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Westminster Hall

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 10 December 2013

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 10 December 2013

[Jim Dobbin in the Chair]


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

It is a pleasure to open this debate and to see you in the Chair, Mr Dobbin. I thank Mr Speaker for granting us the debate and my colleagues for attending this morning. Many of them have shown great support to the all-party group on HIV and AIDS, which I have chaired for two and a half years.

I am happy to see my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), in her newish role as shadow International Development Minister. I am also happy to see the Minister in attendance this morning; she has a strong personal commitment to the HIV response and has demonstrated that throughout her time at DFID. She has championed both the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and UNAIDS, overseeing a significant increase in funding to both, which the all-party group has been delighted to see.

Today’s debate is timely, not just because we recently commemorated world AIDS day, but because today is international human rights day. As we mourn Nelson Mandela, we remember him as one of the great advocates of the AIDS response. He summed up the challenges very aptly when he said:

“AIDS is no longer just a disease; it is a human rights issue.”

The universal declaration of human rights states:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself…including…medical care”.

The virus has so far infected 58 million people, become the sixth biggest killer in the world and left 1.6 million people dead in the past year alone. However, it is not just the scale of the epidemic that makes it a human rights issue. It is a human rights issue because its effect on a country is dependent on that country’s wealth, and an individual’s social status still determines their risk of being infected and their ability to access treatment if they are.

HIV is the sixth biggest cause of death in the world, but it is the second biggest in low-income countries and does not even feature in the top 10 causes of death in high-income countries. The 1.6 million people did not die of AIDS last year because treatment does not exist; they died because the medicines were too expensive for them to buy, or because the stigma was too much for them to seek help in time. AIDS and poverty are now mutually reinforcing negative forces in many developing countries. We are 30 years into the epidemic, and AIDS is sadly still a major health and human rights issue, despite the leaps and bounds in progress we have made on prevention, testing and treatment.

One of the main barriers to fighting the epidemic, which stubbornly remains, is stigma. Last year, I took part in a Voluntary Service Overseas placement in Kenya to help parliamentarians and civil society there to strengthen their own all-party group on HIV and AIDS in the Kenyan Parliament. As part of that, I was lucky to work closely with Llina Kilimo MP, a much respected politician and campaigner on HIV and women’s rights. I remember her telling me that no one dies of AIDS. I was confused for a few seconds, but then realised that she meant that no one talks about dying of AIDS. When someone dies of AIDS in Kenya, the family will usually announce the cause of death as the secondary illness that was brought on by AIDS. Owing to the stigma attached, they keep their status quiet.

The best known example of that comes from Nelson Mandela’s own family. When his daughter-in-law passed away at the age of just 46, it was announced that she had died of pneumonia. It was not until her husband, Mandela’s son, died just a couple of years later that Mandela took the brave decision to announce to the world that his son had died of AIDS. In the midst of huge personal tragedy, burying his own son, he decided to use the occasion to show leadership on an issue that he feared would destabilise his country and damage the progress he had made in South Africa. He said at the time:

“That is why I have announced that my son has died of AIDS…Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary for which people go to hell and not to heaven.”

Mandela had already established his well known campaign 46664—named after his prisoner number on Robben island—a couple of years before he knew of his son’s HIV status. The campaign aimed to raise not just money but awareness, to get people talking about HIV and AIDS and to attempt to alleviate the stigma that too often stops people from seeking the treatment they need. Although there has been progress since Mandela’s landmark press conference in his garden following his son’s death in 2005, I fear that the stigma attached to HIV still prevails in Africa and across the world.

Mandela’s great work is not over. People are still dying from a preventable disease, and there are still 16 million people living with HIV without access to the treatment they require. We know that women, children and socially excluded groups are the people most affected by HIV, but one of the reasons for that is that they are least likely to have a political voice and are therefore not paid enough attention.

That might seem an odd statement, given the attention paid to the issue on world AIDS day recently, and the fact that many non-governmental organisations and some of the biggest ever global campaigns and organisations now provide treatment. However, we are fighting a losing battle for the political will to end AIDS in some of the countries most at risk, because of the stigma attached—not to being HIV-positive, but to talking about the matter at all.

The project in Kenya that I have mentioned was a follow-up to one carried out by my predecessor as chair of the all-party group, David Cairns, in Kenya two years previously. He helped the National Empowerment Network of People living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya— an umbrella organisation for HIV support groups—to set up an all-party group on HIV with Kenyan parliamentarians. However, that all-party group had not quite taken off.

When I was asked to go, I was concerned about the impact I could make; if David could not make a difference and set that group up, I did not see how I could. Surely, in a country as badly affected by HIV as Kenya, MPs would be falling over themselves to join a group that campaigned on it; it must be one of the biggest issues for their constituents. However, I found that HIV was not far up the political agenda—even just before the general election, when I was there.

What I am saying is not a criticism of the Kenyan Government, who have in many ways been at the forefront of the AIDS response, but politicians were not discussing HIV as a major issue for Kenya or talking about the next steps of their response to it as part of the general election campaign. With a few notable and brave exceptions, candidates and politicians told me privately that they did not feel they could speak about HIV. They were worried that the sensitive issues of HIV prevention would put voters off. A couple said that they were worried that voters would think that they were HIV-positive, and that that would damage their chances of being elected.

In South Africa, when senior judge Edwin Cameron said he was living with HIV/AIDS, it became possible for a number of people in representative positions to be rather more open. There are also HIV choirs in townships around Cape Town. Those developments show that a way is beginning to be found of getting what everyone knows into the open. If things are brought out from behind the curtain, it is easier for people to take the action that will reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, and there can be greater acceptance of people with the condition.

I completely agree. The problem is not unique to Kenya. In fact, I spoke at last year’s international AIDS conference in Washington, where I shared a platform with Ryuhei Kawada, who is a member of the Japanese House of Councillors. I believe that he is the first politician elected while openly being HIV-positive; I know that some have revealed their status later, but he was elected having already revealed his status. At last year’s event, he spoke passionately about his hope that he would be the first of many and that others would follow in his footsteps to try to relieve the stigma around HIV. It is clear that we need more public figures to reveal their status, but it is a big ask.

Let me be clear that the news is not all bad. I did not come here to spread doom and gloom. Truly excellent progress has been made in the global fight against HIV. I do not want to bore or bamboozle Westminster Hall with stats, but four recent figures from UNAIDS highlight the success so far. There has been a 33% decrease in new HIV infections since 2001, a 29% decrease in AIDs-related deaths since 2005, a 52% decrease in new HIV infections among children since 2001 and a fortyfold increase in access to antiretroviral therapy between 2002 and 2012. That last figure, in particular, is astonishing and shows just how far we have come. Such achievements should be applauded.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate and on all her work. It is so important to keep ensuring that HIV is a priority in the world. Does she agree that, when countries have a high incidence of co-infection, it is important to have joint programmes to control TB and HIV/AIDS?

I completely agree. I believe that colleagues will touch on that subject today, so I will not go into much depth, but it is something that my all-party group has worked on along with the all-party group on global tuberculosis. I hope that the hon. Lady will join in with such campaigns in future.

We cannot get carried away with progress, however. Many good news stories exist, but we have not yet reached our goal of ending the epidemic, the very nature of which means that we must continually work to eradicate HIV; if we do not, all our efforts will be overturned as it spreads further and further.

I am delighted that the Government have increased funding to the key multilateral organisations that fight AIDS. I congratulate the Minister on her role in achieving that, but I must highlight a few areas where the Government could and should be doing more. Strategies to combat the HIV epidemic are intrinsically linked to each country’s human rights environment.

Young people aged between 15 and 24 account for 45% of all new infections, according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Two recent studies of women in Uganda and South Africa found that those who had experienced intimate partner violence were 50% more likely to have acquired HIV than those who had not experienced such violence. A study conducted in Malawi by the Salamander Trust, which works closely with the all-party group, revealed that women living with HIV were terrified that they would face violence if they told their partner or family about their status. Men who have sex with men are also particularly vulnerable, partly because of punitive laws in many countries.

Likewise, failure to provide access to education and information about HIV and AIDS treatment and care and support services further fuels the epidemic. I know that the Minister agrees that those elements are essential components of an effective response, but what does the Department for International Development plan to do specifically to ensure that human rights are at the heart of the HIV response?

One way is to invest in grass-roots community groups. One organisation that is particularly in my and others’ hearts is Sexual Minorities Uganda—SMUG. Members will remember the tragic murder of its leader, David Kato, in 2011. David Cairns met David Kato during a visit to Uganda, and I remember him being deeply pained at his death.

To honour both the memory of David Cairns and the heroic bravery of David Kato in his fight against prejudice, the David Cairns Foundation donated a staggering £10,000 to SMUG to help to establish Uganda’s first health care clinic specifically for the LGBT community in Kampala. It is projects such as that that will sustain the AIDS response in a country where homosexuality is criminalised. The most vulnerable populations need a place to get tested and treated without fear of imprisonment or death.

I was pleased to see that DFID will be giving £4 million to the Robert Carr Fund for Civil Society Networks, a vital organisation that reaches global and regional civil society networks. Although such funding is, of course, positive and given that civil society activism will be the backbone of the sustainable response to HIV/AIDS, will DFID be doing more for grass-roots organisations?

I am cutting my speech short as I was not expecting such an attendance this morning and a few hon. Members want to speak, but I want briefly to discuss carers. HIV affects the human rights of not only those living with it, but also those who care for the ill and the orphaned. That effect impacts disproportionately on the poorest and most vulnerable in society. In 2005, Nelson Mandela said:

“Women don’t only bear the burden of HIV infection, they also bear the burden of HIV care. Grandmothers are looking after their children. Women are caring for their dying husbands. Children are looking after dying parents and surviving siblings.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 90% of care for people living with HIV is done in the home by family or community-based carers. Voluntary Service Overseas highlights that inequality between women and men continues to fuel the pandemic. What is DFID doing to encourage the Governments with whom it works in partnership to adopt policies that recognise the contribution of home-based carers affected by HIV/AIDS?

I want to touch on harm reduction. I do not have the time to go into it in much depth, but I want to mention the upcoming United Nations General Assembly special session on drugs in 2016. Concerns have been raised with me that harm reduction practices for injecting drug users could be affected by the special session. The UK has historically shown great leadership in harm reduction over the years and in reducing the impact of HIV on injecting drug users. Would DFID therefore consider calling for a cross-Whitehall working group in the lead up to the 2016 special session, to ensure that the UK maintains its strong leadership on harm reduction policies across the world and that nothing happens to jeopardise it?

Before I conclude, I want to touch on a future challenge for the global response to HIV—access to medicines. I was pleased that DFID carried out a review of its position paper on HIV and AIDS. The review is more than twice the size of the original paper and is testament to the Minister’s and the Department’s commitment to the issue. I remain concerned, however, that it is missing some key elements.

I am particularly concerned about access to antiretroviral treatment. Those who have been here longer than me will know that that was a focus of the all-party group long before I became an MP, with the group conducting an inquiry in 2009 resulting in a report titled “The Treatment Timebomb”. The report effectively laid out the case that people living with HIV are now living longer—thankfully—but that the cost of treatment will therefore continue to rise to levels unaffordable for many unless something is done to ensure that intellectual property rights and patents do not infringe on a person’s right to health.

I appreciate that that presents a complex challenge to Governments throughout the world. DFID’s review mentions the challenge, but the little attention given does not reflect the magnitude of the issue. Without affordable medicines, the AIDS response could not have existed and most certainly would not be sustainable in future. Will the Minister tell us what steps DFID will be taking to tackle this fundamental human rights issue of access to medicines for HIV patients? Has she had discussions with other Departments that might have influence?

Rhetoric on HIV in recent years has spoken much of the end of AIDS being within our grasp—we have the means to do it. However, although it is true that we can now prevent people from being infected and that we can treat people living with HIV so that in practice they live a full life span, we are a long way off achieving the end of AIDS.

Recently, I spoke at the annual general meeting of Stop AIDS, which is a fantastic organisation working to secure the global response to HIV and AIDS. At the AGM, the non-governmental organisation ONE reported that we are getting close to a tipping point in the epidemic, which it defined as the total number of people newly infected by HIV being equal to, and eventually lower than, the number of HIV-positive people newly put on ARVs. That is truly excellent news, which demonstrates that we are on the right track to end AIDS, although we cannot be complacent.

We are still off track on some key millennium development goals for treatment and prevention. Funding is insufficient to control and ultimately defeat the disease. Much work remains to be done and, as we approach a new global architecture in the post-MDG framework, it is vital that that is recognised by the UK and other countries that lead the way in development.

To conclude, I reiterate that HIV is not only a medical issue, but a social and a human rights one. It is one of our key human rights concerns today. I look forward to hearing the contributions of my colleagues and the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin. I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) on her excellent speech and her leadership in the all-party group on HIV and AIDS. I apologise that I will have to leave before the end of the debate, to attend a Select Committee hearing, but I will follow the Minister’s reply and that of the shadow Minister extremely carefully in Hansard.

I pay tribute to David Cairns, who did a huge amount of work in the House on the subject, and huge tribute to Nelson Mandela for his leadership in this area, as in so many others. It is vital that we continue the battle. I lived in Tanzania for 11 years and remember, as the hon. Lady mentioned, the stigma that attached to the disease in the late 1980s and throughout the ’90s, and the courage shown by many people who came forth and said, “Look, we have to tackle this.” For that reason, a couple of years ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and I visited Nile Breweries, which was conducting a programme of HIV testing and treatment for the employees, she and I decided that we would publicly take an HIV test to encourage the workers at the factory to do the same, because some remained reluctant to do so, given the stigma of even taking the test.

I want to mention four areas in which we need to reinforce what we are doing and perhaps do more. The first is funding. The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts has mentioned the important work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which we cannot stress enough, and I am delighted that the Minister has decided to increase its funding substantially. The hon. Lady quoted the statistics on the 29% fall in AIDS-related deaths since 2005; it is no coincidence that that is roughly the time during which the Global Fund has been operating. We see the same in malaria; I do not know the statistics for TB, but I am sure the same is true. Certainly, the number of deaths from malaria has fallen by a similar percentage during the time when the Global Fund has been operating.

The Global Fund is a hugely important multilateral fund, which has received very good ratings, for example in the multilateral aid review of the UK Government in 2010 and 2011. It is vital that we continue to support it. Certain issues have been brought up in recent weeks, and last year, but the current chief executive, Mark Dybul, is excellent and is tackling them. He is visiting the House next week and I hope to have the honour of entertaining him. I encourage other Members and colleagues to meet him. We must continue with the emphasis on maintaining and increasing funding. The Global Fund has not yet reached its target of $15 billion for replenishment. We need to encourage our colleagues internationally, in particular in Europe—Germany, France and other countries—to step up to the plate and ensure that the UK and the US can fulfil their commitments, because part of our commitment was conditional on others making commitments.

Secondly, we need to concentrate on the strengthening of health systems—the shadow Minister and I have discussed this on a number of occasions. Only through proper health systems in developing countries will we achieve the universal access to diagnosis, treatment and indeed prevention that is so vital. I am delighted that one of DFID’s new priorities is to reduce new infections in women and girls, which is only possible if we have strong health systems throughout the world. I want to hear from the Minister what DFID intends in this particular area—the Select Committee on International Development certainly hopes to launch an inquiry in the coming year.

Thirdly, as the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts rightly mentioned, we have to work with local groups. I am proud to say that I am an honorary member of the Kilimanjaro women’s campaign to fight against AIDS, which was launched in the early ’90s and has achieved a huge amount locally in the Kilimanjaro region of northern Tanzania and beyond, often on limited resources. The group is led by women and it works in education in support of families and the education of AIDS orphans. It did work that many other, much more substantially funded organisations were not able to do, because its work was mainly run by very committed volunteers.

DFID has an important role to play in support of such groups, not necessarily with massive amounts of funding, because sometimes the effectiveness of such groups is in inverse proportion to the amount of funding that they get. I remember one particular official group, which was substantially funded, that collapsed six months after the funding stopped, simply because it had become so reliant on it and was not prepared to continue the work once the funding stopped. It is vital that we support those groups, but sensitively, so that they are led perhaps not by expatriates going in, but by local people, supported by DFID.

Finally, there is the link made by the hon. Lady between HIV/AIDS and domestic violence and the broader issue of human rights—such as the fact that homosexuality is criminalised in, I believe, 42 out of 52 Commonwealth countries. We have to tackle such matters. Whatever might be said about us in the UK, we must take a lead. I am glad to see that the Government are doing so.

I will conclude by putting on record how important I believe it is to continue the fight. There is the tendency, as we saw with malaria in the 1950s and ’60s, once a battle seems to be largely won, to stop and relax, but it can come back with a vengeance to bite us, as with malaria in the’70s, ’80s and ’90s. We cannot give up on this. We must maintain our support, and I congratulate the Government and the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts on doing so.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Dobbin, and to have the opportunity to speak in this important and timely debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) on securing the debate and making an incredibly powerful opening speech. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who made an equally knowledgeable and powerful speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts poignantly—and rightly, at this time—highlighted the work done by Nelson Mandela in his lifetime to improve the situation for people with HIV and AIDS. He made the incredibly powerful statement:

“AIDS is no longer just a disease; it is a human rights issue.”

It is timely to think of that today, as it is international human rights day. It is an honour to mark that day with colleagues who feel equally strongly about these issues.

I want to focus on access to medicine and the human rights injustice that too many people still face in that regard. Hon. Members are already aware of the figures, but they are worth repeating: at the end of 2012, 9.7 million people worldwide had access to antiretroviral therapy in low and middle-income countries, compared with just 300,000 10 years earlier. We should recognise that achievement, but should guard against the complacency that the hon. Member for Stafford identified so poignantly.

Antiretroviral drugs have changed the way that HIV is viewed, from being a death sentence to being an illness. That achievement was propelled by a surge in donor funding and by the drastic reduction in the costs of first-line antiretroviral treatments, from $10,000 per patient 10 years ago to around $100 today. My hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts referred to the Government’s recent review of their position paper on HIV and AIDS, “Towards Zero Infections”. I want to bring a few issues that remain of concern to the Minister’s attention.

Although remarkable progress has clearly been made in ensuring access to treatment for many, the World Health Organisation estimates that another 16 million people out of a total of 26 million are eligible for HIV treatment but lack access to it. Added to that is the fact that by 2050 it is estimated that over 50 million people will need HIV treatment. The situation is described powerfully in the excellent report by the all-party group on HIV and AIDS, “The Treatment Timebomb”. Millions of people who will need treatment in future will need more expensive medicines, as they will have become resistant to the basic HIV combination therapy; also—and this is welcome—people with HIV are living longer. Second and third-line treatments currently cost at least seven times more, and when the basic treatment stops working, getting access to them is a matter of life or death. That combination—more people needing more complex treatment—needs to be addressed now to avoid a potential crisis later.

The all-party group’s report gives a cogent argument as to how it is possible to make those medicines more accessible. Ten years ago, the basic HIV treatment cost $10,000 per person per year; today, thanks to generic production, the same medicines are available for $87 per person, enabling 3 million people to access treatment across the world. To avoid a treatment crisis, those kinds of price reductions need to happen again with newer HIV medicines. The report therefore urges pharmaceutical companies to co-operate by allowing generic manufacturers to produce HIV medicines cheaply specifically for developing countries, asking them to put their medicines into a patent pool for that purpose. That would also allow researchers to work on making HIV medicines suited to the developing world. Currently many HIV medicines are designed for a developed country market, and issues such as what happens when a patient needs to take HIV medicines in combination with TB medicines have not been considered—I know hon. Members have looked at that matter closely. There are also not many special HIV drugs for children because, thank goodness, not many children in the developed world have developed HIV.

At the request of the international community, the medicines patent pool was created. It negotiates with the patent holders of priority HIV medicines to sub-license their products to generic manufacturers to manufacture and sell them at a lower cost. Since last year we have seen a more encouraging uptake from pharmaceutical companies, from GlaxoSmithKline to Roche and Gilead Sciences, but there is still clearly a long way to go. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government are taking to ensure a much greater take-up by pharmaceutical companies? In the meantime, what alternative strategies are the Government pursuing to ensure that global access to medicines is being fully considered?

Although that issue was touched on in the Government’s review, it is a major challenge facing us. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that intellectual property rights and patent protections do not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts aptly put it, prevent necessary treatments from being accessed by the millions around the world who are currently without the drugs they need and the millions who will need those drugs in the future?

The final issue I want to highlight concerns middle-income countries. “Towards Zero Infections” outlined plans to focus bilateral HIV funding on a narrower range of countries, in line with the Department for International Development’s 2011 bilateral aid review. It concluded that the UK should end bilateral programmes in 16 countries, many of them middle-income countries. That shift is based on the view that aid should be focused on low-income and fragile countries that are not able to eradicate poverty themselves.

The Government have decided to end their bilateral relationships with South Africa and India. But the fact is that three quarters of the world’s poorest people currently live in middle-income countries, as do 58% of people living with HIV; the projection is that that figure will rise to 70% by 2020. Three of the top five countries with the highest HIV burdens globally are middle-income countries, as are eight of the 10 countries with the highest tuberculosis burdens.

Middle-income countries also have far lower rates of antiretroviral coverage for people living with HIV than low-income countries, and much higher rates of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. The concern has been expressed that withdrawing funding to middle-income countries too quickly could undermine the gains that have been made through scaling up access to reach key populations, which so far have prevented a global HIV pandemic. Will the Minister comment on the extent to which a more transitional approach has been considered—one that recognises the need to build countries’ capacities for the longer term?

Médecins Sans Frontières has warned of the consequences for middle-income countries of tiered pricing—the practice of selling drugs to different countries at different rates according to their socio-economic status. That is another reason why the middle-income label must be used with caution: it must not hide the fact that the majority of the poor live in those countries. MSF has voiced strong concerns about the potential consequences of those countries being locked into bad deals. I will highlight one example. Although generic competition brought the price of first-line HIV drugs down by close to 99%, from over $10,000 per person per year a decade ago to $120 today, tiered pricing leaves middle-income countries paying as much as $740 per person per year for the second-line drug combination lopinavir/ritonavir. That is over 60% more than what pharmaceutical company Abbott is charging low-income countries. What are the Government doing to address those concerns and ensure that we do not create a ticking time bomb?

To conclude, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts again for securing this debate and for the work that both she and the all-party group on HIV and AIDS do. Given events today, it is fitting to reflect once more on the words of Nelson Mandela, who we know experienced at first hand the suffering that HIV and AIDS can bring. He famously said:

“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”

That poverty is a barrier to life-saving medicines for millions of our brothers and sisters. That is our call to action today.

It is a pleasure, Mr Dobbin, to contribute to this debate, which I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) on bringing to the Chamber. She has been a champion of the issue here and in the House, and it is clear from the questions being asked that there is interest in and compassion for those who most need help.

I thank the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) for his contribution. Not many people can say that they belong to the Kilimanjaro club, and I do not believe any other hon. Member can do so. I also thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for her valuable contribution.

It is good to make a contribution on such an important issue because MPs and parliamentarians have a role to play not just here at home, but internationally. The debate is about the international response to HIV and AIDS, and sometimes when looking elsewhere in the world, it is good also to look at home. HIV is prevalent in other parts of the world but, unfortunately, it is also an issue at home: during the past 12 years, there has been a 384% increase in Northern Ireland, which is a large increase. When focusing on the issue internationally, we must always remember what is happening in our own country.

More than 35 million people live with HIV/AIDS, and in the past year 2.3 million were newly infected. That is the magnitude of the issue. Every hour, 262 people die from AIDS. In a debate here last year, I and others asked what can be done to halt the epidemic, and the reason for this debate today is to ask what steps the Government are taking. Are they addressing the issue effectively?

There was an increase in the number of under-15-year-olds diagnosed with the disease last year, and although diagnosis is good because treatment can start, it is not good that more people are being so diagnosed. We must look at that issue. The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts referred to a large drop of 50% in HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa and that is good news, which arises from steps taken by Governments internationally in the global war against AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

When addressing the international response to HIV/AIDS, we must remember groups such as the Elim church mission in Newtownards in my constituency, which works hard on issues such as health, education, house building, business, farming and orphans. It addresses such issues in Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Malawi, three countries where there has, unfortunately, been a large increase in the diagnosis of AIDS. In the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to meet some young people from Swaziland who have AIDS, or are orphans because their mums and dads died of it. No one could be other than impressed by the smiles of those young people and their zest for life, which was a result the Elim church mission and many other groups and individuals from other churches making financial, physical and practical contributions to help such people and to give them hope and a chance in life. The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts talked not just about medical help but about the hope that can be given, and I too will focus on that.

When we saw and heard those young people, I thought that African choirs are some of the most wonderful. Ours are also good, but African choirs have a different flavour, especially those with young people. Their zest for life and interest in others impresses me. Their Christian belief sustains them, and makes one humble.

Just last month, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria confirmed £12.07 billion to fight those diseases. The bigger countries have pledged to address the epidemic throughout the world, and that sum was an increase on the 2010 figure but falls short of the £15 billion that is estimated to be needed for the next three years. We have made a commitment, but it has not been significant enough to address the total issue, and we must look at that again.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) on securing this timely and important debate. Given that last year, 320,000 HIV-positive people died from TB, which is the leading cause of death in people with HIV, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is crucial that TB REACH be properly resourced in future so that innovative solutions are not sacrificed as we try to tackle these dreadful diseases?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. HIV cannot be considered alone; TB and malaria must also be considered because they incapacitate people who are HIV-positive. A joint strategy is required.

It has been disclosed that the Government will add £1 billion to the overseas aid budget in the next year due to an increase in Government spending. Will the Minister confirm that that money will be earmarked specifically for dealing with HIV/AIDS? We cannot ignore the overseas budget, and although some people may have concerns about increasing it, I believe that it is right to do so.

Will the Minister respond to the suggestion that the UK will deliver its contribution dependent on other countries doing their bit, and that if their pledges fall short—I hope they will not—the UK and USA may not deliver their commitment? Will she confirm that the Government’s contribution is ring-fenced and will be delivered, whatever amount other countries may deliver under the global health fund? At meetings and summits such as G8, Governments make commitments to respond to world disasters, but when looking back a year later, I sometimes wonder whether they actually delivered on their commitments. Delivery is important, particularly this year, and the present momentum of reducing HIV/AIDS must be maintained. The disease ravages those in third-world countries, makes children orphans, condemns mothers to sickness and destroys communities.

Previous speakers have referred to technology. Scientific progress has been significant. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North referred to drugs and their availability. They can preserve life and communities. We must translate that into making a difference to the world’s population. I believe, as do many Members, that a person is measured by their compassion and interest in others. This great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will also be measured by its compassion for others. I know that our Government are delivering physically and practically, and I hope the Minister, whom I have the highest respect for, will outline in detail what the United Kingdom will do in the global war against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Dobbin. Like others, I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) for leading us in the debate and for the leadership she provides more generally in the House through the all-party group on HIV and AIDS. Like others, I want to pay particular tribute to her predecessor, David Cairns, for the positive and challenging work he undertook in the role.

The debate has thankfully given Members an opportunity to reflect on a number of points on international human rights day and to put AIDS in its important context—not only as a serious disease that confounded everybody when awareness of it emerged in the 1980s, but as an issue that challenges us at so many levels of policy and delivery. It challenges not only politicians, political systems, governmental processes and public services, but the private sector, and not least pharmaceutical companies and others. It is important, as we mark the progress made at a number of levels in understanding and getting to grips with the problem, that we acknowledge that a number of huge challenges are still present. Several Members have pointed out that we cannot let the significant progress that has confounded the worries and expectations of many years ago—there was almost a sense that it was impossible to counter the disease, and futile to try—lead to any sense of complacency. Progress will not move along on the wheels of inevitability. We should not assume that the momentum that is to be celebrated will be sufficient to take all else in its path; nor should we neglect the fact that some of the choices that can be made now and in the coming years could compromise some of that progress.

Rightly, the hon. Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Airdrie and Shotts celebrated the signal importance of the global health fund. Sustaining that fund is hugely important. Yes, there are issues such as targeting to be ironed out, but the fund has had a signal impact. It has to be sustained, as does the commitment of all countries to it. We need to ensure, however, that the decisions about how it is managed and directed do not create perverse outcomes.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) referred to the approach to, and emphasis placed on, the banding of countries by DFID and others. On one level, DFID’s categorisation of middle-income countries can be understood in terms of its rationale for prioritisation; but on another, it can condemn the many poor people in those countries to neglect, to their not getting the support they need. They are left facing higher prices than those faced by their counterparts in low-income countries, which is simply irrational. DFID has justified the rationale of prioritisation on the basis that the review would be all about buying results. We should not be in the business of buying a result that is bad for poor people in middle-income countries in the context of dealing with HIV/AIDS.

Many people have made the point that we should treat AIDS not just as a disease but as a human rights issue. That raises questions about not only health delivery and support, but other policies. The point was made that in many countries where there is a political difficulty in marshalling support for talking about HIV/AIDS, the criminal law on homosexuality is very regressive. As we talk to people in those countries—whether through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or the Inter-Parliamentary Union—we need address the AIDS question in the context of that debate, too.

I recall that when I visited Malawi a number of years ago, a politician—the then vice-president—was trying to talk about AIDS. He had broken a taboo, even by using the euphemism “the disease of the mattress”. He had to talk in very coded terms, but even that brought its own serious and adverse reaction. We have to support those who are trying to tackle the problem in those countries. We will not do that by saying, “Right, we have created enough momentum. That will look after itself.”

There has been progress on the patent pool, and I commend the leadership of companies such as Gilead and others. That poses a challenge to policy makers: how we make the most of those opportunities; how we encourage other companies to do more; how we encourage Gilead and others to make sure that more drugs go into the patent pool a lot earlier? As we deal with drugs that are needed for HIV/AIDS and other diseases such as TB and malaria, we also need to recognise that one of the major challenges is not only the supply of drugs but, in many of the developing countries, ensuring proper adherence. Systems are needed for that, but we also need to ensure that, as new and more specialised drugs capable of helping the young and the frail are targeted there, they are priced accordingly, so that there is no excuse for using anything else. However, we have made huge progress on this issue.

In 1985, I was on a staff exchange programme and worked for a number of months in Senator Teddy Kennedy’s office. The previous year, he had introduced and successfully passed in the Senate the first legislation that mentioned HIV/AIDS. However, even that had been a difficult and sensitive issue. It was time-limited legislation that provided research funding for one year. His challenge in 1985 was how to provide a second such piece of legislation. Even that was controversial. I remember sitting in meetings with him and his staff as they discussed how to frame a Bill that could also be subject to Senate hearings. The question was, how could they even conduct Senate hearings, because people did not want to talk about these issues? What would happen if there was discussion about prevention and condoms, for example? It was a highly sensitive issue. We have come a long way since that time.

Back then, Norman Fowler—now Lord Fowler—provided great leadership at Government level, and I was very pleased to see him presiding at events last week on world AIDS day, as he does so often. It is right that we recognise the quality of leadership that was shown here back then, but no less a quality of leadership is needed now as we face big issues and challenges. We need to address the questions that arise concerning the UN Special Assembly in 2016. There is the danger of complacency, and that mistakes might be made that will set back some of the work and progress that has been achieved. On world AIDS day, the Terrence Higgins Trust said that it is now providing advice and support to pensioners who are living with HIV/AIDS—something it never thought it would have to do. That is a mark of the progress that has been made. We need to celebrate that, but we also need to commit to ensuring that there will be no dropping back.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Dobbin. I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash)—not just for securing this debate, but for the excellent work that she has done as chair of the all-party HIV and AIDS group, one of the most active and effective groups in this place. She should be proud of that work, and her constituents should be proud of her.

I also pay tribute to all the other hon. Members who have spoken for their balanced and careful reflections. I know that the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) has had to head off to the International Development Committee, where he will no doubt do his good work in the effective way that I have witnessed at first hand. I will just note that he mentioned health systems, quite rightly. Those are a very important issue and I caveat whatever I say with my hope that the Minister will listen to her hon. Friend in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan) also raised serious and important points. Each of them reflected on different aspects of the issue, whether it was the shift in focus from both low and middle-income countries or the range of drugs available now and the importance of taking the widest possible look at that. They all reflected a sense of progress, but also the driving sense that there is still much more to do. I am sure the Minister would agree.

Given the scale of the global crisis that HIV/AIDS represents, it is vital that we continually examine the effectiveness of the action being taken, at home and abroad, both to ensure that there is treatment for those who need it and to slow and halt the spread of the disease. However, as other hon. Members have mentioned, today’s debate feels especially timely, for two reasons. First, and I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts had this in mind when she applied for the debate, last week we marked world AIDS day, when we remember the 35 million people who have died from HIV/AIDS since the start of the epidemic; when we stand with those who live with the disease; and when we re-pledge our determination to end this scourge.

Secondly, today is the day when the world is coming together to remember the life of Nelson Mandela, so this debate seems particularly appropriate. Nelson Mandela had a particularly interesting interpretation of the word “retirement”. During his retirement, he campaigned tirelessly to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS, which he saw destroying lives and communities in his own country. On world AIDS day in 2000, he described it in this way:

“Our country is facing a disaster of immeasurable proportions from HIV/AIDS. We are facing a silent and invisible enemy that is threatening the very fabric of our society.”

Mandela fought against the prevailing attitudes and the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, which resisted calls to fund antiretroviral drugs or to educate people on the need for safer sexual practices. He saw that HIV/AIDS was not only shortening lives and destroying families; the economic impact was also consigning many more people to poverty than would otherwise have been the case. The hollowing out of a generation placed a brake on economic development that could have reached across the country in the post-apartheid years.

South Africa continues to be haunted by AIDS, but thanks to Mandela and others who fought alongside him, things are slowly—albeit too slowly—starting to get better. Strikingly, earlier this year, Dr Olive Shisana, head of the South African Human Sciences Research Council, said that for the first time

“the glass is half full”.

There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of people in South Africa receiving antiretroviral treatment, up to 2 million in 2012, and for the first time there has been a decline in the prevalence of HIV among 15 to 24-year-olds. That story—that there is progress, but still a long way to go—is also the story of HIV/AIDS across the world. Bill Clinton adopted the Churchillian phrase

“we are at the end of the beginning”

to describe the current situation.

There is good news. In most regions, the number of people newly infected with HIV is falling. Globally, it was down 33% in the period from 2001 to 2012. The millennium development goal of halting and reversing the growth of HIV has been achieved and in just one year, between 2011 and 2012, the numbers accessing treatment grew by 1.6 million, as has been mentioned. It is right to pay tribute to the communities, NGOs and politicians who have fought so hard to achieve that historic turnaround.

However, those glimmers of hope must not blind us to the continued severity of the situation and the requirement to do far more. Every year, 2.3 million people are newly infected with HIV, and of those, more than 1.6 million are in sub-Saharan Africa. Seven million people still lack access to antiretroviral therapy for HIV. Marginalised groups continue to be particularly prone to infection and to have lower levels of access to treatment. That includes women and girls. The reversal of the growth in new infections could be fragile. In particular, many nations in south-east and south Asia are seeing increases in the numbers of new infections.

Britain has a strong history of leading the fight against HIV/AIDS. Under the last Labour Government, we became the second largest bilateral donor in the fight against the disease and introduced long-term funding to strengthen health systems and services. I am pleased that, broadly, that legacy has been continued under the current Government and I welcome the additional £5 million of funding each year for UNAIDS—the joint UN programme on HIV/AIDS—that the Minister announced in the run-up to world AIDS day. However, I would like to conclude by asking the hon. Lady a few questions that I hope she can address in her winding-up speech.

Millennium development goal 6 has been an important spur in pushing for progress on HIV/AIDS and in that respect has been perhaps one of the more successful goals. What replaces the MDGs post-2015 could be vital in solidifying progress. Will the Minister update us on the Government’s view as to what form the next goal on HIV/AIDS should take?

The countries in which progress towards reducing HIV infections is weakest, or in which there is a deterioration, include nations for which DFID decided in its bilateral aid review to end programmes. They include India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Russia. Without reopening those questions or getting into the rights and wrongs of those decisions, will the Minister set out what work is ongoing to help middle-income countries and others in which the bilateral programme is ending to tackle HIV/AIDS, such as expert support from Britain?

Importantly, we know that one of the most effective safeguards against all forms of disease, in terms of both prevention and cure, is universal healthcare, free at the point of use. That is particularly true in the case of HIV/AIDS: community health advice and support can be an excellent means of preventing new infections. Will the Minister set out for the record DFID’s position on providing bilateral support for health care systems in which user charges are levied and what specific work is being done to ensure that HIV treatments are available free of charge in the nations with which DFID has a bilateral relationship?

As a number of hon. Members have noted, the Government’s review of their position paper on HIV/AIDS is limited, missing a number of key issues, including access to medicines. Can the Minister assure us that such issues will be dealt with as part of the review and, given that the consultation on the review ended nearly five months ago, tell us when she expects the outcome of the consultation to be published?

On global health fund replenishment, the UK pledged £1 billion, but in fact replenishment required $15 billion and it reached only $12 billion in the talks last week. What discussions are DFID Ministers having with other Governments to ensure that the global health fund reaches its $15 billion target?

Having set out those questions for the Minister, I will conclude by thanking most sincerely all hon. Members who have taken part in this important debate, which has shown once again, if it were in any doubt, this House’s commitment to ending the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin. I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) on securing this important debate so soon after world AIDS day and just after the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria replenishment last week. I congratulate her on the important work that she does as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS, and on her powerful contribution to today’s debate, which was truly excellent. All who have contributed are part of the cohort who go out and fight the fight against HIV/AIDS because, as hon. Members have emphasised, it is such an important and ongoing cause.

When I came into post, I made HIV/AIDS one of my top priorities. When I was shadow International Development Minister—the post now occupied by the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern)—I went to South Africa with Business Action for Africa, along with a Labour and a Conservative Member of Parliament, to look at AIDS projects. During that visit, we went into the townships around Johannesburg and saw the conditions there. The trip had a profound effect on me. Many hon. Members have raised the phenomenal work done by Nelson Mandela. I was in South Africa at a time when the treatment for HIV/AIDS recommended by the country’s leadership was to take a shower. We can see the effect of Nelson Mandela’s work from the way in which things have changed and the amount of Government-funded work that now takes place.

When I visited South Africa, only the big corporations such as SABMiller and Anglo American provided facilities for their own employees, and they did so to stop them dying, not from pure altruism. Many hon. Members have spoken of the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. I went into a hospital built by Anglo American where people came forward and declared their HIV-positive status in front of other members of staff. That gave those members of staff, who were afraid of the associated stigma, the courage to declare themselves and ask for testing. That was one of the most moving experiences of my life. I say to all who take MPs on trips to enlarge, inform and develop them that that trip, eight years ago, may have been a reason why I made HIV/AIDS one of my priorities when I came into office. In addition, I grew up in an era when HIV/AIDS first became an issue. Being terrified by the AIDS prevention adverts and having many friends who died of HIV/AIDS long before there was any treatment for it, left its mark on me.

I will address the points that have been raised as I go along, after which I will try to address any that are not in my speech. There is much to celebrate. The latest UNAIDS figures show an unprecedented pace of progress in the global AIDS response. There are 1 million fewer new HIV infections each year across the world than there were a decade ago, especially among newborn children. We do a lot of work on preventing mother-to-child transmission, which is an obvious stop point, and that work is delivering results. Nearly 10 million people now have access to treatment. Although international assistance remained flat, low and middle-income countries increased funding for HIV, accounting for 53% of all HIV-related spending in 2012. That shows that we are moving towards a lasting response.

That is all excellent news, but, as we debated in Washington last week, we need to put renewed efforts into going the extra mile and achieving an AIDS-free generation. We cannot take our foot off the pedal. Risks remain that might seriously jeopardise the incredible progress we have made. Too many people are still getting infected; 2.3 million were infected last year. As many hon. Members have said, girls and women remain disproportionately affected by the virus. Infection rates in young women are twice as high as in young men. Although tremendous progress has been made on treatment scale-up with the change in the World Health Organisation treatment guidelines in 2013, at least 16 million people who are in need of treatment are not currently receiving it. Stigma and discrimination continue to drive key affected populations underground, which inhibits prevention efforts and increases the vulnerability of those populations to HIV. In 60% of countries there are laws, regulations or policies that block effective HIV services for key populations and vulnerable groups. I will return to that point.

The UK Government were delighted and proud to pledge £1 billion of UK funds at the fourth Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria replenishment in Washington last week. The UK pledge alone will save a life every three minutes for the next three years, and it will deliver life-saving antiretroviral therapy for 750,000 people living with HIV. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is not in his place and has sent his apologies for having to leave, raised the issue of leverage. The UK contribution helped to leverage, and contributed towards, an unprecedented $12 billion replenishment total. That is 30% more than was pledged at the equivalent event in 2010, and 50% of those funds will go towards dealing with HIV and AIDS.

The UK now calls on all outstanding donors to step up to the plate over the period from 2014 to 2016 to ensure that the target figure of $15 billion is reached and there is maximum impact in terms of lives saved. The Secretary of State and I are telephoning other countries to lobby them. The contribution from one country—I believe it was Switzerland, but I will correct the record if I am wrong—tripled after my telephone call. That is the point of the lobbying effort across the world, which will not end with the pledging in Washington. We must continue that effort to ensure that we reach our targets. We are also working with recipient countries to help them realise increased domestic contributions in the fight against the three diseases. We were delighted by the political commitment of recipient countries at Washington and by the financial commitment of Nigeria, which pledged $1 billion to the national fight against the three diseases. The fight is becoming truly global, with equal partnership and purpose.

This year, we conducted an internal review of our 2011 HIV position paper, which we published last month. I thank STOPAIDS for its help; I see Ben Simms wherever I go in the world. Two years on, DFID is making good progress against its expected results. Treatment-related commitments have already been achieved, and the remaining targets set out in the HIV position paper are on track to be met by 2015.

Several hon. Members mentioned the shift in funding from bilateral to multilateral. Over the past two years, we have been sharpening our focus and working more to our comparative advantage in our bilateral programmes. As the 2011 position paper predicted, the balance between multilateral and bilateral funding has shifted and our bilateral efforts are focused on fewer countries where the need is greatest. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) asked what we were doing in the programmes where we are shifting the balance of our funding. We now have some exciting new programmes in southern Africa, which is the region hardest hit by the epidemic. Given the urgent need to reduce new infections, we have prioritised critical prevention gaps and we are moving towards complementary work to deal with those gaps. As hon. Members have said, civil society has been, and remains, an essential partner for DFID in addressing those gaps. We are proud to support other multilateral organisations, such as UNAIDS, to ramp up their efforts in the global HIV response. That will reach many more countries, at a much greater scale, than the UK alone could help.

As I have announced, we will increase our annual core contribution to UNAIDS by 50% to £15 million in 2013-14 and 2014-15. That will give the organisation an extra £5 million a year to support its critical role in co-ordinating the world response to HIV and AIDS. In total, our combined bilateral and multilateral contributions secure the UK’s place as a leader in the global HIV response and demonstrate our commitment, in providing a considerable share of total global resources, to universal access to HIV prevention, treatment care and support.

The review paper highlighted three areas of particular focus for the UK: being a voice for key affected populations; renewing efforts on reaching women and girls affected by HIV; and integrating the HIV response with wider health system strengthening, which hon. Members raised, and other development priorities. That includes tackling the structural issues driving the epidemic.

I shall refer to human rights, which many hon. Members raised. In countries with generalised epidemics, HIV prevalence is consistently higher among key affected populations: men who have sex with men; sex workers; transgender people; prisoners; and people who inject drugs. Over the years, DFID has spearheaded support to HIV programmes for key populations. They have been and they will remain a key policy priority for us. We will use DFID’s influence with multilaterals to be a voice for key populations and to push for leadership and investment. We will focus on evidence-based combination prevention services, such as condoms, HIV testing and counselling, and comprehensive harm reduction programmes.

Of particular importance are the programmes and initiatives we are supporting to reduce stigma and discrimination. Our ultimate vision for key populations is for their human rights and health to be recognised, respected and responded to by their Governments. The UK is proud to be a founding supporter of the Robert Carr civil society Networks Fund, through which we support those particularly vulnerable groups. Valuable lessons have been learnt from the fund’s first year and this world AIDS day, the fund announced a second round of grants.

Before the Minister moves on from the Robert Carr fund and key populations, will she clarify whether any DFID money will go to grass-roots organisations? As I said earlier, the Robert Carr fund operates regionally and I know that a lot of money goes through multilaterals. It would be good to have some clarification on how we are getting money through to smaller groups.

I will come back to that issue shortly.

Human rights was one of the key issues raised by hon. Members. The UK Government are at the forefront of work to promote human rights around the world. We regularly criticise Governments who violate those rights, including those that discriminate against individuals on the basis of sexuality. I have personally raised those issues with Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents in Africa. We take some of our lead in DFID bilateral countries from activist groups in the LGBT community, so that may take place behind closed doors due to the difficult, sensitive and dangerous nature of some of the work they do in countries where the law is such that they may face prosecution and for which they could face a backlash. I am committed to raising such issues with Governments across the world, as is the Foreign Secretary and many others across Government. Human rights is at the forefront of our work.

Women and girls are at the centre of our HIV response. Globally, the rate of new HIV infections among women and girls has declined, but the pace of decline is not as rapid as we would like and it is a critical area for renewed UK and global efforts. Gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment lies at the heart of DFID’s development agenda. Since 2011, each of our bilateral programmes has seen a greater focus on HIV prevention addressing the needs of women and girls. We are supporting research to improve outcomes for women and girls, including the development of female-initiated HIV-prevention technologies, and we are looking into how gender inequality drives epidemics, with a particular focus on improving what works for adolescent girls in southern Africa.

We know that in a crisis, girls and women are more vulnerable to rape and transactional sex. The highest maternal mortality and worst reproductive health is in countries experiencing crisis. Contraception, prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and safe abortion are life-saving services, yet they are often ignored in humanitarian responses. That is why DFID is currently developing a new programme on sexual and reproductive health in emergency response and recovery, including services to reduce the transmission of HIV. We welcome the fact that the global health fund will also prioritise women and girls more in 2014 and we look forward to working closely with it on that.

In terms of integration with the wider health system, we know that for a response to be lasting, we must integrate HIV within other sectors and find concrete solutions to sustainable financing. We recognise that a strong health system is an important way to improve the reach, efficiency and resilience of services. The co-infection connection and the integration of HIV services with TB services, sexual and reproductive health services and the wider health system were raised. People living with and affected by HIV, including children and people with disabilities, need to be treated holistically and not just as a series of health problems.

We are also working with countries to ensure that they are in the lead role and increasingly financing their own national responses. In the end, that is the only way to sustainability. We are also working with the global health fund and others to look at market shaping. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North mentioned tiered pricing—we term it market shaping—as a way of further reducing commodity prices not only for low-income countries, but for middle-income countries graduating from donor support, which many hon. Members mentioned.

I have tried to cover most of the points raised, but I have left a few things out. Integrated responses to tackling TB-HIV co-infection were highlighted in the HIV position paper review as a key area of current and ongoing effort. It will contribute to the global results to help halve TB-related deaths among people living with HIV by 2015. A cross-Whitehall group on harm reduction was called for. The UK Government remain committed to supporting harm reduction efforts to ensure that that goal gets back on track. DFID is currently liaising with other Whitehall Departments on the drafting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs ministerial statement, and will remain engaged on that crucial issue in the lead-up to the UN special session on drug control in 2016.

Hon. Members mentioned access to medicines, which is vital. The access to medicines index, last published in November 2012 and supported by DFID, shows that companies have their own strategies for managing their intellectual property and supporting access to medicines. The medicines patent pool currently has agreements with the US National Institutes of Health, Gilead Sciences, ViiV Healthcare and Roche. The UK will continue to support actively that collaborative initiative to enhance access to more affordable treatment and to promote the development of appropriate treatment for children. The UK strongly encourages other companies that have patents for the new first-line treatment for HIV to consider beginning formal negotiations to enter the pool. The medicines patent pool idea was endorsed by the G8 and the UN General Assembly session on HIV and AIDS, to support the availability and development of new first-line treatments for HIV and AIDS.

In addition to funding for antiretroviral drugs through the global health fund, UNITAID and other agencies, DFID also works to make markets for antiretrovirals work better to reduce prices, increase the number of quality suppliers and enhance access. Our partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative has already contributed to secure price reductions of almost 50% on both first and second-line therapies for HIV, saving African Governments more than £500 million. That is sufficient to put an extra 500,000 people on AIDS treatment for three years. As has been said, that fall in price from $100,000 per treatment to $100 is the most incredible result. We need to keep pushing down those prices for as long as we can. In terms of civil society, we continue to provide funding for work at the grass roots through our civil society programme partnership arrangements and other DFID civil society grant awarding schemes.

I have only one minute, so I will reply to hon. Members by letter if I have missed any points. The UK and others made huge contributions last week in Washington. There is a great sense of excitement and common purpose in the world, leading towards the vision we all hope for—an AIDS-free generation—an historic moment. A sad truth of the HIV epidemic is that it is often women and girls who are most at risk of human rights abuses in developing countries and least able to get access to the services they need. Addressing gender inequality, stigma, discrimination and legal barriers remains our priority.

Road Safety

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin, and a privilege and pleasure to see in his place the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), for whom I have great admiration and respect. I am delighted to have secured this debate on road safety, an issue affecting every one of us in society; all of us use the roads at some point. The issue has been raised with me by many of my constituents, by charities campaigning for safer roads and by many other organisations.

It is fair that I should declare my interest at the beginning. I was once named by Brake as a champion of road safety for my campaigning on drink-driving. It is only right that I should put that on the record. I understand that the issue of road safety is covered by two Departments: the Department for Transport and, in relation to sentencing on matters such as drink-driving, the Ministry of Justice. There is greater collaboration on that matter.

Every death on our roads is an avoidable tragedy and every injury a preventable suffering. Our roads have become safer and are among the safest in the world, but last year more than 195,000 casualties were still reported to the police. We should not lose sight of the achievements made in improving road safety. Last year, there were fewer fatalities in the UK than in most other countries in Europe and the rest of the world, and in 2012, one third as many people were killed on our roads as 20 years ago, but more can and should be done to reduce harm to road users. In November is road safety week, which since 1997 has been organised by Brake and involves schools, organisations and community groups taking action to improve road safety. It is a reminder that we can make our roads even safer and reduce tragedy if we all work together.

This is only a short debate, so I will focus on some key factors contributing to road casualties. The first are drink-driving, driving while disqualified and driver distractions. Colleagues may have other road safety issues to put to the Minister, and they should do so.

We all know the dangers posed by those who choose to drink and drive. Department for Transport figures show that the number of deaths from drinking and driving has increased by 17%, accounting for 16% of all road deaths in the UK. The latest review of drink-driving laws in 2010 by Sir Peter North noted that a minority of drivers persist in drink-driving and that many of those caught are well above the legal limit. A staggering 40% are 2.5 times over the limit. Many go on to reoffend; more than 12,000 people a year convicted of drink-driving offences have previously been convicted for such an offence.

This year, I proposed a ten-minute rule Bill to raise the maximum prison sentence for repeat drink-drivers from six months to two years, to give the courts the additional powers that they need to tackle persistent offenders.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on an issue that I know he feels strongly about. Does he agree that part of the problem with the law at the moment is that magistrates are required to give a discount for a guilty plea from defendants convicted of multiple drink-driving offences while disqualified, even if the reading is high? Their powers of punishment are insufficient, which they find frustrating when they are trying to mete out justice.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know that he saw that for himself when he was a solicitor and dealt with such cases. When I was a barrister, I saw that the police and all the other agencies found it frustrating that an offender could be brought to court yet given a limited—even minimal—sentence for serious offences, even taking into consideration the danger that they posed to wider society.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the combination of offences. Normally, somebody who has been drink-driving has probably also been done for driving while disqualified. I will refer in due course to driving while disqualified, but his point is valid. I thank him for supporting my ten-minute rule Bill on drink-driving and repeat offending and my private Member’s Bill on driving while disqualified.

My Bill has the support of Brake, the Royal Automobile Club and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. In today’s edition of The Times, there is an article by Julie Townsend, the deputy chief executive of Brake, saying that even one drink is now too many for most drivers, urging the Government to consider reviewing what is happening in other parts of Europe and asking that the legal alcohol limit be reduced. Undoubtedly, the Minister will comment on that in due course.

My first question to the Minister is this. What are the Government doing to address persistent drink-drivers? Secondly, will the Government support my Bill to raise the maximum sentence to two years for repeat offenders? Thirdly, will they also consider reviewing the sentencing guidelines for drink-drivers?

Those who repeatedly drive while disqualified are linked to repeat drink-driving offences, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) pointed out. According to a reply to my recent parliamentary questions, Government figures show that in 2012, 42% of offenders sentenced for driving while disqualified had received a conviction for the same offence within the previous 10 years, and 72% of offenders who received a custodial sentence had been convicted for the same offence within the past decade. As with drink-driving, the maximum sentence for driving while disqualified is six months’ imprisonment or a level 5 fine. The Magistrates’ Association has raised the issue with me, saying that its members are concerned by the many instances of the offence, sometimes repeated many times, and are frustrated that their powers of imprisonment are insufficient.

Last week, I introduced two Bills to strengthen the law on driving while disqualified. The first would increase the maximum sentence that a driver can receive for causing death while disqualified from the current two years’ imprisonment to 14 years, in line with the current penalty for causing death by dangerous driving. The second would increase the maximum jail sentence to two years for repeat offenders who continue to drive even after having been banned.

My fourth question to the Minister is: will the Government consider increasing the maximum sentence for disqualified drivers and support my Bills? Fifthly, will they consider reverting driving while disqualified to an either-way offence, as it was prior to 1988? I understand that such issues are dealt with predominantly by the Ministry of Justice, but their implications for road safety are immense.

On alcolocks, existing measures’ contribution to reducing drink-driving seems to have decreased due to a hard core of heavy drinkers who are not susceptible to them. We therefore need to consider new ways to reduce drinking and driving. Several EU countries, including Sweden, France and Holland, have introduced alcohol ignition interlocks, commonly referred to as alcolocks, which are alcohol testers connected to the car’s start-up mechanism. They have been found to help reduce repeat offending, especially when used as part of a rehabilitation programme. Various international studies have shown that alcolock users had 65% to 95% fewer repeat offences than drivers whose driving licence was suspended or revoked. The previous Government conducted a trial programme in 2005, but there was never any follow-up.

The North report in 2010 discussed the use of alcolocks and said that trials had shown that there are merits in such initiatives, because when alcolocks are in use they prevent people from drink-driving. There are also existing powers in place, although not in force, under the Road Safety Act 2006, for offenders to be referred to an alcohol ignition programme.

Recently the European Commission has been working on developing a common road safety enforcement strategy, which could include making use of alcolocks in certain cases. So, my sixth question to the Minister is this: what recent assessment have the Government made of the effectiveness of introducing alcolocks in the UK? Seventhly, will the Minister consider the evidence from other European countries on the potential benefits of introducing alcolocks? Eighthly, what discussions have been taking place to introduce alcolocks across the European Union?

I move on to the next category that I wish to discuss. This year, the Government made a welcome move to tighten up the rules for high-risk offenders—those offenders who have been caught more than two-and-a-half times over the legal limit, who have two or more convictions for drink-driving within two years or who refuse to provide a sample. The rule changes mean that high-risk offenders must pass a medical examination to prove that they are fit to drive before they can do so.

Although the scheme has been shown to help reduce reoffending, there are concerns that a fifth of high-risk offenders have been on the register before. Evidence shows that a driver at two times the legal limit is at least 50 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident. So my ninth question to the Minister is this: what consideration has been given to lowering the level for high-risk offenders to two times the alcohol limit? Tenthly, how effective has the scheme been in ensuring that those people who should not be driving are not on the road?

I move on to my final category, which is distractions. The theme for this year’s road safety week was, “Tune in”, asking people to “tune in” to road safety and give it their full attention. Driver distraction is a major cause of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Research shows that although it is now illegal to use mobile phones at the wheel, around a third of drivers continue to flout the law.

Other distractions can include eating and smoking at the wheel, which have been shown to increase the risk of a crash. Furthermore, evidence suggests that talking on a phone while driving can be worse than drinking alcohol, with reaction times 30% slower for people using a hands-free phone than for those driving with a blood alcohol level of 80 mg per 100 ml of blood. So, my final question to the Minister is this: will he review the evidence on the dangers of hands-free mobile phone use when driving?

In conclusion, further measures are needed if we are to remain a world leader on road safety, and we must consider ways to reduce deaths and injuries on our roads. I look forward to hearing the Minister respond to the questions that I have put to him.

Before I call the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) to speak, I want to inquire whether he has permission to do so from the Member who secured the debate.

I am grateful to the Minister and to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti). I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this debate as part of his battery of attention.

I wish to add a few words that go beyond the law and away from enforcement. I had responsibility for road casualty reduction from 1986 to 1989. We set out a plan to reduce the fatalities and serious injuries by mistake and slight injuries by a third by the year 2000. Since then, successive generations—both of Ministers and of road users—have reduced the deaths from about 5,600 a year to about 1,750 a year. The numbers will fluctuate: the year before last, there was a slight increase, then last year there was a significant reduction. Part of that fluctuation is due to chance; part of it is due to factors beyond what we actually do.

What is clear is that it is what road users themselves do that makes the biggest difference. Safer roads, yes; safer vehicles, yes; better medicine, yes. However, the biggest change, as my hon. Friend has mentioned, has been in the consequences of over-the-limit drink-driving. Deaths in that category have come down from 1,200 a year to about 200 a year; there has been a reduction of more than four-fifths in the number of deaths caused by people driving after drinking the equivalent of a bottle of wine or more.

That reduction was not achieved by enforcement—there has been no change of law, no change of sentencing and no change of penalties. It has come about because more hosts have provided alcohol-free drinks and expected people to take them; because more passengers have picked alcohol-free drivers; and because more people, like me, decide in advance, “Is it going to be drinking tonight or is it going to be driving?”

I would argue that learning those lessons would probably do as much good, if not more, as some of the proposals that have been put forward by some groups. More than 20 years ago, I received constant demands for a lower alcohol limit—automatic conviction for people with lower limits of alcohol in their bodies. However, those are not the prime people we are discussing today; as my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham rightly said, it is the people who are at twice the legal limit or above. I support his suggestion that bringing down the measurement for being excessively over-the-limit from two-and-a-half times the limit to two times the limit would work.

We also ought to consider introducing sureties, so that people who have been convicted for being well above the legal limit should have to pay money into a fund during the months when they are disqualified from driving, which they will get back if they are not caught reoffending by drink-driving during, say, the next five years. Instead of suddenly trying to impose a fine on them at the end of a period, there would be money in the bank that they would get back if they showed that their alcoholism, or other behaviour, could be controlled.

I will end my brief contribution by saying to the Minister that I intend today to put down some written questions on one part of the road environment that I know he is familiar with. I do not ask him to answer these questions now, but I shall be asking about the contrast between pelican and puffin crossings, and particularly whether it is right to allow any local highway authority to maintain and keep any pelican crossing with multi-lane approaches.

We have only to look at some of the pelican crossings around Westminster to see the dangers of such crossings. I will ask the Minister whether any highway authority is installing pelican crossings now and, if they are, whether they should be required to obtain his permission to put in a pelican crossing rather than a puffin crossing.

We all know that most of us are doing the things that we learned 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Well, 10, 20 or 30 years ago, we were not aware of the dangers of pelican crossings compared with puffin crossings. The Safer Roads Foundation, with Michael Woodford, which has the support of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, has raised this issue. It has used research from the Transport Research Laboratory, and I think that it is time that we in Parliament put pressure on local highway authorities, through the Minister, and say to them, “No more pelican crossings, and those that do exist should not be renewed as pelican crossings. And if you intend to put in a pelican crossing, explain why you think that it is going to be safer than putting in a puffin crossing.” It is time that we took this automatic way of reducing risks and reducing the casualties associated with those risks.

Thank you very much for calling me to speak, Mr Dobbin. You seem to have drawn the short straw again in having me in one of these debates.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) on securing this debate. Road safety is an issue that has long been close to my heart. The UK is a world leader in road safety. Our statistics show fewer road deaths per million population than in almost any other EU country. Road deaths in the UK are lower by almost a factor of four than in the United States, and they are also lower than in Germany or France. From 2011 to 2012, the number of people killed in road accidents reported to the police decreased by 7.7% to 1,754, which is the lowest figure on record. The number of casualties also fell by 4%, including a reduction in the number of people seriously injured on our roads. However, there is no room for complacency. Every death and serious injury is a tragedy, and it remains vital to reduce the number of people who are killed or seriously injured on the UK’s roads. Even one death on our roads is too many.

Many of the issues that my hon. Friend raised about sentencing and penalties are matters for the Ministry of Justice; it would probably expect me not to encroach too far on to its territory, but I hope that there can be an engagement between the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Transport and my hon. Friend, to consider how we can review some of these sentences and penalties. I am assured that all penalties are constantly under review in the light of experience.

I turn now to drink-driving and repeat offenders. I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about the impact of drink-driving. My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) outlined his own involvement in dealing with this issue. I must admit that I have not thought about it for very long, but his idea of a surety that could be built up before being returned to a driver if they are successful in not drinking and in meeting the medical requirements imposed on them seems—at the outset—to be a sensible idea. I also note the points that he made about puffin crossings. I have had a meeting with him and with those who have produced a very useful video that shows some of the dangers faced by people using the old pelican crossings with multi-lane approaches.

We have a proven strategy for tackling drink-driving and repeat offenders, which combines legislation, enforcement, engineering and communications. We work closely with the police and other organisations on education, and on communicating drink-drive messages in a consistent way. As a result, there has been a step change in public attitudes to drink-driving. Indeed, the current generation of young people regard drinking and driving as a complete no-no.

Since 1979, drink-driving casualties, deaths and serious injuries have fallen dramatically. There has been an almost sixfold reduction in the number of people killed in drink-drive related accidents and a similar drop in seriously injured casualties. In 2011, we saw the lowest level of drink-driving fatalities since detailed reporting began. Provisional figures suggest that the number of people killed in drink-drive accidents in 2012 increased by 17% on the previous year, from 240 to 280. However, that estimate is provisional; it is based on a limited sample of data and will be finalised next year when a more complete sample is available. The provisional sample is based on a large degree of uncertainty and there have been significant revisions in previous years.

This extra, helpful suggestion is probably more for the Department of Justice than the courts. When there is an inquest into or a prosecution resulting from a death through over-the-limit drink-driving, might I suggest that inquiries should be made and presented to the court about where the person was drinking, who knew they were drinking, who knew they were driving and whether those people did anything to dissuade the person from driving after heavy drinking?

I am sure that those listening to this debate in the Justice Department will have taken heed of my hon. Friend’s point. That is part of our campaign over Christmas. One police force has been encouraging people to shop their mates who insist on drinking and driving. Often, people try to remove keys from the driver but they still insist on driving.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham mentioned the drink-drive limit. My current view is that we should not reduce the drink-drive limit; we have a gold standard limit and a gold standard penalty. Although other countries in the European Union have a lower limit, they also have lower penalties. I would not want to demote the offence of drink-driving and for it to be in a similar bracket with speeding or other motoring offences. It is right to stick with the decision made in a review some years ago about our drink-drive limit and to stick with disqualification, which is the penalty that really makes people sit up and take notice.

On campaigns and communication, just last week I launched the Think! drink-drive campaign, highlighting the snowball effect that a drink-driving conviction can have on one’s future job prospects. Up to 1 million people work in jobs that they could lose as a result of a drink-drive conviction, and almost a third of people would have to give up their job as a result of such a conviction because they rely on a car to get to work. Additionally, it could affect a person’s chance of getting another job, because any employer can ask to see unspent criminal convictions. Drink-driving is a criminal offence. A drink-driving conviction can have a devastating impact on people’s personal life, leading to a driving ban, criminal record, job loss and even imprisonment. That is the message we are giving this Christmas. The Think! drink-drive campaign has been running for more than three decades and last week it was awarded a Prince Michael international road safety award for the part it has played in helping to reduce drink-drive casualties.

Last week, the sixth annual Coca-Cola designated driver campaign was launched, in partnership with Think! This allows drivers to benefit from a “Buy one, get one free” offer on Coca-Cola products over the festive season. I must point out that other carbonated beverages are also available.

What new measures are being introduced? We are also introducing new legislation, through the Deregulation Bill, to close the loopholes on drink-drive enforcement. One of these loopholes is the so-called statutory option. If the lower of the driver’s breath readings is below 50 micrograms per 100 ml of breath, they are entitled to have their breath sample replaced by a specimen of blood or urine. This measure has been in place since 1981 and was included due to concerns about the reliability of evidential breath-testing devices at the time. But the process can lead to delays in obtaining the specimen where there is not a resident health care professional at the police station, which can result in a negative blood or urine test. Roadside breath-testing machines have been developed extensively and there are no longer concerns about reliability. More than 30 years on, it is time that the statutory option is removed.

We are improving devices further. Roadside evidential breath-testing devices are currently being type-approved by the Home Office. Once that process is complete, police officers will be able to collect evidential specimens at the time the offence is committed. We are supporting that by removing the requirement for a preliminary breath test where a roadside evidential breath test is performed. This means that in difficult operational scenarios, police officers will only need to take two breath specimens instead of three. Another measure is to allow registered health care professionals to take blood specimens in hospitals. This makes blood collection consistent with that in police stations, streamlining the process.

Drink-drivers pose a grave risk to other road users. Repeat offenders are a particular cause for concern, because previous contact with the criminal justice system has evidently done little to change their behaviour. I appreciate why my hon. Friend is keen to ensure that appropriate maximum penalties are available to the courts when dealing with these cases. The Ministry of Justice is looking at this issue. I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of that work, but I assure the House that the Government agree that these are important issues and we are considering them carefully. In the meantime, we will continue to work to improve preventive and enforcement measures, to deter drink-drivers and communicate the implications of drink-driving convictions.

On drug-driving—

Recently, I was made aware of a campaign in some parts of the country where people are given £1,000 to shop an individual they think is susceptible to drinking and driving. Does the Minister agree that it is completely unacceptable to use taxpayers’ money for that purpose? We should be doing the good thing regardless, because it is right to make the authorities aware when somebody is about to commit a crime, rather than having incentives for reporting a susceptibility to crime.

I wondered when I saw that campaign by Derbyshire police—I think—whether it was more about getting headlines than getting people to shop their mates, so to speak, but I am interested in its effects. It has certainly publicised this issue and, hopefully, will deter even more people from drink-driving.

Alcohol interlocks, or alcolocks, are a relatively recent development in drink-driving, which prevent operation of the vehicle engine if the driver provides a breath sample that is above a specified alcohol limit. The provision for introducing them was included in the Road Safety Act 2006. These devices are used in some countries to manage some people with drink-driving convictions. Experience suggests that they are effective while in use, but that drivers revert to offending once the interlock is removed. Better results have been experienced where a programme is closely supervised and supplemented by education and counselling. However, the driver can get around the alcolock in other ways—for example, by changing the car they drive.

The Department undertook research in 2009 into the practicalities of a judicial programme. That concluded that the costs of implementing and enforcing a scheme are likely to be disproportionate. A scheme might also give those who could afford to take part the benefit of a discounted disqualification, without evidence that this achieves a long-term change in a drink-driver’s behaviour. Therefore, there are no plans to implement the use of alcohol interlock devices. However, I understand that some bus and lorry fleet operators use these devices.

My hon. Friend asked what discussions are going on in the European Union. There have been some informal official-level discussions on the pros and cons of the use of alcohol interlocks in EU member states. The European Commission consultation on the issue closed on 15 August. We have not yet received notification of the outcome. However, no formal proposals have been received from the EC in this regard.

As with repeat drink-drivers, drivers who flout driving bans are a significant risk to road users and repeat offenders are obviously a concern. In tragic cases where a driver causes a death, not only has a life been cut short, but it can also have a devastating effect on the victim’s family.

High-risk offenders are drink-driving offenders disqualified from driving for a number of reasons. A person is a high-risk offender if they are more than two and a half times over the legal limit for alcohol in breath, blood or urine. I am not aware of any plans to change that, but I hear my hon. Friend’s representations. People also fall into that category if they fail to provide a specimen for testing or if they refuse consent for a sample taken when they were incapacitated to be analysed. Repeat offenders are also high-risk offenders. If someone has been disqualified twice or more within 10 years for being over the legal limit or unfit to drive, they are a high-risk offender. We are considering the parameters in that regard. If correspondence from frustrated drivers who find it increasingly difficult to get their licence back is anything to go by, the system is working.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his hard work raising awareness and promoting the aims of road safety, and for this opportunity to speak on the subject. I hope that I have demonstrated our degree of commitment to road safety issues. The UK has one of the best road safety records in the world and we are working to ensure continued reductions in the numbers of people killed and seriously injured.

Sitting suspended.

Engineering Skills (Perkins Review)

[Mr Dai Havard in the Chair]

Professor John Perkins’s review of engineering skills was published on 4 November to rightly favourable reviews, and I am delighted to secure this debate because it gives us an opportunity to do four things. It enables us, first, to demonstrate parliamentary support for the review’s important message; secondly, to explore some of the review’s central recommendations; thirdly, to give the Government an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the message of the review and to the specific recommendations addressed to the Government; and fourthly, to emphasise that the challenges engineering faces in recruitment and the need to inspire a new generation of young people to enter science, technology, engineering and maths careers are not engineering challenges but marketing ones.

This is not a criticism, but so far the Government’s response to the Perkins review has been limited to an unscripted speech by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the morning of the review’s publication, a press release containing some welcome announcements on aspects of the review and a brief parliamentary answer. I hope the Minister welcomes this opportunity to say a little more, because the issue is urgent.

When the review was published, Stephen Tetlow, chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“If we do not meet the shortfall in skills we won’t just slip down the scale of world competitiveness, we will fall off the cliff… In a time of high unemployment, especially in the 18-25 age group, it is simply wrong to rely solely on importing the necessary talent or, more seriously, to allow industry to relocate overseas.”

I hope the Minister welcomes this opportunity to make clear the Government’s strong support for the review’s conclusions and to send a powerful message to the wider engineering community that it has a crucial role to play in making Professor Perkins’s recommendations work. Indeed, of the review’s 22 recommendations, only four are directed exclusively at the Government—the other 18 either require the Government to act in partnership with others or are directed entirely at other organisations. In total, 14 of Professor Perkins’s recommendations require Government action, but seven require employers to act, six are directed at the engineering institutions, three are directed at the broadly defined engineering community and nine are directed at various others, ranging from the Daphne Jackson Trust to the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme.

Before I go any further, I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which shows that I am a non-executive director of two small high-tech firms and that I have received hospitality from a major technology organisation, QinetiQ. That does not explain why I am here today, however.

As I told the House when introducing a ten-minute rule Bill on STEM careers in February, one of my two heroes is that most brilliant of engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. As someone who now wishes he had been an engineer, recent experience has convinced me that the shortage of engineering and technological skills is one of the greatest avoidable threats to our nation’s prosperity and security.

As Engineering UK said in its most recent assessment of the situation,

“the UK will need approximately 87,000 people per year over the next ten years to meet demand—and these people will need at least level 4 skills… Although supply has grown over the past year, we still have only 51,000 engineers coming on stream per year. In fact, the number of level 3 engineering-related apprenticeships has actually dropped from 27,000 to 23,500—falling well short of an annual demand of approximately 69,000.”

I detect a bit of a sea change. Suddenly, engineering and manufacturing are being discussed much more generally and much more positively. The skills shortage facing employers is becoming more generally understood, and the particular scandal of low participation of women in engineering is much more widely acknowledged, as the Perkins review shows.

Perhaps one of the hon. Gentleman’s engineering heroines ought to be Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s sister, whose engineering prowess is by no means as well known.

Or the daughter of Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace, who has a day named after her, and rightly so. I entirely agree that we need more heroes and heroines to inspire the younger generation.

The challenge is urgent. Engineering UK’s recent assessment also states:

“It is concerning that these challenges seem most intense in sectors that should be key drivers of the economic recovery… Responses from firms in the engineering, high-tech/IT and science areas show the highest proportion of both current and future problems in recruiting STEM-skilled employees, with more than one in four reporting current challenges in recruiting technicians (29%) and STEM graduates (26%).”

But still, engineering faces a crisis of misunderstanding. The excitement and challenge of modern engineering is still not properly understood outside engineering. The word “engineering” itself is a problem—“applied science” might be a better description of what engineering means—but we are stuck with the word and we must make it work. Engineering needs to be as highly regarded in this country as it is in countries as diverse as Germany, Jordan and India.

It is not the word but the interpretation of the word that is the problem. A doctor of engineering is an honourable profession in Germany. We must get away from the class-based assumption that engineers have dirty fingernails. Engineering is a high-skilled profession, and we must reflect that in this debate.

The hon. Gentleman explains the purpose of my remark better than I did, and I am grateful for his intervention.

Engineers cannot tell us what they do, at least not consistently. Ask an engineer what engineering is, and they will often give compelling answers that are brilliantly insightful, but engineers are all different. I think it was the Prime Minister who recently described engineers as

“the poets of the practical world.”

He is right, and it is that sense of wonder at what engineering can achieve that will help us to achieve our objective of getting more young people into engineering.

I like the description on the bottom of a Women’s Engineering Society poster:

“Engineering is all around us. It’s in the phone in your hand and the shoes on you feet. It’s in sub-sea pipelines and supersonic planes, towering skyscrapers and nanotechnologies. It’s even in the perfectly-baked cupcake (ovens don’t heat themselves). And it’s engineers who make all this possible—just try imagining a world without them.”

We must make engineering more diverse, not for the sake of political correctness but because members of ethnic minorities and women who are not engineers but could be are missing out on one of life’s great opportunities. Engineering skills shortages would be considerably less acute if we could make engineering more diverse.

I am grateful to the Women’s Engineering Society for drawing my attention to an article in this month’s Top Gear magazine containing 40 images of a Formula 1 team. All the people are white men except the press officer and the six hospitality staff, who are in short skirts, of course. Intriguingly, the head of electronics looks rather like Doc Brown from “Back to the Future.” Perhaps Top Gear wants to take us back to the future of a world in which engineering is dominated entirely by men. Even Jeremy Clarkson might be a little embarrassed by the stereotypes portrayed in the article. The girls at Silverstone university technical college, whom the article purports to be about, are very cross that they are being so badly misrepresented by the magazine. I think Top Gear will be correcting the record, but the article is an example of the kind of problems we face.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I apologise for being late and because I cannot stay for this important debate due to other engagements. I congratulate him on bringing forward this critical debate. Does he agree that that Top Gear illustration shows not only how engineering is often portrayed in the media, but also the challenge for young girls seeking to go into engineering—as I did, as a chartered engineer? It is a negative portrayal of what can actually be a most inspiring, engaging and fulfilling career.

I absolutely agree. Having come from an engineering background, the hon. Lady says that with much more effect than I can—politics’ gain is engineering’s loss. I am most grateful for her helpful and entirely correct remarks.

In a ten-minute rule Bill in February, I tried to be simple and focused. I wanted to increase demand from young people and to make them more enthusiastic about pursuing STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and careers, whether as apprentices or graduates; to inspire them about the possibilities in engineering, science and technology; to show them by practical example and experience while at school that engineering and technology are exciting and important careers; and then to sustain that interest throughout their time at school.

Some things have changed for the better since February. A new design and technology curriculum provides the opportunity for schools to work with businesses to deepen understanding of the realities of engineering, which was my first objective. I want to pay real tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), the Minister with responsibility for schools, for working with all groups involved to transform the Government’s original proposals. Sadly, I see fewer signs than I would like that the Department for Education really understands its role in helping young people to prepare for the world of work. Employers still sense reluctance at the Department for Education to regard schools, in the memorable phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), who hoped to be here but is sadly indisposed, as part of the supply chain for industry.

I suspended my campaign on the policy suggestions in my Bill and said that I would wait for the Perkins review. It was due in July and sadly delayed to November, but it proved well worth waiting for. As I waited, I concentrated on two issues. The first was the need to do much, much more to inspire young people about the opportunities in engineering, and second was the need to counter the appalling gender stereotyping already discussed. I was therefore delighted to see those two issues considered so thoughtfully in John Perkins’s review, but the response of the engineering community now needs to be clear and convincing and needs above all to take on the challenge of marketing engineering to young people, starting at primary school age.

I should step back a moment and offer categorical congratulations to Professor Perkins. Indeed, the Royal Academy of Engineering has encouraged me to offer a bouquet to Professor Perkins and the wider Department for Business, Innovation and Skills team

“for conducting an exemplification of open policy making. John actively sought out the views of the engineering profession and created the conditions where institutions large and small could get their voices heard. It was brilliant work.”

It also offers a bouquet to the Department for Education, by the way, which, despite my earlier reservations, I do endorse,

“for their reforms to Computing, D&T and vocational education and their willingness to take detailed advice from the engineering profession. The engagement on both sides has been excellent.”

Steve Holliday, chief executive officer of National Grid described the Perkins review to me as

“one of the best reports I have seen in quite some time”.

I agree with all that, but I want to examine one or two details with a critical eye. The royal academy offers the correct cautionary note:

“None of this is easy—particularly the things around diversity—and so on-going collaboration between Government and the engineering profession is key. We’ve had that during the periods of review and reform [good] and now the challenge is to find a mechanism to keep that going in the long term steady-state.”

We need an implementation plan from the Government and from the engineering community.

Against that background, I offer eight observations on areas of the report. The first is a particular bête noire of mine: the lack of attention to defence. The report is strangely silent on the wider security and national resilience issues caused by a shortage of British engineering talent. Defence and security face the greatest threats, as they often cannot use non-British labour on national security grounds. It is true that the bigger companies, such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, have no problem recruiting as they are so well-known. They are now over-recruiting to their apprenticeship programmes to feed apprentices into their supply chains, which is welcome and good of them. Smaller companies, however, face huge challenges in finding the right skills. Organisations such as GCHQ are also challenged and need all the home-grown cyber-expertise they can find. I am delighted to be a member of the skills group of the defence growth partnership, and I hope to be able to play my part and to address some of the issues.

My second concern, at which I have already hinted, is that the age group recommended by Perkins is too old. We need to go younger. The National Foundation for Educational Research looked at features of the activities and interventions in schools that were most successful at improving young people’s engagement in STEM. It found that of the five most beneficial activities they identified, the first was to engage pupils at an early age and at key transition points. Indeed, the Perkins review actually says:

“If we are going to secure the flow of talent into engineering, we need to start at the very beginning…Starting to inspire people at 16 years old is too late; choices are made, and options are closed off well before then. So we need purposeful and effective early intervention to enthuse tomorrow’s engineers.”

It is no accident that the “inspiring women” campaign, organised by Inspiring the Future and recently launched by Miriam Gonzalez, aims to start talking to girls at the age of 8, not 11 as Perkins recommends. A recent report from King’s College London on young people’s science and career aspirations said:

“Efforts to broaden students’ aspirations, particularly in relation to STEM, need to begin at primary school. The current focus of most activities and interventions—at secondary school—is likely to be too little too late.”

Steve Holliday told me of his company:

“National Grid’s current strategy is to ‘get in early’ by presenting engineering as a vibrant and viable career choice to a mixed culture and cross gender audience from the age of 8 years upwards.”

If hon. Members want to see a good video for encouraging people to get into STEM careers, I recommend the film produced by Nigel Whitehead of BAE Systems. I have the YouTube address here, but if hon. Members google “engineering careers and BAE Systems”, they will find it. I will happily share the link with anyone afterwards. Perkins’s fifth recommendation to reach out

“particularly to girls aged 11 to 14”

should be rethought. Eight is a much better age to begin.

My third concern is about female participation; the report contains insufficient detail on what we can do to address that problem.The Women’s Business Council’s report, “Maximising Women’s Contribution to Future Economic Growth”, makes the point that while women need work, work also needs women. Ford of Britain said to me:

“Above all there is a need for stronger and more systematic collaboration between educators, industry, BIS and the Department for Education to improve both the reputation and the uptake of STEM subjects and engineering amongst girls.”

I agree with that and worry that, despite the damning evidence produced by Perkins, his recommendations fall well short of a credible path to do something about it. I am working with Science Grrl, a creative group of young professional women working in STEM, to produce specific recommendations to address the issue. We aim to produce a report in March. The Select Committee on Science and Technology, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), is holding its own inquiry and will hopefully produce its report in the not-to-distant future. The Women’s Engineering Society has some pretty clear and compelling advice to employers and schools, which I commend. We certainly need a clearer plan of action than that offered in Perkins.

The report fails to address the failure to engage local enterprise partnerships, whose potential contribution could and should have been addressed. As the Minister of State at BIS said in a recent written answer:

“At local level, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have the lead role in setting strategies for skills within their overall Strategic Economic Plans”—[Official Report, 8 October 2013; Vol. 568, c. 268W.]

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent points he is making, and on the enormous impact he has already had on turning round the design and technology curriculum. Does he welcome the work going on in the Worcestershire local enterprise partnership to get local business, such as Worcester Bosch and Mazak, working with local schools to promote engineering at both primary and secondary level?

I welcome the intervention from my hon. Friend, who is my own Member of Parliament. He is absolutely right that the Worcester LEP is doing all the right things, but I doubt whether that is necessarily the case in every LEP area. The Government need to do more to ensure that best practice is shared, even if they do not go down my preferred route of LEPs having a statutory responsibility to share it.

There is also the question of careers advice. Engineering fits into a bigger picture of careers advice in schools. Some interesting research from the Education and Employers Taskforce on NEETs—those not in education, employment or training—was recently drawn to my attention. It is actually two years old, but I only found out about it last week. It was published in February 2012 and asked young adults aged 19 to 24 about their current employment status, and to reflect on their experiences of the world of work while they were at school. The findings were striking. Of the young people who could recall no contact with employers while at school, 26.1% went on to become NEETs. That reduced significantly to 4.3% for those who had taken part in four or more activities involving employers such as career insights, mentoring, work tasters, work experience and so on. As Steve Holliday of National Grid puts it:

“Beyond the Perkins report, the final point I would make is that for the engineering sector to land its messages well, there needs to be a solid foundation of general careers advice/awareness in schools…This will require a joined up strategy between DfE and BIS, with schools and business then having their part to play in making this a reality. I fear that without it, interventions will be too fragmented to make a real impact.”

That would be very serious.

On a slightly more positive note, the report’s recommendations 12 and 13 on vocational education are valuable. The Royal Academy of Engineering offers this perspective:

“In all of John’s work, probably the bit with the greatest potential for long term impact relates to apprenticeships. All critiques of ‘modern apprenticeships’”—

those under this Government and the previous one—

“show that not all have matched the generally accepted benchmark of the advanced engineering apprenticeship. And government’s response to the Richards’ review promises to make even the engineering apprenticeship better. But the potential significance of those reforms is not obvious to most readers of the Perkins review. With cross-party consensus on apprenticeship, this is the time for a drive to quality outcomes and not just growth in apprenticeship starts”—

as welcome as those are.

“Britain could close the gap on the German dual system if she put her mind to it”.

That is an important point for the Minister. I know he is working hard for this and I congratulate him on and thank him for all his work, but it is encouraging to see the Perkins review so welcomed by the engineering community in that respect. I would labour the point, but I want to make progress and leave time for others to speak.

Moving on to my final two related points, for something to happen, someone has to own the issue, and what is needed is a proper marketing campaign devised by experts, not the engineering of ever more elegant solutions by engineers. I am afraid that the Perkins team clearly did not speak to any marketing experts as they prepared their report. The recommendations under the heading “Inspiration” are helpful but, to be blunt, inadequate. Recommendations 3, 4 and 5 are well intentioned, but not informed by proper understanding of communications. They are recommendations by engineers to engineers. Recommendation 3, on core messages, is okay, and the fourth one, on support for the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme, is correct but limited. Recommendation 5, however, desperately needs to be strengthened.

Rightly directed at the Government and the engineering community, recommendation 5 is for a:

“High profile campaign reaching out to young people, particularly girls aged 11-14 years, with inspirational messages about engineering and diverse role models, to inspire them to become ‘Tomorrow’s Engineers’. The engineering community should take this forward as an annual event.”

For me, this recommendation is groping towards a definition of the central task, but it does not address the right age group and is too limited in its understanding of what is involved. Furthermore, remember that reference to an “annual event”. I repeat my profound concern that starting at 11 is simply too old. Girls in particular are being told at primary school that they do not do science, engineering and technology. We must address that problem. Rightly, the report states that

“we need purposeful and effective early intervention to enthuse tomorrow’s engineers”,

and that there are

“widespread misconceptions and lack of visibility that deter young people”.

The logic of those compelling points, however, has been pursued rigorously. A full, year-round marketing campaign is needed to address not only young people—primarily eight to 14-year-olds—but their parents and teachers; all the other valuable initiatives can sit under that campaign, from which they will all benefit. There are literally thousands of such initiatives. The better known include Big Bang, Tomorrow’s Engineers, STEMNET, Primary Engineer, the 5% Club and Bloodhound SSC, as well as the programmes of individual companies, voluntary bodies, public sector organisations, trade associations and professional institutions. Much work has been done by Engineering UK to bring all those initiatives together under the Tomorrow’s Engineers banner, but we need to do much more to explain the overall message of engineering.

I am indebted to George Edwards—he is sitting not a million miles away from us in the Public Gallery—an 18-year-old A-level engineering student from Kent who told me just how bad things are. He had some suggestions to make:

“As a student who has been on the receiving end of almost all of the engineering propaganda aimed at schools, 1 genuinely couldn’t describe what I am supposed to think about a career in engineering. Other than the need for more engineers, there are no clear or pragmatic messages being put across and as the problem becomes of a higher agenda for the media, the response is just to shout louder about the need for engineers.

Outreach must have substance and peer-led inspirational marketing, targeted at appropriate age groups”.

He is absolutely right.

Professor Perkins correctly speaks of the need to inspire, which requires not engineering skills but marketing and communications professionalism. He says in his report’s introduction that he has

“spoken to…industrialists, professional bodies, and educators.”

Although he rightly concludes that inspiration is essential, he appears not to have spoken to people with the appropriate marketing skills to inspire eight to 14-year-olds. This leads him to a limited understanding of what is needed to address the problems he identifies.

The UK marketing sector, similar to engineering, is world class and noted as such by many leading global brands. It is time for engineers to stop engineering solutions to the skills issue and to turn to professional marketing, just as any other organisation, product or brand would. Perkins rightly says:

“We should ensure that…messages are carefully crafted, based on the best available evidence about how to influence and communicate effectively with young people.”

I underline the point that this means working with marketing experts with proven expertise and success, not engineers. What engineers think is important might have no resonance at all with their audience.

The Government and the engineering community are both good at patting themselves on the back for all that they are doing. For example—I tread on dangerous ground here—Professor Perkins praises the Royal Academy of Engineering’s STEPS at Work initiative because it reaches 1,300 teachers and enables them to spend a day with a local engineering employer. I bow to none in my admiration for the royal academy and the outstanding work of Matthew Harrison on such issues, but with respect to them and to Professor Perkins, that scheme is a well-intentioned failure, not a success. There are more than 400,000 teachers in the state sector alone—can engineering really boast that only a little more than 1,000 of them have been persuaded to spend just one day finding out more about local jobs for their students?

The report tells us that the majority of boys and girls have had no encouragement from anyone at all—parents, teachers or friends—even to consider engineering as a career.

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point. Does he agree with me and my Committee that part of the problem is the failure of the Department for Education to provide the space for continual professional development among our teachers?

I agree that CPD is clearly an important component of what is needed to achieve the sea change, but it is not the sole answer. There is no one silver bullet; what is needed is a coherent, organised communication and marketing campaign encouraging teachers, parents and the young people they inspire to do the right thing. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but that is only part of the solution. The exciting and stimulating story of UK engineering needs to be told to the wider public, and it simply is not being told. This is a massive marketing failure, and not an easy one for engineers to resolve. Indeed, it will not be easy even for marketing professionals, but at least they are used to dealing with hard-to-sell products.

As the report underlines, the action taken by engineers to remedy that market failure has been to create “a wealth of initiatives” and therefore a “complex” and “confusing landscape”. The engineering community’s lack of engagement with marketing professionals to develop a targeted marketing programme has inevitably led to this ineffective but well-intentioned, if costly, muddle. In the report, we read that we need a “high profile media campaign”. Intriguingly, the word “media” is dropped in the summary of recommendations, and rightly so. What is needed is not a media campaign but a well-considered marketing programme, which will include as only one part of it an engagement with all types of media that reach eight to 14-year-olds, speaking to them in their language and not the language of engineers. Such a programme must emphatically not rely on only one “annual event”. Many events can be part of such a campaign, including Tomorrow’s Engineers week and the excellent Big Bang fair. A campaign is not an event or even a collection of events; it is a disciplined programme of communications activity that goes on all year.

A recent report drawing on discussions at a meeting jointly hosted by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineering and Technology in February, with key players from some 30 organisations representing industry, academia, sector skills councils and Government, concluded:

“It is therefore crucial that all the sector skills councils, trade associations, third-sector enhancement and enrichment organisations as well as existing engineering professionals, work in unison rather than isolation. Passionate urging and fragmented campaigning at best confuse prospective interest and at worst turn it away. It is only through a co-ordinated system and consistent messaging from all involved that growth through a rebalanced economy can occur.”

I agree with those wise words from the engineering community.

The Royal Academy of Engineering, working with Engineering UK, is well placed to achieve that. I hope they will rise to the opportunity—with, of course, the active encouragement of the Government.

The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and I go back a long way. We sailed under Sir George Zambellas, now the First Sea Lord, on HMS Argyle many years ago—

In 1996 or thereabouts. The hon. Gentleman has gone a long way since then. He and I remain humble Back Benchers in this debate, but we both have a passionate interest in the subject.

The hon. Gentleman made observations about how UK engineering is presented. I was infuriated by the failure of the “Top Gear” programme, when it held that fantastic event in the Mall, to present Vauxhall Motors as one of the great British engineering success stories. The griffin motor corporation started just down the road over in Vauxhall, but is now making cars in my constituency and vans in Luton. According to Jeremy Clarkson, however, Vauxhall Motors was not good enough to be exposed to the British media. People creating such a bias is part of the problem.

I make my second point to both the Front-Bench spokesmen: this is not about the party political game, but about the future of a critical part of British infrastructure. We could all talk about a number of good news stories, but we must be mature and also reflect on some of the problems that we are facing.

The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire reflected on the work of LEPs. We could have a long ideological debate on LEPs versus regional development agencies, but that would not be constructive. Some LEPs are starting to move positively in the right direction, including my own one in Cheshire, which is chaired by Christine Gaskell from Bentley. More importantly, a number of the major companies in the broader north-west are starting to pull together a solid science and engineering policy for the region, reflecting the collaboration by LEPs across boundaries. Some might say that that is reinventing the RDA, but I do not want to go down that track today. Those companies are presenting a coherent, joined-up policy in the way that we need.

Following on the heels of my Select Committee’s report on engineering skills, the Perkins review came to a similar set of conclusions. On continuing professional development—the issue on which I intervened on the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire—we recommended that engagement with industry be a core requirement of teachers’ continuing professional development. The Perkins report says:

“The engineering community should provide continuing professional development for teachers, giving them experience of working in industry”.

Here is a message that can be sent out from both Front Benches to industry: facilitate that. Coming from both Front Benches, that message would be hugely powerful.

Both reports agreed that the vocational training route into engineering was under-appreciated. The Committee was critical of Government changes to the engineering diploma following the Wolf review. The Perkins review did not comment on the reasons for the changes, but stated that

“the Royal Academy of Engineering has already led work to develop a suite of successors to the Level 1 and 2 Diploma Principal Learning qualifications in engineering.”

The review went on to say that those have been

“accredited by Ofqual and submitted for approval for the 2016 Key Stage 4 performance tables.”

Those are important steps.

The Minister has been working closely with his colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), on some important matters that will help this process, but I have to say this bluntly: it is vital that we break down the ridiculous barrier that still exists in the minds of the many people who think there is a brick wall between skills that are traditionally called vocational and skills that are traditionally called academic. Personally, I do not like the word “vocational”—it seems reflective of training to be a priest or the like. Nor do I like using the word “practical” for such skills, because chartered engineers such as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who has just left the Chamber, need to learn how to use the tools of the trade.

There needs to be a continuum across engineering, so that people who join the profession, perhaps as technician apprentices, have the opportunity to move forward through higher level apprenticeships to develop to their maximum potential. We need to open that door. The failure at the moment is that we have a structure that does not allow that flexibility and is too segmented, based as it is on the roles of the sector skills councils, the further education colleges and the universities as three separate groups of organisations instead of as a continuum providing for the needs of each trainee.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I am sure he would wish to remind hon. Members that in companies such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce apprentices flow through to very senior management levels—in fact, it is extraordinary how successful engineering apprentices are in those big organisations.

I absolutely agree. My point is that that happens despite the system. Companies recognise that apprenticeships are the way to develop the skills that they need.

That point leads me neatly to my third observation about the comparison between my Select Committee’s report and the Perkins review. We talked about the university technical colleges. The Committee welcomed UTCs, although it cautioned that

“the network of UTCs will not provide nationwide coverage and the Government must also focus on good engineering education in schools and colleges.”

Perkins says:

“Government should build on the UTC experience and seek to develop elite vocational provision for adults”.

All that is enormously important. As part of our inquiry, one of my senior advisers, Xameerah Malik, and I went to see the JCB academy. I recommend the visit to everyone in this room: it is an exemplar of what can happen if the mix is right. I left there saying to Xameerah, “I want to go back to school.” It really is an exciting place to learn. Very cleverly, the academy has created an environment where people get inside problems—address technical education as well as other more academic and broader subjects by getting inside them, in a way that neither traditional secondary schools nor traditional grammar schools ever did. It is an exciting place to visit and I commend it to everyone.

How we develop in this sector requires a different approach. In my own area, we are starting to put together a proposition, which I hope will go before the Minister in the not too distant future, on creating such a vehicle inside the community which provides the skills necessary for the automotive, aerospace and chemical sectors in my constituency. It is hugely important to try to make that happen.

The difference between us is not in the content of my Select Committee’s report—my staff, Xameerah Malik and Myfanwy Borland, have done a fabulous job in pulling together some comparisons between the Perkins review and that report. We need to try to move to action on behalf of the Government—with, I hope, the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), who speaks for the Opposition, as I would like to see a genuinely joined-up approach.

My plea is that, rather than trying to identify where minor differences might exist between the political parties, Members on both Front Benches get together to create a long-term solution to take us through a generation. This issue cannot be solved within one Parliament; it needs to be addressed in the long term, so it is vital that we get that joined-up response. It is also vital that we hear from the Minister that the Government will approach this issue in a collegiate manner and provide a solution that helps us to solve the problems that the hon. Gentleman cogently set out.

I call on Members in all parts of the House to find a way forward to address the proposals that John Perkins has cleverly put together and to ensure that our engineers, like German engineers, as I mentioned in an intervention, are referred to as doctors of engineering and held in high esteem. They should be, given that they make an enormously valuable contribution to the society in which we live.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) on securing the debate. I want to make two or three quick points.

I stand before Members as a lapsed engineer. Thirty years ago, I set off for Imperial college, determined to become an engineer. I finished my degree, and I then became a chartered accountant, although I did go back to work in technology. I have followed many debates about engineering over the past 30 years, and it might be useful to isolate the reasons why so many people in our country, uniquely, follow such a career path and what the Government, educators and society more generally can do to make it less prevalent. I think we all agree it is not a good thing.

As I said, I am a lapsed engineer. Latterly, I have also failed to get my daughter to do A-level physics. She is doing maths and chemistry, which is a bridge too far. I realise, therefore, that my credentials for speaking in this debate are not as strong as they might be.

I have three points. First, on status and culture, there has been something unique about the status of engineering in Britain, although that is perhaps truer of England than of Britain. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) talked about engineers in Germany; I used to work in Norway a lot, where, again, people referred to engineers in the same way as they would to doctors. We do not do that in this country, and we have never really got close to doing it. Clearly, it does not matter that much, but it is an indicator of the way society regards the profession.

Another indicator—I have often reflected on this—is when an engineer was last on “Desert Island Discs” or “Woman’s Hour” talking about what they do and how they have made a difference. One of this country’s big success stories over the past few years has been Range Rover. It cannot make enough of its new aluminium cars, given how many it sells all over the world, but how many people in our country could even come close to naming the cars’ chief designer? Would that be the same in Germany, France and Holland? I suggest not, and we need to be cognisant of that. Things have got better recently—and they need to, given the shortage of engineers.

I would depart slightly from some of the remarks made by the two previous speakers. There can be a danger of confusing technicians with engineers. I do not say that in a snobby way, but there can be an assumption that people have to be practical to study engineering—that those who would study engineering at Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial would be the sort of people who enjoy stripping down a car. That is not true, and having such an assumption at the heart of the discipline of engineering can be a problem. That is not to say that places such as the JCB academy are not brilliant—we absolutely need more of them, and they have a role to play—but we must be careful about our language.

At organisations such as the Royal Dutch Shell group, the top half-dozen people will almost always have an engineering background. In Royal Dutch Shell’s case, that is partly because of its Dutch heritage, rather than its British heritage—[Interruption.] Yes, it is. In so far as there are disciplines and professions in the Royal Dutch Shell group, the people with an engineering background tend to be based in Holland, not the UK, which is stronger on marketing.

Aside from status and culture, we also have salary and prospects. When I finished my engineering degree, I became a chartered accountant. One of the guys who started on the same day had come top in engineering at Cambridge, but he became a chartered accountant and then went into the City—I do not know what happened to him after that. That would happen in no other country in the world; nobody in the United States who left the Massachusetts Institute of Technology having come high up the list of graduates would go on to become a certified public accountant.

However, at the time I became a chartered accountant—it was 30 years ago, although I suspect this is still happening—we saw fit to incentivise people in a certain way. The guy who joined with me was making a commercial decision about his career, and he thought, rightly or wrongly, that he could do better and progress more quickly by taking the route he did. As a result, however, there was a penalty to be paid by society, and I contend that we have been paying it for the past 20 or 30 years.

There is also an issue about salary. I gently point out that, while the Government hire many engineers and people from other professions, such as barristers, we would have to go a long way to find engineers we chose to pay £200,000 or £300,000 purely from Government money, in the same way as we choose—again, uniquely in this country—to remunerate advocates.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Just for the record, I should say that the median annual salary by degree subject six months and three and a half years after graduation is higher for engineering and technology than it is for law.

I am delighted to hear that. However, I repeat my question: how many engineers do the Government pay £200,000 or £300,000 a year, in the same way as they apparently pay advocates—a subset of them are about to go on strike over their pay—out of public, as opposed to private, money? We think that is normal. That is to do with cultural norms and with an assumption we make in this country about the relative value of careers, which is wrong.

Finally, we have made a lot of progress—even in this Parliament—on education. I welcome a lot of the noise coming out of the Government about the need to promote technical education, maths and physics—the STEM subjects—and all that goes with that. I have been of the view that a liberal arts-biased education system is deeply ingrained in our country. I very much hope that the progress that has been made in the past few years towards emphasising STEM—particularly for women—continues. Fixing the issue is a prerequisite for achieving the sort of economy we will need to have in the next two or three decades.

Order. Before I call Meg Munn, I should point out that I have been informed that we may have a Division fairly soon. If we do, I will have to suspend proceedings for 15 minutes. In the meantime, however, we will carry on.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) on securing the debate and on his excellent contribution.

The Perkins review is an important publication. It clearly shows that the Government and others need to do much more to ensure we are not disadvantaged more than we are by the lack of people with engineering skills or by people not using the engineering skills they have. The review highlights the low proportion of women working in engineering and states:

“One of the main reasons…is girls’ subject choices in school.”

Few girls study mathematics, and even fewer physics, through to A-level. In 2011, 49% of state-funded schools had no girls taking A-level physics at all. Much has been written on the issue, including by me. Many initiatives have been tried, but the proportion of women engineers remains stubbornly small. Recommendation 7 of the Perkins review states:

“Government should continue to support schools to increase progression to A-level physics, especially among female students.”

That is to be welcomed.

An important development is the latest report by the Institute of Physics, which was launched only yesterday. It contains important information on subject choices in secondary schools. Entitled “Closing Doors,” it shows the individual consequences to young people of choosing particular subjects for A-level—in particular, the decision not to study physics closes doors to a wide range of engineering roles. Importantly, the research is undertaken on a wide range of subjects: three that are predominantly studied by girls at A-level and identified as such, and three predominantly studied by boys and identified as boys’ subjects. The research shows that is not just in physics that there is a significant failure to challenge gender stereotyping.

Simply cajoling girls to study physics, however, is not an answer; there are wider issues of gender stereotyping in schools. The gender equality duty, introduced by the Equality Act 2006, requires public bodies to have due regard to the need

“to promote equality of opportunity between men and women.”

That also means between girls and boys. Some schools do challenge stereotyping, and we need more research to understand how they do that and what works for students. Schools across the country that have poor results have been analysed by the Institute of Physics, and they need support and help to change and improve.

Professor Perkins argues in recommendation 5 that we should be aiming to inspire 11 to 14-year-olds to become tomorrow’s engineers. However, like the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire, I contend that our efforts to broaden young people’s views of where science can take them must begin at the very least at primary school, if not earlier. Most children form an early view about the kind of careers that are open to them, so focusing on secondary school children is likely to be too little, too late.

We should ensure that all nursery, primary and secondary education is free from gender bias in the roles presented to children. A previous report by the Institute of Physics, “It’s Different for Girls,” outlined how single-sex schools are significantly better than co-educational schools at getting girls into non-traditional subjects. That confirms the vital importance of role models to the young when they are considering careers, as well as the real benefit of someone not feeling like the odd one out if they decide to study a particular subject. At a co-educational school, a girl choosing physics is likely to be in a minority; in a single-sex school that is clearly not a problem. I do not advocate single-sex schools at all, but we must learn why they are getting more girls to study physics than co-educational schools.

Role models are very important, and in Sheffield we have an inspiring one. Ruth Amos is 24 years old and already running her own company.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

Before the suspension, I was about to talk about Ruth Amos, aged 24, who is already running her own company. She designed a product, the StairSteady, for her GCSE resistant materials course, to help people who have difficulty using stairs but do not have the money or space for a stairlift. We should champion stories such as Ruth’s in our schools.

As hon. Members have said today, the Department for Education has a crucial role in ensuring that young people have the necessary skills to pursue a career in engineering. I was concerned to learn that many local schools offer only a generic GCSE, so students are prevented from even considering physics at A-level. The state-funded secondary education sector, including academies and free schools, should not seek league table success by opting for so-called easier subjects at GCSE. All must offer and promote the three individual sciences and maths. That should be coupled with an embedded model of careers education in which curriculum learning is linked to a wide range of real-life careers. I do not have time today to cover the woeful state of our careers advice service, but it must be tackled if we are to have any chance of achieving the outcomes to which Perkins rightly aspires.

Of course, a traditional academic approach is not the only way to develop tomorrow’s engineers. Recommendation 10 of the Perkins review rightly stresses the importance of providing élite vocational provision. We have seen the success of that in Sheffield. The university of Sheffield advanced manufacturing research centre with Boeing is focusing on recruiting more female apprentices, with a new cohort joining in April. Sheffield Hallam university’s women in science, engineering and technology team is providing advice and support on how to make that ambition a reality. Furthermore, our brand new university technical college boasts 14% female students in its first year, and deserves credit for that when, on average, only 2% of engineering apprentices are female.

Skills shortages in engineering are a national issue, requiring leadership and co-ordination, and Perkins was right to call for a more joined-up approach. Having worked on the issue for a long time, I am familiar with the plethora of institutes involved in this work and the need to co-ordinate better, but I think it was a mistake for the Government to withdraw all funding from the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, which was an excellent co-ordinating organisation for all initiatives involving gender. I suggest to the Minister that it is not only important to work across the engineering institutions, but that joining up initiatives in geographical areas might lead to better outcomes.

I want to bring to my hon. Friend’s attention work that we are doing in the north-west that emulates the work that she has been involved in with our mutual friend, Dick Caborn, at the advanced manufacturing research centre in Sheffield. Now that we have acquired for the university of Chester the Thornton research centre, previously owned by Shell, the vision is not only to turn that into a new faculty of chemistry and chemical engineering, but to have an industry-focused training and innovation environment that helps address problems in the same way as is happening at Sheffield. It is built on the Catapult model, which we need to grow in this country.

I thank my hon. Friend for his example of the importance of working across organisations in one geographical area.

In 2011, I edited a pamphlet on women in science, engineering and technology, and following on from that we have developed in Sheffield a STEM strategy group. One initiative has been to give young people the chance to try some hands-on activities with teachers, having the opportunity to talk to university experts about what they can do to support girls into STEM subjects post-16.

Over the last few years, engagement with employers has improved enormously and they have been integral in developing the apprenticeship programme at the advanced manufacturing research centre. Many employers are active supporters of our new university technical college.

Encouraging girls and women into these areas is not enough if the culture in the workplace does not change. The Perkins review rightly contends that employers must do much more to support people returning to engineering following a career break. Adopting measures such as flexible working and better managed career breaks for maternity leave also benefits employers. For example, Mott MacDonald, an engineering firm in Sheffield, benefited when it allowed Cathy Travers, its most senior female engineer, to work during term time only when her children were young. That adaptability rewarded the firm with loyalty, and it retained a talented and experienced employee.

The best performing companies are often those with diversity high on their agenda. Organisations with a strong diversity and inclusion culture reduce average employee turnover by half, quadruple work force innovation and double customer engagement. The Perkins review tells us that to fuel the long-term pipeline for skilled engineers, we must ensure that all state-funded schools actively promote engineering as a career option for women, but we should not stop there. We need an environment in the engineering sector that welcomes women. Only when all our young people have the opportunity to realise their potential can we ensure that Britain develops the very best of tomorrow’s engineers.

Thank you for your forbearance with the interruptions. If no other Members wish to speak, I call Mr Iain Wright.

May I begin by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard? It has been an excellent debate. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) and the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), who, like me, is a chartered accountant—there is nothing wrong with being a chartered accountant.

I particularly want to thank the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) for securing the debate and advancing his argument in a knowledgeable and refreshingly non-partisan way. I, for one, will be sorry to see him go. He will be missed in the House, and there is much more that he could do in this place to advance the need for more engineers in this country. He was an excellent Select Committee Chair and an excellent Minister. He will be sadly missed.

I also thank Professor John Perkins for his review. What is clear from today’s debate and from the review is the enormous opportunity that we have in this country. From an economic point of view, Britain will create wealth and raise its standards of living by concentrating on high skills and innovation, centred on science, technology, engineering and manufacturing. We have world-beating sectors in areas such as automotives and, as the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire said to me during the Division, we have the second biggest aerospace industry in the world and the biggest in Europe.

We have fantastic companies such as Rolls-Royce, Boeing and GKN Aerospace. I am particularly pleased that last week it was announced that Boeing will be using GKN as a supplier for its 737 winglet, which is displayed at the moment in the forecourt of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It is an excellent reiteration of how valuable that supply chain is.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and for his generous personal remarks. We also must not forget Airbus, which has given me so much encouragement in pursuing this agenda and which is one of the major contributors to making Britain the second biggest aerospace country in the world.

Absolutely. I was about to mention how important Airbus was as well. However, there are other sectors; we are not just wings and wheels. We have food and drink manufacturing—the biggest manufacturing sector in the country—as well as construction, life sciences, chemicals and great engineering in the energy sector. There is also a real ambition to have 10% of the global space industry by 2030. Those are all things that we will be using for our competitive advantage in the future.

In JCB, there is also one of the major construction equipment manufacturers in the world. Just last week, it announced 2,500 extra new jobs in Staffordshire, bringing some of its supply chain back to the UK. It is a privately owned company —a world-beating one at that—investing right here in the UK.

That is certainly something to be encouraged. I want to see how the supply chain of manufacturing can be enhanced to ensure that we can have that reshoring back to the UK as much as possible. We have the need for an economic, competitive edge, but we will also be trying to solve big social issues in the 21st century such as climate change, the transition to a low carbon economy, an ageing population and tackling resource scarcity for food, clean water and energy. All that requires engineering skills, so the ambition must be nothing short of making 21st-century Britain an engineering nation.

However, that enormous opportunity is not being matched with a commensurate supply of engineers coming on stream. As the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire said—I want to reiterate the figures, because they are striking—EngineeringUK states that the UK will need 87,000 people a year at level 4 over the next decade to meet demand, let alone to make sure that we can have expansion. However, the country has seen only about 51,000 and the number of level 3 engineering-related apprenticeships has actually dropped. We have an annual demand of about 69,000 but, as the hon. Gentleman said, the numbers are about a third of that and are falling.

Research by Matchtech in the past couple of weeks showed that three quarters of engineers lacked confidence in the Government’s action to encourage innovation in the UK—that is up from last year—and more than half said that they were willing to leave the UK and find work abroad. Despite the welcome news about economic statistics, 54% of engineers believe that the state of the British economy is negatively affecting the industry—up a full 10 percentage points on the previous year. There is an immediate and urgent need to do something about the issue.

There have been four broad themes today and I want to touch on those. Every speaker has mentioned the perception, image and culture of engineering, and they have been right to do so. Britain is the nation of James Watt, Richard Arkwright, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Frank Whittle, but I fear that this country does not value the status of engineers. It is deeply dispiriting that, when people are asked to name an engineer, the most recognisable in our country is Kevin Webster from “Coronation Street”. That sort of view reinforces stereotypes and prejudices that engineering and manufacturing are often literally backstreet, low skilled and low paid, rather than highly skilled, well paid and innovative.

In another context, I would be tempted to say, “He’s a popular beat combo, M’lud”, but I will not. In terms of the culture, perception and status of engineers, the issue is not the fault of this or previous Governments. Having said that, I absolutely agree with Sir John Parker, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, who said:

“I have travelled around in business and seen how other nations organise themselves and tilt policy in favour of their industrial base. At the highest level, an industrial strategy in my view is about giving the right signals to society that industrial activity is very important.”

What is the Minister going to do to help to change perceptions?

I acknowledge, as we have heard this afternoon, that such things as The Big Bang, Tomorrow’s Engineers, See Inside Manufacturing and the Bloodhound supersonic car are valuable initiatives to help change perceptions of engineering and inspire a new generation. However, there is more that can be done and it must be, as the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire said, high profile and sustained to overturn those long-held cultural perceptions. Will the Minister confirm that those initiatives will continue? What other plans does he have to alter the perception of engineering?

On a slightly more serious note, I was proud, with the parliamentary and scientific committee, to work with EngineeringUK to bring The Big Bang into Parliament this year. We intend that to be a continuing event to help improve the understanding of our parliamentary colleagues of the importance of engineering. Will both Front-Bench Members commit themselves to engage with that programme in future years?

I certainly would like to. My hon. Friend mentioned an important point. It should not be about this Government or this Parliament; it should be about looking at how Britain will make its money in the next 30 or 40 years. How can we transcend Parliament and Governments and work together for the long-term economic interests of the country to ensure that engineering has a proportionate status in our country?

Key to that, I would suggest, is ensuring that industrial strategy is at the heart of business policy. A moment ago, I mentioned Sir John’s comments that industrial strategy should give the right signals to society. I also suggest that a successful industrial strategy should give the right signals across Government. Business policy and engineering policy should not only reside in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but be aligned right across Whitehall for the purposes of advancing our country’s long-term economic interests.

However, I have to say—it has been hinted at strongly during today’s debate—that there is a lack of joined-up thinking between industrial strategy and education and skills policy. Schools are not encouraged to prioritise engineering and science, and there is a failure to ensure that engineering is considered at a sufficiently early stage in a child’s education. As a result, as we have heard, many pupils are disillusioned by the time they get to the age of 14 and do not continue science-based subjects that could lead to a career in engineering. Science GCSE has dropped from third place in 2012 to fourth this year; design and technology has slipped from sixth place to ninth.

This is a particular priority of mine. In many cases, teachers have had no experience of the modern engineering plant or factory and are therefore not in a position to encourage pupils to think about a career in engineering. I asked a parliamentary question a couple of weeks ago about the Government’s policy on encouraging industrial placements for teachers and I have to say that I received a woefully complacent answer from the Minister for Schools.

What will this Minister do to ensure that more teachers are made aware of the exciting opportunities available in industry and engineering, so that they can pass on information about those fantastic opportunities to their pupils and, importantly, to their pupils’ parents? Will the Minister ensure that time is made available in the school timetable to allow those industrial placements to take place?

The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. Quite often, it is a matter of cost. Schools cannot release teachers for this kind of activity, because they cannot afford the cover required in the classroom. Sometimes it is a resource issue—particularly for schools in the poorest areas, which most need this kind of help.

I can agree with the hon. Gentleman in many respects, but this is such an important priority that I think that resources have to be made available. The question is how Government, industry and academia work together to do that. Perkins touches on it, but more needs to be done.

Everyone in the debate has mentioned careers guidance. It is woeful. The Select Committee on Education said in its recent report that what the Government have done with careers guidance is regrettable. I am not suggesting that before 2010 it was perfect—I speak as the Minister with responsibility for it before 2010—but the Government’s reforms to end face-to-face and impartial information, advice and guidance have seen investment in careers advice plummet and the service to many young people more or less evaporate.

The chances of people receiving good impartial advice about engineering at a sufficiently young age to make informed choices about what subjects to take next and how they can advance are as remote as ever. Will the Minister acknowledge that the Government have made a mistake on this one? What will he do to ensure that all pupils receive high-quality information, advice and guidance that includes, specifically, appropriate information on a career in engineering? Will he put in place an initiative to encourage work experience in industry—in engineering—and more effective collaboration between schools and businesses? That happens haphazardly. It does not happen in a consistent manner, but for the long-term economic interests of this country, it has to.

This, of course, is where Professor Perkins agrees with my Select Committee’s recommendations about continuing professional development. The simple reality is that people cannot teach about things or advise about careers that they do not have any knowledge of. We must create that space in the curriculum. If we do not, we will be failing these young people and failing British industry.

I agree. I think that that is incredibly important for our long-term economic interests.

I also want to touch on what the Government have done with their education reforms. Notwithstanding the welcome changes to the design and technology curriculum, which the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire had a hand in influencing, a lot of what the Government have done has reinforced the perception that engineering, particularly at vocational level, is somehow second rate.

The downgrading of the engineering diploma by the Secretary of State for Education was a colossal mistake. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that. The downgrading consolidates the perception that somehow engineering is second rate. The Royal Academy of Engineering has expressed concern that the attainment and accountability systems that schools are judged on favour a narrow set of academic qualifications over vocational and practical-based ones. Again, what will the Minister do to alter accountability systems to provide incentives for schools to prioritise engineering? They need to prioritise engineering.

The third point that I want to mention is gender. This has rightly been raised as a key issue in the debate. The lack of female engineers is a very important issue. Perkins stated that the UK has the lowest proportion of female engineers in the EU—barely one third of the number that Latvia has. Fewer than 10% of engineering professionals are women, and fewer than one in 30 of those starting an engineering apprenticeship are female.

There are great initiatives in place, such as ScienceGrrl, but the culture that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley mentioned is important. I was speaking at a round table of industrialists recently. I said, “You’re cutting off half your potential work force by not encouraging women into engineering. What are you doing about that?” They said, “Well, we provide them with their own toilets.” That is the sort of cultural issue on which we need to work together so as to advance, so what else can be done? We need to work together across Government, industry and education to enhance opportunities for all the population, not just half.

My fourth point is about deliverability. Perkins has 22 recommendations. The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire said that there is an urgent need to have a marketing campaign. I think that we need to go further than that—we need delivery mechanisms. I would be very interested to hear how the Minister will ensure that every one of those recommendations can be implemented.

I will finish by reiterating my very warm thanks to the hon. Members who have contributed to the debate today and to Professor Perkins. The final words of his review are both telling and ambitious:

“There have been dozens of Government reports, select committees and independent reviews into the future of engineering skills over the past 150 years. I would go further. It is time for concerted action by the profession, industry and Government, to achieve the goals for engineering which we all share.”

The House has demonstrated today that it thinks that a key priority. I hope that we can transcend party politics and work together to make Britain an engineering nation.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard, and to respond to an extremely important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and pay tribute to him, not only for bringing this matter to the attention of the House today and the excellent debate that we have had, but for his work over the last year or so in this area, which has been conducted at an impressive pace and with impressive vivacity. His tenacity in sticking to this agenda and driving it forward has been extremely valuable to me as a Minister, to the Government as a whole and, no doubt, to the future of engineering.

We have had a very positive debate, broadly speaking. I will come specifically in a moment to the implementation of all 22 recommendations in the Perkins review. I join other Members in paying tribute to John Perkins for the excellent work he has done and the considered and reasonable way in which he took forward the review, consulting extremely widely. The review has gone down very well in the engineering profession and beyond, and in the education establishment, which is important too. However, one of the most important things about the implementation of the review is that it is a review to be implemented by all, not just by Government. The Government have a very big role to play in doing that, and we will take forward all those recommendations that refer to the Government, but it is not a matter only for them. It is also necessary for the engineering profession to come together, and I will set out a couple of ways in which we plan to ensure that that happens.

Let me respond to a couple of specific questions that were raised. John Perkins did base his report on discussions with marketing and communication experts. He consulted people in the marketing world. Indeed, the argument that a marketing programme is needed and the recommendations that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire pointed to, which he thinks need strengthening, were based on discussions with marketing and communication professionals. I just wanted to put that on the record. On the point my hon. Friend made about the defence industries, the report chose to be cross-sector rather than sector-specific, so that is probably why there is not as much focus on the defence industries as he might have liked.

Let me deal with a couple of other specific points that were made. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) referred to the “Closing Doors” report, which is also an extremely important report. The Institute of Physics has produced a very good piece of work. The figures are stark. There are a record number of applications for and entries to GCSE physics by girls in 2013. There has been a 32% increase in GCSE entries for physics over the last three years, and there are a record 73,000 entries by girls. However, of those who get an A*, 49% of boys go on to study physics at A-level but only 19% of girls do so. There is a huge missed opportunity, which can be realised by changing the culture, as the hon. Lady has said, so that physics A-level is seen as a qualification for everybody. The record number taking GCSE is good news, but we must keep driving that progress up the age range so that we get a commensurate increase in A-levels and university applications from girls. We must ensure that the work done to increase applications at GCSE does not tail off.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) made a strong argument about cross-party agreement, which is rife, and the importance of the new 14 to 16-year-old engineering qualifications. I was at the Unilever headquarters in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—

It must be next to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I join him in paying tribute to Matthew Harrison at the Royal Academy of Engineering for his excellent work in the area. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) argued in favour of improving the status and cultural position of engineers in our society. We should articulate as often as possible the point that pay for engineers is rising and that engineering is one of the most lucrative career options. To those who are considering what career to go into and who read Hansard—as I am sure they will—the message should go out loud and clear that engineering pays extremely well. If that is what they are after, why not look towards it?

The positive, cross-party approach taken by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) was exactly the right one. We are dealing with a long-standing problem, which has improved in the past few years but needs a long-term and cross-party solution. He listed all the sectors and areas in which engineering can do someone proud, and I will not repeat what he has said. I would, however, add computer science and the high-tech end, which is extremely exciting. Developments in that area are moving apace. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman took a cross-party approach, because he came slightly unstuck when he tried to score a couple of political points. He said that there had been a decline in GCSE science, but that is because there has been a sharp rise in the number of people taking three sciences as separate subjects, which is a more rigorous approach to science. I would not use that statistic in future, if I were him.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley on the need for more inspirational careers advice from people who are passionate about their career. That is exactly the way we want to go. We all agree that Connexions did not fulfil that role particularly effectively, and the Government are passionate about getting inspirational people to motivate young people to take up careers in which they can do well.

I totally agree with the Minister on the importance of inspirational teachers. To help him avoid slipping into partisan language, does he agree that his comments about GCSE physics versus A-level physics underline the point that I have made several times during the debate about continuing professional development? Far too many young women who may be interested in science are encouraged to pursue medicine rather than focusing on physics and mathematics as the logical way forward, which will help them even if they do subsequently want to go into medicine.

There is a lot in what the hon. Gentleman says. The example of medicine is important for engineering, because 30 years ago medicine was almost entirely male dominated, but the culture was changed and the majority of those who go into medicine are now women. We need to have the same sort of cultural change in engineering, so medicine is a valid example. Not least as a result of the success of Tomorrow’s Engineers week, which the Government sponsor, the proportion of young people who say they would consider a career in engineering has risen by about 10%, and there has also been an increase in the proportion of parents who say they would like their children to consider a career in engineering.

I know that the Minister is not responsible for education, but he has mentioned parents, whose views on the matter are influential. What is being done to ensure that in schools primarily led by parents, such as free schools and academies, enough of this work is going on? Although my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston is correct about career development for teachers, we need parents to be on board too.

That is an important point, which is part of a wider culture change. As a Minister in the Department for Education I am also responsible for the education end of the subject, along with the other Ministers in that Department. On the question of having an impact on the need for engineers, applications to study engineering at university have increased by 20% over the past three years, and in the past year the number of people in engineering apprenticeships has increased by 10%. Things are moving in the right direction, but I do not deny that there is much more to do, hence the Perkins report.

We accept the Perkins report, and we will take forward all the Government actions within it. It is important to set it in a wider context, however. That starts at an early age with stronger computing in the national curriculum from the age of eight and more of an emphasis on maths, inspirational careers advice from 12 years old onwards, new engineering qualifications for those aged 14 to 16, the introduction of tech levels and the tech bacc for 16 to 19-year-olds, the increase in take-up of A-level physics that we have talked about—we need to do more work on that to improve the gender balance—and the increase in engineering degrees and apprenticeships, not only at level 2 and the technician end but all the way up through higher apprenticeships. Members will have heard the announcement in the autumn statement of an additional 20,000 higher apprenticeships focused on engineering and technology. Within the lifespan of education from primary school onwards there is a focus at every level on improving rigour, improving responsiveness to the needs of employers and increasing the proportion of students who go into science, technology, engineering and maths. It is in that context that the Perkins report sits.

I agree wholeheartedly on the need for better communication, and the engineering profession has come together in the realisation of the importance of communication during the past couple of years. I have had many discussions with the leaders of various engineering industries on the implementation of Perkins. There is enthusiasm for it and there are mechanisms for it, but we need to make sure that those continue. The Big Bang Fair, which came to Parliament, is funded by Government. That funding has helped it to inspire thousands, but there is undoubtedly much more that we can do.

Given the shortage of time, I will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire setting out in detail the Government response to all 22 of the recommendations, and I will make public a copy of the letter. I want to ensure that we drive the recommendations forward. I have no doubt that we will continue to debate the subject so that we can maintain the cross-party, cross-Government national campaign to ensure that the shortage of engineers is dealt with and the supply chain is wide open.

I applaud the Minister’s effort and his enthusiasm. When does he imagine that a Minister with responsibility for this area, from whichever party, will be from an engineering background?

As a former economist, I apologise for not fitting the criteria myself. But no doubt, with more engineers coming through, there will one day be the opportunity for that to happen.

I am not sure whether economics is social engineering, but thank you for the debate, Minister. Do you, Mr Luff, wish to say anything for 30 seconds?

I repeat my gratitude to all colleagues who took part in this important debate and to the Minister for his capable summing up. I look forward to the implementation plan with particular enthusiasm, because it is important, but I must emphasise that it is not something for simply the Government to implement; the engineering community has a responsibility as well, particularly with the marketing campaign, about which I spoke. The task is not just for the Government but the whole community.

UK Relations with Ukraine

I will not start the clock at the moment, because I would like to say something before we begin. I have the Minister and the hon. Gentleman in place. May I appeal to anyone with any electronic gadgets who entered the Chamber since I started to please ensure that they are on silent, because I do not want any interruptions from those devices? May I also make how we will conduct the debate and how I will chair it very clear? The debate is between a Member and the Minister in a very short space of time. There is great interest in the discussion from the public. I am determined to protect the Minister’s time and the Member’s time, to ensure that we have the debate properly and without interference from the Public Gallery or elsewhere. I have agreed that Ms Latham can take part of Mr Whittingdale’s time and speak in the debate. I appeal to other Members to make interventions cogent and short, should you wish to make them. I intend to give the Minister at least 10 minutes to reply.

Thank you, Mr Havard, for your guidance on the debate. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak about UK relations with Ukraine. I requested the debate in the aftermath of a decision by the Ukrainian Government not to proceed with the signing of the association agreement, but the topic has become much more urgent in the past few days. A large number of Ukrainians are in Parliament square as I speak, but they are small in number compared with the thousands taking part in the Euromaidan demonstration in Independence square. At the weekend, something approaching 1 million people in Ukraine demonstrated their unhappiness at the turn of events most recently. We have watched the events with growing concern.

Yesterday, there were reports that the Ukrainian Government had taken a decision to use force to disperse the protesters; happily, that has not happened. However, there have been raids on the offices of the opposition and there is no doubt that the situation remains tense and unstable. I hope that the Minister in his response will be able to say something about the latest information we have; I understand that talks have now started between opposition groups, civil society and the Ukrainian Government, which must be welcome, but we are by no means away from the danger that force might be used. I want to return to that later in my remarks.

I had hoped that the debate would take place in happier circumstances. I declare an interest: I am the chairman of the British-Ukraine all-party group; I am a director of the British Ukrainian Society; I was an observer in Kiev for the elections to the Verkhovna Rada earlier last year; and in September I attended the European strategy conference in Yalta.

At the conference, which took place only 12 weeks ago, representatives of all major parties in Ukraine were present. I heard both President Yanukovych and Prime Minister Azarov speak and state very clearly the absolute determination of Ukraine to go down the European path and to sign an association agreement at Vilnius. That strategy had the support of all the parties of Ukraine with the exception of the Communist party.

Of course there were always going to be obstacles. We are aware that Yulia Tymoshenko is still in prison, which was a serious issue that needed to be resolved. There were concerns about the way in which the judicial process had operated in imprisoning her and the claim that it was “selective justice”. There were wider concerns about the level of corruption that still exists in Ukraine and the abuse of monopoly power. But there appeared to be a real determination to make necessary changes. Measures were being tabled in the Rada to meet the requirements of signing that association agreement. It appeared that there might be a way forward whereby Mrs Tymoshenko could perhaps go for medical treatment abroad, and she herself had said that she did not want her situation to prevent the signature of the association agreement.

We always knew that the one obstacle, the biggest opponent, would be Russia. I was in Yerevan, a little while before Yalta, just after the decision had been taken by Armenia not to proceed with the signature of an association agreement. Without question, that decision was taken because of the enormous pressure that was put on the Armenian Government by Russia, in particular over the security problems that the Armenians face and the threat to withdraw security guarantees. But it appeared that Ukraine would stand up to the pressure, despite the economic measures being taken by Russia—import controls and tariff barriers. At Yalta, Ukraine expressed an absolute determination that it would proceed with the agreement. It was therefore a real surprise and a great sadness when the President came back and announced that instead of signing the association agreement in Vilnius, Ukraine would seek closer relations with Russia. I suspect that he cannot have anticipated the reaction to that announcement.

We saw the protests begin in Independence square, and instead of diminishing, they have, if anything, strengthened. Anybody who has seen the film footage of the violence committed about 10 days ago by riot police against innocent, peaceful protesters will have been deeply shocked by it.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate on human rights day. Does he agree that we would be interested to hear from the Minister what pressure the British Government can bring to bear on Ukraine to secure a strong human rights record in future, with a free press and the end of the holding of political prisoners, when the leverage of the EU association agreement is no longer a card to be played?

I shall return to both issues; I agree with the hon. Lady that those are desirable objectives, but there is a more immediate, pressing concern about how the protesters are treated. Their human rights are important at this time. We must not see a repetition of the kind of violence that has been committed by special forces against people. The scenes of people lying on the ground being beaten with batons by 50 or more riot policemen as they ran past were wholly unacceptable. Concerns have been expressed that provocateurs have been placed among the protesters, and that that may precipitate a decision to declare some kind of state of emergency. All of that would mean that Ukraine would slip backwards. I want to hear from the Minister a strong message from the British Government that human rights and peaceful protest must be respected, and that we cannot see any kind of repetition of the violence that has taken place in the past few days.

As someone who was with the hon. Gentleman in Yerevan when we heard the news, I know exactly where he is coming from. Does he agree that the UK Government have persistently and consistently supported Ukrainian EU accession, so we have a moral obligation to those suffering in Ukraine at the moment? Just as the sound of the crowds of protesters outside this building can be heard in the Chamber, the sounds arising from Independence square must be heard across the world, especially in Europe.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is right that representatives of the EU and the United States Administration are in Kiev and will do what they can to calm the situation and find a way forward.

I understand that through the intervention of former Presidents Kravchuk, Kuchma and Yushchenko, talks are taking place with civil society groups and the opposition. That is certainly a much more promising way forward than the reported decision to use force, but the crisis is by no means past. It is important that clear messages go out from European Governments. In particular, I look to my right hon. Friend the Minister to make it clear that we cannot tolerate any violent activity of that kind.

As a fellow member of the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine, does the hon. Gentleman agree that although the Ukrainian Government are under a huge amount of pressure, particularly from Russia, they will never make progress through repression and the suppression of human rights and democratic values?

I agree entirely. I believe that Ukraine wishes for a free society and a democratic future. I regret the actions of the last few days, which are horribly reminiscent of the dark past, but I am still optimistic for the future of Ukraine, as I will mention at the end of my remarks.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on this timely debate. Last year, on a NATO Parliamentary Assembly visit to Kiev, some members of our delegation had the opportunity to visit former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that her continuing imprisonment means that Ukraine cannot move forward? If political repression involves imprisoning political opponents, that is a major impediment to Ukraine’s moving forward.

There is not time, nor would it be helpful, to discuss whether Mrs Tymoshenko is guilty of the offences of which she is accused, but the right hon. Gentleman is right that her imprisonment was unquestionably seen by the European Union as an obstacle, and efforts were made to find a way through it. I was optimistic that a solution could be found, and it might still be, but Mrs Tymoshenko has made it clear that in her view, the important priority is to sign the association agreement.

I turn to the longer-term challenges. The immediate challenge is to ensure that there is no more violence, but in the longer term, we must look towards helping Ukraine. There is an immediate economic crisis. The country is massively in debt, and economic threats from Russia have undoubtedly played a part in the decision. We must offer Ukraine some prospect of assistance if it decides to resume the European path.

There is also the political challenge. Elections will be held in due course. It is essential that they should be free and fair, and that all the leading candidates should have the opportunity to take part. Most importantly, the reforms that were under way, including reforms to the judicial process and reforms to root out corruption, must be continued. If those things happen, we can eventually look forward to what the Ukrainian Government tell us is still their ambition: a closer relationship with Europe.

These are exceedingly perilous days, but we have cause to be optimistic, most of all because of the bravery of the Ukrainian people, which they are displaying as we speak, in bitterly cold weather and under the threat and gaze of riot police with their batons and shields. They have not been intimidated. They are still there.

There is a vibrant Ukrainian community in Huddersfield, next to my constituency. I look forward to celebrating Ukrainian Christmas with them yet again in the first weekend of January. Recently, we have been campaigning for recognition of the Holodomor as a genocide. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must continue to urge the Foreign Office to do everything that it can to stop the immediate violence and find a long-term solution? So many Ukrainians in the United Kingdom are deeply concerned about the situation there at the moment.

I agree entirely. That is demonstrated by the large number of Ukrainians who have come to listen to this debate.

I hope that the Ukrainian Government will stand by their assurance and assertion that they still see their future in closer relations with Europe. It is for the Ukrainian people to decide their future, but that is what the Government say. Particularly given what has happened and the bravery being shown by the Ukrainian people, now is the time when we must support them. We must not turn our back on them.

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard; thank you for allowing me to speak. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) for allowing me to take part in this important debate and for securing it.

Some Members may know that I have tried to raise awareness of the Ukrainian Holodomor and spoken on several occasions on behalf of the Ukrainian people in this country, who also asked me to speak in this debate. Given my friendship with the local community, it goes without saying that I was shocked by the unfolding of the current social and political situation in Ukraine. Like many others, I was optimistic when it was announced that the Yanukovych Administration was to sign the association and deep and comprehensive free trade agreements with the EU. I thought that it might herald a new era of greater respect for human rights in the country. Although I do not presume to pre-empt the Ukrainian Government’s rationale for their U-turn in signing the agreements, I cannot ignore the Yanukovych Administration’s draconian response to the peaceful protests in Kiev.

On 24 November, British television news was full of images of peaceful protesters on Independence square, holding aloft the Ukrainian flag alongside that of the European Union. Those people were out not to cause trouble but gently to persuade their Government to change their mind about signing the agreement. Western media outlets have shown in their coverage of events that the Government’s response to those peaceful demonstrators was to deploy tear gas and truncheons against them. In clashes between protesters and the police on 1 December, an estimated seven were hospitalised.

Coupled with the 35 arrests that took place that day, it indicates a Government who are prepared when threatened to use inhumane and draconian forms of repression to quell dissent. That response seems to have exacerbated the situation. The protesters, who were initially keen to resolve their differences with the Government peacefully, have now resorted to acts of violence, including the felling of a statue of Lenin in the capital. It is clear from such actions that a section of the population in Ukraine is keen to turn away from the influence of Moscow and towards a future in the European Union.

Last night’s events have also made it plain that relations between the police, the Government and the demonstrators have continued to deteriorate. The headquarters of the country’s Fatherland party, the opposition party of ousted and imprisoned former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, were reportedly stormed by riot police, and protesters in Kiev were encircled by police.

With that in mind, I hope that Members here will join me in condemning the violence against the Ukrainian people in Kiev and lend their support to the EU’s efforts to promote communication between Ukraine’s people, the Ukrainian Government and the EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union, who is visiting the country today.

I am grateful to you for chairing this important debate, Mr Havard. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) for securing this debate and for his continued engagement and interest in Ukraine and his support for democratic reform there. Given the fast-changing events on the ground, this is a timely and necessary debate.

Ukraine is an important friend and partner to the UK. We work closely together across a broad range of international issues and multilateral forums, and more so in the light of Ukraine’s chairmanship in office of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe was in Kiev only last week to attend the OSCE ministerial council. We therefore welcome the latest news that President Yanukovych today agreed to round-table talks with three former Presidents, among others.

This Government have championed Ukraine’s closer integration with the EU, where it has the potential to make a significant contribution to stability, prosperity and competitiveness, and we will continue to support Ukraine’s European aspirations, including eventual membership of the EU, provided that the appropriate criteria are met and provided that it is what the Ukrainian people themselves want.

However, we have been watching recent developments in Ukraine with deep and genuine concern. Several hundred thousand Ukrainian citizens—perhaps more—have taken to the streets to express their views on Ukraine’s future. Also, troubling reports have emerged: of police violence in response to peaceful demonstrations; of journalists being beaten and possibly being deliberately targeted by security forces; and of disproportionate force being used. These things are completely unacceptable.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe raised his strong concerns at these developments in Kiev last week. On 3 December, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, together with his NATO counterparts, issued a statement condemning the excessive use of force in Ukraine, and he called on all parties to refrain from provocations and violence. NATO members also stressed that a sovereign, independent and stable Ukraine, which is firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, is a key to Euro-Atlantic security.

We have made it clear that, particularly as the chairman-in-office of the OSCE is Ukrainian, it is essential that the Ukrainian Government demonstrate—through actions as well as words—their deep commitment to OSCE norms and values. We welcome the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to a thorough investigation of police violence. Those responsible for such violence must be held to account.

We firmly believe that the way forward is through constructive engagement and dialogue, and we continue to encourage the Ukrainian Government and opposition to enter into early discussions. When my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe visited Kiev on 5 December, he visited Maidan, or Independence square, and saw for himself the peaceful nature of the protests. He also met opposition leaders and encouraged them to engage seriously with ideas to identify ways to defuse the situation and map out a peaceful route forward.

This House is aware that the protests in Ukraine were triggered by the decision of the Ukrainian Government to put preparations for signature of the EU-Ukraine association agreement on hold. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear to this House and in public statements, this Government’s view is that the Ukrainian Government’s decision represents a missed opportunity.

Have the Government had any opportunity to make an assessment of what measures the Russians may have brought into play to pressurise the Ukrainian Government to change their approach to this important matter?

Not to date, but we—together with our EU partners—had hoped that the EU-Ukraine relationship would enter a new and fundamentally different phase following signature of the association agreement, which includes a deep and comprehensive free trade area, at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on 28 and 29 November. What we have made a study of is the benefit that the agreement would bring to Ukraine and Ukrainian companies. It would give Ukrainian companies access to a market of 500 million consumers. Reliable studies have shown that GDP and wages would rise, and closer economic integration through the deep and comprehensive free trade area would be a powerful stimulant to Ukraine’s economic growth.

I am fully supportive both of the people in the Ukraine and their democratic rights, and of the policy of Her Majesty’s Government here. However, does the Minister accept that there is some understandable nervousness—I can see it in the Government of Ukraine—that to suddenly change the relationship with the EU to one where there are much more open trading agreements could force tariffs in relation to the trade with Russia, and that therefore the right way forward, given where we are now, is to encourage negotiation between all the parties so that there is an agreed policy, with Russia, Ukraine and the EU growing together in the future?

My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon mentioned the economic troubles in Ukraine at the moment and it is our assessment that an early benefit would be brought about by Ukraine signing this agreement, which would far outweigh any negative impact in resulting loss of trade—as he sees it—with Russia. Approximation to EU legislation, standards and norms will result in higher-quality products and improved services for citizens, and will improve Ukraine’s ability to compete in international markets.

As I say, my hon. Friend mentioned the economic challenges that Ukraine faces at the moment. I hope that the Ukrainian authorities can reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund on a new stand-by arrangement. That is in Ukraine’s hands, and it is in Ukraine’s interests to entrench fiscal and financial stability by advancing structural reforms. Doing so will increase Ukraine’s ability to withstand external pressures.

The Government and, I am sure, Members from all parties in this House look to the Ukrainian Government—working collaboratively with opposition parties, civil society and business—to show the necessary political will and commitment to enable signature of the association agreement to go ahead in the near future. That means continuing with the reforms that are already under way, and ensuring that the parliamentary elections that will be rerun on 15 December are conducted in accordance with international standards.

When Ukraine is ready to sign, under this Government or a future Government, it will find the UK to be a willing partner that is ready to lend support and assistance on the road to a closer relationship with the EU. As the Prime Minister and other EU leaders made clear to President Yanukovych at Vilnius, the EU’s door remains open; it is Ukraine’s choice whether to walk through it.

Before I close, let me touch on Russia’s role. We have all seen and read reports about the pressure that Russia has been bringing to bear on Ukraine and many of its businesses. Any such pressure is unacceptable. In the modern world, every country should respect the sovereignty of others and their right to enter into the agreements that they consider appropriate. And I hope that Russia can understand that this is not a zero-sum game. The association agreement will help Ukraine to modernise and transform its institutions and economy. Ukraine will become more prosperous. That is in everyone’s interests, including Russia’s.

We continue to follow developments in Ukraine very closely, and we are in touch with the EU institutions and with other member states. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon will be aware, Baroness Ashton, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, has travelled to Kiev and will encourage all parties to engage in constructive dialogue. And as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe set out in his written ministerial statement earlier today, the Government continue to urge all parties to remain calm and to avoid actions that could lead to an escalation of the situation or the restriction of personal freedoms.

I very much welcome the assurances that the Minister has given. I hope that it will be unnecessary for him to do so, but should the situation deteriorate, I hope he will make it clear that if violence were to be used, those responsible will be held personally responsible for it. In addition, there are already some concerns about the fate of some of the people who were arrested in the original protests about 10 days ago and who seem to have disappeared. There is obviously concern about their well-being and I hope that we will apply pressure to try to ensure that they are safe.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—anyone who has orchestrated any sort of violence in contravention of the basic norms and human rights should be held to account publicly, with the full weight of the law holding them to account for their actions.

Once again, I thank my hon. Friend for his continued interest in Ukraine and the surrounding region, and other Members of the House for their contributions today.

Before we finish, may I say thank you very much for the way in which the debate has been conducted? It is being broadcast and webcast, and the fact that it was conducted with dignity and quality gives it an additional power. So thank you very much for your co-operation. With all the disruption, I intend to allow the next debate to run until 5.10 pm. We will see how the discourse takes us.

Mindfulness in Education

Mindfulness is a form of meditation. I first came across meditation in 1987, when I was a schoolteacher. The school was about to be examined and the staff were highly stressed, so the head teacher called in the school nurse and she gave meditation lessons to the whole staff, including the support staff. It worked wonders. I then took the lessons I had learned from meditation to my classroom in a primary school and taught it to children in classes of up to 39. In fact, on occasions, I would use it in front of 300 children in the school assembly. I have maintained my interest over the years. More recently, I came across the mindfulness form of meditation.

I have tabled hundreds of questions on this subject—the Minister herself will have answered some—and the answers are quite disturbing. One stated that 32.3% of 16 to 25-year-olds have one or more psychological conditions. Another, answered last week, on the incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, stated that 2% of the population under 16 have severe ADHD and 9% are mild to moderate.

In 1991, there were 7 million prescriptions for antidepressants, but by 2011 that had increased to 49 million—a 500% increase in the use of antidepressants. Studies in the United States show that 8% of children who use games consoles are clinically addicted to them. The World Health Organisation predicts that, by 2030, the biggest health burden on the planet, ahead of cancer and heart disease, will be mental health. Our children are in health crisis.

WH Auden described the age we live in as the age of anxiety. What are the causes of this pressure, anxiety and stress? There are many contenders, advertising being one. Oliver James, the UK journalist and psychologist, maintains that mental health is undermined by advertising. A parliamentary question answered last week stated that a child will, in their 18 years of childhood, look at 180,000 adverts. The purpose of an advert is to make people unhappy with what they have, so that they will buy what is being presented to them.

Other people say that information overload is the problem. When I was growing up we had three TV channels, but now there are 3,000. We also have texts, Facebook, adverts and digital media. Others say it is digital distraction: computers, the iPad and iPod, the iPhone and the iMac, TV, video and games consoles. Taking people away from face-to-face engagements and putting them in front of screens results in two things: first, they do not pick up the verbal cues from conversation and contact with another human; and, secondly, they do not pick up on the non-verbal cues from facial expressions. That is interfering with neural pathways and relaying those neural pathways.

The speed of modern life needs to be considered. We are running ever faster, but we still seem to be in the same place, as the Red Queen said to Alice. We live in a 24/7 society.

Is the problem the testing? We test children at four, seven, 11 and 14 in standard assessment tests, at 16 for their GCSEs, 17 for AS-levels, 18 for A-levels and at 21 for their degree. We are the most tested nation on earth. Is the problem peer pressure, which has amplified? In my day, people had a ring of 10 mates and we compared ourselves to them. If there were fights or a bullying incident, they were forgotten the next day. However, peer pressure is now amplified by the digital media, with Twitter and Facebook.

Some say the problem might be chemicals in the food or pollution. However, whether it is advertising, information overload, digital distraction, testing, peer pressure or chemicals, we have a crisis in attention in this country. Heidegger predicted this in the 1950s, saying that the

“tide of technological revolution”


“so captivate, bewitch, dazzle, and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be...the only way of thinking.”

That would come at the loss of

“meditative thinking”.

There are different ways of thinking. Calculative thinking has over-dominated meditative thinking and is having an adverse effect in our schools. There is a crisis in mental health and education, and a crisis in society.

Educational attainment is key. It is what the Minister will be judged on, with regard to her portfolio, and what her Department and the Government will be judged on. Educational attainment has dipped. In the programme for international student assessment results, last week or the week before, all nations and regions of the UK dipped, some more than others. The PISA tests, which are done at age 15, are one of the key tests, which I have mentioned, the others being GCSE, A-levels, degree and postgraduate. A third of our young people are in crisis.

Educational attainment comes down to attention and focus. If people can pay attention and focus, they can learn. William James, one of America’s foremost philosophers and the father of American psychology, said:

“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again, is the very root of judgement, character and will. No one is compos sui—

I think that means “a master of himself”—

“if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical instructions for bringing it about.”

Mindfulness could provide the practical instructions for bringing about that excellence in education.

The crisis of attention could be improved by mindfulness. Mindfulness is training in concentration and self-awareness that has been shown to support top performance and good mental health. Mindfulness is a form of mental training that develops sustained attention. Mindfulness training involves cultivating the capacity to attend to whatever is happening in ways that are purposeful and well balanced. It is the ability to be in the present moment, not being chased by our past or worried by our future so that we cannot concentrate on the present.

Mindfulness is about living in the present moment and releasing the mind from the habitual ruminative patterns that lead to worry, depression and burn-out and it enables more intuitive and creative responses to new challenges. Given the centrality of attention in all mental functioning, such training has significant implications for mental and physical health, for self-regulation and for education. These gifts are there for the taking. I do not think these gifts have been fully explored by my Government—the previous Labour Government—or this Government, but they are worthy of investigation.

Mindfulness can bring about excellence—not just in education, but in sport. It is used across the world, for example, by the best sports teams in the Olympics, in basketball, swimming and diving. It is used by the most creative industries the world has ever known, Google and Apple, which provide mindfulness training for their top creatives in America.

Ariana Huffington, of “The Huffington Post”, is a big advocate of mindfulness in business; she calls it the third matrix. She will address Parliament on the subject in May next year. Mindfulness has been used by British companies, such as Transport for London, and by local authorities, including Gwynedd authority in north Wales. It is used by the American military—this is not fluffy nonsense—which has given $159 million to develop mindfulness in the training of its armed forces, because it realises that a soldier who is not aware of the present moment can cause catastrophe, diplomatic incidents and further bloodshed by a reaction instead of a response.

Mindfulness is also being used here in Parliament. There is a mindfulness group of parliamentarians, with 50 Members of Parliament and Lords who have had training in mindfulness—hopefully, another 50 next year. It is being introduced into the Welsh Assembly Government by a Conservative Assembly Member, Darren Millar.

Mindfulness has broad support, broad appeal and broad usage. The roots of mindfulness are in the eastern traditions, but it has been meticulously tested by the rigour of western science over the past 30 years by people such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has pioneered mindfulness for the past 40 years. He visited London in March 2013 and spoke to No. 10 advisers about mindfulness, creativity and enterprise. He addressed shadow Ministers for Health and Education. I am pushing that agenda, and I hope that other Labour colleagues and shadow Ministers will be taking up mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn addressed civil servants, and mindfulness is now being introduced for civil servants in the Department of Health. There is also Professor Richard Davidson, who is a top neuroscientist who maps and measures the brain and the impact that stress and depression have on it.

It is not only American researchers and scientists who are exploring mindfulness; a wealth of home-grown scientists are doing so, too. I particularly praise Professor Mark Williams, who is watching the debate from the Public Gallery. In 2004, along with Zindel Segal and John Teasdale, he was the scientist who convinced the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to accept mindfulness in the Department of Health. That decision has brought tremendous benefits to patients and people suffering mental illness. Mark will retire in the next one or two years—he has had more retirements than Frank Sinatra—but, before he fully retires, he wants to pass on the benefits experienced in the Department of Health to the Department for Education. I join him on that crusade.

There are centres of excellence in the UK. At the university of Exeter, Professor Willem Kuyken is developing mindfulness in schools. Bangor university in Wales is the training ground for mindfulness—not just for the whole of the UK, but for the whole of Europe. It has trained 4,000 professionals, 700 of them to master’s degree level. There is also the Oxford Mindfulness Centre at the university of Oxford. Felicia Huppert is a well-being expert at the university of Cambridge. The benefits that accrue from mindfulness include improved attention and focus, and less impulsive and risky behaviour.

I was a teacher for 15 years, and I was the deputy head of a large Catholic primary school with 550 pupils. When I went down to the infants department and asked the teachers the biggest thing that they expected from a child coming in at the age of three or four, they did not say the ability to read, write or do numbers; what they wanted is for that child to be able to sit still, be curious and be willing to learn. To do that, the child needs attention and focus, which mindfulness can supply.

I have some materials for the Minister to look at, including material on the .b programme, which is being implemented in secondary schools across the UK. There is also material on the paws .b programme, which is being introduced in primary schools across the UK and beyond. The programmes have been developed by academics, neuroscientists, practising teachers and psychologists, and they are being piloted as we speak. The .b programme is the most widely used mindfulness curriculum in the UK. The science adopted by NICE for the national health service has been used to inform the debate in the education sector.

I pay tribute to the Prime Minister’s work on well-being. He took some big, bold steps back in 2010 when he instructed the Office for National Statistics to develop a well-being index to measure well-being, including the well-being of children. He has taken a principled stand on advertising to children and the sexualisation of young children through advertising. I pay tribute to the work of the previous Labour Government in introducing social and emotional education. Indeed, the NICE breakthrough in 2004 was under a Labour Government and followed funding by the Wales Office in the 1990s.

The well-being of our children is non-party political; it is one of those issues such as national security and care for the elderly on which we should come together across the political divide, especially when we are faced with a crisis in which every third young person is experiencing poor mental health.

I have a few questions for the Minister, as well as the homework that I am setting her. Will she please consider making mindfulness training available in all teacher training colleges in England? I will be asking the other nations of the UK to do the same in their teacher training institutions. Such a measure would help individual teachers in their personal practice, but, more importantly, a primary school teacher will teach 1,000 children over the course of their 30 or 40-year career. The knowledge that each teacher passes on will help those children for the rest of their life.

Mindfulness is a life skill, and if we can teach it from the age of four to the age of 18, those young people will be well prepared for life. I also ask that mindfulness be made available to the 440,000 teachers who are currently teaching—I think there are an extra 460,000 teaching assistants and ancillary staff. Let them have access to mindfulness training for themselves and for the pupils they look after.

Will the Minister meet the experts I mentioned from the UK’s world-class universities? Perhaps she could be joined by two or three MPs from both sides of the House who are keen to promote mindfulness in education. I thank her for listening.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) on securing this debate. His speech, drawing on his experience as a teacher, was interesting and informative and he highlighted some worrying facts about the mental health of our children and young people. He painted a vivid picture of the age of anxiety in which we live, whether that is as a result of the constant pummelling of modern media such as Twitter and Facebook and advertising, or the sheer pace of modern life that we all experience. He talked about the Red Queen from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and I think many of us often feel like the White Rabbit, rushing around from one thing to another. I recognise the issues he raised and the picture he painted of the way life is now.

The Department for Education certainly agrees that children learn better and achieve more when they are thinking clearly, and the ability to focus on the matter in hand and to ignore potential distractions is an important factor in being able to learn and focus. The hon. Gentleman talked about the ability to sit still, be curious and be willing to learn, which we need at every stage of our education system. I absolutely agree with that.

I also agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments on the number of exams, particularly external exams, that students are sitting. We have moved to a linear course for A-level to remove the necessity for students to sit another exam at 17. We have moved to linear exams for GCSEs, too, because children were taking external exams every term. We want young people to have an opportunity to learn in depth, to think about what they are studying and to enjoy it. Rather than the end always being the exam, the end should be learning in school.

I challenge what the hon. Gentleman said about the PISA results, which varied between the countries of the United Kingdom. Wales did significantly worse than England. England’s results have stagnated over the past 15 years. We do not think that is good, which is why the Government are reforming the education system and considering examples such as Poland and Germany, where results have successfully been improved. I agree with him about the importance of young people being exposed to entrepreneurship in schools, which could help to build character resilience and all the other characteristics we want to see in our young people.

It is worth briefly discussing the new curriculum, which is being introduced in September 2014. It is a lot slimmer than its predecessor, which means more time for teachers to teach in different ways and to introduce concepts such as mindfulness to their students if that is the best way of getting messages across. I like to say that the Government have put the trellises and pathways in the garden, but it is for the teachers to plant the seeds and grow the plants. That is not something we can do from Whitehall.

Students’ mental health and well-being is of course an important part of their learning process in order to ensure that they are doing well. Mindfulness has been used in schools and is often taught in combination with other relaxation and self-management techniques. Some early indications suggest that such approaches can help pupils to control stress and anxiety, pay attention and develop social skills, and can improve teacher-pupil interactions and enhance academic performance. I support the sharing of good practice and ideas that help pupils to achieve more. I also believe that the best way for schools to find out about what works is from the successes of other schools in similar circumstances. I would like to hear from the hon. Gentleman and interested colleagues about positive examples of schools that are using mindfulness and finding it a successful approach.

Would the Minister accept an invitation to see mindfulness in action in a school in her constituency, if one is available, or perhaps here in London?

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting proposal, which I will consider along with the meeting request, but I certainly am interested in understanding more about how mindfulness works in practice. I would therefore like to accept the offer.

As I mentioned, we have given schools the freedom to decide which external programmes they use to deliver their curriculum. I am keen to get across the point that, while the curriculum is being implemented by schools over the next six months, they do have the freedom to try new approaches and to do things differently, in a way that they feel is beneficial for their students.

Ofsted has made it clear that it expects schools to look at the whole child, and will focus inspections on outcomes. Together with a slimmed-down curriculum, that gives schools more freedom to add skill and character-building activities, promoting children’s wider well-being. If a school thinks that the mindfulness programme is suitable, it has the ability to make that choice.

Many schools commission their own pastoral and counselling support for their students, and school counselling to support young people is already widespread. A recent survey estimated that between 60% and 85% of English secondary schools provide access to counselling, which equates to between 50,000 and 70,000 sessions a year. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Department of Health, which issued in July 2012 a document entitled, “No health without mental health: implementation framework”, which described the role of schools and FE colleges as understanding the link between emotional well-being and achieving good educational and life outcomes. Teachers are not expected to stand in for mental health professionals, but schools should have a whole-school approach to developing pupils’ well-being and resilience.

I am doing much work with the Department of Health to ensure that our programmes are more joined up in all areas, including schoolchildren’s mental health and our early years programme. The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the abilities to sit still, be curious and be willing to learn are often developed at an early age. We need better co-operation between the Department for Education and the Department of Health. Children’s centres, where health and education professionals are on the same site providing guidance to parents and helping young children, work well to help to develop such skills.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned teacher training. Although initial teacher training is important, so is professional development while teachers are in schools. We are keen to see greater professional development and to see head teachers take on more responsibility over time for that development in a school-led system.

I am interested in discussing the matter further with the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to see how we can ensure that schools understand the opportunities and the examples of best practice, and how they can fit in to the new national curriculum and the new approach on qualifications.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.