Tuesday 7 February 2012
[Martin Caton in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Bill Wiggin.)
Good morning, Mr Caton. I welcome you to the Chair and the Minister to his place. I know that hasty rearrangements have been made to allow him to plug a few gaps this morning. I am grateful to you and the Minister for coming along, and I hope that our little chit-chat about intellectual property will be intellectually stimulating. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I thought that it would be interesting and opportune to examine intellectual property issues and economic growth, because there is so much stuff going on. It has been several months since publication of the Hargreaves review, which made several recommendations, and the Government’s response. In the past few weeks, the Intellectual Property Office has embarked on consultation on how those recommendations can be implemented, as well as doing us the favour of introducing a few new recommendations of its own, which I will touch on. Also in the past few weeks, the Government have appointed Richard Hooper to lead the new digital copyright exchange. He is consulting on the best way to take the new body forward, and I want to encourage as many people as possible to give evidence to both consultations to ensure that we get both issues right as far as possible.
We are getting into the awards season when the cream of the intellectual property-supported industry and artists will be celebrating at events such as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards and the BRITs. I have a ticket for the BRIT awards ceremony. I do not know whether you have, Mr Caton, but I would be happy to tell you about it the following morning. I know that some of my colleagues here today are looking forward to that great event.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that. I must ensure that I book accommodation for my trip to Salford, which I am looking forward to.
It is worth reminding the Chamber of the contribution that the intellectual property-supported industry makes to the general economy. It is massive. Around 8% of our gross domestic product is predicated on the intellectual property-supported industry, and it is responsible for around 2.8 million jobs. As the hon. Gentleman’s intervention cleverly but not discreetly emphasised, my major interest is music. As well as the fantastic folk awards, the BRIT awards will take place in the next couple of weeks, when we will celebrate again that, outwith the United States, the United Kingdom is the second largest exporter of music worldwide. It is a huge, successful and fantastic industry, which has gone from strength to strength. Last year, we saw incredible success for UK artists, particularly in the US market.
Not just music is involved; every part of the creative range and everything that we do in this country produces a fantastic conveyor belt of imagination and talent, and we have been able to ensure that it has been successful. We have been able to do that mainly because we have fantastic imagination, talent and creativity within the UK. Moreover, we have built up a world-class infrastructure—the sector or the industry—that has been able to ensure that emerging talent has been identified, supported and mentored. We have ensured that that talent has been able to come through, and that is predicated on the real and important issue that those who have been prepared to invest in their talent have been rewarded for their contribution in bringing that talent through.
We must do nothing to threaten that incredible conveyor belt of talent, support and nurturing. However, we are beginning to observe a few danger signs. There are a few clouds on the horizon that are worth examining, because the threat comes from an unusual place. That threat and the clouds in the distance are being brought forward by the Government in the drift of some of their thinking and some of their policies. We must ensure that the industry continues to be supported. I have spoken in such debates for 10 years. I think that I have managed to speak in all debates on intellectual property and creative industries. I have never known a time when those who speak on behalf of the sector and all the different disciplines in the creative economy have felt that they have been undervalued and misunderstood and that their voice is not being heard.
There is a feeling in the sector of being under siege because of the tone and drift of the Government’s thinking about how we look at our creative economy. There is an emerging view that the Government might even be devaluing our whole attitude towards intellectual property. There is a sneaking suspicion—I have heard this from people throughout Europe—that the Government might be approaching something that could be described as anti-copyright. That is not a good place to be. It is not where we want to be if we want to grow this remarkable sector. The Government must hand out an olive branch to those who speak on behalf of the industry and the sector and try to get some of the issues resolved now.
There is also a feeling that that is happening because of the work of the Intellectual Property Office. Its very name suggests that it is about enabling and supporting intellectual property. One would think that that is what it is for, and that that would be its sole and exclusive responsibility. Some of the new thinking about devaluing intellectual property, and the drift and concern about copyright seem to come from within the IPO. We must be wary of that, because we might be creating an office that is supposed to support a particular sector, but instead is becoming a bureaucratic front to devalue the people whom it is supposed to support. We must get to grips with that.
The emerging view is that the Government are more interested in pursuing the rights of those who live off the content of others, and who perhaps abuse it, rather than those who produce it in the first place. That view contends that the artist, the creator and those who are prepared to invest in a talent have become a massive inconvenience and that they are an afterthought and must be grudgingly accommodated and managed. The idea that the inventor or creator is the owner of important intellectual property rights is barely recognised. Whatever links they want to assert must be collectivised for the greater good.
I appeal to the Government to get a grip on the issue, to take charge of it and to prevent the drift because it is not helpful. They must exercise and demonstrate effective political control. They have allowed us to drift over the past few years, and there has not been the leadership that this important sector—8% of GDP—requires. We have a haphazard arrangement, which is not in the interest of the whole sector. The IPO resides in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The creative industries, the artists and the inventors are managed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
We have a Minister who is not accountable to the elected House of Commons; she is a member of the House of Lords. This is my second debate on intellectual property and these issues. I gave evidence to the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, but I have not even had a meeting with that Minister, such is her accountability to elected Members of Parliament. I respectfully suggest how to resolve the matter. We need one dedicated Minister of State in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, where we could have the IPO and the artists, creators and the whole sector. Putting the IPO within that Department might lead to better understanding and more sympathy for the people whom it is nominally and notionally there to serve. A Minister of State who oversees the whole digital economy could pick up issues such as intellectual property, supporting artists and major legislation such as the Digital Economy Act 2010.
What we have now is totally unsatisfactory. There is no effective political control, and no leadership is given to the IPO, so it has started to develop its own agenda and come up with the notion that copyright and intellectual property must be constrained for the benefit of users. Close attention at ministerial level has not been paid to such issues over the past few years, and that has created a vacuum that has been occupied—possibly rightly—by the IPO, which has come on board and decided that such matters are its concern. The Minister is relatively new to these issues, but I urge him to get a grip and take control. Government agencies advise; Ministers decide. The Intellectual Property Office may sound like a grand organisation, but it is an instrument of government and should be subject to ministerial control and guidance.
When industries supported by intellectual property rights and those who speak for the sector come to Whitehall to put their case to Ministers, they are dismissed almost arrogantly. Their evidence, which at times the Government have charged them to produce, is dismissed as what Ian Hargreaves called “lobbynomics.” What a ridiculous thing to say to an industry and sector that try to produce work on behalf of the Government so that it is better understood. People are also told, in a patronising and sneering manner, that they do not understand the business environment in which they are working.
Those who now have the Government’s ear are not particularly helpful. Some have become self-serving protectionists and are telling the Government their views. Self-appointed digital rights champions seem to rule the roost when informing Government opinion, and everything that the Government do is predicated on the support for and desire to please massive multi-billion dollar west-coast United States companies such as Google.
I do not know why Google has the Government’s ear, but I do not contend that it has a particular lobbying influence inside No. 10. I do not even suggest that Steve Hilton, the special policy adviser, has a special relationship with Google. I do not suggest such things or contend them today. For some reason, however, Google has the ear of the Government, and it was no surprise that, when Ian Hargreaves initiated his review, many people called it the Google review.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Let me declare an interest at the outset. I have spoken to Allison Coleman, my former law tutor at the university of Wales, Aberystwyth, who advises the Welsh Government, the National Library of Wales, the National Museum Wales, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and the People’s Collection Wales on access to orphan works. Her concern is that it is possible that national institutions with vast collections of works whose copyright owners are unknown will be charged a licence fee when they digitise those items and publish them on the web. As Hargreaves argues and almost everyone accepts, it is in the national interest that tremendous resources are held by our libraries, archives, museums and galleries. If those public institutions have to pay a fee to digitise each item—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he had a lot to say, and he said it eloquently and concisely. He is right, although unfortunately I do not have much time to discuss orphan works. He will know, however, about the great concern that exists. It is an issue that emerged in the Hargreaves report and seemed sensible and the right thing to do, although as soon as we started to unravel some of its complexities, we noticed difficulties such as the one that he described. He will also know about the great unhappiness about orphan works that currently exists, especially among photographers. The Government must consider such issues seriously, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing the matter to the attention of the House.
Is the hon. Gentleman disappointed at the attitude taken by Consumer Focus on such issues? It is a Government-funded organisation that exists to defend the consumer, although it seems more interested in defending things such as illegal downloading than in genuinely protecting consumers and dealing with rip-offs.
Once again, the hon. Gentleman is spot on. I saw the report by Consumer Focus, and disappointing is hardly the word that I would use to describe it. We are talking about illegal activity, which is what happens when people pirate the work of others and try to give it away for nothing.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, and I speak today in support of Ulster Scots music. When getting UK intellectual property accepted in other countries, especially the US, there is a large differential when it comes to patents because they cost between three and five times more than in any other country.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the value of patents to the UK economy. Hargreaves described patents in several choice words and phrases, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has paid close attention to the drift of Government policy. The attitude and policy towards patents that we are beginning to observe are alarming.
Let me say a little about why I have called this debate. I remember turning on the BBC news and thinking that it was great that the Prime Minister was taking an interest in intellectual property—I do not think that I had ever heard a Prime Minister hold a press conference on the issue. He was alleging that restrictive practices in our intellectual property laws would stop the emergence of something similar to Google in the United Kingdom, and he tasked Ian Hargreaves to look at intellectual property laws and our copyright regime to see if something could be done to amend the laws and regulations.
Ian Hargreaves was notionally in charge of that process, but having observed evidence being taken, and the report and recommendations be delivered, I suggest that the hand of the Intellectual Property Office was all over it. I believe that Ian Hargreaves was perhaps a figurehead, because the IPO seems to have driven the agenda. We will discuss some of the exceptions to copyright that the IPO proposed as part of its consultation, but it has been steering the process all the way through.
What is that predicated on? It is predicated on the belief that economic evidence should be at the heart of every initiative and everything that we do concerning intellectual property law. Ian Hargreaves has been perhaps a little cavalier when it comes to intellectual property, and we could say that he has made heroic assumptions about the value of some of the proposed recommendations and exceptions. Perhaps his most heroic statement claimed that if the Government implemented all the recommendations, GDP would increase by 0.6%. That is a huge figure.
I do not know whether the Minister thinks that such assumptions are based on reality. I think—I am not absolutely sure—that the Business Secretary described such figures as “ballpark.” If that is ballpark, the ball has not only been hit for six but has gone right out of the stadium, such is the relationship to reality of some of the economic assumptions and analyses made by Professor Hargreaves.
Let me give the Minister a couple of examples that I find funny—one cannot look at Hargreaves’s economic assumptions and analyses without needing a good sense of humour, and I will get on to parody later in the debate. The first assumption that we should consider—perhaps the Minister can write to me if he thinks that it comes anywhere close to reality—relates to an exception for private copying for format shifting. It is incredible. We are told that implementing the recommendation for an exception for format shifting for private use would bring some £2 billion per annum to the UK economy by 2020. That extraordinary figure is arrived at by assuming that the absence of a private copying exception has been responsible for restraining lots of UK technology firms that have been bursting with ideas for new pieces of hardware. I think the contention is that the iPod could have been invented in this country if it were not for that pesky copyright rule, which everyone ignores anyway. Seemingly, if format shifting were dealt with, the UK would be flooded with innovations. Lots of brand-new and fantastic products would materialise; the iPod would be reinvented; and millions and millions of pounds would flow into the economy. That is evidence and economic analysis Hargreaves and IPO-style.
Then there is the real rib-tickling one—parody. It is said that an exception for parody would be worth £600,000. Do you want to know what that figure was predicated on, Mr Caton? This is quite funny. The figure is arrived at by first taking the total value of the global entertainment market, which I think the IPO reckoned was $2 trillion. It estimated that, with a parody exception, the UK’s share of that market could grow by up to 0.05%, translating into annual growth of £130 million to £650 million.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that, because I intend to give an example of something that is really rib-tickling. I will explain how things work without an exception. Say that you wanted to parody the work of some famous group, Mr Caton. Let us take one at random. Let me see. How about the world’s only parliamentary rock band, the fantastic MP4? Say that you wanted to parody one of its fantastic works—perhaps even one penned by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). If you were intending to do that parody, you would come to me and the hon. Gentleman and ask us, and we, being reasonable folks, would agree to you doing that. If it became a worldwide hit—with your involvement, Mr Caton, there would be a very good chance of that—we would get our share and you would get your share. It would be absolutely fair. That is what professional parodists do now, and it works. Any suggestion that somehow our parody industry, our comedy industry, is being restrained and constrained by the lack of an exception is utter nonsense.
The IPO tells us that an exception will be worth £600,000. That is what the whole of the UK television industry reckons is the value of new parody each year. Again, it is a nonsensical figure. That seems to be the case through the whole of the Hargreaves review when we look at the economic assumptions. Those economic assumptions disappear as quickly as snaw off a dyke when put under any sort of challenge or assertion. For the benefit of my good friends in Hansard, that is what we say in Perthshire for snow off a wall.
I am greatly enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech. He obviously has great knowledge, so it is with some trepidation that I ask him this question. I understand the points that he is making about the financially driven aspects of some of the Hargreaves report, but would he not welcome other aspects of it, such as the digital copyright exchange, minimum standards for transparency, and extensive collective licensing?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I did not mean to come across as being so hard on the good professor. Yes, the hon. Lady is right: of course there are things in the Hargreaves review that have to be welcomed. She is right to mention the digital copyright exchange. Under the leadership of Richard Hooper, we now have an opportunity to make that a fit-for-purpose exchange, but that will have to come through hard work. It will have to come through proper discussion and consultation with the sector and the industry.
There are things in the review that could be made to work, but I am not going to resist considering some of the bonkers economics behind the creation of a DCE. What figure was given for the value of a DCE? Was it £4 billion? That is based on one report from Copenhagen Economics, which assumes a number of things coming together—European directives and European institutions. Once again, we are talking about something that could be useful, but the economic analysis is woeful.
With regard to digitisation and access to orphan works, does the hon. Gentleman agree with this point? If public institutions must pay a fee to digitise each item, not many public institutions will be doing that, and therefore we have to review that overall aspect and say that if there is to be a fee, it must be minimal; otherwise it will be a case of no fee.
Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I can tell that he is passionate about the issues to do with orphan works, and he makes that point well. However, we must be careful about how we progress this agenda.
I want to touch on the exceptions that were not dealt with in the Hargreaves report. Some exceptions have just emerged as part of the IPO’s consultation and have caused immense concern, anxiety and grief. Those exceptions have to do with educational copying. This is a fundamental and very difficult issue. I am almost having to address this point to the IPO, because there is a sense that there is very little ministerial control when it comes to these things, but will the Minister please get in touch with these guys and get them to have a look at what they are doing with educational exceptions, because they are very dangerous? We could see no money whatever going to the people who provide educational materials, whether they are published works or programming—no money being collected on behalf of the people who produce that work for schools and other places of education. If there were to be no reward for people supplying that material to schools and colleges, why on earth would they do that? They will not do it for nothing. We are in real danger here. It is not only the authors and the people who make those programmes who will lose out. The schoolchildren and students will lose out, too, unless we resolve the issue, so will the Minister please examine that?
I apologise to you, Mr Caton, and to the other hon. Members, but as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) knows, I have to leave the Chamber in a few minutes. I am slightly disappointed that in an excellent speech, the hon. Gentleman has not made it absolutely clear what option 5 from the IPO with regard to educational exceptions means. It means in effect that an author could write a textbook, one copy could be printed and thereafter multiple copies could be made in schools throughout the land for children in those schools to use, with no reward going to the author and therefore not a cat in hell’s chance of that author ever bothering to write again.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. That is why I did not make that point. I just knew that he was bursting to make it on my behalf, and he made it so much better than I ever could have, so I am grateful to him.
Nowhere in the Hargreaves report is there a real economic impact assessment. No assessment is made of the threat to existing businesses and existing business models from the recommendations. I am conscious that I have been speaking for almost half an hour. I want other hon. Members to be able to speak, so I will just say a couple more things.
What are we doing about the Digital Economy Act 2010? When will the recommendations be implemented? We need to get a move on. I know that it is not this Minister’s responsibility; it is down to the DCMS. That goes back to the problem that I was trying to explain earlier of the responsibility being split being Departments. That is of no use or value whatever. However, we need now to address the Digital Economy Act. We need to implement the recommendations. I am sure that the Minister saw the fantastic report done by the film industry that said that we are losing out by not tackling piracy effectively. We have seen the example of France. We know that measures similar to those in the DEA work. France has been able to direct traffic towards legal downloading sites, and there has been a decrease in pirated works, so we know that that works. The UK is falling behind countries such as New Zealand, France and Italy. We need to get on with implementing the recommendations in relation to the DEA.
I know that there is still work to be done with regard to Ofcom’s assessment, but the Minister should be on the phone to Ofcom daily, saying, “What’s going on? Come on, Ofcom. Get a move on. Make sure you put this code of practice in place.” We are still in the appalling situation in which very powerful internet service providers are, through various court actions, thwarting and frustrating the implementation of the DEA recommendations. Let us get on and ensure that we fix that.
This is an important sector. We need to fix or resolve a number of things. We need effective political control. We need to ensure that the IPO is properly managed, with ministerial authority and control over what is going on. We should remember that there is no content without the creator, the artist or the inventor. If we predicate our whole approach to the digital economy on the idea that those who abuse or use that content are of more concern and interest to the Government than those who create it, we will be in serious trouble, and we will cause serious damage.
We are at a crossroads with some of the consultations I mentioned. We could still have world-class creative industries; we have the greatest creative sector in the world, and we export more content per head of population than any other nation, so let us do absolutely nothing that threatens that. I trust that the Minister will take these points away with him and ensure that we continue to do everything we can in the best interests of our creative industries and our creative sector.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing this important debate. As Members will gather, these issues are close to his heart and, given his interests, perhaps his wallet. As for a parody of MP4, however, I fear that the world is not ready quite yet for a remake of “This is Spinal Tap”, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman has other ideas.
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is bursting the bubble of a man who thought of himself as a serious musician.
I want to put the issue into a broad economic context, before talking specifically about some of the intellectual property issues we have touched on. We rather easily forget that, amid all the west’s gloom and doom, economies across much of Asia, Australasia, south America and Africa are growing at a steady pace, and thank goodness, because where there is growth, there is opportunity. Unlike in the 1930s, when the global economy was shrinking, even the most pessimistic scenarios for economic growth worldwide today suggest that there will be 3.3% growth this year and that growth in 2011 was more than 4%. However, we still lack any overall strategic vision and message regarding the UK’s role in the new world that is unfolding before us. I appreciate that, in the face of such colossal difficulties, it sometimes sounds a little naive to talk just about wide-eyed optimism. All too often, however, the criticism of this country’s entire political class, going back some years, is that it seems almost to be in the business of managing decline, rather than of looking at Britain’s potential.
Over the past decade and a half, roughly three fifths of domestic expansion in the economy has arisen courtesy of the financial services, through the public sector or in the property and construction fields. The present squeeze will, of course, be most profound in those areas, and that will be the case for some time to come. If we discount those key drivers of the last boom, it is understandably difficult to predict with any confidence the precise economic activity in which the necessary supercharged levels of growth will come. We all pay lip service to boosting traditional manufacturing, and indeed new high-tech, high-resolution manufacturing, but we will face great competition in that respect. At the core of this debate, therefore, is what our strategy will be in an area where we continue to maintain a distinct reputation and a great competitive advantage—the export of intellectual property.
Let me take an example from close to home, in my constituency. Like the previous Government, the coalition has pinpointed the creative industries as a sector that offers a great prospect for future growth. Yet, in the two years I have been trying, as patron of Animation UK, to negotiate a tax credit for the animation industry, I have faced intransigence. The televised animation sector may appear to be only a small slice of the national economic cake, but as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has said, 0.6% here or there makes quite a big difference in the entirety of our GDP. In almost every other nation, however, the animation industry deems the reward of Government subsidy well worth the initial outlay.
British animators are losing work from these shores at an alarming rate because they cannot compete with the lure of Government-backed incentives elsewhere, which make it so much easier to put together the necessary funding packages for programme-making. One local animation business in my constituency, for instance, has recently taken calls at ministerial level from the Governments of Trinidad and Tobago and South Africa, advising it of the carrots on offer if it moved to those jurisdictions. In the case of South Africa, the carrots included free office space for three years and the waiving of particular local taxes.
It is fair to say that our DCMS team understands the problem, but over the past two years, the Treasury has seen only the up-front cost, rather than the longer-term, revenue-positive outlook. I do not blame the Treasury, given the problems with film benefits unravelling almost year by year. There must also be a sense that we need to think about not only the volume of product, but the quality. I also understand that the financial constraints we are under mean it is difficult to make the case for any tax breaks. Most critically, however, we seem to be ignoring an issue that explains why I, as a believer in free and open markets, support a targeted tax credit. Naturally, it would be good if a tax credit helped to keep animation jobs on these shores, but the real golden egg is the retention in this country of intellectual property rights.
The money generated annually worldwide from unimaginably successful franchises such as “Thomas the Tank Engine”, “Wallace and Gromit” and “Peppa Pig”, especially when it comes to all the secondary branded products, massively exceeds that brought in by high-profile films such “The King’s Speech”—a massive Oscar winner last year, which was, of course, helped along by the tax credit for films. To give some perspective, “Thomas the Tank Engine” tots up worldwide sales in excess of £1 billion every year, with his tales broadcast to more than 1 billion households in 185 countries each and every day. By contrast, “The King’s Speech”, which was hailed as the most successful British independent film ever, grossed just shy of £374 million, and that was essentially a one-off payment.
The issue is similar for the video games industry, which seeks comparable tax incentives to keep business on these shores. In addition to offering the revenue benefits that I have cited, the video games and animation industries are young industries. That is an ever more crucial factor at a time of rising youth unemployment. We need to give our brightest and best a reason to stay in this country. It is no good just offering them specialised creative university courses when the only jobs in the relevant industries are abroad.
Instead of tinkering temporarily with little pots of money here and there to boost shrinking sectors, it is time we started thinking more strategically about how we can—not just via the tax system—promote the sectors of our economy that offer potential growth. I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman said: intellectual property is one of the relatively few areas where we hold an historical advantage, and the market for many of our creative industries—partly because of the strength of the English language—is in the fast-growing territories outside the area of the north Atlantic economic downturn.
I want to end with a couple of important warnings for the future, which are slightly more general than my observations about particular industries in my constituency. First, there is no room for complacency about the west’s domination, as we see it, of the knowledge economy. Within the next 20 years, and perhaps rather sooner, I suspect that the IP rights that have underpinned the west’s competitive advantage—whether licensing, copyright or patents—will be due for a radical, philosophical shake-up. For example, an ever more assertive China will argue that traditional IP structures are no more than the west’s attempt to impose its own form of protectionism to suit its particular demographic. We cannot assume that the dominance of our values in determining global trade will remain unchecked. We should look out for China putting forward a more forceful argument along those lines during what might be increasingly fraught World Trade Organisation negotiations in the years ahead. With so many of our Government bonds being mopped up by sovereign wealth funds from the east, our bargaining hand may prove much weaker in the face of that apparent logic. We should look out, too, for the terms of Chinese investment in our companies. Alas, that is nothing new, but I suspect requests for technology transfer will be written into more and more deals as the price for eastern funding.
Finally, I want to highlight a concern that has been in my mind as a result of my work as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Malicious cyber-activity requires much greater vigilance. Such activity can take the form of online fraud, espionage or terrorism, but of relevance to this debate are the ongoing and daily attempts to steal British-owned intellectual property—patents, ideas and designs. This occurs most obviously, but by no means exclusively, in the IT, technology, defence, engineering and energy sectors, and it is of course carried out primarily to gain competitive commercial advantage. Such attempts, I fear, are commonplace, and we must do all we can to educate businesses about the substantial risks that lie ahead.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on obtaining the debate, and I apologise for the fact that I must depart early, because of Select Committee duties.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) has reminded me of the extraordinary genius that produced “Peppa Pig”. In the past fortnight I have seen Père Cochon and Maman Cochon, watching on Gallic television, as I do frequently—and there is a Dada Moch and a Mama Moch—in versions of “Peppa Pig”. Why should young children including my many grandchildren be fascinated by a mutant pig with both eyes on one side of her face? That, I presume, is explained by the nature of errant genius.
I speak with a special interest in the matter, because the Intellectual Property Office has the great good luck to be located in the wide open spaces of Newport West. When it was the Patent Office, its relocation was cited in the Lyons report as the exemplar of a splendid, profitable and intellectually successful relocation. I remind the House that the role of the office, which is very difficult and taxing, is
“to help manage an IP system that encourages innovation and creativity, balances the needs of consumers and users, promotes strong and competitive markets and is the foundation of the knowledge-based economy.”
That is a difficult task at the best of times, but it is near impossible to balance those priorities in the amazing world we are in, of technologies that extend our horizons in so many ways. While such tumult is going on, it is difficult for any of us to tell what the outcome will be or what the rules should be.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire discussed the use of parody. There is a lesson there. You may recall, Mr Caton, a parody of a song called “Empire State of Mind”, by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. It was parodied by a group from, of all places, Swindon. That parody was called “Ymerodraeth State of Mind”, and contained the immortal line, “Newport, Newport”; it was then also parodied. A parody of the parody was made by the staggeringly talented Goldie Lookin Chain—a group with immense chutzpah. They made a version subtitled “You’re Not From Newport”—which of course is the most deadly insult one could offer anyone, particularly Cardiffians. It is the most withering thing one can say, as it exposes their deficiencies. Perhaps I should declare an interest, as whereas the original parody drew attention to bigging up the Welsh Assembly, the authentic version, sung in the cadences of Newport, suggested bigging up local Members of Parliament. Clearly that is a message of great value, and I wonder whether I should have mentioned any profits that the band made in my declarations of interest. The parody of a parody had 910,000 hits on YouTube, which is very impressive—nearly 1 million. However, the original version by Alicia Keys had 127 million on YouTube alone, let alone the rest of the world.
We must see such things in context. We want the fun of mockery in songs. The one in question gave many of my constituents great pleasure. When there is a clash between the interest of the small-scale creative industries and creative individuals, and huge businesses, with their almost infinite resources enabling them to persuade, buy access and get the ear of Prime Ministers and others, I think most of us instinctively know where our interest lies. We should also consider those who get great pleasure from the availability of music now, and the way it can be downloaded. It is impossible to put that genie back in any bottle. That will continue, and we cannot make rules to stop it.
In support of what the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire was saying in defence and promotion of the creative industries, I would say that the suggestion that the future patent court should be sited in the overcrowded cities of Paris, Munich or London is regrettable, when there is wonderful habitat waiting for it in the city of Newport. It seems extraordinary that that is not being considered. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, and I hope that the voice and interests of the creators of property from which many others make huge sums of money will have the primary consideration in the difficult and bewildering decisions before us.
I have some brief remarks. I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on his speech, much of which I agreed with, and some of which I did not. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) made an important and powerful point about China and the implications for the way business is done. That is not to say that we must yield to the way business is done in China and places like it, but that is an important part of the way things are done across the world. The market is huge, and that will unquestionably have implications for the way we do business, for copyright and for many business practices. We must accept that the way business is done elsewhere has implications for the creative industries. Sometimes we are slow to recognise that.
I agree with all hon. Members who have spoken that the importance of creative industries and intellectual property is enormous. The Publishers Association, the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society and others have produced some good briefs. However, I want to make a few counter-comments. There is a general trend in debates such as this to laud the importance of intellectual property, and, sometimes—as at the beginning of the speech of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire—to see the counter-argument as a matter of big bad Google lobbying No. 10 in a somehow illegitimate way. I have no idea what the hon. Gentleman is referring to in saying that kind of stuff about special contacts inside Downing street.
I shall try to speak about this later if I catch Mr Caton’s eye, but the issue is not the fact that anyone has access to No. 10, because everyone should be able to have input into the political system; the fear is of the disproportionate influence that some people have.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, but in debates about intellectual property and copyright, as we have seen today—with one exception, on the matter of parody—the traffic all goes one way. It is quite easy to understand the importance of copyright, intellectual property and the creative industries. Conversely, it is easy to label people who copy things without paying for them as pirates and say they are committing illegal acts. However, without lauding that, it is a fact that the internet is a fantastic copying machine, and that is what happens. If we want to criminalise everyone who does it, we are on a hiding to nothing. We are criminalising everyone’s children to start with.
People sometimes say, “It’s exactly the same as theft. People download a record track and don’t pay for it. That is money that the industry forgoes.” That is a highly debatable and questionable proposition. Frequently, people want their stuff to be spread around the place and be copied, because it encourages other revenue streams.
Of course my hon. Friend makes a valid point about criminalising everyone’s children, but is not the issue that powerful business interests effectively direct those who are searching for something on the internet to illegal sites that do not just copy the odd thing, but are factories for ripping off people’s intellectual property rights; and that if companies such as Google were more responsible and had some corporate social responsibility they would not be directing people, effectively, to the illegal end of the market?
Again, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Let us consider the propositions that Google polices the entire internet or the realm that it can police, and that internet service providers make their own judgments about what they should close, and let us imagine that they close down domains and that people cannot access all sorts of things out there on the basis of judgments made by commercial entities. There is a trend in the governance of the internet by some countries to want heavily to regulate its use. Looking across the world, such Governments tend to be those who are not particularly democratic. In democratic states, the trend is to say that the internet should have a degree of laissez-faire and, as Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn said—in many ways, they instigated the internet back in the ’60s and ’70s—it should be impartial as to its use and there should be no state governance.
That is the general assumption in theory in western and democratic states. However, we have heard the recent comments by the EU Justice Commissioner on the data protection directive on the right to be forgotten—that people should be able to take down accurate, legitimate data if they do not like having them up there and that they should be able to scrub out bits of history. Commercial interests want ISPs to police the internet and to take stuff down based on their commercial judgments, or that some Government-led body should make judgments about what is on the internet. The general trend is to have a high degree of directorial control by Governments over the internet and that sometimes extends to such corporate arguments.
With your permission, Mr Caton, I have just googled “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, and the first five results offered a free download of that track on Google. Why does a Google search not direct people to a legal site where they could purchase the track?
That is exactly the point I am making about censorship of the internet. The problem is that that is the way it is. In due course, industries will have to adapt to that way. The fact is that things will continue to be copied and industries with current business models will have to adjust. Of course, we have to do what we can within the realms of possibility to protect those industries but, inevitably, there will be a degree of evolution. Each time we have such a debate, the overwhelmingly dominant argument is for the protection of current business models, but people in those industries must know that things have to change.
Things will continue to be copied, and I would not advocate the degree of censorship of the internet that my hon. Friend seems to do. Essentially, it is straightforward for mirror sites to pop up, and it is virtually impossible to close down a site and prevent another one opening up to sell the same stuff. Yesterday, I thought that it would be quite interesting to set up an experiment with a page, with some people trying to keep the page alive and with the ISPs trying to close it down. I absolutely guarantee that those trying to keep that page up somewhere on the internet—it would inevitably appear in a Google search—would always win the day. The ISPs can close a site, but they cannot prevent the existence of the ideas in the site.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way once again. May I clarify that I am not advocating censorship, as he put it, of the internet? I am simply saying that the corporate social responsibility of a large corporation would surely require it to ensure that its algorithms and systems generate a search that directs people to legal sites. Such corporations are perfectly capable of doing that, even if illegal searches appear way down in the list of pages. The fact that those sites are listed at the top—often in the paid advertising part of a Google search, so contributing to Google’s profitability—does not show corporate social responsibility.
I am not sure that my hon. Friend is right about paid advertisements for illegal sites. I entirely understand the frustration at the Google algorithm producing sites that have unlawful content—we are talking about unlawful rather than legal content—but he is advocating censorship of the internet. Google would have to censor hundreds of thousands or millions of sites out there.
I am currently on the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions. It is interesting that its members are sometimes tempted to say, “Hang on, we could censor that, because that is done in China or because Twitter now has a new business model so that it can constrain certain types of tweets—especially those with references to religion or politics—for regimes in certain parts of the world.” It is true that Twitter could do that and that Google could constrain what is said on the internet, but we have to look at the flipside and ask whether that is particularly healthy in a democratic society.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting contribution to this debate. It strikes me that he is overly pessimistic, given his view, which is absolutely right, that the interest is essentially a slightly chaotic and libertarian organisation. As he made clear in his example, the power of the individual will overcome the influence of even the biggest and best-funded international organisations. However, does he not have the slight concern that the crime is not entirely victimless? Much high-profile organised crime and terrorism is funded through the abuse of copyright and patents, and through the lucrative sale of DVDs and the like. It would make more sense to try to address that directly, rather than to look just to uphold intellectual property laws.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I may sound as if I am making a polemical argument against copyright, but I am not. Of course it is true that many bad organisations can profit and that money can go to ropey or even to dangerous things at one end of the spectrum, but at the other end is a fat bloke in Australia who is buying cars and boats. I suspect that much of the fraud is not done by those committing heinous acts.
I shall start to conclude, because my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) wishes to speak. The root fact is that, however powerfully one lobbies to protect copyright, Hargreaves has tried to look in an intelligent, evidence-based way at copyright law and the existing rules. He did so in a limited way, because sovereign states in Europe are constrained in what we can do. I do not agree with the assessment of the IPO made by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, although I agree with some of his points about the DCMS and BIS. As we know, that originated with an unfortunate comment about the very odd structure by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. The IPO and Hargreaves are endeavouring to have a proper evidence-based assessment. The consultation that is currently under way is entirely in earnest.
Hargreaves has urged the Government
“to ensure that in future, policy on Intellectual Property issues is constructed on the basis of evidence”.
That is not an unreasonable claim. It is true that the exceptions raised, including about education and data-mining, are possibly entirely valid, but until we see evidence and figures, we cannot tell. It is therefore important that people come forward not only with emotive arguments—they are often based simply on retaining the status quo and without any movement, regardless of technological shifts—but with evidence.
We have had the Hargreaves review and the Hooper review on the digital copyright exchange, against which I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire will rail in a future debate. They are genuine efforts by good people to get to the root of a complicated issue. Within the copyright industry and among High Court judges—I have spoken to judges at all different levels, including those in the High Court—everyone recognises that copyright law is very old and outdated, and that it is difficult to make it fit into a modern context. Essentially, Hargreaves was trying to resolve that, as will Hooper.
To conclude, the doom and gloom with which the hon. Gentleman presented the Hargreaves review and the consultation is not a fair reflection on the efforts of Hargreaves and the IPO. I have every respect for creators who want to retain the maximum benefit for themselves—of course they do—but we must set that in the realistic context that people will copy stuff. That is the way it is, and criminalising everyone is not a particularly constructive way forward.
Mr Caton, I will meet your requirement—indeed will attempt to exceed it, by finishing before then. I am sure everybody would like to hear from the Front-Bench speakers, particularly the Minister in his first outing in this guise. I am sure he wants to practise his skills in this area.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on initiating the debate. He has a well-deserved reputation in the House for his attention to these matters, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of them. It is a great opportunity for the rest of us. Since the last debate we had in Westminster Hall on the matter, things have changed somewhat. As far as I can recall, my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) sat here and I sat there. Beyond that, the arguments seem to be running in very similar fashion.
It is fitting that we should have this debate today, as it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, one of the most prolific, creative and productive writers of 19th-century Victorian Britain, who had quite a few struggles himself over the rights to his own material in the days when ideas about copyright were somewhat primitive, to put it mildly.
I say to the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) that, as others have echoed, China’s attitude to intellectual property, patents and copyright is changing, I believe, although it is different from our own. I remember many years ago—I think I am probably the oldest person in the room—that under the first Wilson Government, de Havilland, as it then was, sold two Trident aircraft to the Chinese Government. For those of shorter memory, Britain used to make quite a few aircraft on its own in the 1960s. It sold two Tridents and said it was the great breakthrough into the far east, China and the burgeoning Chinese market. However, the Chinese used one for training crews and dismantled the other one to replicate it. At that time their internal airlines were totally crude: I think they were called The East is Red airline or something. They produced an aircraft that bore an astonishing similarity to the Trident, and de Havilland never sold an extra single plane to them. There are different views about copyright in the world.
Others have mentioned the importance of creative industries to Britain in particular and the knowledge-based economy we are in. It is not only innovation and creativity in the arts and literature that we have to encourage. Even though we have a declining manufacturing base, it is more productive than ever, and we need innovation and adaptation in the field of manufacture as much as anywhere else. Governments have to construct and encourage an environment that nurtures and rewards originality and innovation.
The Intellectual Property Office, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire mentioned, seems to have one particular idea of its role in trying to do that. However, it is not just about that. I have a document saying that its view is:
“Copyright should only limit the use of creative works to the extent necessary for it to fulfil its central objective—the provision of incentives to creators.”
It is not just an incentive, that is true, but it is a reward for effort, for work done. This makes it sounds as though it is doing them a favour by offering them something. I do accept from my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk that there is undeniably a consumer interest. The whole matter does not revolve solely around the consumer or the producer. The challenge for any Government is to work out where the best balance lies. One might say that is the essence of politics—working out where the balance lies on an issue. There are benefits.
However, I want to pick up what my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk said about the almost anarchic nature of the internet and web. It is not just that it is difficult, which is true. Some people feel that we are being lulled into a position where people say that nothing can be done, and therefore do not even try. That is not true. On the matter of illegal sites, I read yesterday about a site whose name I cannot immediately remember—my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) can probably Google it while I am talking. NewBiz, an illegal download site, has been taken off the BT ISP and just this week Sky announced it is doing that. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk says: one is chasing one’s tail in many respects. However, just because one cannot do everything does not mean one does not do anything. One makes the effort one can. There must be a reward for behaving properly, just as there must be a penalty for behaving badly or, in some cases, criminally.
I want to spend a couple of minutes referring to an issue raised by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire and the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster), who is no longer in his place. That is the matter of the IPO’s exercise of extending copyright exceptions for educational use. That has certainly caused a lot of concern and dismay in various parts of the creative community, because of the thrust of the consultation. I know the consultation is open until the middle of March and is still trying to amass information. The policy options outlined start with option zero, which is to do nothing, followed by:
“Option 1: Expand the types of works covered by education exceptions…Option 2: Increase the proportion of a copyright work that can be copied under the education exceptions. Option 3: Expand the definition of current education exceptions to enable distance learners to access educational materials over secure networks. Option 4: Widen the definition of an ‘educational establishment’. Option 5: Remove the ability of licensing arrangements to restrict the use of exceptions.”
That is the one we discussed earlier and essentially ignores the rights of all copyright holders and says it is for the benefit of educational establishments. The tone of the document is very much slanted to that option. In fact, in the evidence base, it says that that is the option closest to Government policy. That in particular is what is disturbing writers.
I confess an interest—not a pecuniary or financial one, but because it is a matter that interests me. I am an officer of the all-party parliamentary intellectual property group and of the all-party parliamentary writers group, and this matter is important to writers.
Having set out the options, the document states at the end:
“We do not have a preferred option at this stage (see page 22 for reason why).”
Everything in the evidence base shows that that is where it is pushing the consultation, to make it more liberal, almost to the point where it is a free-for-all. What worries a lot of writers and those in the community is that there is no clear indication as to where the pressure has come from to undertake the review and to undermine the position of the Copyright Licensing Agency and the Educational Recording Agency. There is no indication why it is being undertaken. There is no information stating that the current system, as it is operating, is not satisfactory. Nobody, no identifiable educational institution, nobody operating in that field has come forward and said that this is a major encumbrance to using whiteboards or other material that we need for our studies.
Where has the impetus for this come from, other than a desire for deregulation? That may be a useful thing in some circumstances, but when it becomes the object of the policy, it needs to be examined. It is a good servant but a poor master. That is where I tend to agree more with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, that this is what the IPO thinks the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills now wants to hear. I am sure the organisation’s being in Newport is a major benefit but has nothing to do with it. The fact is that there is little or no political control apparent.
I tabled a few parliamentary questions about how the report was compiled and, in particular, the impact assessment. I received a reply that the impact assessment had been
“prepared…using publicly available data, including evidence provided to the Intellectual Property Office by interested parties.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2012; Vol. 539, c. 459W.]
In the evidence base, it states that evidence is being called for as part of the assessment of which option to follow, so it looks as if someone got the inside track. I will not suggest who that might be; I have no evidence. All I am saying is that the exercise should be concluded as rapidly as possible, with the minimum possible change required, because otherwise the destabilisation of those writing for the educational community will be complete.
I abide by your exhortation, Mr Caton, and leave my remarks there.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing the debate, which is his second on this subject during this Parliament. He certainly is a champion of the creative industries’ property rights, and does all he can to ensure that the Government are held to account.
We have had an interesting and lively debate. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) made an eloquent call for an industrial policy for the creative industries, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who is no longer in his place, gave a very interesting example of musical innovation through parody. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) reminded us that today is Dickens’s birthday, which should inspire us all, and my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) bravely did us all a service by putting forward what he termed the alternative view of internet freedom.
Today’s debate shows that intellectual property is a complex area, and that it arouses passionate responses because it affects the livelihoods of well-loved artists as well as the business models of very large companies. We have heard how important the creative industries are to this country, and I want to emphasise that. We are world players—indeed, world leaders—on the creative stage. Our musicians are top of the world’s charts, our films win Oscars as well as BAFTAs, and the release of many a British computer game is a major event across the world. But I also want to emphasise that IP is not only a matter for the creative industries. It includes patents, designs, trademarks and copyright, and is therefore the basis of almost all the non-tangible assets of the vast mass of industry, including very real world industries, such as manufacturing, and service industries, such as consultancy and advertising.
IP is an important part of the economic base for innovation, because it recognises and rewards the successful new idea, process, invention or song, and therefore provides an incentive for innovation, be it musical or technological. Innovation has been the engine of progress throughout history, and it continues to be a key part of growth. Recent analysis from the Harvard Business School suggests that 80% of growth is driven by innovation. The contribution of intellectual property to economic growth cannot therefore be doubted, especially now, when the internet is becoming such an important platform for commerce and for ensuring that there is greater and greater opportunity to exchange ideas creatively. We must do all we can to ensure that our intellectual property system guarantees that the right rewards are available to promote innovation, and thus economic growth.
As I said, intellectual property is also, however, a complex affair, and from the very start of a legal framework for copyright and patent law there have been those who have argued against it on the basis that it limits the free expression of ideas and therefore limits innovation. The wrong kind of intellectual property environment can certainly act as a barrier to innovation, and therefore to economic growth. I regularly speak to business people up and down the country, who complain that universities’ too protective attitude to their own intellectual property is making it more and more difficult for businesses and universities to work together effectively in the translation of intellectual property into technical products and services. Small companies can, of course, have their IP stolen by larger companies, which are better armed with more and better-paid lawyers. We need to ensure that the IP trolls are encouraged to free their IP, to enable genuine innovation and commercial success.
Technological advances have made certain types of intellectual property more difficult to protect. We have the recent example of megaupload.com. Its owners—if that is the right word—became multimillionaires through effectively supporting the illegal downloading of films and other creative content, and it is good to see that the international legal framework has worked to ensure that the site has been closed down. Illegal file sharing is certainly costing the creative industries dearly, given their current business models, and the previous Government set out ways of addressing that in the Digital Economy Act 2010.
We should not forget, however, that there are companies that are thriving under the existing copyright system, particularly those born digital. The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, which represents the video games industry, tells me it has huge success in providing creative content through a wide variety of business models tailored to meet the needs of different demographics. This is a global industry predicted to be worth £50 billion by 2014. Many interactive entertainment companies have had huge success with the freemium business model, in which games are initially free but then users pay for additional content and features. I recently met Moshi Monsters—not the actual monsters, but their chief executive officer. Based on London’s Silicon roundabout, the company has used the freemium model to go from a tiny start-up to a $200 million business with 50 million users worldwide.
Intellectual property is a complex area, and it is essential to get the incentives right. That no doubt explains the long list of reviews carried out over the past few years, including Gowers, Byron and Hargreaves, and that is without considering all the work undertaken at the European level, such as with the European copyright directive and more recently the proposals for a unified patent court. Although I recognise that complexity, I am increasingly concerned that the Government are not taking the action necessary to get to grips with this. The rumours that the Hargreaves review was initiated because the Prime Minister had his ear bent by Google did not help its credibility, and although the report was generally well received, some of the evidence on which its conclusions were based has been questioned. So I am anxious to receive clear signs from the Minister that the Government are leading from the front on intellectual property, and not dithering as we saw with the 4G auctions. Certainly, when Labour was in office we did not want for reviews or action, but it is in the nature of such a fast-moving environment that the policy responses need to evolve.
Can the Minister tell us when the Government plan fully to implement all the measures in the Digital Economy Act, and if measures such as the public lending right in relation to electronic publications, and the content-blocking provisions, are not to be implemented, can he explain why? Do the Government have any plans to look more widely at intellectual property issues, such as patent law and the role IP plays in standardisation, particular regarding the proposals for a unified patent court? What are their thoughts on that? With regard to the Hargreaves review proposals for the digital copyright exchange, can the Minister update us on when he expects that to be in place, and on the measures being taken to address the concerns of the collecting agencies and the educational establishments? What steps is he taking to ensure that university intellectual property incentivises working with businesses, rather than against them? Finally, does abolishing the strategic advisory board for intellectual property policy, which provides independent and, importantly in the context of the debate, evidence-based advice to Government on IP, mean that they think a strategic approach to IP is no longer necessary?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing the debate, or as he delicately put it, this “little chit-chat”. He has a long-standing interest in a wide variety of music—I will be polite about MP4, as two of its esteemed members are here today. I say that as a parliamentary chorister, albeit a rather ropey baritone at the moment. He also has a strong interest in the broader issue of intellectual property and copyright.
The debate is important and timely. Questions have been asked about the nature of the proposals that the Intellectual Property Office put into the consultation, but the point is that it is a consultation. The debate is useful, and I am sure that some of the questions asked—I will come to option 5 and schools and universities in a moment—will be incorporated into Ministers’ thinking.
The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about the Government’s commitment and co-ordination, and I can honestly tell him that all the engaged Ministers, Ministries and the IPO work very closely together. We recognise that the matter needs to be looked at from both the cultural and social sides—our music, language and literature—as well as, of course, the economic side. In a sense, striking that balance effectively is what really lies at the heart of much of the debate, challenging though it is in many senses. Consulting and raising options—which, as the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) pointed out, range from option 1, doing nothing, to option 5, which some would see as the radical option—in no way demonstrates a bias against copyright. The Government do not hold that position. We want to ensure that we strike the right balance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) rightly highlighted the danger of believing that on our own we can simply continue as was. We would be ignoring the coming and growing challenge to the nature of what we think is the right structure for IP. That does not mean that we need to acquiesce, but it does mean that we need to be proactive.
On the broad context, the Government have made it very clear that growth is a priority. To achieve that, we need a robust and flexible intellectual property framework. As we have heard, it must be robust enough to encourage investment in new creative works and technologies and in building brands and designs, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) pointed out. Yet the system also needs to be flexible enough to evolve as technologies change and so support innovation across the economy. That applies to not only high-tech sectors, but high-tech processes. If I had told you 20 years ago, Mr Caton, that vacuum cleaners would be at the heart of new technology, you might have been forgiven for thinking that I had lost any sense of normality, and yet Sir James Dyson has demonstrated that a whole market can be changed through IP and innovation. We need to ensure that we do not confuse process with sector.
Hon. Members on both sides have referred to the economic importance of IP, which is absolutely right and illustrated by the fact that as a country we now invest over 30% more in intangible assets, such as IP, than in conventional machinery and computers. Most recent developments in technology have depended on IP, and such developments have in turn affected its management and use. These things are interwoven and we need to understand their interaction. In this continually changing technological environment, particularly looking at access to markets and illegal downloads, the Government must think about how we get the balance right for both the creators and the consumer.
We need an IP system that helps business and consumers to realise all the opportunities presented, which is why we are actively supporting the UK’s creators and the creative industries and why, to benefit creators, we voted in Europe to extend the term of protection for sound recordings from 50 to 70 years—a really important step for originators of music and other sound recordings. It is also why we brought charities within the scope of music licensing rules and pressed to introduce measures to tackle online infringement of copyright through the Digital Economy Act 2010.
In response to questions from several hon. Members, I can say that we are closely considering whether to block access to websites that infringe copyright. We will have something to say about that shortly, but, as I would like to continue to have a positive working relationship with my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, I shall not pre-empt what they are about to say. An announcement is imminent, and I think that it will be welcomed.
The other half to ensuring that creators are supported is IP enforcement. We are just as serious about ensuring that individuals breaching the law will be brought to justice and sending that signal. To be fair, we saw an improvement between 2006 and 2009—the latest statistics that we have to hand. There was effectively a doubling of the number of criminal cases brought under the previous Government, and we welcome and support that pattern. In 2009, 75% of all copyright cases resulted in a conviction and 80% of all criminal IP proceedings ended with a guilty verdict. That is an important signal to send. My ministerial colleague, Baroness Wilcox, recently joined an enforcement team in Manchester to see what happens on the ground. The raid secured large quantities of counterfeit products and seven arrests were made.
We need a more concerted approach, which is why we launched the IP crime strategy. It renews the focus on getting the legal framework right, co-ordinates IP crime enforcement and, most importantly, supports intelligence-led enforcement. That touches on the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster made about the international and online issues.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He raised that issue in the debate, and we are looking at and consulting on it. The National Archives, to which he referred, is part of that and we welcome its contribution. The tricky thing is how to best encourage digitisation and ensure that the rights owners are paid a fair rate, and we are looking at that balance with orphan works. I am sure that the representations from the National Archives that he talked about would be welcome.
I shall briefly come on to copyright in the time that I have remaining. We need to ensure that we strike a balance, so that, yes, in a world in which we can all create and use works, we also recognise that many people can be destructive, intentionally or otherwise—a good point raised earlier. We therefore have to consider whether the rules created before the digital transformation still fit the world that we live in today. Through the consultation, which is quite broad, we are trying make it easier for people to understand and use copyrighted materials, to remove bureaucracy and to boost innovation and growth. Some people have concerns about the framework that we have identified, and I have mentioned orphan works.
I shall briefly mention schools, because several hon. Members raised the issue. We must recognise that most schools operate with electronic whiteboards, broadband-delivered homework and other multi-media tools. Therefore, today’s classroom is a potential legal minefield, as the law lags behind modern teaching practice. We have had representations from universities and the Association of Colleges, and the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) also alluded to the problem. Let us be clear: we have no intention of dismantling copyright licensing schemes for education. Schools, colleges and universities will still need licences for many of their activities, including photocopying books. With specific regard to the concerns raised about option 5 in the consultation, that option relates to short extracts only. I hope that gives some clarity to the discussion. We are considering how we can make it easier for teachers and lecturers to use copyrighted materials practicably, so we are seeking further evidence on the costs and benefits of current copyright licensing arrangements in the educational sector.
In the final moments, I shall just say that the issue is very complex, but we are determined to move steadily forward using the good evidence available and balancing it with effective consultation. Many right hon. and hon. Members recognise that it is an awkward balance, and we must recognise the international context as well. The Government’s proposals for copyright will not endanger the health of our creative industries.
How far should the state step in to regulate the free market and alcohol? If a jumbo jet fully laden with passengers crashed over Britain every fortnight, drastic action would be taken, and that is what we are talking about—22,000 people die every year in Britain as a result of alcohol. The Office for National Statistics cites the figure of 8,790, but that excludes all the accidental deaths, the homicides, the impulsive suicides and the many victims of road traffic accidents. Alcohol is linked to more than 60 medical conditions, including many cancers.
Some will argue that this is all about personal responsibility and that we should resist the interference of the nanny state, but how can the 705,000 children who live with an alcohol-dependent parent exercise personal responsibility? We have a blind spot when it comes to the destructive effect of alcohol. Yesterday, I spoke to Stephen Otter, the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall police, who told me that the statistics for 2004-05 showed that about a third of violent crime in Devon and Cornwall was related to alcohol. Since then, the statistics have followed a steadily upward path and alcohol is now related to about half of such crime. The trend is increasing, so how do the victims of violent crime feel when we say that we should leave this to the market?
What about taxpayers? The cost of the epidemic is out of control. It is at least £20 billion, but if we look at the finer details of the impact on productivity, we will see that the evidence given to the Health Committee when it looked at this issue showed that the cost could be as high as £55 billion. At a time when the NHS has to make efficiency savings of £20 billion over the next four years, is it right that we are flushing down the drain at least £20 billion a year on alcohol?
The Secretary of State talks frequently about outcomes, so I would like to give some that I think he should look at. Forty per cent. to 70% of all accident and emergency admissions are related to alcohol. The impact on health inequalities is undeniable. The difference between the poorest and the wealthiest neighbourhoods in terms of average life expectancy is about seven years, and early deaths from alcohol-related liver disease are a significant contributor to that. Almost one in four deaths in young people is directly caused by alcohol. That means that every week 12 young people are losing their lives, which is a far higher figure than the number who die as a result of knife crime.
Positive outcomes could be achieved from a reduction in teenage pregnancies, as well as in educational failure and its impact and sexually transmitted diseases. The state has a duty to protect young people and take action. On personal responsibility, harmful drinking does not just affect the individual; it has a knock-on effect on all those around them when they leave a destructive trail in their wake.
If it were possible to solve this problem just through education and gentleman’s agreements with the drinks industry and supermarkets, I would say that we should go that way, but that approach has clearly failed. The fact is that when alcohol is too cheap, people die. That was as true in the 18th century with its gin craze as it is today. This, however, is a general debate on what should be in the alcohol strategy, so I do not want to dwell too long on pricing. Suffice it to say that without action on pricing, I am afraid that nothing else will be as effective as it could be. Alcohol is no ordinary commodity and we should not treat it just through market forces.
My hon. Friend appears to be making a coherent argument for banning alcohol altogether. I am concerned that she is like the anti-smoking lobby, which tries to come up with different things to restrict smoking in order to hide its real agenda, which is to abolish smoking altogether. If she thinks that alcohol is such a bad thing and that it does so much damage, why not have the courage of her convictions, follow her argument through and say that alcohol should be banned altogether?
There is a simple reply to that question—it would not work. We have seen that clearly from the efforts at prohibition in the States. I myself enjoy a drink, as I am sure do most Members present. Everyone might like a drink, but nobody likes a drunk, and that is what this is about. It is not about stopping people drinking, but about asking at what point the state should step in to address the real harm. There is a balance to be achieved. I am not suggesting for one moment that my proposals will stop people drinking, and I would not want them to do so. I just want to do something about 22,000 people dying every year in this country.
I propose that we act on price and address availability, marketing, education and labelling, and that we take action on offending behaviour. We should also change the drink-drive limit. Crucially, if we are to put all those measures in place, we also need to help people who already have a problem, which means better screening and treatment in the health service for hazardous, harmful and dependent drinkers. It is also time to send a clear message that we have had enough of drunken antisocial behaviour and violent crime.
On availability—I will try to be brief, because I know that lots of Members want to speak—I welcome the consultation on dealing with the problem of late-night drinking. It is absolutely right that communities should have a greater say in the licensing hours, and I welcome the return from 3 am back to midnight and the idea that those who supply late-night alcohol should contribute to the clean-up cost. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), go further and address whether supermarkets should face greater penalties? The problem for late-night premises and clubs is that their customers are already drunk when they arrive, having pre-loaded on very cheap alcohol. It is crucial that supermarkets should contribute to the clean-up cost.
On marketing, we currently spend £800 million a year on alcohol marketing, which dwarfs the budget given to the Drinkaware Trust, which is industry controlled. There is clear evidence that marketing encourages not only drinking earlier, but children to drink more when they do. Although it is encouraging that fewer children overall are drinking, we should still remember that, after the Isle of Man and Denmark, we are the country with the highest levels of binge drinking and drunkenness in our schoolchildren. The problem is that the current controls are complex and easily circumvented. There is an off-the-peg solution that is compatible with European Union law, namely to introduce similar measures to those in France under the Loi Évin. Rather than having a set of complicated measures saying what we cannot do, we would set out clearly where alcohol can be marketed and everything else would not be allowed. If we want to protect children, why do we allow alcohol advertising before screenings of 15-cetificate films? It is also confusing that, while we say that alcohol cannot be associated with youth culture or sporting success, we allow alcohol-related sponsorship of the FA cup and events such as T in the park. We need to protect children.
Does the hon. Lady agree that it is no coincidence that, between 1992 and 1996, when the advertising budget for alcohol products marketed at young people rose from £150 million to £250 million, the number of schoolchildren drinking alcohol doubled?
That is a valuable point and clear evidence that marketing encourages children to drink, to start drinking younger and to drink more when they do. We should protect young people—that is an absolute duty of the state.
On education, the most important point is clear labelling. The drinks industry has made some progress, but if it does not meet its targets the issue should be mandated so that people can be clear about how many units they are drinking and receive advice on the sensible limits.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful case and she can rest assured that most Members present do not think that she is anything like Eliot Ness. On her point about labelling, many of us were rather disappointed that more was not done on the subject of food labelling. Is there a case for us to do what is done in New York state in terms of food labelling, where an outlet that has more than two branches labels the calorie intake? That gives people a choice and also provides information.
That is an excellent point, and I thank the hon. Lady for making it. Certainly, many young women drinkers would be deterred if they realised what the calorie content is for some of the popular alcohol mixer drinks. That might help to stem the rise in vodka mixer drinking among young women.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. EU legislation is getting in the way of an awful lot of the measures I would like to be introduced.
Returning to why education should not be in the hands of the drinks industry, I would like to draw hon. Members’ attention to a problem that arose when the Drinkaware Trust introduced its safe drinking recommendations. It presented those recommendations not as a safe upper limit but a recommended daily amount, as if it were marketing them as a vitamin intake. There is a clear conflict of interest in having the drinks industry controlling education. Although I welcome much of the Drinkaware Trust’s work, I do not see the need for the drinks industry to be on the board and would like the Minister to comment on that if possible. Following the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, the clear message should be that people should take at least two alcohol-free days a week to protect themselves.
Turning to the health service, relatively few hospitals have a dedicated alcohol service. It is a shame that only 5.7% of dependent or harmful drinkers are able to access treatment compared with 67% of dependent or harmful drug users. There is a clear case for changing that. One third of people who are admitted to hospital with acute liver disease die immediately, and the mortality rate for that has remained unchanged for 15 years. They die without being able to be aware that they even had a problem in the first place.
I would like to make the case for having much better services for screening and early intervention because such an approach works. Some 12% of people who are given brief advice and are informed that they are developing harmful or hazardous drinking traits will significantly cut down or stop drinking. Such a scheme is highly cost-effective, and I would like it to be rolled out, particularly in casualty departments. All hospitals should have a seven-day acute nurse specialist to give brief advice and intervention. That approach should be rolled out further to GP surgeries through the quality and outcomes framework and should also be available in community pharmacies, so that we can let people have clear information and advice. As I say, we should do that, principally, because such a scheme is evidence based and works.
Regarding people who already have a problem, it is time for all hospitals to have a dedicated alcohol specialist team and an assertive outreach team, particularly to help those revolving-door patients who come in and out of hospital repeatedly. They often have complex mental health needs and issues surrounding homelessness. Again, such an approach has a very strong evidence base and is cost-effective.
The law and order challenge for our police force is vast. May I pay tribute to the people who are at the sharp end of all this? Police officers, street pastors, casualty workers and ambulance staff bear the brunt of the problem. The police are making progress. I pay tribute to Devon and Cornwall police for their work. In my area, people who are picked up by the police can choose between a fixed penalty notice of £80 or attending a course run by Druglink. For those people who attend those courses, there is only a 2% offending rate. That is an example of something very positive that we should be moving forward with.
We should also carefully consider what has been happening in South Dakota in the USA, where they have introduced mandatory breath testing for those convicted of an alcohol-related offence. That has significantly reduced the prison population and has had an effect on domestic violence rates. It would be sensible to at least pilot that in this country to establish whether such a model could work here.
There is a strong case for reducing the drink-drive limit from 80 mg per 100 ml of blood to 50 mg, if for no other reason than for the sake of the 380 people who are killed every year on our roads and the more than 11,900 who are injured. Of course, we also need to give the police greater powers to breath test people.
What about the industry’s role? There is a role for industry in reducing product strength and I welcome those who have already taken action along that line. Crucially, business models should be changed, so that they are based on quality not quantity. The opinion is that that is what has had the greatest effect on the continent, where there have been significant falls in drinking levels because of the move away from drinking vast quantities of plonk towards drinking smaller quantities of quality product. That is something we could do here. I would like to see further work on the use of responsible locations in supermarket aisles and, as I have said, further progress on labelling.
I repeat that it is not the place or the responsibility of the drinks industry to define public health policy. There is a clear conflict of interest. It is time for us to follow an evidence-based approach built on medical advice and for there to be far less involvement with the drinks industry in dictating policy.
I have already been fortunate to lead a debate on alcohol taxation, so I will not repeat the points I made then. I hope that other hon. Members will give us advice on why the introduction of minimum pricing is compatible with EU legislation. I know that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) will do so. The fact that price influences behaviour is, beyond doubt, completely undeniable. There has recently been further evidence from British Columbia about the impact of minimum pricing, based on 20 years of experience. There has also been evidence from Scotland, where the change in pricing policies, particularly those inhibiting multi-buys, have caused a 14% fall in beer sales. I will conclude and allow other Members to contribute by saying that there is no such thing as a cheap drink, but we are all paying a very heavy price.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Caton, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing it. She is a doughty campaigner on the issue and a valued colleague on the Select Committee on Health. Who would have realised that alcohol would be such a hot topic this week? I am not going to name the beer concerned, but clearly certain beers need a name and a photograph to endear themselves to the punters.
The issue is not about responsible drinking or drinking responsibly; it is about dealing with a problem that is getting out of hand both for society and the health and well-being of members of society. One has only to look at the awful images of young people in the street—I do not know why, but it is more offensive when females are involved—lying down and not knowing where they are or who they are. There is a tension between the people who want to make a living and—dare I say it?—effectively, people who want to live.
If people are offered two for the price of one, they find it difficult to resist the offer. A can of beer can be bought with 38p. A packet of M&M’s is 60p and if someone goes to Portcullis House, they can buy a banana for 40p. That is more expensive than a can of beer. The fact is that alcohol is a poison; it has an effect on the physiology of a body. For young people who see adverts of people enjoying themselves by drinking, it is very difficult to resist peer pressure. My niece is a doctor who has worked in A and E. She says that the majority of cases are a result of people who are drunk and who become very abusive. I suggest that any hon. Members who do not believe that that happens should visit their local A and E departments. Let us also consider other public servants, such as the police, who have to clear up the mess on Saturday evenings at a cost of £13 billion. Such problems affect my constituency, too.
The facts are simple. The medical profession believes that almost 250,000 lives can be saved over the next 20 years if strong action is taken. I have checked on the Department of Health’s website and it links drugs with alcohol and tobacco. It must therefore believe that alcohol is an issue. If it is an issue, the Department of Health must act; a do-nothing strategy does not work.
Sir Richard Doll made a link between lung cancer and smoking. It is only now that people believe that link. What about the link between alcohol consumption and other diseases? I can go through a list: alcoholic hepatitis, oral cavity cancer, hypertension, acute intoxication with loss of consciousness, psychiatric problems, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, loss of libido, fetal alcohol syndrome, impaired performance at work and relationship problems. The list goes on: violent crimes, domestic violence and antisocial behaviour. According to the website patient.co.uk, one in 16 hospital admissions are due to alcohol-related illness, with a cost to the NHS of £2.7 billion. In peak times in A and E, that accounts for 70% of admissions. The hon. Member for Totnes mentioned that England is number three in the top 10 drinking countries. Why can we not be the Eddie the Eagle of drinking countries?
Clearly, something has to be done. The hon. Lady should be supported in her attempts to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol. Other measures have been proposed by Alcohol Concern and a coalition of Churches, which have already written to the Prime Minister. There should be a change in licensing hours and pubs should shut at 10 pm again—people knew when they were supposed to go home. Gone is that clarion call of last orders; I urge the Minister to call last orders on binge drinking and to support the hon. Lady.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing this important debate. I should like to take a slightly different track and speak briefly about alcoholism. I am motivated to do so because a friend of mine died recently of alcoholism. I surveyed his circumstances and wondered what conceivably could have been done to prevent his early death—he died at a younger age than I am now.
I looked back at my friend’s history in some depth, trying to find out how it all started. It started, as it does for many people who take to drink, with other psychological problems: a lack of self-esteem, to some extent prompted by his family upbringing. It was accentuated by losing his job as a civil servant—he took early retirement—and then by the loss of his marriage due to the strain induced by alcoholism. I followed his whole history from that stage on. There were periods of abstinence, where he thought he had licked the problem. There were periods of very aberrant behaviour that sometimes involved the police, but often strange and gratuitous acts of mad generosity. There were periods of treatment when he went in for detox, somewhat ineffectively, and came out and resumed previous behaviour.
There was a period when my friend found that Librium worked in discouraging him from drinking, but he could not be given the amount he needed, so I made an arrangement with his doctor to provide him with the drug. For the first time in my life, I became a drug dealer. He could not receive it himself, simply because it was feared that he would take an overdose. Then there were periods of real sickness when he was losing weight rapidly. He was hospitalised frequently. He had blood transfusions and other forms of hospital treatment for a disease that I fundamentally believed to be, at root, of a mental rather than physical kind. Throughout it all, there were long periods of solitary drinking, punctuated by phone conversations to his friends. Those conversations were not always welcome; any drunken conversation tends to be very repetitive and goes nowhere. Ultimately, this was followed by a phone call saying that he had been found dead alone in his flat.
I reflected on this. I believe that, at root, the cause is psychological, but I had seen my friend struggling when applying for NHS services to get any psychological treatment, because most psychiatrists do not want to mess around with alcoholics. They regard them as a complete waste of time. In some cases, their criteria for treating people exclude alcoholics. I was a member of the Public Bill Committee that considered the Mental Health Act 2007, when it was expressly stated that people could not be sectioned for alcoholism—it was not regarded as the kind of disease that fell under that banner.
My friend phoned me on many occasions and pleaded with me to find some sort of mechanism so that he could be sectioned, because he knew that he could not stop himself drinking. Towards the end of the time when I was trying to help him, I found something that I thought might work. It was a treatment that other alcoholics I had known had benefited from. It was a process of very robust detoxification, followed by rehab, and was clearly producing results. It took place outside the primary care trust area in which he lived and was going to cost £10,000. However, I am sure that the total cost to the NHS of his treatment in all those years was much more than £10,000. I could not, in all honestly, believe that the PCT would respond very positively, given its other priorities, to a case that stated, “This man has had a lifetime’s history of alcoholism. Now, will you spend £10,000 in getting him out of this fix?”
I am concerned about what we do for alcoholics under the current regime. Having had to look into it, I found that a lot of them go through procedures that are, in a sense, futile—they do not actually take things a great deal further. They detox people and turn them around again, so they go back to the habits that they had before. Unless there is detox plus rehab, this is not a workable solution. This is a big problem for many families and communities, so it is surprising that so many organisations out there take so much money out of the NHS to so little effect. The NHS needs to drill down and support only those therapies that genuinely work. In the short term, they may be very expensive, but in the long term, they will repay the investment.
On the voluntary consumption of alcohol, there are a couple of factors that can precipitate people along the route that my friend followed: a cultural permissiveness about excessive drinking and a mishandling of how, culturally, we deal with alcohol. At root, that is our problem. Recent licensing law reforms have been an ineffectual attempt to change the culture into a French or continental system where we can manage our alcohol a little better. Certainly, one of the bedevilling features that impact on how society handles alcohol is its cheap and plentiful supply.
Frankly, I am agnostic—I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is right. Doctors are arguing very forcibly for minimum pricing, and I think that the Government are committed to banning below-cost pricing. Both are helpful, but probably neither are sufficient because in themselves neither will guarantee cultural change. As a former teacher, I am agnostic about what education can do. Asking 14-year-olds to forswear a life of alcoholic indulgence is not an easy task, particularly as most of them have not really engaged much in that direction.
We have to accept that alcohol consumption is always regulated in some form or other, but its long history shows that we do not always get it correct and that no system is flawless. We need to look at good practice and at what works—my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) has some good examples—and roll them out right across the piece. We do not have many good models to imitate in the control of either alcohol or alcoholism, but evidence-led policy is clearly the way forward.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing the debate. For me and my constituents—as I suspect it is for many in the Chamber—this issue is probably the biggest problem in our area. I deal with related issues concerning community safety every day. I rise to give the perspective from Northern Ireland and to outline the critical and crucial programme that we have to ensure that issues caused by alcohol are addressed.
In Northern Ireland, on 1 March 2010, there were 5,846 individuals in treatment for drug and/or alcohol abuse—a very high number. More than 50% were in treatment for alcohol misuse, some 22% for drug misuse and a fifth of those for both. Approximately 75% were male, 27% female. Although it is predominantly a male problem, clearly a large proportion of females are involved. The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) said that it is terrible to see young people drunk. It is always particularly upsetting to see young ladies and girls drunk and we certainly have to consider that. The last figures available show that the number of people receiving treatment increased by 5% in just one year, from 5,583 to 5,846—some 500 extra on that list, which again, unfortunately, is an upward-moving figure which we are concerned about.
There are some 1.5 million victims of alcohol-fuelled violence in the UK as a whole. Community safety is threatened by the misuse of alcohol. We have to deal with that. The police superintendents have outlined and advised that alcohol is present in half of all crimes. That worries me and I suspect that it worries all hon. Members here. It also shows that a high proportion of victims of violent crime are under the influence of alcohol at the time of the assault. So alcohol runs, almost like blood itself, through all the violence and the problems.
Some 37% of offenders had a current problem with alcohol use; 37% had a problem with binge drinking; 47% had misused alcohol in the past; and in 32% violent behaviour was related to their alcohol use. As other hon. Members have mentioned, drinking starts slowly with small indulgence and increases, with peer pressure involved, then there is binge drinking and then misuse of alcohol, with the violence that comes off the back of that.
I want to focus on young people, who need to learn at an early age to drink responsibly when they are of an age to do so at 18. In Northern Ireland, the average age for young people to have their first drink is 11. When I read that I said, “My goodness me, that’s shocking.” I am aware, as an elected representative, of people who started with one drink, perhaps when their marital relationship broke down, and drank whenever there was alcohol in the house and whenever there was peer pressure. I fought a case for a liver transplant for a young boy who started drinking at the age that I mentioned and at 17 or 18 he found himself a candidate for a liver transplant. If such facts do not shock people to their core, they should. It certainly shocks me.
Throughout society there are different instances of alcohol misuse. In the armed forces, in the under-35 age group, alcohol misuse among men is more than double that in the normal population. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that that underscores the fact that a Government approach must recognise pressures in all different elements of society and the different phases at which interventions need to take place?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree wholeheartedly and I think that all other hon. Members do. There are different levels. I was developing a point about young people, but there is a drink culture in the armed forces as well. Perhaps that is to do with the job that they do or the time that they spend together. Government has to address those issues.
Around a quarter of 11 to 16-year-olds in Northern Ireland drink regularly and around one in eight have been drunk more than 10 times. One third of 11 to 16-year-olds who have tried alcohol have bought it from a pub, off-licence or shop. There is an issue there for the police in enforcement and for local councils, where the power lies, to monitor and control what happens. There is also a strong link between starting to drink at a young age and problematic alcohol use in later life. A shocking statistic is that one in four young people claim to have been drunk 20 times in the span of a month. The number of 15 to 16-year-olds who binge-drink in Northern Ireland is one of the highest in Europe.
Alcohol use among young people is of particular concern, as they are more vulnerable than adults to suffering physical, emotional and social harm from their own and other people’s drinking. The hon. Member for Totnes mentioned what emerges as a result of that. Drinking leads to a high risk of unsafe sexual behaviour, traffic and other accidents, unintended pregnancies, failure at school and mental health problems, antisocial behaviour, vandalism and violence. This is a serious issue and is not a matter of kids being kids: it goes a lot deeper and the problems caused are a lot longer-lasting and have a great impact on our community as a whole. We have to take on the big issues.
I work in my constituency with many community and residents’ associations that are determined to stamp out abuse in their areas. There are many ways of doing that, including through education programmes for children. A group called the forum for action on substance abuse works hard with young people; it takes on the hard issues, gets the community and young people involved and ensures that a safer option is available for kids, other than standing at street corners being pressured into trying drink or drugs.
Community groups in my area are working hard to do what they can to end the vicious circle of alcoholism and drug use. Yet they cannot do it themselves; they need Government help and educational, health and police strategies as well. There needs to be a system in place that lends support and advice and co-ordinates events and information to ensure that people are informed.
A recent survey carried out by a church group in Newtownards in my constituency found that under-age drinking was a major issue that led to people feeling unsafe in their neighbourhood. The abuse of alcohol leads to side effects being felt by other people who are not involved, including not feeling safe. The fact is that problems arise when people are mixed with a large amount of alcohol. When young people, who have not yet had the time to develop their moral standards and ideals, are mixed with alcohol we get a generation fuelled by a desire to live in the moment without the thought of consequences.
Alcohol changes personalities. When young people are learning who they are, adding alcohol to the mix means that they will never have a good understanding of who they are. That is why it is essential that we put in place a way of combating under-age drinking by ensuring that drink is not available for people under 18.
When wearing my other hat as an Assembly Member, prior to coming to this House, we raised the age on buying cigarettes—that has been implemented—as it was recognised that upping the age limit would make it easier for retailers to demand identification. It is time that we enforced the same rigour and control with regard to alcohol. It is time for the Government strategy to take on board the involvement of councils and all the other bodies, which is important. We need to take on the issue of sales venues, including off-licences and pubs. We must increase police activity and police the councils in their monitoring pubs and off-licences.
We also have to say something about parental control that perhaps has not been said yet: it is neglected many times. Parents do not exercise the control that they should, but they need to do so.
I support increasing the price of alcohol. It is important that we do that. I do not see anything wrong with that. We must ensure that drink promotions do not encourage binge drinking.
The hon. Gentleman has made a great deal of sense up till now, particularly when mentioning education, but does he not think that minimum pricing is simply aimed at the least well-off? It is all very well for those who are not affected by it, but essentially that policy is aimed at the least well-off, who may continue to spend the same amount on alcohol, or more, because it will be more expensive for them, and spend less elsewhere.
I thank the hon. Lady for her wise words. That is exactly what we feel is important. We have to take on hard issues and address them early. We need a strategy that reflects an in-built protection for children and adults alike.
I urge that the points of view advanced by the hon. Member for Totnes and other hon. Members be considered and that we adopt a strategy that addresses the issues that plague society today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton.
As a libertarian and a believer in individual freedoms, I had hoped that the country had escaped from the nanny-state health police with the end of the previous Labour Government but, sadly, I was clearly naive in that thought. A great many people in the House seem to want to do nothing else but ban everyone else from doing all the things that they do not happen to like themselves, and I was certainly not brought into politics to do that. I urge the Minister not to be seduced by the reasonableness of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), because I assure her that, were she to implement everything that my hon. Friend asked for today, my hon. Friend and the health zealots would still return with another list of things that they want the Minister to do. Such people will never be appeased or satisfied until alcohol has been banned altogether.
I want to focus on two points—the futile proposal on minimum pricing, and advertising and marketing. The very principle of minimum pricing goes against all my Conservative instincts and beliefs—the free market and freedom of choice. The process of setting a minimum price is predicated on the assumption that raising the price of alcohol will make those who misuse alcohol behave differently. However, that is an incredibly simplistic belief. It is worrying that people in the Chamber think that, by increasing the price of a bottle of wine by 30p or 40p, or of a can of beer by 40p, all the problems associated with drinking would at a stroke disappear. People who think that minimum pricing will stop young people going into town centres on Friday and Saturday nights with the intention of getting bladdered, or whatever the current term is, are living in cloud cuckoo land.
I will not give way, because plenty of other people want to speak and time is pressing. I will happily debate with the hon. Gentleman in the Tea Room or at some other point, although I am the only one arguing from this perspective, I suspect.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research conducted research on minimum pricing and concluded that the heaviest drinkers are the least responsive to higher prices. For example, at a minimum unit price of 40p, the CEBR found that harmful drinkers, which the policy is supposed to be targeting, would reduce their weekly consumption by only 1.7 units per week, which at the end of the day is less than one pint of weak beer. A report by Sheffield university found that a minimum price of 45p per unit would trigger a 6% fall in overall alcohol consumption and 60 fewer deaths in the first year alone. Yet the Government figures for 2009-10 show that overall alcohol consumption fell by 7%, while alcohol-related deaths rose by 36. Clearly, there is no link between the two.
Minimum pricing treats all drinkers the same, and penalises—financially and practically—the overwhelming majority of adults, all those people who drink alcohol responsibly and in a socially acceptable way, causing harm neither to themselves nor to others. The people who would be most penalised by minimum pricing are those who are already on tight budgets, such as pensioners, people on fixed incomes or those in low-paid jobs. I simply cannot understand how hon. Members, in a time of economic austerity, are prepared to force some of their poorest constituents to pay more for alcohol, when they know full well that the overwhelming majority of those constituents drink alcohol responsibly and in moderation. If hon. Members want to tackle binge drinking and alcoholism, they should focus their efforts on binge drinkers and alcoholics, not on everyone in the country, which would be unjustifiable.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies produced a report on minimum pricing that found that poorer households, compared with richer households, on average pay less for a unit of off-sale alcohol. For example, households with an income of less than £10,000 a year pay 39.8p per unit, while those on a household income of more than £70,000 pay 49.3p per unit on average. As a result, a minimum price of 40p or 45p per unit would have a larger impact on poorer households and virtually no impact on richer ones.
Does my hon. Friend accept that our poorest constituents are paying the price for harmful drinking and that we should consider the effect of alcohol on health inequalities? Furthermore, the Sheffield study showed that minimum pricing at 50p per unit would only add an extra £12 a year to the cost for moderate drinkers.
I do not accept that for two reasons. First, people should be free to spend their own money as they so wish, without having to obtain the permission of my hon. Friend before they decide how to live their life, in particular if no one else is affected; it is their responsibility. Secondly, the one thing that I have learned about alcoholism is that alcoholics will go to any lengths to get the alcohol they need; if we increase the price of alcohol, all that will happen is that they will give over a bigger proportion of their money to buying alcohol, leaving them less money to spend on other things—it will not change their behaviour at all.
I want to touch on advertising, but not for long. I opposed the ten-minute rule Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes on advertising. I used to work in marketing, for my sins, and I want to stress its purpose: it is about brand awareness and increased market share. When Cadbury sponsored “Coronation Street”, does anyone really believe that at the moment the Cadbury advert appeared at the start of the programme everyone leapt off their seat, switched off the TV set and dashed to the nearest newsagent to buy a bar of Dairy Milk? Of course not. All that Cadbury hoped was that, next time people went into the newsagent, they would buy a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk rather than a Kit Kat. That is the whole point of marketing.
If we curb alcohol advertising, more than £80 million of revenue for the broadcasting industry would be jeopardised, leading to a direct loss in programme making in this country. It would also wreak havoc on sporting events, and I expect that the Department of Health would prefer to encourage as much sporting activity as possible. We already have a robust system of advertising regulation in this country, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority and in this case the Portman Group, endorsed by Ofcom. We hear that so many young people are made aware of alcohol by advertising, but lots of young children know about car advertising and yet it does not mean that they go straight out and start driving a car, merely because they are aware of the advertising.
I worry where this will stop. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes return to the House in a few months’ time and urge us to ban the advertising of cream cakes, pizzas, chocolate, fish and chips or curry, because they are all bad for us if eaten to excess? This is a slippery slope, and certainly not one that I am prepared to support.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing this important debate, and I pay tribute to her for tenacious campaigning on the subject. I am also pleased to follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), because our views are about as divergent as they possibly could be, so there is an opportunity for some balance.
I want to talk about minimum pricing, because the sale of alcoholic drinks at pocket-money prices is costing not only the economy anything between £20 billion and £25 billion a year, if we look at the total costs, but many thousands of people’s lives. This is a fundamental public health issue: people are getting avoidable diseases and dying early. As others have said, those of us who are on the side of supporting minimum pricing do not want to stop people having fun and enjoying a drink; we want a strategy in place to ensure that as far as possible people drink as safely as possible.
The bottom line is that alcohol currently presents us with a massive public health problem in this country. With the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing, I believe that we need to act on minimum pricing. The hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) was right to say that it is not a panacea and, on its own, minimum pricing will certainly not solve the problem, but it is an important tool in our armoury, so we should use it.
As mentioned already, the Government’s policy so far is that, instead of supporting minimum pricing, they will bar the selling of alcohol below the rate of duty and VAT. I welcome that as a step forward, with Ministers acknowledging price as a factor in how much people drink, but the policy does not go far enough, as evidenced by the drinks industry calling the approach “pragmatic”—in other words, the industry is not bothered by it. Health campaigners point out that one of the reasons why the industry is so relaxed is because the price floor is probably too low to have a real impact. That was supported by evidence from an investigation by The Guardian newspaper last year, which showed that of 4,000 price promotions, just one would be affected by the Government’s policy to bar selling alcohol at below the rate of duty and VAT. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response to that research. If the Government fail to act on the evidence, and if they refuse to stand up to the drinks industry, I fear that their alcohol strategy simply will not work. Resources and good intentions will be wasted because a successful strategy must be underpinned by measures to address the easy availability of alcohol.
Local communities are, rightly, worried and want action. For example, in Brighton and Hove, we have been trying to address the £100 million annual bill facing the city from the impact of over-consumption of alcohol. In October last year, the city started what it called “the big alcohol debate”, which closed last month. Its purpose was to hear what the residents of Brighton and Hove had to say about alcohol in the city. It is deeply worrying that 40% of the 1,300-plus respondents said that they avoid parts of the city because of the way in which drunken people behave. A clear message came through from Brighton’s debate that people are concerned about the too-easy availability of alcohol, and the effects of drunken behaviour in the city.
I am proud of the clear and radical action that city councillors have recently taken on licensing with an expanded cumulative impact area that allows councillors to take into account the impact of other licensed premises in the area when considering new applications. Councillors in the city are doing all they can to work closely with the police, the NHS and many other agencies that must pick up the pieces resulting from the lack of a clear alcohol strategy. The point of the debate is that there is only so much that can be done at local level without a clear lead from the Government on the key issues, which include minimum pricing. Price can and does regulate people’s consumption patterns, which seems to me why so much of the drinks industry is so worried about it.
By way of illustration, I shall say a few words about the continued sale of white cider. The issue concerns me greatly, and has been raised in Brighton and Hove as a significant problem connected with the level of street drinking and drunkenness in the city. It makes the case that minimum pricing has an important part to play. White cider is often sold at a cheaper price than bottled water. It is consumed for no other reason than instant intoxication for homeless and dependent street drinkers, as well as young at-risk drinkers. The charities that work with street drinkers report that white cider has a particularly damaging effect on the health and behaviour of the people consuming it. The harm it causes should help to convince the Government that minimum pricing is part of the answer.
I have contacted the supermarkets that continue to sell the product, albeit on their bottom shelves where they know that those who are ill enough and desperate enough to need it will be able to find it. I am encouraged that in response, those supermarkets have agreed to meet me to discuss the issue. However, whatever the outcome of that meeting, white cider will still be bought by many small retailers from cash and carry outlets.
Bigger retailers can and should take a lead, and stop selling this dangerous and damaging substance, but we need action from the Government if we are to eradicate it from our streets and from the lives of vulnerable drinkers. I shall illustrate what a difference a minimum price would make to the cost of white cider. Currently 2-litre bottles of Diamond White cider, consisting of 7.5% alcohol by volume, cost around £3.50 for around 15 units of alcohol. At a minimum price of 50p, the cost would be £7.50, and at 45p it would be £6.75. The point that a minimum price would not unduly penalise people who drink more moderately is underscored by the fact that an average bottle of wine—750 ml at 12%—would cost £4.50 with a 50p minimum price, or £4.05 if it were 45p.
The hon. Lady has switched from white cider to wine, the implication being that people who drink moderately drink wine. In fact, she is arguing that less well-off people should pay more and middle-class people should pay the same. That identifies that the problem is only with less well-off people.
I reject what the hon. Gentleman says, because I am showing that price will have a big effect on people who consume vast amounts of alcohol, but not for most people who consume it more moderately. I could have given the same figures for cider. Clearly it will not put off moderate drinkers. The big red herring in this debate is that if the price of alcohol is increased, life will suddenly become enormously difficult for moderate drinkers. As the hon. Member for Totnes has said, with a 50p per unit minimum price a harmful drinker would spend an average of £163 a year extra if they continued with the habit, but a moderate drinker would spend an extra £12 a year. I do not want to inflict an extra £12 a year on anyone, but when that is set against the overall cost of alcohol misuse to society, it is far outweighed by an extra £12 for people who continue with their moderate drinking behaviour.
I am aware that Ministers are raising concerns that a minimum price per unit might contravene European competition laws and would be challenged in the courts. My understanding is that the European Commission has indicated that minimum pricing does indeed have the potential to target heavy drinkers. If minimum pricing is to satisfy the law, it must be shown that it is in proportion to the problems caused by alcohol without unduly affecting competition. There is a strong case for saying that action on pricing is proportionate to the problems caused, not least the chronic disease that we have heard about, thousands of deaths, and an estimated cost to the economy of between £20 billion and £25 billion.
In 2009, before the Scottish Government proposed introducing a minimum price policy, a written question on whether minimum alcohol retail prices violated EC law was answered by the European Commission. It clearly set out that treaty rules on the free movement of goods would not be contravened as long as price rules applied to all relevant traders operating within the national territory, and if they affected in the same manner in law and in fact the marketing of domestic and imported products. No one is suggesting that we treat imported and domestic products differently. We could make a strong case, if the political will were there to do so, for saying that such a response is proportionate.
[Katy Clark in the Chair]
A more recent ruling from the Commission in 2010 was even clearer. In answer to a question, the Commissioner for Health said that
“the Commission fully shares…the conviction that there are strong public health reasons for the EU to tackle alcohol-related harm including minimum pricing measures.”
We must lay to rest the ghost that suggests that the EU is saying that we cannot do this. It is saying that we can do it with certain conditions. Our role is to show that those conditions are met, and with all the evidence that has been cited here today and in many other places, we can make that case clearly. In this instance, the EU is saying not that we cannot act, but that we must be proportionate.
I hope that the Minister will accept that and that we need to make the political case for pursuing this measure. The Commission is telling us that if we do that, it is open to supporting that way forward. Let us have the debate on the issues, not on bugbears and myths about what the EU will or will not allow.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). Like other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing a debate that she has revisited time and again since coming to the House.
As a relatively new MP, I was reflecting on the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is a bit like a bellwether. When he is the first to rush to defend the Government’s policy, one knows that the policy is wrong. This morning, many hon. Members have asked where the evidence is that leads us to consider the need to introduce minimum pricing. In 2008, the university of Sheffield conducted a Government-funded study, which found that setting a minimum price of 50p a unit for alcohol could result in 3,000 fewer deaths a year. In 2009, the chief medical officer in England supported that view. In 2010, the Select Committee on Health and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence also backed a minimum price. Also in 2010, that policy found its way into the coalition agreement, which states:
“We will ban the sale of alcohol below cost price. We will review alcohol taxation and pricing to ensure it tackles binge drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers, pubs and important local industries.”
That is exactly the point that other hon. Members have made. The opposition to minimum pricing is setting up a straw man in saying that it would penalise moderate drinkers. In fact, as other hon. Members have said, the study by Alcohol Concern suggests that with a 50p minimum price, moderate drinkers would be only £12 worse off a year, whereas the cost to the harmful drinkers—those who cost our economy through lost productivity, revenue lost to the health service, and tragic deaths such as that identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (John Pugh)—would be £163 a year.
I hate to stand up for the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), but the relationship between price and consumption is a lot more subtle than hon. Members have indicated. Recently, at least until a couple of years ago, the price of alcohol was going down, and levels of consumption have also reduced throughout the country.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, but the issue concerns consumption among problem drinkers and those vulnerable people about whom we in the House must be especially concerned. In many cases, people suffering from addiction are not able to articulate the best course of action for themselves.
I will not give way as I want to move on swiftly and look at some of the false arguments that are used to prevent a move towards minimum pricing, including the suggestion that such pricing may fall foul of European competition law. Belgium, Luxembourg and Poland have laws on commercial practices and consumer protection that ban below-cost sales. Some Spanish provinces have banned alcohol promotions that directly incite excessive alcohol consumption, and national legislation in Sweden stipulates that the price of alcohol cannot be lower than the cost price plus a reasonable addition, which the Swedish National Institute of Public Health recommends should be 25% or more of cost price.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Southport said, examples of good practice show how we can tackle alcohol-related disorder in our communities. The Newquay Safe Partnership has worked effectively to try and reduce the cost of such disorder by introducing Challenge 25 and ensuring that people are able to spot fake ID, by education outreach in the local schools, and by the creation of a confidential number to report instances of proxy buying when an adult purchases alcohol for children. A “follow home” scheme means that a case of antisocial behaviour by a visitor to Newquay will follow that person home to be dealt with by their local police force. Newquay Safe Partnership has reduced the cost of crime in Newquay by about £250,000 a year. Incidents of violence have reduced by 7%, and those of nuisance behaviour by 22%. I will happily provide hon. Members with other examples at a later point.
Two points should be added to our alcohol strategy. First, we need a licensing requirement for toughened glass in pubs and clubs. A discarded bottle or pint glass is a fairly dangerous weapon, as my constituent Jack Nutting knows. Toughened glass can be used for pint glasses, and plastic bottles can be used instead of glass bottles. Newquay is already moving forward on that licensing requirement, and the rest of the country could learn from that. Secondly, as I said yesterday in questions to the Home Department, there is no specific offence of urinating in the street, and at the moment police use get-around powers, most amusingly that of littering. When considering the consequences of alcohol in their totality, that issue also needs to be reviewed.
Given the shortage of time, and in order to give other Members the opportunity to contribute, I will restrict my remarks to one of the topics on which I wished to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing this timely debate. She has made the case well for the need to address excessive drinking, particularly among the young. I want to draw attention to the important role that parents play in teaching their children how to drink responsibly.
I wish to highlight recent research produced by the think-tank Demos. A few days ago, I was privileged to host a meeting at which it launched a report on alcohol and parenting. The report compared parenting styles, and found—perhaps unsurprisingly to some—that parents who are actively involved in their children’s lives and know where they are, what they are doing and who they are with, and who get involved in their children’s leisure activities and know their friends and even their friends’ families, and who offer love and affection as well as setting clear boundaries, will materially decrease the likelihood that their children will binge-drink at age 16. According to the report, parents who bring up their children in a disengaged way with low levels of the sorts of attachment that I have described, run the risk that their youngsters will be eight times more likely to engage in binge drinking at age 16.
Even more surprising was the effect that parenting styles have into adulthood. The research found that children bought up in an environment with high levels of attachment were far less likely to engage in excessive drinking at the age of 34, which shows that good parenting has a lasting effect on us as adults. I was encouraged by that report, and it reassured me that all those hours that I have spent freezing on the touchline at football matches across Cheshire may have a greater impact than that of simply cheering on my son’s football teams.
Although the Demos report did not recommend that the Government make grand changes in the way they educate parents about bringing up their children, I would like to comment on that subject. The research highlights the fact that active parenting is a key aspect of personal responsibility, and it is good to be reminded of that with reference to excessive drinking. Ideally, appropriate levels of personal responsibility in relation to that issue would substantially reduce—indeed, negate—the need for greater Government intervention.
As part of their alcohol strategy, I suggest that the Government think laterally and consider seriously the positive contribution that parenting classes or education could make, particularly in terms of prevention rather than cure. The Government are currently trialling parenting classes in three parts of the country, but such things are rare. Over time, the broader availability of such classes could reap substantial benefits in the lives of many—that is particularly true in an age when many young people who may become parents have not experienced ideal parental role models in their own lives.
In conclusion, we cannot resolve every problem of excessive drinking in our country, but we should not act only at personal, community or national levels. We need to do something at all those levels, because doing nothing is not an option.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing this timely debate. It is similar to the debate that I secured in May 2007, just before the publication of the then Government’s alcohol harm reduction strategy. In 2007 I was pessimistic about the direction in which the situation with alcohol was headed, but in 2012 I am optimistic. In 2007 the strategy was too limited and failed to tackle the need to reduce overall consumption and the harm caused by alcohol, as well as to be more ambitious about recovery from addiction.
Without going into too much detail, I would like to raise the issue of pricing, which, quite properly, has already been mentioned. In 2007, I was part of the Centre for Social Justice which recognised—perhaps going against its more traditional instincts of not wanting to bang the drum for taxation—that price has a particular impact on dependent drinkers and young people, which are the groups we wish to tackle when we see such enormous carnage in our communities. I am pleased that the Government are considering seriously the case for minimum pricing, and we await the outcome of those deliberations.
My experience comes not from being a politician, but from being a criminal defence solicitor. Sadly, my filing cabinet is full of notes about lives that have been damaged, or indeed lost, because of alcohol. Many of those cases involve not just one person, but a grandparent, a father and a son—the intergenerational cycle of alcohol misuse, which includes the impact of crime.
Last year in Hertford magistrates court I came across one individual—let us call him Lee—who was an alcoholic. He was aged 16, had just come out of a young offenders institution, and told me that he had been an alcoholic for three years. I asked him about his family and school background, and he said that everyone had given up on him. Indeed, when he left the young offenders institution, he stopped seeking any effective treatment because the only statutorily provided adolescent rehabilitation centre closed down last year. I asked him about school, and he said that he was known there as “Wasted.” That was how he was known, and that was how he felt. Sadly, such wasted lives litter our community, and the impact on children and young people is severe.
Some 9 million children are affected by a family member who has a problem with the misuse of alcohol. That is a massive figure, and children of parents who are problematic drug or alcohol users are themselves seven times more likely to develop a substance misuse problem.
We need to move away from the way in which we have historically dealt with alcohol treatment, focusing on the individual, to a whole-family-centred approach in order to tackle this intergenerational drug misuse. We need to ensure, as the Government are committed to ensuring, that it is not a Cinderella service—that people do not just come to the ball now and again when they show that they have a problem—but that the approach is systemic and integrated. That is what the drug strategy and the alcohol strategy show—that we are seeking to tackle drug and alcohol misuse and be much more ambitious about recovery.
We need to ensure that we recognise the evidential basis of alcohol treatment. We know from the UK alcohol treatment trials that every pound invested in treatment saves £5 in reduced health care costs, social care costs and criminal justice costs. Taking such action will ensure that the current Government are known not just for economic recovery, but for social recovery. Tackling alcohol misuse is one way to achieve that. I know that the Government are up for it. I am sure that we shall hear shortly that my hon. Friend the Minister is up for it as well.
It is always a pleasure to speak under your distinguished chairmanship, Miss Clark. Like many other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing the debate, which is part of her campaigning work on what has almost come to be seen as her signature issue. It is a very important issue for us all.
I often speak in the House about things of particular relevance to inner-city communities such as mine, but no community is not touched by the scourge of alcohol abuse. That is true whether we are talking about the town centre or the accident and emergency department or even behind closed doors. This scourge is relevant to all of us as Members and is a proper subject for debate.
We have heard many very informed speeches. I shall touch on just three issues. I want to put the alcohol abuse problem in this country in an international context. I do not think that it is sufficiently understood how badly we are doing relative to other European countries. I want to touch particularly on what is happening to young people, because what is happening to them is particularly important. Finally, I shall talk about what would make up an effective alcohol strategy.
It is not sufficiently understood that whereas alcohol misuse is trending quite sharply up in this country, as hon. Members have said, in Europe it is trending down. The picture in this country is much bleaker than that in countries such as France, Italy and Spain. France, Italy and Spain historically had very high levels of alcohol consumption in the 1950s. However, since the 1980s, alcohol consumption in France, Germany and Italy has been reduced by between 30% and 50%. At the same time, it has gone upwards in the UK.
We have heard about the numbers of deaths related to alcohol abuse and the panoply of social ills and social disorder caused by alcohol abuse. Why is alcohol abuse as a problem trending upwards in the UK but going downwards in other European countries? That is because—I say this with all due respect to the free-marketeers on the other side of the Chamber—Governments have taken action. If we look at a graph of alcohol abuse, we see the line for European countries going down and being intercepted by a line that relates to UK alcohol abuse, which is going upwards. How can the sixth-richest country in the world be unable to take comprehensive action against this scourge? I would hate to think that that was because politicians and Governments listened too much to the drinks industry and not enough to the cries of people suffering from alcohol abuse, whether they are in our town centres or in A and E or the alcohol abuse is taking place behind closed doors.
I want to say a little about why this is a particular issue for young people. As we have heard, among young people aged 18 to 29, alcohol is a bigger killer than any other disease. They are being killed either by the use of alcohol itself or in alcohol-fuelled incidents. Government Members are laughing, but they would think it a serious matter if they were the parent of a young person who had died in that type of incident. I have had occasion to meet parents of children who have died either through alcohol abuse or in incidents fuelled by alcohol. They do not laugh; they think that it is tragic and they want the Government to do more.
It is a fact that the alcohol industry has, in recent years, specifically targeted younger audiences. What are alcopops about other than encouraging young people who might be put off by the taste of alcohol to begin drinking alcohol with drinks that more naturally resemble soft drinks and sweetened fruit juice? It is a fact that in the 1990s the industry consciously increased its advertising budget. It went from £150 million to £250 million and, as I said, at the same time the number of schoolchildren drinking alcohol doubled. Targeting young people is a very serious matter, because we know that heavy drinking in adolescence leads to greater addiction levels and dependency in later life. We have heard more than once in the debate that levels of drinking in this country have levelled off, but levels of drinking among young people continue to spiral upwards. It is that vulnerability and the onward costs of adolescent heavy drinking that it is important to target.
We have heard many important facts about the results of alcohol abuse in this country, so what action should be taken? No one believes that pricing alone is a magic bullet. No one puts that forward—not the British Medical Association and not the alcohol campaigning organisations. However, there is no question but that an effective strategy against alcohol abuse must have pricing as part of the package.
Last year, I visited Newcastle at the invitation of the leader of the Labour council, Nick Forbes, and I chaired a round table discussion on alcohol and tobacco, at which I heard about the impact of alcohol abuse in the north-east. I also heard about the work that Balance North East is doing on alcohol abuse. I heard that alcohol is sold for as little as 12p per unit in the north-east and that the NHS spends a very large amount of money dealing with alcohol harm.
The problem is that, in the midst of the reorganisation that is taking place, innovative programmes such as Balance North East are at risk because they are funded jointly by several local primary care trusts. I would be interested in what the Minister has to say on how regional programmes such as Balance North East, fighting alcohol harm, may be able to continue operating under the new commissioning arrangements that she proposes in the Health and Social Care Bill. How does she, under the new organisational arrangements, intend to see alcohol services improve? How does she intend to make them a public health priority? Does she intend to consider the specific recommendations made by the British Society of Gastroenterology? Those recommendations include the establishment of multidisciplinary alcohol care teams in hospitals linked to the community; alcohol specialist nurse services; co-ordinated policies of care in A and E and acute medicine units, including alcohol specialist nurses, liaison psychiatry and alcohol link workers’ networks; outreach alcohol services; and integrated alcohol treatment pathways.
As I have said, there is a real issue about alcohol and young people. I think it was the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) who said that he did not think that education had much of a role to play. One way in which we can learn is by looking at successful public health campaigns of the past. There is no question but that, along with Government action, education in schools has a lot to do with the fact that levels of smoking among young people are dropping. That was not an immediate answer, but we do know that education played an important part in relation to tobacco abuse, and I believe that education can play an important part in relation to alcohol abuse.
In the debate hon. Members have queried whether there is any evidence that price plays a role. I refer hon. Members to something that was referred to earlier—a study undertaken over 20 years in British Columbia, Canada. That showed that a 10% increase in the minimum price of a given alcoholic beverage leads to a 16.1% decrease in consumption relative to other drinks. As I said, that was a 20-year survey. No hon. Member has brought evidence that will counter that.
We have heard about the social ills and the health problems caused by alcohol abuse. We know, because of our experience with tobacco, that these are not trends that we can stand, King Canute-like, and watch rising. There are things that Government and communities can do. Having waited so long for the Government’s alcohol strategy, I await with interest the Minister’s comments about the action that the Government plan to take and how it will fit with the changes in the organisation of the health service.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Miss Clark. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing the debate. As a GP, she has experienced at first hand the devastation alcohol can cause, and we all agree with her that excessive drinking affects our communities, ruins lives and all too often ends them.
The debate is very timely, because it marks the start of a big push by the Government to get information to people about the harm that alcohol can cause. We have the Change4Life adverts, which some Members may have seen, and 2 millions leaflets are being distributed. I can also recommend to hon. Members an online calculator that will help people to start understanding how many units they actually drink. Awareness of the harms of smoking is high among members of the public, and most people these days understand that being overweight is a problem and that they should probably exercise more, but the harm alcohol can cause is less well understood.
The constructive tension in the Chamber has been quite useful, and it is interesting that it is cross-party. Often on such occasions, the reporting of the evidence is somewhat selective, but one difficulty with the question why we drink so much and why drinking is a particular problem for northern Europeans is that it is complicated and the picture is complex. Some 57% of people drink fewer than three times a week, and a further 15% report abstaining from drink completely. However, 22% of adults drink more than the lower-risk guidelines, drinking 70% of all the alcohol consumed, which means that just under a quarter of people drink almost three quarters of the alcohol consumed.
As those figures suggest, the majority of people who drink do so in an entirely responsible way, but we cannot ignore those for whom drinking is a problem and those who cause others misery as a result of alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder. The ripple effect on families is, of course, also significant.
Some 21% of men and 15% of women are binge drinkers. Some 44% of violent crimes—almost 1 million crimes—are carried out by individuals under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol-related crime and disorder are estimated to cost our economy between £8 billion and £13 billion a year. There are also 1.1 million admissions to hospital as a result of alcohol-related crime, making alcohol the third biggest burden in terms of disease after smoking and obesity.
A problem that size needs a proper long-term solution. That is why we are developing a cross-Government alcohol strategy that will set out how different Departments can work together to reduce the harm alcohol can do to people’s health, as well as to society and our local communities, which are often blighted by alcohol-fuelled crime. The strategy will be published in the coming weeks, and I know the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) is desperate to see it. It will be here soon, and it will highlight the importance of collective work, setting out the courses of action for all the relevant Departments across Whitehall, as well as describing the future roles of central and local government, the third sector, and other organisations and people.
This issue affects us all. It affects people in different ways at different times of their lives. As has been stated, there is no one silver bullet that will turn these things round. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes and the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) made clear, we need to address this issue from lots of different directions. By taking a life-course approach, we can help young families and children to understand how much alcohol can affect them, putting them at risk of violent crime, exposing them to sexual dangers and having consequences for later life. We can help working-age adults to understand the seriousness of long-term drinking at levels above the guidelines, and we can help older people to understand how much such drinking can reduce their quality of life in old age.
My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman highlighted the lack of services for people dependent on alcohol, and we are running co-design pilots to address that. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) is working closely with me on that. As he said, we have a big ambition: we believe that people can recover from their addictions.
Home Office Ministers have legislated in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to overhaul the Licensing Act 2003 and rebalance it in favour of local communities. Those new measures will give the police and licensing authorities the capabilities to tackle irresponsible premises and to crack down on unacceptable sales of alcohol to children. Those measures will come into force this year.
On top of that—very importantly, sending a critical message—designated responsible authorities under the 2003 Act will be, in the first instance, primary care trusts, so that they can make a fuller contribution to reducing acute harm from alcohol. We are keen for health organisations to play a much bigger part in the licensing decisions made by local authorities.
On tax, we have said that we will raise alcohol duty by 2% above inflation—the retail prices index—each year to 2014-15. We have introduced a new extra duty on high-strength beers to discourage people from drinking cheap, super-strength lagers. Likewise, there is now a reduced rate of duty on lower-alcohol beers to encourage people to switch. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes talked about putting quality above quantity; that is something we are aiming for, and the industry is responding well.
Pricing will continue to be an issue. There are some misconceptions about the use of the phrase “minimum unit price”, although hon. Members have probably used it accurately today and described well what they meant. The fact is that shops sell alcohol at a loss to get customers through the door, and that can encourage binge drinking. That is why we are committed to banning the sale of alcohol below cost, and that is an important first step. There are many different ways to achieve that aim, and we will continue to review all the evidence. The alcohol strategy will outline what steps we are taking to tackle the issue. Interestingly, 65% of alcohol was bought in pubs a few years ago, but 65% is now bought in supermarkets.
I want to re-emphasise to my hon. Friend that the drinks industry does not dictate policy. If I do nothing else today, I want to dispel the myth that it is dictating policy to me or any of my colleagues in the Department. Through the responsibility deal, we are challenging the industry to take action. That can happen quickly, it does not need legislation and if we can make some progress, that will be a start. Some 119 different companies have signed up to collective responsibility deal pledges on alcohol, including on improving labelling to get information out to people and to ensure that 80% of alcohol products have unit and health information by the end of 2013. As a result of the deal, people will see information on the number of units in different drinks, whether they are buying from shops or in pubs and bars. We are also working with industry and non-governmental organisations to remove a significant number of units of alcohol from the UK market through changes in how alcohol is produced and sold. Customers can therefore expect a much wider choice—again, this is about targeting quality, rather than quantity.
There is no doubt that we need people to take more responsibility, but this is also about local communities, businesses and individuals, whether they are parents, people whose drinking is affecting others or those who are risking their own health. We all need to play a part in helping people to understand the risks better. Local authorities have welcomed our plans to transfer powers for public health to them. They will be well placed to decide which organisations to fund and how they can take action locally.
I want to take this opportunity to praise some of the work that is already being done in many areas. Street pastors have been mentioned—in my patch, they are called street angels—and there are also the local authorities. In my constituency, Guildford borough council has introduced byelaws and it is working closely with the licensed trade. Unfortunately, preloading means that the licensed trade gets an unfair reputation at times. People often go into pubs, clubs and bars having consumed considerable amounts of alcohol, and the licensed trade is left to deal with the problem. Areas such as mine are dealing well with the issue, and people have worked well with the council. As a result, we are seeing a difference on the streets; in fact, if Members walk around some of our towns where progress has been made, the difference is noticeable.
There needs to be action across the board from everyone, and our alcohol strategy will demonstrate that. That action must be based on evidence. I thank my hon. Friend once again for the debate. I must reiterate that we cannot, sadly, turn this problem around overnight, but we are deadly serious about this deadly problem, and that will be demonstrated in the forthcoming alcohol strategy.
Wirral Borough Council
It is a pleasure to open this debate under your chairmanship, Miss Clark. I want to give an apology for my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who has just given birth to a lovely baby girl and obviously cannot be here today. However, she was very much part of a meeting two Saturdays ago, when Members saw the chief executive of Wirral borough council, and is committed to the conversation that we want to have with the Minister today and the strategy we want to lay out. I thank the Minister for finding time for yet another debate, but we want to draw on his considerable experience on how to move forward.
There has recently been a great deal of local coverage about the politics of our authority, but today’s debate examines the more fundamental matter of the administration of the authority. I believe that, although it does not have the razzmatazz that attaches to going on about politicians, it is much more important for the long-term well-being of residents. I shall in essence concentrate on governance in the local authority, which covers the Wirral peninsula, and cite examples of senior officers wilfully excluding councillors from the decisions that they have taken and the lack of good basic governance, which has surprised me. Indeed, if I were the leader of Wirral borough council—heaven forbid that that task should ever be allotted to me—I would assume that certain basic rules and governance would be in place. I have been shocked at their absence.
I shall give two examples of that failure. I have recently been involved in a whistleblowing case over Wirral’s biggest contract—in money terms—for the maintenance of the road system. At the meeting with the whistleblowers and the senior officers in Wirral, I was amazed that the council did not know the date when the whistle was first blown on what was happening. We were in the bizarre situation of the chief officers having to ask whistleblowers when they made their first complaint. It was reminiscent of Pasternak’s wonderful book “Dr Zhivago”, when the Bolsheviks were furious not at the suggestion that they killed Lara, which they willingly admitted, but at the accusation that they were inefficient and did not know where they had killed her. There is an element of that in Wirral’s not knowing the most basic information that it could be expected to know, particularly in the matter of whistleblowing.
We discovered, also at the very first meeting with the whistleblowers and senior officers, that there were no rules in place—although I thought that they were automatic for all local authorities—setting out when officers, particularly senior officers, must declare an interest in any contract that they were recommending to the council. In the case of the Colas contract, the interest was declared retrospectively, but at no point in the later stages of the council proceedings did the chief officer draw the councillors’ attention to the fact that he had made a late submission of interest and that they might want to bear that in mind when reading the papers before them.
I also want to speak about three major initiatives that the council could have taken, for which the Government were putting up taxpayers’ money. By the crass inefficiency of the chief officers, nothing happened. The first initiative related to a contract to do with Rock Ferry, the area where I live in Birkenhead. Of course, there are some parts of Birkenhead that will be grand enough to be on a par with the Minister’s constituency. Indeed, parts of the constituency, as the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) will know, would make Hampstead look positively downmarket. However, other areas of the Wirral are really hard pressed. Therefore, Governments’ attempts to redirect resources to us are immensely important, because of the possibility of opening up opportunities to people who are poor and would otherwise be denied them.
First, there was a contract of £5 million for Rock Ferry; English Estates was offering that to us to kick-start development. One of the senior officers just could not be bothered, or was not efficient enough, to get the contract in on time. In that year, English Estates had overspent, so it could not believe its luck that Wirral council was so inefficient and the £5 million grant that would have come to us, which would have kick-started redevelopment in Rock Ferry, would not now be made. That is the first of the appalling errors of administration that I am concerned about.
The second error is to do with the contract to upgrade and undertake a long-term rental agreement for the Cheshire Lines building in Birkenhead. That contract has cost the council £11 million. It did not have the full authority of the council, and it received a pretty horrendous report from the district auditor. The contract related to a building that the council did not own, although it owned—and still does, thank goodness— Birkenhead town hall, and the money could have been spent on the town hall, to bring the accommodation up to standard. The call centre work that the council wanted to do in the Cheshire Lines building could have been transferred to one of its own buildings. What happened was discovered only because a member of staff reported to councillors that major work for which no authority had been given was being undertaken in the Cheshire Lines building. Again, councillors were informed by sources outside the authority, not by the officers.
The third of my examples concerns the attempt to win a new academy building for the lower half of my constituency. Over two successive years, attempts were made by the previous Government to get the children and young people’s officer to make a proper application for a rebuilt academy. Thanks to an inquiry by the previous Government, we were reorganising secondary education in Wirral, and it was recommended that two schools should be combined. The first offer made by the authorities was years before the general election and it was for a new build. We were invited to bid up to £40 million. In the first year, the application was not in on time. In the second year—the year running up to the general election—again, the council failed to deliver the plans to the Department for Education, which would have allowed us to get a totally rebuilt academy. Instead of that, one school is closed and children travel miles to the second school, which has now had to take on the role of the main academy site.
A little adding up brings a figure of almost £60 million of squandered opportunities. I have been the Member of Parliament for a little over 30 years now. If we think about the effect on the rates, we realise that an extra 2p off the rates has been lost by the incompetence of a small group of chief officers.
I shall not go into the details of two other current controversies that are before the council: a major inquiry into how the whistleblower Martin Morton has been treated and the report by the auditor that is due by, I hope, Friday on how the Colas contract has been dealt with.
On the Martin Morton report, the name of a councillor trips on to one page and then falls off almost immediately, but the report is about the quality of and the judgment displayed by the senior officers of Wirral borough council in that case. That is not of course to excuse the politicians, because they are in charge of the political machinery of this country, but it was a damning report on the actions and the quality of a group of chief officers.
We await the publication of the Colas report on Friday. It will again emphasise how chief officers have behaved. I went through the piles of paper that the whistleblowers gave me on the decision about the Colas contract. I like reading and it is obviously part of my job, but I could not have found out what might have been going on without the help of the whistleblowers. The papers were presented to the council in a way in which the most diligent of the councillors would have found it very hard to understand what was behind them.
I turn to the Minister and ask him for help, and I do so with an example fresh in my mind. After the debacle over the non-new build of the academy, I asked if I could chair the governors. That was after the academy had been established, and I was presented with some very real problems, about which I sought legal advice. I phoned the two senior people in the Young People’s Learning Agency and in the Department for Education to tell them what I was doing and to seek their advice. Their advice was that, as I had one of the best lawyers in the business, I should follow the lawyer’s advice. In doing so and starting that procedure, however, I could not talk to anyone, least of all those in the Department.
At the end of the process, when an agreement was struck and signed at 5 pm on a Friday, I phoned the two senior people in the Department and, within an hour and a half, I was given four candidates to interview. They had just retired and had been very successful—outstanding—leaders of their schools or colleges. On the Monday, we were therefore able to have someone in place, if only temporarily, for the following two terms. I was surprised by the quickness of that and the quality of the advice.
The plea that I know all Wirral Members wish to make to the Minister is to ask him to see them to discuss what action he has the power to take to help us make real progress in getting quality leadership in the Wirral, of which we are proud.
I have listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said, which is the tip of the iceberg of what has happened in Wirral for the past 10 years. He mentioned the Anna Klonowski report. We have also had two reports made under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. We have had the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government step in about the libraries. A lot has gone wrong there, but does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that for politicians to sidestep their responsibilities and hand over the blame to officers is political cowardice at its worst and that the people who were responsible and were leading the council should take the blame that is attributable to them?
The Minister will know that I am probably the last person to think that politicians should not stand up, take the blame and defend their quarter. In no way do I wish to counter what the hon. Lady has said but, even if we deal with that issue, we have a real problem about the quality of our chief officers. She knows who I am speaking about in this debate. I have not wished to claim privilege and name them, because I do not want that sort of press campaign; I want us to be able to think carefully about what help we might seek from outside so that, whatever political changes occur, we can be proud of the administration in the Wirral. I have clearly fingered two officers in my speech, because their fingerprints are over the issues that I have raised.
If at all possible, I want to advance this matter by seeking support to bring about decisive change, as we received at the academy from the relevant Department. I hope that this will therefore be the last debate that we will have to hold in Parliament about the running of Wirral authority and the last time that we have to raise the sort of examples about the role of politicians that were cited by the hon. Lady. I shall make way for the Minister, but I end on this note: we need his and the Department’s help, because we will clearly not make the changes to our senior officers without outside help.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair again, Miss Clark.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) on securing this important debate, which involves troubling and complex issues for residents of the Wirral. On behalf of all Government Members, I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) on her happy news, and I am sure we are all delighted to wish her and her new baby well. At an appropriate moment, I will be more than happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) and other Wirral Members to discuss the issues. I am always happy to meet representatives of any local authority area, if I can be of help.
That does not, of course, mean that the Government can or should offer quick fixes for such problems. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead has set out the issues with characteristic care. I am sure he and everyone in the House will understand that I have to be careful and a little guarded in commenting on individual cases, the more so as some of them will be looked at by the appropriate agencies. I do not mean any disrespect if I have to be careful in that regard. I can, however, talk in broad terms about the work that the coalition is putting in place to devolve power and accountability to the lowest level, because those two things go together, and to help local people to hold their councillors to account and, in turn, to help the councillors to hold their officials to account. Equally, we are taking steps to encourage the local government sector as a whole to improve, and there are ways in which sometimes the Department, but very often that sector itself, can promote the improvements that we all want for the sake of the people of the Wirral.
I have had the pleasure of visiting the Wirral on a couple of occasions. I cannot remember if I have done so since I became a Minister, but I certainly did so when I was a shadow Minister and I enjoyed my visit. I should say that one of my oldest friends at the Bar is the grandson of a former lord mayor of Birkenhead, so I have a connection with the area. All I can say is that the right hon. Gentleman is quite right—I say this with personal feeling—that one should always take the advice of one’s lawyer. I am glad that he has found a good one and, I hope an economical one; I am sure that that is the case. It is true that my constituency has its grand elements, but it also includes wards that contain much the same deprivation as he and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West have to deal with. Councils are critical in delivering services for people in all circumstances in their communities, and that is particularly important for those who are vulnerable or under pressure.
Against that background, we have sought, first, to achieve a much greater degree of transparency about how local authorities operate and, secondly, to ensure that there is proper accountability to the community, rather than the previous approach of accountability being largely centralised by means of making reports to Departments. For that reason, we moved away from the centralised regime of league tables through the comprehensive area assessment and the national indicator set. Evidence showed that it was possible for local authorities to tick the necessary boxes there, but that would not necessarily mean that there was the quality of service one would wish to see on the ground.
We have, therefore, swept that away and made it easier for local people to hold their elected representatives to account. We are doing that in planning matters, in which I know the right hon. Member for Birkenhead has taken a particular interest, and I look forward to continuing to work with him. We have done it through replacing capping council tax increases with referendums. In particular, we published in September 2011 a recommended code of practice on data transparency for local authorities. It is important—as the right hon. Gentleman has said—that councils should have an understanding of the data that they hold and that people can access the data so that they can properly hold their representatives to account. There should be awareness of the data, which should be published. There should be proper information in relation to contracts and tenders, as the right hon. Gentleman has rightly said.
Generally, local authorities have willingly put that in practice, with the exception of one authority, the city of Nottingham. That is not an issue in Wirral. Making that kind of information available in the public domain is critical. Devolution, decentralisation and transparency do not stop at the town or city hall. They have to go further, to an informed, I hope, community and electorate.
There clearly have been matters of great concern in Wirral. I am aware of the allegations made by the whistleblower referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. That whistleblower was able to make his concerns public through a local paper, The Wirral Globe, as well as by getting in touch with the right hon. Gentleman. Having openness and transparency with the local press and media is also important, which is why we have sought to protect the rights of local papers to access this sort of information.
It is fair to say that the previous administration of Wirral borough council—I know that there have been changes—commissioned the report by Anna Klonowski, which will be a matter of debate before the council in due course. I am not going to pre-empt decisions members of Wirral borough council take in that regard. That the then administration commissioned that report is obviously a step in the right direction. It is important to be transparent. I understand that an improvement plan has been put in place with the agreement of the various political parties on the council, which is a desirable step forward.
As a general rule, the Government are keen to encourage sector-led improvement. I know that is being done in Wirral’s case. As I understand it, the Local Government Association, which operates on a cross-party basis, has arranged for substantial peer support in Wirral, both at member and officer level. I am glad that Wirral has engaged in that process. The LGA has also helped Wirral to establish an independently chaired improvement board involving the various political parties and a number of representatives from the sector. That is an approach we seek to encourage. There is a great deal of learning in local government around these improvement issues, and the Department is keen to support that, but not pre-empt what is often best done by one set of practitioners to another, with the particular skills sets that they bring. It is worth paying tribute to the work of the LGA, because Wirral is not the first council to benefit from its peer support and interventions.
Rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach from Whitehall, it is important to take such steps as are appropriate from Government to set a framework in which local initiatives can take place. The “Open Public Services” White Paper is part of that, ensuring that procurement of local authority services is open to the sort of challenge that ought to highlight and redress practices that can become established, particularly if there has been a long tradition of political or officer stasis. That is important and the LGA has been much involved. Generally, local government has the highest record of commissioning of services in the public sector. I would not want anyone to think that all local authorities are not doing that. It is right that pressure is kept up for everyone to seek to be as good as the best.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) rightly painted a picture of a failing council on Wirral. There is also the leadership of that council. There has been failure there, too, and there will be on Monday night a vote of no confidence in those who are leading the council. Does the Minister agree that that is the place—on Monday in the council—for this matter to be addressed, and for those who are failing Wirral to be dealt with?
The thrust of our localism agenda is that accountability should no longer be regarded as being from the council to Whitehall but the council to its local community. The elected members of the local authority are there as representatives. Under our current system of leader in cabinet, an administration is formed. The ultimate political responsibility for the operation of any local authority must rest with the political leaders, of whatever complexion they may be. In the same way, Ministers must ultimately be responsible for the actions of Government, regardless of political directions. My hon. Friend is perfectly right in that regard.
It might help the Minister in making these judgments to know about the political composition of Wirral borough council. It is shared among three parties. Going back to the Cheshire Lines building contract, which cost the council £11 million and was authorised without the political say-so of the councillors, the then leader of the council—the Labour leader who currently leads the council—brought in the Audit Commission, which gave the most damning report. The other two political parties—the Tories and the Liberals—voted to take no action. It is very difficult to reprehend or take more serious action against senior officers when the political parties themselves will not put the interests of Wirral first but seek party advantage.
I was going to say that one course that is an appropriate safeguard where necessary is to make a reference to the district auditor. I note that the leader of the Labour administration called in the Audit Commission, which I am sure was the correct thing to do. It is not for me to judge. Equally, I note that it was a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition that commissioned the Klonowski report, which is the subject of debate. I am glad for any member of any political complexion leading a council to stand up and take responsibility for actions. That is the key test. It is not for me to judge what decision Wirral borough council comes to about its future administration.
If I can finish this sentence, then I will. The key point—with which I think we all agree—is that if one stands for office one has to recognise that the buck stops and one has to take responsibility. We must ensure that members have the information and procedures to enable them to carry out those responsibilities properly and effectively.
I am going to be careful not to be drawn too much into the debate that takes place on Monday night. I hope that I have indicated that the Government have set a clear agenda to improve transparency and encourage sector-led improvement. I am glad to hear that steps are being taken in the case of Wirral to take that on board and I hope it continues.
Fishing Vessels (Safety)
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Miss Clark.
This matter is very close to my son, my daughter and me. I no longer have a commercial interest in it, but the House knows of the loss I suffered on 24 March last year. If lives can be saved as a result of what has been learnt from Neil’s tragic accident, we will be content. I place on record my heartfelt sympathy for the family of the Mevagissey fisherman, Ian Thomas, who was so tragically lost last December, and I thank the maritime rescue services and the Fishermen’s Mission for their continued support for our seafarers. In the words of the Fishermen’s Mission:
“Over 13,000 men and women work in the UK’s toughest and most dangerous peacetime occupation: deep sea fishing. At sea, they face death and injury on a daily basis.”
Since 1991, the marine accident investigation branch—the MAIB—has recorded 153 accidents involving single-handed operations on board UK-registered fishing vessels, one in five of which have resulted in a fatality. Every fisherman is of course aware of the dangers posed by the working environment of certain fishing operations. Many of them are confronted with the economic decision of putting to sea in heavier weather conditions to support an adequate share of the catch for the crew, or working their boat single-handedly and working less weather. My own family faced that dilemma. Many fishermen choose to work alone on their fishing boat at their peril. Fishing gear and heavy machinery pose a genuine threat, and every fisherman I know is well aware of the dangerous environment in which they work.
Numerous recorded accidents demonstrate that fishermen’s work can be made safer by installing emergency stop buttons. In some instances, the use of an emergency stop button has been entirely responsible for saving a fisherman’s life. The incident on board Danielle is one such example. A deck hand sustained major injuries, but without the emergency stop button the injuries most certainly would have been fatal. Danielle was a UK-registered scallop dredger, and the deck hand was tipping each scallop dredge individually. He was using several turns of rope around the whipping drum on the port side of the winch house, when a riding turn developed. In an attempt to stop the winch and clear the riding turn, the deck hand slipped on the recovered dredges lying on the deck and his left hand became caught in the rope. He did two backward somersaults, whipping around the drum and the framework. He could not reach the stop button on his first attempt. He sustained horrific injuries, and he knew that if he went around a third time he might not survive, but he eventually managed to stand up, stretch and hit the stop button. That demonstrates that an emergency stop button is a vital piece of equipment. One needs to protect oneself against the worst possible scenarios when operating heavy machinery.
Going to sea alone is ultimately more dangerous than going with others. Statistics show that a fisherman has a higher chance of survival in an accident if he has other crew members on board, even more so if there is an emergency stop button, which will increase his safety. The dangers of fishing alone can be seen in the loss of the skipper of Breadwinner, who was dragged overboard and drowned while shooting prawn creels. The boat was being operated single-handedly, with no one to assist the skipper when he became trapped in a creel leader rope. The MAIB concluded that an emergency stop button would have most probably saved his life.
Cases involving serious injuries but not fatalities because other crew members were on board include that of Blue Angel. The fisherman was dragged overboard when his leg became caught in the back rope of a fleet of creels that was being shot over the stern. The two remaining crewmen managed to recover him and administer first aid, and he was transferred to hospital where he made a full recovery. The evidence shows that fishermen are putting themselves at direct risk by fishing alone, as they have no one to assist them if they get into a critical situation, and that is why an emergency stop button is vital for fishermen who choose to do so.
The 2007 code of practice for the safety of small fishing vessels recognised the importance of emergency stop valves, and a requirement was introduced for all new vessels to be constructed and outfitted in accordance with the latest Seafish Industry Authority standards, including the fitting of emergency stop buttons to the operational machinery.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this matter to the House, and on her courage. We know just how much this means to her.
Clearly it is essential that the safety stop valve is put on boats, but the hon. Lady will be aware of the cost. Is she also aware of the EU grant? I understand that the EU will give a grant of 40% of the cost. This is a devolved matter in the regions, and in the one that I represent—Northern Ireland—the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will have to give some commitment as well. Does the hon. Lady feel that the EU and the regional Administrations can work together to ensure that safety on the boats can be achieved?
I will come on to funding a little later. I have obviously looked at England, but there is work to be done with the devolved Administrations as well.
The modification to the net drum aboard my husband’s stern trawler, Our Boy Andrew, and on many other vessels was completed before 2007, and there was therefore no legal requirement for emergency stop valves to be fitted. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency had previously published an industry-sponsored safety leaflet entitled “Single Handed Operation”, which provided a simple list of safety do’s and don’ts, but it was no longer in print at the time of the accident aboard Our Boy Andrew. I am delighted that the MCA has, as an interim measure, reinstated the leaflet on its website, and I hope the Minister will join me in calling for all single-handed fishermen to source and read that list of do’s and don’ts. One of the leaflet’s recommendations is the fitting and maintaining of emergency stops. The most recent investigations by the marine accident investigation branch have recommended the provision of emergency stops.
On the costs of the emergency stop valve, the expense is considerable for a small boat. A family-owned boatyard in my constituency, C. Toms and Son, was kind enough to give me a quotation. The installation of one emergency stop button would set back a fisherman about £981, with extra valves costing £35 each. The more stop buttons that are installed, the more the price of the wiring drops. The cost of a foot control with a heavy lead, which would enable the fisherman to move it around the deck, would cost about an extra £333. That is a total of £1,314, which is a large expense for a small, lower-grossing vessel. The economics is forcing more fishermen into single-handed operations, yet fitting emergency stop buttons is seen as an expensive modification, which is often put off until a later day. Knowing fishermen as I do and understanding the economic pressures they face, with fuel costs, harbour dues and insurance having to be found from the catch before they can provide for their families and pay household bills, I understand only too well how that can happen.
With that in mind, I approached the Marine Management Organisation to find out whether there was a possibility of financial help through the European fisheries fund, and I am delighted to have received a positive reply. The MMO confirmed:
“Further to our recent correspondence regarding the above, I would like to assure you that the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is fully committed to anything which improves the safety of fishermen and we are…pleased to be involved”
“application. We have considered the eligibility in-line with the European Fisheries Fund regulation and national strategic priorities. I am delighted to confirm that safety stop valves are eligible under the scheme and we will be able to offer the following funding rates to applicants across England”.
Vessels under 12 metres not using towed gear can get 60% funding. Vessels under 12 metres using towed gear will get 40% funding. Vessels between 12 metres and 15 metres using all fishing methods will get 40% funding.
The reply continued:
“The funding sits within Axis 1—Vessel Modernisation and selectivity Measure 1 Improvement of safety on board. Applications can be submitted either by…individual fisherman or…an association of fishermen for consideration by the MMO. Application forms and guidance are available”
from the website,
“direct from the MMO Business Relations Team”
or from its coastal offices.
“Funding is available across England for all eligible vessels. It is…worth highlighting that boat yards and installers who carry out the installation of…safety stop valves must be registered businesses and the MMO cannot recommend individual companies.”
It concludes with:
“Please be assured we will make colleagues in our coastal offices aware of this new funding opportunity so they can…publicise it across the industry. In closing the MMO are very pleased to be able to support this safety addition to vessels and we are hopeful of receiving applications shortly.”
I have demonstrated today some very real scenarios of what can happen to fishermen when they go to sea without an emergency stop button. The MMO has undertaken to publicise the availability of funding and to help with the purchase of the equipment. Will my hon. Friend the Minister for Shipping join me in urging all fishermen to take advantage of the European funding and enhance safety on board fishing vessels? No one knows more than I do that our fishermen do a heroic and very dangerous job, and I hope they will now all fit emergency stop valves to their vessels as soon as possible.
I think this is the first time either as a Minister or a shadow Minister that I have served under your chairmanship, Miss Clark, and it is a pleasure to do so this afternoon. I warmly thank my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) for securing the debate. The only word to describe her and her family is “dignified.” We cannot imagine the loss to her family, but how she has taken the arguments forward, so that others do not suffer in the way that she and her family have done, is moving. The House needs to pay tribute to the work that she has done and will do, and some of that work will, I hope, be with me.
The really serious situation that my hon. Friend has brought up has touched so many families around this great maritime nation of ours. The shipping industry has been with us, and dangerous, for as long as anybody can remember, but it is particularly difficult at the moment, especially for the smaller inshore fleets, simply because the economics of having a crew on a ship sometimes makes it almost impossible to make the trade viable. With the costs of insurance, harbour dues and fuel, as my hon. Friend mentioned, the one saving available to skippers is to limit the number of crew on their ships, thus limiting their costs, and many of them have made that decision. I used to live on the coast in Southend, and I watched the inshore boys regularly going out single-handed. It helps them in that it reduces their overheads, but it also puts them at enormous risk. Anything that we can do to help them to limit the risk is one of the highest priorities for any Government of any colour or persuasion.
When I took on this job and looked across my portfolio, I was pleased that I shared part of it with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has responsibility for fisheries policy, and shared responsibility for the Marine Management Organisation, which was a new entity, with a DEFRA Minister. One of the MMO’s key jobs is to ensure that we finance the right priorities in the right way. We have something like 17,500 part-time and full-time fishermen in the UK. Even though the debate is about England, I hope that my colleagues and fellow Ministers in the devolved Administrations are listening, because if we can secure money from the Commission, I am pretty certain that they can.
I thank the Minister for that very encouraging response. Does he intend to contact the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to make them aware of the funding? I have talked to some of the fishing organisations back home and I think that they are aware of it, but sometimes a wee nudge from the Minister enables them to move just that wee bit quicker.
I know that I am enormously popular in Northern Ireland in particular at the moment, so I am sure that a nudge from my size-10 boot would not go amiss. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will contact all my counterparts in the devolved Assemblies to ensure that they are aware of the debate and the research that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall has done on behalf of all fishermen, and to give them a subtle hint, because as my hon. Friend knows, it is not quite as simple as it sounds.
It sounds as if I could stand here as Minister and just say, “We all know the safety benefits that could come from installing the emergency stop valve on a boat, so make it compulsory.” Why not regulate to avert such dangers? The biggest reason that I am not going to do that is not because I do not think that it would work, because it would, but because of the costs. The costs would be so bad for small inshore fishermen. The figure of £1,300 is interesting, but the true figure might be £1,300 plus VAT, if they are registered for VAT. It might be more than that in certain parts of the country, but it might be less in parts of the country with more competition. Some fishermen could not even get £1,300 with an overdraft or a loan, and so would not be able to go to sea.
I appreciate the Minister’s concerns about costs; it is a very salient issue for smaller vessels in particular. My concern about regulation is that the experience of recent years has been that where fishermen’s organisations themselves own the issues, self-regulation has been effective, as we have seen with conservation measures. I urge him to continue on the path he is taking.
I have absolutely no intention of regulating, and the reason for that is that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall has found a funding stream from Europe to the UK—what a fantastic thing. I wish we had a bit more like that. It is excellent news. If I regulate and make valves compulsory—I will give way to my hon. Friend if I am wrong—the funding stream ceases. Fishermen have to bid for the funding for themselves or as a group through the relevant bodies. If I say that I will lay before the House a regulation or statutory instrument using my powers, the funding stream will cease. That is the biggest reason I have not regulated.
I will encourage all fishermen who fall into the three categories my hon. Friend mentioned—I think there might be one other category—to apply for funding through the MMO. I will facilitate that. We will have links through our websites and ensure that we publicise it, to draw down the funding and get the valves installed as soon as possible. We must also look at new fleet. There are not as many new ships and many have been adapted from different uses over the years, but we need to ensure that when they come out of any of our boatyards, such technology is included at the point of manufacture.
I was disappointed when the Maritime and Coastguard Agency withdrew the single-handed leaflet. As soon as that was brought to my attention, I sought to address it. It will now be made not only available, but permanently available. It is not a temporary measure and it will be regularly updated, not least with the information that we have heard during this debate. It is crucial that we do that.
We need to work on other measures as well as the stop buttons. We need to address the culture among our fishermen and women whereby the odd injury or risk is seen as acceptable and a badge of honour. When I went to Grimsby earlier this year, I was disturbed to hear from a crew that one of their colleagues had been dragged overboard and had drowned because he was not wearing any buoyancy equipment. After that, they all started wearing such equipment, but the peer pressure suffered by the youngest member of the crew meant that, within six months, they had all stopped wearing it. We have to break away from that culture and work together as a Government and an industry to say that it is not big of someone to put their life at risk. People put their lives at risk enough by going to sea in order to earn a living. It is not a badge of honour to lose a finger. I have seen so many injuries, whether they be scars or the odd missing digit, just by shaking hands with fishermen around the country.
I have discussed this issue with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and know that her husband, prior to his terrible accident, had had an injury at sea. We have a responsibility to the industry to say that this is not acceptable. We know that they are proud men and women and that they have a fantastic history, but it would be much better—this is a subtle hint—for their families and young ones if they were as able-bodied as possible when fishing in order to bring in their income.
Through Seafish, we are continuing with the training. Fortunately, we won the court ruling on the funding of Seafish, which is enormously important. The fishing industry safety group is chaired on my behalf via the MCA and I have asked it whether my hon. Friend could join. I ask her whether she is willing to offer her expertise and knowledge to the group. It would have liked to ask her before the debate, but felt that it was for me, the Minister, to do so. I suggested to it that it should have asked me earlier. Even so, if we can get more people with life experiences, as well as “experts,” involved in the industry, I think that we will be able to bring much more understanding to bodies such as the fishing industry safety group. That would be of benefit.
That is fantastic news, because the dignity and knowledge that my hon. Friend has brought to this debate and to that taking place in the country as a whole will now be part of the fishing industry safety group. I also hope that her membership of the group will shake it up a bit. We have got to know each other very well over the past 18 months, and we both know that the industry needs to be shaken up. I also fully understand that my own Department needs to ask “Why?” in relation to certain aspects of this particular area. I am not saying that that is true of everything, but there is sometimes a definite need to ask questions.
In conclusion—I have kept my remarks relatively brief, but there is no point in my waffling on—we completely agree with my hon. Friend and we will address the devolved Assemblies issue. I have nothing but admiration for the fishermen who go to sea. They do so not only to look after their families, but on our behalf, and bring in a wonderful plethora of seafish and crustacean from our wonderful waters, which are being protected more and more. Fishermen have had issues with discard, but that is more of an issue out at sea. I agree with their concerns and we are desperately trying to sort out the issue of discard. If we can continue to protect our fleet as new ships with safety buttons are introduced, and if I can for once not regulate and see some benefit from that—if I regulated, we would not see any benefits—that will be better for everybody, and so many families, such as that of my hon. Friend, would not be in the situation in which they find themselves.
Economic Development (Barnsley)
It is a privilege to serve under your chairship, Ms Clark. It is worth prefacing what I want to say in this debate with a few remarks about the town of Barnsley. It is a proud borough, which is characterised historically by the efforts of hard-working people. It now has a high proportion of welfare claimants, but let us remember that this area was at the heart of the fight for jobs in the 1980s. Coal miners in Barnsley fought a long, hard battle, at considerable personal cost, to keep their jobs—their battle cry was “Coal not dole”—so when we think of Barnsley as it is now, let us remember that this is an area in which people want to work. Their pride is built on their contribution to Britain’s economic performance in the past, a contribution that I would argue is not easily surpassed.
Seventy per cent. of Barnsley is rural. Indeed, part of it is in the Peak District national park. It is characterised not just by the most outstanding natural beauty that it is possible to find in the UK, but by a string of stately homes on the western side. That needs to be put on the record much more often than it is, because the images presented of Barnsley at a national level and in the media are invariably negative. Even some of those images presented in Parliament are incredibly negative. Those of us who live in the area know that Barnsley offers a superb quality of life. Perhaps Government themselves could do more to promote Barnsley as a place to live and work.
It is also important to put on the record that Barnsley had recovered to some extent from where it was about 15 years ago. It is now firmly in the global digital age, with a wide range of modern companies. If we now endure the humiliation of coal being taken to Barnsley, it is also true that Fosters bakery—one of the big employers in the town—sells its baguettes in France. The town has hidden secrets here and there, but a borough cannot live on bread alone, and Barnsley still has a long way to go.
Barnsley’s economy shrank by an alarming degree in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the demise of the coal industry left it bereft of alternative job opportunities. The inter-generational legacy of employment in hard manual labour—nowadays we talk about the inter-generational legacy of unemployment—was abruptly stopped and the social infrastructure provided by the largest employer in the town was withdrawn. That is often overlooked when we think of the social problems that are experienced in some of our ex-mining areas. We forget that one of the biggest providers of social and sporting opportunities was the coal board. The old social club network that was created in steel and coal has largely disappeared and has been left to fend for itself.
Recovery from that catastrophe was hard but, as I have said, progress was made only for everything to be sent backwards by the recession of 2008-09. Barnsley was always going to take longer to recover compared with other areas, but the recession and now the flatlining of the economy threaten the long-term recovery of that once great town.
It is not difficult to see what needs to be done. We need private sector growth in Barnsley—nobody has ever denied that or said any different. We need that growth to build the jobs and the sustainable prosperity that the borough so badly needs. We need to rebuild what has been lost in the local economy in the past 25 years. That is even more the case now thanks to the impending loss of public sector jobs, as the Government’s huge cuts bite locally.
Before outlining what the Government could specifically do to support economic growth in Barnsley, it is worth spelling out the extent of the barriers that Barnsley still faces and that hold the town back from realising its full potential. First, it needs placing on the record that Barnsley has the lowest job density rate in the Yorkshire region at 0.56. An extra 32,000 jobs would need to be created in the borough to reach the national level.
Secondly, Barnsley has a below average stock of business. It currently has around 4,920 VAT-registered businesses, which is a deficit of around 1,500 businesses compared with the regional average. Barnsley also has a higher than average concentration of businesses in risk averse sectors, for example, construction, retail and transport. Those sectors are likely to be affected by future economic uncertainty and limited short-term growth. Barnsley also continues to lag behind national and regional survival rates for new businesses.
My hon. Friend is speaking powerfully about Barnsley. Many of the things she is saying could be said about other former coalfield areas. I am sure that she will go on to mention this, but is it not important for the Government to have a strategy for all the former coalfield areas?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, the north-east, south Wales and Kent are all areas where the withdrawal of the UK from mining coal and from allowing coal to make a contribution to the UK national economy has had a massive impact that has never been fully appreciated down here. The task of rebuilding those areas has also never been fully appreciated. Let us face it, one of the difficulties is that the coal industry was built around small villages. It is not easy to replicate an economic activity that is built around a series of small villages. It is easy to do so in Sheffield, where there are huge tracts of land and an economic centre to build on, but Barnsley is 70% rural, as I am sure my hon. Friend’s constituency is.
The Government are concentrating on foreign and direct investment and export-orientated companies, but does the hon. Lady agree that it is important that they concentrate more on the small, indigenous businesses? After all, no matter what part of the United Kingdom those businesses come from, they are the backbone of the economy.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I was going to go on to say that one of Barnsley’s problems is that it continues to lag behind national and regional survival rates for new small businesses. That, of course, limits increases in the business stock and, in the end, job opportunities for local people.
On the supply side of the equation, there are currently 6,962 jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Barnsley. That is a rate of 4.7%, which is significantly higher than the national figure of 3.9%. Among young people, the figure is particularly high, with 12.1% aged 18 to 24 on JSA, compared with 7.8% nationally. Perhaps most startlingly of all, 20.7% of the working age population are claiming some form of out-of-work benefits, compared with 14.5% nationally.
At this point, I remind the Minister of my earlier comment that nowhere was the fight to save jobs in the 1980s more intense than in Barnsley. So please let us not assume that the high level of benefit claimants in Barnsley means that the area is somehow populated by the workshy, because that just is not the case. Indeed, I would argue that the opposite is true, and that the struggle to find work in an area such as Barnsley must be deeply dispiriting for a people who are for the most part proud of their community and their work ethic.
So what needs to be done? Well, the first and most important thing to say is that Barnsley needs a plan for jobs and growth from central Government. In other words, we need to get the economy moving again, and the Government could help to deliver the required stimulus in a number of ways. They could, for instance, support the development of the affordable and sustainable housing that the country so badly needs. They could also support more consistently the development of renewable technologies and the industry’s building around those technologies. Barnsley has around 30 solar-tech companies that employ hundreds of people in semi-skilled and skilled well-paid work. Yet, what we see at the moment is the pursuit of an appeal at the Supreme Court against the sudden and damaging reduction in the rate for the feed-in tariff scheme. We need more clarity and consistency from the Government and more awareness of the impact on business of sudden and damaging decisions, such as the one we saw in relation to FITs.
We also need the Government to reinstate the grant for business investment scheme that allowed small and medium-sized enterprises to make capital investments in plant and machinery where linked to company and job growth. That would be a more focused and useful means of supporting job creation than the regional growth fund, which is rapidly being discredited as it gets tangled in red tape. The regional growth fund is also failing to deliver the private sector leverage promised by the Deputy Prime Minister when he launched it. The biggest award so far has gone to a company in Chelmsford and is estimated to lever in just £3.70 for every £1 of RGF money allocated by the Government, compared with the £5 promised by the Deputy Prime Minister. Incidentally, Barnsley has not seen much of that money so far.
The Government also need to address the void left by Business Link Yorkshire. A national website is no substitute for the intensive and tailored support offered by Business Link, and we are worried that the gaps in provision may result in a higher than normal business failure rate. The Government also need to consider how best to deal with the problem of access to finance for SMEs in Barnsley, because business in the area is seen as inherently higher risk. Therefore, it is more difficult for companies to access finance for investment and expansion on sensible terms. The Minister’s commitment to at least look at that issue would be welcome. In other words, if businesses generally in this country are finding it hard to secure funding at sensible rates from banks, let us imagine how hard it is for businesses in Barnsley, where it is generally judged that they have a harder job to survive.
The Government also need to look at the work of UK Trade & Investment in attracting inward investment. If the Government are serious about rebalancing the economy, we need to see every part of what they do dedicated to that task. There is no better place to start than UKTI. Why not prioritise regions such as Yorkshire, particularly areas sorely in need of investment such as Barnsley, for UKTI investment—or rather for the investment that UKTI manages to secure from overseas sources? Why should the Government not put Barnsley first for a change, rather than London and the south-east?
Finally, we need more support for skills development in the borough. We need modern apprenticeship systems that are built on a long-term compact between labour and employers. Germany does that, and its youth unemployment rate is one third of the OECD average.
Barnsley is a proud town, which should have a prosperous future. It has been prosperous in the past. This country would not be what it is today if it had not been for the efforts and the sacrifices made by generation after generation of coal miners in places such as Barnsley—there is no doubt about that. Barnsley does not deserve to be where it is today. It deserves the support of the Government. The people living in Barnsley do not want to be dependent on benefits; they want a vibrant, diverse local economy. They want a Government who are committed to jobs and growth. They want a Government who are prepared to invest in a highly skilled work force—the work force that Barnsley needs for its future. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s view on how best his Government can deliver what is necessary to achieve that.
I have not had an indication that another hon. Member wished to speak, so it is my intention to call the Minister. Has the hon. Lady who secured the debate had an indication that another hon. Member wished to speak, and have you given permission for that?
I apologise, Ms Clark. I spotted this debate on the bottom of the Order Paper only late last night, so I apologise for waltzing in and expecting to speak. I was going to make my point in an intervention, but I felt that there was probably time to say a few words. Thank you for allowing me to speak, Ms Clark, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) makes a good case for her constituency and for Barnsley. One may ask the question, “Why would the hon. Member for High Peak wish to speak on a debate concerning Barnsley?” There is a simple reason: the A628, which is the arterial road that goes from Barnsley across the Pennines to Manchester through my constituency of High Peak. On that road, we have a serious problem that causes a hiatus for traffic. It is known as the Mottram-Tintwistle bypass and is well documented in Hansard. I met recently with a councillor from Barnsley who told me that one of the difficulties for people in Barnsley is that they cannot travel across the Pennines for employment opportunities in the Manchester area, because the hiatus on that road makes the journey impossible. I highlight that because if we could deal with that problem it would increase the throughput across.
I was heartened that in the autumn statement the Chancellor committed to £5 billion-worth of capital in the next spending review, so plans can start now. We have had meetings on this, and I hope the Government will listen to our pleas in the next spending review. That would enable employment in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge.
This is the second time in two days that I have served under your chairmanship, Ms Clark—too much of a good thing. I congratulate the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) on securing the debate. She spoke passionately about the area that she represents. She is right to say that it is stunningly beautiful. The image is often entirely inaccurate—the proud town that she talked about, and the surrounding area, has so much to commend it. Everyone, nationally and locally, should talk up the various regions of our country, particularly the region that she has spoken about today.
The hon. Lady spoke, rightly, about the challenges facing an area that has gone through a dramatic change with the loss of coal mining. As that industry was based in a rural area, it is difficult to rebuild the local economy. Governments of all complexions have faced those challenges. It is important for there to be room to debate how we should respond to those challenges, so I was delighted that the hon. Lady secured this debate.
Let me begin by dealing with the macro-economic context. The Government aim to achieve sustainable long-term economic growth to ensure that we rebalance the economy both geographically and in terms of business sectors. First, that means keeping interest rates low for longer and tackling the public sector deficit, which will be a continuing drag on capacity for growth unless we sort it out. Secondly, we need to invest in emerging technologies—the hon. Lady talked about the importance of renewable energy as a developing, emerging sector—but not rely on consumption to rebuild growth. We should be promoting innovation throughout the country, not just in the south-east, and also focusing—she mentioned UK Trade & Investment—on export potential and looking at what the regions that she and others who have spoken today represent can do to develop that potential.
Barnsley has a proud industrial heritage. Today, there are a number of key businesses in the borough, including the online fashion retailer ASOS and Fosters Bakery, to which the hon. Lady referred. Barnsley is making real progress in its transition from traditional coal mining and glass making to developing opportunities in new industries such as low-carbon, creative and the digital sectors. There are working environments for companies of all shapes and sizes, including the Digital Media Centre for creative and digital businesses; the Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre, which is spread over two sites and caters for a wide range of businesses; and a number of business centres and a broad range of industrial sites. Areas of Barnsley are also part of the enterprise zone within the Sheffield city region—I understand that it does not cover the town centre, but it does cover part of the council area.
The Enterprising Barnsley programme has helped to create more than 600 jobs and has protected almost 400 jobs since it was set up in 2009. By providing coaching support to companies it has supported 575 companies, which employ approximately 6,000 employees—nearly 10% of the borough’s total work force. Zebra Steel Fabrications, which makes architectural metalwork, has won several contracts in London close to the Olympic village site. AVQ Water Solutions has won contracts with South West Water that have enabled it to expand into new premises. Turnover is expected to increase threefold this year—a real local success story, which we should celebrate.
The “I Know I Can Barnsley Big Challenge 2011-12” competition is a borough-wide initiative that encourages young people between the ages of 11 and 19 to set up their own business in a supported environment, with the chance of receiving an initial £25 loan from a local entrepreneur, plus ongoing support, to help them develop their business idea to make money and to compete with other businesses for top honours. We should be encouraging those youngsters to become the entrepreneurs of the future. The hon. Lady was right to talk about the need to develop, in places such as Barnsley, a vibrant, diverse local economy—I think she used those words—and that depends on entrepreneurs coming through in future. Schemes such as that one should be applauded.
Barnsley market is important locally. I understand that negotiations are under way for the council to acquire the site so that regeneration can take place. It is important that that matter is concluded.
In terms of local growth, as a Government we recognise the need to enable areas like Barnsley to grow by providing the right framework, based on real, local economic areas. That is why we invited local businesses and civic leaders to establish their own local enterprise partnerships to help remove the barriers to local growth. The hon. Lady mentioned the importance of Government driving growth in places such as Barnsley, but there has to be a partnership. The Government have a critical role to play in setting the framework, but in a sense this Government’s approach is to enable and give the capacity to local areas to rebuild their economies themselves, with support from government. That is the right approach to take. This model is designed to give back to local communities a much greater say in their economic future, not least by bringing business and civic leaders together in a shared partnership.
The LEPs are leading the development of the 24 new enterprise zones, which will not only accelerate the creation of new business opportunities and jobs. The additional business rate revenue generated by enterprise zones will be retained locally to be spent across the whole area of an LEP, as it sees fit. We are working with LEPs that have a zone on additional options to suit local circumstances. We have agreed enhanced capital allowances for plant and machinery where there is a strong local focus on manufacturing, in areas such as Barnsley, for example, including for sites within the Sheffield city region enterprise zone. We are also working on tax-increment finance to boost the long-term viability of the area, as well as on support from UKTI for inward investment or trade opportunities. Even Barnsley town centre, which is not part of the enterprise zone, can share in the wider benefits from the nearby enterprise zone that I mentioned.
Barnsley is especially well placed to benefit from our approach, because we recognise its location and have agreed that it should be a full member of both the Leeds and Sheffield city region LEPs. Sheffield city region is, for example, focusing on growth in advanced manufacturing and technology. The hon. Lady will be aware that the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the university of Sheffield was announced as one of seven partners in the Government’s first technology and innovation centres. This will focus on high-value manufacturing and includes partners of the calibre of Boeing and Rolls Royce. Sheffield city region is also looking to exploit the potential of creative, digital and low-carbon industries, which the hon. Lady mentioned, where there are real opportunities in Barnsley, such as the emerging eco-vision for the Dearne valley, which I understand is within the Sheffield enterprise zone.
The hon. Lady mentioned the feed-in tariffs court action that is under way. A genuine problem with the original design of the FIT scheme had to be resolved, but it is important that we do everything we can to promote the emergence of new technologies. The Government are already planning the green investment bank, which will help investment in renewable energies. There is, of course, also the green deal.
I appreciate that the Government are establishing the green investment bank, which could be located in South Yorkshire if they were to really think about helping our local economy. The fundamental underlying point is that we still need demand in the economy if the local enterprise partnership is to deliver the success that the Minister is outlining as possible with these new arrangements.
What will the Government do to stimulate the demand that will feed the development and growth of new businesses in Barnsley?
In particular, export-led growth. There are enormous opportunities for companies in Barnsley and elsewhere to benefit from opportunities that have not, in the past, been properly exploited.
The hon. Lady mentioned funding opportunities. The Government’s approach to local economic development also includes several new funding streams in addition to the enterprise zone programme, including the regional growth fund and the growing places fund.
The regional growth fund is focused on creating private sector jobs—the sort of jobs that the hon. Lady mentioned in her introduction—which are so important for the future of Barnsley, which has in part, following the loss of the coal mining jobs, been over-reliant on public sector jobs. The first two rounds of the fund are well under way, with two thirds of projects from round one started, and a third of all projects are under way.
I challenge the hon. Lady’s view about the extent to which the RGF is leveraging private money. With roughly £6 of private money being unlocked for every £1 of public money spent, the regional growth fund is now starting to have a real impact and is expected to generate 325,000 jobs. That is an incredibly important contribution to rebuilding the economy. A sum of £1 million has been conditionally offered to a bid from Fosters Bakery to enable it to expand on to a site that will also house food innovation and an incubation centre, aiding wider growth. Road Tankers Northern, based in Barnsley, is set to benefit from the Leeds city region advanced manufacturing regional growth fund package. Things are happening in Barnsley as a result of the regional growth fund.
In the autumn statement we announced an additional £l billion for the regional growth fund for England, extending it into 2014-15 to provide ongoing support to grow the private sector. Details of the third round of the scheme will be announced shortly. Last year we announced the £500 million growing places fund investment to unblock stalled local infrastructure projects and stimulate further private sector investment.
I am pleased that local enterprise partnership allocations have now been confirmed. Sheffield city region will receive £12.5 million under this fund and Leeds city region will receive £24.5 million, and Barnsley will have access to both funds. That is important if we are going to unlock the potential for growth in the area.
Local areas are also making decisions on how to use their allocation, including by matching with other funding to create larger investment pots. I understand that initial expressions of interest have been submitted in Sheffield city region, with decisions on which projects to support in March. In Leeds city region a fund prospectus will be launched in the next weeks and the first successful projects will be confirmed in May or June. These are important developments to help in the Barnsley area.
The hon. Lady mentioned access to finance. There have been real problems for small businesses accessing the funding that they need. Project Merlin has led to increased lending to SMEs in this financial year compared with the last financial year, which is important. The British Banking Association has introduced a system that allows small businesses to appeal against decisions to turn down loan applications. Quite a significant percentage of those appeals are succeeding. I encourage small businesses, if they are turned down, to use the appeal system to challenge the decision that has been taken.
The Government are also doing what they can, through the enterprise finance guarantee, to facilitate additional bank lending to viable small and medium-sized businesses that lacked the security to secure a normal commercial loan. To date the fund has helped 14,700 businesses, underwriting more than £1.4 billion-worth of loans. But more needs to be done. The hon. Lady is right. The Independent Commission on Banking committee set out in its report last year:
“Local banks can provide a better quality of service to customers and hence our push for new entrants to the sector.”
That is an important initiative. This approach is proving successful, with Metro, Virgin and Silicon Valley banks all having recently entered the sector. There needs to be more competition in banking.
The Government share the hon. Lady’s desire to see Barnsley flourish, along with the rest of the country, which is why we are going all-out to create a business environment that will give companies the confidence to invest and grow. Local communities are being freed from central control so that they can help determine their own economic future.
Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).