House of Commons
Wednesday 14 May 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That Her Majesty, having been attended with its Address, was pleased to receive the same very graciously and give the following Answer, which was signed in her own hand:
I have received your humble Address, praying that I should appoint Bridget Prentice to be an Electoral Commissioner for the period ending on 30 September 2018, and Alasdair Morgan to be an Electoral Commissioner for the period ending on 30 September 2016. I will comply with your request.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
My hon. Friend is entirely right, which is why we have reduced the rate of corporation tax from 28p in the pound to 21p, with a further reduction to 20% next year. For similar reasons, the Wales Bill makes provision for the Welsh Assembly to call a referendum on a lower rate of taxation for Wales, and I hope that it will seize that opportunity.
Given that the future of businesses in Wales depends on the vibrancy of our young workers, is the right hon. Gentleman encouraged by the fact that the Welsh Government’s policies are clearly working, in that the youth unemployment rate has come down faster and further than anywhere else in the United Kingdom? Will he be less churlish towards the Welsh Government and praise the jobs growth fund and that achievement?
Far from being churlish, I commend Jobs Growth Wales for making an important contribution. Having said that, it is a limited contribution, and the important thing is for the Welsh Government to work closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that we can drive down even further the unemployment rates.
With businesses in Wales still cautious and a Budget that does little to help the 300,000 people in Wales who are earning less than the living wage, will the Secretary of State now back Labour’s plans to give a tax break to businesses that raise their employees’ pay to at least the living wage, so that work will pay?
As the hon. Lady knows, we have given every business in Wales relief against national insurance contributions of up to £2,000. We have also taken young people up to the age of 21 out of employers’ national insurance contributions altogether. I very much hoped that the hon. Lady would welcome that. It was an excellent Budget for business in Wales.
The EU remains a vital export market for Wales, together with countries outside the EU, but Wales and the UK would benefit from a renegotiated position within Europe, which is why the Prime Minister has committed to negotiating a new settlement in the European Union, to secure jobs and growth and to enable the EU to become more competitive, flexible and prosperous.
Given that 191,000 jobs in Wales are directly dependent on the EU, that £1 billion came to Wales last year from the EU, and that firms such as Ford in the south and Airbus in the north are committed to maintaining our relationship with the EU, will the Secretary of State join me in saying that the EU is good for Britain? The uncertainty that he is creating should be stopped.
I certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that membership of a free trade area is extremely good for Britain. Where I disagree with him, I think, is on the level of intervention and top-down meddlesome interference by the EU. The people of this country clearly want a referendum on Europe and only the Conservative party can and will deliver that referendum.
What Welsh business leaders want from their political leaders is certainty about our future in the European Union. Why is the Secretary of State so reluctant to say that being a member of the European Union is good for Wales? Is he personally committed to this country’s future membership of the European Union?
As I have just made clear to the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), I believe that membership of a free trade area is extremely important for Britain, but what the people of this country want is a say on whether they should remain part of the sort of Europe we have at the moment. It is interesting that the Labour party is not anxious to deliver a voice to the people of Wales.
I am rightly reprimanded, Mr Speaker. I must pay attention.
On the basis that the head of European operations has made it clear that to threaten exit from the EU would be cutting off our nose to spite our face, and that 14,000 jobs in Ford Bridgend and in Dagenham would rely on our not leaving the EU, will the right hon. Gentleman say that he, as the Secretary of State for Wales responsible for protecting those jobs, is personally committed to keeping Wales within the UK and the European Union?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the director of operations for Ford’s manufacturing operations in Europe, Mr Steve Odell. Mr Odell also said:
“there are absolutely some rules and regulations…that are difficult to take”.
We agree with Mr Odell on that and that is why we want the people of this country to have their say on their future in Europe after renegotiation, which only the Conservative party can and will deliver.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that many people in Wales are deeply concerned about the extra powers that have been given to the European Union, largely by Labour Members, and that it is absolutely right that this coalition Government should seek to renegotiate our position in the European Union and put the results of that negotiation to the people of Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. This Conservative party intends to renegotiate our position within Europe and to put that renegotiation to the British people in a vote by the end of 2017. We think that that is democracy and it is a shame that the Labour party does not share that view.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend that we need to renegotiate and get a better deal from the European Union, but does he not also agree that it is about time we ended the uncertainty and that the only way we can do that is by giving the British people, not just in Wales but across the UK, a say in an in/out vote?
15. Clearly, one opportunity offered by the European Union is that of greater investment in the energy supply in Wales and potential exports to the EU. What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with his colleagues in the European Union on the opportunities for such investment? (903942)
The energy sector is very important for Wales and the Government are investing heavily in energy, including giving support for the new nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd. The market between this country and Europe is extremely important—a two-way flow—and our energy interventions will ensure that our energy sector is supported.
We know that this Government are out of touch, but listening to the Secretary of State this morning I fear that he is completely out of touch with the views of Welsh business about the European Union. Has he spoken to Ford, GE, Hitachi, Citibank, BMW or Airbus, which are all companies that have expressed their concerns? If he has not, does he know how many jobs in Wales are reliant on our membership of the European Union?
I speak regularly to Welsh businesses—I dare say more frequently than the hon. Gentleman does. What is absolutely clear is that although Welsh businesses value their engagement with Europe, they feel that there is too much regulation and too much meddlesome interference from the European Union. We need to strike a proper balance. That is why we intend to renegotiate our position with Europe and at the end of that process hold a referendum.
I doubt that the Secretary of State is actively talking to those businesses, because when I talk to them, what I hear are their grave concerns about the uncertainty that he is creating. He did not answer the question. In truth, one in seven jobs in Wales is now reliant on EU trade. Does he not accept that the attitude of his Government and the attitude of a Secretary of State who has referred to Europe as “a basket case” is jeopardising those jobs, and does he not realise that it is only Labour that will secure them? That is why a Labour vote next week is a vote for jobs in Wales.
What I recognise fully is that the Labour party is reluctant—in fact, it is refusing—to give the British people a vote on this important issue. So far as business is concerned, the hon. Gentleman ought to understand that 72% of companies interviewed in north America for the Ernst and Young attractiveness survey thought that reduced integration in the EU would make the UK more attractive as a foreign direct investment location. He does not understand that; we do, which is why we can and we will give the people of Wales and Britain a vote on their future in Europe.
Wales Office Ministers regularly meet the Welsh farming unions, which are an important voice for that vital industry in Wales.
The Minister will know that at the last Budget the annual investment allowance was increased to £500,000 until 2015, but that is restricted to plant and machinery. Will he add his voice to the farming unions’ voice and many others that that should be extended to buildings and infrastructure in the coming years? Will he therefore plead that case on behalf of Welsh farmers?
Those are matters for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will raise his question with Ministers at the Treasury and discuss it further. On the whole, business throughout Wales welcomed the measures in the Budget to increase the investment allowance.
On a more specific matter, the Minister knows about the case that I am about to raise with him, because he has a copy of the letter I wrote to his right hon. Friend in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Welsh Black species of cattle is not included on the native breeds endangered list in England; it is included in Wales. As a result, people are unable to export pedigree Welsh cattle over the border to England for those who wish to enter the English countryside stewardship scheme. That is a restraint of trade against Wales, it is unfair and it could be actionable. Will he please get DEFRA moving and get it to register appropriately?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising the case with me and for sending me a copy of that correspondence. He raises an entirely fair and sensible point. The Welsh Black is a fine example of Welsh quality produce. There should not be any bureaucratic or policy reasons why it should not be able to be traded in England on an equal basis. I will look into the matter urgently with my colleagues from DEFRA.
One of the issues that farmers and farming representatives raise with me is the need for clearer and better labelling and traceability. Some good work has been done at all levels, including the European Union. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in calling for even clearer labelling so that people can be confident that they are getting Welsh Black, which could be made in Anglesey, in Wales or in the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and we have recently discussed labelling on the Floor of the House. We need to be careful about not putting extra burdens on business at this time, but clearly, high-quality labelling which provides good, relevant information for consumers, particularly about country of origin, is an important way of marketing Welsh produce on a wider level.
I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and key stakeholders across Wales and firmly believe that improving transport infrastructure is a key facilitator of economic growth.
Certainly, the electrification of the South Wales line is important for Cardiff and Swansea and the stations between. We are willing and anxious to perform our part of the bargain that we struck in July 2012. I have had recent discussions with both my right hon. Friend and the Welsh Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, and I hope that we can find a way forward.
The Minister will be aware that the Department for Transport took a decision a few months ago to relocate all driver and vehicle licensing services from Northern Ireland to Swansea. What steps is he taking to ensure, along with his colleague, that the services provided to all motorists throughout the United Kingdom will not be adversely affected by this retrograde decision?
14. Mid-Wales businesses depend upon good access to the west midlands to maximise their economic opportunities. For those businesses based in Brecon, that means the A438. Will the Secretary of State work with the Welsh Assembly, the Department for Transport and local government to ensure that that route is upgraded, particularly around Hereford, where a bypass is needed to avoid the bottleneck? (903941)
My hon. Friend raises an important issue that has been the subject of discussion for some time. These routes fall partly under the purview of the Welsh Government and partly under that of the Department for Transport. I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about this very issue only this morning.
The Mayor of London is now making the case for a £30 billion underground orbital road. Crossrail will cost £16 billion and HS2 will cost £50 billion at least. Considering the historically low levels of transport infrastructure investment in Wales, far below our population share, when will the Secretary of State start making the case for a fair share for Wales via the appropriate funding formula mechanism?
The Prime Minister promised to electrify the railway line from Paddington to Swansea, and now he is saying that it will go to Cardiff and from Bridgend to Swansea, but not the bit in the middle. When will he listen to Swansea business, withdraw from the Punch and Judy performance between the Welsh and UK Governments, and get the project delivered on time and to budget for the Swansea city region’s jobs?
The hon. Gentleman will know—I have made it clear previously and I make it clear once again—that the Government are entirely willing and anxious to perform their part of the bargain in the electrification of the Great Western main line. We are having continuing discussions with the Welsh Government, and I hope that they will be fruitful.
Wales Office Ministers have regular discussions with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence on their operations in Wales and on how best we can support the armed forces in Wales.
The success of the St Athan enterprise zone is dependent on access to the MOD runway. The Welsh Government seem to have over-promised and under-delivered on the seven-day access. What progress is being made to ensure that they can take responsibility, so that companies based in St Athan can make the most of the opportunities provided by this MOD asset?
I think that my hon. Friend is referring to an incident that took place only this weekend involving Cardiff Aviation. I have discussed the matter with the Welsh Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, Edwina Hart, and raised it with the Ministry of Defence. Clearly we have a shared interest with the Welsh Government in ensuring that commercial operations at St Athan are a success, and that is what we are working towards.
Border Health Care
Access to high-quality health care is an important issue for people across the UK, and particularly for those in the border areas. Following last week’s discussions on the matter in this House, I have written to the Secretary of State for Health and the First Minister urging swift action be taken to find a solution to the current difficulties.
The Secretary of State will know that a number of my constituents—thousands, in fact—are forced to use the NHS in Wales. They will therefore be very concerned by the report published yesterday, “Trusted to care”, which shows serious failings in the treatment of frail older people at two Welsh hospitals. Even the Labour Minister said he was shocked. Do not the people of Wales and my constituents deserve better?
I think that Members across the House were equally shocked by the contents of the report. I am glad to see that the Welsh Minister of Health has taken some action on the matter, but I repeat that the Government are more than willing to offer our assistance, perhaps by commissioning a Keogh-style inquiry.
The Midland Centre for Spinal Injuries at Gobowen provides the highest quality of care to patients from Wales with spinal injuries. They are concerned about the future of specialist services because of NHS reforms in England. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the concerns expressed to me by my constituents?
13. Access to cross-border health services is not restricted to the border areas, but access to specialist services is relevant to my constituents. The protocols are not working at the moment. In his discussions with Ministers, will the Secretary of State ensure that cross-border protocols are working for specialist services in particular? (903940)
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Key to this issue is the cross-border protocol. As a consequence of last week’s debate, I have written to both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and the Welsh Health Minister, and we will see whether we can improve that protocol.
HMRC (Welsh Language Services)
Wales Office Ministers have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues and others, including the Welsh Language Commissioner, on the delivery of Welsh language services by UK Government Departments and public bodies in Wales.
I am very aware of the excellent work done by the Welsh language specialist team at Porthmadog. I would like to give him an assurance that the wider changes that are happening to the network of inquiry offices will not impact on the Welsh language service, an important service that we are determined to keep operational.
Cost of Living
The Government understand the financial pressures facing many households at this time. That is why we have introduced real practical measures to bring down the cost of living in Wales by freezing fuel duty and raising the personal allowance, taking some of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether. We are putting money back into the pockets of hard-working people in Wales.
Just as in Harlow, the Conservative-led coalition Government have had a relentless focus on helping people with the cost of living, by freezing fuel duty, freezing council tax and cutting tax for lower earners. Will my hon. Friend lobby the Treasury to go ever further and raise the threshold at which lower earners pay national insurance contributions?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he does campaigning for those on the lowest incomes. Decisions on national insurance contributions are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I share my hon. Friend’s objective. We are determined to return more money to the pockets of hard-working people by taking them out of income tax.
Improving the rail network in the valleys is an important way of our connecting people in those communities, where unemployment is higher than average, with the new jobs that are being created in Cardiff and Newport. As the hon. Gentleman knows, discussions about electrification of the valleys lines are part of the discussions we are having with colleagues in the Welsh Government and colleagues at the Department for Transport about how we finance that major package of infrastructure improvements for south Wales.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 14 May. (904028)
The UK now has 104 billionaires—top of the global league. London alone has 72 billionaires —the top city in the world. Meanwhile, west Wales and the valleys is also top—in the top five poorest regions in western Europe. Is the Prime Minister at all concerned, or is he, like Labour’s Lord Mandelson,
“intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”?
I can say to the hon. Gentleman that what is worth while is the massive fall in unemployment and the increase in employment that we have seen across our country. In Wales, unemployment has fallen by 5,000 in the last quarter and fallen by 25,000 since the last election. That means that in Wales there are 59,000 more people in work. In terms of making sure that the richest in our country pay their taxes, actually we see the richest 1% paying a greater percentage of income tax than ever they did under Labour. We are seeing a broad-based recovery, and I want to make sure that everyone in our country can benefit. That is why we are cutting people’s taxes and allowing people to keep the first £10,000 of what they earn before they pay any income tax.
At the end of November, Mrs Ann Gloag, a director of the Stagecoach company, acquired Manston airport in my constituency for £1. On Budget day this year, Mrs Gloag announced that she was going into consultation with a view to closing an airport that is worth hundreds of jobs and is a major diversion field and a search and rescue base. Since then, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) and I have sought to find a buyer. Last night, the RiverOak company of Connecticut, which already has airport interests, put in an enhanced and realistic offer to keep Manston open, save the jobs, and develop the business. At present, the owners are reluctant to negotiate. I do not expect my right hon. Friend to engage in commercial negotiations, but will he seek to ensure that the Civil Aviation Agency operating licence remains open, that Manston remains open, and that further discussions are held; and will he encourage those discussions to take place?
I know that my hon. Friend has been fighting very hard, with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys), about the future of Manston airport and recognises that it has played an important role in the local economy and employed local people. Ultimately, the future of Manston remains the responsibility of the airport owner, but it is important that the Government are engaged, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is engaged. He will be speaking to Mrs Gloag about this issue and also contacting RiverOak, the potential purchasers. In the end, it has to make a commercial decision, but the Government will do everything they can to help.
I welcome the fall in unemployment. For all those people who have found work, it is good for them and good for their families.
On the subject of high-skilled jobs in the UK, following the appearance of Pfizer at the Select Committee yesterday, can the Prime Minister tell us what further assurances he is seeking from Pfizer about its takeover of AstraZeneca?
First of all, may I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has welcomed the fall in unemployment? These are, of course, jobs that he predicted would never come to Britain and would never be there. This is important, because what we see today is the largest-ever quarterly increase in the number of people in work—283,000. We see unemployment coming down, youth unemployment coming down, long-term unemployment coming down, and long-term youth unemployment coming down—and of course, in our growing economy, where our long-term economic plan is working, we see the number of vacancies going up. Hon. Members may be interested to know, in addition, that three quarters of the new jobs over the last year have gone to UK nationals, and also that the employment of Romanians and Bulgarians actually went down in the first three months of this year following the lifting of the controls, which is notable.
In terms of Pfizer and AstraZeneca, this Government have been absolutely clear that the right thing to do is to get stuck in to seek the best possible guarantees on British jobs, British investment and British science. We discussed this last week and one of the most important things we have learned since then is that the right hon. Gentleman was asked for a meeting with Pfizer, but he said he was too busy political campaigning. He quite literally put party politics ahead of the national interest.
I am not going to take any lectures from the guy who was negotiating with Pfizer over the heads of the board of AstraZeneca. Pfizer does not need a public relations man—it has the Prime Minister.
For Members on both sides of the House, the appearance of Pfizer at a Select Committee raised more questions than it answered about the so-called assurances. The head of Pfizer said there would be a fall in research and development spending as a result of the takeover. Has the Prime Minister got an assurance that those R and D cuts will not take place in the UK?
We want the strongest possible guarantees, but I have to ask the right hon. Gentleman: what is the way of getting those guarantees? Is it getting stuck in with Pfizer and AstraZeneca, battling for the British interest, or is it standing back like him, doing absolutely nothing apart from playing politics? That is the point I put to him. I am clear about what the British interest is: it is British jobs, British science and British R and D, and we will do everything we can to make those guarantees that we have received—the right hon. Gentleman would have got nothing—as firm as possible. As we do so, let us remember that 175,000 people are employed in the life sciences in our country, because we are an open economy that encourages investment. Eli Lilly, Novartis, Johnson & Johnson and e Sci have chosen to come and invest here because it is a great country to come and do business.
The problem is that the assurances are “vague”, have “caveats” and are “inappropriate”. Those are not my words, but the words of the president of the Royal Society. The assurances are useless and there is no guarantee on R and D.
Let us talk about jobs. The head of Pfizer said yesterday:
“There will be job cuts somewhere”.
Has the Prime Minister got an assurance that those job cuts will not take place in the UK?
We have assurances on the percentage of R and D that will happen here and on investment in Cambridge and in Macclesfield. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking whether we want further assurances, then yes, we do. Do we want to make sure those jobs stay here? Yes, we do. Do we want more investment in British universities and British science? Yes, we do. The only difference between us is on how to get those things. I say: get stuck in, negotiate hard and fight for Britain. He says: stand up, play politics and put that before the national interest.
But the Prime Minister’s negotiations are not working—they are worthless. On R and D and jobs, he has no answer.
Let us try the Prime Minister on another issue: the possible carving up of the merged company. Nobody wants the company to be bought, split up and then sold off. Has he got assurances that that will not happen in the case of this takeover?
What we want is a good outcome for British investment and British jobs. We know what happens if you take the approach of the Labour party. Let us remember Kraft and Cadbury. What did we have? We had outright opposition, wonderful speeches about blocking investment and then complete and abject surrender and the closure of plants under Labour. That is what happened. We have learned the lessons of the mistakes Labour made. We are operating under the framework that it left us—which, incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman wrote when he was at the Treasury—and we will get results for British science, British jobs and investment by being engaged rather than standing off and playing politics.
We all know what happened the last time the Prime Minister got assurances: he sold off Royal Mail at a knock-down price and the Chancellor’s best man made a killing. That is what happens with the Prime Minister’s assurances.
The truth is that the Prime Minister cannot give us a guarantee, because the chief executive says that he wants to “conserve the optionality” of splitting up the company and flogging it off. Last week, the Prime Minister said he would judge the takeover on
“British jobs, British investment and British science.”—[Official Report, 7 May 2014; Vol. 580, c. 146.]
But he cannot offer us assurances on any of those things. Is it not obvious—he should have a proper test of the public interest, and if the deal does not pass, he should block it?
Once again, the right hon. Gentleman raises this issue about the public interest test. It is worth asking which party, which Government and indeed which individual, when he was sitting in the Treasury writing the rules, got rid of that test. It was the right hon. Gentleman. That is what we see: on a day when unemployment is down, on a day when more people are in work, he will try any trick other than to talk about what is happening in our economy. That is the truth. The country is getting stronger, and he is getting weaker.
The Prime Minister might not think it important to talk about a company that is 2% of UK exports and on which 30,000 jobs depend. It is important: it is crucial to our national interest. The truth is that he is not powerless. He is the Prime Minister, and he could act on a public interest test. We are talking about one of our most important companies. Nobody is convinced by his assurances. Why will he not intervene? Because he is falling back on the old idea that the market always knows best and does not need rules. From Royal Mail to AstraZeneca, this is a Prime Minister whose ideology means that he cannot stand up for the national interest.
If the right hon. Gentleman thinks these companies are important, why did he not meet them, rather than going canvassing? That is what he did: he quite literally put his own party political interest ahead of the national interest. What he fails to understand is that, yes, we measure the British interest in British jobs, British science and British investment, but we also measure it in being a country that is open to overseas investment. There is a reason why companies and countries are coming here to make cars, to build aeroplanes, to build trains, to fabricate oil rigs, to make new drugs in our country—it is because we have cut taxes, we welcome investment, we are growing our economy and we have got more people in work. We will take absolutely no lectures from the people who brought this economy to its knees.
The sun is shining, and people are wisely preparing to come to Cornwall for their holiday. When they arrive, however, they will see that some of the recent storm damage still has not been put right. Cornwall does not just need a long-term economic plan; we also need help today. Will the Prime Minister meet me to see what more can be done?
I am very happy to go on discussing that with Cornish MPs and indeed the Cornish unitary council to make sure we do everything we can to help Cornwall get back on to its feet after the storms. What I have said very clearly is that there is money under the Bellwin scheme, so all the emergency funding that Cornwall had to spend it can claim back, and it still has time to work on that claim. We have also increased the amount of money going through the Environment Agency to repair storm damage, and there is an opportunity for Cornwall to have a real benefit from that money as well. The sun is shining. I am sure that people are preparing to go to Cornwall and I know, when they get there, they will have a very good time.
Q2. This week, the Public Accounts Committee criticised the Ministry of Defence for failing to account for a £1.2 billion underspend, and it went on to say that this might result in even higher spending in future years. Does the Prime Minister still think that he was right to say that he has balanced the books at the MOD? (904029)
I seem to remember, coming into government, that we were left with a £38 billion black hole, so if the criticism is that the Secretary of State for Defence is careful with the pounds and the pennies, and makes sure that there is an underspend that can then, on occasion, be carried forward into further investment—to make sure that we have the very best equipment for our troops—I rather suspect that he might plead guilty.
Q3. Stevenage continues to lead the economic recovery, and unemployment figures today show that our long-term economic plan is working. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the educational institutions and businesses in my constituency that have increased apprenticeship starts from just over 200 in 2010 to over 800 a year now? (904030)
My hon. Friend is right. In Stevenage, unemployment has fallen by 24% over the past year, which shows that our long-term economic plan is working. Every single one of those people is not just a statistic, but someone who has the dignity, security and peace of mind of a pay packet to help them and their family. Increasing the number of apprenticeships is a vital part of our long-term economic plan. We have seen 1.7 million new apprentices under this Government and are aiming for 2 million. We need to do more to encourage small and medium-sized firms to take on apprentices, but the work is going well.
Q4. There has been a 61% increase in the number of working families claiming housing benefit in the Stockton borough. Is that not further proof that the jobs that the Prime Minister claims to have created are generally low-paid, part-time and zero-hours contract jobs that do not pay enough to meet the rent? (904032)
In the Stockton North constituency, unemployment has fallen by 23% over the past year. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the unemployment figures, he will see that the number of people in part-time work who want full-time work has fallen as, increasingly, people are able to find the full-time work that they want. Of course there is an increase in the number of people who are in work and claiming housing benefit, because there is an increase in the number of people in work. That is what is happening in our country—we are getting the country back to work.
The Prime Minister will know that thousands of my constituents in England are forced to use the NHS in Wales. They will be concerned about yesterday’s “Trusted to Care” report, which showed serious failings in the care of frail, older people at two NHS hospitals in Wales. Do not the people of Wales and my constituents deserve better?
Those are very concerning reports that need to be studied, because the NHS in Wales is not in a good state. We have seen an 8% cut to the NHS budget in Wales carried through by Labour. In Wales, the last time the A and E targets were met was in 2009 and the last time the urgent cancer treatment target was met was in 2008. We really do see problems in the NHS in Wales. Frankly, the Labour party, instead of chatting to each other on the Front Bench, should get a grip of this issue and sort out the NHS.
Q5. The Pfizer boss did give assurances to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee yesterday. He gave an absolute assurance that any takeover of AstraZeneca would result in a fall in research and development in its new drugs in the UK. He gave an absolute assurance that it would result in a fall in UK jobs. The AstraZeneca boss said that it could put lives at risk. How could any Prime Minister worth the title not immediately conclude that the right thing to do in the national interest is to call this in? (904033)
As I explained to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), we are operating under the legal framework that was put in place by the Government of whom he was a member. When the hon. Gentleman looks at the record of what was said yesterday, I think he will find that the quotes that he has given are not accurate.
Q6. Does the Prime Minister agree that the building of vital roads, such as the A5-M1 link or the Dunstable northern bypass, will create even more jobs, and that continued infrastructure investment like that is a key part of our long-term economic plan? (904035)
I agree. I have spent some time in my hon. Friend’s constituency, stuck on the A5, and I know how much that remedial work is needed. It is vital for that part of our country. We are investing more in our railways than at any time since Victorian times and more in our roads than at any time since the 1970s. That is key to the success of our long-term economic plan.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend will know that my International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014 came into force last night. Will he note that it will protect women and girls throughout the world and that, furthermore, in places such as Nigeria and Syria, it provides us with an opportunity to do whatever we can to relieve their tragedy? Will he be good enough to have a word with the excellent Secretary of State for International Development and ensure that we will do whatever we can to use the Act to help people who have been so severely afflicted?
I am sure the whole House will want to join me in commending my hon. Friend for his Bill, and on his legislative achievement to get that important measure on the statute book. This year Britain is taking some huge steps forward, using the power of our aid budget and the fact that we have met our aid pledge to try to drive change in our world and end for ever the scandals of forced and early marriage and female genital mutilation. We are in a really strong position to drive change on that.
My hon. Friend mentioned Nigeria, and I can announce that we have offered Nigeria further assistance in terms of surveillance aircraft and a military team to embed with the Nigerian army in its HQ, as well as a team to work with US experts to analyse information on the girls’ location. As I said last week, this was an act of pure evil, and the world is coming together not just to condemn it but to do everything we can to help the Nigerians find these young girls.
What we are doing about it is making sure that the £12.7 billion extra that we are putting into the NHS—unlike the Labour NHS cut in Wales—is going to good use. We can see in our NHS that 1.2 million more people are attending accident and emergency, and over this winter period we met our targets for accident and emergency. I remember the last time that the Labour leader raised our hospitals at Prime Minister’s questions—it was back in November, and he has not had a word to say about it since. He predicted a winter crisis, and he sat there day after day, dying for it to happen. It did not happen because we have a strong NHS with more doctors and more nurses serving our country.
The Prime Minister is well aware of the wonderful work done by the Royal British Legion Battle Back centre with our brave servicemen and women who have been injured in conflict, through adaptive sports and adventurous training. At the end of this month, I will be joining a team from the Battle Back centre with the hon. Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) to raise awareness of that wonderful work. Will the Prime Minister wish us every success in that aim?
I will certainly wish well my hon. Friend and hon. Members from across the House who are taking part in that. The Royal British Legion plays an absolutely key part in our country in standing up for veterans and their interests, and ensuring that we raise money and serve them properly. We work very closely with the Royal British Legion in government, and the Battle Back centre that my hon. Friend mentioned is an extraordinary facility in our country. I wish him well and hope that the fundraising goes well.
Q9. When the Prime Minister goes up to Scotland later this week, will he explain to our agricultural producers and rural communities why by 2019 we will be receiving the lowest level of support per hectare not just of any country in the UK, but of any country in the whole EU? Perhaps that explains why he does not want to publish his secret poll on support for independence. (904038)
On my visit to Scotland I will be explaining how Scotland is better off inside the United Kingdom. We have all the negotiating power of the United Kingdom around the table to get a good deal for Scotland, whereas of course an independent Scotland would have to queue up behind other countries to get back into the European Union. Specifically on agriculture, because of the hard work of my right hon. Friend the agriculture Secretary, we are ensuring that there will be extra support for Scottish farmers, which is absolutely in line with what the Scottish Government have been asking for.
Q10. According to the Watford chamber of commerce, this year Watford will benefit from a total of £1.5 billion in new investment. It has already started: we have a new road, two new train stations, two secondary schools being refitted, and a brand new university technical college. To cap that, today there has been an announcement that the number of unemployed is 667 fewer than a year ago, and I am concerned for that to continue. What is the Prime Minister’s strategy to ensure that it will continue? If he takes my advice, he will come up with something that is one, long term; two, economic; and three, a plan. (904039)
First of all, may I say to my hon. Friend how welcome it is that unemployment in Watford in the past year has fallen by 30%? We are getting the people of Watford back to work and cutting unemployment. He mentioned important investments such as the Croxley rail link, with the two new stations, and rebuilding schools and building new ones. They are absolutely vital. The long-term plan is not just about jobs and cutting taxes, important as those are. It is also about supporting business, and small business in particular, by building the infrastructure we need. Because we have taken difficult, long-term decisions, we are able to put that extra investment into our roads and railways to build a modern infrastructure for the 21st century.
The Royal College of General Practitioners says that there are something like 40 million more GP appointments since 2010. The patient survey, which was always quoted by Labour Ministers, states that 93% of people say that appointments in the GP system are convenient. Frankly, I want more. As the father of three young children, I know how important it is to get timely GP appointments. That is why we are training 5,000 more GPs, why we now have named GPs for frail and elderly people, and why 1,000 GP centres are now open from 8 am to 8 pm and at weekends.
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what I regret. I regret the fact that the last Labour Government signed a contract with the GPs that meant that they did not have to offer a service out of hours or at the weekend. Because of the investment we are putting into the NHS, we are providing better services. If he is wondering about a 48-hour target, he might want to ask why Labour scrapped one in Wales.
Ribble Valley council has recently approved its core strategy. Will the Prime Minister reassure local councillors that that will give them extra power to protect those areas within the Ribble Valley that are not already earmarked for development? Will he come and visit the Ribble Valley and see for himself why it is consistently voted one of the best places to live in the United Kingdom, and why local people want to keep it that way?
I look forward to visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency and constituencies in Lancashire more broadly. The assurance I can give him is this: when local councils put in place their local plan, they will have far greater ability to determine how much housing and what sort of housing they have, and where it goes. That is what we are trying to put in place. The faster local councils can put in their local plans, the more power and responsibility they will have.
Q12. As the Prime Minister has acknowledged, the number of people who are in work but who have to claim housing benefit to make ends meet is growing, but the cost of that will be an extra £5 billion over the course of this Parliament. Does the Prime Minister consider that a sign of success? (904042)
The most important thing we have done with respect to housing benefit was to put a cap on it because, when we came to office, some families were claiming £60,000, £70,000 or £80,000. When we put that cap on housing benefit, what was the Labour reaction? Labour voted against it. When we said that in order to make savings housing benefit should not be paid in respect of spare rooms that people are not using, what was Labour’s attitude? Labour opposed it. That is what is happening.
The good news from the hon. Gentleman’s seat in Stalybridge and Hyde is that unemployment is not going up—it is down 31%. Of course, some of those people in work are claiming housing benefit, but because of this Government’s long-term economic plan, more of his constituents are in work and earning.
Extra flood defence funding for the Humber area following the tidal surge in December was most welcome, but many of my constituents are still out of their homes, and there is concern that we get the £300 million that is needed over the next 25 years. MPs are working cross-party and cross-Humber on that. Will the Prime Minister meet us so that we can convince him of the case for treating the Humber, which is so important to our economic recovery, as a special case given its high risk of flooding?
I have experienced very positive and good meetings with Humberside MPs on a cross-party basis. We worked very hard to ensure that the Siemens investment went into Hull. That will bring not just jobs to that factory, but, I believe, a whole new industry and supply chain to the area. I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss flooding and other issues to ensure we do all we can to protect people’s homes and businesses.
I welcome the efforts to rescue the schoolgirls in Nigeria, but does the Prime Minister agree that the Nigerian Government have not lifted a finger to protect their own citizens in the north when they are attacked by Boko Haram? Will he agree to ask the Nigerian Government to support their own people, and to seek to introduce peace to that unhappy nation?
The right hon. Gentleman has considerable knowledge of overseas development and these affairs. I do not think his description of the Nigerian Government is entirely fair. They face Boko Haram, a very vicious terrorist organisation, and they are investing in and training their armed forces in counter-terrorism abilities. We have worked with them on that and we are willing to do more, particularly if we can ensure that proper processes are in place to deal with human rights issues. We should help across a broad range of areas, not just counter-terrorism, surveillance and helping them to find these people. We should work with the Global Fund for Education to protect more schools—the global fund promoted by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirk—er, and—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown); thank you very much.
My mother Maud recently celebrated her 102nd birthday. She was just a child in the first world war, but she thinks it is entirely right that, in the centenary of the outbreak of that great war, we honour those who lost their lives. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that we also remember all the horses that were lost, as depicted in the wonderful play “War Horse”?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is not just that wonderful play—Joey the horse came on my recent business trip to China and caused quite a stir—but the magnificent memorial in Park lane to all the animals that died in the war. It is important that we not only commemorate the 100th anniversary appropriately this year, but that we commemorate Gallipoli, Jutland, the armistice and the peace that followed.
Points of order will follow the statement by the Secretary of State for International Development. If colleagues wish to wait, they can come in later. May I just appeal to colleagues to leave the Chamber quickly and quietly, so the House can hear the statement by the Secretary of State?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful. Perhaps I should declare an interest, having nominated the hon. Member for New Forest East Dr Lewis (Dr Lewis) for the post of Chair of the Defence Select Committee. There is a range of excellent candidates and I am very concerned that the window for the election is extremely short—just two hours—and closes at 1 pm. I am worried that if Members turn out in great numbers, as I am sure they will between now and 1 pm, they will not be able to get in to vote. I encourage Members to go and vote for what is a very important position for the future of the Defence Committee.
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady for that point of order, the answer to which I hope will satisfy the House. If hon. and right hon. Members are visibly queuing to vote, they will be able to vote. I should imagine that that would be what the House wants to hear and that is what is right, so I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. [Interruption.] I think Mr Hollobone was chancing his arm, but he is not now doing so and we are grateful to him for his forbearance.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on Afghanistan.
First, I would like to pay tribute to the six service personnel who have died serving their country in Afghanistan since the last statement on Afghanistan was delivered to the House by the Defence Secretary on 10 February. They include Sapper Adam Moralee, who was killed on 5 March while preparing equipment for redeployment out of Afghanistan as part of our military draw-down.
On 26 April, five UK service personnel—Captain Thomas Clarke, Acting Warrant Officer Class 2 Spencer Faulkner, Corporal James Walters, Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas—were tragically killed in a helicopter crash south of Kandahar. A full investigation is under way into the incident, but there is currently no indication of enemy activity being a contributing factor. It was the third biggest single loss of UK life since 2001.
These deaths are a timely reminder that our troops continue to risk their lives in Afghanistan every single day. Their legacy is realised in the fact that Afghanistan is now neither a safe haven nor a launch-pad for terrorists who seek to destroy our way of life. The tens of thousands of Afghan security forces whom they have helped mentor and who are now securing the country’s future are a testament to that. The sacrifice of our servicemen and women can never be forgotten.
I would like to reiterate my deepest sympathies for those affected by the tragic landslide in Badakhshan province. Relief efforts are under way to help the more than 4,000 people who have been displaced. The UK is closely monitoring the situation and stands ready to provide further assistance. Our recent £10 million contribution to the UN’s Common Humanitarian Fund will ensure that additional relief supplies can be delivered as required.
While the scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated, we are seeing some extraordinary progress in Afghanistan. Last month, Afghans took part in provincial and presidential elections, which were organised by Afghans, run by Afghans and the security for which was provided by Afghans. The latest estimates from the preliminary results on voter turnout show that nearly 7 million people voted, 36% of whom were women. This is particularly impressive, given the Taliban threats of violence across the country. With very little support from ISAF—the international security assistance force—the Afghan security forces secured the vast majority of polling centres across the country and helped to prevent any high-profile attacks. Their professionalism and bravery were evident throughout, and their confidence has been boosted by this operational success.
A constitutional transfer of power from President Karzai to his successor will be a milestone for the Afghan people. Until 10 years ago, Afghans had never had the right to choose their leader. Now they are getting a choice, and the UK Government are supporting that democratic process. We continue to support Afghan institutions in making sure that the elections are credible, inclusive and transparent.
The Department for International Development is providing £20 million to the UN’s ELECT II programme—Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow—which ran a voter registration top-up exercise in Afghanistan. This has led to over 3.8 million new registered voters, over a third of whom were women. ELECT II also trained almost 7,000 election commission officials, over 2,000 of whom are women. This includes gender officers for each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Women’s political participation has been a priority for the UK Government in the past year, and it was impressive to see so many women exercising their democratic rights as voters. Although there were no female presidential candidates, it is a sign of how much Afghanistan has changed that three women stood as second vice-president on presidential tickets, and 297 women contested the provincial council elections. The Government’s support for women voters and candidates, through the UN and through DFID’s own programmes, will continue through to the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan in 2015.
We have made it clear that our commitment to Afghanistan extends beyond the time that UK combat forces have returned home. The UK has committed to its current level of development funding until at least 2017. However, if we are to continue our co-operation with Afghanistan in the long term, it is important for the bilateral security and NATO status of forces agreements to be established as quickly as possible. We shall expect to see clear progress and further reforms from the new Afghan President and his Government.
Afghanistan’s economy remains fragile and vulnerable to shocks. Although economic growth and tax revenues have increased substantially over the past decade, uncertainty ahead of the elections, along with the impact of the draw-down of international forces, has led to an economic slowdown in recent months. Through its continued support for Afghanistan’s economic growth and private sector development in the years ahead, DFID will seek to remove barriers to investment, particularly in the agriculture and extractive sectors, and to create economic opportunities for women. The UK will also continue to support greater regional economic integration through infrastructure development and trade.
We hope that the new President will prioritise increasing domestic revenue collection and strengthening the economy by, for instance, passing key legislation, because that is the best way to ensure that the country’s long-term future does not rely on aid from other countries. At an early stage, the UK will be encouraging the new Government to take the further steps on reform that the international community wants to see, such as tackling corruption and ensuring that gains made on women’s rights are strengthened. Some of the bravest Afghans I have met have been women’s rights defenders. Those women risk their lives daily, fighting for rights that men—and, indeed, we women—often take for granted in this country, and the UK Government will continue to support their efforts to secure a better future for Afghan women and girls.
We cannot do this alone. Afghanistan’s future depends on many international actors playing their part, as well as the work that Afghans themselves are doing to secure their country’s future. Afghanistan will inevitably be a key feature of the NATO summit which will take place at the Celtic Manor in Wales in early September. Plans and preparations are well under way for that important NATO event. The UK Government will co-chair a development conference on Afghanistan in the months after the new Afghan Government have been formed, which will provide a timely opportunity for us to focus Afghan and international attention on the long-term economic, social and political challenges that Afghanistan must address.
The turnout for last month’s election shows the will and determination of the Afghan people to secure a better future, but they need our support. By continuing our essential development work and by working together, we can create a stable country where Afghan children have opportunities that were denied to their parents. That will be a fitting and lasting legacy to the service of our troops—those who are now returning home to their families and those who, tragically, are not.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement, and for giving me advance sight of it earlier today.
This year the United Kingdom’s combat mission in Afghanistan comes to an end, and I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the UK service personnel who have been lost in the service of our country. As we approach the close of a 13-year operation, there will be time for reflection on what has been achieved in Afghanistan, but, regardless of those discussions, no one can feel anything other than awe and admiration for the men and women of our armed forces who have served, and continue to serve, our country there. Their courage, their care and their sacrifice are virtues that we should never forget, and the strain on their families and loved ones constitutes a toll that most of us whose relations are not serving in Afghanistan can never fully understand. Just this week, we had a stark reminder that the pain of conflict is not only physical but, increasingly, an often initially invisible injury to mental health.
In this the centenary year of the first world war, new monuments will be built and tributes will be paid to the dead of three generations ago, but I want to ask about a permanent memorial to those who have died in Afghanistan. I have readily been involved in supporting that project, and I hope that the Secretary of State will update the House on the dedication of that important work.
As we all know, the Department for International Development works in some of the most dangerous and demanding places in the world, and Afghanistan presents its own set of unique challenges. For more than 30 years, the Afghan people have seen their communities blighted by conflict and violence. Thirteen of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces report at least one Taliban attack each and every day of the week; nearly half the population is in need of development assistance, and a third of the population is food-insecure, so there is no doubt that development in these circumstances is extremely challenging. The Opposition’s approach will continue to be support for and scrutiny of the Government’s work, and I want to ask the Secretary of State about four specific areas.
First, the Secretary of State rightly spoke about the massive mudslide in Badakhshan province in which 2,000 lives were lost. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, she rightly prioritised the safety and well-being of survivors, but will she now tell the House what assessment her Department has made of the needs of those who survived and, further, what impact, if any, security concerns have on the relief effort?
Secondly, in March this year the Independent Commission for Aid Impact reported on DFID’s bilateral support for growth and livelihoods in Afghanistan. The report raised serious doubts over the long-term sustainability of the progress made and over a lack of strategic coherence, so what steps has the Secretary of State taken to improve the Department’s programmes in the light of those revelations?
Surprisingly, ICAI found that none of the programmes assessed had made any plans for draw-downs, even though, to quote from the report,
“it is likely that they would be affected by more instability and greater risk.”
Can the Secretary of State assure the House that preparations are now well under way in all DFID projects for the impact of this year’s draw-down?
The report made three main recommendations: for a six-month review of current and future projects, and on systems of consultations and independent monitoring. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress she has made in fulfilling those recommendations?
I want to turn to the country’s future and the role of women. As the Secretary of State has rightly said, there has been much change for women in the last 13 years, but there is undoubtedly still an incredibly long way to go. It is right that DFID’s next operational plan has a commitment to tackle violence against women, and I hope she will confirm today that Afghan women’s organisations will be consulted on that plan.
As we approach the second round of presidential elections, the Taliban have this week announced the start of their annual summer offensive. Despite that and despite all the threats, Afghanistan’s women seem determined that their voices and their votes will be heard, so what additional measures have been put in place to protect Afghan women’s right to vote?
Finally, may I turn to the mechanics of the draw-down? Understandably, there are some concerns that the draw-down of the ISAF operation could have grave implications for the sustainability of development gains and the protection of civilians. What assessment has the Department made of the possible need for any extra security requirements for DFID staff and local partners after the military draw-down?
In conclusion, stability in Afghanistan will no longer rely on international military might, but instead on Afghan forces, an improving local economy, the attitude of neighbouring countries and international development funding. DFID staff and their partners will have a continuing role to play in the future of that country. For the sake of the people of Afghanistan, and all the Britons who have served there and continue to serve, this military draw-down must not mean turning away. For all their sakes, the UK’s commitment to building a lasting peace and a viable state must continue.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. The first point he raised was how we can make sure we never forget the sacrifice that has been made by our servicemen and women who have served in Afghanistan. I understand that discussions on how we can make sure we commemorate and remember that work are under way in the Ministry of Defence, and I am sure it will have further updates to give the House shortly.
In relation to the work ICAI did on DFID programmes in Afghanistan, I think the first point to make is that it recognises, as we do, that Afghanistan is one of the most difficult places in the world to deliver aid. However, it said that we worked effectively with our partners, and, indeed, that
“our livelihoods programmes are delivering significant improvements to thousands of people”,
although the right hon. Gentleman raised some of the serious challenges we still face in making sure that the gains and advances we have made continue. It is probably worth pointing out that some of the training on vocational education has helped about 70,000 young people get into work in Afghanistan. The right hon. Gentleman is right that the livelihoods issue is one of the core elements of the programme going forward. We will work on the ICAI recommendations in the report and any that the IDC has made recently.
On the terrible mudslide and flooding around Badakhshan, the UN is working there on the ground. As the right hon. Gentleman points out, some areas in Afghanistan are harder for aid agencies to reach than others, but we have already made a £10 million contribution to the common humanitarian fund, and we stand ready to assess any further requests. Our current assessment is that adequate support is getting through to people, but he is right to point out that we need to see what we can do to help the people who remain rebuild their lives and get them back on track.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of the work on women’s rights. As everyone recognises, this issue presents one of the biggest risks: as troop draw-down takes place and Afghanistan transitions to a future in which it takes responsibility for its own security, and a presidential election results in a new President, it is important that this aspect of progress—the advancement of women’s rights in a country that remains one of the toughest places in the world to be a woman—is not left behind. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have made this issue a strategic priority for DFID within Afghanistan. We are undertaking a variety of projects that will continue in the coming years, such as the girls’ education project, and we will support the Government to make sure that the law on the elimination of violence against women is implemented on the ground. That will include working with the Ministry of the Interior and directly with the Afghan police, so that we can make sure that laws are implemented by them and they play their role in protecting and upholding women’s rights on the ground.
As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, and as I mentioned in my statement, we have done work on women’s political participation. One of the most encouraging aspects of the recent first round of presidential elections—alongside perhaps less violence than we might have expected—was the number of women who are now exercising their right to vote. DFID played a role in the United Nations Development Programme, supporting the independent election commission, and on the ground in encouraging people to use their vote. In particular, it helped to ensure that women were registered, and that women candidates were supported and understood that they could be not just a voter within the election, but a participant. Some 300 women candidates came forward, and 20% of the provincial election council places will go to women after the election.
We are also ramping up our work on access to justice. We have teamed up with the existing Australian Government programme—a £3 million programme that will mean that we can provide better access to justice for women in six provinces. Of course, the existing Tawanmandi programme, which supports civil society organisations on the ground, continues. I am putting an extra £2 million into that, which should help to provide at least 10 grants to organisations that are focused on working to tackle violence against women.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of draw-down and security. Obviously, I cannot go into the details of that in the House, but he is right to point out that the environment faced not just by our forces but by Foreign Office and DFID staff working in Afghanistan is highly risky, even in the British embassy in Kabul. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those staff members, who do an immensely challenging job in difficult circumstances and are some of the most dedicated people I have come across in this job. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that duty of care to our staff is always of paramount importance.
I thank the Secretary of State very much indeed not just for her statement but for its positive character and for the fact that she is making it, because that indicates DFID’s increasing importance and profile as Afghanistan moves from a situation of troop engagement to development. I want to reinforce the International Development Committee’s view that the test of success in development in Afghanistan will be the progress maintained by women. Indeed, I am grateful to the Secretary of State for emphasising women’s rights and development. Does she agree with me and our Committee that the status of women will be the key to Afghan development, that it is important that women are supported, that all the people of Afghanistan must understand that the progress of women will determine the successful development of their country, and that in that, they will have the full partnership of the UK Government?
I pay tribute to the work the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee does in scrutinising my Department and the work we do in Afghanistan. I can assure him that we will continue to play our role, as a key donor, in helping the Afghanistan Government to continue to make progress on women’s rights. It is fantastic that we now have a statutory duty to look at gender equality in international development, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), so we will continue to do that work. His legislation has sent a message across the world about the UK’s stance on the rights of women and girls, and it will permeate our entire work.
As the Secretary of State may know, I am leading for the Defence Committee until we have the outcome of the election that everybody is awaiting with bated breath. We have produced our latest report on Afghanistan, which was published yesterday. It makes a number of recommendations, including two major ones. The first is that we continue to have a proper, co-ordinated and comprehensive approach to the process of transition and its aftermath, in what is likely to be an uneven peace, uneven development and an uneven security situation. The second is that there should be a national evaluation, across government, of the whole of the period in which we have been in Afghanistan. Although our reports are aimed largely at the Ministry of Defence, which will respond on the lessons learned, this is a cross-government issue, so will the right hon. Lady also be able to respond, as the Secretary of State for International Development, to our report?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have sought to work hand in hand with the Ministry of Defence on policy in Whitehall, but also on the ground where MOD and DFID staff operate together. We have seen that in the provincial reconstruction team, which until March was based in Helmand and has now transitioned staff back to Kabul. There are of course continuing lessons to be learned, as his Committee’s report highlights. The military have a highly effective process for identifying lessons to be learned in the long term, but I am sure the UK Government will want to look strategically across the whole campaign, including the DFID element of the work we have done, to see what lessons can be learned once the mission is over.
In my earlier question to the Prime Minister, I mentioned Nigeria and Syria, but as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear today, Afghanistan is also right at the top of the tree regarding gender equality and international development, and I am grateful to her for her remarks. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank not only her but the staff in her Department, the Minister of State and others for playing an active and very supportive role on this issue. That extends to the whole House, including members of the Opposition, who gave their support to the International Development (Gender Equality) Bill to ensure that it went through Parliament. I thank them all very much indeed, because it will do a huge amount to help women and girls throughout the world.
It was a wonderful message that we sent out: that not just the Government but the whole of our Parliament regards the issue of women and girls’ rights and prospects as so important to what we are doing. It is fantastic that my hon. Friend has put his thanks on the record, and in fact most of our thanks go to him for developing the Bill and taking it through.
Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the 297 humanitarian workers in Afghanistan, men and women, who lost their lives in 2002, many of whom were Afghans but also from the expatriate community? In order to continue that valuable work in a deteriorating security situation, measures must be taken to protect human rights defenders. What is the Secretary of State doing about that?
The hon. Lady is right to raise that issue. A lot of the UK Government’s work has been on prevention: improving the underlying conditions for women in Afghanistan. Of course other countries—for example, the United States and Canada—have also focused on helping women who have already suffered physical violence. I assure her that we will continue to work at the national level with the new Government and the new President who will be in place after the elections are finally concluded. We will also work at the provincial level and we will continue, through programmes such as Tawanmandi, to work at the grass-roots level with these organisations, whose people I have met both here and in Afghanistan, to do what we can at an individual community-based level to make sure that those women are supported and can get on with their work. As she points out, some of these people pay the ultimate price. I met someone who was over in London recently who said that she would be happy to lose her life if that is what it took for women’s prospects in Afghanistan to improve in the long term. That was an amazing statement for her to make, and the UK Government will certainly play their role in trying to ensure that people can go about that work safely.
The Secretary of State identified the importance of economic development and of revenue collection. I know that DFID and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs support a number of countries around the world on the revenue development side. Has that been considered for Afghanistan? Is it already happening?
It is already happening; we are doing work with the tax revenue authority of Afghanistan. The good news is that since 2004-05 tax revenues increased from just $250 million to more than $2 billion by 2011-12. So things are moving in the right direction and we will continue that work.
Encouragingly, the Afghan security forces have grown in stature and in strength. It is important that Apache helicopter support is equally strong, so that the actions on the ground and in the air can be equal. What support for helicopter training will be given to Afghan security forces, and will the international security assistance force leave its Apache helicopters behind for the forces to use?
Clearly this issue of going beyond training troops to making sure there is the capability alongside them to support them in the air as well as on the ground continues to be discussed. We are discussing how that can be sustained post-2014. Obviously, that sits alongside the work we are doing to set up the Afghan national army officer academy, which took in its first battalion of officers back in October. This legacy will see a continued improvement and numbers of well-trained army officers coming through, but the hon. Gentleman is right to point out that an equipment and logistics strategy needs to sit alongside it.
The participation of women in the electoral process is to be welcomed, and I thank the Secretary of State for her commitment on that. What commitments have we secured on access to education for women and girls once we have withdrawn?
I have spoken on a number of occasions with President Karzai about how important education is, and he is emphatic that he sees providing it as the biggest thing we can do, long term, to improve the prospects for women in Afghanistan. That is why on my most recent visit there last November I announced further investment by the UK Government to reach about a quarter of a million girls in some of the hardest-to-reach areas to get them into education. This will certainly continue to be a key part of what we work on.
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, getting successful long-term change in that area is extremely challenging work for us. Fundamentally, we need to see security on the ground and then alternative livelihoods that prove more compelling prospects for farmers. The reality is that that is an extremely long-term programme. We will continue to do our work on livelihoods, which ICAI recognised was having a significant impact, but nobody is under any illusion about the scale of the challenge.
May I echo the Secretary of State’s tribute to those whose courage and sacrifice has been shown in Afghanistan, including those, such as Corporal Daniel Nield of my constituency, who died there, and all the armed forces, civilians and intelligence staff who have served in that country? Underpinning the progress of women’s participation, which she and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) spoke about, has been the enormous sixfold increase in the participation of children in Afghan schools—now 40% of them are girls. Does she agree that a whole generation of Afghan girls owe their thanks not only to their Afghan teachers, policy makers and the international community, but to this country, for transforming their life chances?
I agree with that. When the Taliban were in power almost no girls were going to school, whereas now more than 2 million of the 6 million-plus children at school are girls. That is crucial, but, as we see, it continues to be a challenge to make sure that we get equal opportunities for both boys and girls in Afghanistan. That is why our education programmes particularly focus on getting girls into school.
Twenty Afghan interpreters have died while serving with British troops and 3% feel they are going to be unsafe if they remain in Afghanistan after the troops withdraw. How many have applied to come here since the Secretary of State’s last statement? How many have been given permission to do so? How many have been refused?
I do not have those details with me, but I am happy to provide them to the right hon. Gentleman after this statement. As he will be aware, we looked particularly at the issue of interpreters and, more broadly, local staff who are intimidated and at risk as a result of being part of our efforts to help bring security and stability to Afghanistan. We have a very thorough process for making sure that where there is extreme risk of intimidation we are able to take further steps that go beyond simply helping people get into different work in Afghanistan to potentially relocating them. What I propose to do is send him a short note updating him on what we are doing for interpreters, and the extent of progress and use of that scheme.
Afghan electoral law requires a run-off election if no candidate achieves more than 50% in the presidential election. The run-off election has already been postponed and it has been suggested that it might not need to take place if one of the candidates can develop a majority coalition. Does the Secretary of State agree that the rule of law should prevail and the run-off election should take place? What can her Department do to ensure that that happens?
We all want to make sure that the electoral process happens effectively, and I talked about the need for it to be fair, inclusive and transparent. DFID has done a huge amount of work with other donors supporting the United Nations programme to make sure that that can happen. We will all have to see what happens in the second round of the presidential election, but what we can say from the first round is that, basically, the process worked: most of the polling stations were open as planned; people were able to get to them and to cast their vote; and where there were complaints those are now being assessed by the complaints commission. That is a good first step but, as the hon. Gentleman points out, there are challenges ahead. We will continue to do what we can to make sure that those presidential elections are successful.
The long-term security and development of Afghanistan is very much influenced by the regional context and Afghanistan’s neighbours. Given that there will be a change of Government in India on Friday, will the Secretary of State speak with her colleagues in other Departments to try to impress upon India and Pakistan the importance of resolving regional security issues, as that would be of great benefit to Afghanistan in the long term?
I met the Prime Minister of Pakistan a couple of weeks ago when he was visiting the UK and I raised with him the issue of the importance of this relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan and, in particular, of improving it. That applies both from a political and security perspective, which is crucial, and because of the economic opportunities that are there for both countries if they can get stability and then start to grow the economic relationship. That also stands true for India, and I have no doubt that my colleagues in the Foreign Office will follow up on the point the hon. Gentleman has made.
May I, too, ask about poppy growing? My constituents in Kettering wish to know what has been done, what is being done and what can and cannot be done to tackle poppy growing without endangering fragile local economies in Afghanistan, which remains the major source of heroin that comes into the western world.
Principally, there are two strands of work in which DFID has been engaged. One has been to work alongside the Home Office on a counter-narcotics strategy that has involved working with the Afghan police and the security services. The second is the work on livelihoods. We all recognise how difficult it is to get communities to change practices and livelihoods in which they have been engaged for so long. We have undertaken work in this area, but recognise that more needs to be done, which is why we want to stick with this for the long term.
The Secretary of State and her Department will be aware of the huge mineral reserves and resources that exist in Afghanistan. What discussions has she had with the Administration in Kabul about the distribution of licences for the exploitation of those resources, what benefits are there for local people, and who in the long term will get the riches out of Afghanistan?
That is an important question. We have seen in other countries how mineral extraction has filled the pockets of the few and how the opportunity for shared prosperity has been missed. We do not want to see that happen in Afghanistan. The value of minerals in Afghanistan is estimated to range from $2 trillion to $3 trillion. There is a huge opportunity there. DFID has worked with the Afghan Ministry of Mines on the minerals law, which has, I think, now passed through Parliament. That should provide a legal framework for responsible investment. We will be doing further work to ensure that those concessions that the Government give are ones that ensure not only that companies profit from extracting minerals but that Afghanistan itself starts to reap the rewards of having those resources.
In a recent debate in the House, Members raised the important correlation between inclusive economic growth and respect for all human rights, including freedom of thought and belief. What discussions have my right hon. Friend and her colleagues had with the Afghan Government about that important relationship in respect of economic development?
We talked more broadly about the economic and social progress that Afghanistan needs to continue to make, which includes people’s human rights. Obviously, a constitution is in place now. Part of the Tokyo mutual accountability framework was all about ensuring that that constitution gets implemented and holds for individuals in their daily lives on the ground. It is good that, two years on from that Tokyo meeting, we are having a ministerial meeting to look at development. We need to see not only that donors are living up to the commitments that they made—the UK is—but that the Afghan Government are getting on with the process of reform, economic development and security improvements, not least of which is the final signing of the bilateral security agreement.
The Secretary of State mentioned the upcoming NATO summit in south Wales and the inevitable focus on Afghanistan at that summit. She will no doubt be aware of the significant Afghan diaspora communities in south Wales. What discussions has she had about outreach and the potential engagement of those communities, many of which are making a massive contribution not only to communities in south Wales, but to peace, development and stability in Afghanistan? Perhaps her officials will meet me to discuss how we can take that matter forward.
That is an excellent suggestion. We are working across Government in preparation for the NATO summit. It is fantastic that we are hosting it, and that we are hosting it in Wales. I very much want to make the most of that opportunity to reach out to those diaspora groups that the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned.
The Commission for Aid Impact gave an amber-red rating for a third of the projects, including the growth in livelihood project, which is relatively poor. Does the Secretary of State think that there is an argument for looking again at the process by which development officers identify, select and allocate funding to those projects?
One thing I have tried to strengthen in DFID is programme management capability, which includes the way in which and the speed with which we respond to programmes that are not on track. We look at Afghanistan, and other such places, because it is such a challenging environment for us to deliver and monitor projects while they are happening on the ground. The hon. Gentleman raises a perfectly good point, and I can assure him that this is a good time for us to look at our Afghanistan programme given the transition that has taken place in the delivery of our projects—some of our projects used the provincial reconstruction team in Helmand, but now we have retrenched within Kabul. I assure him that we are planning ahead to understand what the next three-year outlook should be for our livelihoods programmes and to make them a success.
The Secretary of State is right to emphasise the importance of regional economic integration for the future of Afghanistan. Will she say a bit more about how the UK Government can influence regional players to ensure that that integration becomes a reality?
The Foreign Office has played an important role in bringing together Afghanistan and Pakistan in so-called trilateral talks, which were hosted here in the UK. Our Prime Minister led those talks with the Prime Minister of Pakistan and President Karzai of Afghanistan. That gives us a good platform for playing a constructive role. My Department is talking with countries in the region about their infrastructure needs, which will potentially provide the backbone for economic growth to take place successfully.
Progress has undoubtedly been made in Afghanistan, and one can only hope and pray that, in the years to come, the sacrifice of our brave service personnel will not be forgotten. The Secretary of State quite rightly alluded to the participation of females. She talked about 297 women contesting provincial council elections, but she did not say how many candidates there were in total.
I can provide the hon. Gentleman with that information. Something like 480-plus council places were being contested as part of the elections. A minimum of 20 will go to women, so we expect at least 92 women to have been elected. I will provide him with an update of the male aspect of those elections once I get back to my Department.
The Secretary of State recognises the enormous social and economic progress made in Afghanistan. Therefore, can we once again pay tribute to our armed forces for the selfless sacrifices they have made over the past decade to make that progress possible?
We can never say thank you enough to our servicemen and women for their efforts and work. I have had the privilege of meeting them when I have been out in Afghanistan. It is not just what they do but the way that they go about it—their professionalism, their attitude. They really represent the cream of our country. I think they have done an amazing job. They have been working in a country that has seen so much conflict for so many decades, and are finally starting to get it on track for a long-term better future. We can be immensely proud of the role that our armed forces have played.
I also pay tribute and associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments about our armed forces personnel, including those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. My constituent Sergeant Gary Jamieson lost three limbs in an improvised explosive device attack only six days after arriving in Afghanistan. In 2012 the International Development Committee visited Afghanistan, and we were disappointed to see that a lot of DFID staff were deskbound for security reasons. That inevitably affects our ability to measure progress on the ground. Has that situation improved?
I have also considered what steps we can take to enable our staff to be better placed to get out in the field and monitor projects. We do as much as we can but, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, duty of care and making sure our staff are safe is of paramount importance. We must take that into account when designing our programmes, so that we understand what the risks are in relation to our challenges of monitoring and evaluation and we amend our programmes accordingly.
I know that the Secretary of State will share the concern of many of us that the number of women and girls who have been killed and injured in Afghanistan has increased, possibly threefold in targeted areas. Why does she think that is and what measures has her Department put in place to help tackle this awful crime?
On the ground in Afghanistan we see a continued daily physical threat to many people all over the country, whether they are a journalist, as we saw recently in Kabul, part of the security service or the army, or a woman. The challenge is to ensure that although we still see such challenges we do not back off from trying to tackle them. We know that the Taliban needs to engage in the peace and reconciliation process if we are to see long-term stability for Afghanistan. Ultimately, DFID can continue to help create the best possible conditions on the ground for women to play a role, take part in elections, have a voice in their community and have the chance of education and employment. That is the role that we can play.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On the vexed issue of appropriate workplace grievance procedures, what colleagues across the House need is a funding mechanism contained within their office budget that allows them and their staff to access independent dispute mediation services that are entirely separate from the House of Commons and its political parties. Will you kindly promote this need further in your routine discussions with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the Members’ personal advice service?
I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his thoughts on all matters and he has encapsulated them very pithily in that point of order. The issue of the grievance procedure is ongoing and is the subject of much wider discussions, so I think the fairest thing for me to say today is that I have noted what he has said. The Leader of the House will have done so, too, and I feel sure that there will be further opportunities for those concerns and alternative ideas to be aired. I hope that that is helpful.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise this point of order with some reluctance. There are rumours running across the House that a decision has been made or is about to be made that the security of the House of Commons will be turned over from the Metropolitan police to a private provider, such as G4S. As this rumour has been in the newspapers and is running around the Palace of Westminster, can you put our minds at rest that it has not and will not be decided?
Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, who has been in the House for 35 years this month, that we simply do not discuss security matters on the Floor of the House. I say to him in all candour and amiability that if he wants to discuss such matters we can do so, but we do not do so on the Floor of the Chamber. Suffice it to say that I know about these matters and am very comfortable about the interests of the House, and I know that the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House also know about these matters. We are all very sanguine. It would be irresponsible to get into a discussion of these matters on the Floor of the House and whatever sedulous temptations are lobbed my way I do not intend to do so. I am sorry, but we must leave it there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the point of order raised earlier in the week by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), I would like to raise the issue of Members visiting other constituencies on parliamentary or official business. I know that you have spoken in the past of this matter and of your disappointment that prior and timely notification is not always given by colleagues. In recent months, no fewer than five shadow Ministers have visited my constituency without giving notice. I have raised this issue on a case-by-case basis with them and, indeed, had a meeting with the shadow Chief Whip, but this discourtesy continues. I do not wish to name the Members involved, but in the interests of clarity I should be grateful if you reminded the Opposition that parliamentary convention dictates that prior and timely notification is required from all colleagues.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. For the avoidance of doubt, let me just say that this matter has regularly been raised by Members on both sides of the House, frequently referring to Members on the other side of the House. As Members would expect, I am being strictly and scrupulously impartial and this is not a question of one side needing to get the message rather than the other. The convention is, I think, clear. If an hon. Member is visiting the constituency of another hon. Member on parliamentary or official business, in which category I include party political business, there is an obligation to notify the Member whose constituency is to be visited and to do so in a timely way. I appeal to Members on both sides of the House faithfully to adhere to that convention and in that spirit I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the point and for doing so in the way that he has.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier, during Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said in response to a question from me, “I think he will find that the quotes that he has given are not accurate.” First, I did not read out any quotes in my question, and secondly, what I reported to the House about what the head of Pfizer said about job losses and cuts in research following a takeover is entirely accurate. Do we have any redress when the Prime Minister thinks that he can casually traduce an hon. Member just because the facts are inconvenient to him?
I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that he is continuing the debate. He is doing his best to suppress a puckish grin, as he is perfectly well aware that such redress as he sought has just been made available to him through his use—some might say abuse—of the points of order procedure. I think we will leave it there for today. By the way, the hon. Gentleman says that he has been traduced. I have known him for 13 years and have never regarded him as a particularly delicate or sensitive soul and he bears no scar as far as I can tell—[Interruption.] No more than the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) feels any scar, I suspect, from our robust exchange earlier. He is a good-natured colleague and I think he understands the spirit in which proceedings need to be conducted and the importance of making progress. It is good to see him back in his seat.
Food Labelling (Sugar Content)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that sugar content on food labelling be represented in terms of the number of 5ml spoonsful per 100g; and for connected purposes.
The intention of the Bill is simple: to have the number of teaspoons of sugar contained in a food product clearly displayed on the front of the packaging. I declare my interest as a type 2 diabetic. I am glad to see the Minister responsible for public health and the shadow Minister responsible for public health in their places today.
Sugar is a killer. High-sugar diets are the main contributor to two of the most serious health risks facing the United Kingdom today: obesity and diabetes. People are simply not aware of the amount of sugar they are eating. Our annual sugar intake is 33.7 kg per capita, which is equivalent to eating nearly 34 average-sized bags of sugar each year. That is 15.4 kg higher than the world average and the United Kingdom is the 18th largest consumer of sugar in the world.
The dangers of sugar have been known for many years, but fragmented regulation and successive Governments’ reluctance to act have led to a distinct lack of progress. In 1972, John Yudkin wrote a fascinating book entitled “Pure, White and Deadly”. As the name suggests, the book presents a startling account of how sugar is killing us, addresses why people are so addicted to it and explains that if we do not change our habits we face a crisis. Seen as controversial at the time, Mr Yudkin’s text was bought back into print in 2012 with a foreword from childhood obesity expert Dr Robert Lustig, who viewed the book as prophetic. It seems that there is and has been for many years a widespread desire to remain ignorant of the dangers of sugar, perhaps in the hope that they will cease to exist.
The UK is facing an epidemic of diabetes and obesity. The statistics are alarming. Each year, 59,000 people die unnecessarily as a result. Obesity and diabetes-related illnesses combined cost the NHS an estimated £15 billion a year. Health and nutrition experts involved in Action on Sugar led by Professor Graham MacGregor and Dr Aseem Malhotra recently met and warned the Secretary of State that the cost is likely to rise to £50 billion a year. For diabetes, 80% of the available funding is spent treating preventable complications. If the number of people with diabetes continues to rise at the current rate, it is estimated that in 10 years’ time 5 million British people will have diabetes.
It is clear that, contrary to what Mary Poppins promised, a spoonful of sugar will not help the medicine go down; it will result in people needing more and more medicines. There is a huge knock-on effect of eating too much sugar, given that diabetes and obesity increase vulnerability to other health conditions. In an article in The Spectator, Dr Max Pemberton said:
“As a doctor . . . I’d rather have HIV than diabetes.”
Comparing HIV to my own condition really brought home its severity. Dr Pemberton believes that diabetes sufferers and those treating them are complacent about the condition because of a lack of communication about its dangers. Dr Charles Alessi, chair of the National Association of Primary Care, and Professor John Deanfield of University College London warned recently about the higher risks of diabetes sufferers getting dementia.
The responsibility deal was introduced by the Government in 2011, with the aim of reducing calorie intake by 5 billion a year. Although many companies signed up to the voluntary pledge, there is no legal responsibility to act on their words. Sugar is not even mentioned as one of the benchmarks. Binding legislation, together with the inclusion of sugar labelling, would be much more effective. The Government have acknowledged the huge costs that knock-on health issues caused by excessive sugar consumption bring to the NHS. However, there is no clear action plan towards achieving these laudable aims.
Many retailers make a huge contribution to the problem. For example, WH Smith should be ashamed of itself for forcing its staff to harass customers at the counter to purchase endless chocolate bars. Let us take my weekly stop at junction 15 on the M1 at the Welcome Break in the constituency of the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis). There, an embarrassed shop assistant offers me two chocolate bars for the price of one each time I buy a newspaper. Lidl, to give it credit, has removed sweets from the checkout. I am delighted to tell the House that last week our Tea Room offered only fruit as the last stop before the till, after years of there being only chocolate on offer.
There is still more that retailers can do. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons should lead the way with their own brands offering more no-sugar alternatives. They should also bring in clearer signage in supermarkets, which could focus the minds of shoppers on purchasing healthier products. There should be better layout in shops. Fixtures such as carousels should display only sugar-free products, as is currently done for gluten-free, kosher and sometimes halal foods. That would help busy people locate healthier options much more quickly.
Let us all take one more step in the war on sugar and commit to one sugar-free day a week. When I asked the Prime Minister to do this, as the House may recall, he said he would attempt to do this after asking Mrs Cameron. I intend to table a parliamentary question to see how he fared.
Labelling of food and drinks has improved. All packaged products are required to display a list of fat, saturated fat, calories and carbohydrates in grams, with the percentage of the recommended daily allowance that that constitutes. Many companies, such as Waitrose, have adopted a traffic light system on the front of packaging to allow customers easily to see how healthy a product is by the colour. However, products marketed as low-fat often have a very high sugar content to compensate for the flavour lost in the reduction of fat. A typical low-fat yoghurt contains five teaspoons of sugar, muesli can contain eight teaspoons, a can of coke contains seven teaspoons and a caramel frappuccino sold in cafés near the House contains around 11 teaspoons of sugar. Mr Speaker, could you imagine eating a stack of 11 sugar cubes as you sit in the Chair today, or this week when your and your son Oliver’s beloved Arsenal seek to win their first silverware in nine years? Imagine eating 11 cubes of sugar as you watch that final at Wembley.
I commend newspapers such as The Times and The Daily Express for producing special pull-out charts with information on how many teaspoons of sugar there are in each product. Every household should have such a chart. The main problem with our existing system is that the information on the back of packaging is so small. Unless people are like Gillian McKeith and are attentive to the contents of everything they consume, they are not likely to go around the supermarket with a magnifying glass and a calculator to check the contents of a product. It is not realistic to expect people to work out that one sugar cube weighs around 2.3 grams and to calculate how much sugar a product contains. Sugar labelling with a clear teaspoon sign fills a void that currently exists in people’s understanding. It will expose how much sugar is in each product.
Our country is facing an epidemic as a result of excessive high-sugar diets. People must wake up to the dangers of this addictive and poisonous foodstuff before it is too late. Reforming packaging could help millions of people to improve their health, extend their lives and manage existing medical conditions, and significantly reduce costs to the NHS. Sugar is toxic. It is essential that we act, and I hope the House will support this Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
That Keith Vaz, Caroline Lucas, Mark Durkan, Ann Clwyd, Jim Shannon, Sarah Champion, Dr Julian Huppert, Neil Carmichael, Phil Wilson, Mark Pritchard, Valerie Vaz and Michael Fabricant present the Bill.
Keith Vaz accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed (Bill 210).
Deregulation Bill (Programme) (No. 2)
That the Order of 3 February 2014 (Deregulation Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:
(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.
(2) Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be taken in two days in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.
(3) Proceedings on Consideration–
(a) shall be taken on the days shown in the first column of the following Table and in the order so shown;
(b) shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times shown in the second column of the Table.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the sale of alcohol and amendments to Clauses 45 to 49; amendments to Schedule 18
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to health and safety at work and amendments to Clause 1
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to apprenticeships and amendments to Clauses 3 and 4 and Schedules 1 and 13
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to driving and to roads, railways, tramways and other means of transport and amendments to Clauses 6 to 10 and 30 to 33 and Schedules 2 and 3 and 8 to 10
Three hours before the moment of interruption
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to TV licensing and amendments to Clauses 51 and 52; remaining new Clauses; remaining new Schedules; remaining proceedings on Consideration
One hour before the moment of interruption
(4) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.—(Tom Brake.)
Question agreed to.
[1st Allocated Day]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 5
Sale of alcohol: community events etc and ancillary business sales
‘(1) In section 2 of the Licensing Act 2003 (authorisation for licensable activities etc), after subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) The licensable activity of selling alcohol by retail may be carried on if each sale is a permitted sale by virtue of Part 5A.”
(2) After Part 5 of that Act, insert the Part set out in Schedule (Part to be inserted as Part 5A of the Licensing Act 2003) to this Act.
(3) In section 136 of that Act (unauthorised licensable activities), at the end of subsection (5) insert—
“In addition, for the purposes of this Part the licensable activity of selling alcohol by retail is under and in accordance with an authorisation if each sale is a permitted sale by virtue of Part 5A.”
(4) In section 140 of that Act (allowing disorderly conduct on licensed premises etc)—
(a) omit the “and” before subsection (2)(d);
(b) after that paragraph insert “, and
(e) in the case of premises specified in a Part 5A notice, to the person who gave the notice.”
(5) In section 141 of that Act (sale of alcohol to a person who is drunk)—
(a) omit the “and” before subsection (2)(d);
(b) after that paragraph insert “, and
(e) in the case of premises specified in a Part 5A notice, to the person who gave the notice.”;
(c) in subsection (3), after “This section” insert “(except subsection (2)(e))”.
(6) In section 143 of that Act (failure to leave licensed premises etc)—
(a) omit the “and” before subsection (2)(d);
(b) after that paragraph insert “, and
(e) in the case of premises specified in a Part 5A notice, to the person who gave the notice.”
(7) In section 144 of that Act (keeping of smuggled goods)—
(a) omit the “and” before subsection (2)(d);
(b) after that paragraph insert “, and
(e) in the case of premises specified in a Part 5A notice, to the person who gave the notice.”
(8) In section 147A of that Act (persistently selling alcohol to children)—
(a) in subsection (1)(b), for the words from “either” to “Part 5” substitute “licensed premises, premises authorised to be used for a permitted temporary activity by virtue of Part 5 or premises specified in a Part 5A notice”;
(b) in subsection (4), after paragraph (b) insert “or
(c) the person or one of the persons who gave a Part 5A notice in respect of the premises.”
(9) In section 153 of that Act (prohibition of unsupervised sales by children)—
(a) omit the “and” before subsection (4)(c);
(b) after that paragraph insert “, and
(d) in relation to a sale by retail that is a permitted sale by virtue of Part 5A—
(i) the person who gave the Part 5A notice, or
(ii) any individual aged 18 or over who is authorised for the purposes of this section by that person.”
(10) In section 159 of that Act (interpretation of Part 7), at the end of the definition of “relevant premises” insert “, or
(a) except in sections 145 and 152, premises that (by reason of being specified in a Part 5A notice) are premises on which a sale by retail of alcohol is capable of being a permitted sale by virtue of Part 5A;”.
(11) In section 194 of that Act (index of defined expressions) insert the following entries at the appropriate places—
“Part 5A notice
“relevant licensing authority, in Part 5A
“relevant person, in Part 5A
(12) In section 197 of that Act (regulations and orders)—
(a) in subsection (3) (which lists exceptions to the use of the negative procedure), after paragraph (c) insert—
“(cza) regulations under section 110B(2), (3) or (7) or 110C(2), (3), (5) or (6) (regulations relating to sales of alcohol permitted by virtue of Part 5A),”;
(b) in subsection (4) (which specifies when the affirmative procedure is required)—
(i) after “or (g)” insert “or regulations within subsection (3)(cza)”;
(ii) after “the order” insert “or regulations”.’. —(Norman Baker.)
This amendment, together with amendment NS1, inserts new Part 5A into the Licensing Act 2003 (with consequential provision to other Parts of that Act) to introduce a new procedure for authorising the sale of alcohol where the sale is ancillary to a community event or to the provision of other goods or services by a business.
Brought up, and read the First time.
The effect of the new clause is to create a new light-touch form of authorisation for community groups or certain businesses, such as bed-and-breakfast accommodation providers, to sell small amounts of alcohol under the Licensing Act 2003—the new part 5A notice.
It may be helpful to the House if I first give some background and explain the problem that we are trying to solve with the new measure. Last year the Government carried out an extensive public consultation on various proposals in its alcohol strategy. This of course included our efforts to tackle alcohol harms. On that front we have already achieved much. For example, we have reformed the Licensing Act 2003 and introduced new tools and powers to make it easier for local police and licensing authorities to close down problem premises and crack down on alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder.
At the same time, the Government’s public consultation last year recognised that sometimes regulation can be excessive, even needless. No one wants to stop a responsible drinker enjoying a drink responsibly. The Government’s approach is all about balance. We want to free up the police and local enforcement agencies to tackle alcohol harms while giving them greater discretion to manage low-risk alcohol sales. The Government has also made it clear that it wants to cut red tape and pointless regulations, but I stress that that must not be at the expense of necessary safeguards against alcohol harms. This new measure is about striking that balance.
I do not think that it will increase the consumption of alcohol; rather it will reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, and do so in a way that means that alcohol is consumed in low quantities and safely, as I will set out.
Our public consultation last year recognised that the existing alcohol licensing regime is a touch bureaucratic in some respects. For some small voluntary groups and bed-and-breakfast establishments, for example, the existing premises licences and temporary event notices regimes are pointlessly costly and burdensome. The restrictions and scrutiny are disproportionate for their low-level, low-risk needs. The first of these are the community groups with local membership, including charities and not-for-profit organisations, which carry out activities in local areas and wish to sell small amounts of alcohol at small-scale events throughout the year. I should confirm that alcohol provided as part of a ticket price or in return for a donation is usually defined in law as a sale.
We are thinking here of local groups, such as the women’s institutes or local residents’ groups, or the church choir that wants to offer a glass of wine to audience members in the interval, and other groups who hold occasional events, for example, lunches and plays at which they wish to provide very small amounts of alcohol to attendees. Such groups often operate from different venues in their local communities. Groups such as the women’s institutes, thriving church organisations and other local charities are not just about “Jam and Jerusalem”; sometimes they might also be about a glass of warm beer or chilled chardonnay. But refreshments aside, their wider activities are part of the fabric and lifeblood of thriving local communities, which I hope all in this House support. No one wants to tie them down with unnecessary bureaucracy if we can help it.
The existing options for an alcohol licence are often unsuitable in such cases. The cost of obtaining a single premises licence is between £100 and £1,900 a year, with an additional associated cost of obtaining a personal licence of approximately £75. Temporary event notices must be given each time and only a limited number—12 at the moment—can be allowed each year for the same premises to ensure appropriate safeguards against crime and disorder and public nuisance because they provide for larger scale, higher risk events.
The other group we looked at was small businesses that want to sell small amounts of alcohol in a similar low-risk environment as part of a wider service. We specifically have in mind providers of bed and breakfast or other similar overnight accommodation who may wish to offer a glass of wine or a beer to welcome their guests at the end of a long day’s travel or with an evening meal. Even if not charged for directly, this alcohol is in law a sale. The burden of a premises licence in such cases seems to many, including me, to be excessive.
We did consider options such as directly exempting such activity from the licensing process and consulted on other ideas such as greater local discretion on temporary event notices. However, the coalition Government is committed to tackling the harms that alcohol can cause, as I mentioned a moment ago, and recognises the need for important safeguards to guard against those harms and the risk of loopholes. We believed that creating a new tailor-made authorisation was the best option.
In the response to the public consultation on alcohol, we announced our intention to create a new authorisation called the community and ancillary sellers notice. This will be a cheaper, simpler and easier alternative to other types of authorisation, such as a premises licence or using multiple temporary event notices. Since that announcement, we have been working with colleagues across Government to develop the proposal. It has been designed to remove unnecessary licensing burdens and costs for community groups, and for some small businesses in the licensing process, so it is right that it should be part of the Deregulation Bill.
As the Minister with responsibility for the alcohol licensing regime and for measures to enable local areas to tackle alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder effectively, I have been keen to ensure that we have in place the necessary safeguards against harm. Deregulation must not be at the expense of undermining public safety or public health. That is why, although the Government looked seriously at whether it could help groups such as hairdressers and florists with this measure, it has decided that it should not, and so will not. Under the new community and ancillary sellers notice, as the schedule sets out, eligible groups or individuals will be able to sell small amounts of alcohol between 7 am and 11 pm in limited, low-risk circumstances during the period of 36 months.