transplant. It is a worthy objective. It is accompanied by a commitment to invest considerable sums of public money to achieve it. It has led to a lot of debate already, particularly in Wales, to this debate today, and will lead to much more. Many hon. Members are interested in the debate. If Wales and the Welsh Government seek to introduce the legislation, there will be huge debate across the UK. The debate itself is hugely helpful.

The final point I want to make this morning is that we should build on what is so obviously working. There is currently a national transplant week and a national donor day. However, these do not impinge as much on the national consciousness as we would like them to in the UK. I admit that I did not know that they occurred. If part of the extensive resources which would be used to implement the presumed consent legislation were to be used to create a national donor and transplantation day in Wales, what a difference that could make. It could have real impact. The resources could be used to celebrate the donors and their families of the preceding year on television, radio and the newspapers. The success stories of the recipients of new organs who are living a full life would be inspirational as examples and would help discussion about this issue, so that next of kin would know what their families’ wishes were.

Would the hon. Gentleman consider the advantages of trying to have specific points in people’s lives when they are asked about organ donation, such as when they get their driving licence or their national insurance number, or something like that, so that there is a methodical way of asking people to sign up?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the point. That is not directly related to the debate today, but the point raised would support and strengthen the current system of an opt-in card, and it is a good idea. I have thought about it a lot and most people would accept that that is a reasonable way forward. It asks people their opinion and requires them to think about the issue. As long as we can extend that—having them tell their next of kin what their position is—it could be very successful.

We could learn from what has happened in Spain: Spain is the most successful country in the world. We also could establish a 24-hour information telephone line, with many more lines available on the national organ donor and transplantation day, if it were set up. On that day the people of Wales could be encouraged at every opportunity to tell their loved ones and their next of kin what their wishes are regarding organ donation. Husbands, wives and children will always be asked their permission. If you are ever unfortunate enough to be a potential donor, you need to have your next of kin know your wishes, so that they will be implemented. Telling them your wishes is much simpler, hugely cheaper, more effective and far more flexible than presumed consent legislation. Establishing a national database is expensive; overseas experience suggests that only 1% or perhaps 2% of the population are likely to use it. We know that it is more probably some 10% of people who do not want their organs to be donated; those are the figures we get—that about 90% of people are content.

This is a poor substitute. We all need more organs available for transplant. There is no dispute about that—it is a worthy objective that nearly everybody signs up to. Building on the success that we are achieving, involvement in a transplant co-ordination system is the way to go. Building on the evidence and on our experience, we know that that is what works; not creating a bureaucratic, superficially attractive, presumed consent system that simply will not deliver what we all want.

As so many Members wish to speak, I will call the two Front Benchers at 10.40 am, giving them 10 minutes apiece, but I would appreciate short contributions in order to get as many people in as possible.

This debate reinforces the view that Assembly Members never actually leave the Assembly, but continue their debates here in Westminster. This morning’s debate is not for us. The Government have 400 commitments in the coalition agreement; if they have 401 commitments then there is even less chance that they will deliver on this. There is no likelihood of change.

I reassure the hon. Member that this issue was never raised during the eight years I served as a member of the Welsh Assembly.

It is now a live issue in the Assembly. We are not the Assembly, we are a British Parliament, and I question whether this is an issue of primary concern. Of course we should talk about it, but sadly any possibility of reform is remote in this Parliament, although it is a live issue in Wales. This debate has been called in order to influence the debate in Wales and it is questionable whether it is a legitimate use of parliamentary time.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing this debate. On whether this is an issue to be debated in Westminster or in the Welsh Assembly, is the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) implying that no contribution to the debate can be made in a Westminster context? There is a real question mark as to whether the Assembly has the legislative competence to deal with the issue.

I served in Parliament before there was a Welsh Assembly, unlike the two hon. Gentlemen. Since it has come into being I have absolutely never, at any time, become involved with, made speeches on, or interfered in those responsibilities of education and health in Wales, which are the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly. We have to accept that and realise that there are Welsh Assembly responsibilities and other responsibilities here. I do not want to labour that point, however, because there is a more important point to be made—

No, I will not. I have been asked to be brief. We must get away from what we are hearing from prattling prelates and procrastinating politicians and look at the real issue. We cannot talk about a system that is working well, as was suggested this morning, when 1,000 families were bereaved last year in the UK and 50 families were bereaved in Wales. I will not talk about one family in my constituency where a young woman died waiting for an organ transplant because it is too heartbreaking a story, but I want to say something about the reality. Despite all the fine theories and words ahead, what is happening to real people in our constituencies?

Some of us listened to the testimony of Matthew Lomas and his mother when they came to Parliament a month ago. It was a dreadful story of suffering that moved us all. Matthew and his brother were born with congenital heart defects and they both had pacemakers. Matthew was suddenly getting a great deal of pain and discomfort and was taken to the hospital, where the diagnosis was a sombre one. His heart was growing and he would eventually die. He was told that on a scale of one to 10 his chance of surviving was at 9.9, and the family prepared for Matthew’s death. They were told that a heart transplant was a possibility, so they arranged for him to go to Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth hospital, where he had a series of assessments. When the doctor told them that he would have to have a transplant, his mother said:

“Matt and I stared at each other it was so surreal. Had we both heard the same thing? We didn’t talk. Matt may have wept, I can’t be sure. I felt numb and could only think about my son who I had just been told was dying.

The sister came back in. ‘Had you been expecting to hear that?’ she asked gently. ‘No!’ we said together. It was the first thing we had said since hearing the awful news. ‘I thought Matt would need a new pacemaker.’ I said.”

She told the story—which some hon. Members will have heard—of the dreadful things that happened from then on. There were false alarms; a call from Birmingham came at 2 o’clock in the morning. They prepared themselves and started to drive up the motorway, only to be told when they were halfway there that the heart was not suitable. There were many other false alarms along the way. Eventually the transplant did occur—I find it difficult to read the whole story so I will cut it short. The family went through agony as the young man approached death. He was fitted with a device that would keep him alive for 28 days, but death was a certainty at the end. By good fortune—not from the wisdom of politicians or prelates—he survived. He is at home now and has a life expectancy of five years.

Another constituent of mine, a young woman the same age as Matt, died last year because there was no heart available. I believe we must say—because the overwhelming evidence is there in spite of what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) said this morning—that the weight of the medical evidence shows the best way forward, and that is the decision that the Welsh Assembly is about to take. For goodness sake, instead of going along as we are—particularly today—serving the few rather than the many and talking about our various political differences, let us realise that this is an area in which we politicians can save lives and lift the burden of anxiety from families waiting for organs. We know that all of the evidence—the fair evidence, not the procrastinating evidence we have heard this morning—shows that there will be more organs available. For goodness sake, let us allow the Welsh Assembly a free run to get on with it and lead the country as it has in the past with other reforms. We hope that England and the rest of the United Kingdom will follow suit when the reforms produced by the Welsh Assembly are proved to be a great success.

Thank you, Mr Crausby. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning and I will be as brief as I can. I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr Davies) on securing this debate. I know that he has taken a keen interest in this matter over many years and he spoke with customary conviction while presenting his case. I do not agree with his case, but nonetheless I respect his conviction.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a way in which we can present this argument that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire, and to the contrary by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn)?

The hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) also spoke with characteristic passion, and he spoke with passion about constituents, which is an important point to make. Another important point to acknowledge is that this is not a partisan issue. I happen to support the stance taken by the Welsh Assembly Government. It is not a Government that my party is part of, but I support the initiative of both Health Ministers in the Assembly, who happen to be Labour Members.

I will briefly explore the Assembly Government case and endorse the work of the British Medical Association. I will also highlight the work of the Kidney Wales Foundation, the British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK Wales, the British Lung Foundation and the Kidney Welsh Patients Association.

I am not going to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I will proceed because many others want to speak.

Members of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs received the request for legislative competence on this matter, although mercifully that was superseded by the referendum result, which conveyed greater powers to the Welsh Assembly. That is why it is now able to proceed in the legislative way that it is. The debate has, of course, been triggered by the publication of the White Paper by the Assembly Government on 8 November, which proposes a soft opt-out organ donation scheme for Wales, with a view to that becoming fully operational in Wales in 2015. Both contributions we have heard this morning have acknowledged the tragically large waiting lists for donors: 10,000 people UK-wide, 500 in Wales. The wider public support was acknowledged by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire.

It was also acknowledged that earlier committee work had been undertaken in the National Assembly, and the committee was not exactly ringing in its endorsement of a soft opt-out proposal, although it did not rule that out. The then Health Minister opened the matter to public consultation, and some 81% of respondents in 2009 indicated that they were supportive of a soft opt-out scheme.

Despite those statistics and the overwhelming public approval for a scheme, tragically only 29% of us have signed up for organ donation. There has been much mention of the international comparisons. I will not dwell on them, other than to cite again the comparison highlighted by the Kidney Wales Foundation. It looked at 22 different countries with opt-out schemes—not just Belgium or Spain—and found that over 10 years there was a 25% to 30% higher donation rate than for informed consent schemes. I appreciate what has been said about an evidence-based scheme, but we must not be selective in the evidence used. That is critical—we need to look at the whole picture.

I strongly contend that a soft opt-out approach must not be seen in isolation. The Assembly Government is not arguing that a soft opt-out scheme alone will work and do the job that we all wish to see. As the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said in her intervention, we need to heighten publicity, which is absolutely critical. Initiatives such as the use of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, so that when people apply for a driving licence they are asked whether they wish to join a scheme, would play an implicit part in a soft opt-out scheme.

I will carry on, because I am conscious of time.

Critically, the Assembly Government has also responded to the need to increase infrastructure to cope with transplants. It is clearly developing that: the transplant directorate of the University hospital of Wales in Cardiff is the only transplant organisation responsible for kidney and pancreas transplantation in south and mid-Wales. In March, £2.4 million was spent on the Cardiff transplant unit, which has been opened with a dedicated transplant team and with new recruits of surgical and nursing staff. The Assembly Government also committed £1.5 million to implement the recommendations of the organ donor taskforce. Infrastructure and public information, coupled with a soft opt-out scheme, is the key.

Finally, and critically, we need to address the ethical issue. The soft opt-out scheme has been described as somehow being ethically improper. I think that is probably the view—I hope I do not do him a disservice—of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire. That view has certainly been expressed by the Archbishop of Wales. I would not dare to describe him in the glowing way that the hon. Member for Newport West did; I am a member of his Church, and I deeply respect the Archbishop of Wales. He has highlighted the issue of the relative power of the state and the individual.

As a Liberal—call me an old-fashioned liberal—I very much want to see the emphasis on individual choice. The hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) alluded to that point in her intervention. There will still be choice—the choice to opt into a scheme is still there. The archbishop’s article in the Western Mail stated:

“Organ donation…ought to be a matter of gift. If one takes organs without consent, on the assumption that a person is tacitly assenting by not opting out, then that is no longer a free gift to others. An organ donation ought to be precisely that…an act of love and generosity.”

I agree with those sentiments, but I do not accept that opting out in any way conspires against the spirit of generosity. That is where public information and the awareness issue are so important.

What we need to do, which is what the Assembly Government seek to do, is to extend that spirit of generosity so that it becomes the norm and so that the discussions that every family will have to have throughout people’s life about such matters are very much the reality. That puts the onus on the individual to make informed choices, and that should be highlighted. A point has been made about relatives and members of families. The soft opt-out option means—this has been made open to consultation by the Welsh Government—that there is a specific role for members of bereaved families, whose views will be taken into consideration.

I perhaps started this process as an intuitive supporter of soft opt-out. I remember going to a meeting organised by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) earlier this year, when we met people who were waiting for transplant operations. There is a healthy impatience, certainly in the Assembly Government and among others of us, to see the issue resolved.

The hon. Member for Newport West talked about his constituency cases. One benefit of the House rising early yesterday was that I was able to watch a little more television than usual. I watched an excellent documentary last night about a young couple from Exeter: 21-year-old Kirstie has been waiting several years for a lung transplant. She struggled through her teenage years, and she even struggled through her wedding day while being unclear whether she could actually survive the day. The highs and the lows—the highs were that on two occasions she received telephone calls saying that a donor was available; the lows were realising that the donor was not appropriate. Miraculously, as she reached the end of her life, a suitable donor was found, and Kirstie is now recovering and enjoying an increasingly full life. Sadly, many of our constituents are not so lucky, which is why many of us are very impatient and why the National Assembly Government have taken the lead in pushing for a soft opt-out option.

I thought that I should speak, and it is a pleasure to do so, on this matter, which is one of some importance to me. Every person in this House agrees that something must happen. It is the strategy or the policy for the way forward that is the issue. I have to say that I totally support the point of view of the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn).

I have carried a donor card—it is a bit faded, but it is still a donor card—for more than 20 years. This is the second or third one. If this body that I stand in today should be in an accident, and there is an opportunity for donations, I would like my body to be used for that purpose to give life to others. That is a personal opinion. There will be others in this House who carry donor cards, and they will be of the same opinion.

My nephew Peter is a recipient of an organ donation. He received a kidney. I can well remember the day he was born—he is a year younger than my elder son—and he was a wee boy. He was born with about half a kidney, and it was touch and go the whole way through his life. The result of it all was that he received a donor kidney, and today his whole life has changed. Today he races motor bikes—a bit of a tradition in our family—and he has a job and a full-quality and normal life. That is good news.

In my constituency of Strangford, we had the opportunity to have a memorial garden. That was an initiative that came from local people, who worked with the Ards borough council and ensured that a portion of land was set aside earlier on this year—in May or June—for a memorial garden so that those who are recipients of donor organs and those families whose loved ones have passed on have somewhere where they can go to have a moment of quietness or of contemplation.

Some eight years ago, just a mile from the location of that garden, an accident took place in which one person was killed instantly and another survived for a few days. Months afterwards, the father of one of them came to see me. He was still heartbroken, but he told me that his son had managed, as a result of his death, to pass on organ donations, and the gift of life, to five families. That is another illustration of the quality of life that can arise out of such events.

I am conscious of time, but I shall make three quick points. Just four weeks ago, I put down an early-day motion for the House to consider. Through that, I became conscious that we need to do something better, because the system we have today is not working. Organ donations are not coming through and we must do something about that. We need to think outside the box, if I may use that terminology—it is used often about many things. People of the vintage of 70 to 80 years old should not be excluded from organ donation. If their bodies or organs are healthy, why not use donations from people of that age? Perhaps the Minister can give us an idea about that in her response.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) mentioned the TV programme, which I had actually seen the night before, although it was the same one. It very clearly illustrated the highs and lows of people who are waiting on organ donation—the highs when they think it is their turn and the lows when they find out that it is not suitable. It charted the life of one person through her youth, her marriage and the countdown of days after the marriage until she was on a life-support machine and had only three days to live, and then the organ donation came through. Again, that illustrates very clearly the things that we need to do.

I have been contacted by many constituents who are aware of the issue, of the need for organ donations and of the need for that to happen quickly. My last point is in relation to those who need a transplant, but—nobody has yet mentioned this—have a rare blood group. What are the chances of someone with a rare blood group receiving an organ donation from someone of that particularly group? It is one of those 100 to one or 1,000 to one chances. We therefore have to do something different. Whether that means a pilot scheme, so that people are automatically organ donors unless they say otherwise, which is what I believe we need; I would go a stage further, although I am not sure that everyone would agree.

Unless we have a system in place that gives the individual an option and ensures that organ donations can come through, we are not serving our people or our country well. I urge hon. Members to think very honestly about the issue and to move forward in a positive fashion. We need organ donation, we need it on a different system and we need it now.

In October 2006, my constituent Mrs Jeanette Crizzle very sadly died from acute myeloid leukaemia. Her husband Adam decided to set up the Jeanette Crizzle Trust, of which I have the privilege to be a trustee, to promote what has become NHS Blood and Transplant’s give and let live education programme for schools. At that time, we went to see the then Health Minister—she is now the Labour Chief Whip—and she kindly agreed to get the programme under way. Young people are the donors of the future and it is vital that we reach them. They are the ones who will keep future blood stocks healthy and provide life-saving organs in years to come.

The significance of that for this debate is that my constituent Mr Adam Crizzle, once his wife had very sadly passed away, did not leap to the conclusion that we should have a system of presumed consent; he leaped to the conclusion that we should increase awareness to encourage people to become donors in the future. That is something that I am very happy to support.

I am sure that we can all agree with the comments made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) showing that the present system is not working well enough. Where we might disagree is how to make it work better. I come down firmly on the side of arguing that there is plenty more opportunity to increase the awareness and to encourage people to become donors.

I take this opportunity to praise NHS Blood and Transplant for the give and let live donor education programme. I am pleased that the Health Minister has agreed to meet Mr Adam Crizzle next month to explore ways in which that programme can be further advanced and improved. Some three quarters of schools are involved in the programme, which is targeted at 14 to 16-year-olds. However, many schools have not yet been reached, and I am sure that the Department of Health can build on the initial successes in the early years of the programme to ensure that it is extended even further.

I apologise to you, Mr Crausby, for not being able to stay to the end of the debate to hear the Minister’s remarks. However, I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) for securing this debate and for highlighting this important issue, and I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have contributed their passionate views to the debate.

This is a political issue. It may not be a purely party political issue, but it is a political issue, because ultimately it is decided by politicians. If a similar proposal were introduced for other parts of the United Kingdom in this House, it would probably be whipped by the Government, who I imagine would take a political position on the issue. That may or may not be the case, but whether or not the issue is party political, it is political because it is about life-and-death matters affecting our constituents, matters that are ultimately decided by politicians. That is our duty and we should not give politics a dirty name by saying it is not a political issue, because politics is important—often, it is a life-and-death matter—and this is one example.

I listened carefully to the arguments of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies). I absolutely accept that he is entirely sincere in making those arguments and that he has considered the matter very seriously. I know that, through a close friend, he has personal experience of the issues involved. I also know of his work with the Kidney Wales Foundation, a charity that is located in my constituency and has done such sterling work to move the issue up the agenda in Wales and to help develop the proposal brought forward by the Welsh Assembly Government.

However, I struggle to understand the logic of the hon. Gentleman’s position. He appeared to be saying something with which we can all agree—that increasing the levels of organ donation will not simply happen through a proposal such as soft presumed consent and that other things could and should be done to increase organ donation. As he rightly said, the very fact that the previous Prime Minister raised this matter from the top and generated a taskforce and a debate has helped to improve organ donation, in the same way that the Alder Hey scandal had the opposite effect on rates of organ donation in the past decade.

There are things that can be done. One study cited in the science section of the Library’s note, which hon. Members may have read, stated that the four main factors for high donation rates are “an opt-out policy”, which we are here to debate, and

“a large number of transplant centres…a high percentage of the population enrolled in university education…and a high percentage of Roman Catholics”.

That may explain the sanctimonious hyperbole of the Archbishop of Wales on the issue. He may want to reconsider the position that he has taken and to consult some of his ecumenical colleagues in other parts of the Christian faith.

The reason why I struggle with the logic of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire is that he said that his objection was not ethical. We do not therefore have to deal with the issue of whether the proposal is an imposition by the state, which should not in any way presume anything about what should happen to the organs of someone who has died. He said at the outset of the debate that his objection was not on such grounds; he said that he wanted to cite the evidence. When I asked him whether he thought such a soft organ donation proposal would make matters worse, he said that a line in the taskforce report stated that that was a possibility, but that that was not his position and that he was not arguing that a proposal for soft organ donation would make matters worse. At the very least, all the proposal would do, according to his own argument, is make things no better. Yet he accepts that, by raising the debate and the issue, organ donation rates are likely to increase.

My argument is that the proposal is not a significant imposition on the individual human rights of people, because it is soft organ donation. In practice, what would happen is that, when an organ becomes available, it will be presumed that the donor had consented but there is still the safeguard that the relatives of that donor have to be consulted. All that would change would be the nature of the question. It would no longer be, “Your loved one did not carry a donor card and did not indicate consent before this misfortune befell them, would you agree to their organs being donated?” Instead, the question would be, “As you know, in this jurisdiction it is presumed that consent is given unless somebody opts out, and therefore we intend to proceed unless you decide to veto that process.” That is the difference. In my view, logic tells us that, in those circumstances, it is likely that more organs will be donated. Even if that was not the case, and even if, as has been said, it made no difference whatever, are we not right to try?

I believe that the proposal will be a success, and we should try it. This is the advantage of devolution: it is possible for the proposal to be tried in one part of the United Kingdom just as the smoking ban was tried despite massive objections from all sorts of people. That proved a huge success and the ban was adopted in other parts of the United Kingdom. I think the same will happen in this instance.

I accepted in my speech that the proposal in Wales may have triggered my debate in some way, but this is an issue for the United Kingdom. We have all spoken about a situation that needs to be improved, and that needs to happen across the United Kingdom. That is what today’s debate is about.

Indeed, and I accept that. As I just said, I believe that the proposal in Wales will, eventually, lead to an improvement right across the United Kingdom.

On the constitutional point, the Welsh Government have taken legal advice and believe that they have the necessary jurisdiction to undertake the reform. If the United Kingdom Government and their legal advisers do not believe that to be the case, how should the Welsh Government react? I will tell you, Mr Crausby: they should react by making sure that they make any necessary changes to ensure that it is absolutely clear that the Welsh Government have the necessary jurisdiction to make that reform. Otherwise, we are heading for an unnecessary constitutional crisis. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Health will make the issue clear when she replies to the debate.

I am grateful to be called, Mr Crausby, and I shall be brief.

First, I should like to place on record my thanks to Mr Max Gabe Wilkinson, my former neighbour, who was the founder of the Kidney Research Foundation in Wales. More than 30 years ago, he signed me up to a donor card. I can say to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) that, as the vice-president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, I have been a declared donor ever since, and therefore this is no prelatory speech.

My concern is to maintain the integrity of organ donation, and confidence and trust in the system. In context of UK policy and its impact on what is happening in Wales, my remarks today will be limited to what has happened in trying to promote more organ donation through the DVLA website. As part of a policy that applies to all of the United Kingdom—the Minister is aware of my concerns because I have written to her—it is legitimate to say to people, “Do you wish to opt into organ donation?” That new system has been in operation since 1 August, but in Wales, there is no capacity to say no. My hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) put his finger on it when he said that there should be the option to say no. The Minister has helpfully written to me to say that there does not need to such an option because people can change their minds and decide to opt in later on. But if we are to have two separate systems, the option in Wales, as one of my constituents has written to me to point out, is that one cannot opt out if one is proceeding to declare a viewpoint on the DVLA website. Therefore, ultimately, if legislation is introduced in Wales—I am not expressing an opinion as to whether that legislation should be passed or not—there would have to be a different approach. Otherwise, one fundamentally undermines people’s ability to be confident that if they want to opt out, they can say so. They cannot exercise that choice on the current DVLA website.

Why is that important? It is important because we need to maintain that trust, and at the same time maintain the legal integrity of the system. Although it has been said that everything will be fine, and never mind about the legal competence, the issue relates to the position of the European Court of Human Rights. In the event of something going wrong, heaven forbid, we could end up with a negative situation in which the process that is adopted in Wales fundamentally undermines confidence in organ donation altogether. Those factors need to be in Ministers’ minds, and that is why I wanted to make a brief contribution to the debate.

Order. I am going to ask the Front-Bench spokesmen to speak at 10.40, so I ask for a short contribution from David Simpson.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak, and I will be very brief.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on his passionate speech, and I understand how he feels. If we put ourselves in the position of those who are waiting on transplants, the picture is entirely different. If any one of us sitting in this room were waiting on a liver transplant, a lung transplant or whatever, we would do anything to cling on to life for our families and our children.

I accept the moral and ethical issues, and personally I might have issues about the moral aspect, but would it really matter to one of us in this room whether it was an opt out, opt in, moral or ethical choice? If you had to grasp on to life, you would do anything. Having said that, I understand that there is wealth of different arguments and opinions in this room, but life is life, and we must try to help those who are waiting on organ transplants.

Between April 2010 and March 2011, more than 1,000 lives were saved in the United Kingdom from lung, heart, liver or combined transplants. As has already been said, those people would be dead today without those transplants. That represents 1,000 families who still have their loved ones with them. When we look at the percentages, transplants are now so successful in the United Kingdom that, a year after surgery, 94% of live donor transplant kidneys are still functioning well; 88% of kidneys from people who have died are still functioning well, as are 86% of liver transplants, 84% of heart transplants and 77 % of lung transplants. That is a fantastic achievement for the medical profession.

Although there are moral and ethical issues, I believe that we should try to find some way around them. Not only should this argument be debated in this Chamber, but it should be debated in the main Chamber. We should find some resolution to it, because life is precious to no matter who it is. Perhaps a pilot scheme launched by the Welsh Assembly is the way forward, but I believe we must find a resolution. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) congratulated the give and let live campaign and that campaign should be extended. Primary schools were also mentioned in this respect. We hope and trust that a resolution can be found.

Genuinely held views have been expressed by Members in this debate. We heard from Members who are proud of their donor cards, but I would ask Members when they last saw an organ donor registration form. When was the last time that those Members were asked whether they would donate their organs when they die by those who do not know that those Members hold such donor cards? I agree with the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) that we need a methodical way in which people can sign up to the organ donor register. My hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) referred to the success of measures in terms of driving licence applications, but they have only got us so far. We must go further.

The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) put his finger on it when he spoke about the importance of attracting young donors to the organ donor register. Later on today, I will meet the Minister in the company of young campaigners, Abby Thackray and Hope Milne, whose sign up, speak up, save lives campaign featured on Channel 4’s “Battlefront” programme. While the debate continues in Wales, we have a suggestion that gives us something to proceed with in the meantime, on which we could make progress in the rest of the Union. With the introduction of individual voter registration, I believe that there is a fresh opportunity to use a paper-based, individual process to invite every adult, as part of a canvass, to be a new organ donor. I hope that the Minister will embrace that opportunity when we meet her and the Minister with responsibility for constitutional reform later today.

Thank you, Mr. Crausby. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing this debate. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) for his sterling effort in squeezing a whole speech into a minute and a half—he did very well.

The system of opt-in for organ donation has been the subject for debate for many years because of the serious shortage of organ donors and consequent waiting lists for transplant operations which has led to suggestions from a number of stakeholders that a review of the current approach to organ donation is long overdue. In the United Kingdom, the number of people awaiting transplant operations greatly exceeds the number of organs available. This shortage of organ donors means that some 400 patients, mainly those waiting for life-saving heart, liver or lung transplants, die each year before a suitable donor can be found. As we have heard during the course of this debate, the BMA, many transplant surgeons, patient groups and many hon. Members in both Houses would like the UK to adopt a system of presumed consent where it is assumed that an individual wishes to be a donor unless they have opted out by registering their objection to donation after death. I recognise that there are strong feelings on both sides of the debate, as we have heard today—not least those put so eloquently by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire.

Hon. Members who have served in this House for some time will be aware that the former Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), asked the organ donation taskforce to assess the possible impact of a change to presumed consent and the acceptability of such a change for the United Kingdom. By doing this, the previous Government recognised the complexity of the issues and widely differing viewpoints surrounding systems of consent to organ donation.

We know that the taskforce examined the complex moral and medical issues around presumed consent, including giving the family of the deceased a final say on the donation of any organs. It also looked at the views of the public, health organisations and other clinical, ethical, legal and social issues raised by a wide range of stakeholders, while at the same time establishing a series of expert working groups to help gather the relevant evidence. The Minister will be aware that the resulting report, entitled “The Potential Impact of an Opt Out System for Organ Donation in the UK” was published in November 2008, recommending that the current system of opt-in be retained and the recommendations of the taskforce’s earlier report on organs for transplant, produced in January 2008, be implemented. However, in July 2007, the chief medical officer supported the idea of an opt-out system with proper safeguards and good public information. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) also called for a public debate on the issue of presumed consent when he was Prime Minister and did not rule out changing the law to an opt-out system.

So what would actually happen under a system of opting out? It proposes that every person living in the country in which it is introduced is deemed to have given their consent to organ donation unless they have specifically opted out by recording in writing their unwillingness to give organs. Supporters of the introduction of such a system in the United Kingdom believe that establishing an automatic right to take organs when the donor has not expressed wishes to the contrary would lead to a significant increase in the number of potential donors. They also conclude that the relatives of, or those close to, a person who has not expressed a wish to donate would be relieved of the burden of making that decision at such a traumatic time.

However, one fear with presumed consent is that people will not get round to registering an objection and the subsequent expectation that organ donation should take place could lead to unnecessary distress for relatives and widespread adverse publicity. Many transplant recipients add that a donated organ is more easily accepted because they know that it has been positively given by the deceased whereas presuming consent would turn donation into an action by default.

Other concerns surround the potential medical risks involved in removing organs without full discussion with relatives. Families are a valuable source of information about their loved one’s previous health and relatives are questioned as part of the screening process. If an individual does not register an objection, it is possible that their silence may indicate a lack of understanding rather than agreement with the policy. It is because of these concerns that, in the majority of countries operating an opt-out system, health care professionals still consult the family to establish consent.

While always looking closely at both the pros and cons of the system of presumed consent, there is recognition across the health care profession and more widely that there is a crisis which leads to tragic loss of life—in the UK, at least one patient a day dies waiting for a transplant.

The former chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, was an enthusiastic supporter of presumed consent. He told The Guardian in 2007:

“We have something of a crisis in this country. Every day at least one patient dies while on the transplant waiting list. There are something like 7,000 people on the waiting list at any one time. There is a shortage of organs in this country and the situation is getting worse.”

A team at the centre for reviews and dissemination at the university of York focused on 13 studies and found strong links between presumed consent and increased donation rates. One of the studies found that donation rates were 25% to 30% with presumed consent. However, researchers also said that it was unlikely that presumed consent alone accounted for all of the effect as one study found that the number of transplant centres had a greater effect than an opt-out system. Other factors that had an effect on donation rates were death from road traffic accidents, health spending, public awareness and religion.

Support for presumed consent in the UK, as we have already heard, has grown steadily since 2000 and, in a survey carried out in 2007, 64% of respondents were in favour of moving to presumed consent. The BMA’s own figures are even more favourable, showing that around 70% to 90% of the population would be willing to donate their organs after death.

As I said earlier, when my party was in government, the then Health Secretary asked the organ donation taskforce to make specific recommendations to improve the infrastructure within which donation takes place and, since those were made, improvements have been achieved, with a 28% increase in donation rates over three years. The changes proposed by the taskforce include a wide range of measures designed to make the offer of donation a standard part of the care provided to dying patients—in the words of the taskforce, to make donation a

“usual and not an unusual event”.

As we have heard today, the Minister will be aware that this issue is being pursued in Wales with the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government recently publishing a White Paper on an organ donation Bill for Wales which suggests an opt-out system with safeguards. As we have heard today, the moral and ethical arguments continue. It is right that we have this debate and have it in the United Kingdom Parliament as well as in the Assembly and that we raise awareness of this issue and help to educate people.

I share the concerns expressed today about the insufficient organs donated in the United Kingdom. There is no doubt that we need more people to realise that organ donation saves lives. We know that, in future, organ shortages—particularly for kidneys—are likely to increase. I congratulate the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire on securing this important debate, thank all hon. Members for their contribution and look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government propose to resolve the crisis, what their position is on a presumed consent system and what action the Department of Health is taking to carry forward the work done by the previous Government on this issue.

Thank you Mr. Crausby. It is a pleasure to serve under you today. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing this debate on presumed consent. I also thank him for his thoughtful contribution. Like him, I am fixed only on the evidence. I do not have an ethical position on this—I will act on the medical evidence in front of me. Sometimes, with an issue like this, there is a huge danger that the plight of those waiting to have a transplant clouds the ability for some to consider the evidence clearly. What matters is what actually works. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), the shadow health spokesman, outlined some of the complex issues around presumed consent and what faces the public.

This is not a party political issue. It is an issue decided on by politicians, but I would be saddened if it became a party political issue. It is also not an opportunity to exchange insults. Rather, it is an opportunity to make a difference. So, if nothing else, I would urge hon. Members to leave the Chamber today, and call their local press to see whether. together, they can start a campaign to raise awareness and to begin a conversation in their constituencies. Politicians generally have considerable access to the press. On the whole, we are not averse to having the odd photo of ourselves. I am sure that we have opportunities to raise awareness of this important subject.

There are now about 10,000 people requiring a transplant. Three of them die every day waiting for a transplant or after they are taken off the list because, tragically, they are too ill. Research shows that the majority of people in the UK support transplantation. Extensive reference has been made to Wales, and we shall study those proposals carefully before we respond. But I want to make it clear that the Government do not believe that the introduction of presumed consent, by itself, will necessarily lead to an increase in donor rates. It is important that any Government keep the evidence under review.

As many hon. Members have said, the organ donation taskforce considered the issue of presumed consent in great detail. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Jonathan Evans) said, many of those involved in the taskforce changed their minds, and that is an important point to make. In its second report, published in 2008, the taskforce did not recommend introducing an opt-out system. It felt that an opt-out system would have the potential to deliver benefits but, as my hon. Friend said, it would also present significant challenges that would need to be overcome. Instead, the taskforce believed then, and believes now, that a significant increase in donor rates can be achieved by acting on the recommendations in the first report.

The UK needs to maximise its potential for donation and make organ donation a usual part of health care. We still believe that the implementation of those recommendations will result in an increase in organ donation rates at least 50% by 2013, and that is still on track. Through NHS Blood and Transplant, the number of specialist nurses, clinical leads, donation committees and donation chairs in acute trusts have all increased, and that has borne considerable fruit—since 2008, an increase of 31%, up from 28% —those are the most recent figures.

Some studies suggest a link between presumed consent and higher donor rates, but closer examination shows the picture to be very much more complex—my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) was so right. Spain has been quoted at length. It has a donor rate of 32 per million of population, compared to the UK’s 16 per million. They have presumed consent, but the architect of the “Spanish model” has repeatedly stated that the legal basis of consent is irrelevant to organ donation. What is critical is the organ donation and retrieval system in place, with highly trained staff and a well-designed donation framework, supported by high public awareness of the issues and benefits. We need awareness and a conversation with our families. In practice, I doubt whether there is a surgeon anywhere who would take an organ from somebody without the consent of their family.

I am pleased to report that organ donor rates have increased by around 31% since 2008 and we are on track to meet the 50% improvement. On top of that, over 18 million people, some 29% of the United Kingdom population, have added their name to the organ donor register. In 2010-11, there was a record number of deceased organ donors—1,010 donors compared with 745 in 2001-02. That year also saw a record number of transplants from deceased and living owners—3,740 transplants were carried out in the UK, compared with 2,600-odd in 2001-02. However, despite the progress, there is still a shortage of organs and I am surprised that more has not been made of the inequalities that surround this issue.

The situation is very serious for people from African-Caribbean and Asian backgrounds, who are three to five times more likely to need a kidney transplant. Almost a quarter, 23%, of patients waiting for a kidney are from black or minority ethnic groups but they make up only 8% of the UK population. Three quarters of people from a BME background refuse organ donation when asked, compared with an average figure of 40%. There is particular and specific issue, which we need to address, but it is not insurmountable. We need more people from BME communities to register to donate their organs and, more widely, there needs to be a greater understanding in BME communities of the problems that they face—a greater need for kidney transplants, longer waits and less well-matched organs being donated for their communities.

We cannot be complacent and must carry on the work of the previous Government through schemes such as the give and let live initiative; requiring people to answer a question on organ donation when applying for a driving licence on-line; signing on the organ donor register when applying for a European health insurance card or a Boots advantage card; and specific initiatives within the black and minority ethnic populations, like working with faith organisations, radio stations, charities and community groups. What we really need is for people to sign up to having a conversation with their families. That is what really matters.

Work continues at every level on referring and procuring organ donors. We are also trying to make organ donation a usual part of end-of-life care. I hope hon. Members will think on that for a moment. When we think about making organ donation a part of end-of-life care, one realises what a complex, emotional and sensitive issue this. The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) mentioned families talking about this matter. That is so critical, so that when tragedy comes, the transition to donation is simple.

We have set up a transitional steering group, and it will focus on six key areas: increasing consent rates; brain stem death testing in all appropriate cases; donation after circulatory death to be considered in all circumstances; increasing donation from emergency medicine; referral of potential donors; and improving donor management.

I thank hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions. I know that this is an emotive issue that raises strong feelings. We need an evidence-based approach. I thank all those in this country who have donated the organs of family members in the midst of the turmoil of death. That death has and does give life to others—not just one person, but often two, three or four people. Nothing can ever relieve the burden of grief or loss, but nothing can replace the gift of life that organ donation represents. We have to use every tool at our disposal to increase those donation rates. We have to remind people, at every opportunity, that this is about a gift of life and in particular focus on those communities that are more disadvantaged than others.

Water Bills (South West)

10.59 am

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Crausby, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to cover this particular topic. It will not be for the first time, I must say. Those who have sat in your position over the years have seen many debates secured by Members from our part of the world on this huge issue for our constituents: very high water bills.

We have moved on a little since we last met. I recall being here in March for a debate secured my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders), at which point we were still looking at how the responses to the Walker review of 2009 would come forward. We now have a concrete response from the coalition Government, about which I am delighted. Politicians are always looking out for our constituents, so there are one or two things I want to ask the Minister later, particularly about social tariffs and WaterSure, but I would like to start off the debate by congratulating the Department and the Minister’s colleagues across Government for the contributions they have made.

It bears repeating why we are in this situation and what the experience of our constituents has been in Devon, Cornwall and the west of Somerset and Dorset over the past couple of decades since privatisation. At the time of privatisation, there was an aspiration on the part of the Conservative Government to see private investment coming in to develop infrastructure that had been neglected. There is no doubt that it had been neglected for decades, but there was huge concern at the time from those who could not see how competition could work in a sector where there was one main supplier and one main company dealing with waste. That has been an issue, in that no sort of market emerged, unlike in other privatised industries.

The key question for us in the South West Water area was one of infrastructure. The company was able to do a huge amount, both to deal with the environmental legacy that it was left and to meet the requirements set by the Government and the European Union. We welcome that, of course. Organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage, which has been around and done fantastic environmental work over the years, were at the forefront of holding Government and industry to account to deliver on their commitments and obligations. While we have seen progress, investment can only be secured against an income stream. The company had to seek that investment—get investment from shareholders and go to the markets for money—on the basis of an income stream.

In Cornwall and south-west England, we have seen a huge legacy of environmental works that need to be carried out, to a far greater degree than any other part of the country. I refer to the fact that the population of Cornwall accounts for 3% of the population of England, but we have 30% of the coastline. That is an easy way to illustrate the scale of the problem; we have a large amount of work to do, but a relatively small population to pay for it, despite the fact that the coastline is a national treasure, if you like. It is enjoyed by people from across the country who come to take advantage of it. We have the south-west coast path and all sorts of attractions for people to come to enjoy the beaches and countryside of Cornwall and Devon, but we have not had a way to capture a contribution from those people towards the maintenance of infrastructure. It falls to people living closer to that national asset to pay for the whole lot.

There has been some concern in the press recently about the policy of contribution outlined in the Budget and referred to in the autumn statement, and the money set aside to help in this regard. There was an article in The Times last week, in which there were rumblings from other parts of the country about how unfair this was. I do not think that that unfairness exists; this is a much fairer solution to a problem that people in my constituency and those neighbouring it have experienced for a couple of decades. There is still, however, a lack of understanding. We have perhaps not made a big enough effort at national level to get across to those who are concerned in other parts of the country just why there is a desperate need.

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on having secured this important debate. I would like to congratulate the Government and welcome the announcement in the autumn statement yesterday, although I have to say that it was a 20-year ask. My hon. Friend referred to WaterSure and the social tariff. Does he agree that the statement yesterday does not mean that we should not also make a strong case for an equitable outcome with regard to the future statement on WaterSure and the social tariff when the water White Paper comes out next week?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Earlier, I hinted that I would return to that, and of course he understands that further questions remain, which, if settled fairly and equitably, could ensure that the contribution set aside in the Budget has the maximum impact, and that none of its benefits are lost through unintended consequences with regard to tariff schemes.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and would like to add my thanks to the Government for what is undoubtedly a great contribution to our household bills. Is my hon. Friend expressing concern that, while that is a good first step, we want to ensure that the benefit is not eroded by future changes? There is the prospect of further EU directives impacting on the cost of preserving our beaches.

We must always have an eye on those sorts of costs and look at any other measures that the Government introduce to deal with the emerging issue of water poverty, which is unfortunately catching up in other parts of England and Wales. Any measures to tackle that should not undermine the good done in the recent announcement.

The time of privatisation in the late 1980s was particularly fraught in my constituency, because it coincided with a water poisoning incident at the Lowermoor treatment works, which is still controversial today. A link was drawn between the fact that there was no inquiry into the incident at the time and the fact that privatisation was under way. I must say that that feeling still exists in the minds of many who feel that they may have been affected by that incident. There is an ongoing inquest in Taunton that is finally getting to the bottom of some of those questions. I pay tribute to Doug Cross for all the work that he and his fellow campaigners have done on that issue over the years.

We then moved into the period when it became apparent that all of this work needed to be done. It was done, and there have been huge improvements in water quality, with benefits to the local community and people from further afield who can come and enjoy our wonderful environment. After the departure of the last Conservative Government, we moved into the period of the Labour Government. I pay tribute to Linda Gilroy, a former Member who campaigned a lot on this issue. It was very helpful to have one Member on the Labour side—they were few and far between, and it is even further between in the south-west now—and she very much engaged with this, and was seeking a response.

Right at the end of the previous Government we had the Walker review. At the last gasp of their term in office, they finally had that review. I must say, however, that we had the feeling at the time that there was not going to be the kind of response that we wanted to hear, in terms of national recognition of this problem. We wanted the recognition that it needed to be handled at that level rather than by the relatively small population in the area. I was frustrated by the attitude of Ofwat in all of this. They could have played a much stronger role in advocating to the Government on the issue of unfairness and the problems it causes for bill payers and the industry in the south-west.

We move on, however, and we now have a coalition Government who put their determination to do something about this in the coalition agreement. I pay tribute to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on the Liberal Democrat side, and to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin) on the Conservative side. I know that both of them are determined to work with DEFRA to deliver on this and ensure that that commitment is met. However, with the very welcome £50 contribution towards each household’s domestic bills in the South West Water area, there are further decisions to be taken around WaterSure, which is a scheme that helps people who are in the most need with their bills. It is funded by a form of cross-subsidy from billpayers. The crucial question is whether that subsidy is a within-region subsidy, or whether it is a national one.

I have heard the view that it should just be within the water company’s area. However, that is a dangerous road to go down, for the following reasons. First, I believe that it should be about meeting need, wherever that need may be. Even after this £50 contribution to high water bills per household in the south-west, we will still have the highest water bills in the country, by some way. If we compare the average £517 annual charge in the south-west—and that is the average, of course; those who are unmetered will have a much higher charge—with the Thames Water figure of £319, we see that there is a £219 difference. The £50 will close that gap a bit, but it will still be considerable.

I accept that that is as far as the Government could go with that measure of financial support in the Budget. However, for customers still struggling with those high water charges, WaterSure is a lifeline. For those who are just above that threshold, as always, we have this issue. It would be unjust, having at last secured recognition and support from the Government, to see some of that £50 clawed back in a significant way to fund WaterSure, and also further in regional social tariffs, which is something that water companies are exploring.

South West Water have really engaged in this process. As a private company, it is a tricky thing for it to do; confronting the fact that it has the highest bills is perhaps something it does not want to talk about. However, I pay tribute to Chris Loughlin and the management of the company, who have been absolutely straightforward about the fact that this is the problem they are facing. They want a solution, and they want to play their part in driving forward efficiencies in the business. They were honest about the situation that we face.

South West Water also want to do more with social tariffs. However, the issue for the company is that if we were to have WaterSure funded only within the South West Water area, that would mean that every bill payer who is not on WaterSure would be paying approximately £3.41 towards those who are, whereas across the country the average funding for WaterSure on bills—I am sure the Minister will correct me if I get this wrong—is 30p to 40p. That is a far fairer way of dealing with the issue. Just because someone happens to live in the south-west, they should not be affected by these social tariffs to a greater degree than people elsewhere. The need for people to be on social tariffs in the South West Water area is much higher than in other parts of the country, because the bills are higher, but also because, despite what some might feel about the leafy south-west, it is an area of great poverty. My own region of Cornwall is in receipt of convergence money from the European Union in recognition of the fact that, sadly, our economy still has some way to go to catch up with the wider UK economy.

Another parallel that could be drawn is the issue of additionality. It was always a battle under the previous regional development agency regime to say that, just because we are getting the convergence money, we should not miss out on our fair share of the regional development agency’s money as well. It is supposed to be additional, to help us get to parity with everybody else. This £50, welcome though it is and a tribute to how the coalition Government is tackling these problems, should be in addition to WaterSure and social tariffs that come along. It is not a replacement for them. While the Minister’s Department is looking further at how these social tariffs could play a role in meeting that need, my key point today, in thanking the Minister and the Government for what they have done for our constituents with this £50 assistance, is to ask that when we return to the issue of WaterSure and social tariffs, we should, as far as possible, make them fair and focused on individuals, no matter where they are in the country, rather than being in some kind of fortress south-west, because we would then be taking a step back, having made a step forward. I would hate the Government to be doing that when they are at last making great progress on an issue which has been a huge problem for us over the past two decades.

First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) on introducing this debate in an extremely timely manner. Perhaps if it was this time yesterday he would have been extolling the Government to take yet more action, and I am very glad that we were able to deliver. It has been a feature of Parliamentary life that when two or more south-west MPs are gathered together, the issue of water charges is raised, and as the Minister responsible, I am well aware of its importance to a huge number of his and other hon. Friends’ constituents in various constituencies across the south-west.

This is a really important issue for those people, and I recognise the important point that my hon. Friend made at the end: welcome as the measure is, he and other Members from all parts of the House will continue to push on this issue until they feel that greater parity has been achieved in water charges. As he knows, the average water and sewerage bill for household customers across England and Wales is £356, but the average for South West Water, before we implement these changes, is £517. He and other hon. Members will have dealt with cases of constituents, many of them in extremely straitened circumstances, whose bills are considerably higher. I recognise that this is an ongoing discussion and one that I am keen to continue to have with hon. Members across the south-west.

I am delighted that the Government were able to announce details of support for customers of South West Water in the autumn statement yesterday. Every South West Water household bill, as my hon. Friend says, will be reduced by £50 a year. That follows the commitment made in the Budget earlier this year to use public expenditure to support households facing high bills. The Government had to act. In her review, Anna Walker identified the fact that households in the south-west of England faced the highest water bills in the country, because at the time of privatisation, South West Water had the lowest levels of infrastructure required to protect drinking water quality and safeguard the wonderful environment that my hon. Friend so accurately described. This was the biggest challenge facing any water company at privatisation and in the 20 years that have elapsed since then, South West Water has invested around £2 billion to raise sewerage standards to the same level as elsewhere.

Local people have benefited though improved water quality, reduced leakage, cleaner beaches and bathing water, but—and it is a very big but—the cost has been met by those customers. The Government recognise that circumstances faced by customers of South West Water are exceptional and unfair. We are now addressing this historic issue and will contribute to the cost of reducing bills. We looked very closely at Anna Walker’s recommendations, and that was a feature of the debate that my hon. Friend secured some months ago in this Chamber. We decided that each household customer should receive an annual discount on their water bill. I am very grateful to all the south-west MPs who have doggedly raised this issue and demanded action. It is in the hon. Gentleman’s character to be big enough to recognise the input from Members of all parties and, of course, to Linda Gilroy, who raised this question in her time in the House.

This is a fairness measure: a payment to all South West Water household customers to redress an historic unfairness. This debate comes just ahead of the water White Paper, of which a key theme is affordability. South-west MPs have often raised with me and my predecessors individual cases of people in their constituencies who really struggle to afford their bills. Thankfully, even before yesterday’s announcement, South West Water had taken action to address the region’s particular set of circumstances and to tackle affordability problems. The company has a free debt helpline that helps customers to set up payment plans, it offers water metering and water conservation advice, and it recognises that many people are able to reduce their bills and to use water more efficiently by having a water meter.

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall about Chris Loughlin and his team. I have worked closely with them, and they have an absolute and genuine determination to address the issues. South West Water works with local citizens advice bureaux and other experts, and it has introduced a range of initiatives to help those who find it difficult to pay their bills. It has established an advice gateway with south-west citizens advice bureaux and it trains and sponsors CAB debt advisers. Advice agencies such as the CAB can refer struggling customers to the company’s water care scheme and can obtain benefit entitlement checks, tariff checks, water efficiency advice and free efficiency devices.

South West Water also has a scheme for customers who are in debt, and I am very impressed by that work. I have been into households with advisers and seen the impact that they can have on the bills paid by people on low incomes just by installing a very few items or by changing those people’s behaviour, including what they do and how they use water throughout the day. That can have an enormous effect on household bills, but I recognise that, in this context, it might still be only a relatively small proportion of bills. In doing that, South West Water and companies with similar schemes have recognised the benefits to customers, and also to the company. I applaud such schemes, which are designed by water companies to tackle local problems in their region. Many companies in other Members’ constituencies have similar excellent schemes.

Water affordability problems are not confined to the south-west. Across England and Wales, 23% of households spend more than 3% of their disposable income on water and sewerage charges. Some 2.5 million households are spending more than 5% of their disposable income on water. That is a very important issue and one that the Government take very seriously. That is why water affordability will be a key theme in the upcoming water White Paper. We will commit ourselves to a long-term and a short-term set of actions to ensure that water bills are affordable.

WaterSure, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall referred, will continue. It will be supported by social tariffs, which will enable water companies to design locally appropriate schemes. We believe WaterSure is really important, but we recognise that its criteria mean that it deals only with families who have a relatively large number of children—three or more—or with elderly or infirm people who require more water because of their circumstances. I have been persuaded by the many moving cases that have been put to me by colleagues about the circumstances of particular constituents.

I recognise the importance of WaterSure in addressing the concerns of those individuals, but I also recognise that about 50,000 people are currently claiming. WaterSure can therefore only ever help a small group of people in water need. That is why company social tariffs, on which we are consulting, are so important. When the consultation ends in January, we will quickly announce the guidelines for those enormously important tariffs.

The Minister is being very helpful. On the groups who are covered by WaterSure, the south-west not only has many people on low incomes, but it has an ageing demographic because of the huge inward migration of older people and the outward migration of younger people. If WaterSure could be established with a national coverage, it would ensure that when people spend their active working life in another water region of the country and then end up in the south-west—I hope, to live a happy and long life in retirement—we had a fairer distribution of the cost. Otherwise, that will all have to be funded within the region.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. However, the other important point to note is that the fact that the south-west has a much higher percentage of households on meters is good for those particular people, because they very often use much less water than larger families or households in multiple occupancy. That offers a really effective way not only of paying proportionally lower bills, but of managing problems—for example, they will know much sooner, if they are on a meter, if there is a leak. I applaud the work done by the company. We want to see such work developed not only in the south-west but elsewhere, and we will encourage that.

The Minister is speaking about the crux of what will no doubt appear in the water White Paper next year. The impact of the flat £50 per household reduction is welcome. It will apply irrespective of whether households are wealthy second home owners on water meters who therefore have relatively low bills or the large number of local families in straitened circumstances. It is those families for whom a nationally equitable solution is required because, despite the £50 reduction, they will still face considerable bills.

First, I can say to my hon. Friend that he will not have to wait until next year for the water White Paper, which is much more imminent. I cannot tell him precisely when, but it will be very soon. Secondly, the White Paper will examine the whole range of affordability issues and solutions. I hope that the package we introduce will make a real difference.

My hon. Friend and all Members who represent the south-west will recognise that that will require legislation, which is why I cannot promise that it will be delivered before April 2013. I wish it could, but we are convinced that primary legislation is required, although we hope to deliver it in time for the start of the financial year in April 2013.

Company social tariffs will allow water companies everywhere to reduce the bills of those who would otherwise be unable to afford them in full. In conjunction with the excellent existing support schemes and advice, companies will be able to design the right tariffs for their region. We want all companies to introduce social tariffs as part of a package of advice and support for customers about affordability and efficiency. I hope that hon. Members, advice organisations and environmental organisations will work with water companies to design the best schemes for their regions.

Before I conclude, I just want to express again my appreciation to hon. Members across the south-west for their efforts in bringing forward this matter, and my determination to continue this discussion in the future.

Sitting suspended.

Scotland (Poverty)

[Mr John Robertson in the Chair]

I am grateful for having been able to secure this debate on poverty in Scotland on 30 November, St. Andrew’s day, which is also the day of industrial action in support of public sector workers and their pensions. Nothing could be more relevant to the working people of Scotland today than highlighting the threat of the growing poverty in our nation and the attack on workers’ rights by this ideologically driven, right-wing coalition Government. As I describe the Scotland I know, the reality of poverty and the threatened growth in poverty which is facing Scotland, I hope that the Minister will reflect and respond from his perspective of Scotland—although I have my doubts that there will be a shared perspective.

We Scots are often portrayed as a bit sentimental about Scotland, especially on occasions like Burns night or St. Andrew’s day. I want to talk about the reality of poverty in Scotland today. I do not think that the Minister will want to use any notes from my speech at whatever St. Andrew’s night bash he graces this evening. The national heroes and heroines to whom I would like to pay tribute are the anti-poverty organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, the churches and other umbrella groups, bringing together those committed to seeing a fairer, more equal Scotland. The heroes and heroines to whom I would like to pay tribute are those in the unions and the Scottish Trades Union Congress who stand up for people’s rights at work and who fight the scourge of unemployment and the attack on working conditions. That is the Scotland to which we should pay tribute today.

I would like to acknowledge the excellent work done by John Dickie, head of CPAG Scotland, particularly for producing the book “Poverty in Scotland”, which contains some relevant facts and figures to which I shall refer. How do we measure poverty? People are considered as living in poverty if they live in households with less than 60% of median household income. That is the key measure used by the UK and Scottish Governments and by the European Union. Using that measure, and after housing costs are taken into account, the latest official data show that a single person is in poverty if he or she is living on less than £124 a week. A lone-parent family with two children aged five and 14 are in poverty if they are living on less than £256 a week, as is a couple with two children aged five and 14 on less than £346 a week—which is just over £12 a day, and not a lot to cover food, fuel bills, household goods and transport, never mind school trips, family visits and leisure activities. About 970,000 people in Scotland live in poverty—19% of the population. About 250,000 children live in poverty—25% of all children. Poverty in Scotland and across the UK is significantly higher than in many other European countries. In Denmark and Norway fewer than 10% of children live in poverty, while Germany has a poverty rate of 15%.

One would have thought that poverty levels in this day and age should be falling, but not any more. Yes, real progress had been made specifically among children—the numbers went down by 100,000 between 1996-97 and 2004-05. The number of pensioners in poverty has decreased by nearly two thirds since 1996-97. However, since 2007 there has been no overall reduction in child poverty or in poverty among adults of working age.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate her on securing this debate. Given her comments, does she share my disappointment and anger at the fact that 10,000 children in Scotland are likely to be forced into poverty as a result of the tax and benefit decisions made by the Government yesterday?

Absolutely. I will come to that point later.

These trends follow dramatic increases in poverty between 1979 and the mid-1990s. Perhaps, like me, the Minister remembers those years and can offer a view on what caused that to happen and on whether we are heading back in that direction, thanks to his Government’s policy. That is exactly the direction in which the Government are taking Scotland. Cuts and reforms currently in train will have a significant negative impact on individuals and communities across Scotland and on devolved issues such as housing, child care, health, social care, equality and anti-poverty policy as a whole.

In June 2010 the Chancellor promised a Budget that would be tough, but fair. He announced an increase in VAT to 20%, a two-year pay freeze for public sector workers, a three-year freeze in child benefit and a tightening of housing benefit entitlements and eligibility for child tax credits, among other austerity measures. Coupled with the comprehensive spending review last October, those measures represent some of the most regressive in living memory. Yet, in the same breath, the Government claim that we are all in this together.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Does she not recognise that if the Government had not had to make these difficult decisions, the position for children growing up in Scotland—and, indeed, their children for generations to come—could have been far worse?

My point is that the cuts have not been made in a fair and even manner, as the Government promised. I will develop that point later.

It is all too evident that the impact will fall disproportionately on vulnerable groups and on those who deliver the services on which those groups depend. Those are not just my views; there has been widespread condemnation from campaigning groups and third-sector organisations in Scotland that the budget and austerity measures will further increase poverty and inequality.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) said, in yesterday’s autumn statement we heard of further measures. The Chancellor announced the expansion of free nursery places for two-year-olds, helping 260,000 children. But, alongside that, he announced that he would be taking more than £1.3 billion a year from families by failing to go ahead with the planned additional £110 rise in child tax credits and by freezing working tax credits.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing today’s debate. This is a very important subject to discuss on St. Andrew’s day. Does the hon. Lady share my concern that the poorest families will suffer a disproportionate impact from these cuts, and that the 20% of the poorest families in Scotland will bear the brunt?

That is the whole point of raising this debate today.

All this has happened despite the fact that when the Chancellor announced the rise in tax credits he said that it would support 4 million lower-income families, helping to ensure that there would be no adverse impact on child poverty. As the Minister knows, there is now a law relating to child poverty. The Chancellor has now taken that extra support away from the 4 million families. In its distributional analysis of yesterday’s measures, the Treasury has admitted that, as a result of the decisions taken by the Government, the number of children living in households with incomes below 60% of the median will increase by 100,000 in 2012-13—which will mean more children living in poverty.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for securing this debate. When we talk about big numbers, medians and so on, it can sometimes be difficult for people to understand how changes impact on their lives. Is my hon. Friend aware of research done by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers which shows that, already, some £989 has been taken from a low to middle-income family as a result of changes to tax credits? That is even before this latest broken promise, with £110 being taken from child credits.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are concerned about the impact on ordinary people. The quicker they realise exactly what this Government are up to, the better.

Who are these people? Alongside children, certain groups are at particular risk of poverty. They include lone parents, women, people who are not working, people affected by disability and people from ethnic minorities.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. As one of my neighbouring colleagues, she knows full well the problems of unemployment, particularly among young people. Is that not one of the main areas that should be tackled at an early stage—earlier than this Government intend?

Absolutely. I will refer to that later. To say that it is too little, too late would put it very mildly.

Poverty is most prevalent in urban areas, yet there are almost 100,000 income-deprived people in rural areas in Scotland. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on what he thinks causes poverty. The Tories are quick to identify individual behaviour as a cause of most social ills, but individual behaviour is of limited value in explaining the extent of poverty in Scotland. The key drivers are inequality, low pay, inadequate benefits, poor-quality work opportunities and lack of support for those with caring responsibilities, ill health or those affected by disability. A lack of money leads to the threat of falling into debt, choosing between necessities, going without basics, frequently being caught up in a cycle of dead-end jobs and being unable to save. For children, it means, for example, having less access to safe play spaces and being less likely to participate in arts and drama, sport or other outdoor activities.

While financial inclusion policies have led to significant improvements since 2007 and access to basic financial products, one third of households with incomes of less than £20,000 still have no savings. Those households are also less likely to have the means to participate fully in society more generally. Over half, for example, still have no internet access or car available to them. What is more, they are far more likely to be living in fuel poverty, spending a disproportionate level of already inadequate income on basic— [Interruption.]

(in the Chair): Order. There is a vote in the Chamber. The sitting will be suspended for 15 minutes.

(in the Chair): The sitting will be delayed for 15 minutes. Extra time will be added, and the debate will still have its full time.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

I was about to talk about people who are living in fuel poverty who are spending a disproportionate level of already inadequate income on basic energy bills. Almost 1 million households, more than one in three Scots, now struggle to heat their homes. However, the SNP has cut the budget to help tackle fuel poverty by almost a third, down from £70.9 million in 2010-11 to £48 million in 2011-12. Dr Brenda Boardman from Oxford university, previously lauded by First Minister Alex Salmond, has said that Scotland has some of the worst fuel poverty in the UK. She describes the SNP’s cut in the fuel poverty fund as a real slap in the face for the fuel poor.

I know that fuel poverty is something that is also taken extremely seriously in my constituency, partly because people do not have access to social tariffs on low incomes. They also often have trouble accessing broadband. But will the hon. Lady accept that the SNP Government have done more than previous Labour Governments ever did to address fuel poverty in Scotland, and are making record levels of investment in their energy assistance package and with other measures?

I think that they flatter to deceive. Measures have been cut, including what I have just described. As I say, it is not just from me, it is from a very eminent professional who is an expert in the field. At the end of the day the Scottish Government will decide how to implement the budget in Scotland.

Not surprisingly, poverty means lower levels of mental wellbeing, shorter lifespans and more ill health. Those in the lowest 20% of household incomes, particularly women, are far more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and attempted suicide, while men living in the most deprived areas have a life expectancy of more than 11 years shorter than those in the 20% least deprived areas of Scotland. The situation in Scotland is very serious. Here I would like to pay tribute to Campbell Christie, the former STUC leader and another truly great Scot, who recently passed away but who chaired the Scottish Commission on Public Services. Its report said:

“Members of the commission have been struck by just how much public spending is skewed by that bottom 20% in terms of poverty, unemployment, health and all the factors that go with it—and how little progress has been made on that bottom 20%.

If you are going to do anything, you should relentlessly target resources at the bottom 20%. That would bring Scotland up overall: it's not just a moral case for social justice; there's a strong economic argument too.”

A recent national survey revealed that six of the 10 worst areas of Britain are on the west coast of Scotland, including areas of Glasgow.

In any debate on poverty, certain key assertions must be made. First, income and material conditions remain the most fundamental determining dimensions of poverty. Political and policy emphasis on non-income dimensions of poverty must not be used to draw attention away from the fundamental causes of poverty—lack of money.

The policy can work. The Labour Government's commitments and policy action that boosted pensions, benefits, tax credits and wages and removed some of the barriers to work have had an impact, with child and pensioner poverty significantly lower than in 1997. Other policy interventions that should be welcomed include a focus on more equal health outcomes and commitment to the idea of a living wage, although when that was put forward in South Ayrshire by Labour, the SNP Tory administration voted it down. We need more investment and income maximisation, statutory commitments to tackle child poverty and improved access to debt solutions.

Labour made huge strides in government, both in Westminster and at Holyrood, to tackle youth unemployment in Scotland. Again, the clock has been turned back. Youth unemployment is rising fast. Behind these figures is a generation of young Scots, rich in talent, full of potential, with a hunger to work. Yesterday’s announcement in the autumn statement was too little, too late. It will be next April before it even kicks in, which has meant two years of inaction, and equates to £121 million a year, a fraction of the £600 million this year alone which Labour would spend on a youth jobs fund through repeating the bank bonus levy.

Will the hon. Lady join me in welcoming the initiatives of the Scottish Government to ensure that every 16 to 19-year-old in Scotland who is not in full-time education will have a training place or an apprenticeship or a job?

I would very much welcome any measures that are taken in Scotland on youth unemployment, but it does not help when the SNP Government choke off opportunity by cutting funding for the country’s colleges. I attended the graduation ceremony at Ayr college the other week and I was very impressed by the students’ achievements, but the level of cuts that the college was facing—10% this year and 20% over the next two years—was very depressing. There have already been job losses and the college has been told to concentrate on 16 to 19-year-olds. That is fine, except that it takes places away from adult learners.

I received all my education, such as it is, as an adult, and I want young people as they grow older to have cradle-to-grave education, not just between the ages of 16 and 19. That is also needed for the economy.

I refer now to research from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield university. It calculates that the headline total of 2.6 million men and women on incapacity benefits is set to be cut by nearly 1 million by 2014. Most of these will be existing claimants who will lose their entitlement. The report shows that, because of the reforms, 600,000 are set to be pushed out of the benefits system altogether, forcing a big increase in reliance on other household members for financial support.

The researchers also show that by far the largest impact will fall on the older industrial areas of the north, Scotland and Wales, where local economies have been struggling for years to cope with job loss and where the prospects of former claimants finding work are weakest. Glasgow looks set to be hit 10 times harder than, for example, Kingston upon Thames. In common with many of my colleagues here, these are just the types of areas that we represent where it has been very difficult to recover from industrial decline in the past. This is not going to help.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not just the loss of individual or family income, but the loss of a significant amount of spending power within already deprived communities which will have an impact on the wider community and not just on the individual family?

These issues affect the whole community, which is why in many ways high unemployment is a false economy. It would be far better invested in the communities. Professor Steve Fothergill, who co-authored the report, said:

“The large numbers that will be pushed off incapacity benefits over the next two to three years are entirely the result of changes in benefit rules. The reduction does not mean that there is currently widespread fraud, or that the health problems and disabilities are anything less than real.”

He then goes on to say that

“the estimates show that the Coalition Government is presiding over a national welfare reform that will impact principally on individuals and communities outside its own political heartlands.”

The Minister will be painfully aware that Scotland certainly meets that description.

I do not have time this afternoon to go into the detail of the Government’s Welfare Reform Bill, but behind the stated intention of rolling up most means-tested benefits into a universal credit and making work pay, there are significant increases in the conditions attached to entitlement, and draconian sanctions for those who fail to meet these conditions. Welfare benefits cuts of £18 billion over the next three years, in conjunction with the proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill, will have a hugely negative effect on Scotland’s poorest communities, families and individuals. These measures will be across the whole of the UK, but will also cut across a whole raft of devolved responsibilities. They deserve the united resistance of Scottish MPs and MSPs.

Attention must be refocused on to the privileges and lifestyles of the affluent and rich as much as the more disadvantaged. The Government must tackle the banks and fuel companies rather than focus on hitting public sector pensions.

Recently my constituency Labour party launched a plan locally at a public meeting in Ayr: Labour’s five-point plan for jobs. We heard a compelling argument for why this is needed from STUC deputy Stephen Boyd. He said that in Scotland we have a huge full-time employment deficit; that is the deficit that the Tories do not want to talk about. There are more than 150,000 people who want to work in full-time jobs but are currently unemployed. There are also the underemployed, and the economically inactive but wanting to work. There is a total of almost half a million Scots who want to be in full-time employment but are not. Jobseeker’s allowance claimants in East Ayrshire are up 86% on last year, and they are up 65% in South Ayrshire. These are frightening figures. The number of claimants in the last six months in these areas is up 300% and 400%.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I sat through her speech, which contained a lot of criticism of the Government, expecting her to come forward with solutions, but they have been lacking. For all of these spending projects that she has talked about, will she tell us by how much she wants to increase Government spending? What taxes will she put up to find the money? The only source of revenue she indicated was a bankers’ levy bonus tax; will she tell us how much that would raise and the rate at which it would be set?

I do not have the figures to hand, but I actually referred to a number of policy initiatives that could be taken and were taken by the last Labour Government. I could go back into my speech and read out Labour’s five point plan for jobs, but I am aware that other Members would like to speak and I was genuinely trying to curtail my remarks. I will let the hon. Member know about it later.

I firmly believe that there is more than one Scotland, just as there is more than one Britain. In the end, how you see Scotland depends on your perspective, your politics and your priorities. To paraphrase Nye Bevan, socialism is a language of priorities, just a very different set of priorities. The trouble with the SNP is that, for all its rhetorical nationalism, there remains a single priority: independence. Today should be a day for getting away from the tired, endless wrangling over constitutional issues and the protracted debate over the long-time-coming independence referendum. It should be a day for getting away from the SNP’s dangerous lottery, playing with people’s jobs, incomes and life chances, ignoring all of the warnings, crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. Today is a day for concentrating on the real Scotland—a country of huge achievement and potential, and a country rich in diverse cultures, but a country that also knows the reality of poverty and the risk of increased poverty to come unless it gets the political leadership and policies it needs for a better way forward.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Robertson, and may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) on securing this important debate and providing an opportunity for all of us to reflect that the scale of the problem of poverty in our own country deserves much more time and attention than it receives. In a month when it was reported that the number of pauper funerals in Scotland exceeded 5,500 in the past year, and when a report from the university of Sheffield Hallam stated that Glasgow was the worst area in the United Kingdom for incidences of hunger, it is truly remarkable that we have not one but two Administrations who barely feel able to mention the subject in any of their pronouncements—one largely because of their indifference, and the other in sole pursuit of their one goal, so that if anyone dares make a critical reflection they are talking Scotland down. I do not believe that either serves our country well. Only when we start to talk openly again about poverty will we be able to rise to the challenge.

I would like to focus my remarks today on a couple of points that I believe must be urgently reconsidered by the Government if we do not wish the poverty figures to rise even further. I will start on housing, and in particular the impending changes in housing benefit. The majority on this form of benefit are not on unemployment benefit, but they do represent fairly accurately those who are on the lowest level of income. Shelter Scotland reports that this year only one in eight of all housing benefit claimants is unemployed. The rest includes pensioners, carers and disabled people unable to work. In Scotland, about 19% of people in receipt of local housing allowance are in employment.

The vast majority of those in receipt of the benefit in Scotland are living in rented social housing, and a good percentage of those who are renting privately are occupying former social housing. Prior to introducing the new regulations, which will commence in stages from this year until 2013, the UK Government conducted absolutely no evaluation of the rented housing sector in Scotland, be it the availability in each local authority area of multi-occupancy property or the availability of one- bedroom houses. If I asked anyone living in Scotland, however, to take even a wild guess about what may or may not be available I would imagine just about everyone could anticipate that, outside the major cities, there would be very little multi-occupancy households and that most social housing in Scotland consisted of houses with two bedrooms or more.

Lord Freud in the other place apparently believes in some imaginary world where suitable property will spring from the bowels of the earth in a wonderful free market to allow housing benefit recipients to comply with the new regime rather than live in what he believes is “luxury”. Unfortunately, I remain unconvinced, and so do the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations; Shelter; the Scottish Government; and many other informed groups who I have met over the last year to discuss this issue.

If I take just the change in the age threshold for claiming the single room rate, which will be increased from 25 to 35 in April next year, according to figures I requested from the House of Commons Library in January, there are only, for example, 20 multi-occupancy registered homes in the entire Angus council area, but, according to an official answer from the Scottish Government, as of last year there were 100 single people aged 25 to 34 years in receipt of local housing allowance in that area. In North Ayrshire the figures are even worse. There are seven houses of multiple occupancy and 280 people aged 25 to 34 years in receipt of LHA. Where are these people—about 7,500 throughout Scotland—expected to stay?

Does my hon. Friend also accept that the pressure on multiple-occupancy housing is even greater in a city such as Stirling that has a university population? Those who look to conform to the new housing regulations will find themselves in even worse straits than she has indicated in other areas.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct—that is a point I am about to make. I, too, represent an area that has a university community, and we continually have difficulties about multi-occupancy. Again, the UK Government have completely failed to consider new regulations put in place as a result of legislation that has gone through the Scottish Parliament.

Many local authorities and social landlords have progressively moved away from multi-occupancy lets due to problems with management and its unpopularity with other tenants and communities. In Angus, the difference between the rental level for a one-bedroom home and a shared home rate is £20.77 a week. For people who are unlucky enough to live in rural Aberdeenshire, it is £49.61 a week, because they are sitting in the midst of an oil economy, with rentals to match. Inevitably, people will be pushed into our cities, regardless of where their job is, in a desperate effort to find accommodation.

As I have mentioned, the UK Government have given no thought as to how local communities may feel about the expansion of multi-occupancy housing in their areas. I know from experience in my constituency that there have been examples of the dumping of people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation from other local authority areas, because those areas had no or very few such places available. I can only imagine where all those hundreds of people in north Ayrshire, for example, will have to go—I think that most of them will end up in Glasgow.

The hon. Lady is making some important points about the housing situation. Will she reflect on the situation for pensioners who might also be affected by the under-occupancy rules that are coming in and the fact that suitable one-bedroom properties are simply not available, particularly those on a flat level for people with mobility issues?

The hon. Lady makes a good point. I know that that matter is not currently covered in the regulations proposed by the Government. However, should there be any further expansion, we would be looking at something close to a total collapse of social housing, because of the sheer numbers of people, particularly pensioners, who are living alone in properties with two or more bedrooms.

One change due in 2013 is that housing benefit will be restricted for working-age claimants in the social rented sector to those who are occupying a larger property than their household size. Do the Government know how many will be impacted by that change? Why do I bother to ask them, because they have no desire to find out?

It has been estimated from the family resources survey that Scotland-wide there are approximately 100,000 households in the social rented sector in receipt of housing benefit where the accommodation is currently under-occupied. We do not, however, know how many of those are rented to retired tenants compared with those of working age. Glasgow Housing Association, which is Scotland’s largest social landlord, has estimated that roughly 13% of their entire housing stock will be affected by just that one change alone. That represents thousands of tenants in just one city in our country.

Such a change may occur simply because an adult child leaves home, even if the family still have children of school age. A family may be forced to move out of a property that they have lived in for many years and in some instances to move many miles from the community in which they are settled—or they might fall into rent arrears, or they could just eat less, or they could not heat their home. That is the reality of the real choices that thousands of low-income families will now face.

I share some of the concerns that the hon. Lady is voicing. However, it is important to point out that the regulations have not yet been drawn up, so she cannot predict that such things will happen until we see the regulations. I certainly hope that they will be framed sensibly to take into account the issues that she is raising.

The proposals are currently in the Welfare Reform Bill. I hope that he and the Minister will think again and will persuade their colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and Lord Freud in the other place, who seems to be utterly resistant to making any changes to the clauses relating to those draconian measures. Hon. Members will remember the chaos caused by the implementation of the poll tax, and the consequences we faced for many years due to the scale of the arrears that built up and the misery that was heaped on our poorest communities. Perhaps the Minister will explain why his party has never learned the lesson of what occurs when a Government implement unplanned, arbitrary hits on those with the least resources to cope.

Coming back to my comments about this month’s report on hunger in the city that I am proud to represent, Paul Mosley, professor of economics at Sheffield university, said that the number of people using the Scotcash community bank service who struggled to buy food in the previous week was far higher in Scotland than in any other area of the UK. He said:

“In other cities outside of Glasgow the figure was 1% to 2%... In other words, there were some people whose poverty was so bad they were also in food poverty and sometimes didn’t have enough food to give to the children to eat. But in Glasgow the proportion was something like 10%.”

Mosley said that the findings supported suggestions that areas of Glasgow suffered a depth of poverty that

“you don’t encounter in other parts of the UK”.

That depth of poverty is no surprise to me, and I am sure it will be no surprise to you either, Mr Robertson. No other part of western Europe witnessed such an intense and rapid deindustrialisation in the 1970s and 1980s, in a city that already had a long history of poverty. I am in no doubt that it will take many years to reverse, but I have always believed that it is possible, if we are prepared to put in the necessary commitment and resources. In recent years, figures on absolute and relative poverty in Scotland have flatlined, but we now face a really tough challenge. Are we prepared to witness the reversal of the advances made during the first years of this century or are we willing to organise our priorities so that we can protect the poorest and do more to improve their lives? That is the real challenge that we face in our country—not the endless debates on constitutional niceties, but what kind of country do we actually want to be.

Just yesterday, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock correctly mentioned, it was calculated that the Government’s freeze on tax credits and related benefits will put a further 100,000 children throughout the UK below the poverty line. I look forward to hearing the Minister explain in detail how his Government will now meet their legally binding targets on child poverty reduction. I am also interested to know when he last discussed poverty or any related issues with his counterparts in the Scottish Government. If that was not recently, perhaps he could undertake to make a real St Andrew’s day pledge to make the eradication of poverty his priority.

It will be difficult to follow my two colleagues, who have explained the scourge of poverty in terms of the proportion of people living in poverty in Scotland and the shame that that brings on us as a nation. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) on securing this debate.

I shall confine my comments to a group of people who, by definition, find a much higher proportion of themselves living in poverty—namely, those who are disabled or have a disability. All the problems that, as we have already heard, face families living in poverty tend to be amplified if one of the members of those families happens to have a disability. We know that 21% of families who have one person with a disability living with them are living in poverty compared with 16% of the general population. That figure increases for children: 25% of children living in families with a disabled person live in poverty compared with 18% of children living in families with no one who is disabled.

The concern that I want to get over to the Minister, and to which I hope he will respond, is that those figures are bad enough, but the actions of this Government are about to make matters far worse. Despite the impression given in the tabloids by stories of benefit scroungers and people who have languished on incapacity benefit or disabled benefits for years, employment among disabled people had actually improved over the last 10 years of the Labour Government. The employment gap between those disabled and those non-disabled in 2002 was 36%. By 2010, by the time the Labour party lost power, that gap was down to 29% and all the indicators were that it was improving, so many disabled people were in work. However, it is still the case that anyone with a disability is far less likely to be in work than those who do not have a disability, and therefore dependent on benefits.

What happens to the benefits system? What changes will be made to save the £18 billion that the Government are trying to strip out of the welfare system? Those changes will impact even more directly on those who are the most vulnerable—those who have a disability. What is of concern is not just that individuals and their families will face reduced incomes but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) said, the reduction in the money that is available to be spent in those communities and the fact that the communities themselves will become even poorer than they are at the moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock mentioned the report from Sheffield Hallam university, written by Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill, called “Incapacity Benefit Reform: the local, regional and national impact”. That report makes incredibly interesting reading. It shows not only that there is a concentration of people with disabilities who are living on disability benefits, whether that is incapacity benefit, employment and support allowance or disability allowance, but that it correlates exactly to the areas of high unemployment and the areas of industrial decline. So it comes as no great surprise that, of the top 20 districts where the share of adults claiming incapacity benefit is the highest, three of them are in Scotland. Glasgow comes in at 12.3%, but is followed closely by Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire. In the bottom 10 districts, of the areas with the least number of people on incapacity benefit not a single one is in Scotland and that in itself acts as a stark reminder that there are areas in Scotland, particularly west central Scotland, that have suffered not just the depression and lack of jobs caused by deindustrialisation but, resulting from that, an increase in the number of people who not only suffer ill health and disability but, as a consequence, are claiming benefit. Any cuts to those benefits will fall particularly heavily on those areas.

The figures in the work that Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill have done are UK-wide, so we must assume that 10% of those people live in Scotland. Those figures show that, as a result of Government changes already announced, in Scotland alone, 97,000 fewer people will be claiming incapacity benefit. Even more worryingly, 58,000 will be removed from benefits all together. How will that happen? The last Labour Government had already introduced changes to reform incapacity benefit and to move people on to the employment and support allowance. The new Government have speeded up that move and have also cut down on the amount of money to be spent. That is where a great deal of the savings will come from.

The hon. Lady’s constituency, like my own, was part of the pilot scheme that trialled the new work capability assessment. My view is that it has not been working and instead has been causing great anxiety and distress to disabled people. More importantly, the successful appeal rate is out of all proportion to any system that is working. Something like 70% of appeals are proving successful, where people have support from advocacy agencies. That system should go back to the drawing board, but I am also concerned that the burden will start falling even more so on unpaid carers and other family members for people who have been taken out of the system. Does the hon. Lady share my concerns on that?

Those concerns are shared by all of us. It has been very difficult to get robust figures about the numbers who are being migrated from incapacity benefit on to employment and support allowance, and how many of them will fall out of the benefits system all together or find themselves on jobseeker’s allowance as an alternative. The early indication from the pilot that took place in both Aberdeen and Burnley would suggest that about 30% of those on incapacity benefit will move to JSA. That one single move is immediately a loss of £20, or slightly more, a week for that family. We do not know whether those figures are robust but we do know that, for new claimants, it is far less than that. Part of the reason why the tabloid press has managed to create the impression that there are lots of people languishing on incapacity benefit or disability benefit who do not deserve it is that they conflate the proportions who are new claimants getting the benefit with those already on the benefit but who have been migrated across. Potentially, 30% will be losing £20 or more a week.

We also know that the Welfare Reform Bill proposes to limit contributory employment and support allowance to one year. In areas such as mine and the one represented by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), where it is more likely that people will live in a household with some income, because unemployment is relatively low, so a partner, husband or wife might be working, those people will lose benefits altogether because they will not qualify for the income-related benefit that would replace it. That is why 58,000 are likely to fall out of the benefits system completely. These are people who have paid into the system all their lives. They thought that, when things turned difficult for them, when something happened and they were not able to work anymore, the welfare state would be there for them and national insurance would work as the name suggests—as an insurance that they would get that contributory benefit. This Government have decided that that is not good enough and that this group will qualify only for employment and support allowance for a year. In a year, someone might have managed only to get a diagnosis. They might have only just started their cancer treatment, they might still be getting worse but not be bad enough to be in the support group, with a degenerative neurological condition that has just been diagnosed. After a year, their money will stop if they are in the work-related activity group of ESA.

How long does the hon. Lady think that people in that category should continue to receive ESA?

Until they retire, which is what the position is at the moment. If they are in the support group, they will keep it for ever.

The hon. Gentleman’s intervention has given me the opportunity to raise something that he can discuss with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. The way that the national insurance system works is that if someone has not made a NI contribution for the previous two years, then they do not get the contributory benefit. I tabled a written question to ask what happened if someone had been in the work-related activity group for two years and then got worse, particularly if they had a degenerative illness, and found themselves in the support group. They would not have the national insurance contribution to go back on to the contributory element. Would they be able to get the ESA? The reply from the Minister was unequivocal—yes, they would be able to go back on to contributory ESA if they had moved from the WRAG to the support group after two years.

However, in correspondence with an official, some doubt has been cast on whether that is indeed the case. It is not clear from the Welfare Reform Bill, and it is certainly not clear from the debates around the Bill, whether someone who has been on WRAG for two years will get their contributory ESA back again should they get worse. This is very important for people with conditions such as multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s. If someone has a really bad episode and goes straight into the support group, they will be able to keep their contributory ESA for the rest of their working life, whereas, if they have a slowly progressing disease and go into WRAG for a couple of years, but then end up just as ill and disabled as the other person, they do not get it back. It seems unfair and arbitrary. The Government must get this right and be clear about it, or large numbers of people, potentially those with some of the most profound disabilities and ill health, will be disadvantaged simply because they fall the wrong side of the line when they go for their work capability assessment.

Is that not why it is faintly ridiculous, at this point in the legislative cycle, when the Welfare Reform Bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons and has completed most of its stages in the House of Lords, that we do not yet know what the regulations will say on something that could have a massive impact on the lives, not just of disabled people but of the poorest people in communities in Scotland?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of my concerns as Chair of the Select Committee is, when there is parliamentary scrutiny of those regulations, to make sure that there are no unintended consequences. I hope that this is an unintended consequence on the Government’s part—I do not think that they would be so hard-hearted to be that unfair, and I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that they realise that, in some areas, they have simply got it wrong, because they are trying to take money away from people who have paid into the system all their life.

I am conscious of the time, so I will not say a great deal more. We will move from disability living allowance to the new personal independence payment, and the Government say that they are going to cut 20% from that budget. I could go on at length about that but, in summary, all those things taken together will mean that the income of the poorest people in our communities—those who have the hardest time because of ill health or disability—will be drastically cut. They will bear the brunt of many cuts in Government spending. They are the ones least able to cope, and it will be their communities—if the money had come into their hands, at least they would spend it in local shops—who suffer. Those shops and facilities will close, and those areas, which already suffer the highest incidence of poverty, will be hit particularly badly. The Opposition think that that is unfair. It is unjust, and I urge the Government to look again.

Before I call the next speaker, may I tell hon. Members that the debate will end at 4.12 pm? I shall call the first Front-Bench speaker at 3.52 pm at the latest.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) both on obtaining such an important debate on St Andrew’s day and on her excellent speech.

My hon. Friend challenged us to speak up for the poorest and most vulnerable, and we already have enough evidence to show that poverty in Scotland is rising. It is therefore appropriate to address that very serious matter. We have seen increasing youth unemployment and, right up to yesterday, reckless cuts to incapacity benefits, disability living allowances, winter fuel payments and the rest. Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that 500,000 people will be forced off incapacity benefit. Scotland will be one of the worst-hit areas. Child poverty, youth unemployment and fuel poverty have all increased, and are set to rise further. As I said, yesterday was no help.

A Government who promised

“not to balance the books on the backs of the poorest”

have barely responded to that pledge. They admitted yesterday that it will take another two years, with all the pain but without any gain. Youth unemployment, which is a scar over Scotland, stands at a quite remarkable figure of 1.02 million—the highest ever recorded. There will be a lost generation of young people, just as in the ’80s and Mrs Thatcher’s time, which will lead to broken homes, broken relationships, dashed hopes and broken dreams.

I would not for one second, particularly as I am asking all my colleagues to reflect on what youth unemployment means, condone the riots that took place in England. Indeed, I am pleased that they did not extend to Scotland. However, it would be naive in the extreme to continue with those figures and statistics—the reality in Scotland—and not expect young people to articulate their views. We were first warned about that as long ago as the war, when Sir William Beveridge wrote:

“If full employment is not won and kept, no liberties are secure, for to many they will not seem worth while.”

We can barely say that we were not warned.

Since 2010, JSA claimants rose in most deprived areas of my constituency—I underline that—from 26.3% to 28.1%, against a UK average of 3.9%. We are asking what the response is. What is the coalition prepared to do? The whole picture is quite unacceptable, and certainly in my constituency. I will meet local officials from the Department for Work and Pensions on Friday to examine in detail what is happening to people in my constituency who are unemployed.

Unemployment, I think Opposition Members agree, is not just a statistic. Save the Children said that

“children living in low income households are nearly three times more likely to suffer mental health problems than the affluent.”

The link between life expectancy and income is well documented. These are real people with real lives that are about to be wrecked unless we rescue them in time. In my constituency, there are high numbers for unemployment and for people suffering from anxiety and depression, and—this is consistent with what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) so eloquently said—those people often find that those things go together. That increases the number of DLA claimants. I therefore challenge the heart of the Government’s economic policy. Taking people out of poverty is a sensible thing to do. It is a moral responsibility, but it is also economically correct. How long are we prepared to go on paying people to be unemployed—3 million of them—and, as we did in Mrs Thatcher’s time, ask those who pay taxes to make that contribution? Taking people out of poverty is one of the biggest challenges that we face, particularly in Scotland.

Recently, my colleagues have raised the issue of fuel poverty again and again. Three thousand people in the UK die from fuel poverty every year, which is more than the number of Britons killed on the roads. In Scotland, there are nearly 1 million homes in fuel poverty. What have the Government done, and what should we urge them to do? Their policies have led to increases in fuel prices, and they have cut winter fuel payments and even cut the tariff for solar energy—hardly an approach to make Scotland a greener country.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the cut in the solar energy tariff. If the Government had not made that change, it would have meant far higher electricity bills for everyone, so his argument is inconsistent.

I wish I had more time to develop an argument that I think the hon. Gentleman heard when I was fortunate enough to secure a debate on energy in the House a year or two ago. Indeed, on the subject of energy, that leads me very nicely to the next point that I wish to make. How long are we in Scotland and in Britain prepared to wait for six companies—for all the world, they look like a cartel to me, and I do not see the regulation that we expect from the regulators—to act? How long are we prepared to put up with this? Even last week, people were told by Ministers, “Well, what you do is change to another company.” We all know what happens then: if we change to another company, they put up their prices, too, and they do so again and again, which is wholly unacceptable.

My purpose is to make conversions, Mr. Robertson, and I have been able to do so.

In common with my hon. Friend for Aberdeen South, I would like to discuss disability because many of the people we are thinking about, many of those who have made representations to us and, indeed, many of those who are unable to make representations are those who might be considered either disabled or the family or friends of disabled people. Contact a Family told us that 52% of families with a disabled child are at risk of experiencing poverty. That is no surprise when we know that it costs three times as much to bring up a disabled child than a child without disability. The income of families with a disabled child averages £15,000, which is 25.5% below the UK mean. Barnado’s told us recently that only 16% of mothers of disabled children are able to work compared with 60% of mothers generally.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) is present, because she brought the issue of the mobility component to the attention of the House. Yesterday, I was happy to see that after battle, including debates in this place, the Government announced that they were retreating on their intention to take the mobility component of DLA from people who live in residential homes. The original proposal was an outrage that should never have been considered and it caused a great deal of unhappiness among a large number of people and their families. That was unacceptable. As my right hon. Friend has said, however, the announcement was not made in this House, where it should have been, but in The Times.

For all the reasons that my right hon. and hon. Friends have given, I strongly support the attempt by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock to focus on the issue of poverty. It is St. Andrew’s day and we are concerned about Scotland. It can be, and will be, a great Scotland. Of late, I have been fortunate to invite new companies into my constituency, and I welcome that and those entrepreneurs’ enthusiasm. However, they are entitled to more encouragement than they are getting, but so far the Government have not shown any lead on that. Today, I believe we are speaking for Scotland, and I believe that Scotland is listening.

Before I call Mrs McGuire, I call her attention to the fact that the Front-Bench contributions will begin at 3.52 pm.

I conscious of that, and I would not like to fall out with you, Mr Robertson. This is the first time that I have been in this interesting power position with you, and I will make sure that I obey your orders.

I would also like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) for initiating this debate in Westminster Hall. I only want to make a short contribution.

The emphasis today has been on welfare issues, to which I will return if I have the time, but I want us to recognise what poverty means for many people, particularly children. A group launch by anti-poverty campaigners in Glasgow clearly identified the fact that children and young people who are growing up in poverty suffer from a range of disadvantages that other children do not experience. They were far less likely to be involved in leisure activities than other children because their families could not pay for them. They were three times less likely to play a musical instrument— something that is about enhancing people’s lifestyle, but children in poverty do not have the same access to that advantage. It is interesting to note that, given the emphasis on football in Glasgow, the group also highlighted the fact that young people from better-off households were four times more likely to be involved in a football club than those children from poorer households. That sort of hidden poverty, which we do not always emphasise in debates such as this one, is the real price that many families are now paying.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) asked us, “What would you do?” I would actually like to flip that coin back to him and say that it is not just what we would do, but what they have done that is making the significant difference to people in Scotland, for example the decision to reduce the Sure Start maternity grant to the first child only. That grant was of great benefit to many poorer families. The Government have also frozen child benefit and other benefits, even those in-work benefits, have been uprated according to the consumer prices index rather than according to the retail prices index. They have also removed discretionary tax credits, such as the baby element, which means the loss of £545 a year per family. According to the House of Commons figures, a baby born into a low-income family from April 2011 will be about £1,500 worse off compared with a sibling born into the same family before April 2010. That is the sum lost from a family where every penny counts.

Frankly, those supporting the coalition Government have to accept that it is not a question of what we would do, but what they have done. They need to answer whether they have made life better or worse for the poorest members of our society. As I look around my constituency and I look at others areas of Scotland, I think we must make the judgment that the coalition Government have made life worse for many of the poorest people in our communities. If there is anything that we need to give testimony to that, surely it must be the fact that there are now more people in cities in Scotland relying on handouts and food parcels than ever before. I never thought that I would see families having to rely on emergency food rations from organisations that were set up specifically for that purpose. What sort of civilised society are we that allows a family to be so poor that it cannot feed its own children? That is my condemnation of the way in which the Government operate.

I want to put a question particularly to those Lib Dem members of the coalition who I know are good people. They need to look back at their own history and see exactly where they came from. Go back and look at some of the great developments of the 19th century, such as those made by the Frys, the Rowntrees and the Cadburys. They took those actions because they recognised the link between poverty and lack of aspiration, between unemployment and people being unable to live a decent life. Over the Christmas recess, I hope that some of those Lib Dems will have time to reflect on what they are doing to collude in a situation that is making life much worse for many people in Scotland.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. The economic situation is grim, and none of us wants to see people living in poverty. I came along to this debate because I wanted to hear what suggestions Labour Members had for doing things differently. So far, I have not heard any, and I would be grateful if the right hon. Lady could actually tell us what Labour would do differently if it were in power.

Let me explain what we did differently. We did things differently over 13 years when child poverty decreased from 27% to 20%. We made it a legal obligation on Government that they should reduce child poverty. I will tell the hon. Gentleman what we would not have done. We would not have sacrificed the poor as the Government are now sacrificing them. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a good person, and he must ask himself that question during the Christmas recess when he might have wanted to think of other things. We have seen a deterioration in the standards in which the poorest in Scotland have to live their lives – 850,000 people, and rising, are living in fuel poverty, according to Consumer Focus. Finally, may I say in this debate that poverty is not just about money, although money is important? Poverty creates an environment where, if children cannot eat a breakfast in the morning, they cannot go to school and learn; where they are excluded from the company of their peers, because they cannot afford to enjoy that company; and where they cannot go to a school dance or participate in sport. Worst of all, it creates an environment where many of them suffer not only from financial, educational and health poverty, but from a poverty of ambition. Frankly, that is dangerously close to the legacy that this Government are going to give hundreds of thousands of children in Scotland, unless they start to reflect on what they are doing and deal with it quickly.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Robertson, and to reply from the Opposition Front Bench to this important debate.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) for securing this debate and for speaking with such passion and commitment about the effects that material inequality, lack of money, lack of resources and lack of opportunity have on the quality of life of her constituents and many thousands of people across Scotland. She referred in her speech to a historical figure—Nye Bevan, of course. Today, it might be fitting to recall the words of another historical figure, former US President Franklin Roosevelt, who once said:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”

That is what the Government are failing to do in its policies today.

I also pay tribute to the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin), who spoke movingly about the impact that housing benefit changes and lack of money are having in driving up levels of food poverty in Glasgow, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) and for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), who spoke with great passion and eloquence about the effects of deindustrialisation in Scotland and the damaging effects of the Government’s reforms of disability, housing and sickness benefits. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling impressed the House this afternoon with her historical sweep and with the notion that she very ably tied between equality and liberty—the fact that they go together and that one simply does not exist without the other.

I recently had the privilege of attending a briefing arranged by the Resolution Foundation, which is hosting the Commission on Living Standards. The presentation gave some staggering statistics from the foundation’s ongoing work. There is an increasing dislocation between growth and living standards. In the past three decades, for every £1 of growth generated in our economy, just 12p is going into wages in the lower half of the income scale, which is a fall of a quarter. Those trends have been exacerbated by the squeeze on jobs and the squeeze through increased taxes and lower tax credits that have been in the Chancellor’s Budgets so far and, sadly, in the autumn statement yesterday.

From that event, there also emerged three themes that are necessary to drive an increase in living standards and reductions in poverty in coming years: full employment, the importance of income transfers—including the tax credits system—and rising wages. The foundation has estimated that the squeeze on living standards that is being imposed by this Government—the steepest since the 1920s—means that to make good the gap, the level of the minimum wage would have to rise to £6.29 per hour by 2015. That is the extent of the squeeze that is impacting on people in this country today. The words of the US economist Lane Kenworthy are very important, reflecting that income transfers—the tax credits system—have been critical in this country and across the western world to seeing an improvement of the living standards of those in the lower half of the income distribution scale.

I also want to endorse some of the findings of UNICEF Scotland’s recent report, which points out the damaging effects of failing to tackle asset-based inequality. The Government have scrapped the child trust fund and introduced an inadequate replacement in the form of junior ISAs, and we will see damaging effects for young people in their failing to build up that nest egg of savings that would help them go to college or university, to start a job and to pay for the necessary expenses for a good start in life.

The key to tackling poverty and to seeing a fairer distribution of wealth in our society is to increase levels of good jobs in our economy and to aim for full employment. Yesterday, the Office for Budget Responsibility downgraded its forecasts for levels of employment throughout this Parliament. It revealed that 710,000 public sector workers will be thrown on to the dole queues in this Parliament. Overall, unemployment will surge by a further 500,000, destroying the lives of people who are claiming benefits when they could be providing services and paying taxes instead.

Scotland will suffer hugely through the absurd economic theories that underpin such devastating choices. As a result of the Chancellor’s failure to change course on public spending and to introduce a proper plan for jobs and growth, Scotland is likely to suffer from rising unemployment, lower growth and the biggest attack on the living standards of ordinary people since the 1940s. The Chancellor said yesterday that he would like to tackle the causes of poverty, but he has slashed support for hard-pressed Scots families who are burdened by big rises in child care costs.

This week, the Social Market Foundation stated, in its report entitled “The Parent Trap”, that average families face an increase in child care costs of more than £600, a rise of up to 62%, which is more than the cost of a family Christmas for average families in Scotland. Yesterday, the Government failed to cut VAT to boost consumer confidence and failed to increase demand amid slumping growth.

My hon. Friend is answering some of the questions of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid), who seemed to think that the Labour party had no alternative proposals to put forward. I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend telling the House about what we would do if we had the opportunity.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Yesterday, the OBR’s figures revealed that if we had followed the public spending plans of my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), borrowing would be £37 billion less. There is an alternative—based around growth and job creation—that would not have visited the damaging effects of increased poverty and inequality which this Government are waging on the people of Scotland.

None of us wants to see poverty or inequality, but the only solutions that the hon. Gentleman has brought forward are to cut taxes and to increase public spending. Please will he tell us where the money would come from to do all that, without getting the country even deeper into debt and the mess that his Government left behind?

Thankfully, there are more enlightened Governments in Europe. For example, the newly elected Socialist-led Government of Denmark, who have introduced a stimulus package, have seen bond rates lower that those of the United Kingdom and have entirely defeated the arguments of the right-wing parties in Denmark, which predicted that bond rates would rise if a Socialist-led Government introduced such a stimulus package. The reality does not bear out the hon. Gentleman’s point.

The hon. Gentleman still has not answered the question of where the money would come from without the country being put deeper into debt.

It is very clear that this Government are borrowing to cut, not borrowing to grow. The entire theory that the Chancellor has drawn on from some of the extremes of right-wing economics in America in the 1980s and 1990s—essentially, that Governments should shrink and shrivel the public sector and that the private sector will take up all the slack—has simply been destroyed by what the OBR published yesterday. That theory does not work, and it is causing increased poverty and inequality in our country. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) should disown it today.

With both Governments—the one here and the one in Edinburgh—simply not having done enough about youth unemployment, we have a rate of youth unemployment across the UK of 20%, but it is even higher in Scotland, at 21.3%. Nothing speaks more to this Government’s failure of ambition to cut child poverty than yesterday’s cruel grab by the Chancellor on the promised uplift on child tax credits and working tax credits. For the coalition parties to slash the tax credits of low and middle-income mums and children in Scotland at a time when the real value of wages declining by 3.5% this year, as revealed by the Office for National Statistics last week—is an act of brutal contempt for the plight that the poorest are facing, with spending cuts that are too far, and too fast for ordinary families to bear.

In 2009-10, 153,000 families in work in Scotland received working tax credit and child tax credit, and this helped 250,000 children in Scotland. People in Scotland cannot see how it will be fair to snatch £1.2 billion in tax credits from low and middle earners while the Government have raised the bank balance sheet levy by a paltry £300 million in the same autumn statement. They will wonder how the Prime Minister can ever again have the brass neck to claim that we are all in this together. Scottish families will lose the extra £110 per child that they were promised in the Budget this year and expected to receive next year. Freezing the working tax credit will cut working families’ income by an additional £100.

As the Resolution Foundation established yesterday, more than three quarters of the burden in new cuts in tax credits is faced by people in the lower half of the income scale, with those in the top 10% simply meeting 3% of that burden. Total tax credit cuts next year will amount to £2.9 billion, a tenth of the entire tax credit expenditure. This afternoon the Institute for Fiscal Studies has given its verdict on the Chancellor’s squeeze on the living standards of ordinary people: average incomes will fall by 7.4% between 2009 and 2030. Based on the OBR’s own figures, it has calculated that families face a slump in the value of their household disposable income of 3% this year compared with a predicted 1.1% at the time of the March Budget, a fall of 1.1% next year compared with a predicted rise of 0.7% in March. Most damning of all is the finding by the IFS that the distributional effects of the changes announced by the Chancellor yesterday will punish those in the lowest two income deciles. Unbelievably, those in the wealthiest 10% are among the few gainers. Unsurprisingly, it is families with children who take the biggest hit. As Paul Johnson of the IFS said on BBC Radio 4’s “World at One”, this afternoon,

“failure to index some elements of tax credits…will leave some poorer families worse off, and will lead to an increase in measured child poverty…The Government have no chance at all of reducing child poverty.”

What a damning finding on what the Chancellor did yesterday.

In terms of public services, on which the poorest rely most heavily, the IFS has today discovered that the Government are planning a huge assault on public service spending, a 16.2% real-terms cut over the next seven years, far beyond the previous record of 7% real-terms cuts in the 1970s. The Chancellor’s promise not to balance the books on the backs of the poorest lies in tatters this afternoon. His own Treasury figures show that the poorest fifth of the population are amongst the biggest losers from the tax and benefits measures in his Budgets and autumn statements, and inequality is on the rise. He could not even bring himself to admit in his statement yesterday that his own figures show that child poverty will rise across the UK by a further 100,000 in the next tax year as a result of his cruel cuts in tax credits and housing benefits.

This Government have made their choice: slumping growth, rising poverty and higher unemployment are the prices worth paying for a failed economic theory that is letting Britain down and offering nothing but despair for the jobless millions. Now, Scotland can see them as they truly are—the downgraded Chancellor of a deflationary and uncaring Government.

Thank you, Mr. Robertson. I welcome the opportunity to appear under your chairmanship, and it is particularly appropriate that you are in the Chair for this debate on St. Andrew’s day. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) for instigating this debate. She and other hon. Members who have contributed to the debate are correct to say that there should be more discussion and debate of these issues in relation to Scotland, and that there should be more discussion and debate in this Parliament in respect of the reserved issues for which this Government are responsible in Scotland. Scotland has two Governments, both of which play a significant role and both of which should be held to account.

I also agree that the two Governments should work more closely together on many of the issues that have been touched on today. Sadly, for reasons also touched on by many hon. Members, principally the obsession of the SNP Government in Edinburgh with independence and constitutional issues, it has not always been possible to have the dialogue that would serve the people of Scotland best—on substantive matters in relation to policy objectives and outcomes, rather than the debate constantly being about who did what.

We have had a number of detailed contributions to the debate, particularly by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin), and the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), who chairs the Select Committee. I give them a firm commitment that I will take away the points that they have made, and raise them with Department for Work and Pensions colleagues and I will write back to them on their specific points. While we might not be in agreement on the policy prescription, or whether the policies of the Government of which they were a part delivered much of what the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock set out, I am in agreement with them that the issues that they raised are important and significant.

As ever, I commend the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) for the passion in her contribution. Again, the issues that she raised are worthy of much more significant debate, especially in relation to the concerns about the impact of hidden poverty, which is not just a financial issue. There would be agreement across the House on that. I listened to the points made by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke). I do not necessarily agree with what he had to say, but I sense his passion on the issue, and he has a long track record of fighting the cause of the poor, and that is to be commended. My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) did not make a speech, although it felt as if he did. It will not surprise you to learn, Mr. Robertson, that I agree with most of the points that he made in his interventions. I am sure that, over the Christmas period, when he reflects on such matters, as he was asked to do by the right hon. Member for Stirling, he will reflect on the many achievements of the coalition Government in taking forward their agenda. When he intervened on the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain)—I welcome him to the first real exchange that we have had since he took his position—my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute make the most significant point, which is how the various aspirations that were expressed during the debate would be paid for. We did not hear anything about that. We heard again about Labour’s five-point plan. As far as I am aware, that is a £20 billion black hole for which no funding has been identified.

Does the Minister agree that a far more effective way of solving the youth unemployment problem would be a £2 billion tax on bank bonuses, which would fund 100,000 jobs for young people?

The hon. Lady knows that the Government have moved forward with a bank levy, which has raised more than the tax on bonuses that her Government set out. It is populist to say, “tax the bankers,” but that does not set out where the money would come from that would create the funding she suggests.

I hope the hon. Lady will join me in welcoming yesterday’s announcement on the youth contract—a significant step forward in tackling what everyone accepts is the serious problem of youth unemployment. Of course, it was not acknowledged in today’s debate that youth unemployment rose under the previous Labour Government. Youth unemployment is a serious issue, on which we should be trying to work on a cross-party basis. That is why I was pleased to be part of a seminar in Ayrshire with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Donohoe), bringing together the UK Government and the Scottish Government to look at the underlying problems of youth unemployment. That is why I am pleased that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will host a national meeting in Scotland with John Swinney to focus on youth unemployment in Scotland.

Working Tax Credits

It is a pleasure to have been able to secure a debate on which I have been trying to be successful in the ballot for some time. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Robertson, and to welcome the Minister to her relatively new job. I warmly congratulate her on it. She is surely further proof that all the best parliamentary careers begin in the Whips Office.

I am pleased to see a number of other hon. Members present. Several changes have been announced to working tax credit, not least those yesterday in the autumn statement. I will try to accommodate any colleagues who might wish to highlight their concerns or those of their constituents. For my part, in the time available, I want to discuss the changes to working tax credit that were announced in the spending review in October 2010. Specifically, from April 2012, the total weekly hours that a couple with children need to work in order to qualify for working tax credit will go up from 16 to 24, with one partner needing to work at least 16 hours a week. At present, couples whose annual income is less than about £17,700 a year qualify for tax credit if at least one of the couple works 16 hours a week. I want to talk about what these changes will mean for working families, how many of those families will be affected and what it will mean for couples where one partner has caring responsibilities.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting this important debate. We are all sorry that it is not longer.

My hon. Friend might be interested to know that I recently sent out a survey to find out about the child care arrangements of parents in my constituency. Interestingly, a number of grandparents replied; they all made the similar point that, without the free child care that they provided, parents would be facing mounting debts because of the squeeze on their family incomes and long-term financial problems. Does he agree that the Government have not properly thought through the cumulative affect of their policies on families?

I agree with my hon. Friend. If we had had one of the longer slots for debate, perhaps we could have discussed in more detail the interaction between working tax credit, child tax credit and the child care allowance. The interconnection between them is crucial. I shall ask the Minister near the end of the debate what transitional arrangements could be considered for some of those who are most badly affected by the changes.

Working tax credit has played an important part in recent development of the welfare state. When working tax credit was introduced in 2003, it balanced the goal of eradicating child poverty with promoting work. It currently offers around £4,000 for families on lower incomes and aims to ensure that families will always be better off in work. Until it was introduced, too many families had complained that going out to work might leave them less well off financially. Working tax credit was introduced to ensure that work always paid. It did so much more. Encouraging people back into work concerns more than just the contents of their pay packet. Work is about skills.

My hon. Friend has done well to secure this debate. He is talking about the difficulties of getting into work. This is particularly true for part-time staff. The change in the threshold from 16 to 24 hours is of great concern to people in my constituency, particularly those in the retail sector, where shifts will not be available because of the dire economic situation we face. Those people are among the 200,000 families who potentially will lose up to £4,000. This measure could force families back on to benefit and out of work. Surely this is not the right way to proceed.

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is specifically the impact on people working in, for instance, the retail sector that has prompted me to apply for this debate. I am sure that my hon. Friend and I agree that we do not want to see anything that makes it potentially less attractive for people to go out to work.

Couples and single parents who currently work for at least 16 hours a week are eligible for working tax credit. According to the Government’s proposals, from April couples will have to work an extra eight hours in order to qualify. Failure to secure additional work will exempt claimants from the credit completely. The reality is that about 280,000 families in receipt of working tax credit currently work less than 24 hours a week. Under the proposals, they could lose up to £4,000 a year.

This is a very important point. Will my hon. Friend confirm that they will lose not only their working tax credit, as he said, but their child care tax credits if they use child care, as many will? They could lose another couple of thousand pounds there.

Absolutely. They stand to lose even more when child care is taken into consideration. There is an internal tension between the Government’s stated ambition on universal credit and these actions. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s views on how those two aspects interplay.

I join the chorus of congratulations extended to my hon. Friend. I hope that he gets time to make some points between interventions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this represents an incredible retreat from, and abandonment of, the historic pledge by the previous Government to eradicate child poverty within a generation? Will this not have the opposite effect, in terms of the welfare to work agenda—perversely forcing some people to go back on to benefit because of all the losses they will suffer, as hon. Members have said?

Indeed. A family currently on £18,000 a year could lose £4,000, which is a huge loss. It will, as I understand it, push as many as half a million children back below the poverty line.

The Minister may say to me that the simple solution is for claimants to work an additional eight hours. For some people in receipt of working tax credit, the demands of caring, child care or limited health may make it difficult for them to work those additional hours. These changes make no allowance for that.

I was first alerted to the scope of this issue when I was contacted by a resident in my constituency who was hit by a car 11 years ago. He was previously employed as a printer and would routinely work 12-hour shifts a day for his family. He has not been able to work since the accident and needs some degree of care. His wife, as well as caring for her husband and their young daughter, works 17 hours a week in a before and after school club. She cannot increase her hours at the school because the club runs only for those 17 hours a week. With the caring responsibilities for her husband and daughter, she would struggle to find a second job with sufficiently flexible hours. The money they receive though working tax credit makes a real difference. Under the Government’s plan they would lose it.

I acknowledge that, rightly, the Government do not plan to increase the hours of work required by single parents, in recognition of the additional pressures they face. However, they also need to consider the impact that these changes will have on families where one member is disabled, or one member has a caring responsibility, or both. They should urgently consider whether additional exemptions should be applied. Indeed, I put a range of parliamentary questions over the past six months to the Exchequer Secretary, to try to ascertain how many of the 280,000 couples that this will affect have a partner with caring responsibilities or a disability, and to get a more detailed breakdown. However, the Government could not provide much of that information, and what they could provide was extremely limited.

As I have said, the promotion of work is at the heart of the working tax credit scheme. The principle of asking people to take on work to qualify for working tax credits is a positive one. But if the amount of work we require is unrealistic, it will hurt rather than help some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for securing this debate. I am sure he will be aware of this, but will he comment on the point made by the trade union USDAW that 78% of the couples it has surveyed who work between 16 and 24 hours say that there is no way in which they could increase their working hours, and that the retail sector is particularly squeezed at present, meaning that overtime that may have been guaranteed in the run-up to Christmas in previous years is no longer available ?

Absolutely, and I am very grateful to USDAW for its support in giving me research and case studies relevant to this debate, because these proposed changes will particularly impact on the retail and service sectors, where there is a prevalence of part-time work. They are rightly concerned about the impact it will have on their members. I have seen their tax credits survey, which suggests that 79% of their members who receive working tax credit would not be able to secure additional hours from their employers before next April. Indeed, they have already talked to members who have repeatedly tried to secure extra hours from their employers, but been told that the work is not available. Where additional hours are available they are often late at night or very early in the morning. The lack of public transport means that members cannot take them.

An added complication is that there is often a mismatch in the retail sector between the hours staff are contracted to work and the hours they actually work. In recent years there has been a trend for retailers to cut the hours staff are contracted to work, with an expectation that they will work longer, additional hours at busy periods. That means that under the proposed changes couples actually working more than the 24 hours that makes them eligible for working tax credit might not get it because not all of their hours are contracted.

I put it to the Minister that that would be completely unconscionable, and I respectfully request that she address this point when she responds to me later in the debate.

I do not yet believe that the full impact of these changes has been considered or identified by the Government. The Government claim they are still committed to ending child poverty, but this is a measure that has the potential to push many families well below the poverty line. It is a regressive step that will concern many Members.

I would hope that the withdrawal of working tax credit from those who could not secure additional work would not prompt a return to the old idea that work will not pay. But that is the risk, and that would be the tragedy, not only for the employees concerned but for the parts of industries that rely on a flexible work force willing to work just a few hours a week.

In these tough economic times I would rather that the Government reviewed their plans, but I do not think that they will do that. Instead, may I implore them to do two things? I ask them, first, to exempt couples where one partner is either disabled or a carer from these changes; and, secondly, to increase awareness of the change among employers and employees, to ensure that they have the best chance of working together so that they can fulfil the requirements for eligibility for working tax credit payments. In addition, if these changes are to go ahead, will the Minister consider what help the Government can give to the most badly affected couples in terms of transitional arrangements?

This change will impact on the lives of many thousands of struggling families, many of whom are my constituents, and I am extremely grateful to be able to highlight this matter before the House this afternoon.

First, may I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on securing this debate, and thank him for his kind words about my role at the beginning of his comments? He has asked me a number of specific questions, which I shall be happy to address. In addition, I would like briefly to set out the various reforms to tax credits. I will talk a little about child poverty and, of course, about work incentives, before addressing fully his main point about the 16 to 24 hours change.

In her reply, will the Minister deal with the central issue of fairness? Does she think that targeting the poorest families by cutting tax credits is a fair approach as a deficit reduction measure, or does she think that this is wrong, and that the Government should target the bankers?

I will happily tackle that. In fact, the hon. Gentleman brings me straight to the main point with which I must preface my comments, which is that we are in a very difficult position, economically speaking. That cannot have escaped the attention of anybody sitting here, least of all the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), who I know is very alive to all such matters. However, the fact is that when faced with a very difficult economic situation, we have to make very difficult choices. We must be mindful of the fact that to leave the country struggling under an enormous debt burden does not help anybody; normal working households would not thank us for failing to deal with that situation. So that is one view of fairness to which I shall return throughout my speech.

I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. If we accept for a moment the premise of her argument—tough times, difficult choices—is it not all the more important to have the closest regard to fairness, the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) was making? How can it be fair to target these working people in the way the Government are doing?

I am unsure from his comments whether the right hon. Gentleman accepts the premise that we are in difficult economic times. I do not know which parallel universe he is living in, but if he is in the same one as I am, he will know that, yes, of course we must do what we do as fairly as possible. He will also know that our bank levy is raising more every year than his party raised in one year, and with that I shall, I hope, lay that topic to rest, unless the hon. Lady would like to take it further.

Would the Minister confirm that 100,000 extra children will be pushed into poverty as a result of the reduction in working tax credit that was announced yesterday? Will she confirm that that was what the OBR says the additional number of children in poverty will be?

I can confirm that that figure relates to the measures of child poverty as set out by the Child Poverty Act 2010 and by the current debate. No doubt, the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) is already rubbing her fingers with glee about that. I will come on to that in my comments as well. I wish to introduce the idea that we need to move on to tackling the causes of poverty rather than the statistical method of counting poverty.

As we realised from the autumn statement yesterday, the Chancellor seems quite fond of giving with one hand and taking away with the other. We can see what has been taken away: up to £4,000 from these families. Is there anything that these families will get in return that would help to fulfil the Government’s promise that they would be the most family-friendly Government in history? From what we have heard today so far, there is not, but could the Minister enlighten us?

I thank the hon. Lady very much for her consideration in the sequencing of interventions and I will come on to exactly that point.

I will continue to speak briefly about the high level need for action which drove yesterday’s announcements. As hon. Members will know, the UK economy is recovering from the biggest financial crisis in generations. June 2010’s Budget set out the Government’s plans to reduce the deficit and rebuild the economy. However, since then—and this is the crucial point from yesterday’s analysis which accompanied the OBR’s figures, and both must be taken together in my view—the UK economy has been hit by a number of shocks. The OBR names three: first, higher than expected inflation, which the OBR calls an “external shock”; secondly, ongoing instability from the euro area crisis; and; thirdly, the full and permanent damage done by the 2008-09 financial crisis.

It is unwise not to recognise those three major factors. It is absolutely vital that we tackle our debts. It is absolutely vital that we react appropriately and wisely to the economic situation presented to us, and I think that households know that. No household would thank a Government who, instead of dealing responsibly with that situation, carried on spending, carried on borrowing and carried on racking up the debt to do so.

That still does not explain—to pick up a point one of my hon. Friends made—why the Government are choosing to punish honest, hard-working families instead of taxing bankers. It is about a four-times greater punishment in terms of taking away money from these families, compared to what the Government are taking away from bankers.

Let me reiterate, first, the incontrovertible point that we are taking more from bankers every year than the Labour party did in one year of operation. Furthermore, I must point this out and, I hope, lay the matter to rest: the distributional allowances published alongside the autumn statement yesterday clearly indicated that it is the top 10% of the income band that is contributing.

Let me turn briefly to a summary of what was announced yesterday and previously. The Chancellor said that we will uprate the disability elements of tax credits in line with prices, and increase the child element of the child tax credit by £135 in line with inflation too. We will not, however, uprate the other elements of the working tax credit this coming year. Hon. Members have highlighted the fact that, given the size of the uprating this year, we will no longer go ahead with the planned additional £110 rise in the child element over and above inflation.

I must make a further comment, which is that of course the Government believe that the welfare system must remain fair and affordable while protecting the most vulnerable. We must also note within the figures I have just given that by April 2012 the child tax credit will have increased by £390 since last May, and that is of course per child.

A number of reforms to tax credits were announced in the June Budget and the spending review. The point is that the previous Government spent more than £150 billion on tax credits since 2003. This was unsustainable in many ways, and I will give an example before moving on. Under the previous system tax credits were available to families earning up to £58,000. If households had an increase in income of up to £25,000 in the year then they could have earned up to £83,000 and still benefited from tax credits. Taking on board the principles raised by hon. Members, that means to me that we had to act in a situation that appeared to be very unfair, in that people in the top income decile were eligible for tax credits. That is unjustifiable, unfair and very unsustainable in the current economic climate.

I know that the Minister was a member of the Welfare Reform Bill Committee, and so is very familiar with the advantages of universal credit set out to the Committee, which include it being available to people working just two, three or four hours a week. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions frequently draws attention to that advantage, yet with this measure her Department is moving in the opposition direction by limiting the availability of tax credits only to those working more than 24 hours as a household. That is the opposite of what her right hon. Friend is doing.

Regrettably, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman wanted to respond to why higher earners would have received tax credits under the previous system, but I will come to his point in the bulk of my comments.

May I bring the Minister back to the specific move from 16 to 24 hours? The figures I have from the Treasury estimate that this change will save £380 million a year. Yes, that is a substantial sum, but the context is one of a Government now borrowing £158 billion more over this Parliament than they said they would just a year ago. If a family’s income goes from £18,000 a year to £14,000, based on this change, will they not feel some angst at a statement that focuses only on higher earners having their tax credits taken away and the wider economic impact? To go from £18,000 to £14,000 is a very big change for a family in my constituency.

Let me move on to the change that the hon. Gentleman highlighted, which is the move from 16 to 24 hours. As he explained, under the current system couples with children can claim working tax credit if one partner works 16 hours a week. The hon. Gentleman will know that at the moment lone parents must also work at least 16 hours to qualify for the working tax credit. As he said, however, under the 2010 spending review, from April next year couples with children will have to work 24 hours between them, with at least one partner working 16. In response to the interventions made, this change makes the system fairer by reducing that disparity between couples and lone parents. I would not like to stand here to defend why those two groups should be treated differently. I can see the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde twitching but I must move on in order to tackle two of the points he specifically asked me to address.

There are exemptions where couples may have a limited capability to work. That means that couples with children will continue to qualify for working tax credit where one member works at least 16 hours a week and that person is eligible for the working tax credit disability element. In addition, there will be an exemption for some couples with children where only one member works at least 16 hours a week and the other adult does not work, for example where one adult is incapacitated. A couple with children will continue to qualify for working tax credit at 16 hours if one partner is in receipt of disability living allowance.

Moving on to how else we can increase support for lower and middle income earners and improve the rewards to work. On work incentives, which I said I would cover, universal credit has already been mentioned and it is in that area—

I thank the Minister for giving way. Before she moves on to work incentives, will she address the point about low-paid workers who would find it difficult to get that extra eight hours to stay on the working tax credits, and who will potentially see their incomes drop from £18,000 to £14,000 in a year? What consideration has the Minister given to transitional arrangements or help for that particular group?

The point I was about to make was that the introduction of universal credit is where the Government anticipate making the most major transitional arrangements, and I note the hon. Lady’s points—and those of other Members in earlier interventions—in particular in relation to retail sector work, for example. Everybody appreciates that the economic climate is hard at the moment—the ideal world is not out there for everybody. I take her point.

Moving on very briefly to the work incentives provided by the universal credit, the phrase has already been used that work must always pay and be seen to do so. One of the key features of universal credit—the hon. Lady will know this—is that it will be paid in and out of work, and that the hours rule will disappear to smooth the transition into work and ensure that that it pays.

The Minister’s Department is making the hours rule worse now. It will be better in the future; why is she doing the opposite in her Department?

We need to move in one direction in this economy, which is to tackle the deficit. I made that point very strongly up front. We must also look to major reforms such as the universal credit, and perhaps before that the Work programme in some cases. There are a number of examples that I look forward to the Government delivering. I have given some; let me give some more that will also answer the points made about what people might get in return.

The Government are investing a further £380 million by 2014-15 to extend the offer of 15 hours of free education and care a week for disadvantaged two-year-olds, which will cover an extra 130,000 children. That is only one element of what the Government will do to help working families. Support has been focused on those on out-of-work benefits—this is a key point that I have no doubt the right hon. Member for East Ham will appreciate. They need greater protection against rising prices than people on working tax credit who are, of course, not solely reliant on this income; they also have income from work, which is key. I do, though, take the points made regarding the difficulty of getting a job in the palm of one’s hand before asking for it.

The Government, however, remains committed to making work pay. As the Chancellor made clear yesterday, the best way to help working people is by taking them out of tax altogether. In April 2012 we will make a £630 increase in the income tax personal allowance, taking it to £8,105. This is in addition to the £1,000 increase in April this year. Together, these increases will benefit 25 million individuals and take 1.1 million low-income individuals out of tax from April 2012.

As I started to articulate, there is then the reform to which I look forward. Universal credit will unify the complex current system of means-tested out-of-work benefits, tax credits and support for housing into one single payment. The award will be withdrawn at a single rate, with the aim of offering a smooth transition into work and encouraging progression into work.

For parents currently on working tax credit, and in the future, the Government continue to provide support for 70% of child care costs—I am conscious that hon. Members have mentioned child care today. That goes up to a weekly limit of £175 for families with one child and £300 for two or more children. Under the universal credit this support will be extended to those working fewer than 16 hours, which will allow 80,000 additional families to receive help with child care costs. That will give second earners and lone parents, typically women, a stronger incentive to work, and I am proud of all those measures.

I shall deal briefly with child poverty and the way in which the Government see it before concluding. Poverty is about more than income; it is about a lack of opportunity, aspiration and stability. We are keen to tackle its root causes, and ensure that children born in low-income families realise their full potential. I have suggested measures that will help, both in the short and long term, but policy in this area has been distorted by a preoccupation with counting the number of children below a certain line, rather than moving families over a real line, as opposed to an imaginary one.

Surely, that is the purpose of working tax credits. As has been said, with universal credit, the Government are going in the opposite direction from the policy that the Minister is pursuing; it disincentives people who wish to go out to work, which goes against what she said about the wider impact and causes of poverty. Incentivising people to go into the workplace is the best solution, but this policy moves in completely the opposite direction.

Indeed, we need to incentivise people to go into the workplace. However, we have less money than we thought, and we have less money than any previous Government cared to highlight. We have to prioritise who we spend that money on. I would rather give it to people who have no other source of work—in other words, those on out-of-work benefits, rather than those on in-work benefits. That is a sensible principle.

To conclude, the Government have had to take urgent action to tackle what is unsustainable in broader economic terms as well as an unsustainable Welfare Reform Bill. Spending on tax credits has increased from £18 billion in 2003-04 to an estimated £30 billion last year, which is unsustainable and unfair, given the examples that I have mentioned. If we look at the cumulative impact on households of tax, tax credits and benefit reforms introduced both yesterday and before, the top income decile sees the largest reduction in income, both in cash terms and as a percentage of net income. I will take no lectures from the Opposition on believing in more spending, more borrowing and more debt, spent unsustainably and spent unfairly across the income range. I do not think that any working household will thank them for that.

Calculators in Schools

I am pleased to have secured this debate on the use of calculators in school. The Library confirmed to me that there has not been a single debate on this subject in the past 10 years, and I suspect that it goes even further back than that. There may never have been a debate in Parliament about the use of calculators in school, but it is extremely important that the subject is given an airing before the curriculum review in 2013.

To make the position clear, I am not anti-calculator. In fact, I count myself a bit of a geek. I was a mainstay of my school computer club, and I was happy to spend time programming in BASIC, and whiled away many a contented teenage hour doing so. However, I believe that technology has to be used in the right way at the right time and at the right age. I do not believe in the micromanagement of teachers, or telling them what they ought to do in the classroom. On the subject of calculators, we must acknowledge that the Government have actively encouraged their use in school through directions in the national curriculum and calculator use in standard assessment tests. We are therefore not looking at a neutral landscape.

Finally, calculator usage is not the only reason for poor maths performance, and I do not seek to claim that it is. We need to look at teaching standards, the curriculum and pupil motivation, but we can say—and there is significant academic evidence for this—that calculator use too early has a negative impact on mathematical ability. Having observed eight-year-olds being taught multiplication on calculators in an English classroom before they have fully grasped and practised key mathematical operations, I am concerned that things are going on in our schools as a result of Government policy about which we need to be mindful and careful.

Most teachers would consider that consolidating skills at the age of seven or eight in division, multiplication and fractions, and introducing proper, formal methods that can be used for a lifetime, are important in preparing students for life. Many of my constituents report that too-easy access to calculators is available in local schools. Failure to secure good basics can result in problems later in school, and we have only to look at the PISA––programme for international student assessment—international league tables, in which Britain is in 28th place, to see that we have a problem.

It is not just a problem in maths. We know that good, early maths helps to develop both logical thinking and skills in abstraction, which are useful in all kinds of analytical subjects and jobs. My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) has been very effective in raising the issue of financial capability and how people can manage their bank accounts, mortgages and loans. To do so, they need a good understanding of arithmetic and mathematics. They need to be able to ready-reckon in their head the purchase they are making or the financial product they are buying. If we do not lay out those basics early on, as a country we will struggle.

This is part of a general problem that we have with technology, which has been highlighted by various IT and technology companies, and by Eric Schmidt of Google. Too often in our schools, technology is seen as a magic box that students use, rather than a tool: they need to understand how something operates, learn to programme it and think for themselves. We are in danger of getting into a sat-nav process whereby students are led through a series of steps, rather than understanding programming and how IT works. On the subject of learning to use IT in schools, I have yet to meet a teenager who is not an expert in using smart phones and making internet searches, but I have met quite a few who are not quite so hot on mental arithmetic. We need to rebalance the skills that we encourage students to learn.

What is in the national curriculum? For seven to 11-year-olds—key stage 2—there is a separate section in the national curriculum on calculator methods. That is an early age at which to teach such methods compared with other countries. The national curriculum is specific about how that ought to be taught—it is pretty dirigiste. Not only are calculator methods set out in the curriculum and encouraged as part of what older primary schoolchildren learn, but they are tested at 11. However, many questions in the test for 11-year-olds do not require a calculator to answer them. I have a sample question from the “calculator allowed” test in mathematics for 2010:

“These are some prices in a flower shop. Tulips: £1.20 for a bunch; roses: 40p each; daffodils, 55p for a bunch. How many roses can you buy for exactly £2?”

Most Members in the Chamber would be able to work that out without using a calculator. That kind of question should encourage thinking and mental arithmetic but, unfortunately, in the tests at the moment, students are asked to use calculator for basic sums.

According to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2007, calculator use by 10-year-olds in England is the highest of any country in the study. We are an outlier on the matter, and only 2% of 10-year-olds in primary schools in England do not use calculators. If we look at the top-performing countries in PISA 2009, which is generally reckoned to be the most objective international comparison, because all students sit the same test, which they do not do in other studies, we can see lower calculator use and stronger resistance to calculators by teachers in those schools. Zhangzhou, China is the top performer, but that was not covered in the TIMSS test, so I cannot comment on that, but Singapore was number two, and 98% of its 10-year-olds do not use calculators in school. Hong Kong was number three, where 50% of its pupils do not use calculators, and there are very strict limitations on those who do use them to prevent their use for basic computational work. Korea was number four and although its 10-year-olds were not included in the study, even their 14-year-olds had a low usage of calculators. China Taipei was number five.

In 2008, the Department for Children, Schools and Families did a comparative study that showed that teachers felt great caution about the use of calculators in schools. Similarly, the use of calculators in schools in Austria and Germany is very low. Generally speaking, international studies show that calculators get introduced at about the age of nine to 11, and for specific purposes. They are not used for those basic arithmetical operations that I described in the SATs test, but for those cases where only a calculator can be used.

Traditionally, Anglophone and Scandinavian countries have higher calculator use—countries such as the US, Denmark, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand and Finland, but nowhere has such high usage as England. We really are the most keen on calculators. I would describe this country as in love with the calculator, and from a very early age. The use of calculators in other countries has prompted much academic debate, and critiques about it appear in the US, the UK and Scandinavia on both sides of the argument. There is a growing international debate about the use of technology and how we inculcate the basic skills that people need to think before they go on to use technology, rather than thinking of the calculator as a magic box that will solve the answer to every question.

The Massachusetts curriculum—it is the top-performing state in the US—places restrictions on calculator use and says that it cannot be used for basic arithmetic operations. Sweden has a non-calculator exam at the age of 18. Alberta, one of the top-performing Canadian provinces, has a strong focus on mental mathematics. A lot of the Anglophone and Scandinavian countries are now beginning to think about how excessive calculator use at an early age may have impacted on standards in maths and the ability to do maths.

We all know that the west is facing a strong challenge from the east, particularly in respect of human capital and skills and capabilities. All countries would be wise to consider why the east’s performance, particularly in subjects such as maths and science, is outstripping that of the western world. I urge the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), to consider the place of calculators in the curriculum. We should remove calculator methods from the teaching of children as young as seven and eight, because that is taking time away from getting a good grounding in the basics. If one speaks to teachers in high school, they will often say that students arriving at their schools are not prepared in the basics due to a lack of practice. My fear is that by having a strong section on calculator methods in the curriculum we are taking away time that could be used on preparing children in those basics.

We should also consider the provision of calculators in the SATs tests. I know that there are questions about the overall standards in the SATs. I also know that the Minister is considering them and that he is keen to see more formal methods applied in the curriculum so that pupils learn proper long multiplication and long division. We also need to consider other parts of the curriculum that may be taking up time from that valuable practice in getting the basics right.

Our record is not good. We are 28th in the world according to the PISA league tables, and an outlier according to the OECD in terms of the number of 16 to 18-year-olds studying maths, because, I believe, the start of their maths career was not very good. If we want to get better at maths in this country, we need to start to get those basics right, so we can get more people to do maths. The Chancellor announced yesterday that maths free schools would be an option at 16 to 18 years, but if we do not have the confidence in performing those basic mathematical operations, I fear that we will be unable to get students up to the level to perform later on.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) on securing this excellent debate. I thank her for being kind enough to allow me to make some supportive comments.

As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on financial education, I absolutely support this call about calculator use because the absolute cornerstone and bedrock to making the next generation of consumers savvy, quick-thinking and financially literate is having a good grasp of mental arithmetic. Without that, it will be impossible for us to deliver improved levels of financial education.

I also speak as a former employer. Time and time again in my business, we almost had to start again with mental arithmetic when we employed people. Mental arithmetic was important for my business, as it is for businesses right across the country. When I meet representatives of businesses of different sizes that frustration is borne out by experience.

Mathematical ability is also incredibly important for personal confidence. This week, I visited an excellent school, Sevenfields, in my constituency. It has transformed itself into an outstanding school, and the main driver behind that is confidence in subjects such as maths, driven by mental arithmetic. Old-fashioned that may be, but it is making a real difference in that school. It is also important to foster personal confidence in students to embrace mathematics. We have been struggling for too long to acquire the number of students who wish to take on maths and progress further. If people can conquer mental arithmetic, they then have the confidence to progress further in maths. In common with my hon. Friend, I am a bit of geek in this respect.

Confidence in maths drives forward the ability to acquire entrepreneurial skills. We see from the “Young Apprentice” TV programme that those young people with good mental arithmetic do particularly well in many of the tasks, particularly haggling. I recall from when I was running my business the number of times when I met suppliers who simply could not do mental arithmetic. They relied on a calculator, which they were embarrassed to use in front of me and which allowed me to run rings round them, and make reasonably good profit margins. That is a serious observation, because that was not just a one-off, but happened time and time again.

For the sake of driving up maths standards, improving confidence and supporting our ongoing financial education campaign, I urge the Minister to get behind this campaign to promote mental arithmetic skills.

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) on securing this interesting debate on a topic of great importance to us all. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) about the importance of mathematics not just in providing progression to more sophisticated maths, but in day-to-day operation of haggling and securing a good deal. I know that what he said from his own business experience is absolutely right, and I am sure that that lack is more pervasive in our economy than people suspect.

My hon. Friend’s excellent opening speech reiterated many of the same points that she made in her article published in The Sunday Times last week entitled, “Cancel the calculators and make pupils think”. I broadly agree with her analysis, and in particular her astute observations on how calculators are overused in classrooms in England. I also agree with her suggestion that there is much that we can learn from the best-performing nations and regions around the world; her analysis of Britain’s position in international rankings when it comes to maths; and her conclusion that we need to look again at the way in which calculators are used in primary schools.

Getting mathematics teaching right at an early age is of prime importance, and securing the foundations of mathematical understanding early at primary school will help our pupils to gain mathematical fluency and achieve at GCSE level and beyond. The modern work force demands people with high levels of mathematical ability as employment opportunities become increasingly technological and the importance of the internet continues to grow. There is a growing demand for people with high-level maths skills to become the scientists and engineers of the future. There is an increasing need for people with intermediate maths skills in a whole range of disciplines. That is why the Secretary of State has said that it is the Government’s intention that within 10 years the vast majority of young people will study maths from the age of 16 to 19.

My hon. Friend for South West Norfolk is right that this country is an outlier in the number of students continuing to study maths beyond the age of 16. As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, the UK is falling behind internationally. I make no apologies for reminding other hon. Members—it is my hon. Friend who I am reminding—that over the past 10 years the United Kingdom has dropped down the international league table of school performance, falling from eighth to 28th in maths. PISA results show that many countries are racing ahead of the UK in mathematical attainment. Pupils in Shanghai are working at a level in maths that is about two and a half years ahead of that of their peers in the UK. Pupils from Singapore and Hong Kong are regularly introduced to some mathematical concepts much earlier than their counterparts are in England.

I saw that happening on a visit to a Taiwanese school. The reason behind it was that the Taiwanese felt it was so essential to their economy to embrace new technologies. They thought that that was the way to improve mathematical and science skills, which was so important to them.

My hon. Friend makes his point very eloquently. The debate is not just about the individual’s success in life—there is much evidence that those with advanced mathematical skills secure better employment prospects and higher standards of living—but that as a country we need to get it right, which we have not yet done.

As the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study—or TIMSS—study of maths has shown, those pupils in Singapore and Hong Kong go on to outperform pupils in England in international league tables. As has been said, if we are to compete internationally, it is crucial that we equip our young people with such essential maths skills.

The foundation for more advanced mathematical and scientific study is built in primary school, where pupils can develop a love of, and a fascination with, mathematics. Unfortunately, far too many children leave primary school convinced that they “can’t do” maths. Provisional key stage 2 data for the 2011 test year shows that only 80% of pupils reached the expected level in maths, and an even lower proportion reached level 5. Without a solid grounding in arithmetic and early maths in primary school, children go on to struggle with basic mathematical skills throughout their school careers and their adult lives. We cannot allow children to fall behind at that early stage. It is vital that pupils are fluent and confident in calculation before they leave primary school. We cannot expect children to be able to cope with the demands of complicated quadratic equations if they do not have quick and accurate recall of multiplication tables. Indeed, it is not possible to do long division, without being fluent in them.

Does the Minister agree that understanding basic operations enables one to check calculations? For example, when purchasing an item or considering a mortgage, people can check whether their calculator is right, which provides a sense check. When people have those basic skills, they are equipped for all such difficult situations in later life.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. Being fluent in the multiplication tables right up to 12 times 12—there are, after all, 12 months in the year and there are 12 in a dozen, which are still frequently used quantities regardless of decimalisation—gives people an instinct for numbers. They can therefore instinctively spot where something is wrong—for example, that the dosage a nurse gives to a patient is out by a factor of five, 10 or 20—because they are used to numbers and do not have to look things up on a chart or use a machine to calculate whether a number is right. It is to provide that instinctive understanding that such basic calculations and repeated practice at primary school are so important.

I also agree with my hon. Friend that we should not hinder pupils’ understanding of calculation by allowing them to become dependent on calculators too early. Ofsted recently conducted a survey of 20 top-performing primary schools in maths in the country. The resulting report, entitled “Good Practice in Primary Mathematics: Evidence from 20 Successful Schools”, clearly shows the importance of pupils knowing their times tables properly to develop fluency in calculation. Most of the top-performing schools visited for that study introduced calculators only at the very upper end of primary school, and then only to check the answers for calculations carried out by hand. That is often a time when pupils are practising written methods for long multiplication and long division, and adding, multiplying, dividing and subtracting fractions. Finding the common denominator when trying to add one seventh and one eighth—56—is significantly harder and more boring if children do not know their multiplication tables by heart.

The international evidence is also clear. High-performing jurisdictions around the world, as my hon. Friend so eloquently said in her well-researched speech and article, would limit the use of calculators in the primary mathematics classroom. Guiding principles for the Massachusetts, Singapore and Hong Kong curricula state that calculators should not be used as a replacement for basic understanding and skills. Moreover, the 4th and 6th grade state assessments in Massachusetts, which are the equivalent of years 5 and 7 in this country, do not permit the use of a calculator. Elementary students learn how to perform basic arithmetical operations without using a calculator. Evidence from the most successful educational systems around the world suggests that calculators should be introduced only once pupils have a thorough grounding in number facts or number bonds, including knowing their multiplication tables by heart, and that calculators should be used only to support the teaching of mathematics where the aim is to focus on solving a problem rather than on the process of calculation.

It is crucial that pupils are fluent in using efficient written methods to perform calculations and do not reach for a calculator when faced with a simple addition or multiplication. The most efficient written methods, such as columnar addition and subtraction, allow a pupil to perform calculations quickly. Pupils should be taught them as soon as possible, and not spend years using intermediate methods, such as chunking.

We are currently reviewing the national curriculum to give teachers greater professional freedom over how they organise and teach their subject, and my hon. Friend’s analysis of the key stage 2 curriculum was very revealing. The review will be informed by best international practice, and will draw on other evidence about the knowledge children need to deepen their understanding at each stage of their education. Alongside the review, we are looking at how arithmetic is taught in school by engaging in an informal dialogue with maths professionals. Some key areas of consensus are emerging—namely, that there needs to be a renewed focus on quick recall of number facts, such as multiplication tables, and on the importance of consistent, efficient methods of calculation being taught throughout the school.

I believe that technology can be used to enhance teaching across all subjects. In his speech to the Royal Society earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State highlighted the wonderful work being done by, among others, the Li Ka Shing Foundation and the highly respected Stanford Research Institute International on a pilot programme to use interactive software to support the teaching of maths. He also highlighted how computer games developed by Marcus du Sautoy are enabling children to engage with complex mathematical problems that would hitherto have been thought too advanced for them to tackle at such an age.

Children will not be able to cope with the more advanced maths that they will encounter in secondary school unless they are fully fluent in the basics, and introducing calculators too early can risk the development of that fluency. Our focus on getting maths right in primary school also requires a focus on teaching quality, as my hon. Friend hinted at in her analysis of what matters in education. One of the most important characteristics of the best performing education systems around the world is that they recruit the best possible people into teaching and provide them with high-quality professional development. There is clear consensus in the maths community that teachers must have a deep understanding of maths to be fully effective.

Our White Paper “The Importance of Teaching” set out the Government’s commitment to provide additional support for the uptake of mathematics and the sciences. In June, the Secretary of State announced that the Government will invest £135 million over the spending review period to support that aim. Much of that will go towards improving the skills of existing teachers. We have followed the example of Finland by expanding Teach First and by providing extra support for top graduates in maths and science to enter teaching.

We have also made the following commitments in the initial teacher training strategy published earlier this month. From 2012-13, we will prioritise the allocation of places to courses with a maths and science specialism over generalist primary courses. That will encourage ITT providers—universities—to offer specialist, rather than generalist, courses. We will fund £43 million in bursaries for new primary teachers, some of which will go to trainees who are training on primary courses that include a specialism. We will offer schools the opportunity to train their own primary specialist teachers, and then employ them as teachers. For 2013-14, we expect to introduce additional financial incentives for trainees who take a maths, science or language specialism as part of their primary ITT course and have a good A-level in maths, a science subject or a language.

The Government have just announced £600 million to be spent on building an additional 100 new free schools by the end of the Parliament. These new schools will include specialist maths schools for pupils between 16 and 18, and their aim will be to produce the outstanding mathematicians of the future. We are funding two cohorts of teachers to undertake the maths specialist teacher programme, which aims to improve the practice and efficacy of primary mathematics teaching. We are also part-funding two further cohorts of the programme.

Evidence around the world clearly shows that high-performing nations ensure that children receive a first-class maths education when it is based on a solid foundation of essential principles of number and calculation. That is why we are making primary-level maths a priority: we are encouraging early mastery of multiplication tables and written calculation methods, limiting the use of calculators, and raising the quality of teaching. Giving children a solid understanding of basic mathematical skills will encourage higher achievement and greater enjoyment in maths, and give every child the best possible start to their school career.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.