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Westminster Hall

Volume 578: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2014

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 2 April 2014

[Dr William McCrea in the Chair]

Elliott Review and Food Crime

[Relevant documents: Eighth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2012-13, on Contamination of Beef Products, HC 946, and the Government response, HC 1085; Fifth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, on Food Contamination, HC 141, and the Government response, HC 707; Oral Evidence reported by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, on 8 January 2014, on the Elliott Review, HC 953.]

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

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea, and it is also a great pleasure to see the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), whom I have not been in a debate with since his elevation to Minister with responsibility for food.

It was a great shock to the British people in 2013 to find that our food system could be so badly infiltrated by crime. It started to corrupt our food system, and horsemeat was introduced into our meat products. That was shocking, because food is not just any consumer product; the public need to trust food. We need to ensure the highest standards to secure long-term stability in the food sector as a whole. The scandal changed food habits. Immediately afterwards, £300 million was knocked off Tesco’s share price. Long supply chains are now seen as serious liabilities. I hope that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sees the need for a much more systematic assessment and analysis of the food sector—not just the production side, but all its segments. We could have anticipated some of the problems that we faced in the horsemeat scandal, because certain conditions were present.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I also congratulate the team behind the Elliott review, which made helpful and important recommendations. On Tesco’s share price going down, she will be aware that local markets and butchers enjoyed a renaissance, as people—certainly in my area of Northumberland—realised that the safest, most secure and best place to buy meat was the local butcher, not the supermarket.

Absolutely. In many ways, the scandal rejuvenated the way we used to buy food in the high street from local suppliers. To be frank, while one trusts one’s local butcher, this systemic problem will face everyone in the food retailing sector if we do not start to recognise that certain characteristics are creating certain underlying problems. Food crime has risen across Europe, and we have to ensure that we protect smaller retailers from infiltration by food crime, which can come through any weak link in the system.

I come back to anticipating and predicting problems in the food system. Since 2008, there has been a 30% increase in the cost of base commodities. Over that period, one would expect some early warning signs. We may not have expected crime, but we had to expect that something would give, because food prices in shops did not rise to the same extent as commodity prices. Given that 30% increase in commodity prices, anyone looking at the marketing of food would say that profits would have to fall, prices would have to increase, or the products would have to adapt. How is a supermarket frozen cottage pie that was £1 five years ago still £1 today, after a 30% increase in base commodity prices? What is in it is probably not illegal, but it is certainly not very desirable, and there is no flash across the packaging saying that there is 30% less meat in it. That disconnect between price rises and supermarket retail prices should have created some sort of early warning signal within Government.

To take the cottage pie example, should not the message from this debate, aside from all the points about the Elliott review and security, be that we should encourage cooking in our schools, and encourage people to buy the meat from the butcher and the potato from a grocer, so that they can create a wonderful cottage pie themselves, rather than buying it in Tesco or other supermarkets? That must be the message.

Yes. It is an incredibly important message, and I am happy to accept any invitation to have a cottage pie cooked by my hon. Friend.

Before the hon. Lady accepts the cottage pie from the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), she might draw attention to a point that she has made before. It is all very well if someone has a kitchen and knowledge of how to make a cottage pie, but if housing benefit rules are such that a household can have the rent paid in full but no kitchen, it can be difficult to cook a cottage pie, or anything else.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he is doing extremely important work on the whole issue of food poverty. In my constituency, we have certain areas where accommodation does not have cookers. Families are supplied with microwaves, which confines them to buying expensive food that is frequently not of the greatest quality. That does not allow families to be resilient, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) would like everyone to be. We have to look at the overall system; that is the crucial point. We need a system-based approach and policy that understands the food system in its totality.

On the early warning signs of food crime, we have to look at where the disconnects happen. We had rising commodity prices, but food prices were rising only a little in the shops, so something had to give. Different products were substituted and food crime entered the system. I know that the Minister is concerned about food security, but I hope it is now of much greater importance to DEFRA as a whole, because trust, food integrity and access to resources are all part of the wider security nexus. I hope that food security has moved up the agenda. The National Security Council regard it as important: food security is one of its nine key priorities.

Food crime is not going away. In 2007, the Food Standards Agency recorded 49 cases of food fraud, and by 2013 there were 1,500 cases. While horsemeat has been a real problem, other forms of food crime have come to the FSA’s attention: dyes in children’s sweets, illegal and toxic vodka and dangerous health substitutes that amplify diabetes. Our system in this country is particularly vulnerable because we import a lot and have long supply chains.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate and wish I could stay a little longer. She outlined different forms of food crime. One form that I am particularly interested in is the importing of bush meat into this country, particularly from west Africa. Given the outbreak of the Ebola virus, should the Government not make even more effort to ensure that that food does not come into the country?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend; that is absolutely crucial. I do not believe that we have looked at our supply chains with vulnerability in mind. We have assumed, possibly rightly, that we have a very safe food system in this country, but in certain instances we might have devolved too much policy to the manufacturers, producers and retailers. The Government need to claim some of that policy back and to consider the strategic risks that the system faces.

Returning to the analysis of the crime, Europol states that drug gangs have now moved into food fraud. There is a lot of money in the business of fake, cheap food and drink; Europol says that fake food is a major new part of the underground economy. We will therefore start to see more of this. I am sure that the Minister will assure us that DEFRA and the FSA will take the matter extremely seriously. The drugs trade appears to be less profitable than food crime, and the risks are much lower. The penalties are fines that are merely petty cash or operating costs for criminals. With authorities having downgraded their investigative capacity, criminals are even less likely to be caught. We have a fantastic food system and fantastic food quality in this country, but we are a particularly attractive and vulnerable market because of our efficient but very long supply chains. Looking at investigative powers, Holland has 111 staff dedicated to food crime, but I do not believe that this country has any, so we need to upgrade our investigative capacity.

There are important questions about our food system and our expectations of the food sector. Does DEFRA believe that our cheap food system—a business model that is designed around cheap food—is not vulnerable to food crime as food prices rise globally? Has the Minister met food companies to discuss their assessment of vulnerabilities? Have they communicated to the Minister their internal reports on the horsemeat scandal? Some say that the reports were not published because some of the findings about their ability to trace the inputs into food manufacturing were so shocking. Are supermarkets and manufacturers happy to be transparent about their supply chains and prepared to be open about the increased risks of crime? If they co-operate and we work collectively, traceability and enforcement can work together, rather than as two separate silos.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this timely debate. Does she agree that an innovative suggestion from the Elliott review is that data and intelligence gathering should be done centrally within some independent body? While respecting commercial confidentiality, commercial operators should be asked to pool what they can, so that we can scan for problems. That would be a great and helpful innovation.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is both incumbent on the food sector and in its interests, because the horsemeat scandal has led to a major erosion of trust.

I am concerned that supermarkets sometimes make the excuse that they are too large to monitor their supply chains. We must be clear that they have a responsibility; if they feel that they are too large to be responsible for their supply chain, we must ask whether they are too large to be responsible for public food and well-being. I am sure that the Minister has discussed food crime with the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, because the problem requires Home Office, Europol and Interpol co-operation. We must consider the matter as we would other large organised crime problems. What has been the UK’s involvement in Operation Opson, the pan-European food crime and food vulnerability operation?

The future is what matters, and the Elliott review will form a crucial part of our new armoury. What is the Minister’s response to Elliott’s first report and how will DEFRA respond to its key recommendations? In particular, what is the Minister’s response to Elliott’s recommendation to set up a food crime unit within the FSA? The Dutch have 111 staff dedicated to food crime. I hope that such a unit would be properly resourced and would have the capacity to enforce and investigate. President Eisenhower said that the uninspected quickly deteriorates, so we need a new sense of ambition in this area.

In conclusion, I hope that we are not living in the past. Before 2008, food was cheap, but the world has changed, and will change even further as food prices are expected to rise year on year. The business model wrapped around cheap food is creaking. Now that drug dealers are starting to move into our food system, I hope that the Minister will recognise that business as usual is not good enough for our food producers and consumers.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on securing this important debate. She has been interested in the topic for some time and we have both taken part in several debates on it.

I want to add my voice to those who have welcomed Professor Elliott’s interim report on the integrity of food supply networks and his recommendations for stemming the growing tide of food crime. As we have heard, criminal networks increasingly see the potential for what Professor Elliott describes as

“huge profits and low risks”

in the food industry. The hon. Lady said that it was now more profitable and considerably less risky to be involved in food fraud than in the drugs trade. The National Audit Office reports that cases of food fraud reported by local authorities have increased by two thirds since 2010. Results published by a number of local authorities, including West Yorkshire, Leicester and West Sussex, from a survey of meat products on sale in their areas, show that gross contamination of meat is widespread. Leicester trading standards, for example, found that half of the meat products it sampled contained species of animals not identified on the label, which is in breach of legal requirements for composition and labelling. Some of it was probably deliberate fraud and some was probably cross-contamination due to poor hygiene, but it is an obvious matter of concern.

Huw Watkins, who heads the intelligence hub at the Intellectual Property Office, has documented shocking cases of adulterated goods seized in the UK in recent months, ranging from a 40-foot lorry containing over 17,000 litres of fake vodka to cases of goat’s milk adulterated with cow’s milk, which could be fatal to allergy sufferers. I was struck by Professor Elliott’s account of a meat product supplier, who had been asked by a retailer to produce a gourmet burger for a unit price of under 30p. Even using the cheapest available beef from older cows, the lowest possible unit price for the burger that the supplier could produce was 59p. Professor Elliott concluded that the only way to meet the demands of the retailer would be to switch to beef supplied from premises that were not EU approved. That black-market meat would then be ground with cheap offal, such as heart and brain, and the incorporation of meat emulsion, also known as pink slime or soylent pink, and mechanically separated or recovered meat. The product would then have been marketed as a gourmet burger, targeting the top end of the market at a higher price and at a huge profit margin for the retailer, which would be committing fraud by misrepresentation.

The example highlights a culture that Professor Elliott describes as one of casual dishonesty, which he says needs to change to one where food composition is proved, not assumed. He recommends that if retailers consistently buy below the market price, they should check there are no grounds to suspect the goods are criminal property or they risk being guilty of complicity in a crime. In other words, they should know that if they are getting something that seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true and something dodgy is going on.

In the rest of the time available, I want to concentrate on a few concerns. Answers to written parliamentary questions that I have recently tabled reveal an alarming drop in food testing over the past five years. Food composition testing is down 48%; food labelling and presentation testing is down 53.4%; microbiological analyses are down by 25.3%; and food contamination analyses are down by 24.5%. Professor Elliott has warned that cuts to food testing and inspection could put lives at risk. He has said that they could compromise the safety of the food that people eat to such an extent that “people start to die” and has called for “strong” and “well resourced” regulators.

Andy Foster, from the Trading Standards Institute, told a recent “Dispatches” programme on Channel 4:

“You take money out of sampling, you take money out of inspection, you take the money out of the consumer protection system. You will get increased levels of fraudulent activity…When you have some local authorities—like some in London—operating on one trading standards officer, how on earth can they possibly deal with all their demands from fraudulent activity?”

Cuts to trading standards are expected to result in a fall in the number of officers to below 2,000, compared with 3,000 in 2009, while the number of public analyst labs, where food is tested, has dropped from 15 to 11 in the past three years.

In February, when I asked the Minister at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions about the shocking West Yorkshire test results, which showed that more than a third of food samples were not what they claimed to be or had been mislabelled in some way, he replied that the 30% figure was

“misleading, because the samples looked at were based on intelligence and from areas where there was greater concern in the first place.”—[Official Report, 13 February 2014; Vol. 575, c. 1004.]

I appreciate that that is a factor; it was a risk-based assessment, so areas of concern were being targeted. However, West Yorkshire’s public analyst, Dr Duncan Campbell, believes the authority’s results represent what is going on nationally. Felicity Lawrence of The Guardian, which covered the results of the survey, concluded:

“Because it was looking, West Yorkshire found problems”.

It is clear that routine sampling, as well as that based on intelligence, is vital if cheats are to be caught and food safety standards maintained. Dr Duncan Campbell explains that well:

“Go into a pub and the bottle optics behind the bar will be filled with leading brands of vodka or whisky. If trading standards never check they are what they claim to be, and the publican is having his margins squeezed, there is a huge incentive for him to refill his bottles with cheaper generic spirits from the cash and carry.

That principle holds true across the whole retail and manufacturing sector. If you don’t have routine sampling in each area, you don’t find the cheats, and there is no deterrent to protect the public.”

Does the hon. Lady agree that with the fall in the amount of testing and sampling, and price increases affecting both production and the retail margin, 12 months from now things are likely to be worse, not better, unless the trend is reversed?

Yes. There is a double incentive. One is that people are perhaps more likely to do things that they think they can get away with. The other is that profits are being squeezed and there are limits on the price that people can charge for products and still manage to sell them. That is entirely true.

In his interim report, Professor Elliott called for both risk-based and random testing to protect the consumer. Will the Minister make that FSA policy? The enforcement of standards has become increasingly random as council budgets are slashed. In answers that I have received from the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison),about funding for food testing, the Government have insisted they have increased funding through the provision of additional funding from the FSA to local authorities. That has increased to £2.2 million for 2013-14 from £900,000 in 2010-11. That is welcome, but it does not compensate for severe cuts to local authority budgets, which have resulted, for example, in 743 job losses in trading standards at council level between 2009 and 2012. Leicester city council’s head of regulation, Roman Leszczyszyn, said that trading standards officers had been encouraged by central Government to pursue intelligence-led enforcement, rather than random sampling, to

“reduce the burden on business and remove unnecessary inspection”.

I am deeply concerned that the Government’s ideological commitment to deregulation is trumping their responsibility for food safety. As the Elliott review says, consumers should be put first—something that does not seem to be happening under the present Government.

Last week, I raised with the Minister Professor Elliott’s concerns about the potential for budget cuts to affect the integrity of our supply chains, but he replied as if my question was solely about the horsemeat scandal of last year. However, as today’s debate has highlighted, we have moved on from the fraudulent use of horsemeat in beef products to the much wider investigation of food crime and our complex food supply networks. Would the Minister like to have another go at answering my question of 27 March: does he agree with Professor Elliott that budget cutting could reach the point where the safety of the food we eat is compromised to the extent that “people start to die”, or is the Professor just overreacting?

I know that the hon. Member for South Thanet is passionate about the cause of ensuring that people eat better food and do not resort to cheap food. It is a difficult issue. People’s budgets are under pressure. It is one thing to educate them about what is in their food, and to make sure that marketing of food reflects what is in it, and that it is of good quality. However, the cost of living is still an issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who is no longer in his place, is mounting an inquiry into the question of how to square people’s inability to afford to pay a great deal for food with the fact that we should not be encouraging them to buy cheap food. That is quite a job. The important point is that no matter how much people pay for their food, they have a right to know what is in it. They should not be given food that is not what they think it is.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Dr McCrea, and to follow the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on securing the debate, which is timely, as we await Professor Elliott’s final report. I welcome the Minister and the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), and I thank the Minister for his well-spent time on the Select Committee for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the contribution he made to its reports.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet was right to focus on what is a new aspect of the area of crime we are discussing, and we should consider why there have not been any prosecutions to date. The Select Committee first reported in March 2012 on what we were told was a temporary ban on desinewed meat, which regrettably led to a loss of jobs at Newby Foods in my constituency and, I understand, at Moy Park in Northern Ireland. We concluded at the time that there was potential for adulteration and mislabelling, and the substitution of cheaper cuts of desinewed meat. It is a pity that our conclusions and the alarm bell that was rung were not responded to then.

Those early warning signs are the important issue for the Government. We need to ensure that when such things are seen to happen, they will trigger action from the FSA or DEFRA, which should work out the possible scenarios. Prices will be increasingly squeezed, and that will become more of an issue.

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, scrutiny of the issues is split between more than one Department—the Department of Health and DEFRA in the present case. What is particularly galling is that desinewed meat is still produced from non-ruminants as Baader meat in other European member states. There should be the same rule throughout the European Union.

There have been several reports, including the Select Committee report to which the Minister contributed, as well as the Troop review, the National Audit Office review, an internal FSA review and now the Elliott review. We need definitive action now. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) said, there was a remarkable short-term boost for local butchers and farm shops, and I hope that that will last.

To address the point made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), as well as by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet, people may eat cheaply by buying a roast and eating it in various forms during the course of the week. Frozen and processed foods, the real villains of the piece in food adulteration, are more expensive than buying fresh meat from the local butcher.

The interim Elliott review was so important because it looked at and pulled out the various conclusions of Select Committee and other earlier reports, bringing them all together and, in particular, highlighting issues such as slabs of meat in cold storage or the transporting of food over long distances, which we now know were often the cause of the problem, but had not previously been focused on. In responding, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will update us on where we are with labelling. In response to the Select Committee’s fifth report, on food contamination, the Government state:

“New labelling rules have just been agreed by the European Union and the Government must meet its legal obligations on implementation of these EU labelling regulations.”

That poses a particular problem for the Malton bacon factory, because what we are trying to do with one meat product, beef, perversely has implications for other products, such as pork. It would be helpful if the Minister updated us.

On the call for shorter supply chains, the complacency in the evidence that we heard in Committee was breathtaking. The supply chains were taken as read; they were not visited—not once every three months, not once every year and not even once in three years. We need reassurance from the supermarkets and the bigger food retail chains that that is now happening. Traceability and labelling go to the core of the issue: we must learn the lessons from BSE and keep our markets open. The European Union is, after all, our largest market for fresh meat, frozen food and processed food products.

The Elliott review is also important for highlighting the role of food testing, as commented on by the hon. Member for Bristol East and my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet. The reduction in the number of food analysts and the closure of food laboratories is causing great concern throughout the farming community and in the profession.

The hon. Lady is making a good contribution. May I take her one step back? She made a point about the importance of the industry’s reputation domestically, but we also need to get things right because, with credit to the Government, work on the export market is very much predicated on the strong reputation of UK meat produce. We need to get that right, because it will drive our export market. If we get it wrong, the corollary is that we could be sacrificing some great balance-of-payments input for this country.

The hon. Gentleman—I might dare to call him my hon. Friend—makes a powerful point. The key to everything is that there was nothing unsafe: it was fraud, adulteration and mislabelling. We may pride ourselves on the safety of food production from farm to plate. The long supply chain was the villain of the piece.

There is now more testing than ever, as the Committee has said. There had probably been a reduction in testing before, and the evidence we heard was that certain local authorities, which shall remain nameless, had not done any testing for a number of years. That is simply not on. Where retailers are testing, it is extremely important that they share the results with the Food Standards Agency and post them on their website, so that the consumer knows what is safe. We await the final report from Professor Elliott with great interest.

That is an important point about communicating with the consumer. If product has not met the required standard or there has been an infraction of trading standards, I would like to see retailers and suppliers across the board having that on their websites, telling consumers that there has been fraud or a problem.

My hon. Friend’s point is extremely well made and I am grateful for it.

Turning to food crime and why there have been no prosecutions, the matter is about frozen and processed food more than fresh food. Questions have to be asked. Action on fraud is well led by City of London police, but in that instance—perhaps the Minister will respond—was it the correct body? We have to ask why there were no prosecutions. The Secretary of State at the time, and a previous Agriculture Minister, said that those who had perpetrated the crimes would be brought to justice and feel the full force of the law. Why therefore have there been no prosecutions? We need to bring those people to book.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet mentioned the Dutch scenario, but I am taken with the Danish model—I declare an interest, because I am half Danish—of flying food squads descending on food producers, which has something to commend it. Professor Elliott may report more on that.

Leadership from the FSA is crucial, and the Select Committee asked questions about the scrutiny of food production, with the Government’s 2010 changes in particular potentially clouding the issue. I commend the acting FSA chairman, Tim Bennett, for his work in bringing stability to the area, but the fact that the vacancy has been left open for possibly more than a year raises issues. I urge the Government to speed up the process, because we need a permanent head of the FSA in place—someone who will be the front person should there be further issues, and who will implement the final conclusions of the Elliott report and the action for which the Government will undoubtedly call.

A worrying aspect is the split responsibility between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Health. In the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, we certainly expected to be doing the pre-appointment scrutiny, but we were bitterly disappointed to find that it fell to the Health Committee. There are questions about overall scrutiny and where responsibility for the FSA would be best placed. Greater scrutiny and transparency can only enhance its role.

I urge the Minister to report on the Department’s discussions in Brussels and to tell us about the initial reactions to the Elliott recommendations, in particular on putting consumers first; zero tolerance; where the Government think they will go on intelligence gathering; the idea of a two-tier lab service, with a national one reporting to a European one; and the other conclusions. Will the Minister also inform us where we are with the shorter supply chain? Will he reassure us that retailers are not taking the supply chain on trust and that there will be better traceability and labelling overall?

It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate, and to do so under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I assure you that my phone is on silent and will not interfere with my contribution to the debate.

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate secured by the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys), because this issue has caused much concern in the past, and still does. We have seen some improvement, and I am sure that the Minister will set that out in his response. The other contributors, the hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), also outlined some of the changes that have taken place. The hon. Member for South Thanet set the scene clearly for us all.

At the time of the horsemeat contamination incident, back in January 2013, I was among the first to state that we needed changes to ensure that the same thing did not happen again. Along with many other hon. Members, I was concerned that the issue had arisen at all. Apart from putting many people off buying burgers, the scandal revealed that there was no adequate policing of the food chain in the globalised market. Although we can take action on our home soil in Westminster, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, there is a globalised market out there over which we have no control.

We must do better at home and ensure that the produce that comes to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is controlled. Gone are the days when a person knew the farmer who slaughtered for the butcher who sold them their meat, but I am glad that there is a re-emergence of interest in and commitment to our local butchers—not before time. We are living in times when meat from Spain, Portugal, Brazil or Argentina is as popular as good, British beef, due to the rise of the supermarkets and their long-reaching arms.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) and I were talking before the debate, and we were saying that a housewife who has three or four children to feed and must put meat on the table faces a quandary when she goes to the supermarket. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said that it is cheaper to buy a roasting joint, from which a reasonable meal can be made, and which lasts for one or two days, but if the housewife sees a £3.99 and a 99p version of a product in the supermarket, often the cheaper will win because it puts meat on the table for her family at a cheaper price. It may not be as good quality as the £3.99 product, but at the end of the day it provides a meal. No matter what we do in legislation, it is hard to affect the housewife’s choice in the supermarket, and we must be aware of that.

Unfortunately, the checks process has been diluted; that was highlighted by the scandal. It was made clear at that time that we desperately need a more effective approach to ensure that best use is made of limited resources, and to prioritise consumer interests. It is vital that the Government and every Member of the House ensure that we use the opportunity to make lasting changes. In the Minister’s response, will he tell the House how he is working with the Northern Ireland Assembly—three of us here represent Northern Ireland—and the Scottish and Welsh Administrations to ensure that what happens in England happens in the other regions and applies to everybody?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He has a particular perspective on this issue because, like me, he comes from an area of devolved Administration. One of the lessons that was flagged up by the scandal and that Elliott touches on is the necessity for trans-border, transnational co-operation, not only on food standards and food safety, but at the level of political leadership. If we do only one thing, we must ensure that this works across borders, at a European level.

I thank the shadow Minister for that sensible contribution, which we can all endorse. When the Minister responds, I hope he will provide more detail about how that will work.

When I spoke in a debate on the subject last year, I used the analogy of spilt milk: we should not cry over it, but fix the jug handle to make sure it does not spill again. We have the chance to fix the handle, and we must do it. I am pleased to say that Professor Elliott is based at Queen’s university in Belfast—all good things come from Northern Ireland, as you and I know, Dr McCrea. Queen’s university has had many good things happening in the field of health—it has had world firsts and innovations in cancer research and treatment. In December, Professor Elliott published the interim findings of his wider review of the integrity and assurance of food supply networks, which was commissioned by the UK Government. It took a “consumers first”, zero-tolerance approach, to ensure that industry, the Government and enforcement agencies always put the needs of consumers above all other considerations. The review recommended that a new food crime unit be led by the Food Standards Agency, and that the agency and local authority staff develop a coherent approach across all areas of hygiene and standards. That includes improving the guidance and training of enforcement officers that is co-ordinated by the FSA and other professional bodies.

The initial findings of the Elliott review emphasise a need for local authorities and the FSA to work together more effectively, which has not happened in the past. We look forward to seeing how they can knit together better in the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and, as the shadow Minister said, across Europe and globally.

The most recent research by Which? shows that about half of consumers changed their meat eating habits as a result of the horsemeat scare in 2013. Local butchers to whom I have spoken say they are getting a younger clientele, who would have shopped in the supermarket in the past but now go to town to get their meat. That is a positive sign that augurs well for the future. Many local butchers have been making the most of the new trade by diversifying into creating meals. For many busy families—those in which both partners work full time—it is handy to have a meal that can be cooked quickly and is easy to prepare and put on the table. I am not saying that it should always be cooked in the microwave. The meals that the butchers have been creating are easy for younger people to make, and they have simplified the packaging so is easier to understand. Local butchers have been making the most of the new situation, but have we done so, at a parliamentary and regional level? It is vital that we take action to ensure that consumers are confident about the food they buy. We must feed into that process with robust checks. I welcome the re-emergence of the local butcher.

In my constituency of Strangford, we have some of the foremost food producers in not only the whole of Northern Ireland, but in the UK. A couple come to mind. There is Mash Direct, whose motto is:

“From our fields to your fork”.

There is Willowbrook Foods in Killinchy, which has another factory in Newtownards. These are growth industries. The quality is five-star, and they offer a good choice of vegetables. We also have top-quality lamb, beef, pork and poultry—all produced locally and sold in supermarket chains and across the water. Most of what we produce is exported to the Republic, England, Scotland or further afield. Every day, our fishing fleet in Portavogie lands the finest fresh prawns. There is Pritchitts foods in Newtownards, which is an example of the powdered milk industry. It sources all its milk from farmers in Northern Ireland, from a catchment area of 40 to 50 miles. That top-quality powdered milk is exported all over the world—as far away as China, Asia, South America and all over Africa. Food manufacturing and produce are intertwined, and Northern Ireland leads in the field.

The Which? report stated that consumers need to be reassured that businesses’ controls are checked and that legislation is reinforced. Only 56% of those surveyed were confident that the food they buy contains exactly what is stated on the ingredients list.

The hon. Gentleman is making some extremely good points. Does he accept that one of the interesting facets of the debate is that it cannot be divorced from fair reward in all parts of the supply chain, and from measures that we took on a cross-party basis in this House, such as the Groceries Code Adjudicator? There is a race to the bottom and a relentless squeeze on prices. As Billy Bragg said, if anyone wants an example of where out-and-out, unlimited, unrestricted capitalism takes us, it is horsemeat.

Again, the hon. Gentleman makes a valuable contribution that I endorse and support. It is not right that manufacturers and producers should be squeezed over and over; it should not happen. We cannot expect farmers or producers to produce products at a negligible profit and remain in business. We then wonder why other countries are able to produce similar products and sell them here. Price matters, but so does quality.

The other issue is the disproportionate impact on poorer households and their health. We must not forget that horsemeat, although it may be included in products fraudulently, is not necessarily bad for health. We now see things infiltrating our food system that corrupt food and are bad for health.

I accept that, and thank the hon. Lady for her wise words.

Of those surveyed, 56% were confident that the food they buy contains exactly what is stated on the ingredients list, but that means that 44% were not confident. Nine in 10 people believe that businesses that manufacture food for sale in food outlets and that sell food directly to the public have to be inspected to ensure that they meet hygiene standards before they can sell food to the public. We adhere to strict controls, criteria and legislation, and the public expect that, but 91% of people would be worried if cuts to their local council meant that some food businesses would no longer be inspected. Will the Minister reassure the 91% who are worried that cuts may affect their council’s duty to inspect businesses?

It is clear to me that the onus for checking must be on officials, and it is our responsibility to put in place changes, now that the report has been launched. One suggestion made in a briefing, with which I agree completely, is that a UK-wide database, incorporating produce from Northern Ireland and all regions, is needed. That goes back to a point I made and on which the shadow Minister intervened: we need something across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so that all regions are working together to produce better produce in which people can have confidence.

Which? states that there is a need for more local authority food testing, a mandatory system for collecting sampling information from local authorities in a UK database, a more strategic approach to ensure adequate sampling, and analytical capacity to deal with potential threats. If local authorities do more testing, they will need access to laboratories that have the analytical capability to deal with the increasingly sophisticated methods of food fraud. The hon. Member for South Thanet mentioned food fraud when setting the scene. Many local authorities are working with limited resources, but some are sharing their services. There may be better ways of doing that, and expertise should be extended around the country.

Local knowledge should be supplemented with more strategic sharing of services across local authorities, overseen by the FSA, including teams of enforcement officers at regional level. The Elliott report referred to regional control, direction and focus across local authority boundaries to deal with specific sector issues and more complex or high-risk food businesses, and that should be looked at. It is clear that confidence has been affected. We must use the report, when it is finalised, to re-establish that confidence and to ensure that checks are in place, so that people have confidence in the industry and that it can deliver. That is what is expected of us in the House, and that is what we must undertake to do.

It is a great pleasure, Dr McCrea, to serve under your stewardship this morning in what has been a good and wide-ranging debate. I will try not to diminish the quality of the contributions. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) not only on securing the debate, but on her introduction to it. She has been a consistent campaigner on this and related issues. Her expertise showed in how she comprehensively went through a range of issues. I will start with some of the comments that she and other colleagues made.

The hon. Lady wisely said that we should have been able to see the problem coming, not least through the disconnect between commodity prices and the retail offer. There were other things that could have been seen, not least the disappearance of horses from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales. They ended up in north Wales or elsewhere, but they did not emerge somewhere else. Some connectivity of intelligence would have suggested that something was happening. There were also wider European issues. The hon. Lady made the point exceptionally well that we should have been able to see the problem coming, and that is one of the big lessons in the recommendations in the Elliott report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) is also a long-term campaigner on food and related issues. She raised a vital issue that was picked up in the Elliott report. There are worrying reductions in the capacity for testing, which are linked to the capacity for detection, investigation and early intervention. That is not simply about Europol, it is about what is happening down on the ground at the grass roots, in local authorities and at a co-ordinated UK level. It is worrying if that capacity is diminished, and it is not just my hon. Friend who says that—as she said, the Elliott review also says that clearly.

The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), who has great expertise from her constituency background and knowledge, made some good points about the inconsistency in how some meat production is treated at EU and UK level. I strongly agree with her call for definitive action after a series of reports into food fraud and food crime, and an end to the hiatus and vacuum in the FSA chairmanship. That is critical, because if the Elliott report says nothing else about the FSA, it screams out for leadership not only within the Government and internationally, but at the heart of the matter, which includes the FSA. That leadership is needed to drive the issue forward, not least when the full report is produced. Someone—not just the Minister, but the head of the FSA—must take a steer and say how strongly the recommendations will be pushed through.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) brought a different perspective to the issue, and I thank him for talking about the need for consistent application of what eventually comes out of the Elliott review regardless of national borders. That relates to the big issue of long supply chains. We cannot suddenly make them disappear. There will be long global supply chains—that is the reality we now live with, even with the approach that Tesco and Asda are taking of shortening supply chains and so on. We therefore need commensurate transnational measures to deal with supply chains and to ensure that we can give consumers confidence on not only provenance but safety. A year ago, the issue was primarily provenance; the next one may be food safety. We must ensure that good crime analysis is comprehensively pushed out transnationally. We can do a lot about that.

All hon. Members who spoke referred, in various ways, to squaring the circle of cost, and having safe, affordable, nutritious food, while also having fair reward for producers. Those matters are not unconnected. They hang together coherently, or they should. The hon. Member for South Thanet referred to her consistent theme about the need for education and awareness so that people can do a lot with good food affordably. She is right, but that must be balanced against the reality of, for example, a single parent rushing between a couple of jobs and dealing with child duties. They will look for convenience foods, so our frozen, convenience meat products must be safe, nutritious and affordable—not simply cheap, but affordable. I know that she accepts that, and getting it right is important.

The Elliott review is important, and if we look at the scale of the industry, we see why it is critical to get the matter right. It involves not just consumer confidence but jobs and industry. According to the most recent figures from the Library, the food and drinks industry is worth £188 billion. The food and drink manufacturing industry is the single largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with a turnover of £92 billion and gross value added of £24 billion, accounting for 18% of the total manufacturing sector by turnover. It employs just over 400,000 workers, which is 16% of the overall manufacturing work force in the UK.

The latest figures that I have—I admit that they go back to 2012, so I suspect that they are slightly bigger now—suggest that just in the sectors responsible for the processing, production and preservation of meat, poultry, fish, crustaceans and molluscs, as referred to by the hon. Member for Strangford, there were nearly 3,500 enterprises of various size and scale, with more than £32 billion spent, employing more than 176,000 people. We therefore need to get things right—post-horsemeat and post-Elliott review and its final recommendations—not only for consumer confidence but because if we do not, that is what is at risk. Our deserved reputation for good, safe, well provenanced food was shaken last year. We need to get it right back in kilter for the domestic market, consumers, the industry itself and our export potential.

We know that there has been an impact on consumer confidence over the past year, because although frozen meat and poultry sales grew, those of frozen and processed meat products plummeted by as much as 40% for some sellers immediately after what happened, and there has been a slow recovery since. According to Euromonitor, consumer confidence in frozen and processed meat food is still low. As hon. Members have mentioned, the situation has been a boon for butchers, farm shops and the like, but it has also caused re-engineering towards shorter supply chains by organisations such as Asda and Tesco. I recall, as everybody will, Tesco’s “We get it” advert last year, which came, not coincidentally, at the same time as the National Farmers Union conference saying, “We get it. We will change the way we operate”. However, it was not simply Tesco—that was the biggest organisation to be confronted with the problem, but others have also started re-engineering. There is work to be done, and I keep a close eye on that, but they are starting to change how they operate.

I am somewhat baffled about how there can be such long supply chains in the manufacture of food products and yet the price is still so low. It seems common sense that the more travel is involved, and the more countries and the more different elements, the more the price will be bumped up. I suspect that I am putting my hon. Friend on the spot, but I very much welcome the fact that supply chains are being shortened, so that we know where our food is coming from.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, but I think we have to accept that in international food transactions, some food products do not have a UK market. There are some products created in the UK that UK consumers do not consume. For example, if we look at some of the products that are consumed in other nations from the slaughter of chickens, there is currently no UK market for them. They are exported. Conversely and curiously, many of our farmers are finding at the moment that the premium prices for Welsh lamb, pork and so on are not primarily in the UK, so the market is operating in a way that is turning some of the product flows on their heads. Although I welcome a drive towards shorter, more clearly identifiable food supply chains, there will always be an element of longer supply chains, and that is why we need to deal with the issue in both ways.

I want to clarify that I am not really talking about us exporting our products or importing products, but at the time of the horsemeat scandal, when we were looking, for example, at what was in lasagne, about 11 different countries seemed to be involved. Meat might have started out in Ireland, but then it went to Spain, Romania and so on. Surely lasagne can just be made in one or two countries, rather than having to be sent on a tour of Europe before it gets to us.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point—I am sorry, I did not realise that she was referring to that specific example. She is right; in fact, in some examples, as many as 20 transaction points were in the food cycle, which is astonishing. Meat was hurtling across Europe for different parts of its processing. I suspect that it went beyond Europe as well, because there was an important, interesting sideshow going on. The US had banned the slaughter of horses for meat production, but most people had accepted that all they had done was exported that to South America—and where was it going from there?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One welcome move from some supermarkets and retailers is that the big ones are now following the established practice among others, such as Waitrose, Morrisons and the Co-op, of not only identifying local and UK sourcing—within England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and, I have to say, Ireland as well—but being much more specific for consumers. They are saying, “We can tell you where the product comes from and how close it is to market”. That is a welcome innovation.

I turn to the evidence of growth in food fraud and food crime. As hon. Members have mentioned, when the FSA set up the food fraud database in 2007, it received less than 50 reports of food fraud, but by last year it had received more than 1,500. According to the National Audit Office, local authorities reported 1,380 cases of food fraud in 2012, which was up by two thirds since 2010.

Professor Elliott wisely makes the distinction between food fraud and food crime. There have always been elements of food fraud going on; some noticeable ones are currently pending prosecution in different parts of the UK. However, food crime goes beyond the

“few random acts by ‘rogues’”—

they have always been out there operating, unfortunately, and they need to be stamped down on—into what Professor Elliott calls

“an organised activity perpetrated by groups who knowingly set out to deceive and or injure those purchasing a food product.”

It is on a grand scale and it is worrying.

The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. It is absolutely crucial, when looking at international organised crime, which is part of the system, that we in the UK are not seen as the easy touch, and that the message goes out from Government to ensure that we are not seen as an easy-entry proposition for those sorts of crime organisations.

The hon. Lady makes an absolutely valid point, and we should be leading on the matter. We have to do it alongside European colleagues and others, but we should be leading on it.

We understandably focused very much post-horsemeat on meat products, their provenance and so on, but Operation Opson II, the joint Interpol-Europol initiative two years ago, dealt with the seizure of potentially harmful products such as soup cubes, olive oil—a massive area of potential food crime—caviar, coffee and many other products. We need to be wise to the fact that the issue in the UK, post-horsemeat, is coloured by that, but it is a much wider issue, and whenever those involved can see the opportunity for criminality, they will try and get in there.

I turn back to the issue of horsemeat for a moment, because there are some particularly instructive points for how we can respond to Elliott and what comes out in his report. When the horsemeat crisis broke, it is undoubtedly true—I have to say this, and I have said it consistently—that there was a delay in Whitehall among Ministers. It is not just me saying that; others have, too. At the time, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that

“the current contamination crisis has caught the FSA and Government flat-footed and unable to respond effectively within structures designed primarily to respond to threats to human health.”

Lord Rooker, speaking only last month at a major food symposium, said:

“There was confusion in the first three or four days about who was responsible for what…There was a hiatus in the first few days. But the slowest place it went in the food industry was Whitehall. The Department of Health, DEFRA…and Number 10 blamed the FSA for the problem in the first three weeks. It’s always the issue—blame the regulator—”

in his words—

“as happened in the flooding crisis with the Environment Agency. But it is not a very good way to operate.”

Labour’s and others’ call for another look at the powers of the FSA is supported by the former chairman of the FSA, Lord Rooker, and the same concerns have been raised in the Elliott report, in Professor Pat Troop’s inquiry for the FSA, in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report and by the National Audit Office. I say to the Minister that there is a real strength of voice saying, “Look at the governance of the food industry again, and at how it has been fragmented.” The lack of clarity about that is not the reason why we are where we are, but it is certainly a contributory factor, as is the lack of clarity between Whitehall and what is happening locally on the ground. Labour therefore welcomes the report. It must be a wake-up call for the Government—for all Governments, whoever is in government.

Twelve months after the horsemeat scandal, we see in the papers today that no prosecutions have been brought, as hon. Members have commented today. They are right—no major prosecutions have been brought, but a couple of what might be deemed peripheral cases are under way. However, it seems to me—I may be wrong—that those cases involve the small guys and fringe operators. They do need to be brought to book, but I am not seeing any follow-through at the moment. Perhaps the Minister will tell me of something more major, with serious criminality behind it.

The hon. Member for South Thanet made a point about the penalties that are available. It is interesting that currently, under the various food regulations, there are penalties such as fines of up to £20,000 under the General Food Regulations 2004, which seems a lot, and imprisonment of up to two years. If we are talking about real, serious-scale criminality, is a £20,000 fine enough? Most well organised, transnational, serious criminals—the ones that were targeted by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, as it was previously known—would laugh at that penalty. One question that comes out of the Elliott review, the horsemeat scandal and any prosecutions that might be pending is whether we need to look again at penalties in a much more serious way. Should more severe penalties be available not only in the UK, but across the EU? Is there scope, for example, for confiscation of assets and so on?

Of course, all that work goes alongside European initiatives. The European Union food fraud unit is doing good work, and it will be interesting to see whether the Minister refers to that. The need for centralisation of the horse passports system has been identified, and the Government have been considering for some time what they should do in that respect. They have always been scathing about the old equine database and have said that they see the need for a centralised database. We accept that, but is it coming forward and how does it tie in with the European approach to horse passports? There is also the option of extending country-of-origin labelling to processed meat. The second round of DNA testing of meat products will take place this spring. I hope that the Minister will respond on some of those matters in his summing-up speech.

European Commissioner Borg said in an interview last week:

“We want to ensure that the actions that we have taken have borne fruit, otherwise we will have to introduce even stricter measures”.

Does the Minister think that we are on course now? Are we responding effectively? If not, what will those stricter measures be, and what impact will they have on both burdens on the industry and consumer prices? It is in our interest to get this right and to go forward without disproportionate burdens. I welcome the EU food integrity initiative and the lead role of the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency—one quango that, quite rightly, was not burned in the bonfire.

I want to ask the Minister about the UK’s current position not only on food safety and food provenance, but on “wholesome” food. I suspect that many hon. Members here today are not aware of what is currently going on in the European Union, but there is a debate about the definition of wholesome food and the need to ensure that we have wholesome food in the supply chain. We understand that UK Ministers are supporting a drive to weaken the framework whereby meat and food inspections for abscesses, tumours and so on—the “unwholesome” parts of a carcase—mean that they are prevented from entering the food chain. The carcases are split open and inspected, and any contaminated meat is cut out. That is under European regulation 882. Why would the Government, after the horsemeat scandal and while we are considering the Elliott report, even consider ending the requirement for official controls that ensure that food of animal origin is free of diseased, or “unwholesome” in Euro-speak, animal material?

On the interim Elliott review proposals and the questions that arise from them, I entirely agree that Elliott puts consumers first. He asks for a zero-tolerance approach. I agree about that, and I suspect that we will need to look at the range of sanctions that we have available. Should we include seizure of assets, longer sentences and suspension or exclusion from the food manufacturing sector, for example?

On intelligence gathering, Elliott talks about the need to involve stakeholders, including industry, but says that there should also be cross-border intelligence gathering. We agree. On laboratory services, as hon. Members have mentioned, Elliott raises major questions about the reductions in UK laboratory and testing capacity. On audit, we agree with Elliott’s recommendations, as we do on Government support and on leadership. We have been playing catch-up during the past year. We now need to get ahead of the game on leadership, politically as well as within food governance. On crisis management, Elliott says that when a serious incident occurs, the necessary mechanisms must be in place so that regulators and industry can deal with it, and I agree.

We need to champion the consumer and the industry and get this right. The Elliott report takes us on significantly, and I hope that the Minister will say today that he is extremely positive about the recommendations and will tell us when we are likely to see some implementation to take them forward.

As always in these debates, I have many questions to answer and not a great deal of time, but I will do my best. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on securing the debate, which has provided us with an excellent opportunity to explore the interim report on the integrity and assurance of food supply networks and for me to update colleagues on activities since the discovery of horsemeat fraud in 2013.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, the horsemeat fraud incident last year inflicted considerable damage on our food industry and undermined confidence in our food. It was damaging to the retailers and processors involved, and that should drive home to all of them the reality that they have more to lose than anyone by cutting corners or allowing the integrity of our food supply chain to be compromised.

Food fraud is completely unacceptable. It is a crime. The competitive pressures of the marketplace, to which my hon. Friend referred, are no excuse for misleading consumers and committing fraud, so lessons must be learned by all involved. The Government take the threat of food fraud very seriously and want to ensure that lessons are learned. That is why we asked Professor Elliott to look into what could be done to protect the food chain and to restore consumer confidence following the horsemeat fraud scandal.

As all hon. Members here know, Professor Elliott published his interim report in December 2013. We should note that, in it, he makes it clear that UK consumers have access to some of the safest food in the world, so it is not all bad. However, there is no room for complacency. Professor Elliott sets out what he has identified as the key features of a national food crime prevention strategy. The interim report includes no fewer than 48 recommendations, which Professor Elliott has been discussing with the industry and the Government as part of the consultation process for the preparation of his final report. The Government have also been discussing the interim report with interested parties. My hon. Friend specifically asked whether we were discussing the issue with retailers and with industry, and I can confirm that we are. Whenever I have meetings with retailers, it is one of the issues on our agenda.

There are 48 recommendations, but we can break down Professor Elliott’s report into three key themes. First, he identifies a package of measures in relation to testing and enforcement. Secondly, a big part of his report is dedicated to responsibilities in the supply chain, both on retailers and on processors. Finally, there are issues relating to the co-ordination of Government efforts, the links between Government agencies and co-ordination between Government agencies and local authorities. Professor Elliott raises important issues relating to all three areas, and we will consider carefully the supporting analysis in his final report before making a formal response.

However, there is much that we are already implementing, and I want to spend a little time highlighting what has already been done. First, the Government have increased their funding to support local authorities’ co-ordinated programme of food sampling from £1.6 million to £2.2 million in 2013-14. The Food Standards Agency and DEFRA are helping to target local authority resources through greater central co-ordination of intelligence, by providing additional support for complex investigations, by making available some of the funding for additional training and through prioritised sampling to target delivery at areas of agreed national importance.

Secondly, an intelligence hub has been established in the FSA to improve its capability to identify and prevent threats to food safety and integrity, based on the approach to intelligence used by the police. City of London police is heavily involved in that. That intelligence hub approach, which brings together local authorities, the police, the FSA and other interested parties, is a key step towards improving co-ordination, the need for which was highlighted in Professor Elliott’s interim report and which many hon. Members have referred to today. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet also talked about the importance of information sharing, particularly with industry. We are working with industry to tackle some of the commercial sensitivities that can act as a barrier to information sharing. The FSA is doing some work to improve its access to industry information.

Thirdly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) pointed out, the food fraud experienced last year was a problem at a European level, so we need action at a European level to tackle it. Despite famously being quite Eurosceptic, I am happy to tell the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) that we recognise the problem to be a European one, and that we need action at a European level. The new European food crime unit, which is being developed by the European Commission, will be an important part of that intelligence network. The FSA is working with the European Commission and with other member states to get the unit up and running as soon as possible.

Several hon. Members have talked about the importance of enforcement, and particularly pursuing convictions for the offences committed last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton asked why more had not been done. Action has been taken to try to secure convictions for the offences committed last year. Those investigations are taking a little longer than many people would hope, because they are quite complex and cross many national boundaries. A number of police authorities across Europe are involved: Dutch, Polish, Danish, Italian, French and our own. Because the crimes were committed on a pan-European level across borders, it is taking time to deliver those convictions.

Is it not the case that the horse has bolted, to coin a phrase, and that those who have perpetrated the crimes will be long gone?

I do not accept that. Investigations are continuing at a number of sites across the UK. City of London police is co-ordinating the police forces for all the investigations. Five arrests have been made, and the announcement a couple of weeks ago by the Crown Prosecution Service of two cases being taken to court demonstrates that action is being taken to protect consumers from mislabelling and to tackle food businesses’ failure to ensure the traceability of the products that they supply.

The hon. Member for Ogmore talked about the penalties for committing food fraud crimes. The penalty for food offences can range from giving advice or a formal notice for very trivial breaches, such as if a mistake has been made on labelling, to criminal prosecutions for the most serious offences such as fraud. We should bear in mind that when it comes to fraud, it is possible to implement a prison sentence of 10 years. I think that there are sufficient penalties in our criminal law to tackle the most serious cases.

Several hon. Members have talked about the role of the industry, which is one of the key themes picked up by Professor Elliott. As I said at the outset, the food industry has the most to lose from a decline in confidence in the supply chain, and it has a responsibility to take a leading role. As of today, the industry has submitted more than 45,000 tests of beef products for horsemeat since the horsemeat scandal broke, and no new positives have been reported since the height of the incident. Retailers and processors have taken a thorough approach to testing. The tests are being carried out through the supply chain, not only by retailers but by processors, looking at the ingredients going into products in local convenience stores as well as large national retailers.

Food businesses and trade associations representing the whole food chain are also working with the FSA and Professor Elliott to consider how to make better use of audit and controls. Professor Elliott is keen to develop ways of achieving a more streamlined and effective auditing process.

I welcome the Minister’s full response. Is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs working, in its strategy section, on early warning systems when commodity prices are going up but food prices are going up only a little bit, totally disproportionately? That must be an important signal that gives Government the sense that something is not quite right.

I was going to come on to that point, but I will deal with it now because my hon. Friend has raised it. She highlighted passionately in her speech the fact that there has not been as much of an increase in retail food prices as there has been in commodity prices. That can be normal, because commodity prices tend to cover a small number of products, whereas there is a broader range of products in food stores. There has been a 12% rise in food prices in real terms between 2007 and 2012, with the biggest spike in 2008.

In many debates on food banks and the like—I notice that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) is not here—I am told repeatedly that the price of food in the shops is going up. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet highlighted the frozen cottage pie that cost £1 and did not go up in price again, but food prices at the retail end have gone up by 12%, and the fact that certain individual products have stayed the same price may come down to pricing strategies and promotion, so we cannot read too much into such examples. I recognise her point, however. The FSA has reviewed its emerging risks programme, and it is working with DEFRA to identify and assess the economic drivers of food fraud so that those influencing factors are better understood and acted on.

In my contribution, I asked how DEFRA would work with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to ensure that there was a co-ordinated plan. Will the Minister comment on that?

Again, that is something that I was going to come on to. Food enforcement is a devolved responsibility. The Elliott review was commissioned by the UK Government, but it is being followed with close interest by the devolved Administrations and we are discussing it with them.

Some hon. Members have suggested that the supply chain is too long and too complex. I should perhaps declare an interest, in that my family run a farm shop and butchery, the slogan of which is “Food yards, not food miles.” I have a clear interest in such issues. It is a valid point that small businesses and small retailers may often have far less complex supply chains, and we can learn from that. The horsemeat fraud incident demonstrated the higher vulnerability of some of the more complex supply chains, and many retailers are learning the lessons from that. One could argue that there has been an over-reliance on the paperwork involved in all the systems for traceability and following products from processor to retailer. The onus is on larger retailers to take much greater interest in where their food comes from.

I want to pick up on a few of the other points that were made. I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet that we should not be seen as a soft touch. It is worth remembering that the EU-wide testing programme discovered less than 1% of products in the UK that were affected by the horsemeat scandal, compared with an average of 4% to 5% in other European countries. Although we are not complacent, we had a more robust system than did many other countries. She also highlighted the fact that there are 111 inspectors in Holland, but I point out that Holland has a slightly different approach. In our local authorities in this country, we have more than 2,700 inspectors; it is simply that they are not in a dedicated unit but sit within trading standards.

The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) mentioned adverse reports from local authorities that have done their own inspections. It is encouraging that local authorities are stepping up to the mark and carrying out such inspections. As I pointed out, there are two reasons why the figures can look misleadingly high. First, local authorities tended to investigate where there had been complaints, so we would expect them to have found more problems. Secondly, many of the problems that they found were mislabelling, foreign-language labelling or things not being in the right place. Only a small number were food adulteration.

I am afraid that I have run out of time. We welcome this debate, which has been a great opportunity to explore the issues highlighted by Professor Elliott, and we look forward to his final report.

Child Care

Child care is a crucial issue for many working families around Norwich, and I am grateful for the opportunity to raise it. I have been talking to a lot of mums, dads, nurseries and pre-schools in Norwich, and I would like to express on their behalf some of their concerns about the quality and affordability of child care. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) has been absolutely right to say in the past that a changing economy means that parents need affordable and available child care more than ever, and that, at the same time, a changing world means that children need a rigorous and rounded education more than ever. I agree with her that we have the opportunity to do both at once.

I would like to put the issue in context. Let us not forget the tax and benefit changes that are coming into effect this very week—the biggest changes in a generation—which will create more jobs and get more people off welfare and into work. Child care naturally follows from parents going out to work, so it is crucial to see it in the context of the whole economy. It is also clear this week that only by sticking to a long-term economic plan will we build a more resilient economy that provides a more financially secure future for families. We cannot look at the cost of living in isolation, and there can be no economic or household security if the public finances are not under control.

I want to look briefly at the Asda income tracker—the Mumdex—which was published this week. In February, the average UK household had £169 of discretionary income a week, up by £5 a week, year on year, and interestingly representing the fastest growth in family spending power since November 2012. That was the fifth month in a row that families had seen their household incomes rise—a rise boosted by a fall in the price of petrol, which is 5% lower than in the same month last year, easing the pressure on household finances. I do not cite those figures to try to explain that everything is currently easy for parents and families, because we all know that it is not, but it is important to note that things are slowly improving. Such improvements in family finances can, of course, come about only with the control of the public finances, and through the serious decisions that a Government can take, and that this Government have taken, about what to spend hard-earned taxes on.

I am particularly pleased that the Chancellor has put public money towards the tax-free child care scheme outlined in the Budget, because it stands to ease costs for families even further. I am also pleased that the scheme will be bigger and faster than first outlined, and glad that it will particularly help families who face the real squeeze—basic rate taxpayers who often find that the cost of child care outweighs the financial benefits of both parents working.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising such an important issue. I am one of the few MPs who had two children in child care during the days of the last Labour Government, and I watched as my child care costs spiralled. I am disgusted that no Opposition Members are present to hear what my hon. Friend has to say. Does she agree that the Government’s support for child care will bring much-needed respite and help to working parents who struggled desperately with the added bureaucracy and cost of child care under the previous Government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am very interested to hear about her personal experience. I agree with her, and think that the Government’s support for child care will give families greater stability and flexibility, so that they can make choices about what best suits their family picture. I know that the Minister is passionate about that.

In response to my hon. Friend, I would like to refer to a constituent, Mr C, who told me:

“I’m now on 10k a year, at 39 years of age. My wife, an amazing mother, has to stay at home to look after two of our children, as we cannot afford the child care or would be worse off if my wife went to work”.

I have obviously spoken to that constituent about the changes that will be coming in with universal credit, for example, which I think will help with his wife’s choices about going out to work. Also, the personal allowance will rise to £10,500 from April 2015. Based on the figures he cited, my constituent may be one of the 400 people in Norwich North who will be taken out of tax entirely. He will certainly be one of the more than 38,000 people in my constituency who will benefit from our tax changes overall. On top of that, it may just be that he and his wife would benefit from the tax-free child care scheme, if she chose to work.

I also welcome the targeted provision of taxpayer-funded child care for families on the lowest incomes. We began with all three and four-year-olds receiving 15 hours a week of free child care, and have gone on to target the offer at the 240,000 poorest two-year-olds. However, the provision to spend taxpayers’ money in that way is nothing if people do not know about it. I am therefore keen to use today’s debate to call on Norwich parents, as well as others around the country, to take up what they are now entitled to by law.

In Education questions last week, my hon. Friend the Minister confirmed to me that 1,537 two-year-olds in our shared county of Norfolk are now enrolled in the programme. I am pleased to see that number of families on lower incomes making the most of the help available once their child turns two, but I think that the number actually represents fewer than half of the eligible children in our county, according to the figures published when the Minister first made the announcement. Will she confirm, either today or perhaps by letter later, whether that is one of the lowest percentages of target met by a local authority in the east of England? That appears to be suggested by table seven on page 20 of the Family and Childcare Trust’s 2014 survey, so I would be interested to know whether that is indeed the case in our shared county of Norfolk. In any case, I strongly urge Norwich families to take up the taxpayer funding that has been put aside, and say to constituents that if they are not sure whether they are eligible, they should please check the county council website, because that funding is there to help them.

Turning to issues of quality, I want to be absolutely clear that I want more great child care available for children, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) has described, and I want to be able to provide more choice and flexibility for parents. I want it to be easier for new providers to enter the market and for good existing providers to expand, because that brings consequent benefits in both affordability and quality. My hon. Friend the Minister has previously given the example of countries such as France and Germany, which have excellent systems for comparable amounts of Government spending, while paying staff good salaries and keeping costs affordable for parents. For me, those are the crucial things that we want British child care to achieve for parents and children.

I would like to give some examples. My hon. Friend the Minister and I recently visited Magdalen Gates pre-school in north Norwich, which has been rated “good” by Ofsted and also won multiple awards. Staff there would like to expand, but they are concerned about the sheer scale of the project of extending a building. As child carers, they do not feel that that is an area in which they have expertise, but as they are on an enclosed city site, it is one of the few things that they could do to provide more places. Will the Minister explain what she is doing to set such sites free from bureaucracy? Will she also lay out what she expects from local authorities—or, indeed, from local educational chains—in terms of sharing services to help parents more?

A second example is the Acorn playgroup in Thorpe St Andrew in Norwich, which is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. Staff there are also greatly interested in running more places for two-year-olds under the scheme I have discussed, but they are concerned about the pressure of having two-year-olds through to four-and-a-half-year-olds in the same limited physical space. Will the Minister explain how she expects good settings to be able to deal with such concerns in the short term?

My third example is another nursery school in my constituency that is rated “good”, the Once Upon A Time nursery. Staff there raised with me the point that, inevitably, the rate paid for the free provision—it is of course paid for by taxpayers and is free only at the point of use—differs from the market rate. Other settings have also expressed concern about that, and I am sure that the issue is not unknown to the Minister.

Another outstanding local setting, the Montessori group, raised a parallel point with me. It finds it hard to cater for 15 hours of sessions, provided for free, to three and four-year-olds, even though it believes that it is crucial to provide quality full-time child care. Its problem is the combination of, as it were, part-time and full-time children. Will the Minister explain how she thinks a good setting should be able to deal, in a mixed market, with issues about the rate and—to use a horrible word, but I suspect the right one for the problem—sessionality?

Another example comes again from Magdalen Gates pre-school. It told us about the importance of language skills in early years. That is certainly one reason to value good-quality early years provision, because it can help children to develop social skills and vocabulary. Evidence suggests that once an attainment gap opens up, it is incredibly hard to close it in later life. I think all of us Government Members share a passion for helping people to move to where they wish to go in life. By the time they start school, poorer children are already behind and are somewhat trapped. They can be up to a full 18 months behind their richer peers in vocabulary development. That is just not good enough for those of us who believe that life is about where one wants to go, not where one started from.

The Minister confirmed to me last week in the Chamber that there has been a 25% increase in enrolment in higher-quality early years training. Will she explain a bit more about what that entails? How can people in my constituency apply to be part of that as a great career? That is an incredibly important message that we might be able to send out today.

My final example comes from Hellesdon Community pre-school, another outstanding setting in my constituency. This relates to the thorny question of committee-run pre-schools, which is well known to the Minister. Does she have any advice for my constituents in such settings, who would like to encourage more volunteers to be part of the committee, to provide the great-quality child care that we are all looking for?

I will draw my comments to a close, because I want to hear from the Minister on those points. I am grateful for having had the chance to raise some cases from my constituency. I have made a great effort to survey all the child care settings in my constituency, and I am expecting a deluge of more data that I can pass on to the Minister, who I know shares my passion for getting better child care, and more of it, at a price that parents can afford.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) for her detailed analysis of child care in her constituency. I congratulate her on the work she has been doing with parents and nurseries to get under the skin of the issues they face. She has identified a number of issues that the Government are working on to make life easier for both high-quality child care providers and parents.

My hon. Friend was absolutely right to open her speech by talking about the dual significance of child care and early education. First, it is important to ensure that children get the best start in life. We know that, at the moment, children from low-income backgrounds begin school 18 months behind in terms of language and vocabulary skills. It is hard for those young children to catch up during their school career. High-quality early education can make a difference. All the evidence suggests that high-quality teachers who help children to develop things such as sentence structure and vocabulary through songs, stories and nursery rhymes and by using other techniques such as counting bricks can make a difference. They will help to close our educational gap.

Secondly, child care is important to support working parents. In the majority of families across OECD countries, both parents go out to work; it has become an economic necessity. However, we do not have to compromise on quality to get affordability; we can achieve both. That is what the Government are working on.

My hon. Friend asked a question about the programme for two-year-olds in Norfolk. The issue might be about the eligibility that is coming onstream this September: 3,600 children in Norfolk will be eligible for the places available currently. The proportion of children in Norfolk taking up places is a high 92%. I understand that the Family and Childcare Trust survey was conducted last autumn, so those data are less recent. I will write to my hon. Friend to confirm the data and their source so that she can have all the information. It would be useful to obtain Norwich city’s data if we can, but as she knows, they are held by Norfolk county council. We will see what we can do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) made some interesting points about affordability. I, too, struggled, with the affordability of child care, as I know many parents do. We have seen rising costs. Under the previous Government, child care costs rose by 50% as they piled more and more red tape on providers, but it was all about ticking boxes and not necessarily about getting better outcomes for children.

I am pleased to say that, after 12 years of rising prices, we saw a drop in prices, after taking inflation into account, for the first time in England this year. That is in contrast to Scotland and Wales. If we look at a nursery place for over-twos, English prices did not go up—in fact, they fell in real terms—whereas prices went up by 8% in Scotland and by 13% in Wales. The Government have taken action to make it easier for high-quality providers to expand. Previously, providers had to jump through hoops from both local authorities and Ofsted. Now, we have said that Ofsted is the sole arbiter of quality, and if someone is a good-quality provider, they are able to open new premises on that basis.

We have also got rid of planning restrictions, so nurseries now have the same planning freedoms as schools. They may convert commercial premises into nurseries without having to obtain planning permission. I have spoken to a lot of nursery owners who are pleased about that new freedom, which means that good-quality nursery chains can expand. We are also funding high-quality child minders, so good and outstanding child minders can automatically offer two, three and four-year-old places. Previously, only 1% of places were with child minders, so the change should enable a big increase in the number of such places.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North made some interesting points about Magdalen Gates pre-school, and I was delighted to visit that high-quality nursery. I was struck by the fact that the nursery is on the same site as a school and by what could be done to use the facilities and resources in the school better, working with the local council. One of the things that we are keen to see is teaching schools reach down the age range and collaborate with private and voluntary-sector nurseries. Schools and private nurseries are developing expertise in how to offer flexible sessions to parents and high-quality early years education. In that particular case, there is a strong incentive for better collaboration with the school and the local council to see how the facilities can be used. The Government fund local councils to give capital grants to increase the number of two-year-old places.

We have also made it easier for school nurseries to open from 8 am to 6 pm. At the moment, 25% of places in Norfolk are in school nurseries. The figure is higher across the rest of the country; a third of all places are in school nurseries which, typically are open only from 9 am to 3 pm. However, if they were open from 8 am to 6 pm, that would enable providers to offer the 15 hours in more flexible allocations. Rather than three hours over five days, they could offer five hours over three days, which works much better with a part-time job.

Our feedback to the provider mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North is that providers are able to charge parents for additional hours. They can come up with different packages. For example, I visited an innovative nursery in the north-west that offers a three hours-plus package, where children get three hours three mornings a week, then they get lunch for £1.40 extra, which is affordable for many parents on low incomes, and which means that the child is getting a high-quality lunch of, in this case, Lancashire pasties and homemade pastry, which I tried myself.

There are all kinds of innovative things that providers can do. We have case studies and models that we can send to my hon. Friend and nurseries in her constituency about how to schedule and roster services, and how they can offer parents different packages that suit their lifestyle. The days when every parent was able to drop their child off at nine and pick them up at 12 are pretty much over. That model does not fit with a lot of parents’ lifestyles and we need to make things easier for them.

School-age children—the over-fives—also need child care. There is a very good example in the constituency next door to my hon. Friend’s constituency. Free School Norwich offers a package of care for parents from 8am to 6pm, with an excellent after-school club—the Squirrels club. Again, that is an example of collaboration between the school and the private sector nursery, because the private sector nursery provides the nursery nurses to staff the after-school club as part of their roster. It is all about getting better use of the really excellent buildings and facilities we have, using them more flexibly so that parents can benefit from them, and ensuring that there is high-quality training of staff.

We are also piloting the extension of School Direct to early years teaching, so that high-quality nurseries can train staff, including early years teachers and early years apprentices, as part of their programme. Expert practitioners in nurseries and school nurseries are leading the training of the next generation of staff.

My hon. Friend asked me about early years teachers. It is absolutely true that we have seen a 25% increase in the number of early years teachers being trained this year. We have set higher standards, which seems to have attracted more applicants. Next year, we will introduce the full early years educator qualification, for which students need a C in English and maths, and we are offering a bursary for an apprenticeship in that area worth £3,000. School nurseries and private sector nurseries should be aware that they can hire really high-quality people. Once they have been in the position for three months, those people can receive a bursary, which again will help to train up highly qualified staff.

My hon. Friend asked if there is extra advice for schools that are taking two-year-olds. Again, a pilot programme has been running with an evaluation. There are 49 schools participating, and we are learning a lot of lessons from what schools have told us about how two-year-olds fit in with three and four-year-olds in nurseries, including the best way of organising and staffing such nurseries, and the best way to offer parents flexibility. I am very happy to send her that data, so that she can discuss with local schools and nurseries in her constituency the findings of that programme.

We shall soon introduce in primary legislation a measure under which school nurseries will no longer have to register separately with Ofsted to take two-year-olds. As I have mentioned, the communication and language benefits of teacher-led care are very high, and we want more schools to provide that care. In fact, academies and free schools are able to open nurseries as well as local authority-maintained schools. Where there is the capacity in schools, that is a good opportunity, and as I have said, there is an opportunity to collaborate with local private sector providers too. We do not want a Berlin wall, as it were, between private sector providers and school nurseries. They are both trying to do the same job, which is achieving really good outcomes for children, and they can learn from each other.

I will give my hon. Friend an excellent example of child care that I saw when I was in Warrington last week. The Evelyn Street pre-school takes children from the age of two on a free programme. The parents of some of those children pay for extra hours; some do not. The pre-school also takes three and four-year-olds. It opens from 8am to 6pm, to suit working parents. It is led by a high-quality teacher with an apprentice training up as an assistant, so it really does all the things I have talked about, and it also offers child care at a very affordable price for parents in the north-west. Some of the evidence that we have received shows that the child care it provides is two thirds cheaper than the average market price for child care, so it is possible to have really high-quality teacher-led care with an affordable price tag. That is an important message to send out.

My hon. Friend also discussed the work that the Government have done to extend tax-free child care, which is now up to £2,000 per child. That is a major extension of the scheme. The previous scheme—the childcare voucher scheme—was open to only a fifth of employees. Now, if someone is on a low income, they will be able to access child care through tax credits or universal credit. If someone is on a mid to high income, they will be able to access child care through tax-free child care, whether they are self-employed, working part-time or working full-time; it does not depend on their employer being part of the scheme. That is a much more widely available scheme. It will be easy to use; people can apply for it on the internet and the money is paid directly to child care providers.

My hon. Friend mentioned the issue of funding. We have had a historical issue, similar to the issue with schools, whereby different local authorities have been funded on a different basis. We want to sort that issue out in the longer term; I have made a commitment to do so. One thing that we have done is to ensure that local authorities are passing as much as possible of the money they receive to the front line, because that money will help to pay for high-quality staff, high-quality materials and high-quality facilities in those nurseries. One of the advantages of slimlining the inspection regime and making Ofsted the sole arbiter of quality is that more money can be used by local authorities, which can put it straight through to the front line rather than using it to duplicate the work that Ofsted is doing.

We have just announced the early years pupil premium, which we will soon consult on. It is worth £50 million, and it will go on a per-head basis to the most deprived children aged three and four. If nurseries focus on those two-year-olds who are going up through the system they will receive extra financial support on a per-head basis. That might address some of the funding issues that my hon. Friend raised.

This has been a helpful debate.

Before the Minister concludes, would she comment on the point about volunteers in community settings?

Before the Minister responds, I gently say to her that for her complete speech I have been looking at her back, and that would not necessarily be acceptable to the Speaker or another Chair. The microphone is trying to catch her remarks as well, so it would be helpful if she looked this way.

I apologise, Mr McCrea, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship—

Sorry—Dr McCrea, I am very grateful to serve under your chairmanship and I hope that I have not caused any offence. I am afraid that I got so over-excited by the examples that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North was giving and by the excellent comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport that I made a terrible error. However, I apologise, and I will address the remainder of my remarks to you, Dr McCrea.

We have had a very useful discussion. Quite often in debates about child care and early education, we can get stuck talking about the high-level numbers. What is really important, however, is what is happening on the ground. It is the quality interaction between well-trained teachers, apprentices, teaching assistants, early years educators and the children that is really important.

What we as a Government want to do is make the structures as simple as possible. Yes, we want good accountability and high-quality Ofsted inspection. One thing that I have done as a Minister is give Ofsted more money to recruit high-quality inspectors to the early years sector. However, we also want to ensure that the professionals who work in this sector have the opportunity to exercise their own professional judgment.

On the subject of volunteers, I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North that there are some very interesting models indeed of nursery co-operatives in which parents are used to help support children in the nursery, and encouraging volunteers and volunteer structures is an important part of what nurseries do. Again, the system needs to be as open as possible, to enable people to participate. Yes, we need high-quality training and standards, but we could do more for the voluntary sector, the private sector and maintained schools to enable them to work together to get the best quality outcome for our children.

Sitting suspended.

Future of English Heritage

[Sandra Osborne in the Chair]

It is a pleasure, Mrs Osborne, to serve under your chairmanship. I am pleased to have secured this debate. English Heritage—or, to give it its correct title, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission—is a national institution that has guardianship of some of our most treasured monuments, buildings and landscapes. The two most famous that spring to mind are Stonehenge and Hadrian’s wall, but it manages a great variety of sites throughout the country, as well as fulfils important duties in the planning and protection of our national heritage.

Hon. Members will know that the Government have consulted on a new model for English Heritage, which would see a new charity established to take over the conservation and management of the national heritage collection, while other responsibilities would remain with a smaller, renamed non-departmental body. The proposals have been welcomed in some quarters, and greeted with concern in others. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is working on its response to the consultation, and I hope today will provide an opportunity for hon. Members to ask questions, to voice any concerns or hopes for the future of English Heritage, and to contribute to the thinking of the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey).

The duties of English Heritage are set out in statute in the National Heritage Act 1983. They are to secure the preservation of historic sites and monuments, to promote the preservation and enhancement of conservation areas, and to promote the public’s enjoyment of ancient monuments and buildings. I am lucky to live near wonderful Durham university, which has a fabulous archaeology department where, some time ago, I studied mediaeval archaeology for a couple of years and looked in detail at the work of Sir Charles Peers who was, as colleagues may know, responsible for acquiring many of the sites for what was then the Ministry of Works. He was responsible and accountable, but was not always viewed in the best light by archaeologists because he swept away much of the archaeology from many sites and replaced it with immaculate lawns. That is what we are left with today.

The commission recognises that it is probably best known for its work in looking after the national heritage collection. The collection spans more than 400 historical sites and monuments that are open to the public, as well as more than 500,000 artefacts and 12 million photographs in its public archives. The sites range from Roman ruins to a 1960s nuclear bunker, and I am reliably informed that the collection includes both Charles Darwin’s diaries and the Duke of Wellington’s boots, although I have not seen them. It hosts 11 million visitors every year, as well as 445,000 free educational visits.

However, English Heritage’s work is far wider than just the collection. It has just under 75,000 members, who contribute to self-generated revenue, and gives out £24 million in grants every year for conservation projects. In addition, it advises the Government on heritage protection, designates places of significance to be listed for statutory protection, and advises owners, developers and local authorities on development decisions. In total, the commission advises on more than 17,000 planning applications every year, and it would be helpful if the Minister explained his assessment of developer-funded archaeology in this context and advice to local authorities on conservation areas. We have some conservation areas in my constituency, and any tampering with decision making on them will garner a huge amount of interest when it comes to residents’ attention.

Will the Minister also explain how the quality of preservation will be guaranteed in future? English Heritage is the custodian of last resort for heritage sites that are at risk and not otherwise being cared for. It would be a tragedy if the quality of curation that English Heritage has managed to achieve were diminished. English Heritage is currently a non-departmental public body. Its work is funded mainly by a departmental grant. Last year, its funding streams included grant in aid of £103 million, and just under £57 million was self-generated through membership, entry fees, retail and catering.

The reason for this debate is that the future funding and structure of English Heritage is uncertain. In December 2013, the Government published a consultation outlining a new model for the organisation, and closed it in early February. The model proposed would see English Heritage split into two separate bodies. One part would retain the name “English Heritage” but would become a charitable enterprise and would take on the management of sites in the national heritage collection. The charity would be fully responsible for the conservation and public use of sites, and would manage the collection for eight years.

The Government’s intention is to give the charity an £80 million one-off investment to tackle a significant backlog of conservation defects. That backlog has arisen, even with the grant-in-aid funding and the current arrangements, and there is concern that such a backlog could occur again. We need to know what the Government would do in that circumstance.

I declare an interest as a member of the all-party group on archaeology, which I helped to set up, and as a former student of Mesopotamian archaeology, which is slightly earlier than the mediaeval architecture that the hon. Lady studied. Does she share my concern that in some of the projections in the proposals, there seems to be no allowance for the fact that there will be a lot of disruption during the catch-up repairs that many properties will need, requiring many of them to close or part-close for a long time, which will seriously impact on the revenue they bring in in the next few years?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. As a student of mediaeval archaeology, I believe it could be a fabulous opportunity to engage more people in our historic sites and to allow them to take part in or to witness the improvements, and to see the defects being put right. For me, there is nothing better than going into a building that is in a state of disrepair, where façades have been removed and rafters are exposed. That is a great opportunity, and I would like to see visitors welcomed. The revenue they would bring should be included in the process. English Heritage has become quite good at that over the years.

The money that English Heritage will spend on defects will be matched by another £83 million raised by the organisation from third-party donations. It is hoped that that will give a boost to the charity, which will be expected to become self-sufficient. Over the eight years, the Government plan to withdraw the grant in aid, and expect the charity to be self-financing by 2022. The remainder of the commission’s duties will continue to be performed by a non-departmental public body, to be called Historic England. Those duties will include advisory and planning roles, and will continue to be funded by grant in aid.

English Heritage does not mind the reforms in principle, particularly the ability to raise revenue through philanthropic and commercial opportunities. As would be expected, it welcomes the offer of the up-front £80 million to tackle the significant backlog of conservation work needed for the collection. Concerns have been expressed about the practical realities of the new model, and the risks that might arise in future. The most significant concerns, as the Minister will know, centre on the financial model, and whether a charitable English Heritage can realistically achieve self-sufficiency in the time frame allowed and retain it for the long term.

There is a basic concern about the nature of the collection. English Heritage’s collection is not the same as the carefully selected portfolio of the National Trust, which can turn down sites or choose to take on only new properties that come with an endowment to fund their upkeep. English Heritage has sites that have been gathered over decades—or inherited by the nation—because of their historical significance, and rarely because of their commercial potential. Many have been taken on by English Heritage because it is the owner of last resort.

Some 250 English Heritage sites—more than half the collection—are free at the moment, so the public can gain access to them without having to pay. We are talking about ruined abbeys and bits of old Roman wall that families visit as part of a walk through the countryside. The place that springs to my mind is Egglestone abbey, close to where I live in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). It is one of the most beautiful places in the north. It is a ruined abbey set perfectly in the landscape. It benefits from not having commercial activity or gates and tea shops and other buildings around it. The ruins have been there for centuries, and it would be a real shame if visitors were charged to visit the site in future.

The Society of Antiquaries has tried to remind us that it is dangerous to present the collection as a portfolio of visitor attractions. It is a portfolio of national heritage, and less than half the sites are considered capable of generating income. There is some perhaps healthy scepticism over whether the collection has enough revenue-making properties, and will be able to generate enough of a surplus to subsidise the rest.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the majority of English Heritage properties are what are known as unroofed and operate mainly on a maintenance basis. If English Heritage is to become self-sustaining in terms of revenue, it will need to concentrate on the 130 properties that are currently charged for. To become self-sustaining within the period will be a huge task, and it is not at all clear what will happen if it fails to do so.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because that is precisely the reason for this debate. In principle, there is no objection to the proposal, but there is deep concern about how realistic it is. All Governments have a track record of rushing into reforms with the best of intentions, but it would be a disgrace if this were allowed to fail. We need to know how the Government plan to act should that happen.

Moving on from the sites to those going to see them, the National Trust has pointed out that the targets for membership and visitor numbers, on which the new model relies, are what it would call ambitious. The predicted growth in membership is 86% over the next 10 years. Even in its most successful decade, the National Trust grew its membership by only 20%, and the trust is five-star outstanding in terms of its membership organisation. If it questions the nature of the membership target, I would listen very carefully. The model is also reliant on visitor numbers going up by a predicted third. I hope that that is the case—we want this to work—and that we see English Heritage attract more and more of our constituents to enjoy its sites, but it is quite a leap, and many of us are worried about what would happen if we fail to make that leap in membership, visitor numbers and revenue.

The hon. Lady makes good points about dodgy projections. Does she share my concerns about visitor numbers? The number of visitors to English Heritage sites in 2002-03 was 5.5 million. Ten years later, in 2012-13, it was 5.1 million, yet there is a big increase in the numbers forecast for the next few years. Of course, a fifth of visitors to English Heritage sites at the moment go to Stonehenge, where the entrance fee for the fantastic new visitor centre has been raised from £8 to £14.90. There has been quite a lot of grumbling by potential punters wanting to go there.

I had not realised that it was almost £15 to go and see Stonehenge. That is well out of the reach of many family visitors, although I assume the pricing policies are used to encourage membership. Perhaps that has something to do with it. The hon. Gentleman’s point about the volatility of visitor numbers is worth considering.

The Heritage Alliance and the National Trust both point out how volatile visitor numbers are. They suggest that a sudden emergency such as foot and mouth, or even a couple of wet summers, which happen fairly frequently, can completely change the revenues and the cost of welcoming visitors to the sites. They both expressed the view that unless and until new English Heritage is able to build up reserves, the model must be considered financially precarious. That is not a situation in which we want to leave our historic monuments. Perhaps the Minister will explain how he decided that a charity would be the best structure. What governance arrangements will be considered for the charity? We need a lot of safeguards before we can feel confident about that.

The National Trust recommends that the building of reserves should in itself be included as a measure of success—I would make it a requirement of the new charity—so that we can have confidence that the charity will be able to survive unforeseen events such as extreme weather, flood damage and fire damage. More generally, the whole sector is concerned about the need for a contingency plan if the new model does not live up to the expected targets.

The Minister should hope for success, as we all do, but it would be reckless not to plan for failure. We have not seen what the Government have in mind. If the costs do not work out, the sites are too expensive and visitor targets are not hit, what happens? There is particular concern about what happens if the charity ends up with a shortfall: where does the money to plug that gap come from? It could be pulled from the budget of Historic England, which would have a consequence. It is intended that Historic England will protect a much greater array of heritage sites than just the national heritage collection. Will the Minister update Members on his departmental plans to ensure the model is sustainable? What contingency and risk management plans are being put in place in case self-sufficiency is not reached in the eight-year time frame?

Another concern that I want to touch on, which many of the respondents to the consultation brought up, is English Heritage’s duty as the owner of last resort. The consultation makes welcome reference to the fact that that will continue to be the responsibility of English Heritage, but there is an obvious question: will extra funding be made available should an urgent acquisition be necessary?

I have set out some of the general concerns that have been expressed. I genuinely look forward to hearing from colleagues about their concerns, and to hearing what the Minister has in mind. My constituents, and I think citizens all over this country, care a huge amount about our shared national heritage. They also care about the quality of curation, conservation and preservation. They care about the open access that they currently enjoy to many sites, and they are concerned that buildings should not be lost and that as yet undiscovered archaeological sites should not be tampered with lightly. I genuinely look forward to the Minister’s response.

The whole House owes a debt to the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) for securing the debate. I declare an interest as a member of English Heritage. The image on this year’s membership card is a statue of King Richard III, whose mortal remains were recently discovered in a car park in Leicester—an outstanding feat of English archaeology. We now await the decision of the courts as to which of our noble cathedrals those mortal remains will be buried in.

I hope hon. Members will allow me to make a short contribution to this debate in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner. I will fully understand if the Minister replies in writing rather than responding at the end of the debate, given all the questions that other Members are going to ask.

Yes, to all Members.

From the Church of England’s perspective, I will emphasise three points raised in the consultation on the proposed split of English Heritage. As currently constituted, English Heritage plays an important role in progressing and sharing new discoveries in building conservation. The fact that the research specialists have their own estate on which to conduct trials and see problems at first hand means that they have a wide and deep knowledge of complex conservation issues. There is a risk that the split will isolate those conservation specialists from the estate, and thus weaken the progress of their research.

As Members will appreciate, churches are among the most complex historical buildings. The Church of England has within its stewardship 16,000 churches, 12,500 of which are either grade I or grade II listed. If everyone thinks of their local parish church, work will often have been done over many centuries, so we obviously have a considerable interest. Several major churches are currently involved in the nanolime trial research project for stonework conservation. Such research is valued by many across the heritage sector, and it would be an enormous pity if that work were either weakened or lost.

Secondly, English Heritage’s current role as a heritage advocate to Government is invaluable. As a whole, I suspect that the Church of England is big enough to defend and promote itself, but heritage is clearly not our primary purpose. The Church of England’s primary purpose is the care of souls, and English Heritage’s role in taking up the banner for the contribution of the heritage sector is key. The loss of English Heritage’s cathedrals team in 2009 demonstrates what happens when such advocacy is lost. For the past five years, until the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s welcome recent Budget announcement of £20 million to help with the maintenance and repair of cathedrals, there simply was no national funding for pure building repairs to cathedrals, which led to an £87 million shortfall that now has to be addressed collectively. Without English Heritage to speak up for cathedral repairs, cathedrals had to fight long and hard to be recognised as the key heritage assets that they are. With the statutory side of the new English Heritage being potentially vulnerable to ongoing and understandable reductions in Government funding, the Church of England needs to warn now that it would be disastrous if that loss of advocacy were to spread across the heritage sector.

Thirdly, the Church of England has its own action plan under the national heritage protection plan and has found the NHPP to be a useful mechanism for marshalling projects and prioritising work. We feel strongly that the NHPP should continue to form the business plan for heritage and should be held and managed by the statutory side of English Heritage. That is linked to my point about advocacy, as it is incredibly valuable for heritage organisations to be able to unite under the NHPP banner and for the Government to see that, in that way, English Heritage speaks for the sector as a whole. A strong English Heritage means a strong heritage sector that contributes to growth, renewal and community.

In addition to those three specific points, which I emphasise, the consultation document asked a number of specific questions, and it may help hon. Members if I share the Church of England’s response to a small number of those questions. Although we agree strongly with the proposed benefits of the new model for the national heritage collection, we are concerned that the new charity may have an adverse impact on the funding available to churches, as the charity is likely to make strong demands on the Heritage Lottery Fund. The number of visitors to cathedrals, not counting other churches, is some 11 million people a year, which is equivalent to current visitor levels to English Heritage properties. We ask that the importance of ecclesiastical heritage not in the care of English Heritage be given due weight in funding decisions.

I hope my right hon. Friend welcomes the £20 million that the Chancellor announced specifically for cathedrals alongside the new money for English Heritage. The Government are putting £100 million into our heritage.

Of course I welcome that money, and I have taken every conceivable opportunity to welcome it. I have written to every colleague.

Every colleague with a cathedral in their constituency. My constituency is a few miles from Christ Church cathedral, which benefits from Henry VIII’s munificence, so it does not count in that context. I have praised the funding at Church Commissioners questions, and I kneel before the Chancellor whenever he passes to thank him for the £20 million for cathedrals. We now need to start working on other bids. Of course we are grateful for the money we have received, but that has to be seen in the context of the estimated £87 million-worth of urgent and essential repairs that our cathedrals need. I suspect that we will get some match funding for that £20 million, but these are complex issues.

Research into historical buildings and their treatment is important work undertaken by English Heritage using its own properties. That work must not be lost by the new charity, which might not be able to prioritise that work due to limited resources. If the new charity does not take on the conservation research team, Historic England should be allowed to access the national heritage collection for research. The outcome must be that either the new charity or Historic England is required to research historical building preservation.

The advice provided by the present English Heritage to the Church of England through its response to faculty consultations, to staff membership of diocesan advisory committees and to the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England is extremely valuable. That input helps to keep the ecclesiastical exemption strong and robust, and the advisory work should continue with Historic England and be free at the point of delivery. The nation’s built heritage is an extremely valuable part of our national life.

We are sympathetic to what the Minister and his ministerial colleagues seek to achieve. Indeed, I personally and the Church of England as a whole are extremely grateful for the support that we receive from Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The Minister’s fantastic and outstanding advocacy within Government for financial support for cathedrals was evidenced in the recent Budget, but it is important that we get right some of the important structural and organisational issues in the Government’s proposals, so I hope the Minister will consider carefully the Church of England’s responses.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on setting out the issues with such clarity and measured determination. Thirty years ago this week, I stood in the Banqueting house alongside Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and various others at the launch of English Heritage. I am not sure whether I should call them interests, but I declare that I have perspectives. First, I was public affairs adviser to English Heritage on its launch in 1984, and I acted in that role for nearly two years. Secondly, I am a historian and was editor of History Today in the 1990s, when I had a close view of all the ebbs and flows of the new organisation. Finally, I am a Member of Parliament for Blackpool, where for more than 15 years English Heritage has been a positive and helpful force, not just for our great buildings, such as the tower and the winter gardens, but in helping us to celebrate and develop our heritage strategy.

Only last week, for example, the chief executive of English Heritage, Simon Thurley, was in Blackpool to launch an English Heritage publication on the history of the town by the distinguished historian and contributor Allan Brodie. English Heritage has also done an enormous amount for the delicate negotiations on Blackpool borough council’s 2010 acquisition of the winter gardens and tower, and it has been involved in the delicate repair and restoration since.

English Heritage has been generally supportive of Blackpool. The 20th anniversary of English Heritage was marked by a conference and get-together of all its staff in Blackpool. I pay tribute to the leadership of Simon Thurley, whom I have known personally for more than 20 years in various guises, and to Henry Owen-John, the English Heritage north-west planning director, for his enormous contribution to Blackpool—his help has been fantastic. English Heritage has supported us with the concept of a museum of popular culture and the seaside, and the “Blackpool story” project will go before the Heritage Lottery Fund. Colleagues were encouraged by Simon’s positive words last week.

English Heritage has contributed to other initiatives, such as the creative people and places funding that we are getting from Arts Council England. English Heritage’s listening role and support for our sites has been key in many areas. I mention all those things, not simply because I am a Blackpool MP and I am expected to mention them, but because they offer a good case history of the multifarious roles that English Heritage has played over the years in historical advice, planning, publications support, townscape heritage and initiatives, and archaeology, which in our case is mainly industrial buildings and townscapes. Those multifarious roles have been and remain key to something that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

We have heard about the nature of the properties. At the start of English Heritage, as a good public relations man, I was trying to sum up for journalists the difference between the National Trust and English Heritage, which was a completely new concept. I said, “There are many differences, but the one that you will notice most is that most of our buildings have not got roofs on, and most of the National Trust’s do.” That rapidly changed, of course, with the abolition of the Greater London council and the acquisition by English Heritage of Kenwood house and Marble Hill house.

That glorious confection of stuff, if I can call it that, which would and could be affected by the split between English Heritage and Historic England is at the heart of the concerns being expressed. I will refer to the excellent articles by Nick Clark in The Independent in December last year and March this year, in which he raised some of those concerns, particularly in reply to an early analysis of the responses to the plan. The March article stated:

“The Council for British Archaeology said the consultation had been ‘rushed’, leading to a document ‘that has errors and does not provide the level of detail we would have expected to enable us to reach an informed decision’.”

It continued:

“The lack of clarity over future funding ‘casts a considerable shadow over the viability’ of the new body, the Institute for Archaeologists said in its response…The chief executive, Peter Hinton, wrote that the Government had failed to provide enough detail ‘to give confidence that the charity can become self-funding’ in the eight-year period envisioned.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington and the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) have already made that point. Those important issues have to be addressed and cannot be glossed over.

The English Heritage briefing provided for this debate by Stacey Frier, its senior parliamentary adviser, sets out the history, challenges and problems well, but it skates on thin ice when it starts to develop what I can only call a cracker-barrel justification for commercial activity. In particular, I have to take issue with the line that states:

“Running a £78 million visitor business, as English Heritage now does, was beyond the imagination of those who established it in 1983.”

I can tell the House—I am duty-bound to those individuals who were there, and one who is no longer here to say it—that the people who took part in that process were well aware of how English Heritage might develop in a commercial and expansionist way. Was it beyond the imagination of Michael Heseltine, who set it up, or of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who remains one of the most successful historic entrepreneurs in history? Was it beyond the imagination of Peter Rumble or Jennie Page, who served with great distinction as chief executives? Was it beyond the imagination of Francis Golding, who was deputy chief executive and subsequently a distinguished planner and adviser? He is missed, following his premature death in a cycling accident last year.

On the contrary, the development of the English Heritage visitor business was at the centre of all those early discussions. It was balanced, however, by the need to reflect the scholarship and to look at how to move ahead, how to market, and how to lay the foundations of expansion, while keeping from bastardising the heritage even as it was popularised. It was about balance and understanding. Even at that early stage—in 1984 and 1985, the commissioners went on what can only be described as royal tours of the regions to advertise the new body—there was a balance between visiting Hadrian’s wall and looking at heritage properties in Newcastle. There was a balance between visiting Kirby Muxloe and looking at the Bosworth battlefield and its interpretation. Those things are important, not just to get the history right, but to understand how we resolve these issues today.

Of course, the Government’s proposals are a response to long-standing funding problems for, and cuts to, English Heritage since the 1990s. I am not here to play party politics with that, because that happened under all Governments, although the 32% cut in the English Heritage grant in 2010 was particularly difficult. The proposal to split is radical. I do not have a problem in principle with radical proposals, but it is the detail, the limits and the sense of holistic connection that people are rightly worried by. The big issues remain unaddressed in detail. How will the regional structure of English Heritage or Historic England be affected, at a time when Michael Heseltine is rightly leading an agenda for greater devolution? Incidentally, what engagement has there been with local authorities in particular, and the Local Government Association in general? What will happen to the focus, balance and remit of the publications, broad and specialised, that come out of English Heritage? Where will they reside? What will happen to the support for archaeology?

What will happen to the subtle connectivity between English Heritage and what is proposed to be called Historic England? That connectivity will not necessarily be reflected in the formal arrangements. The English Heritage press release refers to the national heritage collection being run by the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England—that is, English Heritage—on its behalf. I feel a bit queasy about that phraseology. It is almost as if it is another gorgeous little jewel box that we will simply wrap up in a candyfloss “Downton Abbey” format. English Heritage sites are both grand and gritty, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has said, but the connectivity between the grand and the gritty is important, as is support for the difference between them.

The Heritage Alliance has made criticisms regarding the ability to hold those things in balance. Its submission states:

“The financial projections…presented to support the case for the charity to achieve financial viability…were inadequate to form an informed judgment. The risk of failure is high and the Government must set out contingency arrangements. The potential for conflict of interest between the new Charity Board…and the Historic Monuments and Building Commission for England…is not resolved. The pressure to generate revenue should not favour investment in those with commercial potential. The whole Collection is a national resource for public benefit.”

I come back to some of the subtler themes. We are not simply talking about wonderful heritage assets for tourists, however important they are; we are talking about the body of landmarks in our nation’s history. Before English Heritage, the Historic Buildings Council and the Ancient Monuments Board had great scholars, but did not punch above their weight with the wider public, or reach a wider audience. English Heritage has been able to square that circle effectively.

I quote the observations of a distinguished historian who is a friend of mine:

“The new statutory body is set up by these means and funded for seven years, but what is happening thereafter….£80 million is also trumpeted as a means of immediately repairing and maintaining the ‘collection’ of buildings, but it won’t go far and again will come to an end, leaving…a lot of particularly fragile, ruinous structures at the mercy of fragile local trusts to run them and pay for expensive repairs. Stonehenge may pay its way”—

or possibly not, given the price increase we have heard about today—

“many others cannot. Then, of course, there is the issue as to whether Historic England will feel pressured into giving expert advice to developers as a means of raising income.”

That is absolute nonsense. First, the hon. Gentleman says that £80 million will not go very far, but I suggest that £80 million goes slightly further than no million pounds. It is £80 million of new money going into English Heritage properties. To cast the aspersion that English Heritage and Historic England will be the creatures of developers and will be used to raise money, based on absolutely no evidence at all, is pretty scandalous.

It is interesting that the Minister should be so pricked by that, because I did not say any of those things.

No, I did not. The Hansard record will bear out that I said that these were the fears and concerns of a friend—[Interruption.] Will the Minister allow me to finish? He has had his say. He must come back with reasoned arguments as to why those concerns will not be realised. I accept that £80 million is a lot of money, but we are talking about a settlement that should endure not for seven or eight years but for 20, 30 or 40 years, or whatever is a reasonable period of time. It is not unreasonable for outside bodies to raise the issue of whether the settlement is appropriate.

For good or ill, this is the biggest single shake-up in the heritage landscape for 30 years, yet the plan remains veiled. Access to the business plan is restricted. If it is not, the Minister can tell us today when he will make it available to the House. I want to make it clear, before he tries to misrepresent me further, that I am not opposed to the principle of the division, but the devil is in the detail, as he knows. It is the duty of the House and of Members present to ask specific questions about the devil and the detail. The Opposition spokeswoman, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), and the Minister obviously have restrictions on the time available for them to respond, but I challenge the Minister, given the huge change, to hold proper full-length debates in this House and the other House, in Government time, about the Government’s proposals.

I am not in charge of Government business, but I will happily arrange for the hon. Gentleman to meet the chairman of English Heritage. All hon. and right hon. Members present are welcome to come to a meeting with the chairman, and to put to him whatever points they wish to make.

With all due respect to the Minister, his offer, which is gracious and accepted, does not address the overall issue—[Interruption.] Will the Minister let me finish? We have already had a number of informal meetings at which these issues have been raised. I am talking about a proper debate on the Floor of the House—I know that the Minister is not in charge of that, but he could talk to his Whips—at some point in the next few months, during which we could discuss the matter.

My limited understanding of parliamentary procedure is that the Opposition have a number of debates each week. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) will give up one such debate to this subject.

It is the not the Opposition who are bringing the proposals forward. It is the Government who should be held to account; it is down to the Government to bring forward a debate.

The Minister faces a challenge of openness and accountability, as well as one of style. He has got slightly worked up today, but he is generally an amiable guy, which I know because I have seen him on other occasions. His style occasionally resembles that of Derren Brown—now you see it, now you don’t—but what we need from the Minister and his team is more precision, more grit and more detail. English Heritage staff, its supporters and the general public need all that to have confidence in the Minister’s proposals, which may be the best solution. This year marks the centenary of the start of world war one, and I do not want the Minister or English Heritage to end up in the situation described in Siegfried Sassoon’s famous poem “The General”:

“‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack…

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.”

I declare an interest as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Today’s debate has centred on the conservation and management of English Heritage properties, and I understand why, but I want to move the debate on to the bigger picture, because English Heritage is responsible for much more than that. The hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken have alluded to that, but have not concentrated on it. For example, English Heritage’s relationship with local authorities, which manage in excess of 95% of archaeology, is perceived to be in need of improvement.

As we move forward into the Historic England situation, there is a need for some robust taking-by-the-collar and shaking out of what is happening. We are in a period of change in the archaeological world—quite radical change, in some cases, and it needs to be made more radical through English Heritage’s role in the whole exercise. I have recently examined the relationship between archaeology and local government services. English Heritage was interviewed as part of that work, and it can play a substantial role in taking the discussion forward. The planning system is where archaeology comes into contact with the real world, and the arrangements need to be worked out in greater detail.

The current backlog was mentioned earlier. I am sure that the issue can be raised at different levels, but English Heritage told us that the problem with trying to make the process of museums accessing archaeological material more robust is the limited amount of control that English Heritage has. Almost every piece of Roman brick found on an excavation is bagged up and sent off in a box, at enormous cost, to be put into a museum collection. We do not need to keep every piece of Roman tile or brick. We need someone to make a judgment about the importance of finds. It would be easy for English Heritage to set a scope for that in its dealings with local authorities and archaeologists, but it cannot, because the list of what should be included and how it should be accessed is the responsibility of Arts Council England. English Heritage needs to do some work to wrest that responsibility back to where it needs to be.

English Heritage could play a much bigger role. Those in the development industry, which pays for most of our archaeology, are short of any idea of what service they will receive when they undertake the necessary archaeology to meet the sustainability criterion of the national planning policy framework. English Heritage could prioritise the facilitation of service level agreements between authorities and the public at large. It would not need to produce or monitor the agreements, but it could be effective in taking the initiative with archaeologists and developers. A suggestion was made to the Minister about how that relationship could be funded in future, and although I will not say anything in detail about that, there is a role for English Heritage and Historic England to play as distributors of funds to local authorities that sign up to service level agreements. If a service level agreement is signed up to, the developer will know what it is getting and the funding can be distributed.

That is an important role that English Heritage and Historic England could play in the development of this area. It would be far from turning English Heritage into a creature of development, but would recognise who pays for the archaeology in this country. Something should be given back to the developers for their contribution to the preservation of our heritage.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mrs Osborne.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) not only on securing this important debate on the future of English Heritage, but on the measured and informed way in which she set out the issues involved. I also take a moment to thank the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) for his special pleading on behalf of cathedrals and successfully getting more money for them in the Budget. If the Minister could see to it that some of that money comes the way of Durham cathedral, that would be great—I thank him.

I endorse many of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) in his excellent speech. I will comment on the impact of the Government’s proposed changes to English Heritage in the north-east and in my constituency in particular, but I will first speak more generally about the vital role of English Heritage in securing our national heritage. If the Minister will forgive me, I will set out a series of anxieties about his proposals. If he could come back to me with some reassurances, that would be helpful.

As we have heard, English Heritage was set up by the National Heritage Act 1983, so it has not had a huge amount of time to get established. I am not sure that the Government have yet demonstrated clearly why there is a need for change, beyond the assertion that the system is not working. English Heritage had three prongs to its activities: to preserve ancient monuments and historic buildings; to promote the preservation of the character and appearance of conservation areas; and to promote public enjoyment of such areas. If the Government are promoting change, they need to be clear about the particular aspect of English Heritage’s work on which it was not delivering. That case has not been made. The Government, however, plan to create a new charity arm of English Heritage to manage the national heritage collection and a new non-departmental organisation, Historic England, to carry out English Heritage’s statutory duties.

I am concerned about the Government’s proposed changes to the national heritage collection, but in the time available I want to focus on the possible impact of the proposed changes to English Heritage’s role as statutory adviser and consultee on heritage sites outside the collection. English Heritage has a broad remit to manage the historical environment of England beyond the 400 or so sites in the collection, which includes scheduled ancient monuments, listed buildings, registered parks and gardens, and conservation areas in England. A key part of the English Heritage remit is to advise the Secretary of State on policy and in individual cases such as the registering of listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments. That role is vital to my constituency. Durham is a beautiful, historic city; we have many such historic cities throughout the country, but none of them is quite as beautiful as Durham. The role of English Heritage in protecting that environment and in ensuring that it is there for future generations to enjoy cannot be overestimated.

English Heritage’s remit includes archaeology, historic building sites and areas, designated landscapes and the historical elements of the wider landscape. It also monitors and reports on the state of England’s heritage. I am concerned that the Government’s consultation did not give enough weight to such a significant part of English Heritage’s role. The organisation also acts as a custodian of last resort if heritage sites are at risk. Safeguarding that role is particularly important in the north-east, due to the region’s unique heritage. Border conflicts have left a lasting legacy of defensive sites, such as Hadrian’s wall and, in my constituency, Durham castle.

My hon. Friend mentions Hadrian’s wall. Is she aware that the trust responsible for managing it has just this week failed, because it was unable to make sufficient funds from its commercial activities to look after the site?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is one of the anxieties that I will come to in a moment.

English Heritage also looks after many other small sites of vital importance in the north-east, which has 1,383 scheduled monuments, 1,235 listed buildings, 287 conservation areas, 53 registered parks and gardens and six historic battlefields. The north-east region was also an early centre of the conversion to Christianity and an important seat of learning connected with historic scholars such as St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede; all that led to the magnificent Durham cathedral in my constituency, which is regularly voted the country’s favourite building. More recently, the region has been celebrated for its industrial heritage as well. It was the birthplace of the modern railway and home to numerous collieries, shipyards, lead mines and metal works. Protecting that heritage is vital to understanding modern Britain.

The region has two world heritage sites, one of which—Durham castle and cathedral—is in my constituency. Durham cathedral is particularly significant because of its exceptional architecture, such as its demonstration of architectural innovation, and the relics and material culture of the three saints buried at the site, Cuthbert, Bede and Oswald. I could go into its many other points as well. Critically, the whole of the centre of Durham is a conservation area in order to preserve and protect the area around such an important historical site.

I agree with the Minister that there is a strong role for local authorities in protecting the quality of our built and historical environment and in deciding what goes into the buffer zone surrounding world heritage sites or ends up in conservation areas. That role for local authorities, however, has been supported and strengthened over the years by advice from English Heritage.

Nothing will change under Historic England, which will still carry out that role. I cannot see the concerns.

It is helpful that the Minister is giving such strong reassurance this afternoon, but more reassurance is important given the drastic nature of the proposed changes to English Heritage. Particularly in its role as a statutory consultee in planning, English Heritage is vital. I will give two examples from my constituency.

The work of English Heritage was essential in getting a public inquiry into a development on the riverside on a hugely sensitive site. It supported the call-in, and we then had the public inquiry, ending up with a much better development on the site because of the intervention of English Heritage, which is doing much the same over the proposed development of the County hospital site. Where such advice is ignored, we can end up with poor developments, which we have occasionally had in Durham over the past couple of years. I will take the Minister at his word, however, and if he says that that role in planning advice and as a statutory consultee and adviser will continue, along with adequate funding so that it can be effective, that is a good thing.

The Minister will have to address some of the issues raised by the Heritage Alliance, which points out that the funding settlement is assured only until 2016, and that the profile and regulatory nature of the smaller, rump body might weaken its call on central Government support, but that heritage is essential to the national economy because of tourism and the construction, creative and cultural industries. The alliance wants funding to be available in the longer term and wants more detailed public consultation on the changes. If the Minister does not think we need more detailed consultation, perhaps he will explain why.

It is important that we should continue to conserve England’s historical environment and the special areas of the country that have beautiful heritage and a unique built environment in need of special protection.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on securing this important debate. English Heritage does fine work to protect historic places in England, and to preserve the past so that future generations may discover it. I fully appreciate the hon. Lady’s concern that it should remain financially secure, so that key historic sites, and particularly those that do not attract high numbers of visitors, will be protected. However, it is vital during the changes that English Heritage should do all it can to allow people to be involved with historic sites in their area. That lets them connect with their heritage, and it will help to preserve historic sites and improve their financial viability. Sadly, that is not what has happened to Fort Brockhurst, in my constituency. My remarks will be blatantly parochial and will deal with the performance of English Heritage in my area.

Fort Brockhurst is an imposing structure built in the 1850s and 1860s to protect Portsmouth harbour against a French invasion. The sides and top are covered in grass; clearly Victorian architects assumed that that might fool the French. It has a magnificent red brick, moated keep, gun ramps and fascinating buildings, but there is also a massive green space in the middle, which local people enjoyed for decades. It played host to many concerts and even car boot sales over the years, and other events that brought the community together. However, it also brought to life the military history that is such a feature of the Gosport peninsula. It became a tangible asset for generations of youngsters, who grew up proud of their area’s role in the defence of the nation.

Unfortunately, such events ground to a halt, and that striking example of mid-19th century fortification is now open to the public for only a few hours a month, in the summer. Throughout the winter its doors are barred to all comers. It is a gently rotting relic of the past, with no life or role in the community where it used to have an integral place. Would not it be wonderful if the community could rally together to breathe life back into it?

The situation is frustrating, because there exists a community organisation in Gosport that has been willing and able to staff the site, provide tours, and maintain and restore it. It is called the Gosport Shed. It is a social club for older men, and it gives retired men a chance to keep active by working with their hands, mending things and learning new skills while meeting new people. As many as 800,000 people in England are chronically lonely, and many are older or retired men. Groups such as the Gosport Shed offer them great opportunities to make new friends and take up a new hobby. A wonderful man called Martin Corrick founded it to help retired men battle social isolation and depression.

Originally Gosport Shed struck a deal with English Heritage to make its home in Fort Brockhurst. It was a fantastic example of local people coming together to do something for the community. Maintaining the historic site also offered older people a project to give them a renewed sense of purpose. I know that the local curator was supportive, but unfortunately the group felt that English Heritage threw obstacles in its path, until eventually, its tenure recently became unsuitable and unsustainable. The group has now moved out, and thankfully has found a new home at Priddy’s Hard, the home of the Explosion! museum of naval firepower, which is also in my constituency. Thanks to the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust, members will help to restore the grounds and the amazing old buildings, and will offer guided tours of the ramparts. They have been welcomed with open arms. Yet, although the Gosport Shed has found a new home, Fort Brockhurst remains locked up, and for most of the year is closed to the public. Officially it is used for storage, although it is beyond me to think what could reasonably be stored in a damp, decaying building.

Does the Minister agree that in a discussion of how we protect historic buildings, it is crucial that English Heritage should remember that it is the guardian of our heritage, not that of clerks, curators and museum keepers? Fort Brockhurst should offer local people the chance to connect with the history of the region, rather than being a dusty old store room. It should play an integral role in the community. English Heritage says that it wants community groups to consider local heritage, and that it wants to encourage people to be involved in preserving history. Unfortunately, however, when local people tried to help preserve an historic site, they were shut out. Does the Minister agree that it is regrettable that they were not only shut out of an old building, but were shut out of part of their history?

Our unique heritage is not something to be kept under lock and key. It should be a living thing that groups and individuals feel they can engage with. I do not know whether the example I have outlined is an isolated one. I hope that it is. Does the Minister agree that, to face the future, we must remember that we and English Heritage are guardians of our heritage, and that there is little point in preserving that as a dusty relic that no one can see, enjoy, learn from or participate in?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on obtaining the debate. The proposed change is a huge one for English Heritage and it is right for us to have an opportunity to consider it in the House.

The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which I chair, has taken a close interest in English Heritage for some years. We understand that the budget of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been under considerable pressure and that within it English Heritage has perhaps borne greater reductions than some other funding bodies. There is no question but that it has had a difficult time. It is a remarkable achievement by the Minister to manage to persuade the Treasury to come up with an extraordinary amount of money to sustain English Heritage—we hope—in the longer term. I pay tribute not just to the Minister but to his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who was in the Chamber until a short time ago, and who, I think, played a large part.

The scheme is radical and imaginative, and I welcome it in principle. The Minister will understand that there are one or two concerns, and I hope he will use the opportunity to set minds at rest on certain points. In particular, it is estimated that the backlog of maintenance repairs for English Heritage properties is of the order of £52 million, which will be funded out of the £80 million. That is welcome, although I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) about the impact on visitors while the work is taking place. However, I should be interested to know where the estimate of £52 million came from. The Minister will be aware that some people argue that the maintenance and repair backlog for English Heritage properties is even greater. Indeed, I have seen figures of up to £100 million.

The hon. Member for Darlington raised the central point of what happens once that money is spent. The intention is that English Heritage should become self-sustaining in the longer term, but only a small number of its 400 properties generate serious income. English Heritage has a few iconic sites such as Stonehenge, and Dover and Kenilworth castles, but an awful lot of its sites do not generate revenue. If there is an expectation that in a few years the property portfolio will be capable of generating the kind of money that will be needed to sustain the required maintenance work, we need a little more confidence about that, and an indication of what will happen if the target is not met.

In particular, we are concerned that Historic England’s budget should not be raided and that the new charity should not be able to divest itself of certain properties if it is not capable of sustaining them. I seek a little more detail on that issue. I am also concerned about the impact that a more aggressive marketing campaign for English Heritage properties will have on the heritage properties in private ownership. The Historic Houses Association is having a difficult time, and its life will be made much more difficult if faces tougher competition from English Heritage properties. To what extent has that been taken into account?

Finally—the Minister and the Opposition spokesman need time to make the winding-up speeches—reference was made to the role of local authorities. I am deeply concerned about the extent to which the resource in local authorities, in the form of conservation officers, has steadily declined. There has been a massive loss of expertise in local authorities, which is making Historic England’s job more difficult, as well as local authorities’ role in preserving the heritage for which they are responsible. I wonder whether the Minister would like to say something about that as well.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne. I must declare an interest, as I am a trustee of Auckland castle. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on securing this important debate and on making such a good opening speech, which gave an excellent overview of the work of English Heritage and the financial issues that have arisen from the Government’s proposals. I did not know she was an archaeologist, but it was clear that she did a lot of digging in preparing for her speech.

I thank my hon. Friends the hon. Members for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) and for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods). My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South has been involved in this issue from the very beginning, and he has brought his great knowledge and experience to bear. There is no more passionate defender of Durham than my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham.

The quality of the built environment is incredibly important to people’s well-being, and their sense of place is defined by the buildings around them. Indeed, some buildings become the institutions in people’s minds. Thus, for many people, Parliament is Big Ben, and the Church is their local parish church. Therefore, how we care for, preserve, enhance and use our heritage sites is incredibly important. If it is done well, it is a source of pleasure and enjoyment for generations to come. There is, of course, an economic and financial payoff from the tourism income it generates for the country, but it is worth doing in itself; it is not a burden but a privilege. Our aim this afternoon is to test whether the Minister’s proposal will achieve those aims.

It is logical to put the management of the 420 sites into a charitable trust while retaining their ownership by the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, given the 45% cuts to English Heritage in this Parliament. It is welcome that an £85 million dowry from the Treasury has been secured and that there will be greater management freedom to raise money, but will the Minister guarantee that the sites that are currently free will remain so? What will happen if other sources of income do not materialise? He is assuming a philanthropic income of £84 million in a climate of huge pressure on philanthropic funds, which other hon. Members have described. Is that £84 million realistic? What will happen if it does not materialise?

Local authorities are under massive pressure, totally, if I may say so, caused by the 40% cuts imposed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. High-profile sites might attract grants and philanthropic giving, but what about the others? Even more worryingly, what will happen to English Heritage’s role as custodian of last resort? What if there is another Windsor castle? What if another building that is not in the English Heritage or National Trust portfolio is seriously damaged? If Castle Howard has a big fire, are the Government seriously suggesting they will walk away? What contingency has been made for that? Nigel Hewitson of Norton Rose said:

“The distinction between English Heritage and the National Trust is that the former is the custodian of last resort…The National Trust won’t take properties on unless they have a dowry for future maintenance.”

English Heritage does precisely that.

That is far from being an unrealistic risk, as the news from Hadrian’s wall amply demonstrates. The trust set up to safeguard the wall is to be closed down as a result of funding cuts. Staff at Hadrian’s Wall Trust face an uncertain future. The body tasked with managing the world heritage site will be lost. English Heritage has reduced the funds for Hadrian’s wall management over the past three years. We are told that a working group will be chaired by Northumberland county council, the partnership will be chaired by Cumbria county council, and there will be a steering group with members from the public, private and voluntary sectors. I am sorry to say that that sounds utterly chaotic. People in the north-east cannot believe that the Government can rightly find a lot of money to invest in Stonehenge but cannot get their act together adequately to look after Hadrian’s wall. People do not believe that that would have happened if the wall were in the south. It is shameful that the northern extent of the Roman empire, marked with wall built 2,000 years ago, is in doubt under the Tory-led Government. It is amazing that the Romans were able to build a wall 1,500 miles from their capital but the Minister cannot look after one 300 miles from his.

The Minister will have an opportunity to respond in a moment, but I want to hear some reassurances about the wall.

I would really rather not.

The consultation brought forth a series of critical comments. Heritage Alliance, which has 6.3 million members, said that

“the direction of travel is ominous…Worst case scenarios must be addressed and contingency plans drawn up.”

The Society of Antiquaries of London seriously doubts

“that the envisaged charity could become self-funding, while maintaining standards of curatorial care and property maintenance”.

Doubts have been raised about the capacity of the remaining body, Historic England, in the words of the National Trust, to retain the expertise and capacity

“to protect our historic fabric”.

The Historic Houses Association said it

“would be extremely concerned if”

the expert advisory service

“were to be reduced or diluted in any way.”

I share those worries. I am tempted to say that that is the greatest risk. An underfunded Historic England would not be able to provide the protection needed. The 420 sites are 0.05% of the scheduled ancient monuments, listed buildings and so forth. The other 99.95% will fall to Historic England in the Minister’s model. What will happen to them?

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

The concern is whether Historic England will have sufficient resources to look after the 99.95% of scheduled and listed buildings. That is extremely difficult, given the local authority cuts. Local authorities have been forced to shed 25% of their specialist heritage staff. We would therefore like to hear a clear statement from the Minister on whether English Heritage intends to provide advice on a fee-paying basis to some stakeholders. Losses as a result of the cuts could be the worst risk, because it could be a mediaeval dovecote in one place, a Tudor wall somewhere else and a Georgian garden in another place—none big enough to arouse national campaigns, but all bringing a loss to local heritage.

No doubt the Minister will tell us about the Farrell review of architecture and the built environment. There are a number of good ideas in that report, but I was not immediately attracted to the proposals on cultural heritage. Is not the proposal to make listing “less academic” code for dumbing down? The Minister is looking puzzled. He wrote the foreword to the report; he obviously has not read it. Seeking to elide the views of the Design Council with those of English Heritage is surely a way of suppressing the views of English Heritage. The report says:

“The value of our building stock is no longer just historical or architectural”.

That is very worrying. Had we had listing by public opinion polls, St Pancras railway station would have been demolished 50 years ago. It was only the sustained campaign by Sir John Betjeman that made it popular in the public mind.

The point is that architecture goes in and out of fashion. That applies not just to modern architecture, but to views of earlier architecture. How boring it would be if London consisted only of Georgian terraces or only of the mediaeval and the modern. A place is complex and multi-layered, built over time by many generations, and all of those things should be reflected in the built environment.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne. I have to say that after listening to a number of speeches during this debate, I now understand why they are called wind-ups.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on securing this important debate on the future of English Heritage. We have had a very interesting discussion, and I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part. Before I go on to my main remarks, I want to correct some of the points made by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). She said that we southerners paid for Stonehenge but will not pay for Hadrian’s wall. Actually, we did not pay for Stonehenge, so we will not pay for anything, if you like. The Stonehenge visitor centre was paid for entirely through a fundraising campaign by English Heritage; it did not use taxpayers’ money. I am very confident, having engaged closely with Northumberland county council, that the arrangements for Hadrian’s wall, the majority of which is ably managed by English Heritage, will continue after the demise of the Hadrian’s Wall Trust. In fact, it will ensure that we can spend money more effectively to support Hadrian’s wall.

I do not think that English Heritage now or in the future would necessarily be in a position to save Castle Howard were it, God forbid, to burn down. I cannot be entirely sure of my facts here, but I am pretty certain that no public money was used to restore Windsor castle when £36 million was spent on it after the horrific fire in 1992.

The point about the Farrell review was to celebrate the fact that the artificial divide between modern architecture and heritage has dissolved. Heritage and modern architects now work a great deal in partnership, as was shown by the fact that the Stirling prize, traditionally seen as the great modern architecture prize, went to the Landmark Trust last year for a heritage building that had been beautifully restored by a modern architect. As someone who took the “brave” decision, as my officials would have described it, to list Preston bus station, I bow to no one in my homage to modern architecture, but as someone who regards Durham cathedral as one of the most magnificent structures in this kingdom, I also bow to no one in my devotion to heritage. In fact, that is what has led us here today, because I want a fantastic future for English Heritage.

I hate to say it, but there was a lot of tilting at windmills during the debate, with a number of hon. Members saying, “Will the new charity be able to do this? Will it be able to do that?”, suggesting that there are certain things that English Heritage can do now that it will not be able to do in future. However, there is no doubt that the two new bodies that are effectively being created—Historic England, the regulator of heritage, and English Heritage, which will run and manage the properties on behalf of the nation—will still have exactly the same powers as they have now.

There is no doubt that Historic England will be able to carry out the work that English Heritage already carries out fantastically, particularly helping cities such as Durham. The hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) muttered about resources. He said that I got slightly wound up during the debate, and I know that one should not react, but it is mildly galling, with £80 million having been found to launch the new charity and to clear the huge backlog of repairs, that people are now muttering about resources.

Will the Minister consider, in setting up Historic England, whether it could be given additional powers to protect our historical environment, particularly with regard to views around world heritage sites and so on?

That is an interesting point. In no way do I wish to bat back what the hon. Lady says, but we are debating the future of English Heritage as an organisation, and I am obviously a great advocate for that future. She is inviting me, perfectly legitimately, to debate wider heritage powers that Government could introduce and which organisation would have those powers. I have to say, without wishing to bind the Government in any way, that I have a lot of sympathy for her point of view. I, for one, value views and landscapes as much as our built environment, and I think that it is important that we preserve them where we can.

English Heritage has been in place for 30 years, and our system of heritage protection began, broadly speaking, a century ago, with the passing of the Ancient Monuments Act 1913. By the way, an excellent book was published on that by Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage. It is available in all good bookshops. As that book and the creation of English Heritage show, the system of heritage protection constantly evolves. I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Blackpool South that Michael Heseltine and the other people who were present at the launch of English Heritage—I am thinking in particular of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu—were perfectly capable of imagining the kind of future that English Heritage now sees. However, I think that they would also agree that as that bright future comes into being, we must look at the structures that support it.

It is a fact that the national heritage collection is an £84 million business. It attracts 5 million visitors a year and it needs investment and a long-term plan. That is why English Heritage has proposed an eight-year programme of reform to establish a new model for the management of the national heritage collection. It is a model that we support. It will be supported by the investment of £80 million, alongside the additional £20 million that we have found for cathedrals. It will allow essential conservation work to be carried out, and it will allow investment in new projects to build on commercial success and enhance the visitor experience. It will allow it to grow its income to become a more resilient organisation. We hope by the end of the eight years, the management of the national collection will be self-financing.

My understanding was that English Heritage’s current function as the owner of last resort should continue. My question was whether there is enough finance to fulfil that. At the moment, English Heritage has a number of strategies for saving heritage at risk—

I am taking back the floor. The point is that English Heritage, as now, will be the saviour of last resort. That is the point I am making. People see the change in English Heritage as meaning that any future problems will somehow be the result of the change in the structure. English Heritage is able to take, as an owner of last resort, a property that is threatened. There are a whole host of factors that come into play, one of which will be financing. If a property were to come up now, English Heritage might find that it did not have the financing. That would be a straightforward point.

Nothing will change under the new model. English Heritage will still be, potentially, the owner of last resort. A whole range of factors, depending on the particular situation, will influence whether it chooses to step in. As the hon. Lady knows, when it becomes the owner of last resort, English Heritage tries to move the property on. Sometimes it will stay in the national collection, but often English Heritage will want to put it back with a different owner to continue its future.

I have only got a minute left, but I want to make a simple and straightforward point. Change is happening, but the fundamentals will not change. Historic England will continue its brilliant role as the steward of our wide historical environment. It will continue to list, it will continue to research and it will continue to support the hon. Member for Darlington and other hon. Members who care about heritage. The national charity will, under a licence from Historic England, manage the properties, which will still be owned by the Government.

Asian Restaurateurs (Immigration Enforcement)

I am grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to raise the treatment of Asian restaurateurs by immigration enforcement officers. I seek to make this a constructive debate on a very difficult issue, and I genuinely hope that it will lead to a more productive relationship between Asian restaurant owners and immigration enforcement officers.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to try to make this a constructive debate. Of course, I know that hard-working immigration officers have to do their job, but was she as disturbed as I was when a group of restaurant owners came to the House of Commons last week and described some of the ways in which they and their staff were being treated? Should not the Minister explain why that must not happen again?

That is a good point. It was distressing to hear some of the stories that we heard last week, which is why I have secured the debate. The meeting that was held last week brought a delegation of Asian restaurant owners from south Wales to the Houses of Parliament for a meeting arranged by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). He had invited representatives from the immigration enforcement service to attend, but they were unfortunately unable to do so at short notice. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), Labour’s shadow Immigration Minister, attended, and I am grateful for his presence today, even though the rules of debate mean that he does not have an opportunity to make the case from the Opposition Front Bench.

As my right hon. Friend the shadow Minister said last week, we all agree that we need strict border security and proper enforcement of immigration rules, but the way in which some Asian restaurant owners have been treated by immigration enforcement officers is nothing short of disgraceful, and it is damaging to business. Times are tough, so to have immigration officers arriving at 7 o’clock on a Friday evening, causing distress among the customers, slamming the doors and handcuffing the chefs before they can even turn off the cookers is simply not acceptable. It causes not only immense financial loss on the evening in question, but irreparable damage to the reputation of that restaurant, particularly in a small town, and it will take years to rebuild customers’ confidence in returning to the restaurant. That is an acute embarrassment. Sadly, in some cases, it was even found that there were no substantive grounds for going there in the first place, so it was a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.

The debate coincides with the publication last month of the report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration on the use of the power to enter business premises without a magistrate’s search warrant. The report makes the point that two thirds of visits to business premises lack the necessary justification. Although the report focuses on a particular issue, it highlights more general points, such as widespread non-compliance with the guidance and lack of oversight procedures by senior management, who seem to have quite limited knowledge of the power as it is being used in practice. The report highlights visits on purely speculative grounds and inadequate staff training. It mentions that significant numbers of staff and management were either ignorant of, or choosing to ignore, the guidance. It also highlights a lack of understanding of what constitute suitable grounds for a visit, and gives an example of how an allegation should be backed up by any available data from, for example, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

My hon. Friend talks about restaurants, but shops are also getting caught up in the problem. A judge recently threw out a case relating to a business in my constituency, and when the business was finally awarded costs, it received a fresh visit from immigration enforcement officers the next day. Although we all want the authorities to carry out their jobs properly, does she see how a business might feel particularly targeted in such circumstances?

My hon. Friend describes a distressing case. That procedure being repeated unnecessarily was not only distressing for the shop owner but a waste of public money. In fairness, the inspector says in his report that the Home Office began to look at procedures that he was highlighting as he carried out the inspection, but there is clearly a lot of work to be done in that respect. Last week, we heard about the distressing nature of the raids. We also heard about immigration officers inspecting documents, saying that they were okay and then returning two weeks later to say that they were not okay. If the immigration officer himself or herself cannot identify the documents, it puts the restaurant owner in a difficult place.

The Asian Catering Federation says that the problem applies not only to Indian restaurants but to Chinese takeaways and Malaysian, Sri Lankan, Thai, Vietnamese, Pakistani and Japanese restaurants. The federation stresses that it wants to co-operate and that the matter is extremely important to it.

I turn briefly to what needs to be done. First, there must be continued dialogue with the restaurant owners. The federation said that whereas previous visits had taken the form of terrorist-type raids, some progress had been made. None the less, what restaurants are still experiencing—the shutting down of restaurants at peak time, and the aggressive approach of the enforcement officers, who give them no opportunity to explain to customers what is happening or even to answer the phone—has been extremely damaging to their businesses. That is the first thing: we need continued dialogue, because law enforcement is always better with collaboration and not antagonism.

Secondly, the concerns in the report clearly must be addressed. Thirdly, the whole issue of reasonable grounds for visits must be looked into: why have these visits been decided on in the first place? My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) gave a clear example relating to that. The Asian Catering Federation wants to co-operate and give the required information, but it must be done in a way that works for businesses, as well as for the immigration enforcement service.

I would like the Minister to look into the matter thoroughly and take very seriously the distress and problems caused to the industry, which is a phenomenal success story in bringing money into the British economy. I hope that she tries to find ways in which immigration enforcement can be properly carried out without disruption to many businesses that, in tough times and particularly in less well-off areas, are finding it difficult to keep going.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) for securing such an important debate and allowing me to speak, and I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and thank her for her leave to speak in this short debate.

I want to start by making it clear that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli, I am absolutely committed to ensuring that immigration rules in this country are robustly enforced, and to ensuring that managed migration occurs in a way that is fair, transparent and beneficial for both this country and the individuals involved. The many organisations and businesses that I have spoken to, and that attended the meeting we held the other day, have made it clear that they do not in any way dispute the need for robust immigration enforcement in the catering and retail sectors, or elsewhere in the economy. It is crucial that the House notes that fact. The Asian Catering Federation, the Bangladesh Caterers Association and many other organisations, as well as many individual restaurants and businesses, have made it absolutely clear that illegal immigration undermines their legitimate business and the wider economy. No one wants to see people living and working under the radar, undercutting wages and conditions.

I have received representations at recent meetings and directly from businesses in my constituency, and two major concerns are coming across to me from the Asian restaurant community and, it appears, from throughout Wales. The first, which my hon. Friend mentioned, is the issue of how enforcement operations are conducted. Secondly, the advice and support given to restaurateurs and businesses on ensuring enforcement of, and compliance with, the law is important. It might interest Members to know that I produced a leaflet for businesses in my constituency, which is very diverse, to give advice on how to comply with immigration law. Nevertheless, it is a complex area of law, and although many businesses want to ensure that they are adhering to it, they often do not feel supported in doing so.

My hon. Friend mentioned the concern expressed by a number of businesses that some of them, or, indeed, the sector as a whole, are being disproportionately targeted. That must be addressed. Bearing in mind that concern, I hope that the Minister can furnish us with clear statistics that will help to restore confidence in these operations. I would particularly welcome statistics on the number of enforcement visits that have taken place in Wales, their geographical location and sector, the percentage of such visits that have led to arrests and prosecutions, and the number of premises that have received repeat visits from enforcement officers.

First, is not one of the problems that, certainly in my experience, some restaurants have difficulties in finding trained staff? That leads to all sorts of other problems, so it should be looked at. Secondly, there have been too many changes to the immigration law—in fact, some of it is getting confused with terrorist law. It is an area that really should be sorted out, because there have been wholesale changes to immigration law over the years.

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I have made it clear to businesses in my constituency that a shortage of or challenge in getting labour is in no way an excuse for flouting immigration laws, and I do not in any way get a sense that any of them wish to do that. In fact, it is quite the opposite: there is wide concern on the issue of the immigration of skilled migrants to this country and ensuring that we have the right laws in place.

I want to concentrate on the two issues I mentioned near the start of my speech. A few themes have come out relating to the conduct of operations. Raids have occurred during busy periods, with diners being disturbed. Equipment has been left operating and staff have not been allowed to switch it off. I have heard of staff not being allowed to switch off woks, tandoors and the gas. Of course, significant stigma and embarrassment is caused, even when no offence has been committed. I am sorry to say so, but it appears that some very heavy-handed tactics have been used, and there have been repeat raids, despite the fact that the operations are supposedly intelligence-led.

I want to mention an example from my constituency about which I have been in dialogue with the Minister for Security and Immigration. Following an enforcement visit to a restaurant in my constituency on 7 November 2013, I was contacted by a number of concerned constituents—including members of my staff—who witnessed the events. I have since been engaged in to-and-fro correspondence with the Home Office that has not resolved the matter to my satisfaction, or, indeed, that of the business.

There was an operation by immigration officers at the premises at around 7.30 in the evening. As well as the restaurant, three of my constituents contacted me to share their concerns about how it was carried out. I would like to read out a couple of their statements. One said to me:

“I am currently sat in the restaurant and the Border Control burst in and told the manager to sit in the public seating area and not move. They then went into the kitchen and made the staff come into the public areas to interview them about their legal status. I think this is disgusting. The staff should have been afforded privacy and been interviewed with dignity. They disrupted the business and then left empty handed.”

Another witness said:

“Immigration officers entered the buildings and gathered the staff at the waiting area at the front of the restaurant. This took place while the restaurant had three or four tables occupied on a Thursday evening. What seemed particularly humiliating for the staff was the fact that they were interviewed in the shop window, so that passersby would be able to observe.”

That was despite there being

“a large number of telephone orders to be collected, and…a queue of customers lined up opposite the waiting area watching the interviews. I understand fully the seriousness of the operation, but I do not believe that questioning people in front of the public in this manner was acceptable and must have caused them much embarrassment.”

That is one of many examples that have been drawn to my attention and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli. Another, which I will keep anonymised, involved 13 immigration officers and two police officers attending a restaurant in which I have eaten a number of times. They were there from 6.30 to 9.30 in the evening. Allegedly, people were detained in a corridor and not allowed to switch off the gas, while a pencil was taken from a staff member with the suggestion that it might have been used as a weapon. Another allegation was that handcuffs were used. I have no way of independently verifying that but, unfortunately, given the number of examples cited, I am worried that there appears to be a trend in such operations. The witnesses I know are certainly absolutely truthful and would not want to mislead the House or, indeed, the authorities.

For the record, the dialogue with immigration officials in Cardiff to date has been welcome. Many of the restaurant owners and associations wanted that on the record, but the cancellation with a day’s notice of the attendance of senior officials at a meeting with me, other Members of this House and more than 30 restaurant owners from throughout Wales has not done a lot to continue that good and fruitful engagement. Despite repeated attempts, I have been unable to make contact with the officers who were due to attend.

In conclusion, I have three key points for the Minister to address: first, the conduct of the operations; secondly, the support for restaurateurs to help them to comply with the law, as they wish to; and, thirdly and most crucially at this time, reassurance that neither the sector nor specific restaurants are being targeted in any way.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mrs Osborne. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Security and Immigration, who would normally attend the debate; he is in the main Chamber dealing with another matter. He has not yet worked out how to be in two places at once, but we are training him.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) on securing the debate, which has been very interesting, and I have listened carefully to the points made. We have heard a range of views on the subject of illegal working, and I will respond to each in turn. Before I do so, it might be helpful for Members if I set out the background to illegal working and enforcement visits.

I make no apology for the enforcement of immigration laws. The message we have heard today seems to be that that view is supported throughout the House. The British public expect the Home Office to enforce the law and to remove those persons who have no legal entitlement to live or work in the United Kingdom. We are committed to tackling illegal working, because it sustains illegal immigration, fuels organised crime and encourages migrants to put their livelihoods at risk and place themselves in the hands of people who exploit them. Illegal working also undercuts legitimate businesses, as rogue employers typically undercut the national minimum wage and avoid national insurance contributions.

The Government take, and will continue to take, tough enforcement action to arrest, detain and forcibly remove those who are breaking the law by living and working in the UK illegally. Immigration enforcement does that by conducting intelligence-based operations to target illegal immigration, illegal working and the criminality that supports illegal immigration. We will also act against those who support and fuel illegal activity. That is why we have laid before Parliament new regulations that will double the maximum penalty for employing an illegal worker from £10,000 to £20,000. We are also taking action via the Immigration Bill to simplify the process of receiving unpaid penalties.

Illegal working occurs in a wide range of businesses across the UK, and immigration enforcement targets known offenders, and acts on intelligence received to target businesses believed to be employing illegal workers. We also conduct follow-up checks on past offenders to ensure that they continue to be compliant. The catering trade receives a significant number of enforcement visits, but that reflects the intelligence we receive and the prevalence of immigration offences in a low-cost and highly competitive sector.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) asked for the statistics regarding the visits. In the UK as a whole, of the 7,904 illegal working visits carried out by immigration enforcement last year, around half—3,972—were carried out at restaurants or takeaways. In Wales, from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2013, 665 illegal working visits were conducted by enforcement teams, from which there were 379 arrests. The number of visits to restaurants and takeaways was 434.

I recognise the disturbance that may be caused to a business when an enforcement operation is undertaken, especially during peak times, and especially if no offence is encountered. I sympathise with the concerns raised; my parents are publicans, so I understand that, when someone is running a business, they want to do so as effectively, and in as hassle-free a way, as possible. However, the busy times are when we are able to maximise the likelihood of achieving a successful outcome. In the 7,904 enforcement visits made last year in the UK, we made a total of 7,274 arrests. That shows that our actions are warranted and successful. Our actions are based on intelligence, and immigration officers are carrying out their statutory duties to investigate that intelligence. We make every effort to verify the strength of the intelligence received, but inevitably there will be some operations where no offender is encountered.

Immigration enforcement staff have a difficult job to do, but it is best done in co-operation with others, as Opposition Members have said. I would like to highlight the good relationships and constructive dialogue that have been established by immigration enforcement staff with Asian restaurateurs to keep them informed of their work and purpose, and to equip them with the knowledge to recognise and deter illegal working, so that they do not unwittingly employ illegal immigrants.

In that case, why did immigration officials withdraw from the meeting last week at such short notice? Why did they become so difficult for my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) to contact?

I cannot answer specifically on that meeting, but there is an excellent relationship with the Bangladesh Caterers Association. That is a prime example of the relationship that officials have with restaurateurs. Regional events take place regularly involving both immigration enforcement and the BCA. The previous Immigration Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), met the London Chinatown Chinese Association, which agreed to co-operate with us. We offered it help, saying that if it co-operated with us and helped us to identify illegal workers, we could then speak to those workers instead of conducting raids at peak times. That relationship has since been working well.

I understand what the Minister is saying, but one of the issues highlighted in the inspector’s report is the lack of understanding by senior managers of what is happening on the ground. Could it be that, while there is dialogue between a certain level of official and, for example, the BCA, what is happening on the ground does not necessarily reflect those talks?

I conducted lengthy discussions with officials in preparation for this debate, and I have been assured and reassured that officials are working hard with the bodies that represent restaurateurs, and that there is a great deal of co-operation between, and a desire to co-operate on, both sides. We want to make enforcement work.

It is undeniable that, in the industry, there is opportunity for the exploitation of workers who are here illegally, which we need to deal with and tackle. However, the hon. Lady is absolutely right: the best way to do that is by co-operation, which we are actively ensuring. Where concerns have been raised by restaurateurs—for example, regarding simplifying documentation checks for overseas workers—we have considered them and sought to introduce change where appropriate. For instance, we are reducing the list of documents that employers have to present at right-to-work checks. The first changes will be introduced at the end of April. In the longer term, we intend to focus the checking system for non-European economic area nationals on the biometric residence permit.

While employers sometimes raise concerns about our approach, there is also broad support from legitimate employers for proactive enforcement action against rogue employers, who are competing unfairly against them. Like the rest of the public, legitimate employers have concerns about illegal immigration and support the aspirations of hard-working people from the UK. They experience at first hand how businesses are undercut by illegal cost-cutting activity, and recognise that it is often associated with exploitative behaviour such as tax evasion and harmful working conditions.

I will not, only because we are running out of time, and I want to address the specific points raised.

We expect to see continued and greater co-operation from the restaurant industry on employers investing in training and embracing the use of resident labour. The Migration Advisory Committee has repeatedly expressed its disappointment at slow efforts by the sector to train more chefs.

Turning to points raised in the debate, the hon. Member for Llanelli asked whether there was justification for visits, and asked whether there was perhaps a lack of oversight and guidance. One issue was identified by the report; we have discussed this, and the Home Office is already aware of that and is acting on it. No letters were issued or authorised without justification since the report, and the power is now being used correctly. The hon. Lady also asked about joined-up working—about Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Home Office making separate visits, for instance. She is absolutely right: joined-up working is an absolute priority for the Home Office. We are focusing on streamlining the different agencies looking at illegal working to ensure that the number, and therefore cost, of operations is minimised.

The hon. Lady asked about the substantive grounds for some operations. Every operation is based on the intelligence that we have at the time, but intelligence is not always perfect. We work on very fine intelligence, but have a statutory duty to investigate allegations if we believe them to have a foundation. If we did not follow those allegations up, we would be criticised for it.

I am pleased to say that the majority of people in the country agree with the Government and want a robust stance on immigration and illegal activity. Our illegal working operations must be seen in the wider context of the reforms of the immigration system under the Government. Our tough reforms are carefully targeted, and we will continue to work hard to bring net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament, and to create a selective immigration system that works in our national interest. Put together, our engagement with local communities, enforcement activity and reforms will ensure that individuals who have no right to work or live in the UK are encouraged to comply with the rules and depart voluntarily, but individuals who partake in illegal activity or harbour those who do will always be sanctioned in line with UK law.

I am grateful to have had the chance to listen to the hon. Member for Llanelli and others today. I thank her again for securing this debate and will reflect further on the points made.

Transparency of UK Visa Bans

It is a pleasure to secure this debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne.

It is often, and rightly, said that the mark of a civilised country is who we offer safe haven to. Equally, who we do not let in says something about our moral character as a nation. The Home Secretary has wide powers to exclude foreign nationals, and successive Governments have stressed that such powers must be exercised in a way that is reasonable, proportionate and consistent, in accordance with the immigration rules. In addition, it should be noted that there is a duty—not just a power—to ban certain people who are subject to EU or UN travel bans. So the powers are there.

In 2005, the former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, stated that the power to exclude had been invoked by successive Governments on the grounds of national security, and after the London bombings of July 2005, the Home Office published a broader list of “unacceptable behaviour” that could form the basis for deportation or exclusion. That “unacceptable behaviour” included fostering hatred that might lead to inter-community violence.

The current Home Secretary made it clear in 2011 that she wanted to take an even more interventionist approach, banning people who hold extreme views even if they are not necessarily or directly inciting or promoting violence. She explained the rationale to the US Council on Foreign Relations, and it is worth quoting her just to provide the context for this debate:

“I think it is right that we have taken a slightly different stance over the last 18 months as a new Government in looking at this, because we believe that this issue of words that are said—what people actually say and how they are able to encourage others through the words that they say—is an important issue for us to address.

That’s why we have chosen in our Prevent strategy, for example, to look not just at violent extremism but at extremism. I think it’s important that we do so. If we’re able to do that, I think that enables us to operate at an earlier level rather than simply waiting until people have gone down the route of violent extremism.”

The grounds for refusal and for exclusion are not limited to terrorist-linked or other violent extremism. A criminal record, or even just obnoxious views, can get someone barred. For example, recently, US shock jock Michael Savage and right-wing activist Pamela Geller, who is also from the States, have been refused entry to Britain.

Overall, if we look at recent history we see that there is a long list of rather curious characters who have been excluded from Britain: from Snoop Doggy Dogg and Chris Brown to Martha Stewart; and from Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda and scientologist Ron Hubbard to Dutch MP Geert Wilders. Along with the positively dangerous, there is a rather rag-tag mix of crooks, kooks and cranks who have been barred from coming here.

There is a legitimate wider debate around all of this. Do we risk suffocating free speech because of undue sensitivity or political correctness if we bar individuals who are not directly inciting violence but are just offensive to certain quarters of society? Who decides where to draw that line, or what the objective criteria are for barring people for bad taste or because they may be regarded by some as insulting? Beyond protecting the public, in the sense of public safety, should the role of a Home Secretary effectively involve acting as some kind of thought police? I am not convinced that we have gone quite that far, but equally I am not convinced that we should go that far. That whole debate is perfectly legitimate.

Putting aside that wider debate, I will focus on a consequential aspect of this issue. On occasion, the names of those denied access to the UK have been disclosed in the past, including—as I have mentioned—where they foster hatred or seek to justify terrorist acts, or where they might spark inter-community unrest. Sometimes people are excluded on the basis of their views alone, rather than because of any physical acts or any crimes of which they have been convicted. In contrast to those examples of publication, when I have asked for clarification about whether those responsible for, or profiting from, torture have been barred from the UK, I have received the stock answer that the Home Office does not routinely publicise the names of individuals who have been barred from entry to the UK.

Hon. Members will remember that, two years ago, the House unanimously called for a UK Magnistky law. That motion was inspired by Sergei Magnitsky, the dissident Russian lawyer who was tortured to death, then prosecuted posthumously on orders from the Kremlin because he had disclosed the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, which was worth $230 million. The answer that was given at the time in response to the call from the House was that the Government already had adequate powers to impose visa bans or asset freezes, but we do not know for sure when or how those powers are exercised. That must be wrong on the grounds of transparency, and in addition to the point of principle about transparency it robs the powers of much of their deterrent effect for those whom we do not want coming to Britain, or applying to come to Britain.

My requests to find out whether the Home Office had allowed entry to any of the so-called Magnitsky 60—the US list of suspects in that appalling case, who were already publicly barred from America—was met with refusal. When I subsequently asked whether Dmitry Klyuev, head of the Klyuev gang and reportedly the mastermind of the fraud disclosed by Magnitsky, had recently been granted a visa to the UK, again the official response was, “No comment.”

That will not do. It cannot be right that, from time to time, Ministers publish the names of those who have been banned because, for example, they may hold obnoxious views, yet on the other hand, they refuse to say if alleged mafia, corrupt Government cronies or those complicit in torture are allowed in. It cannot be right as a matter of policy and it cannot be right as a matter of openness. The British public have a right to know.

In 2012, when he was a Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), tried to justify that rather arbitrary position when he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. First, he said that making the names public might lead to the risk of additional litigation. However, it is difficult to see how publicising names adds much to the inherent risk of litigation based on the substantive decision that was made. If anything, greater transparency and clarity about the criteria for banning people might help to reduce the risk of judicial review. Secondly, it was suggested that publication was unreasonable because of sensitivities and confidentiality, but that is wholly untenable. If there are sound public policy grounds to bar entry, they should trump personal, let alone diplomatic, niceties.

Finally and even more tenuously, the hon. Gentleman said that publishing the names might prejudice a trial back home, or put British citizens abroad at risk of retaliation. Again, it is difficult to see why the publication of a refusal of entry would affect the outcome of any fair trial back home, and neither is the risk of retaliation against Britons abroad any greater as a result of such a decision than it is as a result of the countless other decisions that a democratic Government can—and do—legitimately make, which might, at least in theory, spark some utterly irrational backlash abroad by someone, somewhere, at some indefinite point in the future.

In its 2012 report, the Foreign Affairs Committee rejected the arguments that the hon. Gentleman had put forward. Having received evidence on the Magnitsky case, it called for publication of the names of those denied entry to the UK on human rights grounds. Regrettably, the Government have not accepted that recommendation.

There is a far broader point in all of this. If we decide to extradite someone from Britain, that decision is made public, and if we deport someone from Britain, that decision is made public. That transparency is vital, informing the legitimate debate around the policy and the law underpinning the relevant powers and the manner in which they are exercised.

Legislation that deals with deportation is going through Parliament right now in the Immigration Bill precisely because of the need for transparency around deportation. Recently, there was an independent inquiry into extradition, again because of the importance of transparency, and various changes were made to legislation as a result. If there are good grounds for taking the preventive step of barring entry, why do we as policy makers, and the British public at large, face a veil of secrecy?

Added to those domestic considerations, Britain has signed up to a G20 commitment to deny safe haven to corrupt officials. As Global Witness, the international NGO, has argued, how can there be any accountability for that international pledge without transparency about the way in which powers at home are exercised?

I will have another go with the Minister today. Have the following people, for whom there is evidence linking them to the Magnitsky case, been subject to a UK visa ban? In addition, have any of them in practice entered Britain during the past five years? What about Alexander Ivanovich Bastrykin, the senior investigator responsible for the whitewash report about the circumstances surrounding Sergei Magnitsky’s death? What about Yuri Yakovlevich Chaika? He was the general prosecutor named by Magnitsky as having overall legal responsibility for the abuses, including torture, that he suffered when he was in detention. Chaika was also responsible for the subsequent whitewashing of the fraud.

What about Chaika’s deputy, Victor Yakovlevich Grin, who ordered the posthumous prosecution of Magnitsky? I think that I am right in saying that that was the first posthumous prosecution in Russian history. What about Victor Gennadievich Voronin, who at the time was the deputy head of Russia’s federal security service and responsible for authorising the original tax fraud, which was the crime that Magnitsky had uncovered? Can the Minister assure the House that these venal men are banned from setting foot on British soil, and indeed have not set foot on British soil?

Today, the wider secrecy around visa bans is relevant to the British response to the crisis in Ukraine. The US list of visa bans is public; the EU list is, too; yet still Britain’s national policy is not to make public the identities of any additional persons who might be subject to a domestic UK ban. What possible reason can there be for this? Is it that we might upset Vladimir Putin? Do not the British people have a right to know whether we have let in people such as Dmyrto Firtash, the Ukrainian oligarch who helped former President Yanukovych into power—arrested recently in Austria; wanted by the US; and investigated by the NGO, Global Witness, that I referred to earlier. He has a charitable foundation in the UK. Has he entered Britain in the past three years? The British people and Parliament have a right to know.

What about Rinat Akhmetov, another Ukrainian oligarch and sponsor of Yanukovych? He is facing investigation by the Swiss authorities. He reportedly owns one of the most expensive apartments in London. Many other Ukrainian politicians-cum-businessmen with links to UK businesses—specific links to Britain—have a cloud of suspicion hanging over their name for corruption: people such as Yuriy Boyko or Yuriy Ivanyushchenko. I readily and proactively say that the allegations against those men might not be true. Maybe they can answer all the claims that have been levelled against them and can rebut the evidence. They should certainly have that chance, but so should we in this House have the chance, and the British public at large should know whether such people are freely entering Britain.

The risk in the lack of transparency in this area is that people may start to suspect that the discretionary powers are not being exercised properly, robustly or consistently, and that expediency is trumping principle. That is the fear that is starting to grow up around the issue. I call on the Minister today to answer my specific questions about the individuals in the context of the Magnitsky case and the Ukrainian case, and to look at changing the Government’s position on visa bans, and perhaps go further than the Foreign Affairs Committee recommendation. The current position must be dragged into the 21st century. The names of those excluded from this country on policy grounds should be made public, in the same way that measures are made public when we extradite or deport someone. If we have good reason to bar someone from entering Britain, we should say so loud and clear, not in some half-hearted whisper lest we cause offence. The Government should have the courage of their conviction, and the public should be reassured that torturers, mafia bosses and the henchmen of dictators like Vladimir Putin are not simply waltzing in and out of Britain, despite pious statements of official policy.

It continues to be a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing a debate on this subject. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Security and Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who is currently in the main Chamber and therefore unable to be here for this debate, but I am sure he and my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton will have many opportunities to catch up on this topic.

As the Home Secretary has previously made clear, where credible evidence exists, the immigration rules allow us to deny entry to those whose presence in this country is not considered conducive to the public good. The power to deny a person the ability to enter the UK is an important tool that has the potential to support key Government objectives across a range of matters including national security, terrorism, criminality, war crimes and human rights abuses.

The Home Secretary may also personally decide to exclude an individual who is not a British citizen. Individuals can be excluded on grounds of national security; on the grounds that their presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good; or under the unacceptable behaviours or extremism exclusion policy. Exclusion is not targeted against any religious group or proponents of any individual political position. Individuals excluded have included serious criminals, far-right extremists, homophobic extremists, and Christian, Jewish and Islamic extremists.

Exclusion powers are taken very seriously and we do not use them lightly. No decision to exclude is taken lightly or as a method of stopping debate on the issues. There is close partnership working across Government to identify those who should be excluded from the UK and to prevent them from travelling here. The Secretary of State will use those powers when justified, based on all the available evidence. In all matters, the Secretary of State must act reasonably, proportionately and consistently.

Where an individual not already subject to exclusion seeks entry to the UK either through applying for a visa from abroad or on arrival at the UK border, we have the power to refuse those individuals entry on non-conducive grounds. We do not routinely publish the names of individuals who are prevented from entering the UK. The Home Secretary and her officials use such powers to protect national security, to prevent extremists and terrorists from coming to the UK, and to disrupt the activities of serious criminals. When those powers are exercised, public disclosure of the names of the individuals concerned does not always assist in achieving those aims.

It is important that we use those powers to achieve the best results in protecting the UK and the British public. That is most often achieved without the glare of publicity, particularly when we are seeking to cause a change in behaviour. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton will appreciate that once it has been made public that a person has been banned from or refused entry to the UK—and so their reputation has been affected—they have less to gain by moderating their behaviour.

Furthermore, the Home Office has a duty of confidentiality, and the details of individual immigration cases will not routinely be made public. Where it is considered that there is a strong public interest in doing so, which clearly outweighs our duty to individuals, and there is sufficient information to confirm individual identity, the Home Office will disclose names. In exceptional circumstances, we occasionally confirm that an individual has been denied entry to the UK when the information is already in the public domain or there is a legitimate public interest in doing so, but it is certainly not routine or regular.

Having considered carefully the previous Government’s policy of releasing the names of individuals who had been excluded from the UK, we decided that that was the wrong approach. We concluded that that policy simply invited costly and long-running litigation where it could have been avoided. It is therefore our firm view that the current approach is right and that the details of those banned from this country should be made public only when there is a clear public interest in doing so or where the individual concerned has put the information in the public domain.

As my hon. Friend will be aware, that is a long-standing position that successive Governments have adopted. I quite understand that there is a view that disclosing the details of those who have been banned from this country, or refused entry, will reassure both the House and the wider public that steps are being taken to deny the most undesirable people access to this country. However, for the reasons I have just explained, that is not always in the UK’s best interest.

My hon. Friend raised the matter of Sergei Magnitsky. The circumstances surrounding his death—a human rights case—are of utmost concern. It is the most high-profile example of the failings of Russia’s judicial and prison systems. The Government recognise that four years after Mr Magnitsky’s death, there has been a lack of meaningful progress towards securing justice.

The power to prevent a person from entering the UK on non-conducive grounds is wide-ranging, but it can be and is used in cases where an individual has been involved in human rights abuses. Coming to the UK is a privilege, not a right. Although we do not routinely comment on individual cases, the presumption is that those who have committed human rights abuses will normally be refused entry to the UK. However, we cannot simply refuse an individual without objective, reliable, independent evidence of their personal involvement in human rights abuses or other serious crimes. We do not prejudge evidence speculatively, but when an application to come to the UK is made, it is considered on its merits, taking into account all circumstances at the point of application. It is not a straightforward issue, and as a Government we must adopt an approach that best supports our objectives while complying with our legal obligations. As I am sure my hon. Friend will agree, the overriding consideration must be to use our powers lawfully and effectively, and to achieve the best results in protecting the UK and the British public.

It is right that Ministers consider whether making details public can support our aims. That is one of the tools that can be used to increase the effectiveness of the ban, but it can be done only on a case by case basis, taking into account the individual circumstances. It would of course reflect the impact on the individual concerned and the wider policy aim, as well as the impact on wider Government objectives.

The Minister is setting out the Government’s position with a degree of clarity that I have not previously heard. She talks about the considerations when the Government decide whether to make public the name of someone who has been banned, including whether doing so might deter or correct that behaviour. If we are dealing with people who are complicit in torture and there is enough evidence to substantiate and justify a visa ban, what possible countervailing reason can there be, whether it is to change their behaviour or otherwise, for not making their name public? Would not making their name public deter others?

My hon. Friend, as always, makes a coherent argument. The point, however, is that a decision to make someone’s name public will depend on individual circumstances. A blanket approach would be wrong, because decisions will depend on each case’s individual circumstances and evidence. We must consider such decisions on a case by case basis, rather than having an overriding one-size-fits-all approach to all cases involving, for example, torture. That leads me to his specific points. He is, as always, persistent and tenacious in his arguments, but I am sure he understands that I cannot comment on the individual cases that he listed.

The UK fully implements a range of travel bans agreed by both the United Nations and the European Union. The bans target certain individuals, such as those associated with the Syrian regime, the situation in Ukraine or terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban. We consider the bans to be an effective tool both to disrupt the activities of certain individuals and to send a clear signal that the international community does not accept those activities.

The Home Secretary has the power specifically to prevent individuals from entering the UK so that the Government can protect the UK’s interests and security without disrupting travel more widely. Sanctions are internationally agreed where there is a collective decision to take action against certain individuals. By their nature, therefore, sanctions must be shared across a range of authorities and organisations. The UK has a duty of confidentiality, which means that we do not routinely disclose information about the immigration status of individuals. Additionally, we believe our objectives are often best delivered by working with others away from the glare of publicity.

The promotion and protection of human rights continues to be a key priority in our foreign policy. Human rights form a key element of the Government’s engagement with our international partners. Denying entry to the UK and, where appropriate, preventing travel to the UK has the potential to influence behaviour. We will continue to use immigration powers to achieve that end.

In conclusion, the Government make no apology for refusing access to the UK if we believe someone’s presence is not conducive to the public good. Coming here is a privilege that we refuse to extend to those who seek to subvert our shared values.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.