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Westminster Hall

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2013

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 12 February 2013

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Manufacturing (East Midlands)

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

I am not allowed to take part in the debate from the Chair, but, because I am an east midlands MP, I hope everyone present has enjoyed an east midlands breakfast of either Weetabix, Ready Brek or Alpen, all of which are made in Burton Latimer in my Kettering constituency.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. It is also a pleasure to be here to discuss the manufacturing sector in the east midlands.

We have a great deal to be proud of. Nottinghamshire has been at the heart of manufacturing for centuries. Members will be familiar with brands such as Raleigh, which started in the city of Nottingham in 1887, but they might not be familiar with William Lee, the reverend who invented the knitting frame in the village of Calverton in my constituency, starting the industrial revolution. That is something of which we can be proud. We have many claims to fame.

I am keen that we remain as a team in the east midlands. I do not want to get into the Nottinghamshire-Derby rivalry, because—[Interruption.] I forget there are other counties in the east midlands.

As a region, we have a great deal to offer and a proud history. Many other Members will go on to talk about some of the great companies such as Toyota and Rolls-Royce in Derby. Of course, in the town of Hucknall in Sherwood more than 800 staff work at Rolls-Royce making parts for jet engines assembled in Derby. Rolls-Royce has invested more than £40 million in the Hucknall plant in the past 10 years, with more to come for the industrial estate.

Manufacturing is not only about greasy metal, but a range of different manufacturing processes, including drugs—we have Boots in Nottingham—food, hosiery and many other products to which value is added.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so early. Does he also accept that, although great names such as Rolls-Royce, Boots and other well known regional and national companies are to be found within the east midlands, the bedrock of the industrial and manufacturing scene in our area are the smaller, family-sized businesses with perhaps 10 employees or fewer and a turnover of less than £500,000? That is the real foundation of the manufacturing sector in our region.

I absolutely agree with my hon. and learned Friend—it is easy to focus on the big boys, but small family businesses are driving the economy. They are starting to expand and take on new staff, and they will move us forward as a region so that we are seen on the map. I want to highlight some of those companies.

I do not want my speech to turn into a list of companies in my constituency, but I have mentioned hosiery and I still have a sock manufacturer, F. J. Bamkin and Son. The company was formed in 1886 and is still making socks in the town of Hucknall. It has made them for the Ministry of Defence, although the MOD has decided to procure its socks from foreign manufacturers over the past 15 years. I hope the Government can redress some of those changes of the past 20-odd years—we have looked to foreign rather than UK-based manufacturers—and start to consider quality. I can guarantee that the socks are top quality. I have even worn a pair myself. [Interruption.] I am not wearing them today.

Yesterday I was at a company called Doff Portland, which, as well as manufacturing fertilisers and agri-chemicals for garden centres, is one of the major manufacturers of slug pellets. Anyone with an allotment or garden will know what a fight it was last year to keep slugs out. If it were not for companies such as Doff Portland that turn UK-grown wheat products into slug pellets and distribute them, we would all be much hungrier.

Not all the companies in my constituency date from 1886 and 1887. Howard Marshall Engineering was formed only 10 years ago. Howard Marshall is a young entrepreneur who set up his own agricultural engineering company, and he can produce anything out of metal that people might want. He has worked for a well-known BBC car programme that I had better not name, because it does not want to be publicly linked. He has also designed and made a grass-collection machine for Arsenal football club. His going from a young man starting in business to having more than 20 staff should be celebrated, and he should be congratulated.

We started many things in Northern Ireland but not the industrial revolution. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. On the point he raises about a young man starting in business, will he congratulate the new university in Derby that will teach not only manufacturing but business, entrepreneurship and financial skills to young people at 14?

I happily add my congratulations to the new university. I will go on to talk about skills training, which is one area we need to improve.

I want to highlight two more companies. Many Members may be familiar with the old Robin Hood sports cars, which were manufactured locally; the company is now called Great British Sports Cars Ltd. I know the Minister might not be able to afford a sports car on his salary, but should he ever decide to purchase one, I highly recommend the two-seater manufactured in my constituency. Perhaps at some future point he would like to visit the great constituency of Sherwood to see those cars for himself.

I am sure the Minister is more than comfortable with his own life, but should any Member decide to purchase a sports car, I highly recommend one manufactured in the constituency of Sherwood.

Next door is a company called Jonam Composites, which is at the other extreme. It manufactures high-tech composite bicycle spokes that have the same tensile strength as steel but are much lighter. That is a real indication of the progress we have made in manufacturing in Nottinghamshire and the east midlands. We are going in a high-technology direction. We are at the cutting edge of what is possible in manufacturing. As a country we must acknowledge that we will probably not become the great shipbuilders of the world that we were, but there are lots of opportunities to be right at the cutting edge, as we always have been. We were at the cutting edge of the industrial revolution, and we can remain there by looking to new technologies and using our skills, so that we can once again trade with the rest of the world and ensure that we are at the right place.

One area we often overlook is food and drink. Again, Nottinghamshire has a great tradition of producing food and drink with companies such as Home Ales and Mansfield brewery, which sadly have been bought up and gone to other parts of the country. Food manufacturing makes an enormous contribution not only to the east midlands but to the UK as a whole. Mr Hollobone, I know your constituency has an interest with companies such as Weetabix.

Smaller manufacturers have been mentioned. Every butcher in my constituency adds value to their product. They produce their own burgers, pasties and pork pies. Given the issue that is right at the top of this week’s political agenda, anyone who wants a top-quality burger or pork pie and wants to know exactly what has gone into it can buy one from their local butcher. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) tempts me to mention farm shops, but I would have to declare an interest if I did. By going down the chain to smaller manufacturers, people can get the high-quality products that consumers are keen to purchase.

However, we can do more. The east midlands is ideally placed. We hear a lot about our country’s north-south divide, but the east midlands are smack bang in the middle. Geographically, we are ideally positioned to trade with the rest of the country. We have great connections with the A1 and M1, fairly good railway links, the possibility of High Speed 2, and East Midlands airport and Robin Hood airport. We have lots of good communication links and the ability to get products in and out.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He, like the rest of us, will be aware of the Smith Institute report showing that the east midlands fares the worst of any area in being awarded regional growth fund money. Given what he is saying about the great strengths of the east midlands—I entirely concur—why does he think the region fares so badly when it comes to Government support from the regional growth fund?

I think we need to look at ourselves: perhaps we MPs should be banging the drum harder. We should be cheerleading for the east midlands and supporting our businesses in making bids. Because the east midlands is ahead of the game and other areas are trying to catch up, perhaps we have not done as well as we could in that regard. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. We need to get out there and bang the drum for the east midlands. We need to ensure that people know we are there and know what we can offer, and I hope this debate will contribute to that knowledge.

On the subject of banging the drum, may I commend to my hon. Friend Premier Percussion in my constituency?

I must confess that I have never banged a Premier drum, but I shall endeavour to do so at some point in future.

The east midlands also has energy supply, which is important to businesses—

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, particularly as you are my constituency neighbour. On the subject of energy, one of the great industries of Corby in east Northamptonshire, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, is the steel industry. That, along with boot and shoe, made communities in my constituency, but Tata Steel’s particular concern at the moment is energy prices, which are much higher in this country than in France and Germany. Does he not agree that it is important that the manufacturing industry in my constituency and his can compete on a level playing field, including on energy prices?

I agree, and it is important that we as a Government address those concerns, but the hon. Gentleman will recognise how difficult it is to strike a balance between energy prices to consumers and to industry. It could be argued that logically, the more energy one buys the more cheaply one should get it; that would have a knock-on effect on our consumers and constituents. It is difficult to strike that balance and ensure that energy-consuming industries get a reasonable price, as well as our constituents who are struggling to pay their energy bills.

It comes down to energy security as well as price. Within the east midlands, the Trent valley provides a lot of electricity generation, so at least we are not far away from a power station, but we need to do more. The Government particularly need to consider carbon leakage. Energy-intensive industries are under pressure and looking to relocate elsewhere in the world. We talk about reducing the carbon footprint of industry and manufacturing, but it would be wrong to push out industries to other parts of the world where energy is probably bought from higher-carbon sources than in the UK, and then to import the goods. We should be aware of that.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. On the point about energy, we are now in the midst of global competition on a scale never seen before, and it is a threat to UK manufacturing. In the US, gas has fallen to one sixth of the price of four or five years ago, while our energy prices continue to rise, partly because of the contribution made to bills by wind energy. It is causing great concern in businesses such as Tata and Cummins, in my constituency. Does he have any views on that?

I recognise those challenges. Energy supply will be vital if we are to see our way through and ensure a thriving manufacturing sector. The Government need to address it and are addressing it. We must ensure that we have energy security as we move forward.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is important for the Government to provide certainty about their direction of travel on energy? In my constituency, we have a fantastic engineering company, Romax Technology, which relies on providing service to the automotive industry and offshore wind. I know how important it is for the industry to have certainty about where the Government are travelling, in order to have the confidence to invest.

I recognise that challenge, but I feel that we are 15 years behind the game. We should have addressed these problems a long time ago. The nuclear decision was put off by previous Governments. Had we bitten that bullet much earlier, we would not be as concerned about energy security as we are today. I am glad to see that the current Government are trying to address the issue and get a clear direction. Of course, being a coalition Government brings its own challenges. Sometimes there is disagreement within the coalition about the best way to procure energy security.

I have been open about my view that nuclear is a great option that we should be pursuing. I also think coal has a role to play. Sherwood sits not only on a former coal field but on great reserves of shale gas, which could assist us. We also have a great deal of water, which can be important to manufacturing. Nottinghamshire sits on Bunter sandstone with aquifers. However, at the top of the list must be a willing and ready work force, which we in the east midlands have. We have great skills. As we have a thriving manufacturing sector, we already have a high skills base for any company that wants to relocate to the east midlands.

I hope the message of this debate will be that the east midlands is open for business to manufacturers of any sort looking for somewhere to relocate. The east midlands is the ideal place, and we would welcome manufacturers with open arms. I hope the Minister, as he goes around the country in his many dealings, will recognise how important the east midlands is and what it has to offer. If he is having discussions with any foreign or other companies looking to relocate, I hope he will recommend the east midlands. It would assist us in procuring more companies to come and make use of the area.

There is a lot more that we can do, and I want to emphasise what Government and local authorities can do. Broadband is important. People trying to run businesses in rural locations need access to good-quality broadband, and we must do more to get it out into rural locations so that companies can relocate to those areas as well. Infrastructure and traffic are a constant battle. Every time one improvement is made, it knocks on to another area. We must keep doing more to improve infrastructure to remove bottlenecks, so people can get around the country.

Finally, on training, we need the best-quality engineers and the most highly skilled individuals, which requires the work and support of some of our great training institutions, such as Loughborough university, Nottingham university and the many others that educate people to a high degree. Some colleges in and around our constituencies deliver courses on food and drink manufacturing, welding skills and so on. Such skills will be absolutely vital to our companies as we go forward. We have a little bit further to go.

Many of the businesses I talk to are crying out for good quality, highly skilled staff and they do not want to look to eastern Europe to procure those people; they want UK-based, qualified people and we need to keep pushing that door to ensure that they are coming forward.

It is my hope, as I am sure it is the hon. Gentleman’s, that the manufacturing industries in our constituencies employ local people. Does he recognise many people’s concern about the role of agencies, particularly those recruiting in eastern European countries for jobs that could be done by local people? Does he agree that we ought to ask the Government and Opposition Front Benchers to consider how we can deal with that?

I agree; it causes a great deal of frustration. Constituents e-mailing me with a copy of a job advert published in Polish feel excluded from that process, although I have tried to argue that such an advert is probably published in English as well. Our companies need quality staff and if they cannot procure local people, I suppose they will look to the rest of Europe to try to get people with the skills they need. We need to ensure that we train our constituents in those skills, so that they can compete on a level playing field. We are starting to get there—starting to push back and improve things—but there is further to go. There has been a deficit in the past 10 to 15 years and we need to start dealing with that. I hope that we are starting that process.

I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak, so I do not want to take up too much time. I want to emphasise the fundamental message of this debate: there is a great manufacturing sector in the east midlands and we are open for business. If people want to locate somewhere, the east midlands is a great place to come. I hope the Minister takes the opportunity to visit businesses in Sherwood. I would be delighted to be his host, should he find time in his diary.

Six Members wish to speak. If they limit their remarks to about six minutes each—it is not a formal time limit—they will all get in, with one or two interventions. That is just a guideline. The first four speakers will be in this order: Lilian Greenwood, Andrew Bingham, Jonathan Ashworth and Andrew Bridgen.

Mr Spencer mentioned that socks are made in his constituency. I am standing before you in Loake’s quality men’s shoes, made in Kettering.

Mr Hollobone, it is a great pleasure to have an east midlands Member of Parliament in the Chair for this debate, particularly one who makes such a fantastic contribution every time he introduces a speaker.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) on securing today’s debate and on giving us the opportunity to highlight the strengths of, and the challenges faced by, the manufacturing industry in the east midlands. As he said, the industrial revolution began in the east midlands, and manufacturing there still employs a higher proportion of people than in any other region: within the D2N2 local enterprise partnership, covering Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Derby and Derbyshire, 16.7% of full-time jobs were in manufacturing, compared to 14.5% in the east midlands and 10.5% in the whole UK. Unfortunately, that is not so in Nottingham city, where at the moment manufacturing accounts for only 6.2% of full-time employment.

The largest manufacturing subsectors in the D2N2 economy are transport equipment, metals and food and drink. I will say a bit more about the local firms involved and their needs shortly. In the 19th century, Nottingham was at the centre of the world’s lace industry, a legacy that recently once again received national attention when it was featured in Mary Portas’ “Mary’s Bottom Line” programme. Sadly, there are no lace manufacturers left in the city.

During the 19th century, world-famous names were founded in the city, some of which have been mentioned already, including Boots the Chemist, the Raleigh Bicycle Company, and John Player and Sons. I cannot resist mentioning Frederick Gibson Garton, who recorded his secret recipe for HP Sauce in the Meadows in my constituency in 1894.

Life in those industries was immortalised by local writers, including D.H. Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe. Although we do not make bicycles in Radford now, the Saturday nights and Sunday mornings of Arthur Seaton are still familiar to the city. Thousands of visitors come to Nottingham every weekend for a great night out in our purple-flag city centre. That shows that it is not just the manufacturing industries that are important; there is knock-on for the other industries in the area.

In the 21st century, Nottingham faces both opportunities and challenges. Government policy has led to the loss of some 53,000 public sector jobs in the east midlands. With three in 10 people in Nottingham city employed in public service, we must diversify if we are to become more resilient and avoid the damage wrought by high unemployment and a lack of opportunities for our young and growing population.

“The Nottingham Growth Plan”, published in 2012, aims to reconnect the city with its proud history and create a manufacturing renaissance, rebuilding our international reputation as a place that designs and makes things. Some of the elements needed for that renaissance are already in place. We are fortunate to have two universities that produce world-class research and a highly educated work force, and we already have highly successful companies and emerging sectors in areas such as digital content, life sciences and clean technology, which can provide prosperity and sustainable employment if we give them the right support as set out in that plan.

One of the city’s new growth sectors is digital content—a far cry from the grease and noise of the Raleigh factory, perhaps, but it already employs 6,400 people. That sector offers huge opportunities for growth. The games developer, Crytek, located on Canal street in the heart of my city, employs almost 100 people in the lucrative video games market. Many smaller gaming industry companies are locating in the Lace Market area, now the centre of Nottingham’s creative quarter, backed by the city deal.

Crytek stood to gain from Labour’s tax break for video games developers, but the incoming Government scrapped it in 2010, only to reconfirm it two years later, by which time the UK’s advantage had been lost to competitors in other countries. It would help if the Minister said how we can avoid such a stop-start situation in future.

Also in Nottingham’s creative quarter is BioCity, the UK’s leading bioscience incubator, established 10 years ago as a joint initiative between Nottingham’s two universities and the regional development agency. BioCity builds on Nottingham’s long-standing expertise in biosciences. It is on the site where ibuprofen was discovered by Dr Stewart Adams in the 1960s, and provides lab accommodation, facilities, expertise and access to finance. It currently sustains more than 80 fast-growing businesses —biotech, pharmaceutical and health care start-ups—and is looking to expand further to meet demand. The Government’s decision to cut total science spending, including in research and development, is exactly the wrong decision for the future development and expansion of this sector.

On the role of Government and support for regeneration, the Smith Institute recently published a report that identified the low levels of public investment in the region. That was the subject of discussion by the all-party group on the east midlands. The report’s authors describe how they realised in 2012 that

“something was going seriously wrong in the allocation of central government investment in the East Midlands”.

In the first two rounds of the regional growth fund, the east midlands received just 4% of the total funding available, the lowest share of any region. In round 3, the east midlands again received the lowest share of funding; it was allocated just £14 million, compared to £105 million for the north-east and £88 million for the north-west. That put it in a worse position than before the scrapping of our regional development agency; we were allocated 8.9% of total regional funding in the RDA’s last three years—more than the south-east, the south-west, or the east of England. I hope the Minister will say what he can do to address that under-investment, which, as the Smith Institute report says,

“in terms of jobs and growth and in rebalancing the economy, makes no sense whatsoever”.

Finally, let me return to one of our most historic sectors—food and drink, and specifically brewing, which is dear to not only my heart, but the hearts of many thousands of my constituents. I am fortunate to have four breweries in my constituency, Castle Rock, Nottingham Brewery, Trent Navigation, and a little micro-brewery, Magpie. They are responsible manufacturers who have continued to grow despite the recession. They are being hit, however, by a combination of higher VAT and the beer duty escalator. The escalator was introduced in different economic times. Should not the Government review alcohol taxation to support those vital manufacturers and the pubs that serve their produce?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) on securing this debate, and on giving the east midlands a chance to shine and us a chance to put ourselves on the record about what a great place it is for manufacturing.

I represent the High Peak which, to many of my constituents, does not necessarily feel part of the east midlands. We are the most northerly constituency, and much of the High Peak looks to the north-west: we have north-west postcodes and north-west television, and many of my constituents travel to the north-west to work and shop and for their recreational needs. Another part of the High Peak faces east, and the Hope valley gravitates towards Sheffield, parts of it receiving their media from the Yorkshire region. Forgive the geography lesson, Mr Hollobone, but I want to get over that the High Peak, far from being remote and miles from anywhere, as people sometimes think we are, is not only in the east midlands but is very much the cockpit of the north of England. Ideally situated between the cities of Manchester and Sheffield—I live 24 miles from either city—we are in striking distance of many other cities, including Leeds, Doncaster, Barnsley and Liverpool. Consequently, a huge variety of manufacturing businesses have grown up in the High Peak over many years. I want to talk about one or two of them, to stress how the High Peak as part of the east midlands is ideally placed for manufacturing.

We have many household names. Many people watching the Formula 1 Grand Prix will have seen the name Ferodo, manufacturers of brake linings. Ferodo was founded in 1897 by Herbert Frood in Chapel-en-le-Frith, in my constituency. Those brake linings are still produced there, in the east midlands, to this very day. Some of the manufacturing was outsourced abroad, but it is now coming back into the High Peak because we are doing such a good job. Despite Ferodo being acquired a couple of times since the name came out, anyone coming off the roundabout and going towards the factory will see the name “Ferodo” still proudly emblazoned on the front of the factory. I should probably declare an interest at this point, because I supplied that illuminated sign in a previous life, when I had my own business. The sign, which has been there for many years, is still working, which is testament to the quality of the goods that I supplied in my heyday—I am not sure whether that is now or then.

We also have a company called Street Crane, which manufactures cranes and crane kits that go all over the world. A while ago, as a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I went out to Afghanistan, and I was particularly proud when I walked into the maintenance warehouse in Camp Bastion and saw two huge overhead cranes with “Street Crane” on. It was a proud moment to be in Camp Bastion with High Peak-made cranes straddling the warehouse, showing that Street Crane is exporting all over the world and doing its bit for the country, batting for Britain in a worldwide market.

Another company is Otter Controls. We all use and see many of the goods manufactured in the High Peak, but we are not necessarily aware of them. This morning, many of us put our kettle on, and there is a good chance that the thermostat in it was manufactured by Otter Controls. The company was founded at the end of the war to manufacture snap action thermostats that—to get technical—are used in a three-legged bi-metal blade. Those who did science at school should remember the bi-metal strip and how it moves with heat. The concept behind the switch was developed when the founder of Otter’s experimented with the strips for heated suits for RAF pilots during the war, because the pilots got either very cold or very hot in their aircraft. Having come up with the idea of the thermostat in the suit, after the war he decided to roll it out into other areas. The company was all about making people a little ’otter—that is where the name Otter came from. This is a High Peak product that people use without realising it.

Valentine’s day is nearly upon us, and I am sure everyone has been out shopping frantically—I hope the gentlemen have, anyway—so I draw my colleagues’ attention to another product that many will see: the famous Love Hearts by Swizzels, as well as Drumstick lollies and Refreshers. Those of us who have offices in Norman Shaw North know that there is usually a supply in my office—I am a bit like the pied piper sometimes—and those sweets are made by Swizzels-Matlow in New Mills. Swizzels employs hundreds of people, most of them from within a 10-mile radius of the factory. It has made sweets for the royal family and received royal visits, and it is a great name known throughout the world, also manufacturing in the High Peak. Many years ago, on holiday abroad, sitting in a little wooden hut having a cup of coffee with a friend of mine with some children, the guy behind him brought out some sweets for them: he brought out some Love Hearts. We thought: “We have come all this way, and they are giving us sweets that we could have nipped down the road to New Mills to get.”

In a previous life, as I say, I had a small business and supplied many High Peak engineering companies with equipment. Since being elected, I have renewed my acquaintance with many of those businesses, such as the GJD group in Glossop, which makes engineered components for the aerospace industry and timber-frame buildings for the construction industry—that shows the breadth of business.

I have a particular fondness for micro-businesses, which I shall just touch on—I am conscious of the time. I recently went to see a Mr Philip Taylor, who is a cordwainer. You, Mr Hollobone, were talking about Loake shoes; Mr Taylor makes specialist footwear. He has made more than 1,500 pairs of shoes for people. When I visited him, he had a client in from Canada, because Mr Taylor was the person who can make shoes to deal with the client’s condition.

I could talk about many more companies in the High Peak, such as the quarries and the quarry-related products. My wife works for a company that makes linings for gutters—instead of changing our gutters, we could line them—and, given the amount of rain we get in this country, it is busy. Business is tough, however, and there are challenges. We want better transport links and, certainly, better broadband. I am proud that the Government are rolling out better broadband, and agree that they should—I describe broadband as the fourth utility. The High Peak, within the east midlands, is working hard and punching above its weight. We are making a wide range of products and selling them to the UK and throughout the world. For anyone who reads the debate, let me say this: I agree with what has been said—the east midlands is a fantastic place to bring business to and, in my view, the High Peak is the best place in the east midlands.

If I may, I shall take a second to touch on the regional growth fund. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the bids in the fourth round. We have a bid in from Buxton in my constituency. It is shovel-ready, it will create jobs, and I hope that it may be successful, as it has not been in previous rounds.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As an east midlands MP, I hope that you will later be eating a bag of Wotsits crisps made at the Leicester Walkers site.

I thank the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) for his success in securing the debate. He spoke well, and I learned something about Calverton of which I was not aware, although I will of course be checking it out later with my father-in-law, who was his geography teacher at school in Calverton only a few years ago.

I want to repeat some of the points made about the importance of manufacturing to the east midlands economy. Manufacturing makes up a greater part of the economy in the east midlands than in any other English region. According to figures I have seen, manufacturing gross value added was around £12.5 billion, or 15.8% of total regional GVA output—a higher proportion than any other region—compared with an average of 10.3% for the UK as a whole. Manufacturing employment in the region amounted to 265,000 or more than 13% of total employment—again, the highest proportion of any region, and it compares with a UK average of about 8.5%. Our manufacturing firms score highly on productivity, with many of our sectors outperforming national averages. We have already heard not only about many of the big ones, such as Toyota, Rolls-Royce, Bombardier, Caterpillar and Walkers, but about the many smaller manufacturers that make up our huge manufacturing base.

The hon. Gentleman talked about food and drink. In Leicester and Leicestershire, more than 11,000 people are employed in food manufacturing, so it is important for our region. As he said, some of the reasons our region does well is that we are central, our development in the past has been driven by coal in the north and ironstone in the south, and we have concentrations of grade 1 agricultural land. We do not have any major, dominant economic centre. I would, of course, argue that Leicester is the premier city in the region, not least because we have a former king of England there.

On the point of manufacturing, it is a shame for those of us who feel that Fotheringhay, the birthplace of Richard III, should be his final resting place, that my hon. Friend is manufacturing a case for Leicester.

With regard to the food and drink industry, does he recognise that, while there is a fine tradition in all parts of the region, including my constituency, in many ways Government policy has helped to shape some of the opportunities for manufacturing? For example, in the 1980s the enterprise zone helped to bring lots of food and drink companies to Corby. Will he support my case that we ought to have an enterprise zone today in Corby in east Northamptonshire, where, as he knows, there are high levels of youth unemployment?

I thank my hon. Friend for a point he puts well. However, we in Leicester have fought off York and will certainly fight off his constituency when it comes to Richard III.

On balance, the lack of a major dominant conurbation is a strength for our region and its development opportunities, even if it does sometimes mean that we tend to lack a regional identity. That brings us one or two disadvantages that I will touch on in a few moments.

Although the debate has been conducted in a good cross-party spirit, there are problems in our economy, in the cities and former coalfield areas. Unemployment rates remain too high, and are much higher than they were at the 2010 election, even if they have come down a little in recent months. Youth unemployment rates are still too high. Let us be clear: we are seeing a huge squeeze on incomes and many changes to benefits, such as the bedroom tax and the council tax benefit changes. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of that debate, that will suck money out of the local economies of the east midlands. Household consumption will be depressed again.

In the past, Ministers have talked about wanting to rebalance the economy, and we would all agree with that. However, we would like more details about what that rebalancing means. I know that Ministers want to move away from an economy that is solely dependent on public investment and household consumption, towards one that is more in favour of export-led recovery.

Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that, although the Prime Minister came with his whole Cabinet to Derby in March 2011 to make the point about the importance of rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing, three months later a decision was taken to appoint Siemens as a preferred bidder for the Thameslink rolling stock programme? Will he join me in calling on the Government and the Minister, even at this late stage, to think again about that decision? If they cannot reverse it, can they at least ensure that, whenever Government contracts are concerned, notwithstanding EU procurement rules and so on, they take appropriate steps to ensure that British manufacturing has a fair chance of winning them?

I thank my hon. Friend; he is absolutely right. I want to pay tribute to the work that he has done on Bombardier. The Bombardier decision was tragic not only for Derby and Derbyshire, but for manufacturing in the east midlands. The whole supply chain was affected by it.

I agree that trade and increasing exports are an important part of the rebalancing of the economy that we want to see, and supporting our manufacturing base is vital to our exports. The regional growth fund is supposed to be part of driving that rebalancing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) mentioned, yet, consistently and sadly, the east midlands has lost out. In round 1, £450 million was allocated. The east midlands made up 13% of the bids and won just 4% of the successful awards. In round 2, £950 million was allocated. The east midlands made up 11% of the bids and was given just 8% of the awards. In round 3, over £1 billion was allocated to private sector projects. East midlands was allocated just £14 million, or 2%.

Frankly, that is not good enough. Given that manufacturing is so important to the east midlands region, and that it is the leading region in manufacturing, why are we not getting a fair deal on the regional growth fund bids? I would be grateful if the Minister said a word or two about that. It has been suggested in the media that the quality of our bids was not good enough. I do not accept that, given the strength of our manufacturing base. To be honest, it is a bit of an insult to our manufacturers.

Will the Minister outline some of the criteria by which those bids are judged? He will no doubt be aware of the National Audit Office report that has cast doubt on the objectivity of the criteria. The NAO argued that,

“a significant number of projects in the first two rounds performed relatively poorly on criteria such as the amount of additional employment supported and the ratio of economic benefits to public costs”.

Will the Minister shed some light on why the east midlands has done so badly? Some have suggested that the reason is that a lot of the bids have focused on the cities. The Department for Communities and Local Government has been keen to focus growth through the core cities initiative. For example, 47% of round 2 of the regional growth fund money went to core cities. Leicester, of course, went along with the great vision of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Prime Minister. We went for the directly elected mayor model; not many places did. Although we are now in discussions about a core city deal, we were left out in the first round, although parts of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire have been covered by a city deal. That has meant that the majority of the east midlands region has been left out. Perhaps that is another reason why we have not done so well at getting our fair share of regional growth fund money.

We no longer have a regional development agency, and I do not think that my party is arguing for its return. There may be such an argument, but everyone accepts that the development agencies have gone, and it is not our policy to argue for their return. Given that the east midlands region has 36 local authority districts, five county councils and four unitary authorities, that fragmentation leads to a lack of a consistent voice on such matters. I do not necessarily know the solution, but we should all be banging the drum as a group of east midlands MPs. We must think about what more we can do collectively to ensure that our region gets its fair share of bids.

I am conscious that I am taking a lot of time. I want to say a couple of things quickly about Leicester. It is a city with a strong manufacturing base and deep links, as everyone will know, with India, Bangladesh, east Africa and Pakistan. In Leicester, we have manufacturers exporting to those parts of the world. Asian food made in Leicester is exported to the middle east, Europe and India. When I meet exporters, they tell me of the difficulties of accessing export finance, especially for smaller volume exporters. When people raise UKTI issues with me, they talk about the fees involved in the overseas market introduction service. One matter is always being raised with me: given that cities such as Leicester have communities with deep cultural ties to parts of the world where we now want to export more, should the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills not be doing more to work with organisations such as Leicester’s Indo-British trade council and other groups to leverage the expertise of those communities?

Finally, I want to mention our higher education sector. De Montfort and Leicester universities do great work linking with local manufacturers. There are lots of great examples of how they are adding value to many firms and supporting our manufacturing base. Most of those projects, however, do not lead to any financial benefits to the universities. Given the importance of such projects to our economic future, will the Minister think about financial incentives to support the HE sector to link up more with manufacturers? I know that De Montfort university, having done a lot of projects in the past, is now thinking of scaling back, as such work is not in its financial interests.

Given that the HE sector is so important to our economy and exports—worth £15 billion nationally—will the Minister, who was brought in with great fanfare and was going to shake things up, deal with the crazy policy of the immigration cap on student numbers, which is doing huge damage to our economy? We need to support our HE sector at the moment.

I, too, would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) on securing the debate. I very much enjoyed the evident passion and pride in his speech and his enthusiasm for manufacturing, quite rightly not only in his constituency but across the whole east midlands.

I had better declare an interest, Mr Hollobone. I am the non-executive chairman of a fresh food processing company based in my constituency. I founded the company 25 years ago with my younger brother with £1,000, and it thrives today, turning over in excess of £25 million and employing more than 200 people.

My constituency has a rich history in manufacturing, and that continues to this day. We have a diverse range of manufacturing output, from two of the leading brick manufacturers in the country to high-tech companies that are enjoying record rates of expansion. There is no doubt that the UK economy needs rebalancing, regionally and in terms of production, after the previous Government’s dependence on financial services and the public sector led to the record deficit that was bequeathed to the coalition Government.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a symbiotic relationship between the public and private sectors, and that many in the private sector—particularly small and medium-sized enterprises—rely on public sector procurement? Does he agree that it is important that where local authorities and other public sector bodies are letting contracts, they look, wherever they can, to support SMEs in their local economy?

Absolutely. In North West Leicestershire we are a pioneering a buy local campaign whereby local companies can register, and not only will the local authority look to procure from local firms offering services, but that website facility is then open to other companies in the district, and it is hoped that they will join in. However, I bring the hon. Gentleman back to the point that we cannot have the situation we inherited, where 50% of the economy is public sector and 50% is private sector, and we are asking the latter to support itself and pay taxes to support the former. That is unsustainable. That is why we have a huge deficit and why we need to rebalance our economy.

The tone of the debate has been very constructive. It was set very well by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) and it is to Members’ credit that political point scoring has been resisted. However, for the record, we cannot allow that point to stand. Was it the previous Labour Government who were selling sub-prime mortgages in America, for example? The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) is entirely wrong on that point.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but I will not allow him or any other Labour Member to rewrite history. The fact is that under the previous Labour Government, manufacturing as a proportion of GDP in this country fell by 50%. It is not a record that I would be proud of if I were sitting on the Labour Benches. The hon. Gentleman should think on that. It is this Government who will address the need to grow manufacturing and rebalance our economy.

I simply want to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s comment about the public sector somehow riding on the back of the private sector. Those people who are employed in the public sector doing vital work in our schools, hospitals and universities also pay tax and make a hugely important contribution to our economy.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Public sector workers do vital work, but the answer is that all the wealth creation comes from the private sector. We cannot ask 50% of the economy to support itself and the other 50%. That is why we need to rebalance the economy. It is simple maths and it is why we have a deficit.

In the 1980s, following the closure of the coal mines, we needed to rebalance our economy in North West Leicestershire, and as a result of that successful rebalancing it is now in the top 20 districts for business-led growth in the whole of the UK, and in the top 15 for export-led growth. I would like to cite the success of two small-to-medium-sized companies to illustrate the huge contribution they are making to the local and national economy.

Norton Motorcycles, which is based in Castle Donington in the north of my constituency, was founded in 1898 but rejuvenated in 2008, when Stuart Garner bought the rights to the brand. Success and growth has followed, with the help of the Government underwriting a loan in 2011. The company has doubled production of motorcycles, from 500 to 1,000, and it has an order book going forward of some £25 million. Some 90% of its sales are for the export market and 83% of the motorcycle components are manufactured in the UK. It has also started a Norton academy with Stephenson college, based in my constituency at Coalville. The project is focused on youngsters and limbless ex-servicemen, whom we are already working with at BLESMA—the British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association—to give them a chance to get settled back into our society and employment post-injury. That illustrates the wider impact and community benefit of our thriving manufacturing success in North West Leicestershire.

Another firm that I have visited in my constituency is Zeeko, a technology company based in Coalville that produces ultra-precision polishing solutions for optics and other complex surfaces. It is growing at a significant rate, taking on more staff every year, and it is exporting all over the world. In 2011, it won a Queen’s award for innovation.

Those are only a couple of examples of how my constituency and the east midlands as a whole are exporting overseas, and are at the forefront of the Government’s mission to rebalance the British economy to ensure that we can pay our way in the world. Encouragingly, as other Members have mentioned, exports from the east midlands have recently reached another record high, sending some £13.5 billion-worth of goods overseas for the 12 months to the end of September 2012.

Another very encouraging signal for the sustainability and growth of east midlands manufacturing is the fact that the latest figures from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs show that non-EU exports now account for 57% of exports from the east midlands. Europe may have been the future once and it is still a very sizable chunk of the market, but with its heavy indebtedness, sclerotic economies and adverse demographics, it is a market that, while important, we will have to look beyond for the future of our manufacturing export growth.

My constituency also plays an important part in distributing manufactured goods, both in the UK and throughout the world. East Midlands airport, which is located in my constituency, is the largest dedicated cargo-handling airport in the UK, currently handling over 310,000 tonnes of flown cargo every year, with ample room to grow. The airport is another advantage for our exporting manufacturers. Together with the proposed strategic rail freight interchange, which will get more freight off the road and on to rail—if HS2 does not run straight through the middle of it—that again illustrates the advantages and opportunities for manufacturers in the east midlands. It is worth pointing out that the strategic rail freight interchange will involve £500 million of private sector investment in my constituency, creating in excess of 7,000 new jobs, hopefully by 2016.

To sum up, the east midlands is leading the way in manufacturing growth in the UK, and my constituency is playing a key role. In addition to the Government, we must all do what we can to provide the conditions for that growth to continue. Lower corporation tax, increased capital allowances, and many measures in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will help to ensure that growth is promoted not only in the east midlands, but across our country.

Three Members are seeking to speak. If we start the wind-ups at 10.40 am, and if you limit yourselves to no more than four minutes, including interventions, you will all just about get in. The order will be Jessica Lee, Chris Heaton-Harris, and Heather Wheeler.

Thank you, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I, too, would like to join hon. Members in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) for securing this extremely important debate. One matter that will always unite us across the House is the pride we all take in the different industries and the range of products manufactured across the east midlands. We have heard about the magnificent range of manufacturing across the area. I will be doing my best this morning to convince everyone that Erewash is, in fact, the beating heart of the east midlands and of manufacturing in the area, ably supported and assisted—I would concede—by surrounding constituencies.

A valuable part of being a MP is visiting different businesses in our constituencies. We all learn so much, and we have probably all met so many inspirational people who have taken that risk and followed their ideas, made innovations and created businesses.

Just last week in Erewash—to deal with an historical matter for a moment—we unveiled a blue plaque with Derbyshire county council at the home of Frances Bush, a remarkable woman. She was a lace manufacturing entrepreneur and well known in the east midlands at the time for her vision and her successful business. Lace has been mentioned this morning. We also have Cluny Lace, the last remaining traditional lace factory in the country, which made part of the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress—something that I always mention. It has a niche exporting market and is doing extremely well.

There have been other successes recently. Gill Manufacturing was awarded the Queen’s award for enterprise. It exports its clothing around the world. Other successes include up-and-coming businesses, such as Goodeseats. Mr and Mrs Goode won a national competition for their cushion seating. It is a fine example of the hard work and vision involved in bringing a product to the market.

The centre of upholstery and furniture making was Long Eaton for many years, and it continues to do well. If anything, there is a need to encourage more young people to consider the benefits and rewards of going into the furniture and upholstery industries. That links to the Government’s drive for apprenticeships and university technical colleges. In Erewash, we face the prospect of two schools merging in Ilkeston. In my view, to continue the site with an educational use, a UTC would be an ideal project. That project is in its infancy, but I will be doing all I can to encourage the site to become a UTC in the near future. With national apprenticeship week fast approaching, I think we are all spending time—I certainly am—visiting many businesses that take on apprenticeships in our manufacturing areas and do so much to support young people. That, too, needs to be encouraged.

Time is against me. I shall briefly mention just a couple of other points to allow other Members to make their contributions. The brewing industry has been mentioned. The county in the UK where brewing is growing most is of course Derbyshire, as Members will be pleased to know. I certainly spent a happy morning learning the art of brewing—trying not to get in the way, of course—at Muirhouse Brewery. That business, too, started at home but is now expanding and doing very well, and there are many more to follow.

Manufacturing in the east midlands involves a wide range of products and areas. It is diverse and forward looking and brings all the essences of entrepreneurship together. We can celebrate the increased number of women also involved and the range of businesses emerging. As I said, the east midlands is at the heart of our country, at the heart of manufacturing and is very much open for business in this area.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) on securing the debate. I should follow the declaration made by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) by saying that I used to buy his product when he wholesaled it, and I made more money out of it than he did.

I was very lucky to be the Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands for 10 years. One of the wonderful things that Members of the European Parliament get to do is travel widely and see in operation all the businesses that invite them. Not many hon. Members from Lincolnshire are here today, but there are fantastic manufacturers in Lincolnshire. Siemens in Lincoln is one of them, and it has just won a massive contract in Australia. In my constituency, I have the full range, as every other hon. Member does, of big, medium-sized and small manufacturers. There is Cummins, a big multinational. Power generation is its thing. It has produced diesel engines in the UK for more than 50 years. It is in the top 40 list of UK exporters, with 70% of its products exported, generally outside the European Union.

Mercedes-Benz has its Formula 1 precision engine plant in the village next to where I live, Brixworth, where it employs more than 600 people. It illustrates some of the issues that manufacturing faces in more rural areas, because it has problems with a consistent energy supply and had to put in, at huge cost to itself, a broadband supply, because it takes real-time readings from precision engines firing round Formula 1 circuits across the globe and can adjust things almost remotely from my constituency.

I have the fantastic shoe manufacturer Barker in my constituency—Barkers are just slightly better than Loakes. The Northamptonshire shoe industry is booming now, because it is a quality product that is being exported massively across the world.

Like other hon. Members, I have food manufacturing in my area. Butcher’s Pet Care has just invested £38 million. It produces food for the pet sector—and it knows what goes into its product. There is proper traceability and line of sight.

Hambleside Danelaw produces roofing and ventilation products, rooflights and cladding. That sounds boring, but it is a very big business. Its products are on all the big sheds that we see around the place. That is its business; that is what it does, and it manufactures in my constituency. There are also smaller companies. B and D Dyes produces little washers that go into very fast cars. It is amazing precision engineering.

These companies are doing fantastic things, and they are all served by the logistics base that the east midlands is so good at providing—we are proud of how we do logistics—and by a good education base, which is constantly improving. On my patch, I have Moulton college; a UTC will be opening in the next few months; and there are very good regional universities. What does that lead to? It means that I am very lucky in my constituency; I do know that. There are more jobs on offer at my local Jobcentre Plus—or there were at the end of last year—than there were people on jobseeker’s allowance across my constituency. Not many constituencies can say that.

There is more interesting news from the Northamptonshire chamber of commerce, whose latest report to MPs said that despite concerns about some things, which Government can do very little about—they include the cost of raw materials, competition and cash flow—Northamptonshire businesses, in both the manufacturing and services sectors, had reported an increase in confidence relating to both expected turnover and profitability in the coming 12 months. There is good news out there. Manufacturing in the east midlands is a sector that we should be very proud of and should nurture as best we can.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) on securing this Westminster Hall debate. It is a pleasure to speak in it under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

I personally have a special relationship with Toyota, as its factory in Burnaston is located in my constituency, and time after time I have been extremely impressed by what it is doing as a company. Toyota is not only one of the world’s leading car manufacturers; as a leader, it is committed to the environment and the economy. In fact, Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK was the first British car manufacturer to achieve zero waste going to landfill and has recently embraced solar energy at the plant, too. On top of that prodigious achievement, Toyota has provided employment and training opportunities for people throughout the region. On a recent visit to the factory in Burnaston, I was delighted to hear that Toyota is expanding its apprenticeship programme. Toyota also has a charitable trust. That funds the Lucy Prince award, which last time was awarded to Alfreton Park community school.

Apart from Rolls-Royce and Toyota, which respectively focus on jet engines and cars, Bombardier is a world-renowned manufacturer of rail vehicles. In fact, including Bombardier, there are 230 rail engineering companies around Derby alone. Bombardier is well known for the high-speed rail vehicles that have been installed in China and Italy. The hope is that, if all goes well, it will be contracted to design the vehicles for our own HS2.

Manufacturing companies in the region have truly proven that it is equally important to benefit the growth of the economy while creating opportunities for people. I cannot express the pride that I have in the manufacturing industry in the east midlands. From having the manufacturer that first powered the Boeing 787, the most widely used aeroplane, to a transportation company that has an installed base of more than 100,000 rail vehicles, to an international car company that exports back to Japan, our area has proved to be a manufacturing hub in the UK and an asset to the whole world.

Derbyshire exports more per person than any other place in England. Despite how impressive the large companies are, I find the local businesses to be equally important to the success of the manufacturing industry in the east midlands. In my constituency alone, there are multiple manufacturing companies that stimulate economic growth and provide global services.

One of the smaller firms in my area is Appleby Woodturnings. That specialist family business in south Derbyshire produces wood pellets to conceal screws and boltheads and, furthermore, it produced bespoke tapered wood pellets for the deck and hull of the Cutty Sark in London and the door frames in Portcullis House. Appleby Woodturnings is an excellent example of the ingenuity and skill that we have in south Derbyshire.

Another major manufacturer that has had national and global success is the JCB Power Systems factory, which is a purpose-built, multi-million-pound manufacturing plant and assembly line in Foston. JCB builds construction vehicles and recently needed to employ hundreds of extra skilled workers to cope with the increase in overseas demand for its equipment. Overseas demand for the UK-built products is coming from Brazil, Russia, Turkey and particularly India. In fact, JCB finalised a deal with the Brazilian Government to supply 1,000 machines to improve the nation’s infrastructure in time for the 2014 World cup and 2016 Olympic games, which Brazil will host.

The success of the manufacturing industry in the east midlands shows that it is vital that the Government continue to make manufacturing in the UK easier and continue to work with small businesses and manufacturers, so that the growth we have seen in the region can lead to growth in the national economy. Manufacturing in south Derbyshire is important. It is so successful that between May 2010 and December 2012 unemployment decreased by 18%—I can think of no better way to end my contribution.

May I start by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under the chairmanship of a strong east midlands MP, Mr Hollobone? I congratulate the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) on securing this enjoyable debate. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), for Corby (Andy Sawford) and for Derby North (Chris Williamson), and the hon. Members for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler), for High Peak (Andrew Bingham), for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), for Erewash (Jessica Lee) and for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) for their important and significant contributions.

We started the debate by hearing from the hon. Member for Sherwood about Mr Lee, who invented the knitting machine that the hon. Gentleman claimed started the industrial revolution. For the avoidance of doubt, and at the risk of alienating you, Mr Hollobone, and much of the Chamber, I can confirm that the industrial revolution started in my region—north-east England.

It is clear from today’s debate that the east midlands is and should be a leading player in any UK industrial policy. The hon. Gentleman started by saying that the region has a great deal to offer, and the debate has shown that to be true. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South said, a greater proportion of the region’s economic output comes from manufacturing—more than 15% of regional gross value added—than it does in any other part of the UK.

The region is home to some truly world-class companies. No discussion about manufacturing in the east midlands would be complete without reference to one of the world’s greatest engineering companies: Rolls-Royce. The company employs something like 14,000 people in the east midlands, the majority at its plant in Derby, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year. It adds £2.4 billion of value to the regional economy, providing 33,000 jobs in indirect employment.

Let me finish these statistics, because they are impressive.

One in every 165 people working in the east midlands is directly employed by Rolls-Royce, which rises to an astonishing one in 11 working people in the city of Derby. The company spent over £300 million on its supply chain in the east midlands.

Is the shadow Minister aware that more than 265,000 people in the east midlands are employed in manufacturing and that that is more than in any other region?

I shall come on to that important characteristic of the east midlands economy. I mentioned the important success of Rolls-Royce, but it would be wrong to think of the east midlands as a one-company region. Every hon. Member who contributed today, including you, Mr Hollobone, highlighted successful manufacturing firms in their constituencies, and it is important to do so.

The largest employer in my constituency is RS Components. One of its great features, and I am sure a great feature of Rolls-Royce and the many other companies that have been mentioned, is the way that it contributes to the local community, adding additional value though fundraising, supporting schools and so on. Will my hon. Friend congratulate our industries across the east midlands on that?

I certainly will. An important characteristic of a good and responsible company is that it realises that it is part of a community, not isolated from it, and contributes, not only directly by providing employment, but to social good.

The hon. Member for South Derbyshire mentioned Toyota, an important manufacturer for not only the region, but the UK. I am looking forward to visiting the Toyota plant next Tuesday—I am giving her advance notice—to see the investment recently pumped into building the new Auris model. The investment in the new plant totals £100 million, and is creating an extra 1,500 jobs, with a further £85 million spent in the local supply chain.

The shape of the region’s economy is distinctive. It is particularly strong on mid-sized businesses that are crucial to the growing specialisation and increased productivity that manufacturing requires. The Mittelstand in Germany is often cited as a reason why the German economy is so successful, and if there is an equivalent in the UK, I suggest that it is in the east midlands. Mid-sized firms employ 290,000 people in the region. I agree with the conclusion in Grant Thornton’s report on the mid-sized business sector:

“MSBs—many of the East Midlands’ and UK’s most dynamic organisations—are integral to the recovery prospects and long-term health of the British and local economy.”

Within that, Government’s role is to provide a framework in which businesses can flourish, and to provide resources—whether by sector, by region, or nationally—so that businesses can realise their potential and enhance our competitiveness.

I therefore have a number of questions for the Minister. My first is on how Government procurement can help manufacturers and their supply chains. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North here, because he has been a strong champion of Bombardier. We are all aware of it, because it is probably the most vivid example of Government procurement policy failing British manufacturing. The Department for Transport looks specifically at price, rather than thinking about wider value to the supply chain; that illustrates that the Government do not seem to be joined up. What has the Minister learned from the Bombardier example? How can procurement back British manufacturing? I do not believe in protectionism at all, but we can have patriotism in procurement policy to create, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North said, a level playing field for British companies. Other nations do it; we should too.

I point out to the hon. Gentleman that in France there is a social element to the procurement of big projects—something that we do not have. If it is legal for the French to take that approach, surely it must be legal for us to do so.

I absolutely agree. We should use economic values. If Bombardier or any other company fails to win a contract, we should consider the wider economic consequences, in terms of lost taxes, the money that could have been pumped into the local economy and the losses in the supply chain. Those important factors should be part of procurement decisions.

The second point I want to mention relates to a particularly distinctive strength of the east midlands economy and its manufacturing firms: the supply chain. I am interested in it, because it is an important part of improving competitiveness. In November last year, the Minister announced the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative—we are now on round 2. Despite the importance of mid-sized firms in the east midlands and their potential, will he confirm that no east midlands firm was successful in the bids? What will he do about that to help to realise the potential in the supply chain?

Thirdly, the whole House will agree on the importance of an export-led economic recovery. As we heard today, there is potential for that in the region, but the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire chamber of commerce’s latest quarterly survey says:

“Export sales are at their lowest levels since December 2009”.

It goes on to say:

“Net manufacturing export sales balances remain significantly lower than the national averages.”

As an interested outsider, it is clear to me that the region is not reaching its potential for an export-led recovery. What can the Minister do in conjunction with UK Trade & Investment and others to ensure that that potential is realised?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that exports from the east midlands in the first three quarters of 2012 were £13.5 billion, which is up £500 million on the same period in the previous year?

That is welcome, but we should not be complacent in any region. In my region of the north-east, the economy has an important export-led component, but we cannot be complacent in what is a fierce race, as the Prime Minister has said. We should be resolute in ensuring that the potential for exports is fulfilled as far as is possible, so that we can have an export-led recovery.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; I will be very quick. Does he agree that when senior Ministers, from the Prime Minister downwards, go to India and Turkey on trade missions, they should take representatives from some of the small and medium-sized manufacturers, and business people from cities such as Leicester, rather than the great and the good?

I hope the Minister will respond to that excellent idea.

I also want to mention access to finance, which manufacturers tell me is still a problem across the country. I again quote the latest Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire chamber of commerce quarterly survey:

“There was a net 3% increase in the firms reporting deteriorating cash flow. The lack of access to working capital continues to be a problem for firms. DNCC welcomes the creation of a state-backed business bank but is concerned that this will take too long to be formed and must have the ability to provide loans directly to growing businesses”.

Will the Minister say what is happening with regard to that British business bank?

Finally, several hon. Members mentioned the regional growth fund, and the fact that the east midlands region is not reaching its potential in that regard. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South said that the east midlands secured only 4% of all projects in rounds 1 and 2, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South said that in round 3, firms in the region gained moneys for only five projects, totalling just £14 million—the lowest amount of any region in England. Will the Minister explain why? Does he think that manufacturing firms in the east midlands do not warrant such support? What will he do to redress the balance?

This debate has been important and positive. Manufacturing is important to the UK, and it is certainly important to the east midlands. We must ensure that it realises its potential, and I hope that the Minister will explain how we can do that.

I repeat what hon. Members have said in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) on securing this debate. As he said, the east midlands has a long, proud and—as we have learned—historical tradition of manufacturing, which is vital not just for UK manufacturing but for growth in the wider economy. Its location at the geographical heart of the UK, an abundance of natural resources, and a spirit of invention put the east midlands at the centre of the industrial revolution. As we have heard, inventions that have come out of the region include the jet engine, ibuprofen, DNA fingerprinting and the MRI scanner. My hon. Friend’s constituency has a long history of mining, and it has been home to Rolls-Royce since the 1940s. The food and drink industry is a major employer there, and it has a strong record of productivity.

Nobody in this debate has been under any illusions about the scale of the wider economic challenges we face as a country. The continuing sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone is affecting the real economy and depressing demand, which has caused uncertainty for British businesses and damaged some of our manufacturing output. That damage was already pronounced under the previous Government, which presided over the fastest ever decline in manufacturing as a share of the economy: manufacturing fell by nearly 10% as a share of gross domestic product, and almost 1.7 million jobs were lost in the sector. Under this Government, manufacturing’s share of GDP is growing again and our manufacturing capability is increasing in quality—nowhere more so than in the east midlands.

I will not.

I had the pleasure of visiting Toyota’s factory at Burnaston near Derby last week, and I saw for myself how a world-class work force in a cutting-edge facility can produce workmanship that is second to none. Earlier last week, I also met Rolls-Royce to hear its plans for the future. To kick-start the recovery, the first thing we had to do was to tackle the deficit, but we have not focused only on that. We have taken a wholly proactive approach to unlocking growth, reducing the red tape that holds back business and creating a competitive tax system so that businesses choose to locate and grow here.

In the autumn statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced multiple measures to encourage greater investment in manufacturing. There will be a significant temporary increase in the annual investment allowance from £25,000 to £250,000. An additional £210 million will be added to the £2.4 billion regional growth fund until March 2015. There will also be an extra £120 million for the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative. Let me reassure colleagues that the Government have never been clearer in our commitment to manufacturing, which we see as an essential building block of a more resilient, innovative economy.

A greater proportion of the east midland’s economic output comes from manufacturing than in any other English region or part of the UK. Some 12.3% of the work force are employed in manufacturing, compared with 8% across the UK. The region has a positive balance of trade in manufactured goods, and the latest figures are expected to show that it achieved its highest annual level of exports in 2012, worth some £18 billion. The iconic names that are at the heart of the region’s manufacturing base—Rolls-Royce, Siemens, JCB and Toyota, to name just a few—employ thousands of people directly, and are at the centre of the network of hundreds of smaller businesses that make up their supply chains across the region. As we have heard, the region has a thriving sector of small and medium-sized enterprises working in the advanced manufacturing supply chain, and in the automotive and aerospace supply chains in particular.

Last week, I met the private sector chairs of the region’s local enterprise partnerships and some council leaders from the east midlands. I was impressed by the common sense of purpose across the public and private sectors, across political divides and even across traditional geographic rivalries. I saw for myself the determination to ensure a strong recovery for all parts of the east midlands and to tackle some of the barriers and bottlenecks that they have identified.

Will the Minister commit to coming to Sherwood to see some of those small and medium-sized enterprises, so that he can stand on the factory floors and hear the concerns at first hand?

I will certainly try to work that into my diary, and I look forward to such a visit.

Let me turn to a couple of points mentioned. The regional growth fund is distributed not by ministerial allocation, but by competition. It is a competitive fund, as indeed is the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative. The fund is already helping to rebalance the economy, particularly by assisting areas that have been over-dependent on the public sector, and it is already unlocking private sector investment in the local economy.

The east midlands has had some strong successes under the fund. Derby city council’s £40 million business support scheme, which has been approved, will provide funds to support the growth of enterprises in Derby, creating nearly 1,000 direct jobs by 2015, to fund a global technology cluster and to enable redevelopment of the Derby railway technical centre. The Northamptonshire, Leicester, Leicestershire and D2N2 LEPs and Nottingham city council have all had conditional offers of support for programmes that will address local needs under the regional growth fund.

On the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative, we need strong manufacturing supply chains if we are to have more major manufacturers investing in the east midlands. We have invested in that initiative to bolster supply chain capacity, and the scheme has attracted bids involving major companies from across the country, including the east midlands. There was high demand in rounds 1 and 2; there were more than 70 bids with a total funding ask in excess of £300 million. That is why we announced, in the autumn statement, additional funding of £120 million for a further two rounds of the initiative. That further investment in advanced manufacturing supply chains underscores our ongoing efforts to create the right conditions for UK suppliers to grow and remain competitive on the world stage. It will be based around a single national funding pot that will be open to supply chain companies from across manufacturing sectors, including in the east midlands.

The Government have announced other recent investments to support economic growth in the east midlands, including £500 million to electrify the midlands main line north of Bedford; £160 million to dual the A453 in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, a key route between Nottingham and the M1, which businesses told us could simply not cope as a single-track road; and £22 million towards the work, which is now well under way, to provide a new dual carriageway linking Kettering and Corby. We have increased the numbers of apprentices, which have grown from 21,000 in 2009-10 to 39,610 in the east midlands, a rise of almost 90%. Significantly, apprenticeship starts in the engineering and manufacturing sectors have grown by 156% over the same period.

In conclusion, the Government are working hard to encourage and support British manufacturers, and to create the environment in which they can thrive and compete in a global marketplace. We want manufacturers in the east midlands to be our partners in achieving that economic transformation and in fulfilling a strategy that places world-class manufacturing at the heart of a healthy and rebalanced economy across the United Kingdom.

Alexandra Hospital, Redditch

It is not compulsory, when a Member has a debate on their local hospital, for them to attend on crutches, but I am delighted that the hon. Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) has arrived.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the Minister for being here to listen and, I hope, to answer some of my questions about the Alexandra hospital. I pay tribute to the staff who work at the Alex. As you mentioned and as you can see, Mr Hollobone, I visited the accident and emergency department at the Alexandra hospital during the past couple of weeks. I had a good experience and was looked after well, and I did not spend too much time there. I want my constituents to receive what I received, and I hope to outline the need for a vibrant hospital in Redditch that serves not only my constituents but those in surrounding areas such as Bromsgrove, Mid Worcestershire, Stratford-on-Avon and Kidderminster.

A quick history of the hospital is vital to understand the context in which I speak, because, sadly, we have been here several times before. I will be brief, but it is important to understand how many times this hospital has been under threat, and how unsettling that is for patients and staff alike. Three attempts have been made during the past 15 years to downgrade the accident and emergency ward and the maternity wards at the Alex. On each occasion, the argument has been made that the downgrades were crucial for sustaining a high-quality, properly staffed service, and that it would better for residents if some services were concentrated in Worcester. At each attempt, the people of Redditch have fought to save their hospital, and once again they have joined together in a cross-party campaign to do so.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, which affects my constituents as well as hers. She will be aware that a number of years ago, the same fear was in prospect for my constituents when the A and E department at Kidderminster hospital was closed. The outcome was truly tremendous, with an enormous campaign to save the hospital and the election of an MP dedicated to trying to do so. Sadly, he did not succeed, but those events reinforce the point that people feel very strongly about their local services and should be listened to.

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I will return to. I want to be here after the next election, however; I do not want to be replaced by an MP dedicated to looking after the Alexandra hospital.

I pay tribute to Neal Stote, the chairman of the “save the Alex” campaign, Ian Dipple, the editor of the Redditch Standard, and the leaders of my local councils, Bill Hartnett, Roger Hollingworth and Chris Saint, who have all worked tirelessly together with me to save the Alex. The Minister will remember his visit from members of the “save the Alex” campaign before Christmas, when he listened to the justification for retaining services at our hospital. A petition to save the hospital has received more than 50,000 signatures and there was a major rally in Redditch town centre, all of which goes to show that the residents of Redditch are united in trying to secure services at our hospital.

I want to look now at the current and historical financial position of the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust. In 2002, the trust posted large deficits, which rose to more than £14 million in 2003-04. The trust came back into surplus, however, and since then it has posted alternate deficits and surpluses, including in each of the past three years. The trust had a cumulative legacy debt of £18.4 million from 2000 to 2007. The Government provided a £12 million emergency loan in December 2012 to deal with the problem, but it is obvious that the situation cannot continue. For too long, the easiest course of action has been to kick the can further down the road without addressing the root causes. The current situation is a ticking time bomb. A £1.9 million deficit has to be met by April of this year. Many operations are being cancelled because of the terrible norovirus in our wards, and times will be tough for the trust.

Part of the problem is that we have an expensive private finance initiative hospital that was built in the wrong place fully to service all of the residents of Worcestershire. The Worcestershire royal hospital opened in March 2002 under a PFI deal that costs the trust £13.6 million a year at the best estimate. Indeed, Patricia Hewitt, the former Health Secretary, described the PFI deal as a disaster in 2006. The deal will, however, run until 2032, by which time it will have cost the taxpayer more than £700 million. The Alexandra hospital is not a PFI hospital; it is owned by the NHS.

I understand that the trust needs to save money, and that certain services in our country must be centralised to provide centres of excellence. I also understand the difficulties of recruiting specialist consultants, and I realise that as a result of an ageing population and changing lifestyles, patients have more complex needs. We must recognise, however, that the trust employs more than 5,600 staff across the county and has approximately 940 beds with 140,000 A and E attendances —of which I was one—and about 500,000 out-patient appointments. The people of Redditch deserve a sustainable future for their health service. They are realistic, but they need to know what is going to happen. One of the reasons for the difficulty I have just mentioned of recruiting specialist consultants, which is a major problem facing the trust, is that the hospital cannot provide the job security that specialist consultants need because it is constantly under threat.

As I have said, this is the third time we have been in this situation, and if we do not find a solution, I have no doubt that in a few years we will be here again. Repeatedly experiencing such circumstances is damaging to the public, staff and patients, and we need a lasting solution. I welcome our Government’s introduction of clinical commissioning groups. I recognise that without them we would be in a very different place and I certainly would not be standing here asking the Minister to look at the future of my hospital. I have been working closely with the local commissioning group for Redditch and Bromsgrove, and would like to place on record its hard work on the future of the Alex, especially its support on the joint services review; it has continually stood up for Redditch in circumstances that have often been difficult.

Last week, I listened to the Prime Minister talking about the terrible situation at Stafford hospital, and especially the roles of Members of Parliament. He said:

“Like others in the community, we love our local hospitals and we always want to stand up for them, but we have to be careful to look at the results in our local hospitals and work out whether we should not sometimes give voice to some of the concerns rather than go along with a culture that says everything is all right all of the time—sometimes it is not.”—[Official Report, 6 February 2013; Vol. 558, c. 286.]

I took that to heart, as I know many of my colleagues did. I know that the NHS must change and we cannot always have everything we want where we want it. I hope I am being realistic about what we can provide for the people of Redditch.

That brings me to some good news about innovative thinking that is going on in our town. Redditch is situated in the north of our county and the majority of my constituents look to Birmingham rather than Worcester. The Minister cannot be expected to know about transport links in our county, but the links between Redditch and Worcester are fairly dreadful. If someone has to go to Worcester by train, they get on a train to Birmingham, get off at the university stop—where the university hospital of Birmingham is—and double back to Worcester. Buses are also a nightmare and often involve two or three changes. I was delighted to meet Dame Julie Moore, the chief executive of the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, before Christmas to talk about the trust providing some services at the Alex. I look forward to meeting her again next week, and to meeting Penny Venables, the chief executive of the Worcestershire trust.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on the manner in which she is conducting it. I wish her well in the campaign she is conducting on behalf of her constituents, whom she serves remarkably well. Does she understand that as we look at the options for the future of the hospital services in Worcestershire, particularly for the Alex, we must be certain that no decisions that are taken in relation to the Alex have the unintentional consequence of reducing the critical mass of the health economy in the wider county and, therefore, damaging the service provided to my constituents and to those of my hon. Friends the Members for Worcester (Mr Walker) and for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin)? Any loss of service provision might have serious consequences for the rest of the county. We must take the matter forward together with a single voice, because we all share the conviction that we can achieve a win-win situation for all our constituents.

Those who know the Worcestershire MPs know that we generally hunt as a pack; we are renowned within different Departments for doing so. I share my hon. Friend’s concerns, but obviously at the end of the day I am the MP for Redditch, my hospital is the one under threat and I must do what is best for my constituents.

There are several questions I want to ask the Minister today. First, who owns the Alexandra hospital? Secondly, if the local commissioning group wants to commission services with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, will his Department help to make that happen? Thirdly, does he agree that this uncertainty has gone on long enough, and will he encourage the Worcestershire acute trust to co-operate with the UHB trust in Birmingham? Fourthly, will he reassure staff and my constituents that he and his Department are working as hard as they can to ensure the best outcome for them?

I have probably said enough now, but I will finish by saying that we are grateful to the Minister for his attention to our hospital in Redditch. We look forward to welcoming him in April to see for himself what a fantastic hospital we have—a hospital that we must not forget belongs to the residents of Redditch. We are realistic about what has to happen, but I want to put on the record today that there are two options on the table, and it is only fair to my constituents that both be looked at in a fair and open way. That is all we are asking for, and I hope that he and his Department will ensure that it happens.

Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for calling me to respond to the debate. It is a great pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) for her advocacy on behalf of her constituents and local patients, and indeed for paying tribute herself to the hard-working staff at her local hospital. As she rightly points out, the future of the Redditch hospital has been discussed for far too long and I hope that, during the next few months, we can come to a conclusion that will not only be of benefit to local patients but bring higher-quality care to people in Redditch and the whole of Worcestershire. Any redesign of services must be led by local commissioners and—crucially—must also consider the best interests of local patients; those redesigning services must listen to the voices of local patients.

My hon. Friend rightly outlined in her speech the fact that no hospital or trust operates within a vacuum in the NHS, and she is also right to say that private finance initiative deals in the local area have been problematic and have left a very damaging legacy; that has happened not only in her part of the world but throughout the NHS. We must learn lessons from that in the future. It is distressing and regrettable that bad PFI deals sometimes have an impact on neighbouring hospitals, and it is a position that we, as a Government, have inherited. We will continue to do what we can, by working with trusts with difficult PFI deals, to try to mitigate those difficulties.

My hon. Friend rightly highlighted the fact that decisions about her local trust have an impact on the wider health economy in Worcestershire, and that that broader impact needs to be taken into account by those making decisions about the Alex hospital. When my hon. Friend and I met my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi)—my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) was unable to attend that meeting—the point was made clearly that many hospitals in the wider health economy of Worcestershire have natural links with Birmingham. That must be taken into account when services are redesigned for the benefit of patients.

Increasingly, clinical evidence is stacking up that some specialist clinical services need to be run from specialist centres, because those centres produce much better outcomes for patients, so the link to the major population centre for the surrounding counties should be taken into account. As I say, we need specialist centres of excellence for the benefit of patients.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch made the point that the Alex hospital has a historical legacy of difficulties, with big, intermittent deficits at the local trust. There have been commendable attempts to deal with those difficulties, but there has been a difficult situation for a number of years. Clearly, we want to see long-term stability for Redditch, for the local trust more broadly and for the local health care economy. Key to achieving those things is having high-quality medical personnel working in the hospital, and the ability to retain and recruit high-quality consultants.

To be clear, for the majority of Worcestershire residents Birmingham and its services are a very long way away and very inaccessible.

With regard to “bread and butter” day-to-day medical services, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that. My point was that for some services—for example, trauma or stroke—having specialist centres brings better results for patients, and there is good clinical evidence to back that up. However, day-to-day, higher-quality “bread and butter” services for patients—such as heart care or children’s services—are often best provided locally, and he is absolutely right to make that point.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) on securing this very important debate.

The Minister mentioned the issue of recruitment of clinical staff. One thing that the NHS in Worcestershire has worked very hard on is a cancer strategy to keep cancer care within the county and to make the Worcestershire Royal hospital a centre of excellence for cancer care. We are looking to secure a radiotherapy unit in the near future. I urge the Minister, in taking whatever decisions are necessary to ensure that the county has the strongest, most sustainable NHS, to pay attention to that work and to the importance of having a cancer service for the county.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to praise the high-quality work done in Worcester to look after cancer patients. It is exactly the point that I was making in response to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff): the high-quality day-to-day services that patients need must be delivered locally, but more specialist operations—such as for head and neck cancer—might be carried out at a specialist site that is geared up for such operations. Day-to-day oncology care, however, is often best carried out locally, particularly when people are unwell with cancer and receiving sometimes very intensive treatment. In those situations, they need to be looked after locally.

It does not benefit patients, for medical and many other reasons, to have very long distances to travel. However, when surgical outcomes might benefit from operations being carried out at specialist centres, we must differentiate day-to-day treatment from the more specialist care that may be required as a one-off surgical intervention. We should do that when the evidence stacks up that specialist centres for such surgical interventions often deliver better results and better care for patients. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to his local trust for the work that it does on cancer care in Worcester, which I know is very important to him personally.

I will now respond specifically to some of the points that have been made in the debate, and consider how we go forward from where we are now. Hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch, have made us well aware, through their articulate contributions, of the challenges that are faced by the local health care economy. Such ongoing uncertainty about the future of local health care services is wrong and completely undesirable. When local commissioners bring forward proposals for the two options that are likely to be considered later in the month, I urge them to move forward as promptly as possible to bring certainty to the situation. That will allow consideration of important issues, such as the need to have high-quality professionals working in hospitals. When there is uncertainty about the future of a trust or a particular site within a trust, it can be difficult, as my hon. Friend rightly outlined, to recruit high-quality staff to work in that trust. That is not in patients’ best interests, so the sooner we can have certainty, the better. I know my hon. Friend will join me in urging local commissioners to bring things forward as expediently and quickly as possible.

As we know, the trust is committed to providing the best-quality care for patients. That is essentially about finding the best solution for the people of Worcestershire so that they receive the best care in the future. As my hon. Friend outlined, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust and the West Mercia cluster have jointly commissioned a strategic review of services in the area. The review is essential to secure the clinical and financial sustainability of high-quality services for local people. That is about looking not just at getting through the next couple of years, but at what will be right for the local health economy in five or 10 years’ time.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern that there have been delays with the review, and I once again urge local commissioners to take things forward as expediently and quickly as possible. The Worcestershire joint services review started in January 2012, and it was expected to be completed by November 2012. I hope my hon. Friend is somewhat reassured that we will move forward more quickly, notwithstanding a patchy history on resolving local health care issues. There is a need for certainty locally, and we must make sure that the time line is met and that we have a firm conclusion.

Importantly, the review involves clinicians and commissioners across the area and the NHS. It engaged with local people last summer to inform the development of proposals. As we know, developing proposals for the future of local services is about clinical leadership and about clinicians saying what is important and in patients’ best interests, but it is also about local involvement and engagement. When I met my hon. Friend before Christmas, we discussed that. The local newspaper has played a tremendous role in promoting local patients’ needs. My hon. Friend and the local population should be proud of the cross-party consensus on the importance of Redditch’s future.

Through the review, local people will have made, and will continue to make, their voices and views clear. That is important for the Government and for our four tests for reconfiguration. It is also important that local health care providers, the local trust and the trust’s board listen to local people and local health commissioners to make sure that their views are informed by what local patients want and need and by what local clinicians say is in patients’ best interests.

The joint services review steering group met on 12 September 2012 and, unfortunately, decided to delay the process again until it could explore all options to allow it to maximise service provision at the Alexandra hospital, including investigating the potential to work with other NHS providers—Birmingham being a case in point.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Redditch and Bromsgrove clinical commissioning group has started initial discussions with three NHS providers in Birmingham to explore the feasibility of providing services from the Alexandra hospital: the University Hospitals of Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Birmingham Women’s NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Those discussions are still in their early stages. However, my hon. Friend is right that when proposals are brought forward—hopefully, by the end of this month—we should move things forward quickly for the benefit of local patients.

No decisions have been made, and the discussions are only about the Alexandra hospital—that needs to be clearly set on the record. The Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust would continue to provide all other services. Given the concerns my hon. Friends have raised, it is important to note that, although the services the trust provides need to be seen holistically, the ongoing discussions are about the specific future of Alex’s site in Redditch. That is an important distinction, and I hope it gives my hon. Friends some reassurance that any proposals are unlikely to disrupt local services to the patients they care about.

Ultimately, the decision is for local determination, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the discussions in further detail until we have firm proposals. We will continue to meet regularly. I am visiting Redditch in the near future, and will take a keen interest to make sure I can do all I can to support the right result for local patients.

The Minister will no doubt know what is coming: will he visit Kidderminster when he is next in Redditch?

I would be delighted to visit Kidderminster hospital. It might not be on the same day I visit Redditch, but I will make sure I put it on my list of priorities to visit. I would be delighted to see the excellent work done at Kidderminster hospital and, indeed, at Worcester, at some point in the near future. In addition to the bit of clinical work I still do, I prioritise going out on a Thursday as regularly as I can to see the NHS on the ground and to see what is going on. I would be delighted to visit other local trusts, when I can fit them into the diary, later in the year.

What are the next steps? If agreement is reached on a clinically and financially sustainable solution in the interests of local people, a robust process needs to follow. The Worcestershire joint services review steering committee will meet on 26 February to set out options for consultation. We are then likely to have two options regarding the way forward. One is likely to involve Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust continuing to operate services from the Alexandra hospital. The other is likely to involve exploring the feasibility of the Birmingham foundation trust operating services at Alexandra hospital, if that is in local people’s best interests.

The final proposals will require the support of the NHS in Worcestershire. However, the local NHS has assured me that it will continue to engage with people while proposals are finalised. Of course, I would expect any proposals to meet the four tests for service change that we have clearly outlined—principally, that any changes are clinically led and have strong patient and public engagement. The local NHS expects final proposals to be ready for public consultation later in the summer. However, it is vital, as we have stressed throughout the debate, that we hold those involved firmly to their task and reach a conclusion for the sake of staff and patient certainty and for the benefit of the local NHS.

As my hon. Friend will know, the local hospital is designated as part of a trust. It is a non-foundation trust, so there is direct regard to the Secretary of State in some matters relating to the trust. I hope that gives her some reassurance. Of course, the NHS is owned by all of us, which is why it was so important when we set out our four tests for reconfiguration that we made sure they were about strong clinical leadership in the best interests of patients, as well as strong patient and public engagement, so that patients and the public can clearly see that any changes to local services are in their best interests and so that they can properly engage in the process. There has been strong local feeling and opinion on this issue, and I am sure it will be listened to carefully when decisions are taken about the future.

In conclusion, I encourage my hon. Friends and local people to participate in the consultation process to ensure their views are fully taken into account. I will maintain a keen interest. I am looking forward to visiting each site in the trust in due course. I am always available to talk through matters if Members have concerns.

Sitting suspended.

Food Banks (Wales)

[Mrs Linda Riordan in the Chair]

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship this afternoon, Mrs Riordan. I am delighted and dismayed in equal measure to open this debate on food banks in Wales. I never thought, when I entered public life as a Cardiff councillor a long time ago, in 1991, that this topic would become a priority for discussion. I never thought I would see, in my time in public life, the rapid expansion of centres to hand out food to the people of Wales, on a scale unprecedented since the 1930s.

Of course, we from Wales have particularly strong and often bitter memories of the 1930s and of poverty. It was often said of my grandmother, Gwenllian Evans, a miner’s wife from Nantyglo, that she could spread an egg over Cardiff Arms park, such were her culinary skills of making a little go a long way. My mother, who is still alive today and living in Cwmbrân, often told me of the poverty that she grew up in, in the 1930s, in Nantyglo and the times when it was a struggle to feed the family.

I will in a moment. I am just warming up; once I have got into my stride, I will let the hon. Gentleman have a go.

It is for those reasons that I believe the provision of social security is such a strong theme in the history of Welsh politics, and that the rapid increase in food banks in Wales is particularly hard for us in Wales to take.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the history lesson as to what life was like under Ramsay MacDonald in the 1930s. Returning to the present, given the hon. Gentleman’s interest in food banks, why did no Labour Member of Parliament ask any questions about them during the entire period of the previous Labour Government?

It is because food banks were such a minuscule feature on the scene compared with what we see today, despite the Prime Minister’s erroneous use of statistics recently at Prime Minister’s Question Time, in an attempt to sidestep his failure to take note of the rise of food banks over a long period.

It is particularly apt to talk about the 1930s because we are reliving that period of austerity economics. The failures of, and false theories behind, austerity economics are being repeated. We might expect that from the Conservatives, but it is staggering that it is being repeated in the coalition by the party of John Maynard Keynes through its approach to the economy.

Will the hon. Gentleman concede that income inequality grew under previous Labour Governments, as it did under previous Conservative Governments?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the powerful world economic forces that have been at work in the past 20 years. It has almost been like King Canute all over again, trying to hold back the forces of international capitalism over the past 20 years and trying to keep income inequality down. The previous Labour Government did possibly more than any other Labour Government in attempting to alleviate that. For example, they introduced the national minimum wage, which made a massive contribution to trying to alleviate the impact of income inequality, which, in a globalised capitalist system, is difficult to resist.

Last year, in Wrexham, the first food bank was set up since I first came to Parliament in 2001. This April, the richest people in Britain will get a tax cut because of this coalition Government’s policies. That is the type of ethical approach taken by this Government.

Indeed. I am sure that other hon. Members will want to point out that, while this crisis is going on, the Government saw it as their priority to lower the income tax of the richest.

I will get a bit further into my stride before I let the hon. Gentleman have another go.

It is no coincidence that the three giants behind the creation of what became known as the welfare state came from Wales: David Lloyd George, Jim Griffiths and Aneurin Bevan. It is particularly ironic that the Government presiding over a policy that is helping to trigger the rapid expansion of food poverty and food charity for the poor are a Government who include members of the successor party to Lloyd George’s Liberals.

The hon. Gentleman calls into question whether the Lib Dems are the successor party. That is another debate for another day. Perhaps Lib Dem members of this Government should recall the words of David Lloyd George as we debate food banks and poverty. In presenting his “people’s Budget” 104 years ago, in 1909, he said:

“This…is a war Budget. It is for raising money to wage implacable warfare against poverty...I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away, we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty, and the wretchedness and human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests.”—[Official Report, 29 April 1909; Vol. 4, c. 548.]

I am afraid that under this Government, the wolves of poverty are back, along with the sharks who prey on the financial misfortunes of the poor with their high-rate loans.

Will my hon. Friend comment on a particular feature of the Neath food bank? Some 1,400 people in the Neath area are dependent on the food bank. Around half of those are in work. It is not solely people on benefits who are dependent on food banks; people in work are, too. The Wales Office website has still not taken down the Secretary of State’s commitment that people in work will always be better off than they would be on benefits. Those people are dependent on food banks in my constituency.

Indeed. In a recent debate led by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned that he had collected food for FareShare in Penarth. Many of the people being helped by the food bank were not the people one might expect, but people in work who were struggling to get by. The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) has been keen to intervene; I note that a new food bank has opened up in Chepstow. I am sure that he will pay it a visit shortly, if he has not already done so.

In Wales, the rapid expansion of food banks is a subject that resonates and rankles. It is symptomatic of an approach by the Government that represents a shift away from the British belief in the importance of social security, founded by the three great Welsh pioneers and symbolised by the old-age pension, national insurance and the national health service, and its replacement with the alien American concept of welfare stigmatism—the demonisation of the poor and the replacement of the state’s responsibility with the vagaries of the charitable handout. The good society has been gazumped by the ill-named “big society”, in which well-meaning individuals try to patch the gaping holes created by austerity economics.

Would it be too much to ask, on such a serious issue, that we steer away from the notion that all this started in May 2010? A food bank in west Wales, of which I am a patron, started in 2000 under the Labour Government. It is keen to stress that the argument that the hon. Gentleman is pushing is misleading.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was not accusing me of misleading the House, because you, Mrs Riordan, would have stamped on him if he had done so. My argument is not that food banks are bad things, or that their work is bad—it is not; it is good. What is wrong is the scale of the work that they have to do because of austerity economics and the rise in the cost of living, which are direct results of this Government’s policies. The Government made the ideological choice to follow an austerity economics policy—

I am still speaking.

The Government are following an austerity economics policy, rather than making the economic choice, as they could have done, to deal with the deficit in a way that would not have led to such poor growth and its consequences.

The hon. Gentleman may know that nine of the 23 food banks in Wales opened in the past 12 months.

The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. That is what is so unfortunate about the Prime Minister’s attempt to use statistical shenanigans to disguise the fact that the real issue is the sheer number of people who now have to go to food banks. I compare that with the charitable aid that was on offer under the previous Government, and that will always be present in our society, one way or another, which is to be welcomed. It is the scale of what is being done, not what is being done, that is most important.

In Swansea, tonnes and tonnes of food are being gathered every month for the food bank, and thousands of people are affected. My hon. Friend will be aware that some 30,000 people now rely on food banks in Wales. What is his projection for after April, when 40,000 people will be affected by the second-bedroom tax? Does he agree that the least well-off will be worse off and relying on food banks?

I will not make a projection, but I am sure the Minister will want to do so, because, of course, he should be very concerned about the impact of the Government’s changes. No doubt he has done a considerable amount of work on the issue raised by my hon. Friend, and he will perhaps say something about it when he winds up the debate.

This is my second and last intervention. Will the hon. Gentleman express a view on a comment made by the 17-year-old food bank in west Wales?

“Statistics are misleading because it takes time to build up referrals and to be known about. The huge increase in recent years should not be taken as being the same thing as a huge increase in need.”

Those are not my comments; they are the comments of a food bank. Will the hon. Gentleman include them in the context of his argument?

Obviously other people assess the need, and not the food bank itself—the vouchers are brought along to the food bank. I cannot comment on the hon. Gentleman’s local food bank, of which I am sure he has a better knowledge than I do; I can comment on my local food bank, however. I have heard stories from other hon. Members, and I have seen evidence from across the country. He is burying his head in the sand if he does not think that the vast expansion of food banks is happening because of the impact of austerity economics, welfare benefit changes and the cost of living.

We called this debate to set the record straight on the growing use of food banks in Wales and to highlight the cost of living crisis facing hundreds of thousands of Welsh families.

I am here to listen to the debate because I have constituents who work in Wales, and there are people from Wales who come to work in my constituency. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) highlighted, the issue is as much about people in work as about people out of work. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) share my concern about the explosion of the issue? We have heard about the growth in the number of food banks in Wales, but nationally, a couple of hundred food banks have opened across the UK. By the end of April, 250,000 people in our country will have accessed emergency food aid. Does he not think that is a terrible indictment in 2013 in the seventh most industrialised nation in the world?

I do, and I apologise in advance if I repeat some of those statistics later. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in Liverpool, which is sometimes wrongly referred to as the capital of north Wales, although it certainly has a strong Welsh influence. I recommend to Government Members the YouTube video that she made showing the impact of food banks and of the Government’s policies on the people in her constituency. The video is worth viewing.

The number of people relying on food banks in Wales has trebled over the past year, rising from just over 10,000 to just under 30,000. The issue is the sheer scale of numbers, not the percentage increase. The number, as hon. Members have said, is forecast to rise to 40,000 a year over the next 12 months. The growth of food bank usage in Wales is twice the UK average, which the Minister should think about.

The Government, however, will not acknowledge that the growth in food bank usage is a problem. A Downing street source recently said that food banks are for people who

“feel they need a bit of extra food”.

Let us pause for a moment to consider the casual callousness of that comment, because, like many MPs, I find myself reluctantly handing out food vouchers to my constituents from my constituency office and surgeries, and I never thought I would when I entered public life. I assure Downing street and the Prime Minister that not one of those vouchers has been issued to, nor have I ever been approached by, constituents who

“feel they need a bit of extra food”.

Constituents approach me because they are desperate and do not know how they are going to feed their children this weekend. In short, they are in a crisis and the state is not there to provide immediate assistance.

Like me, I am sure my hon. Friend finds that, when he hands out food vouchers, not everyone who comes to him is a malingerer or a scrounger. There are people who have delayed benefit payments and are being denied the money they need to help keep their family in food and heating.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that, in many cases, the reason why people are unable to feed their family that weekend is that there is no benefit. They have fallen upon a crisis in their life and there is no immediate assistance available. They have been told they will have to wait for some considerable time, and they are unable to access a crisis loan of any kind, which is why they come to us. We are handing out vouchers so they can get some food for the weekend. That is the reality. It is not a lifestyle choice, though the tone of the comments from No. 10 Downing street suggests it is. They do not want a free box of tinned or dried food to top up their adequately stocked pantries; they are using food banks because of the cost of living crisis that is facing families across the UK.

My hon. Friend is generous in giving way, and I will not seek to intervene on him any further. We know from questions asked just before Christmas that neither the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor nor Ministers from the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have visited a food bank. Does my hon. Friend agree that had any of those Ministers, including the Prime Minister, been to a food bank, we would not have heard those comments from No. 10?

Yes, I suspect my hon. Friend is right. I am sure the Minister has visited a food bank and will say what impression it made on him. What were his feelings on visiting the food bank?

Government policies such as the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, the VAT hike and the bedroom tax are making the crisis worse. I hope the Minister will distance himself from the comments we have heard from Downing street and acknowledge that Government policies are making things worse, not better, for hundreds of thousands of families across Wales.

There is no VAT on food, so the VAT change did not affect the price of food, which is important to remember.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I am aware of that fact, but he will find that families spend their money on things that do attract VAT, which has a direct impact on their disposable income and, therefore, on their ability to buy food.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Visitors to food banks in my constituency tell me that, because they are paying VAT on other things, particularly on peripheral items such as fuel, they have less money to spend on food. That is the reason why they come into food banks for the first time. Those people are in work and often work long hours.

Yes, indeed. That is a continuing process. The consumer prices index figures were released today. CPI is 2.7%, which is 1.2 percentage points above rises in income for people in work. There is an impact on everyone, including people in work. As we know, as VAT is a regressive tax, it has the greatest impact on those on the lowest incomes. Also, because their marginal propensity to consume is much higher than that of people on higher incomes, VAT is a particularly hard tax on them.

Some 90% of the food in food banks is donated, mainly by the public via supermarkets, Churches, community centres, schools and other organisations. I pay tribute to the efforts of food banks, many of which are run by the Trussell Trust, including the one in Ely in my constituency, which I have visited. They are intended as a crisis intervention for families in need. As I said in response to an intervention, the problem is not what food banks do but the scale on which they must now do it.

Food goes to distribution centres, where food bank volunteers gather, weigh, account for and issue the food. Food is issued only to recipients with vouchers, and vouchers are issued by front-line service officers trained in the assessment of need. Issuing organisations include, among others, citizens advice bureaux, Jobcentre Plus, GP surgeries, social services, housing officers and now, as I said earlier, Members of Parliament and, I suspect, Welsh Assembly Members, too.

A voucher gives just over three days’ worth of food, and vouchers are typically issued in batches of three. As we heard, the trust operates 23 food banks across Wales, nine of which opened in the last year, and four more are expected to open in Wales by Easter this year. There are now more than 270 food banks across the UK. In 2011, some 7,173 adults and 4,038 children in Wales used a food bank, and in 2012, the numbers rose to 18,721 adults and 10,328 children. The trust forecasts that the number of people relying on food banks in Wales will rise to 40,000 next year.

The trust collates information about the people using food banks. The consistent main reason cited for using a food bank, accounting for between 40% and 45% of usage, is benefit changes and delays in benefit payments. About one quarter of usage is accounted for by low-income families, and about one tenth by debt. As we have heard, food bank usage has exploded over the past two to three years. It is sad but typical that the Prime Minister recently tried to suggest that food banks expanded by a greater amount under the last Government than under this one; that abuse of statistics was skewered by Channel 4’s feature, “FactCheck”, which I recommend to hon. Members.

The trust forecasts that this year, 250,000 people across the UK will use a food bank. Hundreds of thousands of Welsh families face a cost of living crisis worsened by the Government’s policies, including welfare changes that are likely to make the crisis even worse. The Welfare Up-rating Bill alone will hit 400,000 low and middle-income households in Wales, including 170,000 families in Wales who currently receive working tax credits. It is estimated that 140,000 people in Wales will be worse off under the Government’s change to universal credit and 40,000 will be hit by the bedroom tax; I know that hon. Members are already getting a lot of traffic in their surgeries about that issue.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has shown that between 2010 and 2013, inflation will have risen by 16%, whereas average earnings will have risen by just half that, or 8%. The TUC estimates that four-year wage stagnation will cost the average worker £6,000. Wales has some of the highest energy bills in the UK, and more families are having to choose between heating and eating. As I said, the VAT hike alone added £450 a year to average household bills. Low economic growth has created fewer opportunities, and unemployment is forecast to rise in the next two years. Public sector job losses are forecast to reach 1 million by 2017. Meanwhile, in April, the Government will give more than 8,000 millionaires an average tax cut of £107,000, and the top 4,000 earners in Wales will benefit from a cut in the additional rate of income tax.

I have a few questions that I hope the Minister will answer in his response. What does he think best explains the explosion in food bank use in Wales? Is it the cost of living crisis facing Welsh families, or the notion that more people have suddenly decided that they want a bit of extra food, to quote No. 10? On the “Politics Show” this weekend, the Welsh Office Minister in the House of Lords, Baroness Randerson, said that the Government are reducing the deficit in the fairest possible way. What exactly is fair about the bedroom tax, which will hit 40,000 people in Wales while taxes are cut for millionaires? What impact does the Minister think the Welfare Up-rating Bill will have on the number of people in Wales relying on food banks? Has he made any estimate of that?

Does the Minister agree that the growing number of food banks in Wales is a symptom of the cost of living crisis facing Welsh families? Does he accept that the Government’s failure to get the economy moving is likely to have led more people to rely on food banks? What does he think the expansion of food bank usage in Wales and across the UK tells us about the success or otherwise of the Government’s policies? Does he think that the number of people in Wales who rely on food banks is likely to rise or fall over the next two years? I hope that he has made some estimate in preparation for this debate.

We never thought to see the return of the charity handout as a mass means of feeding the poor in Wales. Is the Minister proud of his Government’s big society, or ashamed of its small-minded demonisation of the poor?

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) on securing this important debate and on his compelling contribution, in which he painted a stark picture. As he said, the Government’s response to the increasing despair among Opposition Members about the growth of food banks has been to say that food banks grew under the last Labour Government, that they are a sign of the big society, that they are somewhere for people to go if, as the Downing street source said,

“they need a bit of extra food”,

and that we should thank them for the work that they do. I certainly agree with the last part. I thank Raven House Trust and King’s Church in Newport, which do a superb job with the little resource that they have. They are hugely dedicated, and I thank the volunteers in local churches who collect on their behalf. I am not sure that I know what a big society is, but I can certainly recognise examples of the good society operating in Newport.

As my hon. Friend said, we must all agree that the huge growth in food banks is sobering and a terrible reflection on how bad things have become. Raven House Trust, based in my constituency, became a charity in 1994, helping Newport’s homeless with furniture and food. In December, it gave out 850 food parcels, and this week it told me that in the last six months of last year, it had seen a marked increase in demand due to welfare changes, and that it is bracing itself for a dramatic increase from April. That trend is confirmed by the Trussell Trust, which is based in Newport and operates food banks elsewhere. It says, as my hon. Friend said, that 40% to 45% of those who ask for help do so because of changes to benefits and delays in benefit payments, although, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) said, many working families on low pay are also in need.

Everyone who needs a food parcel will have a different story, but it is true to say that those in desperate need and asking for help have often been the homeless, those with drug and alcohol problems and, in my area, asylum seekers. That is absolutely awful, but Raven House says that, increasingly, families with children are relying on food banks to survive. Changes to the benefit system—which often leave people with reduced payments while claims are processed—low pay and rising fuel and energy bills are causing the cost of living to rise the fastest for the poorest households.

On that issue, does my hon. Friend agree that the online delivery of universal credit will mean that many families, who are vulnerable and often dysfunctional—some people have mental illnesses, and many do not have access to computers—will have no benefits, leading to a massive escalation in poverty, hunger and reliance on food banks?

My hon. Friend is right. Yesterday, as he will know, we heard evidence from charities working with people with mental health issues in Wales. They said that for their clients, not being able to do things online was a huge problem, as many clients had difficulties opening the letters. That is a big issue.

Recently, food banks in my constituency have seen a marked change and desperate need. Let us remember that families must be referred by an agency or an advocate, such as a citizens advice bureau, social services, Newport City Homes, Women’s Aid, and others. However, help is not unlimited. People are expected to use the parcels to tide them over and get back on their feet.

The picture is much the same at King’s Church, which collects food to donate back out to agencies. When it set up it did not feel best placed to assess the need, and did not want to interrupt the established process between, say, a social worker and their client. It collects the food to pass on to agencies, which decide who to give it to. King’s Church opened in 2009 and at that stage gave out 50 food hampers a month. It has expanded the areas it covers across south Wales and now gives out in excess of 1,200 a month.

In 2012, King’s Church gave out 12,500 hampers. It expects to deliver 18,000 in 2013 and forecasts a need for 24,000 in 2014. It is important to remember that in the King’s Church model the official agencies identify the need. Demand is going up. King’s Church feels that it is just scratching the surface. Both King’s Church and Raven House are gearing up for the benefits changes, and we can see why. A study by Bron Afon housing association into those affected by the bedroom tax in Torfaen quotes tenants—it visited every one of them—saying that they would rather go without meals to find the money to stay in their home. Teachers report seeing hungry pupils each day and food banks are working with schools.

Providers in my constituency know that things will get worse. The trend has been a steep rise in demand, even before the Government’s austerity measures really hit. When FareShare Cymru, which is based in Cardiff and does an excellent job, is reporting that charities are finding it hard to pay the membership fee to join its organisation, and that it is finding it difficult to maintain the service, the Government need to open their eyes to see how their policies are hurting. They should not just make flippant remarks about people getting an extra bit of food.

First, I should like to deal with comments made to me directly by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). I received an invitation to visit a food bank in Chepstow, but it was during the parliamentary week and I made it clear that I was unable to take a day off from here. I am more than happy to visit it at any time, however, and I hope that that will be arranged.

Of course there is poverty. There is poverty in Monmouthshire and in the whole of Wales. I spent many years in the Welsh Assembly making the point that there is a great deal of poverty in Monmouthshire, although that usually fell on deaf ears among Labour Members of the Welsh Assembly, who assured me, practically, that the place was full of millionaires, although it never has been and it certainly is not at the moment. There is a great deal of poverty in rural areas. I hope that matter will be addressed.

One of the most important things that can be done to address this matter is dealing with the completely unfair local government funding formula, brought about by the Welsh Assembly in about 2000, which has caused a catastrophic loss in income for local authorities, particularly those in rural areas. As the hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware, the local government funding formula for Wales, introduced by a Labour Welsh Assembly Government in about 2000, does not take proper account of the costs of dealing with rurality or the extra costs involved when trying to deliver goods and services in rural areas, and it does not take proper account of the age of the population. Sadly, those who live longer are much more likely to incur costs on the local authority than those of us who are younger and in better health. If those two issues were addressed in the local government funding formula, it would go a long way towards stamping out poverty in parts of Wales, particularly in the rural areas. I hope that the hon. Gentleman joins me in campaigning against that disgraceful, unfair local government funding formula, which did so much to remove cash from rural areas of Wales.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will mention food banks in a moment. He has dealt with the local authorities, but will he not accept that those are under strain now because of the cuts that the Westminster Government have made to revenue and capital grants to local authorities?

I will certainly come to it. I am jumping in rather quickly by not mentioning the 1930s and the Ramsay MacDonald Government, during which time my family were miners, but I wanted to start from 2000. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) knows that local authorities in Wales are funded by the Welsh Assembly, and its funding has remained in line with inflation.

Well, one problem is that the Welsh Assembly has found it easy to raise money—taxation through the back door—by reducing the amount of money, proportionately, that it gives to local authorities throughout Wales and expecting them to raise the difference in council tax. The hon. Gentleman will know how the gearing effect works: a small cut in the amount given to the local authority by the Welsh Assembly will result in a much larger increase, proportionately, in council tax to make up the difference.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West mentioned the 50% tax cut for millionaires, a great line that he repeated a number of times. Of course, this came about because Governments of left and right since the 1980s, across the whole world, have accepted—

Mrs Riordan, my apologies.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the 50% tax cut for millionaires several times. That was introduced to increase the amount of revenue that the Government have, and it was certainly not put in place during the previous Government.

The reality is that there is poverty in the whole United Kingdom; there always has been and I assume that there probably always will be. The Government have an enormous problem dealing with the economy at the moment, as a result of the deficit and debt that they inherited when they took over in 2010.

The hon. Gentleman loosely referred to the relationship between local government and food banks. Does he accept that the Welsh Government, by paying for the 20% cut that will be imposed in England on council tax, which would cost the average person on housing benefit in Wales some £5, have done a lot to try to stem the flow of people having to go to food banks, and have put money back into the pockets of the poorest at a time when his Government are taking money out of their pockets?

The Government are not taking money out of the pockets of anyone that they do not have to. The people whose pockets have been picked most under this Government are those in the very wealthy bracket, who are now paying more, proportionately, of total tax revenue than they were under the previous Government. I do not follow the hon. Gentleman’s question.

I have already said that there is a huge problem with council tax in Wales. In Monmouthshire, where we have a food bank, council tax has risen more than anywhere in the whole of Wales. It has risen by more than virtually anywhere else in the entire country. Monmouthshire receives less funding per head than any other local authority in Wales, by quite a long way.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West mentioned the economy, which of course is crucial in this regard. He talked about the forces of global capitalism. I was struck by the fact that the economic problems of the previous Government were always said to be the fault of the invisible hand of global capitalism, which perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not support, although I thought that most members of his party these days did. Yet the economic problems that we now face are apparently nothing to do with the previous Government and nothing to do with global capitalism, but all down to the policies being followed at the moment. That is incorrect.

The problems that we have are simple. We owe £1 trillion on the books and probably the same amount again in figures that are kept off the books—public sector pensions, private finance initiatives, and so on—and we have to find a way of paying it back. Instead of paying it back at the moment, we are borrowing £120 billion a year from the banks.

I listened to the hon. Gentleman talk passionately about poverty, and we had more crocodile tears than in the Limpopo valley of South Africa, where 24,000 crocodiles escaped from a farm last week, according to the press. We did not hear the hon. Gentleman mention one single thing that he wanted to do about any of this—not one solution.

The solution is simple. We need to create the conditions that will allow growth, prosperity and jobs to be created in this country. We will not do it by borrowing money, levying higher taxes on people or printing money. We will do it by getting the deficit under control and starting to pay back some of the enormous national debt, which was created by Labour Members. That is how we will create growth in this country. That is what the Government are doing, and they have my 100% support.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for securing the debate.

In Swansea East, we have a food bank that started off covering one area of Swansea, but then had to stretch its services right across the city because of the increase in people who needed its help. I have worked closely with the food bank from day one, and I have come to know the volunteers and have seen the dedication and effort they put into their work. They are very clear about why they have to do that work: they have to fill a gap the Government have created. There are pressures on our communities and on family incomes. It is not just the unemployed we are talking about; hard-pressed, hard-working families also need help.

I give out vouchers every day, and it is frightening how many more I now have to allocate. In the beginning, my staff and I kept a stock of perhaps five bags of dried goods on hand in our storeroom, and we would hand them out if a hardship case came in. In the run-up to Christmas, however, we were going to our local food bank at Gorseinon every day, and we were bringing back bagfuls of food for people who really needed help.

When I intervened on my hon. Friend, I talked about why people come to us for help. They do not come because they fancy a change in their menu or some of the nice extras that might be in the bag, but because they have nothing left in the cupboard. That is not because they are poor copers or have not managed their income properly, but because something has happened that means they need immediate help. That is where the food bank comes in.

We have heard a lot of facts, figures and statistics about food banks in Wales and across the UK. Every week, when my staff and I sit down and talk about what happened in the preceding week, we think, “Thank goodness we can turn to the food bank.” We are not being romantic about it; going to the food bank is just a fact for many people.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Did she see the Salvation Army briefing for the debate? It said the development of the food bank movement

“may lead to a level of dependency which small community projects are simply unable to meet. This concern comes from the experience of churches in North America who find that food banks have become part of the welfare system.”

Is the point not that we are danger of going down the American route of using charity, rather than social security, which is the British way?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I agree entirely. It is a worry that there is this alternative to the benefits system. We understand all the stresses and strains in the economy, and we know that there are huge pressures and increasing demands on income, but we just cannot let people fall behind. A measure of any good society or state is how it looks after its weakest, poorest and most vulnerable. I am ashamed to say that we are not doing a good job with some of the hard-pressed people I meet.

In Swansea, the demand on food banks has increased, and not just over Christmas. In September and October, they distributed two tonnes of food, which I am sure equates to many dozens of bags. It is hard even to grasp the idea of weighing out two tonnes of food on to pallets. Thank goodness the Churches and schools were having their harvest festivals; it meant we met the demand. However, we were really concerned about Christmas. I was so concerned, and the issues raised with me were so concerning, that I went to local employers and shopkeepers and asked, “Will you donate food?” The response was magnificent, and we got the additional food. Through a concerted effort with other organisations in Swansea, we managed to help people over the Christmas period.

It is no fun if someone has not had their benefit payment, and if paying bills has taken the food out of their mouths. That is the reality: people are robbing Peter to pay Paul. Will they heat the house? Will they put food in their children’s mouths? I am worried—I hope the Minister will respond to this point—about the one in 10 people in Wales who tell us they have skipped a meal to feed other members of their family. They are not making that up, and that is a serious issue.

Does my hon. Friend agree that when the law is changed, and tenants, not landlords, receive housing benefit under universal credit, there is a real danger, under conditions of increasing pressure in which people do not have enough food to feed the family, that people will end up being evicted, because they feel they have to feed their children? There is now greater reliance on food banks, but we are building a time bomb of problems in terms of hunger, homelessness and devastation in many of our communities.

I agree. It is a ticking time bomb. It is not wrong to use terms such as “explosion” or “huge growth”. I do not know where this will end. When constituents are sitting in front of me, and we are wading through the complex new rules and regulations, we solve one problem, but we are left with a raft of other problems. I often have to tell people, “Hold on now. I do not have the answer yet.” That is the biggest issue in my postbag. There are many fearful people out there; they are really worried about what is happening to them and about the changes we have heard about—the bedroom tax, the changes under universal credit and the changes to the designation of who can receive disability living allowance—but I do not have all the answers. However, I do know that there will be more and more problems, and I meet more and more fearful people.

Food is not a luxury, but an essential of life. We all like to have a good diet, and we all enjoy certain foods. People are not receiving luxury items, but the staples and the basics of life. Their circumstances are putting huge pressure on their daily incomes.

We already have particular problems in Wales, and we all know about the problems we have had historically and geographically. We have lower incomes. The Office for National Statistics says that pay has fallen by £80 per month on average. That puts pressure on people. There are more cuts and changes to be implemented. As I said, I meet people who are very fearful. They are worried about this poverty explosion.

The number of people using food banks is a good indicator of what we need to do. We need a solid plan from the Government to get us out of this mess. We do not want false promises or denials of what is happening in our constituencies. The situation will not improve unless we have direct Government intervention. That means that we must take responsibility for people on benefits. We should not see them as an easy and quick way of saving money. We must think not necessarily of inflating people’s quality of life and standard of living, but about ensuring that people receive a decent basic wage and decent basic income.

Every day I hear about constituents losing their jobs, or about benefits that have been delayed or crisis loans failing to appear. As I have said, the changes to the welfare system are huge and will have far-reaching effects. We have a maze of new rules and regulations to go through. I am working at the moment with other bodies—the local authority, charities and Citizens Advice. We are all picking our way through and trying to come up with something practical for our constituents. No sooner do we get to the bottom of things than more changes are made.

I echo a question that has already been put: is that what we want in modern Britain? I do not want to be melodramatic and talk about Victorian soup kitchens and going back to handouts–

I have nearly come to the end of my speech. The reality in today’s Britain is that decent, hard-working families are forced to seek help from food banks, and that is what I find unacceptable.

Order. I intend to call the Minister and the shadow Minister at 20 minutes to 4, and there are three more hon. Members who want to speak. If remarks are kept brief, all three will get in.

It is ironic that we are debating this subject on pancake Tuesday. I am reminded of a song that we used to sing when we were kids, which my grandmother taught my mother. If hon. Members will forgive the Welsh, it went like this:

“Mae mam rhy dlawd i brynu blawd

A’m tad rhy wael i weithio”.

It translates as “My mother is too poor to buy the flour and my father is too ill to work.” Considering the dependence on food banks and the ravages that Atos is wreaking on our constituencies, those are chilling words. I will not say anything melodramatic, either, about Victorian values, but as I was on my way here it occurred to me that the words of that song had a message for us.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) on securing the debate. As he said, there are 23 food banks in Wales, and four of them are in north Wales. They operate in disadvantaged areas, although I am sometimes at a loss to decide which areas of Wales are disadvantaged and which are not, given that disadvantage is so widespread. As I said in an intervention, nine food banks were opened in the past 12 months, and I understand that there are a further four in development. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the number of adults and children who have at some point been dependent on food banks. The significant fact is that in 2011 there were 11,000 people in that position, and in 2012 there were 29,000; 2,500 families a month were referred in 2011, and in December 2012 that figure was nearly 5,000. There is a trend there.

The main reasons why people go to food banks, as we know, are that they have benefit problems: either their benefits are not paid, or they are paid late. That accounts for almost half the people who go to food banks. Others go because of debt or because they are homeless. Significantly, about 20% of those who go to food banks are working poor people. As someone else said, these are not the scroungers of the popular newspapers. The growth of food banks in Wales is a symptom of a much more fundamental problem: the growing inequality that I mentioned earlier, and a failure of wages and incomes to match the ever-increasing cost of living. There is a fundamental mismatch between people’s wages and what they need to pay for such basics as shelter, warmth, food, and clothing.

Food banks currently provide a vital short-term service and are not a long-term solution, even for the individual who goes to them. That must be borne in mind, if we think that there will be more dependence on food banks. However, they can be a life-saving service. I was glad to open the food bank in my constituency last year, and to meet the good people who give their time and effort to make the place work in the service of their fellow citizens. Their aims and the outcomes that they achieve are entirely laudable, but this is a matter on which the Government should lead. Food banks, if we have them at all, should supplement public provision; they should be a marginal support. It is astonishing, and a disgrace, that in the second decade of the 21st century, when we produce more food than we consume, and after all the advances that have been made in science and technology, we cannot make sure that people get sufficient food.

Food banks, obviously, are a marker of inequality. As I have said, benefits and tax credits have not risen in line with real inflation. However, in Wales there has also been a consistent decline in economic performance and in people’s ability to buy the food they need. The figures are quite stark: Wales’s gross value added per head compared to the UK average in 1997 was 78.1%, and in 2011 it was 75.2%—a decline of about 3%. For west Wales and the valleys—the poorest areas as defined by the European Union—the figure was 67.2% in 1997. It is now 65% and it is, alas, on the way down. Recent analysis by the Resolution Foundation has shown that between 1975 and 2010, the average annual year-on-year change for the bottom 10% was only 0.2%; for the top 1% there was a 2.4% year-on-year increase. Thus there is local decline, and also a decline in relation to class and income sector. As I have said, inequality grew, and has been growing since the 1970s. Some of that was perhaps partly affected by Mrs Thatcher’s policies, but that growth has been consistent.

Unfortunately, average household income in Wales is 12% lower than in the country as a whole. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has forecast that Welsh economic growth will continue to lag 0.5% behind that of the UK as a whole; so there is a substantial historical problem that is growing. Food banks are not the answer to all that. The remedies are fairly easy to list: we need better economic growth and income distribution, particularly in the poorest areas. We in Plaid support the living wage, as we supported the minimum wage. We need to take steps to end fuel and food poverty.

I will not ask the Minister a long list of questions that he would find it difficult to answer, or demand that he fleece the rich and distribute the largesse to the poor, which he is clearly not in a position to do. I want to ask him for a tiny little step. Let us see whether as a matter of good will he can reply for the Government. It is about something that my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Mr Weir) and I have been pursuing recently: a small step in relation to winter fuel payments. In response to an intervention by the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), the hon. Member for Cardiff West talked about the importance of disposable income. If people could spend a bit less on fuel they would have a bit more to spend on food, so I ask the Government for a commitment to pay winter fuel payments a bit earlier. Then older people and people with disabilities would get their money to spend earlier in the year, and could get a better deal on coal or a tank of gas or oil. It is not a huge thing, and it would not cost a lot. Will the Minister give a positive answer to that question, as a measure of good will?

A last, brief point—but an important one—is that Wales is not a unique case in the UK or the European Union. We must look beyond our borders and Europe’s borders, and fight to provide food security for people all over the world.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mrs Riordan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) on securing an important debate.

Sometimes in debates about food banks, or poverty—urban or rural—I get the feeling that Government Members think we make things up or exaggerate them.

The accusation is not that the Opposition party is making things up, but that it is forgetting history, rewriting it and ignoring its own part in a situation that is desperate for many people in Wales.

The hon. Gentleman has summed up my absolute frustration with the House since I came into this place. All those on the Government Benches seem to want to do is look into the past and blame the Labour Government for everything. I simply ask him to put himself in this position: if tonight someone cannot afford to feed his family, because he finds that he has no food and that his children are screaming for food, will they care whose fault it is? What they care about is where their next meal is coming from. Often in this House, we look more interested in trying to win cheap political points than in bringing about real political change for people who are suffering.

Instead of emotion, I am looking forward to something I have not heard so far, which is someone telling us what exactly Labour policy would be. How much extra would a Labour Government borrow? How much extra money would they print? What would they add to the national debt to spend money and resolve the problem?

Were the hon. Gentleman to let me carry on with my speech, rather than intervening in my first couple of minutes, I might have been able to develop that argument. Surely it is a damning indictment of any Government when food banks increase threefold; 22,000 meals were provided by food banks in Gwent in the past year. That is equivalent to a third of the people living in my constituency. Food banks are a damning indictment of Government policies, but they are only a symptom of Government policies.

I had a briefing recently from Caerphilly borough council’s housing department, in which we talked about the effect of the bedroom tax. Single parents whose child is not living with them will not be able to have the child stay over with them. Disabled people will have to leave their homes, even though they have made adjustments, because they have an extra bedroom; otherwise, it will cost them £91 extra, which will have an effect on what they can spend on utilities and food. They are being driven to food banks.

I remember the Welfare Reform Bill going through; everyone was labelled a scrounger just because they were claiming benefits, even though six in 10 people in work are claiming benefits. That is happening an awful lot. We are not talking about the people we might traditionally think of—the ones talked about by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), such as drug addicts or alcoholics who need food. We are talking about people in work, and that is a damning indictment. Unless there is some change, we are writing off another generation.

I grew up in the ’80s; my father left home when I was 11 and my mother brought me up as a single parent. I could list the things my mother would do with a tin of corned beef to feed us throughout the week; we had corned beef fritters, corned beef stew, and corned beef pie. She even made bread-and-butter pudding out of sandwiches that we had not eaten. Yet she was not faced with the problems that people face now. It is all very well to quote statistics, and it is easy to do that, but what does it mean for children going to school hungry? They are being written off before they even start. They do not have the tools intellectually, because they are too hungry to do school work.

We need to think about radical solutions. Rather than pigeonholing people as benefit scroungers, let us talk about individual need. If I find myself out of work, I have different needs from someone who has not worked for a long time. It is no good the Government saying, “We need to make cuts.” The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) thinks that we need to make more cuts and that the Government are on the right path— he is nodding away—but if we cut someone’s job, we increase the welfare bill. If we cut the welfare bill through welfare reform, we are putting pressure on charities and others who are helping with handouts. Sooner or later, whether the Government like it or not, someone will have to pick up the bill when the charity has gone under or when the volunteer cannot do the work any more. It will be left to the Government to pick it up.

I would like to have developed the argument further, but someone else wants to speak, so I will give them the last five minutes.

I thank the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) for being so gracious as to allow me five minutes to contribute to the debate.

First, importantly, the work done by food banks is appreciated by all Members of the House. The political reasons behind the creation of food banks might be debated passionately, but their work is most welcome. I do not have a food bank in my constituency, but my children have contributed to and collected for the one in the constituency of the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams). We applaud food banks, because they show a community coming together to support the most vulnerable.

What is missing from the debate, however, is any attempt by the Labour party in Wales to provide a context. It has been a self-indulgent debate in many ways, in which attacks on Government welfare policies have been made completely out of context. We heard no comments whatever on the fact that in April 2007 there was one food bank in Wales, but by May 2010 there were 10; now there are 24 to 26, depending on which statistics are accepted, but the reasons are much more complicated than changes to benefits. If we look at benefits payments in Wales, my understanding is that when the Labour party came to government in 1997, the average employment and support allowance payment for a benefits recipient was 20% of the Welsh average income. By 2010, when the Labour party left power, that proportion was down to 17.2%, and it has since increased to 17.6%. Last year, benefits went up by 5.5%, the highest for some time.

We have to provide the context for why household budgets are being challenged. They are being challenged by forces beyond the control of any Government. Food prices have gone up 27% between 2007 and 2012; that is beyond the control of the Government. When I was in Washington last year, a crisis was hitting corn prices because of drought in the mid-west, but that type of thing is not in the control of our Government. Look at electricity and fuel prices. Prices are subject to VAT at 5%, just as they were throughout the entire period of the Labour Administration, yet electricity prices have doubled and gas prices have tripled since 2000. No Government can deal with that type of effect on people’s household incomes. No Government can respond in a sufficient manner to that type of price increase, which is beyond the control of any Government.

All we have heard from the Labour party have been accusations that all the difficulties were caused by Government changes. Time and again it is Government changes, even when those changes have not yet been implemented. We heard a lot about the so-called bedroom tax that will affect people’s incomes; it has not yet been implemented. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) talked about the effect of universal credit; it has not yet been implemented. Blatantly political views have been expressed about people in desperate situations in Wales in order to score party political points. I find that most disappointing.

Even worse, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), who is no longer in his place, stated that the coalition was responsible for cutting taxes to the wealthiest in society while punishing the poorest. That came from a Member who, I gather, voted to get rid of the 10% tax rate for the lowest paid in society and who was quite happy for capital gains tax to be paid at 18% by the wealthiest City financiers while their cleaners paid 22% tax. Those are the realities of what happened under Labour, but not a single comment has been made in the debate about that atrocious track record.

The worst thing that came out of the debate was the comment by an Opposition Member that we were creating a dependency culture. Labour Members are from a party that has been in government in Wales more or less since the end of the first world war, whether locally or nationally, and from a party that has failed Wales time and again, creating ghettoes of inequality within Wales. I cannot comprehend how they can with a straight face make the accusation that the coalition Government have, in two years, created a dependency culture. I find that staggering and unacceptable.

My final point is that this Government have presided over the creation of more than 1 million jobs in the private sector. Last week, a constituent on £71 jobseeker’s allowance visited me. That is no way to live—I am the first to acknowledge it, and I think every single Member in the Chamber would acknowledge that they could not and would not want to live on £71 a week. That is why it is so important for the Work programme and the support offered by the Government to get people back into employment. That is the real way to deal with the issue—not by point scoring about changes to this benefit or that benefit, but by acknowledging that a life on benefits is not something we should aspire to as a country. It is not something I aspire to for the people of Wales.

Time and again, we have heard from the Opposition party that everything would be okay if there were a Labour level of spending on benefits and welfare. The Government have much more ambition for the people of Wales. We want them to have the opportunity to work and take themselves out of poverty, not through dependence on the state but through their own efforts, and that is what we are creating.

We have had a wide-ranging debate in which many extremely important points were made. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) on securing the debate. He reminded us of the strong tradition in Wales of translating our concern for the well-being of each and every member of our communities into reforms in society that enshrine the dignity of the individual by organising our collective wealth for the good of all, whether through the pension reforms of Lloyd George, the creation of the NHS by Aneurin Bevan or the far-reaching reforms of my predecessor, Jim Griffiths. Those things were done precisely so that people would not have to rely on handouts such as those given by food banks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) paid tribute to FareShare Cymru and to the King’s church in her constituency, and made the point that food banks are well run, with proper systems of referral for those in genuine need. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) spoke of her personal experience helping people who are in distressing circumstances. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) raised the issue of rural poverty and the widespread nature of deprivation. He contrasted the wealth of food produced with the abject failure to distribute wealth and food equitably.

The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) focused on the formula used to distribute money—the rate support grant—to local councils in Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) emphasised the dire need that many people find themselves in, and the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) did not come up with a solution to the question of how to eliminate the need for people to rely on food banks. That is a matter I would like to return to later.

The dire statistic is that the number of people relying on food banks in Wales has trebled over the past year, rising from just over 10,000 to just under 30,000, with forecasts of 40,000 next year. Across the UK, food bank usage has doubled in the past year from around 125,000 to around 250,000. The growth of food bank usage in Wales is therefore twice that of the UK average.

The Trussell Trust operates 23 food banks across Wales, nine of which have opened in the past year. Four more food banks will open in Wales by Easter this year. In 2011, a total of 11,000 people—7,000 adults and 4,000 children—used a food bank, but in 2012 it was 18,000 adults and 10,000 children. That is a very grim message indeed.

I would like to pay tribute to the excellent work of volunteers who run food banks up and down Wales. Nothing I say in my remarks is intended to criticise their immediate response to a growing need. In my constituency, the Antioch centre and the Elim Church do amazing work. I was with them a couple of weeks before Christmas at the entrance to the Tesco superstore in my constituency, and the response from the public was tremendous from people of all walks of life. The members of Elim Church had lists of items that were suitable for people to purchase for the food bank and to include in their shopping. As they came out the store, people willingly gave the food they had purchased especially for the food bank.

We have to ask why we are seeing this increase in the number of families in need and what the Government can do about it. I want to see us tackle the causes of poverty and hunger, to look at what is wrong with the structure of our society. When it comes to giving aid to developing countries, we have long since learned that it is no good just giving people handouts. That is the whole point of the Fairtrade movement: the customer pays a fair price for goods so that the people who grow or make those goods can receive a wage that enables them to make ends meet, so that they do not have to rely on charity. How much better to have the dignity of being in charge of their own lives and budgets, not having to beg.

The same is true for people in the UK. I want to see the Government take measures that will tackle the causes of poverty. Why has there been an increase in the number of people turning to food banks? Quite simply it is because more and more people are suffering financial hardship. Let us see what can be done about that. We need policies that determine income distribution in this country, and those are very much a matter for the UK Government. While the Welsh Government can try to provide services to mitigate the effects of lack of income, they do not have control over some of the main factors that affect income.

As specialists in the House of Commons Library have pointed out, there has never been an absolute correlation between the amount of money that someone can receive on a benefit and their actual needs. It has always been a bit of a compromise—a bit of political expediency as to what was acceptable. What they are clear about is that there has never been a time when those benefits have not been uprated in line with inflation, whatever the colour of the Government in office. It is has been a tremendous sadness this year that the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill will effectively bring real cuts in people’s income. That is on top of the many additional costs that they have already had to face. We have already discussed the fact that while benefit increases have been limited, there has been rampant inflation, particularly on essential food items, ranging from 17% to 36%, depending on which food items are considered, over the past five years.

There has also been the increase in VAT. VAT is charged on a range of items, including toilet paper and bathroom products that are not luxuries but items that every family needs. While VAT is not put on food, it is on many essential items. That was a valid comment made by colleagues.

People often face the difficulty of delays in receiving benefit, or have it cut off. We have unfortunately seen some disastrous behaviour by Atos and the problems that has caused. When 40% of its decisions go to appeal, there is something very wrong. I ask the Minister to pass on to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions our very real concerns about that. Benefit changes are one of the key reasons why people end up at a food bank; they account for 40% of the people who go there.

The other major concern is low income. Many people on low incomes are claiming working tax credit. There have been horrendous changes to the working tax credit by the Government, which have left people with much less money. The point of those credits was to top people up so that work would pay. I was shocked to hear the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), say not only that people could do a few hours’ extra work, when we know how difficult it is to find extra work, but that he thought that would compensate for the changes in housing benefit. He did not realise, of course, that for every extra pound earned, a person would lose 65p in entitlement. It is not a matter of equating three hours’ work at the minimum wage to £15 extra in housing benefit. I again ask the Minister for Wales to speak with his DWP colleagues about the worrying effects that those changes in housing benefit will have on many of our constituents.

We have already seen the cutting of the pension credit and the savings credit, cuts in the health in pregnancy grant, and the change from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index. We are asking the Minister to prevail on his colleagues to not simply accept the situation as it is, but look at ways of putting it right. For example, they should rethink the welfare benefits uprating legislation to restore the link between benefits and inflation. As I have said, the bedroom tax and the cuts planned to the working tax credit are both areas we would like him to look into.

We would also like the Government to get a grip on energy companies. We understand that some energy price rises are due to the worldwide energy market. We also know that there are a number of measures that could be taken. There could be a lot of tightening up with the regulator, and the Minister could look at what can be done about energy prices for low-income households. What we want from the Minister now is not simply, “Oh well, it cannot be changed. Nothing else can be done. That is how society is. Prices just go up.” We want an interventionist Government who can devise a redistribution plan that will ensure that we do not have an increase in the number of people going to food banks. In fact, we want a fall in the number doing so in Wales. The Government could then be proud of bringing about a situation in which there was no need for any more food banks in Wales.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I not only thank the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for securing the debate, but congratulate him on doing so, because I understand that he was the successful one of a number of Labour MPs who were encouraged to put in for it. What the debate represents, as has been highlighted by some of my hon. Friends, is the latest stage in a political campaign by the Labour party to use the food bank movement as a vehicle for its political attack on some of the changes and challenges that we are facing as a coalition Government. The hon. Gentleman did exactly in his speech what my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) encouraged him not to do, which was reduce it to a party political rant, treat 2010 as year zero, and remove the whole debate from its context.

The game was rather given away this morning when a number of us Welsh Members of Parliament were in a Committee. On the way out, I overheard a Labour Member say, slightly flippantly—I would not put it any higher than that—that they were going to have some fun with this debate today. That is the context for this afternoon; the Labour party is using this as part of a highly politicised campaign.

On a point of order, Mrs Riordan. Is it in order for the Minister to cast aspersions on the motives of Members of this House without being willing to name them in the Chamber during the course of the debate?

Does the Minister agree that the whole point of the debate is to cast aspersions on our motives as Conservative Members?

That is exactly what it is about. I did some research before the debate this afternoon and looked at the parliamentary record, because I wanted to know what kinds of questions and issues were being raised on food banks by Members of different parties—not only from Wales, but from right across the UK. It might not surprise my hon. Friends to know that I could not find a single reference by a Labour Member of Parliament, before 2010, to food banks.

No, I will not. I may not have been doing my research as fully as I should, but I could not find a single Labour MP who raised food banks as an issue on the Floor of the House of Commons before the coalition Government came into office. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cardiff West says from a sedentary position that it was not an issue. Well, questions were being asked by my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), as well as a certain individual called Dai Davies, representing the south Wales seat of Blaenau Gwent. He asked a question about food banks during the previous Government, and some Labour Members will recall how viciously that individual was treated by members of the Welsh Labour party in recent years.

Food banks were very much an issue under the previous Government. However, the conspiracy of silence that existed around food banks extended beyond this place to Jobcentre Plus, because one thing that Labour Ministers refused to do was allow Jobcentre Plus advisers to signpost people facing particular financial need to use food banks. That is something that we changed. In 2011, we altered the guidance to allow Jobcentre Plus advisers to refer people and advertise the services of food banks. Among the underlying causes and reasons for the expansion in the use of food banks in recent years, one reason is that, in contrast to the previous Labour Government, we see them, up front and unashamedly, as a good thing, and we encourage people who are facing points of financial crisis in their lives to use them.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West mentioned a “cost of living crisis”. He used that phrase several times, and it was picked up by other hon. Members as the reason for the expansion in the use of food banks. Of course, that is true. People use food banks because they face a financial crisis at that time. I have met people who use them for a whole variety of reasons: some are young, homeless people; some are struggling with addictions, and they are spending money as a result of addictive behaviours that they are seeking to address; and some are victims of domestic violence who find that they have to flee their family home—they are fleeing an abusive relationship and need that extra support. People use the resources for a variety of different reasons.

I do not want to spend too much time picking holes in the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cardiff West, but he did say, slightly patronisingly, that he suspected that the Minister would stand up and say that he has visited a food bank. Well, I have actually. In fact, I served as a trustee on a charity that ran food banks. The charity set up its food bank in 2008, and its services have expanded. It now provides not only food but a basic bank of clothing, because as hon. Members have rightly said, people face a whole range of financial needs. As well as that, it runs an annual toy appeal to ensure that the poorest families in Pembrokeshire, in my constituency, are able to have a Christmas for their children.

The charity was founded by some of the Churches, and I know that the hon. Members for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), among others, have mentioned different Churches and faith-based organisations that are behind the creation of food banks in their constituencies. I would like to pay my own tribute on the record to the volunteers and people who work in those organisations, because they are doing a fantastic job. When I speak to them, the last thing they want is to be dragged into a party political football match. This issue is bigger and more important than that. We could have had a sensible debate this afternoon about the social needs in Wales, and the role that charities and third sector organisations can play. It is really disappointing that the debate was reduced to a party political argument, when it could have been so different.

I am grateful for the way that the Minister is putting his points across. Does he agree that many volunteers across Wales will be utterly horrified by the way in which they have been portrayed and politicised by the tone of the debate? Instead of trying to use food banks as a reason for having a go at Government policies that are widely supported, we should all be supporting those volunteers who have been there for many years, and will be there long after this and other Governments have finished.

My hon. Friend expresses himself extremely well, as ever.

Let us look at the context for Wales. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) mentioned the underlying economic context for Wales. It is true that Wales has suffered from low wages, but it is not true that wages continue to decline relative to the rest of the UK. If we look at the most recent wage data for Wales, the increase is sharper than for the UK average. That is only a small set of data, but it gives us reason for optimism that we can, over time, close the wage gap and see more families in Wales taking home more real-terms pay from their jobs.

Will the Minister explain how his policies will raise incomes in Wales? What will he do to ensure that the poorest people in Wales have better job opportunities and better pay for what they do?

Every single day of the week at the Wales Office, we focus on the economic challenges facing Wales. Every week in the Wales Office we are thinking about how we work with the Welsh Government to bring in new investment in infrastructure and new inward investors, and see better, higher-quality jobs created in Wales that will provide higher real-terms wages.

Household debt was only mentioned briefly in the debate, but it is one of the key reasons why, in recent years, the number of people using food banks has increased. Over the past 10 years, and perhaps going back even further than that, there was an explosion of personal indebtedness, fuelled by the consumer credit boom, which was encouraged—egged on—by the policies of previous Labour Governments. Household indebtedness has started to fall in the past two years, but there is still a long way to go to see people with sustainable debt levels in their lives. That is one reason why some of the organisations that are at the forefront of setting up food banks are also at the forefront of tackling the debt culture. Some of the same organisations run debt advice counselling services alongside their food banks. The Government take seriously the challenge of payday loans and doorstep lenders, and we are taking real action to change the regulatory framework in which such people operate.

Fuel poverty has been mentioned by more than one colleague as a real challenge for Wales, and I absolutely recognise that point. We continue to support people in Wales through the winter fuel payments. The hon. Member for Arfon asked me to follow up on a specific request to see whether there is a way of facilitating, earlier in the season, cold weather and winter fuel payments, because that is when people have the opportunity to buy fuel at a cheaper rate. I shall certainly follow that up with my hon. Friends in the relevant Department.

To close the debate, I am sure that we will come back to this issue as MPs in Wales, and I hope, on that occasion, that we can have a more rounded, more thorough debate on some of the real issues affecting society in Wales.

UK Fashion Industry

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. At the end of this week, London fashion week will dominate the media with news of the latest trends on the catwalk, but if we look beyond the perfect seams of the catwalk shows, there lies the beating heart of an industry. It is an industry that contributes £21 billion to the UK economy and supports 816,000 jobs, making it the largest employer of all the creative industries, so it is definitely an industry worth talking about.

For all that significant contribution to the economy, there is also huge potential to grow, to flourish, to be better and to create more jobs. Excellent foundations are in place. Our fashion colleges are exceptional, and London has a worldwide reputation as the creative launch pad for the industry. My constituency, Hackney South and Shoreditch, has had a long love affair with the industry. It is embedded in both the history and the culture of the borough. From the arrival of the silk weaver Huguenots in the late 17th century to the present day, generations of aspiring designers have settled and set up their businesses in the east end. It is the natural hub of an industry, its beating heart, which today provides 1,500 jobs in design and manufacturing.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Before I was interrupted, I was saying that my constituency is the natural hub of an industry that today provides 1,500 jobs in design and manufacturing. Hackney is home to about 150 design, manufacturing and design consultancy businesses.

London fashion week alone generates £30 million for the city’s economy, showcasing about 250 designers to a global audience and generating £130 million-worth of media coverage. London and the UK benefit from fashion tourism too, which is estimated to have accounted for 0.5% of tourism spending in 2009. However, the debate is not just about Hackney and London; in 2009, the fashion industry directly provided more than 800,000 jobs across the UK, and indirectly accounted for 4.5% of total employment. Today, I want to talk about how we can sustain and build on that success in the future, in both London and the rest of the UK.

Sustaining the industry and securing its future starts with education, so we must ensure that that is working well. I am incredibly proud of the fashion colleges and institutions across the country and in my constituency. They have an international reputation for excellence and year-on-year produce many talented graduates from around the globe. The London College of Fashion, which has a campus in my constituency, is a shining example of that. It has been running for over 100 years and has produced incredible talent, including: Linda Bennett from L. K. Bennett; Emma Hope; Jane Brown; and Jimmy Choo, the famous shoe designer, who also had his first studio in Hackney.

Who are the success stories of the future? How do we make sure that the graduates of today have the support to succeed? Along with other higher education establishments, our fashion colleges face squeezed budgets, so we cannot assume that they can continue to do as well as they have been despite the cuts. Other countries understand that and are pouring money into their own fashion colleges. We face increased competition and cannot fall behind. Education is the foundation of the industry; it is where talent is moulded, encouraged and allowed to flourish. We must ensure that our young people continue to be able to study at world-class institutions here in the UK.

The Government’s plans for the EBacc, although now abandoned, reflect a mindset that downgrades the importance of creative skills. I hope that the Minister will disabuse me of that notion and say that that is not the case in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but we have certainly seen that attitude from other parts of Government. We need a clear path laid out from secondary school onwards, so that young people can see the career opportunities before them. We also need to see the end of unpaid internships. I am pleased that both the British Fashion Council and the UK Fashion and Textile Association are putting their weight behind proper training, apprenticeships and real jobs. Unpaid internships cannot be justified in an industry that generates so much money for the UK.

I move on from education to the skills needed; there is a skills deficit in business and manufacturing. Fashion, first and foremost, is a business, so however talented a designer, he or she needs business skills, but too often the creatives do not have such skills. I have met some amazing people in my constituency from companies in which there is a good relationship between a creative and someone with a business head. Many people do not have such a relationship automatically, so they need support. Like those in any small company, they cannot do everything in the business. Creative businesses start at a disadvantage, because they find it harder to get funding. Financial institutions are much less likely to lend money to creative businesses, which are more likely to have new, innovative business models and younger owners, and are therefore seen as more risky.

To give an example, Not Just a Label is an innovative and exciting new business in my constituency. Based in a small office in Shoreditch, it searches out fresh new designer talent, and promotes and sells their products on an online platform. When it started, it was given no funding from banks or investors. Now, as it tries to expand, banks will still not lend to it, despite its success, saying that online businesses are too risky. Such businesses are not necessarily looking for a grant or a subsidy, but simply for a loan—sometimes just an overdraft facility—to help them start up or expand.

With all those barriers, how do new designers get off the ground? Happily, some support is available from the British Fashion Council and the Centre for Fashion Enterprise, which is based in Hackney. The Centre for Fashion Enterprise—its director, Wendy Malem, used to be a designer—and NewGen, a programme run by the British Fashion Council, both offer the business support that is so needed by designers. NewGen is currently sponsored by Topshop, and last year it celebrated its 10th anniversary. Without that programme, we would never have heard of Alexander McQueen, who started his business in Hackney and whose legacy gave Kate her wedding dress.

However, both schemes are vastly oversubscribed. From speaking to those in the industry, I know that there is an appetite to expand such partnerships, but no funding for it. Incidentally, Not Just a Label provides a platform for new designers. It is a business that has recognised not only a gap in the market and been a success, but the importance of fuelling new designers and showcasing and supporting new talent to grow businesses as a whole. Its business has helped many designers grow substantially, which shows what can be achieved when talent is given the right tools.

When designers get the support and funding they need, they face another hurdle: where to manufacture? There is a real desire to manufacture more in Britain. Volume manufacturing may have gone, probably irrevocably, abroad. However, I am not talking about grubby, backstreet sweatshops, but high-end manufacturing—the top end, which is the true craft that involves artisanship, local production and traditional techniques. Throughout the country from London to Scotland, there are established and specialised manufacturers producing exactly such top-quality products. In the east midlands alone, about 10,000 to 15,000 jobs are provided by fashion manufacturing.

Many manufacturers set up in the UK to create those high-quality products, but they are struggling to expand and grow because of a lack of skilled machinists. Currently, the industry needs 150 more skilled machinists a year just to sustain itself, and companies can barely afford to take on and train new apprentices, because the cost of mistakes in high-end manufacturing is too great to be worth the risk. The Government have a programme to support apprenticeships, and it would be good to hear from the Minister how that might be better applied to the fashion industry.

Instead, manufacturing businesses are forced to work around the clock with a skeleton staff in the build-up to London fashion week, and they often close their doors for months afterwards. It is no wonder that there is a temptation to use unpaid interns. British designers want to make their samples and garments here, but there is not currently the capacity to do so. The UK Fashion and Textile Association has recently secured £2.7 million for the Textile Centre of Excellence in Huddersfield to support skills training throughout the UK. The industry is therefore giving much support, but a bit of focus on how the Government might support it better would be welcome.

The Designer-Manufacturer Innovation Support Centre—also known as DISC—was launched last year with European regional development fund money. Its goal is to create links with designers and manufacturers, and to offer support and advice to manufacturing businesses. DISC has proposed the creation of a machinist school that would train 25 machinists a year and provide the manufacturing industry with a new, young generation of highly skilled professionals with relevant skills. It is here that we hit one of the challenges of how to fit fashion into the models that the Government are promoting. To be a good machinist, someone needs not a short apprenticeship but lots of practice, which means a longer training course than some of the apprenticeships now being funded by the Government.

The establishment of such a school, which we are keen to host in Hackney, would sustain the industry, but there are other opportunities to expand. When the elements of excellent education, design support and the ability to manufacture come together, the industry will have an opportunity to flourish and grow further. In New York, fashion zones or clusters have been created to encourage industry growth by offering cheaper rents and loans. Encouraging growth in those areas of the fashion industry might produce massive economic benefits locally and nationally.

The British film industry has often been the focus of tax breaks or investment vehicles, so why not look imaginatively at what might be done to support jobs and growth in fashion? It is an exciting time for the industry, and one that is filled with opportunities. Across the world, there is huge demand for British-made products, because they are the hallmark of quality and good design. To give just one example, men’s footwear brands are enjoying international success in the far east and the US, and factories are currently working flat out to keep up with demand.

Organisations such as DISC and the Centre for Fashion Enterprise are laying the foundations for the fashion industry’s future, yet they are funded not by the Government but by the European regional development fund—I was present when the European Commissioner launched it in my constituency—and that funding will not last for ever. DISC’s funding will run out in 2014, which is only next year. Will the Government step up and support British industry as well, or will they leave it to someone else? If the industry is important enough for Europe to fund, I hope that the British Government will similarly support it.

We can be very proud of the fashion industry, which provides substantial benefits to the whole country. We have a wealth of creative talent, and we have educational institutions, which are the best in the world, that are making the most of it. However, we cannot let it end there: the fashion industry is not letting it end there, and we could be doing a lot more. The Government should invest in a machinist school as part of their general support for manufacturing. Will they partner with the British Fashion Council, which will launch a British manufacturing and textiles mapping report this week to underline the potential of what we already have? With a modicum of Government support, the industry could grow and create the jobs that the Prime Minister is so keen to see.

Across the Atlantic ocean, in New York, a £3 million fund has just been created to protect the garment district, through supporting skills training and investment in new machinery. London and the UK must not be left behind: we should be leading, not following, in what is one of our leading-edge industries. Business schools in the USA partner with the fashion industry to marry the best business and fashion brains. We, too, could follow their lead with a little support, and set up a fund to lend to new creative businesses and to support our fashion colleges.

I am sure that the Minister is aware of the Prime Minister’s personal support, which he pledged at the London men’s fashion event at Downing street recently. He cited fashion as one of the key industries that is critical to the future of the British economy. The industry is stepping up to the mark to develop its own solutions, but the Government could help. In particular, will the Minister back the move from unpaid interns to apprenticeships—including, crucially, graduate apprenticeships—with a programme of support and information, and a focus on the gap in technical skills that is opening up and might, if not quickly plugged, leave the UK fashion industry behind the curve? Will she agree to work with the British Fashion Council to map manufacturing business and support development and growth at the high end, which does much to entice international designers to come to the UK and to entice graduates to stay?

I hope that the Minister will agree to work with employers. They know what skills they need and, with co-ordination, they can develop skills programmes to train people in those skills, particularly in the seven eighths of the iceberg that we do not see—not the catwalk end, but all the skills that support the manufacturing and retail industry. I have previously raised with the Treasury the issue of small business support and innovative finance models, which are often not regulated by the Financial Services Authority. They need to be available to the small businesses that make up so much of the fashion industry, because those businesses struggle to raise money in other ways.

I am sure that the Minister’s Department is already in intense discussions with the Home Office about the graduate work visa programme, which is restricting opportunities for some of the best international graduates of our fashion colleges from setting up their fledgling businesses in the UK. Over the years, some of those graduates have stayed, because they could, and have grown their small businesses into bigger businesses, creating jobs and wealth in the UK. I do not mind who creates jobs and wealth, but I want that to happen here. With the current visa regime, the danger is that those people will have better opportunities to travel to and be poached by countries that see the advantage of doing so. We have already seen adverts in Australian newspapers for people to travel there—not particularly in relation to fashion, but I am sure that that will follow.

As I said earlier, the British film industry has been the focus of tax breaks and investment vehicles, so we should look imaginatively at how to support fashion. I hope that the Government will react not simply with words of support to echo what the Prime Minister has said, but with action. In these difficult economic times, the Government should support the fashion industry and recognise its value and importance to the UK economy.

I welcome the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan, and congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) on securing this debate, the topic of which is both important and timely, as London fashion week starts this Friday.

Textiles and fashion have a long history in the UK, and their importance has been felt even in these august premises, in the Houses of Parliament. Back in the 14th century, the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords sat on a Woolsack to demonstrate the importance of the wool trade to the nation. In the 18th century, textiles were the single biggest economic interest after grain. Throughout our history, from the Stuarts to the sixties, fashion has added definition to our society. Today, the UK is home to some of the most inspiring fashion designers in the world, some of whom were mentioned by the hon. Lady. Hackney is right to be proud of its strong fashion heritage. With strong mayoral support for the creative industries, the fashion business has a great deal to offer London and indeed the rest of the UK.

Fashion remains an important part of the economy. Its wider contribution is estimated at more than £37 billion —the hon. Lady mentioned £21 billion as the direct figure for fashion—and more than 800,000 jobs are supported more widely throughout the industry. As the hon. Lady rightly says, this is an industry that is worth talking about and that perhaps does not always get the profile that it deserves in this place.

Today, the country is home to leading designers of menswear, womenswear, childrenswear and babywear who export their products worldwide. We are also a leading centre for the manufacture of clothing and high-quality fabrics, as well as a truly global hub for fashion retailing.

Many UK companies are thriving by supplying top-end, exclusive products. British designers such as Stella McCartney, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood continue to lead in global markets. The UK’s economic success is due in large part to our ability to participate in global trade and investment. We should be proud of our heritage and our reputation for quality and excellence, which forms the foundation of our international success.

From a Government perspective, we want to ensure that this sector continues to grow. Sustainable growth hinges on ensuring that we have manufacturing capacity, a skilled work force, and support for the many small businesses emerging in the sector. Those key challenges were all outlined in the hon. Lady’s speech.

Manufacturing is crucial to economic recovery. Working with business, we are taking steps to strengthen UK manufacturing capability. We want to create a better business environment that will address barriers to growth; encourage innovation and technology commercialisation; increase exports and business investment; improve skills; and build UK supply chains. Last October, as part of the Government’s “Make it in Great Britain” initiative, my Department hosted the UK fashion and textile manufacturing showcase. It was designed to dispel the myth that the UK does not make anything any more.

We are encouraging manufacturers and retailers to work more closely together to identify opportunities to bring business back to the UK. Already we have seen some retailers sourcing products from the UK, where they have opportunities to benefit from shorter lead times. Debenhams, for example, recently pledged to increase its use of UK manufacturers as it launches a new “Made by Great Britons” range.

Lord Alliance from the other place has recently commissioned work to look at the feasibility of bringing back textile manufacturing to the UK, and the early signs are positive. Manchester, with its key history in textiles and manufacturing, is leading that strategic programme. It is working in collaboration with key bodies including the London College of Fashion.

UK Trade & Investment is also helping to boost economic growth by promoting UK products and services to customers abroad and encouraging foreign companies to invest in the UK through the GREAT campaign, which focuses on exactly why the British fashion industry has been considered No. 1 on the world stage, with its well-established tailors of Savile row and its exciting young start-up designers. Learn their names now and who knows whose wedding dresses they will be designing in the future.

The hon. Lady was right to say that skills are essential to support the UK fashion industry, and that apprenticeships, in turn, are at the heart of our skills ambition. Just last week, Creative Skillset, which is the sector skills council for the creative industries, launched its first higher-level apprenticeship in fashion and textiles to meet skills needs in advertising, creative and digital media, and fashion and textiles. Working with the industry, including with companies such as Burberry, Creative Skillset is planning to deliver 500 apprenticeships. The hon. Lady was right to say that employers are best placed to know the skills that they need, which is why apprenticeship funding is demand-led. Companies and employers in that sector need to come forward and commit to employing and training an apprentice; then they can access the funding.

I am also pleased to note that the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has provided nearly £7 million to Creative Skillset to develop targeted skills interventions. That will bring greater collaboration between the industry and higher education to overcome structural barriers to new skills acquisition, tailor products and services for the sector, and benchmark the very best training that is available.

The Government are giving business access to a significant skills funding opportunity through the “employer ownership of skills” pilot programme, the first round of which saw more than £2 million awarded to the Textile Centre of Excellence. Round 2 of the pilot is now open, and we welcome and encourage bids from companies in the fashion sector that are seeking to identify innovative solutions to their, or the wider sector’s, skills challenges. The deadline for bids is Thursday 28 March 2013.

Higher education also plays a vital role, with our internationally recognised universities offering a wide range of fashion courses. Figures for 2011 show that there were almost 18,000 students registered on fashion and textile courses. Of course London is seen as a global centre of fashion, with our universities, including the campus in the hon. Lady’s constituency, attracting students from around the world. Higher education is also leading the way on supporting positive body image. The Edinburgh college of art’s centre of diversity project, which is a collaboration of fashion colleges from up and down the country, is working with All Walks Beyond the Catwalk to develop innovative educational methods and to promote a positive attitude to body diversity within fashion education. They are teaching student fashion designers how to cut to a wide variety of body shapes, sizes and styles. Given my campaigning on this issue, the scheme has particular resonance for me.

Fashion has the power to inspire and define whole generations. The images that are created are iconic, and if we harness that power, we can achieve great things. I pay tribute to All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, and to Debra Bourne and Caryn Franklin, who set it up. Of course Caryn rightly and deservedly received an MBE for services to diversity in the fashion industry in the new year’s honours list.

Exploitation is an important issue to address within the fashion industry.

I hope that the Minister will address the issue of visas later in her speech. If she is not planning to do so, it would be good if she could address that point before she moves on from higher education.

I am happy to address the matter of visas. The hon. Lady is right to say that talented individuals come here to study. We want to ensure that we can use that talent in the British economy. Of course discussions are ongoing between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Home Office on those issues, as with all issues to do with business and the visa system, to make sure that we have a proportionate and fair regime that enables people to contribute to the economy in a way that helps overall UK growth.

On the issue of unpaid interns, it is absolutely the case that there is, unfortunately, exploitation of young people in the fashion industry, and this Government are clear that anyone who is entitled to the minimum wage should receive it. We expect employers to play by the rules and pay their interns at least the minimum wage, as long as there is no exemption, as there is for volunteers. Anyone who finds themselves in the kind of situation that we are talking about should know about the pay and work rights helpline, which is 0800 917 2368. There is now a fast-track system in place for any calls from individuals who appear to be in an unpaid internship that is in fact a job. Any such call is dealt with promptly, and it is also important to highlight that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs can enforce arrears of pay going back six years. I recognise that there is an issue with individuals who are at the very early stages of their career and who may feel that it is more difficult for them to speak out. However, if this is something that has happened to them—even up to six years ago—they can still come forward and make this point.

Of course, HMRC is also working to try to ensure greater awareness of the issue, so we are working alongside Intern Aware and key stakeholders such as the British Fashion Council to inform and educate interns and employers about when someone should be paid the minimum wage. In the spring, we will be delivering a campaign to support this work, aimed particularly at educating university students about these matters. Recently, there has been a particular focus from HMRC on interns in the fashion industry, and we are expecting a report back from HMRC on that activity shortly.

There is one other element of exploitation that happens in the fashion industry that is worth discussing. It is very positive that London fashion week has now committed to featuring only models who are over the age of 16, and Vogue magazine has pledged to do the same. Unfortunately, however, that positive step has not been replicated across the fashion industry as a whole. Away from the spotlight of London fashion week, there are still concerns, as has been highlighted in a number of documentaries, about dangerous situations that vulnerable young people—many of them still children—can find themselves in, particularly when there are trends for models who are in their early teens. It is important that the welfare of people working in the fashion industry is taken very seriously. I pay tribute to the excellent work done by Erin O’Connor, who has championed this issue within the industry by setting up her “model sanctuary” to give models somewhere that they can receive advice and support, and a place to be themselves, during London fashion week. That has been so successful that it has now been taken on by the British Fashion Council as part of the model lounge, which is part of London fashion week itself.

I will turn to the potential for growth in the fashion industry, because it is of course vital that we nurture the entrepreneurship that is so important to the fashion industry. The hon. Lady was right to point out that people who have the fantastic creative skills to be world-class designers may not automatically have the business acumen to go alongside those skills. We also need to recognise some of the challenges that small businesses face in accessing finance. That is why we are continuing to make a priority of improving access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises. We have put in place a package of measures to improve the supply of affordable credit to SMEs, including the funding for lending scheme and the £1.2 billion business finance partnership, to stimulate the development of alternatives to bank finance.

On that point, businesses in my constituency tell me that it is often still difficult for them to get money. We know that funding for lending is actually fuelling a lot of buy-to-let landlords, which is a different issue altogether. However, there is also a real need for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to look at licensing alternative forms of funding, such as crowd funding, which are popular for some of these small businesses. If the Minister cannot answer me now, perhaps she could write to me about her Department’s attitude to that issue and what it will be doing.

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. She is right to say that we need to be innovative in considering a range of different ways to free up finance. There is already a range of different ways in which the Government are doing it, but I am more than happy to take on board her suggestion and consider whether there are further steps to be taken along those lines.

Of course, we are also taking the first steps towards the creation of a Government-backed business bank, which will receive £1 billion of new Government funding, with £300 million being invested by the Government alongside private investors during the next two years to provide diverse sources of funding for SMEs. The bank will address long-standing structural gaps in the supply of finance to businesses. We also have the Get Mentoring project——which has recruited and trained 15,000 business mentors from the small business community. I encourage any young designer setting up a business to make use of that support.

In conclusion, the UK fashion industry is an important part of our heritage, and our unique and innovative designers are among the most recognised in the world. We are working hard to ensure that the climate is right for growth, to support UK manufacturing, and to ensure that future designers have the skills they need and that fledgling businesses have the support they require to grow. We are doing all that we can to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of fashion and design, and we are confident that we can build on our world-class reputation.

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this issue to the attention of the House today. It has been a positive debate and I will happily get back to her on those additional points that she has raised.

Cancer Care (England and Wales)

Thank you, Mrs Riordan, for calling me to speak and for chairing this debate. It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship.

The subject under discussion is cancer care in England and Wales. Naturally, I understand that the Minister who is here is only responsible for treatment and care in England, and that health is a devolved matter, with responsibility for it in Wales falling to the Welsh Government. However, the different approaches will allow each nation to share best practice and compare outcomes, with the objective of raising the standard of cancer care wherever we live.

I do not want this debate to be party political; this issue is far too important for that. I want to compare the facts and to recognise success, wherever that may be found. The starting point for the debate must be mortality rates or, to put it another way, the success of any medical intervention. Overall, life expectancy among men in Wales is 77.6 years, and in England it is 78.6 years. Among women, life expectancy is 81.8 years in Wales and 82.6 years in England. I am sorry to say that the figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland are worse than the figures for either England or Wales.

However, focusing purely on life expectancy is too broad an approach, and we need to consider the influences on life expectancy. There may be historical and social reasons for the differences in life expectancy, but it is fair to say that cancer survival rates are a significant factor, which brings me to my key points. The most commonly diagnosed cancers are breast cancer among women and prostate cancer among men.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the “Hear me now” report by Rose Thompson, the chief executive of BME Cancer Communities, which was launched here in Parliament yesterday? It revealed that the death rate from prostate cancer is 30% higher among black men than among their white counterparts. Does he agree that such inequalities in cancer outcomes must be addressed?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making an extremely valid point. The collection of data is exceptionally important, to identify which groups are potentially more vulnerable or which groups are not seeking the right sorts of treatment. Comparison between the home nations is important, but so is comparison between groups within the home nations, in order to bring the data together. It is exceptionally important if we are to reach the right conclusions.

I will focus on breast cancer to begin with. As I have already said, the mortality rate from breast cancer in England is 24.3 per 100,000 people, and in Wales it is 25.8 per 100,000 people. Clearly, those are worrying data, and it is worth considering the different approaches to treatment in the two nations.

In England, a patient concerned about the possibility of breast cancer can expect to see a consultant within 10 working days of the GP referral. In Wales, there is a different approach, which means that a GP differentiates between urgent and non-urgent cases. In cases that are deemed urgent, 95% of patients should expect treatment to start within 62 days, and in cases deemed non-urgent, the patient should expect treatment to start within 26 weeks. I want to underline this situation: a woman in England who is concerned about the risk of breast cancer will be reassured, or have her case elevated to the next level, within 10 days. In Wales, however, a patient has no such guarantee of consultant expertise until much, much later in the process.

We need to recognise that these are different measures and approaches. Breakthrough Breast Cancer has a helpful quote. It says that waiting for a referral is like being “left in the dark”.

The issue of waiting time for treatment and diagnosis is important to me. Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be an absolute focus on awareness, particularly regarding colon and rectal cancer, from which the chance of recovery is far greater if diagnosed early? There has to be a focus on early diagnosis, because it greatly increases the chances of recovery.

My hon. Friend makes a valid point about screening and awareness. Today I want to focus on treatment, but awareness and screening are exceptionally important and no doubt warrant another debate.

My hon. Friend has in some respects taken the words out of my mouth. To what extent does he attribute some of the differences between England and Wales to a problem of education and diet, as well as to the problems of treatment and early diagnosis?

My hon. Friend raises an important point about diet. There are historical and social issues. Diets and issues like that are relevant and also need wider consideration, perhaps in another debate that my hon. Friend may choose to nominate.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that however good the cancer care in hospitals is—it is excellent in many places—it often leaves a gap in psychological, emotional and social support? Excellent work is being done by Maggie’s centres in that respect. There is one in Swansea, and I believe one is due to open in Cardiff. There are also many centres in England and Scotland, including in my constituency. Will he endorse the value of their work?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s valid point. I absolutely endorse the role that independent and charitable organisations can play; I quoted Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Emotional support is exceptionally important, and that relates to my point about delays in receiving treatment. A consultant can reassure people on many occasions, give a realistic assessment of the condition and provide the wider support available from some of the charitable organisations that have been mentioned.

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the importance of care in the recovery of cancer patients? Statistics from Macmillan Cancer Support reveal that 19% of 18,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients in Wales were deemed to lack that kind of support, not just during diagnosis or treatment but, critically, in aftercare.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sharing those data. In interventions, hon. Members have talked not only about pre-screening, awareness, social issues and treatment, which I will focus on, but the aftercare that is needed, the emotional support that is provided, and the need for and responsibility and role of a whole host of agencies, including those in the charitable sector.

Returning to the point about treatment, I had been comparing the different approaches to breast cancer in England and Wales. The wait before seeing a consultant in England is 10 days. It is interesting to note that the Welsh Government removed 10-day monitoring in 2006. Although data are recorded locally, they are not published nationally. In the interests of transparency, it would be helpful if those data were published to allow fair and just comparisons. Waiting time targets improve survival outcomes, reduce emotional distress and improve the quality of life for people with cancer and those who turn out not to have cancer.

There are similarly alarming figures for prostate cancer. Five-year survival rates can be higher than 80%. There are no figures comparing the rates of the home nations, but the side-effects of the sort of treatment one receives for prostate cancer can be significant and can have a huge impact on future lifestyle. Again, there is a different approach to prostate cancer care in the two nations.

I want to draw attention to the availability of treatment. There was significant attention some years ago to access to brachytherapy. Even when it was finally approved by the Welsh authorities, after having been widely available in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the threshold for intervention was much higher in Wales. As far as I know, that remains the case.

Currently an identical debate is focused on robotic surgery. A constituent who suffers from prostate cancer, who is qualified medically and who consulted widely before making the decision with his clinicians on the most suitable form of treatment for himself, wrote to the Welsh Health Minister. He shared a copy of the letter with me, in which he said:

“I was both surprised and disappointed to find that this option is not available to Welsh men in Wales and that a significant number of Welsh men are opting to go to England, where this technology is established and available throughout the country.”

Does my hon. Friend accept that if that kind of treatment—be it robotic or radio surgery—was available perhaps in a location such as Bristol, it would be accessible for patients in south Wales, along the M4 corridor and elsewhere, and those who go down the M5, right the way through to Cornwall?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point about the need for joint working and better co-ordination between the health services. Devolution can provide valid comparisons to establish the success of various treatments, but on many occasions there is a need for joint working where capital investment is needed, allowing patients to benefit from a different sort of intervention, but with shared responsibility between the two organisations.

I was talking about my constituent who had wanted robotic treatment for prostate cancer. He was later forced, in his stressful situation, to raise the £13,000 necessary to receive the form of treatment that he thought best suited him. I am pleased to report that the outcome of the treatment was positive.

The Wales Minister argued that if local heath boards do not provide treatment routinely, people could follow a process for individual patient funding requests. The panel meets monthly, which hardly reflects the urgency of some cases. I am not aware that any case of robotic treatment has been successfully applied for.

That leads me on to the cancer drugs fund, which is available in England but not in Wales. The fund allows clinicians and patients to prescribe and receive the latest drugs. Again, that is not available in Wales, where there is a cumbersome process to seek such a prescription.

The Rarer Cancers Foundation reported that 24 cancer treatments that are not routinely available in Wales may be available in England through the cancer drugs fund. It concludes that people in Wales are five times less likely than people in England to gain access to a cancer drug that is not routinely available. It also states that if the same approval rate occurred in Wales as it does in England, 159 cancer patients in Wales would gain access to life-extending treatment, instead of the 31 recorded. I raised the issue with the Welsh Health Minister, and she reported that establishing such a fund would reduce the money available for treating other serious conditions, as in England. I find that worrying, and I would be grateful if the Minister could address that point in her response.

That deficiency applies to other cancers, too. Selective internal radiation therapy is an innovative treatment for inoperable liver tumours. Although the University hospital of Wales in Cardiff is part of the UK-wide phase 3 clinical trial, not one patient from Wales has been funded for treatment. The patients under trial have been financed by the cancer drugs fund, yet the hospital is in Wales and demonstrates the expertise that exists in Wales in the field.

Survival rates for pancreatic cancer also differ significantly, and I could go on at length about those. When it comes to five-year survival rates for pancreatic cancer, Wales scores better than England. Unfortunately, that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Those differences are worrying, and had I referred to Scotland and Northern Ireland selectively, I would have been able to paint a more alarming picture, but that is not the point; it is not about the politics of the issue, but about sharing best practice and getting the right treatment for the right people.

The motivation for the debate came from individual cases in my surgery. Having researched the data, I was forced to bring the matter to the House’s attention. I hope the Minister and Members present will be able to use their influence on colleagues here and elsewhere to raise standards, allay fears and improve survival rates for cancer patients.

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) on securing this debate. He makes the important point that it is not acceptable for cancer, of all the conditions that touch the lives of so many families, to be a party political issue. He is right, however, to bring to this place his concerns about the treatment of people in Wales who are suffering from cancer so that a comparison may be made with England and lessons might be learned by both countries. As he said, I am unable to respond to the detail of his concerns because Health Ministers in England are not accountable for health services in Wales, which are matters for the Welsh Assembly. I am sure the Assembly will read the account of this debate in Hansard and make particular note of some of my remarks on what seems to have been put about in the Principality.

In my constituency of Aberconwy in north Wales, and also in other parts of Wales, we are dependent on the health service in England to provide specialist services unavailable in Wales. We have been told time and again that patients from Wales often have to wait longer for treatment in hospitals in England. As a Health Minister in England, will my hon. Friend provide any guidance to Welsh Members on whether that is true?

As ever, my hon. Friend asks a particularly pertinent question, and, to be frank, I cannot immediately give him the answer. I can and will ensure that he receives a full response in a letter. He may also talk to any of my officials at the conclusion of this debate.

In England, the Government have committed to improve survival rates, reduce mortality rates and put patients at the heart of the service. In January 2011, we published a four-year cancer outcomes strategy that set out a range of actions for improving early diagnosis, screening, access to treatment and drugs and providing support to people living with and beyond cancer. That strategy is backed by more than £750 million for implementation, including more than £450 million for early diagnosis.

To improve early diagnosis, we must encourage people to recognise the symptoms and signs of cancer and to seek advice from their GP as soon as possible. Of course, we also need GPs to recognise cancer symptoms and, if appropriate, refer people urgently for specialist care.

Since 2010-11, the Department has been funding and delivering local, regional and national “Be Clear on Cancer” campaigns to raise awareness of cancer symptoms. We are currently running a regional pilot campaign for kidney and bladder cancers that is rather charmingly know as “blood in pee”; a regional breast cancer campaign aimed at women over 70; and a local pilot campaign for ovarian cancer.

I had the great pleasure of attending the all-party group on ovarian cancer, chaired with great ability, compassion and campaigning skill on behalf of ovarian cancer sufferers and their families by the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). That is an example of a cross-party initiative on cancer, which is as it should be.

As part of the pilots and schemes to raise awareness, there is a more general campaign on cancer symptoms called “Know 4 Sure”, which lists four key symptoms: unexplained blood not from an obvious injury; an unexplained lump; unexplained weight loss; and unexplained pain that does not go away. If someone has one or more of those symptoms, the message is clear: “Go and see your GP.” There is information on GP attendance, and urgent referrals for suspected cancer and diagnostic tests will be analysed to assess the impact of the campaigns. We will study the campaigns to see how effective they have been. If we need to roll them out across England, we will do so. I hope the Welsh Assembly will look at the success or otherwise of those campaigns and learn accordingly.

Support for GPs is important, and a range of support is available to help them assess when it is appropriate to refer patients for suspected cancer, but we know we can do more. As part of the preparation for all the campaigns, we commissioned Cancer Research UK to produce briefing materials for GPs within the relevant networks. We are promoting GP direct access to four key diagnostic tests to support early diagnosis of bowel, brain, lung and ovarian cancers. We have provided GPs with best practice guidance on using those tests, and we are publishing data on their usage. We are also working on providing electronic and desk-based cancer decision support tools to help GPs assess and identify patients with possible cancer more effectively.

We know how valuable screening is, and we are working to deliver age extensions for bowel and breast screening programmes. We will continue to support the roll-out of evidence-based screening programmes. For example, we are introducing bowel scope screening to the existing national bowel screening programme. We are aiming for 60% roll-out by March 2015. Experts estimate that the bowel scope programme will prevent some 3,000 cancers every year and save thousands of lives.

The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who is no longer in her place, rightly mentioned some of the difficulties we face with some men, notably in the black community, who are more at risk of prostate cancer. I will provide her with details on the Department’s various initiatives to ensure that we pay particular attention to those parts of our community that need such information to ensure they go along to have the screening and to see their GP if they have any concern about that aspect of their health.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan explained, once cancer is diagnosed it is important for patients to have access to appropriate treatment delivered to a high standard.

The latest cancer waiting times show that 95.4% of patients in England—or 291,974 patients out of 306,011—were seen by a specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer. We set high levels of expected performance, which in that case is 93%, so I am pleased that we have exceeded our own high standards. Some 87.3% of people treated began their first definitive treatment within 62 days of being urgently referred for suspected cancer by their GP, and 98.4% of people treated began first definitive treatment within one month of receiving their cancer diagnosis. We should celebrate those figures, but, of course, we can always do better.

We are expanding radiotherapy capacity by investing more than £173 million over four years and ensuring that all high-priority patients with a need for proton beam therapy get access to it abroad. That includes £23 million for the radiotherapy innovation fund, which is designed to ensure that, from April 2013, radiotherapy centres are ready to deliver advanced radiotherapy techniques to all patients who need it. From April, cancer treatments will be planned and paid for nationally by the NHS Commissioning Board, which means that, for the first time, cancer patients will be considered for the most appropriate radiotherapy treatment regardless of where they live.

My hon. Friend mentioned the cancer drugs fund. Between 1 October 2010 and December 2012, the fund stood at £650 million and helped more than 26,500 cancer patients in England to access the additional cancer drugs their clinicians recommended.

When I was first elected to this place, I received letters from constituents who were rightly upset and concerned that they spent so much of their own money to access certain drugs, and I do not think I have had one such letter or e-mail for at least 18 months. That is a mark of achievement.

To be absolutely clear about the funding of the cancer drugs fund, it is not true that any reduction has been made in any service. It is not true to suggest that money has been taken from the NHS budget. If anybody says such a thing, I am afraid they are either deliberately not telling the truth or just plain ignorant. I am happy to explain how the coalition Government have funded the cancer drugs fund in England. Raising the threshold for national insurance effectively saved the NHS £200 million. That £200 million was not secreted away or given to the Treasury or anybody else; it was the start and has been the continuation of the cancer drugs fund. I hope that that is clear. I know that it will be recorded in Hansard, and no doubt my hon. Friend and others will be able to publicise it widely in Wales and set the record absolutely straight.

In the last minutes available to me, I will explain cancer networks. The NHS Commissioning Board has set out its plans to establish a small number of national networks from 1 April to improve health services for specific patient groups or conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. The cancer networks have existed for some time, and they have worked extremely effectively. It seems a bit odd, but those involved in the delivery of care and treatment for people suffering from cancer, for example, were not always the best at communicating among themselves, so the networks were set up, with great success. We are building on that success.

We have increased the amount of money going into the new strategic clinical networks, and we are confident that they will continue to work closely with providers and commissioners in the new health system and to play an important role in improving cancer care. I understand that transition arrangements, which concerned a number of people, are now well developed, and good progress is being made, with appointments in key positions in the clinical networks.

We are committed, however, to improving the experience of cancer patients. It is not all about early diagnosis, screening and treatment; it is also about cancer patients’ experience. The 2011-12 national cancer patient experience survey found that 88% of cancer patients in England rated their care as excellent or very good; of course, we aim to increase that figure. The results are helping trusts to identify areas in cancer care that need improvement locally and to raise standards across the service.

A 2012-13 survey will commence later this month. I am not sure how a 2012 survey can begin later this month; it looks like a bit of a typing error. That will get me into trouble with my officials. Such a survey is about to commence. It is an important piece of work, because it will enable us to identify and build on progress already made. From April, responsibility for such surveys will move to the NHS Commissioning Board, but hon. Members can be assured that this Minister will keep a close eye on it. The clinical commissioning group outcomes indicator set is the responsibility of the NHS Commissioning Board, but again, it drives improvements across the piste, as we say.

I add my profound support for Maggie’s cancer caring centres, whose praises the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) rightly sang. I visited the one in Nottingham the other week and saw there the excellent support that it gives, not just to cancer patients but to their families. Even if there has been a bereavement, the care and loving support continues. It is a remarkable organisation, and I hope that it will grow and become available to even more people.

In partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, we are working on the national cancer survivorship initiative to implement improved care and support for cancer survivors. We want health services that are responsive to individual needs and that ensure access to specialist care when needed. We will shortly publish a document setting out the evidence base for future services to support people living with and beyond cancer in England. I hope that the Welsh Assembly Government will look to the experience in England and learn from it; I am sure that there are elements that we can learn from them as well. It is to be hoped that the outcomes in Wales will meet the success of the outcomes in England.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.