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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
03 July 2014
Volume 583

House of Commons

Thursday 3 July 2014

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—

National Lottery Funding

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1. What steps he has taken to promote national lottery funding to sport, heritage and arts groups in the past 12 months. [904613]

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Through the work of the national lottery promotions unit and individual national lottery distributors, we continue to raise awareness of funding for good causes. Demand for lottery funding continues to outstrip supply, with over £1.5 billion spent on national lottery projects in just the past 12 months.

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The Heritage Lottery Fund recently made a large contribution to the new visitors centre at Bletchley Park in my constituency and also paid for the restoration of some of the old codebreaking huts. May I invite my right hon. Friend to visit Bletchley Park to see for himself what a vital role the Heritage Lottery Fund plays in preserving the heritage of the country?

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I have visited Bletchley Park a number of times, as I am sure all hon. Members have done, to look at its vivid story and see how that is brought to life. I would be more than happy to do so again. It is a fitting tribute to the remarkable men and women who worked there, including a wonderful woman in my own constituency, Betty Webb, who served there. I am delighted that Bletchley Park has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for its restoration. My hon. Friend is right to give credit to John Major, as he has done in the past, for setting up the fund.

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The Secretary of State may know that as chair of the John Clare Trust, I have been the beneficiary of quite a lot of Heritage Lottery funding. I am delighted with it and would like more for projects going forward in my constituency, but will the right hon. Gentleman remember that it does not replace a Government committed to culture and heritage?

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I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman supports the work that the fund is doing for the causes that he holds dear, which are very good causes. The principle of additionality is very important and the distributors must adhere to it at all times.

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The Secretary of State will be aware that alongside the national lottery, society lotteries contributed £145 million to good causes in 2012-13 and could provide a lot more if the prizes, draw and turnover rules were deregulated. His Department has long promised a consultation on this but has yet to publish it. In the light of the recent Centre for Economics and Business Research report on society lotteries, can he tell the House when the consultation might come?

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Changes in lottery and gambling markets have made it clear to us that the consultation on society lotteries should be more wide ranging than we had previously thought. The Gambling Commission is providing us with further information and advice, and we are planning to conduct the consultation later this year.

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The Arts Council announced this week that 99 organisations will be financed solely by the national lottery and it has to cut support to 58 other arts organisations because of the huge cuts in the Department. Local authorities have also been forced to reduce support to arts organisations. Given that London gets 20 times as much philanthropic money per person as the rest of the country, does the Secretary of State agree with the statement from the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) that arts organisations that cannot raise philanthropic funds are totally misguided and “pathetic”?

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The hon. Lady will know that I do not agree with her. She knows that Government grants for arts funding have been cut because the Government of whom she was part left our country with the largest deficit in the industrialised world and left us with very difficult decisions to make. The good news is that the Arts Council receives funding from other sources and, taken together with total funding of almost £3 billion during the life of this Parliament, the level of funding is virtually unchanged from the situation in the previous Parliament.

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Given that many regions, particularly in the north, generate disproportionately more revenue for the national lottery, what further steps will the Government take to ensure that other regions where more money is generated get their fair share of sport, heritage and arts funding?

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The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that important point about the regional distribution of the funds. It is something we discuss with the lottery, and I shall be taking it up with it further.

Superfast Broadband

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2. What steps he is taking to ensure that superfast broadband is available in remote areas of the UK. [904614]

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The Government’s broadband programme will provide superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises by 2017. In February 2014 we announced nearly £3 million in further grant funding to support superfast coverage in Cornwall.

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One of my constituents who runs a small business in a not-spot area purchased satellite broadband after being told that they would not get a fibre-optic connection. Can they now bid for some money if Cornwall council is successful to enable other connections, and will it cost people more for any other type of connection?

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Superfast Cornwall has a satellite broadband offer for premises that currently have slow-speed broadband and are not likely to gain a fibre-optic connection. The grant of almost £3 million that the Government gave in February in phase 2 will help increase coverage. My hon. Friend’s constituent can make an application to Superfast Cornwall, and that will be a decision for it to make. We are making progress on the issue, but I agree that there is much more to do.

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10. Finland and Sweden will cover about 99% of their populations with 4G networks capable of delivering high-speed broadband, but the UK’s model of coverage with 2G and 3G has failed many people in rural and island areas. Will the Secretary of State consider a different approach to 4G for rural areas, including mast-sharing and controls on rents at mast sites, especially as 4G will deliver up to 30 megabits and might wirelessly reach areas that cable broadband might not reach? [904626]

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The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that there has been a significant increase in superfast broadband coverage since 2010, rising from 45% to 73%, but there is much more to do. There has also been a significant change in 4G coverage in the UK, which many people use for broadband, as he rightly highlights. For example, O2, which has a licence for 4G, is committed to extending it to 99% of the country.

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rose

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Order. I do not know why this question was not grouped, but I will treat it as though it had been. Mr Stephen Metcalfe.

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7. Linford and parts of East Tilbury and West Tilbury in my constituency fall between the Tilbury and Stanford-le-Hope exchanges, which means that a small but significant community will not benefit from either the commercial roll-out of superfast broadband or the Government-funded programme. What options do I have to ensure that those residents are not disadvantaged by a geographic anomaly? [904623]

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My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the Government have announced additional funding of £10.72 million for Essex under phase 2 of our superfast broadband programme. The local project team for Essex should be able to advise him on the revised coverage targets. The Government have also announced eight market testing pilots to explore supply solutions for improving broadband coverage beyond 95%.

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The analyst, Redburn, has pointed out that claims that the UK is doing well on superfast broadband are

“only true using a rather unambitious definition of superfast”.

A number of European countries now have over 20% fibre- to-the-home penetration, with symmetric 100 megabits- per-second services. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), told me in a written answer on 23 June that he does not know how much of that we have in the UK, but the industry estimates penetration to be about 0.5%. Surely we need to be doing much better.

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The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that superfast coverage in the UK is the highest among the EU5 countries; it is higher than Germany, higher than Spain, five times higher than Italy and three times higher than France.

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I was pleased when the Government announced the awarding of the contract to look into ways of using satellite to bring superfast broadband to remote areas of Scotland that fibre-optic cables cannot reach. It is very important that that work is done as soon as possible. What time scale does the Minister envisage for bringing superfast broadband to remote areas of the highlands and islands by satellite?

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These pilots began in June, so they are very recent and it will take a number of months before any results are known. We have deliberately picked a number of different companies with different types of technology to ensure that we learn as much as we can. I envisage that we will have more information in six months.

Tourism Industry

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3. What steps he is taking to support the tourism industry. [904615]

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The tourism industry is central to the Government’s long-term economic plan, which is why we are investing over £177 million, including partner funding, in the GREAT campaign and other international and domestic marketing campaigns. We recently re-launched the Tourism Council, a partnership between industry and the Government.

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The Suffolk coast is well known as a very attractive place to visit, with its open skies, beaches and cultural offerings. You are certainly most welcome—both you, Mr Speaker, and the Secretary of State—as the shadow Secretary of State will know. However, also adding to the long-term economic plan will hopefully be the construction of Sizewell C. My local businesses have understandable concerns about the impact of the construction phase on tourism in the area. Can he offer any helpful advice?

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The hon. Lady wins her badge for the corps diplomatique.

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I can tell my hon. Friend that I will be more than happy to visit. I am sure that Mr Speaker has been a number of times himself. The Suffolk coast is indeed beautiful—it is a jewel in Britain—and everyone should be encouraged to visit. She will know that I cannot comment on any planning application that is taking place, but she will be pleased to know that the Government will continue to work hard to promote Suffolk through VisitEngland and other organisations. The wonderful Suffolk coastline featured in VisitEngland’s “Coastal Escapes” marketing campaign was funded by the regional growth fund.

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The NATO summit in Newport provides an opportunity to promote Wales to the world, boosting tourism and the wider economy. What discussions are the UK Government having with the Welsh Government to ensure that the summit has a distinct Welsh flavour?

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We work very closely with the Welsh Government on these issues. There is a lot to be gained from cross-co-operation, and a number of initiatives are in place.

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8. Inbound tourism is as strategic a sector for this country as advanced manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, and the Tourism Council presents an opportunity for it to punch its weight. Will my right hon. Friend set his sights high in terms of productivity, skills development, and co-operative working on distribution channels in marketing this country to the world? [904624]

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I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know, as will other hon. Members, that last year inbound tourism hit a new record high of 33 million visitors spending a record amount of £21 billion in the UK. He rightly points out the importance of improving skills, and we are working with the Tourism Council on that.

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Despite recent sporting setbacks, our enthusiasm remains at fever pitch. Will the Minister, like me, be among the 3 million people it is anticipated will go to watch the start of the Tour de France this weekend? The Grand Départ will showcase some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside. Will he join me in wishing Yorkshire every success in hosting this event and wish every participant well, and, of course, success to our British riders? What is he doing to ensure that the event goes smoothly and that the region continues to benefit from the boost to tourism that it will get from hosting this event?

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I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the Grand Départ taking place in Yorkshire. It is a very important sporting moment for the UK. I will be visiting on day one, on Saturday, and I look forward to seeing him there. The Prime Minister will also be visiting, and the sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), will be helping as well.

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14. Fylde is the golf capital of Lancashire, with outstanding courses including the Open championship course at Royal Lytham and St Annes. What are the Government doing to ensure that Britain is getting the most out of this lucrative section of the tourism market? [904632]

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My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that VisitBritain has a specific initiative on promoting golf throughout the UK. That campaign is showing early signs of working, but we will be looking to see what more can be done.

FIFA: Corruption

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4. What recent discussions he has had with England's international football representatives on allegations of corruption within FIFA. [904618]

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These are very serious allegations. Of course, major sporting events need to be awarded in an open, fair and transparent manner, but, as the Prime Minister has already said, we need to wait to see the results of Michael Garcia’s inquiry before discussing next steps.

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I thank the Minister for that very cautious response. I have just finished two years as chair of the sports committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and I am its rapporteur on corruption and governance in sport. Now that the investigative journalists of The Times have revealed how much corruption is going on, and Greg Dyke has spoken out very boldly on this, does the Minister agree that it may be time for a Joint Committee of the House to look at this question in some detail before the beautiful game is mired by the behaviour of FIFA?

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I am very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss his suggestion; I thank him.

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What discussions is the Minister having with her colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and with football governing bodies to bring about an end to the abuse of the migrant workers who are facing very serious human rights abuses building stadiums in Qatar?

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The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We of course expect Qatar and FIFA to ensure that the rights of all migrant workers are upheld and respected.

Mobile Telephone Coverage

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5. If his Department will commission research on methods of improving mobile telephone coverage; and if he will make a statement. [904619]

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We need to improve mobile coverage in the UK, and I have been discussing with Ofcom and the mobile network operators what more can be done. The mobile infrastructure project will extend coverage to remote and rural areas that currently have no coverage.

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Many visitors from the European Union travel by ferry to my constituency of Dover and, because of international roaming, those from France get better mobile coverage than my own constituents. How can this be?

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As usual, my hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is true that French nationals who visit the UK get better coverage than his constituents because of international roaming. I encourage operators in the UK to go further and I am discussing the issue with mobile operators and Ofcom. No firm decisions have been taken at this point, but it is a very important issue.

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May I commend my right hon. Friend on his efforts to extend mobile coverage, but is he aware that many of my constituents have been without any mobile coverage for nearly three weeks due to Vodafone having to remove a mast from premises that the landlord required it to vacate? Will he consider looking at the electronic communications code to see whether it can be strengthened to give the same sorts of rights that already exist for other utilities, such as water and electricity?

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I was not aware of that particular issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but now he has raised it I will certainly look into it and see whether we can help. The electronic communications code is a very important issue and I am looking into it right now, because I agree that it was set up for a different age and there need to be significant changes.

Broadband

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6. What comparative assessment he has made of the extent of broadband coverage in the UK and other EU member states. [904620]

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As the House has already heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the UK’s broadband coverage is among the best in Europe: 73% of premises can access superfast broadband compared with just 45% in 2010. Government investment will drive superfast coverage up to 95% by 2017.

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Sadly, rural areas will be left behind. I understand from NYnet that Thirsk, Malton and Filey will have only 78% coverage by 2015-16. Given that farmers will have to apply digitally for farm payments from 2015, they will be grossly disadvantaged. Will the Government please make it a top priority to ensure that those who have the weakest coverage will be fast-tracked to superfast broadband?

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We certainly will. NYnet is one of our most effective programmes and I praise the county council for its effective work. We have already passed 120,000 premises under this programme. We will have reached 170,000 by next spring and we have allocated further millions to take coverage even further.

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The EU is a very big area, but Bridle road in Stanfree in Bolsover is relatively small. They told me to ask the appropriate Minister to sort out the broadband that they have been messing about with for four years in that Bridle road, Stanfree area. They must have a letter—get it sorted.

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After a question such as that, it beggars belief that the Labour party would not have such a man on its national executive committee. On this side of the House, when the hon. Gentleman speaks, we act.

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I am tempted to just say to the Minister, “Somerset—get it sorted.” The good news is that two more communities in my constituency—Fivehead and Milborne Port—will be connected over the next few months, but there are a lot of villages in exactly the position described by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) that will not be connected. Does the Minister recognise how critical Somerset’s bid to the superfast extension fund is in filling in some of those gaps and getting broadband to the rural areas that desperately need it?

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Yes, I do. The whole point of all the completely justified questions that have been asked is that people want broadband. That is why we are putting £1.2 billion into rolling out rural broadband and why total funding of something like £70 million from BT, European funding and Broadband Delivery UK is going into connecting Devon and Somerset. More than 250,000 premises are planned to be networked and we have allocated a provisional £22 million for the next phase.

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This issue is not just a rural problem. At my recent business event, companies told me how lack of access to fast broadband is seriously hampering their businesses. How will the Minister ensure that areas on the edge of major urban centres also get superfast broadband?

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The whole point of the rural broadband programme is to help the areas she speaks about. Local councils are in charge of the roll-out, so they should know best where the money should go first for the most impact. As I say, we have had phase 1 to get to 90%; we now have phase 2 to get to 95%; and the money we have allocated for new technologies will give us the figure we need to get to 100%.

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In some cases, the only way to improve broadband speeds is to install a new cabinet. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the cost of such installation is within the scope of the Government’s assistance scheme?

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My understanding is that, where appropriate, new cabinets can be installed under the scheme. Much of the scheme will be for funding the upgrade of existing cabinets, but occasionally it can be for a new cabinet.

First World War Centenary

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9. What steps he is taking to ensure that Commonwealth countries are included in the commemorative events planned for the first world war centenary. [904625]

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The important contribution of all our Commonwealth partners will be commemorated as part of our centenary programme, starting with a service of commemoration on 4 August in Glasgow cathedral.

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It is right that we honour the remarkable sacrifice of so many members of the Commonwealth during the first world war, including the 40,000 Indian and Anzac casualties at Gallipoli. Will the Minister assure me, as someone whose father fought and so nearly died in that controversial campaign, that the centenary events for Gallipoli next April will include full recognition of the contribution of the 27,000 French casualties and the 120,000 British casualties at Gallipoli?

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As my hon. Friend will know, Gallipoli is one of our key dates in the Government’s programme. My Department is working very closely with the embassy in Ankara to ensure that the event at Cape Helles on 24 April next year marks the British and Commonwealth contribution appropriately. We are also working with the Gallipoli Association on a UK-led event, and I would welcome my hon. Friend’s input into its planning.

Regional Museums and Galleries

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11. What steps his Department is taking to encourage (a) national collections and (b) the royal collection to loan works of art to regional museums and galleries. [904627]

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First, may I welcome my hon. Friend to the Chamber? This is the first opportunity I have had the chance to welcome him to the House.

In 2012-13, national museums sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport lent objects to more than 1,500 museums around the country through touring exhibitions, star object loans, loans of local significance and long-term loans.

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Regional museums would benefit from a much more active programme of loans from national museums, which are sitting on hundreds of thousands if not millions of works of art that are rarely if ever seen by the general public. The Secretary of State recently viewed the site of the new Newark national civil war museum, which is a perfect example of a regional museum that would benefit from active loans from national institutions. What can the Department do to encourage national museums to review their civil war collections and to loan them to our museum in Newark?

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I know for a fact that the Secretary of State thoroughly enjoyed his visit to the new National Civil War centre, which was awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund of £3.5 million in 2012, and we look forward to its opening next year. I am certainly happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss what we can do to encourage loans of civil war objects from national museums, but it is important for the House to remember that national museums are of course independent and do not simply do what the Government tell them.

Broadband: Wales

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12. What assessment he has made of the success of the broadband roll-out programme in Wales and that programme’s effect on the tourism industry in Wales. [904628]

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Independent research estimates that the Government’s investment will generate £20 for every £1 by 2024. Wales has received almost £70 million from the UK Government for the roll-out of superfast broadband. We are confident that this will benefit the Welsh tourist industry, as well as the Welsh economy more generally.

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My hon. Friend will be aware that I consider his Department’s decision to allocate funding for rural broadband to the Welsh Government to be a mistake. A total of £120 million has now been allocated from taxpayer funds for the roll-out of broadband in rural Wales, yet my constituents and businesses in the tourist sector in my constituency are no nearer to getting any answers from the Welsh Government about when and where they will have roll-outs. Does my hon. Friend agree that transparency is crucial when £120 million of taxpayer funding is being spent?

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It is important that roll-out is as transparent as possible—people need to know when broadband is coming to their area. More than 160,000 premises have been passed but I am sure that Opposition Members will have a word with their Labour colleagues in Wales to encourage them to be more transparent with my hon. Friend.

Tour de France

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13. What long-term cycling legacy he expects from the Tour de France Grand Départ in Yorkshire. [904629]

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There has been a strong legacy of cycling from the London 2012 games and I am sure that the Grand Départ in Yorkshire will inspire cycling across the region and the UK as a whole.

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I sincerely hope so. I know the Minister will join me in congratulating City of York council and the other local authorities involved, along with the cycling organisations, on all the preparations they have made for the race. In terms of public participation, cycling is the third most popular sport in the country. The biggest single disincentive for cyclists is the state of the roads and the danger. Will her Department set up a joint initiative with the Department for Transport to improve road safety and so get more people on their bikes and cycling?

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I think that the Tour de France Grand Départ will be a tremendous success. All plans are on track, and I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking all those involved in the preparations—the teams in Yorkshire, Essex, London and Cambridge. It will be an amazing highlight for the year and one we will never forget. I am happy to have a chat with him about his suggestion. Thank you.

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We are uncharacteristically ahead of schedule today, but as all the principals are present we should now proceed straight away to topical questions.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [904603]

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Although England’s footballers and Andy Murray have sadly fallen, our sporting season is still in full swing. This weekend sees the climax of the Wimbledon championships, the grand prix at Silverstone and the Tour de France Grand Départ, as we have just heard. Politicians who wish sports stars well seem to jinx them, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of Mark Cavendish’s rivals the best of luck.

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The additional £5 million arts funding allocated to Hull this week is very welcome, but is a drop in the ocean compared with the money that goes to some of our national institutions, such as the National Theatre, which gets £18 million a year. What pressure can the Secretary of State bring to bear on national institutions to make sure they do everything they can to support our national city of culture for 2017, bearing in mind that Hull has had a 25% cut in our council funding during this Parliament?

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I know that the hon. Lady is as excited as I am that Hull is the city of culture for 2017. It won against strong competition and has done extremely well. She is right to point out the recent announcement of additional funding from the Arts Council. It also announced that Hull will become a major partner museum, which is a significant step forward. The Hull initiative for 2017 and beyond will boost the local economy and jobs, which I am sure she will welcome. I am happy to look into what more can be done to help.

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T2. Given BT’s virtual monopoly in contracts for superfast broadband and the problems with that company that have been raised by hon. Members today and previously, is it not about time that the Government held an inquiry into its performance, or would that be better done by the competition authorities? [904604]

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The National Audit Office conducted an inquiry. I am confident that BT is doing its job incredibly effectively. We are passing a total of 20,000 premises a week with broadband, and that figure will soon be up to 40,000 a week. More than £60 million has been allocated to Lancashire and more than 130,000 homes there will get superfast broadband as a result.

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The evidence before the Leveson inquiry laid bare the pain and suffering caused to victims of press abuse. The press felt they could act with impunity as there was no proper complaints system, and all parties in both Houses agreed to a new system of independent self-regulation for the press. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the appointment of David Wolfe as chair of the recognition board for the new press complaints system? Does he agree that the rest of the board should be appointed as soon as possible, and will he join me in encouraging the press to establish and put forward for recognition a Leveson-compliant, independent regulator so that there is an effective complaints system that is independent of both politicians and the press?

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As the right hon. and learned Lady points out, there was rightly a cross-party approach on this important issue. The key to that consensus was that whatever transpired needed to be independent of Government and that there needed to be a self-regulatory body. I will not comment on anyone who is appointed to the recognition panel, because I do not believe that that is a job for Government. It is an independent process and the Government, including my Department, have no role in it. It would therefore not be proper for me to talk about any individual.

As for whether a body should apply for recognition, it is up to the body to decide whether the incentives that we have put in place are enough to encourage it to join. The Government have done what they set out to do.

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T3. Last week, I organised a music skills day at Glossopdale community college in my constituency in conjunction with UK Music, at which more than 100 students from across High Peak learned about the different skills in the industry. The Secretary of State will know that the creative industries are a big economic force in this country and earn about £70 billion each year for the economy. The music skills event gave young people information about the opportunities to work in that sector. Will he say what else is being done to provide even more support to the creative industries across the country? [904605]

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. I join him in welcoming the work of UK Music in promoting careers in that industry to young people. Just this week, a report showed that the creative industries have added more than £70 billion to the economy over the past year and that they employ more than 1.7 million people. Employment is growing five times faster in that sector than in the rest of the economy. Just yesterday, I helped to launch the industry-led creative industries strategy, which is full of more good ideas.

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T4. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the excellent Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and other arts organisations based in Newcastle upon Tyne on their successful Arts Council bids? In doing so, will he acknowledge that there is still a problem with the disproportionate amount of private sector arts funding—the figure is 82%—that is drawn into the capital and not to the regions of England, and consider the remedy that is set out in “Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital”? If he has not read that report, I commend it to him. [904606]

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I am very happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums—it is a fantastic place that I have visited on at least one occasion. I am pleased that following the Arts Council settlement the balance between London and the regions has shifted in favour of the regions. As he knows, I believe that every arts organisation around the country is capable of raising private funding and should be doing so.

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T5. I thank the Minister for the assistance that he and Ofcom have given the community radio station in my constituency, MKFM, in its bid for a permanent FM licence. Will he assure me that he will continue to do all he can to assist such community radio stations to expand the vital service they provide to local communities? [904607]

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My hon. Friend has made an excellent case for MKFM—his excellent local community radio station. I am very pleased that the independent regulator, Ofcom, listened and included MKFM on its timetable for early consideration for an FM licence.

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T6. Ministers will know that cyber-bullying is a growing problem, particularly among teenagers, but the offences fall, confusingly, between five different Acts. Is it not time for Ministers to talk to their colleagues in other Departments to bring about a specific offence of cyber-bullying that mirrors the offence of harassment in the real world? [904608]

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I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I work closely with the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims and the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), on the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s representations have been heard and they will be considered in the usual way.

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T9. Will the libraries Minister join me in congratulating Northamptonshire county council’s library and information service on being named the best council services team at this year’s Municipal Journal awards? Whereas other local authorities are closing libraries and cutting opening times, the Conservative council in Northamptonshire is extending opening to seven days a week and extending the range of services on offer, and has recruited more than 600 library volunteers. [904611]

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Libraries are funded and run by local authorities, and it does not surprise me that an excellent Conservative local authority is investing in its libraries.

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T7. I congratulate the Minister for creative industries on his outstanding work in encouraging international film makers, especially from Bollywood, to come and make their films in the United Kingdom. Does he agree that it is important that that helps with jobs, growth and the diversity of UK film making? [904609]

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I am very pleased to have that question from the right hon. Gentleman. Although we obviously welcome investment from the west coast of America, particularly yesterday’s announcement by Warner Bros. that it will be filming J. K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts”, it is important to remember that Bollywood is bigger than Hollywood, and we need also to encourage Indian film makers to make films in this country with our excellent crew and casts.

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T10. To reinforce points already made this morning, what assurance can the Minister give my constituents in Stroud valleys and vale that they will have access to broadband so that their businesses and lifestyles can thrive? [904612]

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We are putting more than £1 billion into broadband roll-out. We continue to invest to take it to 95%. I will happily work with any Member to ensure that the broadband rural programme goes smoothly in their constituency.

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T8. The theme of much of this morning’s exchanges has been broadband and mobile coverage. Will the Minister meet me and other interested rural and island Members of Parliament to discuss how proper 4G coverage on a Swedish or Finnish model may help the aims of comprehensive mobile and fast broadband coverage in the years to come? [904610]

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Broadband is going extremely well in the UK, mainly because we are better together. We are working with Scotland and Wales to roll out broadband and 4G coverage. The hon. Gentleman should not be so modest: we have outstripped a lot of the Scandinavian countries. We have just laid 400 km of undersea cable to the highlands and islands. That could not have been done without the UK Government working with the devolved Government to bring broadband to our rural areas. We are better together.

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Tourism is a major economic generator in Colchester. Does the Minister agree that the best way to support tourism is by reducing VAT on tourism to 5%? Will he have a chat with the Chancellor, please?

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As my hon. Friend knows, VAT is a matter for the Chancellor. We keep all taxes under review, but there is no plan to reduce tax for the tourism sector.

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Sarah Hunter from North Tyneside is part of the England women’s rugby squad. Despite what the Minister said earlier, will he join me in wishing Sarah and the team the best of luck as they head off to the women’s rugby world cup in Paris this summer?

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I wish her and her team the very, very best of luck.

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I enjoyed visiting that wonderful rainbow festival, London Pride, over the weekend in our capital. It has become a magnet for hundreds of thousands of tourists, who enjoy the rich diversity of the United Kingdom.

With the ability to convert civil partnerships into marriage later this year, does the Secretary of State believe that there is even more to celebrate in pride festivals throughout the UK in the coming months and years?

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My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I agree with him. He may be interested to know that the Government will today lay the draft regulations for converting civil partnerships to marriage. The Government previously said that the cost of conversion would be calculated on a cost recovery basis, and that is correct. We had indicated about £100, but I am happy to say that, in almost all cases, the cost will be £45. It would be unfair to charge couples who were in civil partnerships before same sex marriage was available, so I am pleased to announce that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has agreed to waive the conversion fee for one year from 10 December.

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Tourism is important to my constituency of Strangford. It definitely brings jobs and opportunities, as promoted by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Will the Minister consider joint tourism promotions with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board so that we can benefit from tourism throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

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I will consider all good ideas and sensible suggestions to promote tourism in this country, and I am happy to have a chat with the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, VisitBritain and VisitEngland do a good job in promoting the regions and the nations.

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Will the Minister join me in welcoming two pieces of excellent nautical news for Portsmouth harbour? Not only will it play host to Sir Ben Ainslie’s new America’s cup sailing team hub, but today it welcomes Oceans of Hope—the first yacht to complete a global circumnavigation with a working crew with multiple sclerosis, including my Gosport constituent Phil Gowers.

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Of course I congratulate them, and I think the Oceans of Hope project is fantastic. The crew are a real inspiration and deserve our warmest congratulations.

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The Minister will no doubt be aware that Northern Stage’s excellent adaptation of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” closed at the weekend at Richmond, following a successful nationwide run. What is the Minister doing to ensure that regions outside the north-east benefit from the excellent cultural talent that we produce?

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The latest round of Arts Council funding has pushed more money out to the regions, and I am particularly pleased about the new £15 million fund it has set up specifically to support talent outside London, and to keep people outside London working in our regional theatres and doing innovative work.

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With extreme brevity please, Mr Philip Davies.

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Earlier this week I visited GamCare at its headquarters in Clapham to see the wonderful work it does helping people with problem gambling. May I urge the Secretary of State and the Minister to go themselves to listen to the counsellors, as I did, and to get their perspective on what we can best do to help people who sadly develop a gambling addiction?

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My hon. Friend makes a good point. GamCare has been to see me, and I am happy to arrange a visit in the coming months.

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I forgot to welcome the Secretary of State, so I do so warmly and ask whether he will support our all-party effort to get at least 150 MPs to read a poem of the countryside, and raise funds to get kids from poorer parts of our country out to the countryside this year?

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I certainly will; that is an excellent initiative. Since A. E. Housman came from my constituency, that would be a good start.

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There is concern that the Government’s approach to allocating funding for the superfast broadband extension programme will leave most rural areas at a disadvantage. What help and assurances will the Minister give to constituents in the villages of Rumburgh, St James and Ringsfield that they will not be penalised?

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The principle behind the programme is that we allocate funding in order to get to 95% coverage. We expect local authorities to match that, and we will then work with them to target the areas where it is needed most. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the best way forward.

Women and Equalities

The Ministers for Women and Equalities were asked—

Rights of Women and Girls

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1. What recent discussions she has had with her counterparts overseas on protecting the rights of women and girls internationally. [904633]

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The Government are committed to the protection and promotion of women’s rights in the UK and internationally. I met many of my overseas counterparts at the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict last month, which brought together 128 country delegations, UN agencies and civil society. We discussed how best to achieve that aim, including providing opportunities for international collaboration and the exchange of best practices.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. What can the Government do to help prevent distressing cases such as that of Mariam Ibrahim which arose simply because she was a Christian?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this case, and pleased that Mariam Ibrahim and her family have now been released. They are currently staying at the US embassy in Khartoum. The British embassy in Khartoum continues to follow the case closely and is in close contact with the defence team. We continue to raise our concerns about this case and the broader human rights situation in Sudan with the Sudanese authorities, including with a recent delegation of Sudanese female MPs whom I met. We will continue to work bilaterally and in international forums such as the UN to tackle violence and all forms of discrimination against women.

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Ministers are right to draw attention to the appalling sexual violence faced by women and girls in conflict, but we also have responsibilities when women seek sanctuary in the UK. Will the Minister set out what action is being taken following the serious allegations and concerns about operations at Yarl’s Wood detention centre?

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The hon. Lady is right, and it is important and extremely welcome that the Government set up last month’s global summit. Those who seek asylum in the UK need to be offered protection, and the Government are committed to making our asylum system more gender sensitive. We have made significant progress, including putting in place new enhanced guidance supported by high-quality training for all decision makers. Women who seek asylum can request a female interviewing officer and interpreter. They can also bring a friend with them to interviews to provide emotional support if needed.

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In last night’s Adjournment debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) talked about the case of the abducted girls in Nigeria. He made the point that the problem is not that those girls were abducted, or that others have been abducted since, but that many are at risk and are no longer going to school. Will the Minister look at that speech and prepare a written statement on behalf of her Department to respond to the points my right hon. Friend made?

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I certainly will look at that speech—I am afraid I did not have a chance to read it in full before this morning’s Question Time. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that one of the tragedies of the situation that has evolved in Nigeria is that the girls who were abducted were doing exactly the right thing—they were in school and taking exams. We absolutely do not want to put girls around the world off their education. The UK remains committed to helping to find the schoolgirls. I shall look at the speech and think about how best to respond.

Gender Pay Gap

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2. What steps she is taking to close the gender pay gap. [904634]

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I call Minister Jo Swinson. Welcome back, Minister.

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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. It is good to be back. May I place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott) for the fantastic job she did in covering my maternity leave?

The full-time pay gap has now been almost eliminated for women under the age of 40, but we must close the gap across all ages and for part-time workers. We are promoting transparency through the “Think, Act, Report” initiative. As the pay gap is partly driven by the different sectors and jobs in which men and women work, we are encouraging girls and young women to consider a wider range of careers through the “Your Life” initiative.

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I, too, welcome the Minister back to her place. The Equal Pay Act 1970 dates back some 44 years, so why does the Minister think that last year the difference between earnings for men and women went up and not down, and why have women in their 20s seen the gender pay gap double since her Government came to power?

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The 0.1% increase in the pay gap in the past year is certainly not a sign of things going in the right direction, although it was a very small increase. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the fact that 40 years after equal pay legislation, it is not good enough that we still have a pay gap in this country. We need to look at the causes of that pay gap, which might include time out of the workplace. The new flexible working entitlements regime that came in this week will help to change the culture of our workplace. As I mentioned, we need to look at occupational segregation. We also need to look at discrimination and outdated attitudes when women are not being paid the same for the same work. We need to change that, which is why we are working with businesses.

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What more can be done to get women to consider a wider range of careers, particularly in science and engineering?

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My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. Only 7% of engineers are women. That difference in the sectors is a significant driver of the pay gap. The problems start very early in children’s lives, so we need to look at the messages that are being put out through the education system but also more widely in the media regarding stereotypes and what young girls are encouraged to aspire to. We are encouraging parents and schools to have the information they need to assist their children.

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I, too, welcome the Minister back.

Progress on narrowing the pay gap has all but come to a standstill. Progress was much quicker under Labour, so will the Minister admit that narrowing the gap by 0.1% in four years is just not good enough?

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I certainly agree that we need to ensure that we close the pay gap. This is an important issue. It is ideal if we can work with employers to do so. The “Think, Act, Report” initiative means that 200 employers covering 2 million employees in the work force are working to improve the situation for women. They have already made significant steps forward since joining up and since that initiative started in 2011. Two thirds of those employers say that they now publish more information on gender pay. Nearly half of them now do pay audits. That would not have happened without this Government’s initiative, but we have said that we will keep the issue under review, because we need success.

Global Economy

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3. What discussions she has had with her counterparts overseas on the contribution of women and girls to the global economy. [904636]

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In June I met many of my overseas counterparts at a global ministerial round table at the global summit of women held in Paris. This event brought together business, professional and governmental leaders to explore strategies and best practices in accelerating women’s economic progress worldwide. The most important task for the UK Government, as for the rest of the global community, is to build a stronger, fairer economy capable of delivering lasting prosperity. Women and girls are essential to the UK’s economic growth.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that comprehensive reply. What issues were identified in those recent discussions?

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What was really interesting about going to the international summit—it was the same when I went to the Commonwealth summit in Bangladesh last year—was just how many of the same issues we share around the world in terms of enabling women to play their full part in economies. We talked about gender equality, parental leave, returners to work, supporting older workers, women’s access to finance and the importance of coaching, mentoring and role models in encouraging women to set up their own businesses.

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Last week we had national women in engineering day. As the Minister says, only 7% of professional engineers in this country are women. What she did not say is that that is the lowest figure in Europe. In eastern European countries, the figure is 30% and countries such as China and India are far ahead of us. In her conversations, will she see what we can learn from other countries that are more successful?

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When I speak to counterparts overseas, I always engage with the lessons Britain can share and what we can learn from other countries. I am proud to represent Loughborough university, which has, I am told, the highest number of female engineers in the country. I understand that last night the hon. Lady was at the Royal Academy of Engineering awards, where more than one half the rising stars awards went to female engineers. There is, however, more progress to be made.

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We want young girls to achieve and to travel the world. Many young girls want to get into business and to travel. If they do not have science and maths as a basis for getting into business and getting good careers, they will not succeed.

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I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I assume that he supports the EBacc and that he welcomes the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), who I think has done more than anyone else in recent years to triumph and to talk about the importance of all students, particularly girls, studying science and maths. [Interruption.] I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman was there supporting her, too.

Female Entrepreneurs

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4. What recent progress she has made on encouraging women to set up their own businesses. [904637]

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The Government offer a wide range of support to women entrepreneurs—for example, the new enterprise allowance, mentoring, business advice and start-up loans. I also recently announced a £1 million challenge fund specifically to support women to move their businesses online and take advantage of superfast broadband. We know these measures are making a difference, with more women running their own businesses than ever before.

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Which particular areas have the Government identified where we can celebrate the success of women entrepreneurs?

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There are many different areas, but let me just pick one. The latest statistics from the Federation of Small Businesses show a dramatic increase in the number of women starting up businesses in the retail sector, and high streets across the country are seeing the benefit. Half of all small businesses established in retail in the past two years are primarily owned by women. That is in stark contrast with 20 years ago, when it was less than a quarter. That demonstrates the fundamental role that women are playing in helping the country to recover from recession. I hope that Members on all sides of the House will encourage retail businesses on their high streets to apply for the Future High Streets Forum’s Great British high streets awards.

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Nobody doubts the Minister’s commitment to equality, but why are there so few black and Asian women sitting on the boards of our companies?

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It is a very good question. There is no doubt that more progress is needed. Earlier this week I was at an event for the 30% Club, which has been campaigning for a voluntary business-led approach, started by Lord Davies, to get more women in particular on the boards of companies. Part of that is about working with executive search companies and asking the chairmen of companies to think differently about appointments. Often the traditional and expected route of a CV is not something that women or others, particularly from black and minority ethnic communities, can put forward. We need to broaden the way in which chairmen of boards, and the boards themselves, appoint new directors.

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6. The rise and rise of women in business is boosting growth and opportunity across the country. We have an inspiring role model in Gloucester, in the first female editor of the Gloucester Citizen in its 138-year history, Jenny Eastwood. The chair of the Gloucestershire local enterprise partnership, Diane Savory, is one of only three female chairs of the 39 LEPS. Will my right hon. Friend join me in recognising their achievements, and in encouraging both Jenny and Diane to do even more to promote new female “Gloucesterpreneurs” like Sarah Churchill of the award-winning Artisan Kitchen? [904640]

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on coining the new word “Gloucesterpreneurs”, and I hope that he will campaign vigorously under that slogan over the next few months. I am happy to join him in congratulating Gloucestershire Media on its Women in Business awards. Through the work of the Minister for Cities—my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark)—and the Deputy Prime Minister, the Government are focusing on regional growth, city deals and the power of local enterprise partnerships, and on encouraging growth outside London. That is why I am particularly pleased to hear about the new female entrepreneurs in Gloucester who have set up businesses during the past few years.

Participation in Sport

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5. What recent steps the Government have taken to encourage access for, and participation by, under-represented groups in (a) grass-roots and (b) professional sports. [904638]

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Sport England and UK Sport are committed to achieving equality in grass-roots and elite sport. They invest in a range of expert bodies to work with sport to remove barriers to participation among under-represented groups.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that we might achieve even more success in international sporting competitions if our sporting authorities had deeper contacts among ethnic minorities, and were able to use their expertise in what we might consider to be minority sports, but what in their countries of origin are majority sports?

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My hon. Friend has made an interesting point. UK Sport and national governing bodies capitalise on a wealth of diverse global expertise in order to get athletes on to the podium. Sport England also invests in organisations such as Sporting Equals to promote physical activity and diversity in all sport.

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I know that I speak for a certain proportion of people in this country who were dreadful at sport at school and never improved thereafter. What will the Minister do to encourage people who have never had a positive experience of sport to take our necessary exercise by that means?

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The hon. Lady has made a very interesting point. I would say that there is a sport out there for absolutely everyone. We need to listen to what people want, and give it to them.

Marriage Certificates

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7. What steps she is taking to ensure that mothers' names are included on marriage certificates; and if she will make a statement. [904641]

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The content of marriage registers has not changed since civil marriage was introduced in 1837, so it is about time we took a further look. I have discussed this matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and we are currently considering a range of options.

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The Minister has referred to a range of options. Given that Labour changed the law in respect of same-sex couples and adoption back in 2002, what consideration has he given to ensuring that any changes that may be made to marriage certificates reflect the fact that many individuals now have legal parents of the same sex?

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I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has raised a very important point. When the rules were drawn up in 1837, equality was not a priority for our society. Today, thankfully, it is, so those are just the kind of changes that we are considering.

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Can the Minister tell us how much it would cost to bring marriage certificates into the 21st century? If he cannot, why are his colleagues in the Home Office team saying that it would be too expensive? What price do he and the Government place on equality?

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If the hon. Lady had been listening carefully, she would have already heard the answer to that question; I talked about civil partnerships earlier. We have rightly said that when people are converting civil partnerships into marriage, having entered into those partnerships before same-sex marriage was available, we will waive the fee. I think that that demonstrates the Government’s priorities.

Business of the House

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Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

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The business next week will be as follows:

Monday 7 July—Estimates day [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate on universal credit implementation, followed by a debate on the implementation of the common agricultural policy in England. Further details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows: There will be a debate on universal credit implementation: monitoring DWP’s performance in 2012-13, Fifth Report from the Work and Pensions Committee, HC 1209, Session 2013-14, and the Government response published as Second Special Report, HC 426, Session 2014-15.

The lead Department is Work and Pensions.

There will be a debate on the implementation of the common agricultural policy in England 2014-20, Seventh Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, HC 745, Session 2013-14, and the Government response published as Seventh Special Report, HC 1008, 2013-14.

The lead Department is Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.]

At 10 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Tuesday 8 July—Second Reading of the Modern Slavery Bill, followed by proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill.

Wednesday 9 July—Opposition day [4th allotted day]. There will be a debate on the subject of education, followed by a debate on housing supply. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 10 July—There will be a general debate on the UK’s justice and home affairs opt-outs.

Friday 11 July—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 14 July will include the following:

Monday 14 July—Consideration of a Bill, followed by a motion to approve the first report from the Committee on Standards on the respect policy.

Tuesday 15 July—A motion on the retirement of the Clerk of the House, followed by Second Reading of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill.

Wednesday 16 July—Opposition day [5th allotted day]. There will be debates on Opposition motions, including one on the subject of health.

Thursday 17 July—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 18 July—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall will be as follows:

Thursday 10 July—A debate on the second report of the Work and Pensions Committee on the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system.

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I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. On Monday, we will have the first allotted day for the debate on the estimates. That is an arcane and opaque process that does little to scrutinise the actual spending of the Government. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need to reform the estimates process to ensure real scrutiny? Will he support my call for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to answer questions in the Chamber on the estimates, separately from the Budget, and for each Cabinet Minister to have a yearly Budget question and answer on spending in their Department?

On Tuesday, we will debate the Modern Slavery Bill, which the Opposition support but which in some areas does not go far enough. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether his Government will accept our amendments to provide statutory legal guardians for child victims of trafficking, and greater transparency in supply chains to ensure that companies do much more to prevent slave labour?

Yesterday, private Members’ Bills were formally introduced. Labour Members brought forward a series of Bills to tackle the scourge of zero-hours contracts, to strengthen the minimum wage and to protect the NHS. However, all Conservative Members could do was cheer yet another Bill on the UK’s membership of the European Union. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] They are at it again. While we bring forward practical solutions to the crisis in living standards, all they can do is bang on about Europe.

It has been a year and a half since what was billed as the Prime Minister’s last speech on Europe, but what have we seen since? A Prime Minister too afraid to stand up to the Eurosceptics in his own party has been suffering rebellion after rebellion. The more they bully him, the more he appeases them by picking fights in Europe. The trouble is that he keeps losing. Only this Prime Minister could come to the Chamber and claim that losing 26-2 is actually a triumph. If that is what success looks like, I would not like to see what happens when he fails.

We have a PR Prime Minister who cannot deliver the goods. He promised to protect the NHS and keep waiting lists down, but four years later cancer waits have increased by nearly half. Two thirds of people cannot see their GP within two days and the A and E waiting time target has now been missed every week for almost a year. Instead of getting his facts wrong and smearing the Welsh health service, the Prime Minister should listen to the chair of the British Medical Association, who said that the NHS is

“palpably fraying at the edges”.

Will the Leader of the House finally admit that people cannot trust the Tories with the NHS? Will he arrange for a debate in Government time, so that the Secretary of State for Health can come clean about the scale of his failure?

The Government are living in a parallel universe. The Chancellor claimed that we are “all in this together” but Government figures show that in the last two years 1 million more people fell into absolute poverty. Lord Finkelstein, the Tory peer and one of the Chancellor’s closest confidantes, let the cat out of the bag recently when he said that future Tory cuts will

“undoubtedly fall on poor people”.

Does the Leader of the House agree with him, and will he tell me whether Lord Finkelstein was present last night at the Tory summer ball, where, I am told, a bottle of champagne was auctioned for £45,000? [Interruption.] Was that cheap champagne? We now know that last year’s event was attended by six billionaires, 73 financiers, the owner of a strip club and the judo partner of Vladimir Putin. While the Chancellor’s hedge fund mates and dodgy donors are getting tax cuts, millions of Britons are living in poverty, and now the Chancellor’s ally says they can only expect it to get worse. So can the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on the meaning of “all in this together”?

The Conservatives recently tried to rebrand themselves as the workers party. They produced that beer and bingo advert aimed at people they think of as proles, but this week they have had to abandon a photo-shoot for working-class MPs because they could find only 14 of them. That is far fewer than went to Eton. It is becoming harder for them even to pretend they are in touch with real life: the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway) thinks that Londoners who cannot afford the soaring rents should get on their bikes to Manchester; the family business of the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) is buying up swathes of social housing, trebling rents and threatening mass evictions; and a Tory councillor in Coventry thinks that people who use food banks are selfish.

The Tories say they have changed on Europe, they say they have changed on the NHS and they say they have modernised the Conservative party, but we all know the truth: no matter what spin they put on it, it is the same old Tories.

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I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for responding to the business statement, and to her and her colleagues for giving me the opportunity to announce the business for next Wednesday. She asked about reforming the estimates. As she knows, I am not proposing any reform of the estimates process as such, but Select Committees have considerable latitude and potential to undertake inquiries on departmental expenditure plans and, through the Liaison Committee, to bring forward, on estimates days, opportunities for the House to debate those. I recall that when I was Health Secretary the Health Committee undertook an annual substantive inquiry on all aspects of the health budget. That is not true of all Select Committees, but it is an important pointer to the direction in which we may go. She will be aware that the Public Administration Committee is in discussion with the National Audit Office and often emphasises the importance of NAO support, not only to the PAC but to other Select Committees, in the scrutiny of departmental expenditure.

The hon. Lady asked about the Modern Slavery Bill. Its Second Reading is coming up next week, so, if I may, I will leave things until that debate. We agree on the principles, and I hope the legislation will be of substantial importance. We need to get it right, but, working together, not least with the benefit of the pre-legislative scrutiny, which has been important in that context, I am sure we will have an opportunity to respond to the issues she mentions.

The hon. Lady referred, as did the Leader of the Opposition, to the NHS. I remind her that the Prime Minister was in no sense smearing the NHS in Wales. On the contrary, he was setting out some simple facts. The decisions that the Labour party has made on the NHS in Wales should be understood by people in England as well as by people in Wales. The Labour party has cut the budget for the NHS by 8% in Wales, whereas this year this coalition Government are increasing the budget for the NHS by £3.5 billion. Over this Parliament the NHS budget will increase by £12.7 billion—that is a real-terms increase. That is what is enabling the NHS to deal with rising demand and the very large number of additional patients: 1.3 million more accident and emergency attendances; more than 1 million more in-patient admissions; 6.5 million more out-patient appointments; and 3.5 million more diagnostic tests. Those are substantial increases in demand, and the NHS, with a small real-terms increase, is coping extremely well with that—better than in Wales, where the budget has been cut. For that reason, the latest report—the 2014 report—from the Commonwealth Fund in America put the UK at the top of its comparison of leading health systems across the world. We can be proud of that. All the data on which it is derived, contrary to what the shadow Health Secretary was saying, relate to the experience of the people in this country, in the health service, under this coalition Government.

The hon. Lady asked about private Members’ Bills. I am looking forward to debating those Bills, not least the EU Referendum Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) on 17 October. I do not understand why she thinks that that matter is not important to the people of this country. If the European parliamentary elections did nothing else they demonstrated that it is important to the people here. Let me say something that is quite unusual for me. The hon. Lady should listen to Len McCluskey and Unite, because they are telling her party that it should be supporting a referendum on our relationship with Europe.

The Prime Minister’s speech, the Bloomberg speech, was important as it made it clear to the people of this country that they had a right to expect us to enter into a renegotiation of our terms that would lead to reform and give them a choice. As the Prime Minister has said, at the end of the day it is the people of this country who will have a choice. He has fought and won in Europe before. He won in getting us out of the banking bail-out in which the Labour party would have left us. He got the budget cut. When we had a Labour Government, they gave away part of the rebate. Our Prime Minister protected the rebate and cut the budget, and that is important. He will win those battles again.

Finally, I did have the pleasure of going to the summer party last night. I did not see my noble Friend Danny Finkelstein—[Interruption.] I did not buy the champagne, which was bought not for drinking purposes but because it was signed by Margaret Thatcher. [Hon. Members: “Yes!”] The highlight of the evening was not the auction but a speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who illustrated the positive achievements of this coalition Government and the increasing likelihood of a Conservative victory at the next general election.

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rose

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Order. I gently remind colleagues that they might like to focus their questions on next week’s business.

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Can we have a debate on the eminent suitability of Derby as the location for the HS2 college? The land is vacant and it is a brownfield site. We can offer apprenticeships and everything that the HS2 college requires, and we are celebrating 175 years of the rail industry in Derby. It is the best place in the country for such a project, so I wish to have a debate on that.

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I understand and applaud my hon. Friend for her support for that project and for her constituency. She will know that the HS2 college will act as a national college, operating on a hub and spoke model, with a main site linking a network of providers across the country. We launched a consultation to identify the most suitable main site for the new college. Bids were assessed and four locations were shortlisted: Derby, Birmingham, Doncaster and Manchester. Those locations gave presentations to support their bids on 27 June, and a final decision on the preferred site will be taken by Ministers shortly.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Foreign Secretary to make an urgent statement in which he condemns the murder by Israeli terrorists of the Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped yesterday? The murder was the outcome of the hysteria that was deliberately provoked by the Israeli Prime Minister following the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Will he ask the Foreign Secretary to send our sympathy to the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir; to join the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, who has described the murder as “sickening”; and to make it clear to the Israelis that we expect nothing more than the hunting down and bringing to justice of the murderers of this poor boy?

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The right hon. Gentleman rightly calls these murders sickening, as are all murders of teenagers. The Government very much condemn the abduction and murder of the Israeli teenagers and the abduction and murder of the Palestinian teenager. It is vital that those who are responsible are held accountable, and in that respect we welcome Israel’s commitment to bringing those responsible to justice and President Abbas’s firm condemnation of the abduction of youngsters. It is essential, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, to avoid any action or rhetoric that could lead to further loss of life, and events such as these highlight the importance of reaching a negotiated two-state solution with the benefits that that would bring to all Israelis and Palestinians. I will of course, as he asks, draw his comments to the attention of the Foreign Secretary. As he knows, the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues are assiduous in keeping the House informed of events in the middle east. These events and others in the middle east are of serious concern.

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BT is still using its position as a monopoly supplier to hold up the roll-out of rural broadband. May we have time to discuss that in this place? I have just had the latest list from my constituency and it is pitiful how many places have been enabled. The time has come to send a clear message to BT from the House of Commons that we have had enough of its using its position to blackmail the people of this country and to slow down high-speed roll-out.

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As my hon. Friend knows, BT has won many contracts across the country to provide the roll-out of broadband. As he will have heard during questions to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the overall progress of broadband roll-out is now very impressive, but we must ensure that it reaches many parts. We both know how frustrating it is that, despite the rapid increases in demand for broadband services, in areas where the infrastructure for superfast access to broadband has not been put in place, services are deteriorating rather than remaining stable. It is vital, and I endorse what my hon. Friend says: we need BT and other contract providers—but principally BT—to be well aware of the requirements to put every effort into meeting and, if possible, exceeding their contractual commitments on superfast broadband.

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I endorse everything said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), but on a domestic issue raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), may I suggest that we have a statement or a debate on political funding so that we may try to find out how many Ministers have been involved in meetings and social events with some of the richest people in this country in order to raise cash? Must the Tory party always prostitute itself with an election looming? And the Tories have the impertinence to criticise trade unions!

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I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no prohibition on social events, although perhaps he wishes for one; I am not sure. As far as I am aware, only one political donation in this country buys influence and that is the political donation made by the trade unions to the Labour party, with £12.6 million donated by Unite since the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) became the hon. Gentleman’s leader. They are now demanding the appointment of a Cabinet Minister for trade unions, no less, whose purpose will be, they say, to bring home the bacon. Since they already decide the candidates for the Labour party, determine the policy of the Labour party and effectively control the leadership of the Labour party, that is some bacon—or perhaps I should say some bacon sandwich.

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Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the publication of the Chilcot report? As someone who attended the debate and changed my mind on how to vote because of what the then non-working-class Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons, I think that it is essential that the Chilcot report is published as soon as possible without redactions so that the House can judge the veracity of what we were told on that momentous occasion.

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Those of us who did not support the invasion of Iraq in 2003 are as anxious as my hon. Friend to see the Chilcot report. In his letter of 28 May to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir John Chilcot said that it was the inquiry’s intention to submit its report to the Prime Minister as soon as possible. I can tell the House that it is the Prime Minister’s hope that it will be able to do so before the end of the year. The Government will not comment on the Iraq inquiry before the publication of the report.

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Each and every time a Government Minister is asked about zero-hours contracts, they reference their hope to ban exclusivity clauses, but there are far more problems associated with zero-hours contracts than that, and many other ways in which people are exploited. May we therefore have a debate on zero-hours contracts in Government time?

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The hon. Lady will be aware that the provision that Ministers refer to is in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill. There will be an opportunity, as I announced in the provisional business, for that to be debated.

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Control of discretionary social funds passed from the Department for Work and Pensions to local councils on 1 April 2013. In the first year, my local Labour council, Redcar and Cleveland, turned down 91% of applications from people in need and spent only £256,000 of its £765,000 allocation. May we have a debate on how councils are making use of these discretionary social funds?

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My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, which might benefit from an application for an Adjournment debate, not least because there may be other Members elsewhere in the House who feel strongly, as he does, about this and their local authority’s decisions.

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Boxing, swimming, running and cycling, though not all at the same time, are incredibly well followed and practised sports across Northern Ireland. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the legacy of the Commonwealth games so that we can see how the benefit of those wonderful games will be applied to sportspeople across Northern Ireland?

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The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I do not know whether we have time available before the Commonwealth games for such a debate. We are very much looking forward to the Commonwealth games, which will be a tremendous event, and to the opportunity to see this country, not least Scotland, showcasing itself as a venue for great sporting achievement. In that context, in Cambridge and in my constituency, we are also very much looking forward to seeing the Tour de France coming through on Monday.

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At the end of this month NatWest bank proposes to close the final bank branch in Harrow Weald high street, which will have a devastating effect on businesses and individuals in the area. The key point nationally is why banks are allowed to close the last branch in a high street. May we have a debate in Government time on the future of retail banking and the effects on the high street?

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I know that my hon. Friend raises a point that will be of interest to many Members across the House, not least at the moment when there is a sort of secular change taking place in the structure of retail banking, with the withdrawal of retail banking from many high streets, including in my own constituency, and the loss of the last remaining bank in some villages. It is difficult to go anywhere else for that kind of access. My hon. Friend and other Members might exploit the opportunity, through the Backbench Business Committee or otherwise, to see whether there is demand among Members for such a debate. He is a member of the Backbench Business Committee, so I know that he is familiar with how that Committee works.

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Back in 2010, when I believe the Leader of the House was the Health Secretary, a promise was made to fund a paediatric neuromuscular consultant post for Birmingham. Would he be interested in a debate in which he can tell us what steps are needed to turn that into reality?

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I do not recall the detail in relation to that, so I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to update the hon. Gentleman and me.

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It is two years since the Chancellor halved the bridge tolls on the Humber bridge, and figures out this month show that local car users have saved £19 million in crossing tolls. At the same time the number of Humber bridge crossings have gone up. Businesses have also saved money through the halving of heavy goods vehicle tolls. May we have a debate next week on how our long-term economic plan is helping the Humber? That would give us an opportunity to explain to the House why the HS2 college should be in Doncaster.

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I am glad that my hon. Friend can illustrate with evidence the success of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced. It is part of the broader process of ensuring that we have effective infrastructure to support the growth that our long-term economic plan is generating. I am delighted that it is having that effect on infrastructure, as well as on employment, which is going up, and on the deficit, which is coming down, and with taxes now being able to be brought down and with education and skills being promoted, not least through apprenticeships. That is all very much part of the long-term economic plan for regeneration on Humberside.

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During the first and second world wars the majority of engineers in Britain were women, yet today women make up only 7% of the engineering work force, the lowest percentage across Europe. Iceland has 43%. May we have a debate on how we can ensure that women understand that engineering is a first-class career option, for example with companies such as Ford in Bridgend?

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I have every sympathy with what the hon. Lady says and absolutely agree with the principle of trying to bring more women into engineering. Clearly that is very much in our interests, by supporting the further rebalancing of the economy and the growth in manufacturing. It has been pursued by successive Governments. I remember working as a civil servant, way back in 1980, on the Young Engineers campaign, and Women into Science and Engineering was established at that point too. That was 34 years ago and we have still not succeeded. We must ensure that engineering is at the forefront of careers advice, that there is support for the right courses and, indeed, that engineering role models are made available to young women.

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May we have an urgent debate on the independence of think-tank charities? Last year the Institute for Public Policy Research took up to £40,000 in donations from the TUC and then published a report calling for—wait for it—more trade union power. It looks more like a sock puppet than an independent think-tank charity.

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I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say. He might want look for opportunities to raise the matter himself, perhaps in an Adjournment debate. In any case, I think that it is an important subject for all of us to be aware of. Wherever we are engaged in public policy making, I hope that it will be evidence-based and objective. One of the Nolan principles is objectivity. That should be as true for those who seek to influence policy as it is for those who make it.

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Last night I attended a function organised by the all-party group on rail in the north at which Northern Rail set out its future investment programme. Unfortunately, it will only go as far north as York. At another recent meeting, Network Rail outlined its proposals for the next control period, none of which will go beyond York. The current disparity in public infrastructure spending between London and the north-east is 520:1. May we have a debate on when this Government will put that right?

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The hon. Gentleman will be aware, not least from the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s speech at the beginning of last week, of the importance that we attach to the further promotion on infrastructure that enables all parts of the United Kingdom to have maximum access to the economic growth being generated by this Government’s long-term economic plan. High-speed rail will clearly make a significant difference, but there are many other projects being promoted by Network Rail. I will draw the attention of the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport to the point the hon. Gentleman makes as we approach the publication later this year of the infrastructure plans for the next 10 years.

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rose

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Order. It is both exceptionally cheeky and thoroughly disorderly for the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) to be seeking to catch my eye at business questions, for which he arrived almost half an hour late. I do not doubt that he has a point of the highest importance in his mind, and of which he thinks the House needs urgently to be informed, but there are other mechanisms, including points of order, whereby he might be able to realise his objective. Meanwhile, I am concerned for his leg muscles and advise him to remain in his seat. I call Mr Nigel Evans.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker; I will ask my hon. Friend’s question for him.

I want to be helpful to the shadow Leader of the House because of her view that Conservative Members are rabid fanatics obsessed with the issue of Europe. Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate on Europe in order that we can praise the Prime Minister for his valiant standing up for British interests against the election of President Juncker? We could also look at reform of Europe. There has to be something wrong when we spend £30 million of our money by sending it abroad to youngsters who have never set foot in the United Kingdom via the payments that we give in support to these children. I believe that we now have the support of Germany on this. I think it is therefore an area where real reform can now be made.

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I noted the reports this morning about debates in the Bundestag about exactly these issues of transfer payments and benefit payments to other countries. That highlights the fact that there is a growing sympathy for what our Prime Minister and members of this Government have been saying about the necessity of the free movement of peoples being about free movement for the purposes of work, not of access to benefits, and that will form part of our reform programme. I cannot promise an immediate debate, although my hon. Friend will have noted that next week’s business includes a debate on the justice and home affairs opt-out.

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Does the Leader of the House agree that it is disgraceful that a very high percentage of children up and down our country never get to visit the British countryside? May we have an early debate on access to the countryside? Will he join my campaign, which is an all-party campaign that includes some very good Members on his Benches, to get 150 people in every constituency to read a countryside poem on video, thereby raising £5,000 that will go towards getting schools in poorer areas of our country to visit the countryside to love it and learn about it?

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I have every sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. I am fortunate enough to have, and to live in, a constituency that is predominantly in the countryside, and I very much appreciate what a privilege that is. It is something that is not necessarily available to people in cities and urban areas, and we should give them access to it. I am very engaged with what he describes about the reading of poetry. I will talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about ways in which his admirable objective can be pursued.

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There is concern among residents in my constituency that the two hospitals that serve it, based in Grimsby and Scunthorpe, are having to share more and more services and the different specialisms at each location. May we have a debate to explore the reasons for this? Much of it is driven by medical professionals, which is quite right, but, as the Leader of the House will appreciate, it causes considerable concern to constituents.

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I completely understand what my hon. Friend says. As he says, this is, and should be, clinically led, and it should be evidence-based. He will recall, no doubt, that this has been happening over the years; it is a steady process, not something that started under this coalition Government. It is sometimes the necessary consequence of securing access to sufficient staff with sufficient expertise and sufficient regular practice to be able to provide a 24/7 service; we need a 24/7 NHS. It should not, however, lead to a loss of access that has a damaging impact on outcomes; it should be outcomes-based. In relation to his local area, I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department of Health to respond specifically to his point.

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This House has made real progress on scrutinising important public appointments. Will the Leader of the House outline what process will be in place to allow the House to scrutinise the Government’s nomination for the next European Commissioner?

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I think that the Prime Minister in this House and my noble Friend Baroness Warsi in the House of Lords yesterday made it clear that while this nomination is one for the Prime Minister, it is open to the scrutiny Committees of the House to request, as they could on any nomination for commissioner, that evidence be given to them. It will be a matter for the nominee concerned as to how to respond.

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Earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) raised the case of Keith Williams in Justice questions. He was released early from prison by the Parole Board, completely and utterly against the wishes and views of the victim of his terrible crimes. May we have a debate on how we can make sure that the victim’s views are paramount in the criminal justice system, so that before anybody is released on parole, moved to an open prison or released on temporary licence, the views of the victim are taken fully into account and put at the top of the priority list? Such a debate would also showcase the fantastic work of organisations such as Families Fighting for Justice.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making his case very well. I will ask my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to respond directly to him. I am sure he will find further opportunities for a debate, perhaps on the Adjournment or elsewhere, in order to raise the issues properly. I hope he recognises that, through legislation and other action, the Government have sought continuously to put the interests of victims at the forefront of the criminal justice system.

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As secretary of the all-party group on steel and metal related industry, I have received a response from the Exchequer Secretary declining to meet us. Given that this week, in announcing the devastating loss of 400 jobs in south Wales, Karl Köhler, head of Tata Steel Europe, cited problems with Government policy, such as business rates and delays in getting help for energy intensive industries, will the Leader of the House prevail on his colleague to meet the all-party steel and metal related industry group?

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I was aware, of course, of the very sad loss of jobs at Port Talbot and sympathise with the hon. Lady’s constituents. I will discuss the issue with my ministerial colleagues. There may be a question about where ministerial responsibility lies: given what the hon. Lady has said, it probably lies more with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills than directly with the Treasury.

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This week is create UK week, giving us the opportunity to reflect on the £70 billion-a-year contribution to the economy from the creative industries. In my constituency there is an ever-expanding creative industry, providing some 1,200 jobs in the video games sector in my area alone. May we have a debate about the contribution of creative industries to our economy?

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I understand the important role played by our creative industries, including the video games sector, in our economic recovery. Indeed, I think that was illustrated by the replies given by my colleagues to the preceding questions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The creative sector is worth £71 billion to our economy, with its employment figure growing at five times that of the economy as a whole. It is a great success and we are committed to working with the creative industries to take the strategy forward. Create UK was launched just yesterday in order to make further progress, and I hope my hon. Friend’s constituency, which is such a leading location for firms in the sector, will be able to fully benefit from the strategy.

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Last week’s Sunday Express reported that a suspected terrorist was freely supporting and encouraging young Britons to travel to Syria to fight jihad. May we please have a debate in Government time on what additional powers we may need to introduce for returning radicalised young people who have been fighting jihad in Syria and Iraq?

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I understand completely the seriousness and importance of the point raised by the hon. Lady. There will be Home Office questions on Monday. We also intend to introduce powers under the Serious Crime Bill, which is currently in the House of Lords, relating to extraterritorial jurisdiction in relation to acts concerned with terrorism, preparation for terrorism and similar. I know I may be asking the hon. Lady to wait a little, but this House will have an opportunity to debate that Bill in due course.

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Salisbury cathedral’s repair programme has been ongoing for 27 years at a cost of £1 million a year. Therefore, I am very pleased to know that the Government’s first world war centenary repair fund offers an opportunity to provide a boost to the work at the cathedral. Will the Leader of the House make time for a ministerial statement on the outcome of the application, so that Salisbury cathedral can make use of that much-needed funding?

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I am very glad that we have been able to give support to our cathedrals, which are a wonderful aspect of our overall heritage, especially as they are often the focus of commemorative events. Indeed, I was able to be with the Royal Anglian Regiment at a commemorative event in Ely cathedral just the Sunday before last. The cathedrals that have been successful in securing grants from the first world war centenary repair fund will be announced in a written statement on Thursday 10 July. I will of course ensure that my hon. Friend’s comments are noted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

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Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on transport connectivity in the north of England? This week, there was a suggestion—thankfully, a misleading one—that Denton and Reddish South stations may be forced to close. A review of the northern franchise is coming up. Frankly, it is no good for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come up to Manchester to talk up improved connectivity between the city regions in the north of England if transport cuts make it more difficult to get to those city regions.

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I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can talk about transport cuts at a time when we have an unprecedented scale of Network Rail investment in the largest rail investment programme since the Victorian era. What he said was equally misplaced in that it is absolutely appropriate, at the same time as we are investing to try to deliver improvements in the existing rail network, for the Chancellor to express his views about what the vision might be for further developments in connectivity in the years ahead.

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Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) and I attended an export fair run by UK Trade & Investment at Ripon race course. It was timed to coincide with the increased international attention on our area with the Tour de France departing from Yorkshire this weekend. The event was designed to encourage more companies to be exporters. May we please have a debate to consider the importance of export growth in our long-term economic plan and rebalancing our economy, and what more can be done to support British companies seeking to export?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am delighted that he and our hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) are actively supporting businesses and UKTI, working together to achieve that. Other business organisations were no doubt party to it as well. We do need—and, happily, we are seeing—a growth in exports. Indeed, I note that the greatest growth in exports has been in the west midlands. Off the back of the Tour de France and the focus on the area’s attractions, Yorkshire might be able to come forward in encouraging people to undertake more exporting and get to the front of the pack.

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May we have an urgent debate on support for NHS trusts, such as my Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which have difficulties in recruiting key staff? It is vital that essential services are maintained, and the debate might consider the creation of a central pool of senior clinical staff who can help out at short notice.

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I will draw the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health to that idea. As I know from past experience, it is sometimes possible to have collaborative arrangements between NHS trusts precisely to ensure that there is such support. The NHS works together, and it is the job of NHS England to ensure that it does so in order to deliver safe and effective care to patients. Where that is at risk in any location, it is important to provide support.

I am delighted that under this Government, because of the resources we are putting in and the savings we are making in administration—delivering £5.5 billion savings on administration in this Parliament, with recurring savings of £1.5 billion a year thereafter—we have been able to have some 16,000 more clinical staff and some 19,000 fewer administrative staff. That shift into front-line care is at the heart of enabling trusts, such as my hon. Friend’s, to deliver services in future.

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This week, finally and at long last, the European Court of Human Rights has made a sensible decision about something. Given that it has this week decided that the ban on Islamic veils in France breaches no one’s human rights, will the Leader of the House or another Minister make a statement to the House next week to say that Her Majesty’s Government intend to introduce such legislation in this country? We will never have a fully functioning, fully integrated multicultural society if growing numbers of our citizens go around with their faces covered.

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I noted that decision by the Court, but part of it was about the issue of subsidiarity and the right of countries to make such decisions for themselves. In that context I do not anticipate a statement by a Minister in the form my hon. Friend seeks.

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Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 207 on excessive hospital car-parking charges?

[That this House notes that hospital parking charges can be a huge burden on patients and visitors at a vulnerable time in their lives; further notes that Nottingham City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre charge £4.00 for one hour of parking, that Royal Free Hospital, Guy’s Hospital, St Thomas’s Hospital, and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital charge £6.00 for two hours of parking, that Royal Free Hospital, Guy’s Hospital, St Thomas’s Hospital and South Bristol Community Hospital charge £12.00 for four hours of parking, that Royal Free Hospital charges £72 for one day of parking and £504.00 for one week of parking; recognises that these charges are disproportionate and onerous for patients; therefore condemns these hospitals and others which charge similar fees; and urges the Government to consider ways to reduce the cost of hospital parking.]

My right hon. Friend will be aware that 109 colleagues from all sides of the House have signed a draft Back-Bench motion on the issue. Despite Government guidance stating that hospital car parking charges should be fair and proportionate, 80% of NHS hospitals in England continue to charge their staff, visitors and patients extortionate amounts to park on their sites. May we have a statement on the issue and will he do all he can to deal with it?

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I have read my hon. Friend’s early-day motion and had the pleasure of hearing him and colleagues make their application for a debate to the Backbench Business Committee. It will be for that Committee to determine whether a debate should take place. I will say—I freely admit that this is a personal view—that although there is a hospital in my constituency with very high parking charges, I am concerned about deciding simply to subsidise or pay for car parking, as happens in Wales. This is money that would otherwise be available for clinical—[Interruption.] It is a simple fact that that money would otherwise be available for clinical services. When the NHS in Wales is underperforming on standards and achievements relative to England, one has to reflect on whether that subsidy could form part of the problem.

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Earlier this year, Argentina absurdly started issuing a 50 peso note with a map on it of the Falklands Islands, in the colours of the Argentine flag. Far more sensibly, in contrast, earlier this year my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a new £1 coin, which will be more secure and reaches back to the heritage of our coinage. May we have a statement from the Treasury as to whether the tails side of that new £1 coin could feature the coat of arms of the Falkland Islands and of other overseas territories, in the same way as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland feature?

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The hon. Gentleman was too self-effacing to draw to the attention of the House that he is himself a renowned vexillologist.

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Indeed, Mr Speaker. I will draw my hon. Friend’s views to the attention of the Treasury. I forget the precise title of his role in this regard, but the Chancellor is responsible for the Royal Mint, and there is an advisory committee to help him in that role, so it may be a matter of taking independent advice rather than that of the Government imposing their own view.

Points of Order

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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rose—

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The Leader of the House is in his place and I have a sense that the point of order from the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) is of a pressing topical character, so we will take it now before we come to the Select Committee statements.

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I am extremely grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I entirely accept your observations on my attempting to get in during business questions, but I was not here earlier because I was waiting outside the Chamber, as I feared that the Government might introduce a Command Paper, of huge importance to this House and to the United Kingdom, on the issue of justice and home affairs and the opt-outs and opt-ins on 35 measures. That is the reason for my point of order. I fear that I have to say that the Government, knowing that that was the case, did not refer to that paper in the business statement. The difficulty is that by reason of it not being raised before, I was precluded from seeking an urgent question, because I was not entirely aware of the fact that it was going to happen. I simply make the point that I feel very strongly that we should have a debate as soon as possible on the issue. Perhaps the Leader of the House will be good enough to indicate the position through you, Mr Speaker.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am not sure that that was a point of order, but he has put his concerns on the record. The Leader of the House will say whatever he wants to say, but I just point out that he did reference the general debate on the UK’s justice and home affairs opt-outs, which will take place on Thursday 10 July.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I need say little more, other than to draw the attention of the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has done, to the document that was published this morning on the decision pursuant to article 10(5) of protocol 36 to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which relates to the justice and home affairs opt-outs. The document may be debated, as you rightly say, Mr Speaker, next Thursday.

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It would seem churlish and unkind not to allow the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) to make his point of order.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following the question from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), I fear that the wrong impression has been given to the House. The Israeli Prime Minister and the mayor of Jerusalem condemned the death of the Palestinian in Israel in the last few days. There is absolutely no evidence that that atrocity was carried out by an Israeli.

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We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman. His point is on the record.

Food Security

Select committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Select Committee statement

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We now come to the first of two Select Committee statements. The Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Miss Anne McIntosh, will speak on her subject for no more than 10 minutes, during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of her statement, I will call Members to put questions on its subject, and call Miss Anne McIntosh to respond to them in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Interventions should be questions and should be brief. Front Benchers may take part in the questioning.

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On behalf of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, may I say how delighted we are to have secured this time to launch our report on food production and the supply dimensions of food security? I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) to his place. The Committee would like to thank all those who contributed to the inquiry, submitted evidence or appeared before us. I give special thanks to the Committee staff who drew all the evidence together and helped us to reach our conclusions.

We believe that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is the key to providing leadership on long-term food security. I should say at the outset that the food and drink sector accounts for 3.7 million jobs and 7% of the overall economy. Food security has been described by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation as

“when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

That implicitly includes future generations and requires food security methods in the UK and elsewhere to be sustainable.

The UK currently enjoys a high level of food security, but we believe that there is no room for complacency. I would like to take this opportunity to thank and pay tribute to all the farmers across the land who work so hard in all weathers to ensure that we have food on our plates. Food security is under severe challenge from changes in weather patterns, growing populations and rising global demand for food. The report therefore focuses on what food production, supply and systems we need to ensure that we have long-term food security.

What can we do? Our core recommendation is to have a single champion for farming and food security, and we believe that it should be the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. While it is right that other Departments are involved, such as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, there is a real need for cross-departmental communication, and DEFRA should step up to the plate and take the lead. We also urge DEFRA to appoint a food security co-ordinator from the Department to ensure a coherent and co-ordinated approach.

Self-sufficiency is in decline. Over the past 20 years, it has reduced from some 75% to around 62%. We need to stem and reverse that decline. We need to look to become more self-sufficient in food, but also aim to be a major exporter in those products that we can afford to export and that are surplus to demand in this country.

We applaud DEFRA’s efforts and congratulate it on its budget and on the work of the Secretary of State and Ministers here and in the other place in leading a vibrant export campaign to ensure that our farmers export more. On a visit to Denmark that the Committee undertook during the Danish presidency, we were struck by the ability of Danish farmers, often working through co-operatives, but with Government support, to export, particularly milk, cheese and other dairy products. We therefore applaud the Department’s efforts to open up new markets where demand is growing.

However, barriers remain, not least in certain emerging markets. I do not wish to single out China, but let me give a particular example. There is a joint operation between the Malton bacon factory and the Cookstown plant, and there will be many pig parts, such as pigs’ feet, that humans do not eat in this country but for which there is wide demand in China. That is a wonderful opportunity for export and we urge the Government—whether DEFRA, the Foreign Office or the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—to intervene. Having just removed the barriers to cheese exports, we must act urgently to remove the very real barriers to pigmeat. In my constituency alone, in Malton and the hinterland, that will mean thousands, if not millions of pounds every year. We urge the Government to press for opening up those markets to allow such exports to grow.

The boost to food security is challenged by some food production systems and threats such as the impact of extreme weather events. We call for several measures. We need supermarkets to use shorter supply chains, and we applaud efforts on that and look forward to Professor Elliott’s final report and recommendations. We need to diversify if supply is to be safeguarded against disease, severe weather or other domestic supply disruption, and we must be open to imports where they are needed.

We also call on UK farmers to satisfy home consumer tastes and extend seasonal production of fresh fruit and vegetables in co-ordination with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, and working with central and local government. We urge the Government to work hard to reduce dependence on imported soybean or animal feed, as increased demand for protein from emerging economies threatens current supply lines.

I ask the Government to produce a detailed emissions reduction plan for the UK agriculture sector. Agriculture currently accounts for 9% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock production accounts for a staggering 49% of farm-related emissions. The headlines this week mentioned flatulence from animals, and we wish to reduce that wherever we can. The report applauds the work that is going on, particularly that being trialled by Sainsbury’s and other supermarkets, as well as the research that we have heard about to grow high sugar grass that will singlehandedly reduce such emissions.

We also welcome the £410 million that the Government are currently spending on agricultural research, and the £160 million for agri-tech strategy. We urge the Government to act, perhaps as a sort of Cilla Black, and to unite, go out and find partners and bring them to the marketplace—a sort of “Blind Date”, urging research institutes in this country to find other such institutes, including across Europe and internationally, and to ensure that farmers benefit and that research is brought to farmers and to the marketplace.

We believe that there needs to be an urgent public debate to allay public concerns about genetically modified crops, and the Government are best placed to do that. On extreme weather events, thousands of acres of land were flooded and taken out of production during the recent flooding, and we need better long-term forecasting so that farmers know what crops to grow and when. We welcome new entrants and believe that with land in limited supply, and with its conflicting uses such as for housing as well as farming, younger farmers and new entrants will embrace the technology available.

This is the first of two reports and it draws on the work of the previous Government, on which the Committee reported in 2009. I believe that it will be warmly welcomed by farmers, supermarkets and retailers. First and foremost, it is a vote of confidence in British farming, and places DEFRA as the champion for farming and food security.

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I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her comprehensive statement, and the House is obliged to her for providing Members with a helping hand through her graphic descriptions of what she had in mind. It is always useful, in my experience, to have a bit of information.

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There is much to be commended and debated in this welcome report, and I hope we will have the opportunity to do so in short order, not least the acknowledgement that:

“Food security is not simply about becoming more self-sufficient in food production.”

as well as the imperative for the UK to boost its productivity for domestic and export reasons.

Why does the Committee feel it necessary, as its first recommendation, to urge the Government to

“identify Defra as the lead Department for food security”

given that that should be the Department’s raison d’être and a core part of its mission? Why is it necessary to highlight that, even though it is welcome?

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I welcome the welcome from the hon. Gentleman, and we are grateful to BBC 5 Live for using such graphic language, which I felt would also be acceptable in the Chamber. We stated that DEFRA should be a champion and a lead Department because in areas such as farming and—dare I say it?—also outside farming in tourism, which impacts on the rural economy more broadly, policy often cuts across many different Departments. In this instance, the agri-tech strategy is important in promoting and boosting food security and increasing self-sufficiency, and it potentially goes to the heart of exports, and cuts across the three Departments I mentioned. We just want to give DEFRA a little bit of welly to go out and be confident in discussions with other Departments. Farming remains at the heart of DEFRA. It is our fourth priority to grow the rural economy, and I believe that DEFRA is best placed to lead on that.

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As a member of the Committee, I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s report. It is right for us to talk about food security not only in this country, but throughout the world, because the world population is 7 billion and will rise to 9 billion by 2050. We can grow good grass, good meat and good vegetables in this country along with cereals, but with climate change, we will need to be able to adapt our crops more and more. Biotechnology is out there—there is a blight-resistant potato that does not need spraying—but we close our minds to it. We need the Government to be much more proactive so that people can believe they are safe, and so that we can produce more food in this country using fewer chemicals to do so.

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My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I should take this opportunity to thank him for the expertise and knowledge he brings to the Committee. On precision technologies and new technologies such as genetically modified foods, we must ensure that the public have an open mind. If it is the case that there is no cross-contamination, we need to go out there and sell the message. I believe it is for the Government to lead in that regard. Denmark is probably more focused on organic crops, but the UK has many producers in a niche market of organic foods. They need to know that their crops will not be cross-contaminated in that way. An interesting piece of research that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs could ask for is precisely on the yields compared with organic production—my hon. Friend gave an example. I understand that that work has never been conducted.

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I congratulate the hon. Lady and her Committee on the report. I am glad she raised the rather uncomfortable issue—it is uncomfortable for some of us—of the lack of progress in reducing emissions in the agricultural sector. She mentioned a taskforce and spoke of a wind of change running through the sector—that is just a pun—but what action could the taskforce take? Does she have any evidence that DEFRA and the Department of Energy and Climate Change are working together well to bring about further progress?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question and her eloquent description of the problem—it was much more eloquent than the one I was able to come up with in the time available. There is evidence that DEFRA, DECC and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are working closely together. The evidence we received in writing and on the visit to the Rothamsted institute showed the long lead times needed in respect of research on the long grass with the extra sugar content that can lead to the wind of change to which she referred. I make a plea to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: we need longer-term security of research funding. That was the plea of the Rothamsted institute in its evidence to the Committee. If no other good comes from the report, it would be a positive step if we left that message with the House today.

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I hope you have had your Weetabix this morning, Mr Speaker—if you had Weetabix, it came from the Weetabix plant located in Burton Latimer in my constituency. In congratulating my hon. Friend on her Committee’s excellent report, and with specific reference to the parts of the report that focus on supply chains and export opportunities, will she join me and take this opportunity to congratulate Weetabix, which sources all the wheat for its products from farms within a 50-mile radius of the Burton Latimer plant, and which is increasingly looking to export its product to help the British balance of payments?

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work, and I also congratulate Weetabix. The price of wheat was the talk of the barbecue held by the National Farmers Union and Morrisons this week. It is worrying indeed. It is to be commended that Weetabix turned to British producers to source its wheat.

Gibraltar

Select Committee on Foreign Affairs

Select Committee statement

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I hope it is not necessary for me to repeat what I said prior to the delivery of the previous statement. I think everybody who is present now was present then. The same procedure applies to the second statement, which is heard for up to 10 minutes without interruption, following which there is an opportunity for brief questions to the Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, whom I now invite to deliver his statement.

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When problems emerged in Gibraltar last summer, with seven-hour-long delays to cross the border, the Foreign Affairs Committee took a strong interest in the situation and in what the Government were doing, and were going to do, in response. On Tuesday, the Committee published its report, “Gibraltar: Time to get off the fence”. We concluded that the behaviour of Spain towards Gibraltar is unacceptable. A NATO and EU ally is, as a matter of deliberate policy, impacting the economy and functioning of a British overseas territory. In our opinion, it is time for the Government to take a tougher line.

The dispute has a 300-year-long history. However, in the past three years, the Partido Popular Government in Spain have taken a more hard-line approach to the dispute. They have significantly increased pressure on Gibraltar and its people, and Gibraltarians have suffered. They have suffered: the deliberately imposed border delays; aggressive maritime incursions; calculated pressure at the EU and the UN; and inflammatory rhetoric from Spanish Ministers about Gibraltar’s sovereignty and its economic affairs.

We acknowledge that Spain’s actions have placed the UK Government in a difficult position. They have a strong bilateral relationship with Spain that is in the interests of all British citizens, including the 1 million Britons who live in Spain. However, the Government also have responsibilities towards Gibraltar and cannot ignore actions by Spain that are intended to make the lives of Gibraltarians more difficult.

First, we regret that talks including all three partners—Spain, the UK and Gibraltar—have been suspended, and we ask the Government to set out what offer they have made to Spain in connection with these talks and how they intend to restart them.

We are deeply concerned about the dramatic increase in maritime incursions in British Gibraltarian territorial waters and the hostile tactics of some of the vessels that conduct them. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office rightly protests about each incursion, but we were disappointed to find that it sometimes lodges diplomatic protests weeks after the event, robbing them of all force. This gives the wrong impression to Spain about how seriously the UK takes this issue. We recommend that protests are lodged within seven days.

We have no doubt that delays imposed by Spain at the border with Gibraltar are politically motivated, and that the border is being used as a means of coercion. The Government should state publicly that they will take legal action against Spain in the European Court if there is little improvement at the border in the next six months.

The Committee considered the possibility of Gibraltar joining Schengen, while the UK remains outside. Although we saw the merit in this idea and the impact it would have, we suspect that the legal and economic implications could be considerable.

Spain continues to use international institutions as a means of applying pressure on Gibraltar. Gibraltar remains on the UN list of non-self-governing territories, despite repeated UK Government attempts to de-list it. Only a few weeks ago, Spanish MEPs in the European Parliament were trying to limit Gibraltar’s aviation rights. Spain also continues to refuse to allow direct military movements between Gibraltar and Spain, even among its NATO partners. As a result of this, Gibraltar feels it is under siege.

The Government’s laudable attempts to de-escalate the dispute have not worked. They were right to try diplomacy, but they must now take a more robust approach, as long as this is agreed with the Government of Gibraltar. We recommend that the Government take some immediate actions now, including: more prompt diplomatic protests against incursions and border delays, and summoning the ambassador; increased efforts at the EU and UN on Gibraltar’s behalf; renewed effort to establish trilateral talks that are currently not taking place; and withholding UK support for Spain’s international goals, such as its aspiration to membership of the UN Security Council, unless its attitude toward Gibraltar changes. As for more serious measures, we further recommend that the Government be more robust in their defence of the territorial waters around Gibraltar, and we have asked them to report back on how they intend to do that.

Finally, we recommend that if those measures do not improve the situation within six months, the UK should take Spain to court for infringement of EU obligations at the border. I commend the report to the House.

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I congratulate the Committee and its Chairman on a timely, well-balanced report, and look forward to a wider debate about it.

The report underlines the concern that is felt about the fact that no Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited Gibraltar between 2011 and 2014. What reassurances has the Committee received that that is now a priority for the FCO and, indeed, for other Departments?

The Committee rightly expresses concern about the mixed message that has been sent by the delay in the delivery of protests about incursions into British Gibraltarian territorial waters, which it says—quite rightly—gives an impression of “going through the motions”. The Committee suggests a much tighter timetable. When does the right hon. Gentleman intend to seek a progress report from the Department on the implementation of that?

On 27 November last year, I said in the House:

“it is vital that the Spanish Government today hear a united statement from the House that such provocative and unlawful acts are not acceptable to this Parliament or to the British people. They cannot be ignored.”—[Official Report, 27 November 2013; Vol. 571, c. 263.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Foreign Office has heard that message?

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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the report, and for his comments. The report was agreed unanimously, and it has all-party support.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about visits by Ministers. I think, to be fair to the Government, that the Minister for Europe has been to Gibraltar twice during the current Parliament. The Minister for the Armed Forces went there in the autumn of last year, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was there earlier this year. I think that there has been a sustained level of visits, but I take the right hon. Gentleman’s points on board. Of course, there can never be enough visits of this kind.

As for the timetable for incursions, it is worth noting that the Spanish ambassador has been called into the Foreign Office—I think—six times since the escalation of this incident, and that only the Syrian ambassador has been called in more frequently. We none the less recommend that the criteria for calling in the ambassadors be reviewed in order to emphasise the impact, the significance and the importance of the incidents, while also taking account of the fact that if they are called in too often, the impact is sometimes devalued. There must be a balance.

The right hon. Gentleman asked how we expect the situation to develop. As I said, we recommend that if there are no improvements, action should begin in the European Court within six months. I think that that provides a suitable window allowing the Spanish Government to improve the situation.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for leading the inquiry conducted by the Foreign Affairs Committee, on which I am proud to serve.

This is a timely and an absolutely necessary report. We have seen, over a long period, shameful and disgraceful behaviour on the part of a so-called NATO and EU ally, Spain, against the people of Gibraltar. I hope that my right hon. Friend and all other Members agree that it is time for much more robust action by our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office to deal with the issue.

The report refers to high-profile visits. Leaving ministerial visits aside, I can tell the House that it was on 10 May 1954 that the Queen of Gibraltar, our own Head of State, visited the Rock. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time Her Majesty was advised that it would be timely for her to visit the people of Gibraltar?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the consistent support he gave me throughout the report’s preparation. He will be aware that the convention in this House is not to bring the royal family into debates of this kind. None the less, we recommend that a high-level visit take place, and I am sure that will have been noted in the Foreign Office.

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I thank the Chairman of the Committee for today’s presentation. He has worked very hard on the report and the Committee has come up with some robust recommendations, which I hope the Government will listen to. Why have the Spanish Government escalated the situation to almost crisis-level and put good relations with one of their most important allies at risk? Are the Spanish Government trying to take attention away from the serious economic circumstances in Spain?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question and for the support she has given me in the report’s preparation. All the evidence we received suggested that this was triggered by the Government who took office in Spain in 2011. Spain was in a dire economic situation. Various scandals were going on in the Spanish Government. The evidence we received was that this was an attempt to distract attention from their own domestic policies. Leaders in other countries around the world have on occasion taken similar action.

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I commend my right hon. Friend for his robust report, which clearly sets out how objectionable it is for a supposed ally to treat the people of Gibraltar in such a way. Gatwick airport in my constituency is a major link to the airport in Gibraltar. I encourage the Foreign Affairs Committee to continue to be robust on that issue as well, so that it has is no effect on trade. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I know that it would be interested in pursuing these issues, too.

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Indeed. I understand that the European Scrutiny Committee is examining EU-Ukraine aviation rights. We will be watching with interest the answers to the questions that my hon. Friend has posed. The Spanish Government are using aviation rights as one of their lines of attack. Limiting aviation access to Gibraltar airport will have quite a profound effect on the economy. The Foreign Office is robustly resisting that and I understand that so far it has been successful, but it must persevere and be diligent in protecting aviation rights.

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The Chairman of the Committee has produced, with the rest of us on the Committee, an important and valuable report. One issue needs to be highlighted: the Partido Popular Government are against the policies of their predecessors, who negotiated the Cordoba agreement with the Labour Government. Things were improving. That was working well. Many people in Spain disagree with the current Spanish Government’s approach, particularly workers in La Línea and other Spanish citizens, who are going to work in Gibraltar every day. It is their work and their jobs that are being disrupted. Therefore, there are potential allies in this debate. The Chairman did not mention that Spain itself has two enclaves on the north African coast—Ceuta and Melilla. Could not the Foreign Office consider upping the ante on those issues and improving relations even more with Morocco to make it clear to Spain that there is a level of hypocrisy in its attitude to Gibraltar?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the report, and for the work he has put into producing it. He is right to talk about the local Spanish community just over the border with Gibraltar. I think I am right in saying that he has engaged with the trade unions in the area. It is one of the more puzzling aspects of Spain’s behaviour that it is damaging not only Gibraltar’s economy but the economy of southern Spain. He makes a very strong point about Ceuta and Melilla. Spain argues that there is a constitutional difference involved, but I find it utterly hypocritical that it should take such a line. It is a matter of particular interest that Ceuta is being used to refuel Russian warships. If, as Spain maintains, Ceuta is a part of Spain rather than an overseas territory, that would result in the rather unusual situation of a NATO country refuelling Russian warships while NATO is in dispute with Russia over Ukraine.

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In a previous life, I had the honour of being one of six representatives in the European Parliament for Gibraltar and south-west England. My experience is that when Spain closes the border, it is the workers of La Línea and the people of Gibraltar who are really affected by the economic problems that ensue. However, Spain is affected as well. The whole situation is absolutely ridiculous. Aviation also plays a part in the economy of Gibraltar. I thank my right hon. Friend for his report. Spain is a real bully, and it must be stood up to. I am not a great believer in sending everything to the European Court, but I think it is time to refer Spain to it, because it is completely out of order.

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Gibraltar’s loss is Parliament’s gain, following my hon. Friend’s move from the European Parliament to this House. He is quite right about Spain’s bullying approach. Over the past year, the Government have been right not to raise the temperature and to try to keep the situation calm. However, as the First Minister said in evidence to the Committee, a year has gone by, the queues are still there and the talks are not happening. That is why we are now calling for a more robust approach by the Foreign Office, and I hope that it will agree with us in its response.

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I commend my right hon. Friend and his Committee for their excellent report. Given the growing number of major and minor maritime incursions into Gibraltarian waters by civilian and official vessels from Spain, and the great terrorist risk that Britain and her territories face, particularly at this time of tension in the middle east, someone is going to get killed sooner or later unless we prevent this escalation. I was concerned to read in the report that, despite Gibraltar being a self-governing territory with a constitution, legislature and Government, it is still on the UN list of non-self-governing territories. Given the UK’s presence as a permanent member of the Security Council and a founding member of the United Nations, should not Her Majesty’s Government make it a top priority to get Gibraltar off that list?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the risk of further escalation leading to loss of life, and to the importance of getting a grip on the situation before it gets hopelessly out of control. He referred to the UN list of non-self-governing countries. I have to confess that I am not an expert on the internal machinations relating to voting rights inside the UN, but he makes a strong point. I gather from private conversations that the Foreign Office is actively looking at the situation and that it has made repeated attempts to take Gibraltar off that list. That would make it a self-governing territory, recognised by the UN, and I hope that the Government will address this point in their response.

Backbench Business

Protecting Children in Conflict

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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of protecting children in conflict.

I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for granting me the opportunity to have this debate today, and to thank the Members from all parts of the House who supported my application for the debate. This is a great opportunity to hear the voices of those who are often not heard. Children whose lives are impacted by conflict are all too often voiceless. It is also appropriate that this debate should follow on from the conference in London that called for action to end sexual violence in conflict. I congratulate the Foreign Secretary, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), and the whole Department on holding that conference. Indeed, the Minister and I attended an event hosted by War Child, and I hope he will say what progress he believes will be made on these children’s issues. This is not just about ending sexual violence against children; it is about preventing children from losing their childhood.

One reason I am passionately and energetically campaigning in Scotland for a no vote in the referendum on 18 September is that we are better placed as Scots to be a force for good in the world as part of the United Kingdom. The humanitarian global summit in 2016 provides a further opportunity for the nations of the UK to work together and show leadership, and I hope the Minister will say today that the UK will continue to take a leading role in protecting children in conflict.

We need not only to protect children, but to be more active in promoting children’s rights within their own countries and their awareness of those rights. We should not just be promoting the UN rights respecting programmes in our own schools in the UK; we should be doing so wherever we are helping to fund education across the globe. Children need to learn that they have rights and that other children different from them have rights, too. Teachers and parents will then learn these rights and perhaps future generations will do a better job than this one of protecting children in conflict.

Children and youths constitute more than 50% of the populations of conflict-affected countries. As of 2010, more than 1 billion children worldwide lived in countries or territories affected by armed conflict. Sadly, changes in the nature of conflict have had profound consequences for children, who are being denied the special protections due to them under international law. Child injuries and deaths were traditionally seen as the collateral damage of war, but children are increasingly being targeted directly. Those trends need to be met with a renewed focus on how children can be protected in situations of conflict, alongside heightened scrutiny of duty bearers who are failing to safeguard children’s rights.

As a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I have been incredibly privileged to have seen with my own eyes the impact conflict has on the lives of children. The Committee’s most recent visit was to the middle east, where we saw how UK aid is working to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Since the Syrian conflict began, more than 2.3 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. In Lebanon, families are being settled in host communities. Although the vast majority of refugees in Jordan are in host communities, there are also large-scale camps, such as Camp Zaatari, which the Committee visited. The UK has pledged £600 million in aid and we can all be proud of that, but it cannot compare to the response from Lebanon and Jordan. It is almost impossible for us in the UK to imagine the scale of the challenges they face and the impact on their own country and people, be it on education, water security or employment.

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Does the hon. Lady share my concern that in situations such as that in Syria early enforced marriage is seen as a way of escape for young girls? Does she join me in welcoming the Department for International Development’s upcoming summit on ending female genital mutilation and early enforced marriage?

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Absolutely. When we were in Camp Zaatari we heard about families who suddenly had no prospects—they do not know when they are going to return to Syria and they have no way to earn a livelihood—and we were told that if they have daughters the temptation is to marry them off early and, in order for those daughters to be as prized as possible, to consider awful, gruesome child abuse such as FGM. We also heard about an increased prevalence of domestic violence in those camps. That has an impact not only on the women, but on the children in those families. I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention.

Life for children can be very difficult in these situations, as many parents fled Syria with just the clothes on their back. At times, they live in horrific conditions, but even when the housing is of a satisfactory standard, children have needs, beyond the roof over their head, that are just not being met.

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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate her on securing this important debate. She describes a very terrible situation, but does she agree that it is wrong to incite to violence children in conflict situations? For example, a young boy who was speaking about a game being shown on Palestine TV in May said that Zion is Satan with a tail. Is it not terrible for someone to incite a young boy to make such a statement?

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If my hon. Friend bears with me, she will find that I come on to that matter later. I am not usually someone who speaks from notes, but I will today as this is such a complex issue,

On the IDC visit, we met a family living in an unfinished block of flats. Speaking to three generations of the family—children, mother and grandmother—living in that small space, I asked what life was like for the children. I was told that they were not attending school. The mother never took them out into the town and they were not allowed to play outside as she was worried that someone would complain about the noise. With no one able to say when the conflict will end, it is clearly unacceptable for children to continue to live in such a way. The family had sanitation, water, energy and food, but for children to grow and develop into healthy adults and to reach their potential, they need so much more.

I cannot say with any authority that the children in the camps had better lives, but there is an advantage in that services of scale can be delivered more easily. We saw evidence of that, with the delivery of psychological, health and education services. None of those services is a luxury that can wait to be delivered at some later date.

The children who manage to register for school in the community face many barriers to learning, such as social isolation, language difficulties, and, for those who had already started school in Syria, the problems of adjusting to a different curriculum. For children to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to learn, it is essential that they receive therapeutic services. When they are so traumatised, how can they possibly be expected to learn? Some 28.5 million children are out of school in conflict and emergency-related areas. The humanitarian response does not accord the same priority to education or child protection as it does to water, shelter and food.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. She will be aware of the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) on safety in schools, particularly in Nigeria. Does she agree that that is a huge step forward, although, at the moment, the school girls are still missing? That initiative will allow other parents in the same state to send their children to school.

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Absolutely. Just last night I attended a meeting in the House in which the Finance Minister of Nigeria talked about the campaign to build safer schools. As a fellow Scot, my hon. Friend will remember the awful tragedy of the shooting in Dunblane and the action we had to take to make our children safe in school. Children in Nigeria, and girls attending school, deserve the same protection. Such is the power of education that many people see it as threat.

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I return to the hon. Lady’s important point about counselling. Does she recall the Committee’s visit to a centre in Jordan where we met some children who had recently come from Syria? The first things that they drew were AK47s and other terrible things to do with war. Now they are drawing pictures of homes and gardens and other things connected to a much more peaceful way of life.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman both for his intervention and for his comradeship—if he does not mind that term—during that visit to the middle east. He will also recall a visit where we saw children miming the experience of being refugees—how they were turned away from one country and then another before they were given refuge in Lebanon and Jordan, and just how moving that was. We also had a game on a 3G pitch. MPs, who are always competitive, managed to beat the refugee children 2-0. It was good to see the facility being used.

Analysis of the 2013 UN appeal tracking data shows that less than 2% of UN humanitarian appeal funds went to education and that only 40% of requests for funding for education were met. A coalition comprising non-governmental organisations, UN agencies and others under the banner of the “Education Cannot Wait” campaign is calling for education funding to be at least 4%, and I hope that DFID Ministers will support that campaign. Perhaps the Minister will give us an indication today of what he thinks about that.

I am pleased to see colleagues in the Chamber who have a record of defending children’s rights. I am sure that they will focus on individual countries, but I want to ensure that the debate today does not pass without our speaking up for the children of the Central African Republic The UN has reported “unprecedented” levels of brutality against children in the Central African Republic, including mutilation and beheading. Save the Children says that it is not aware of plans to deploy child protection experts on the new UN mission in the CAR, even though there is clear evidence of large-scale recruitment of children to armed groups and of other grave violations, including sexual violence.

The UK could and should be leading on such action by deploying its own experts on the mission or by insisting on pre-deployment training covering things such as how to work with children who have been recruited to armed groups. It should also be championing funding for child protection and education in the CAR. Will the Minister tell us what is being done as part of the preventing sexual violence initiative to ensure that there are experts in child protection in every team and that all staff have some training in child protection issues? Schools need to be safe places in which children can learn.

There is a rapidly growing international consensus in support of the Lucens guidelines, but so far the UK Government have yet to endorse them. By restricting the use of schools by armies in times of conflict, states can directly and substantially reduce the prevalence of violation of girls and boys in wars, and can facilitate the reintegration of survivors into their communities. Earlier this month, the Norwegian Government officially announced that they will lead in promoting the guidelines. Will the Minister commit the UK—and call for other states to do so—to adopting the Lucens guidelines on the military use of schools, amend the military codes of conduct and issue a clear and unambiguous prohibition of attacks on and military use of schools?

A 45% increase in the number of child casualties from explosive weapons use was recorded from 2011 to 2012. In November 2013, a report entitled “Stolen Futures”, which was released by the Oxford Research Group, identified explosive weapons as the primary cause of child casualties in Syria. It showed that of 12,000 then-recorded casualties, more than 70% of children died as a result of explosive weapons, illustrating the devastating impact that such use has on children.

The use of explosive weapons may not result in the killing or injuring of children, but its effects on their everyday lives are incredibly damaging. Such weapons may cause debilitating injury, displacement or long-term psychological scars and block life-saving humanitarian aid. It is time that states, including the UK, publicly recognised the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and championed moves toward an intergovernmental political declaration against such practice. Norway is providing leadership, and hosted a meeting last month to build consensus. I am not sure whether the UK was present, but will the Minister today commit the UK to being part of a global campaign to protect the innocent victims of war?

This debate is about not just children’s rights but the hope of a safer, more peaceful world for us and future generations. Children are exposed to high levels of violence in conflict, which can significantly impact on their beliefs, behaviours, future opportunities and aspirations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) said, beliefs, practices and habits that foster violence easily become deeply embedded and can fuel repeated conflict unless addressed. Every civil war since 2003 was a resumption of a previous civil war, and the majority of conflicts re-emerge within 10 years of a ceasefire.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes victims of children on both sides. The Leader of the Opposition was right to highlight the tragedy of Israeli children learning in schools which have to be able to survive rockets attacks from Gaza. What kind of environment is that for children to learn?

I would be grateful if the Minister commented on last year’s UNICEF report which stated that the ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system was widespread, systematic and institutionalised. What discussions has his Department had with the Israeli Government and, given the recent loss of young Israeli and Palestinian lives, how is his Department working with the Department for International Development and NGOs to protect children, particularly in Gaza?

I have constituents who have spent time working in the west bank, ensuring that Palestinian children can walk safely to school. Sadly, the people from whom they need to protect the children are all too often other children. Israeli settler children are taught terms of abuse and encouraged to throw stones. That is a tragedy and an abuse not just of the Palestinian children but of the Israeli children. They are all victims. That is why I tabled an early-day motion and wrote to the Foreign Secretary asking him to reintroduce funding for Breaking the Silence so that ordinary Israelis can hear credible voices telling them what is being done in their name. Children’s involvement in violence goes far beyond that kind of activity, however.

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I take the point my hon. Friend makes very seriously; when wrongdoing occurs it must be put right. Does she agree with me that there is a consistent and relentless campaign of incitement to violence on the Palestinian media almost daily, which inevitably has an impact on young children who then start to commit acts of violence?

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My hon. Friend is right, and I saw that when I visited the area. As a mother, I thought how difficult it would be to raise children and try to prevent them from indulging in acts of violence while at the same time making them aware of their rights and encouraging them to challenge injustice. I welcome her contribution.

For children who have been involved with armed forces and groups, rehabilitation and reintegration tailored to their specific needs is essential. World Vision identifies the need for programmes targeting girls who have given birth during the conflict and their children. When children leave armed groups, reintegration cannot be seen as a short-term process to be completed in a few months. World Vision’s experience has shown that reintegration takes much longer and needs to be part of both peace-building and development work. It must be funded accordingly. We know that children’s involvement in violence goes beyond the kind of activity seen in the west bank. It is estimated that a quarter of a million children are active in armed groups. Work to try to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers must focus on stopping armed forces and groups recruiting and using children and on strengthening the systems that protect children, making them less vulnerable to recruitment.

As I draw my remarks to a close, I ask the Minister to support the recommendations from Save the Children, which could save the lives and outcomes of children in conflict. We need to mainstream child protection in conflict, ensuring that there are sufficient resources. Only 36% and 28% of appeal requests for child protection and education respectively are met in emergency responses. That is simply not good enough. The UN and regional peacekeeping missions must include adequate capacity to prevent and respond to the violation of children’s rights, including mandatory pre-deployment training. Governments and partners must provide co-ordinated assistance to children who are unaccompanied or separated as a result of armed conflict. Violations of children’s rights must be monitored and recorded and all reasonable steps must be taken to hold perpetrators to account.

Finally, I want to pay tribute today to the many NGOs who work in the most difficult and dangerous conflict zones, sometimes giving their lives to deliver life-saving aid to children. When we see the worst of humanity, they show us the very best.

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The whole House will be grateful to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) for initiating this debate on protecting children in conflict. She was right to deal with the Palestinian situation, but I will not follow her example in any detail as I do not want to get involved in the debate about the rights and wrongs of the Palestinian issue, except for noting the suffering of both the Palestinian people and the Israeli people in a very difficult conflict.

I want to make some general remarks about how the British Government could try to improve the protection of children in conflict areas, particularly when it comes to education. Education is the subject on which I want to focus and I would be grateful if the Minister could deal with that problem when he replies.

I should perhaps declare a family interest. I am speaking today because both my elder daughters work for charities in Africa and have worked in Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. They keep me informed of their work and what is going on and, a few years ago, I visited the Congo with War Child to look at the appalling privations that children faced, particularly because of the conflict and the use of child soldiers. My visit had a deep impact on me and I am sure that, even despite all the excellent work of my hon. Friend the Minister and other Ministers in the FCO and DFID, there is still more that we can do.

As I say, I want to concentrate on education, but why are children particularly vulnerable? It is an obvious point, but they are vulnerable because they are young. When a three-year-old loses their parents in a bomb attack, it is virtually impossible for them to survive alone. If a 25-year-old loses a parent, it is a tragedy, but they can survive. It is right that the House should focus particularly on the appalling impact of conflict on children, which is much greater than its impact on mature people.

Of course, children suffer appalling and severe trauma from witnessing events. They do not have the life experience or emotional maturity to integrate a particular scene into the rest of their life. We have been brought up in a very comfortable environment, but we all know how even quite small events from our childhood can have a traumatic effect later on. Imagine a child in a conflict situation witnessing their mother being raped or their brother being dragged off as a child soldier or witnessing murders or the appalling scenes that have happened in Syria. That trauma will live with those children for ever.

Children are targeted in conflict situations for sexual attacks. Girls and boys make up more than half the rape cases in such conflicts and that is an appalling statistic. Imagine the appalling emotional trauma of that. Children are also targeted by military groups that are keen to expand their ranks quickly and we have seen that in particular over the years in Congo. As I know from my visit to the Congo and as we all know, it is appalling to talk to former child soldiers who have been dragged into these events. They have committed terrible things and terrible things have happened to them, sometimes when they are just 13 or 14-years-old.

War destroys livelihoods, and children are often seen as a way for distressed families to get income. Girls can be married early for a price or used as sex workers and boys can be sent out to work in fields and factories or to collect rubbish from the streets. I occasionally visit the middle east, and we see the desperate struggle for survival, particularly for Syrian refugees in Lebanon or Jordan when there is no social security available to any significant extent. In conflict situations, families are desperate to survive, and we all know that children have to be used as part of that.

The point I want to stress and focus on for the rest of my speech is that it is children and not adults who lose their opportunity for education. Once that opportunity is lost, it is lost for ever and can never be repeated. Education is essential for children and particularly for children in conflict areas. It is a life chance that comes only once and a reasonable level of education is even more important for children who will be expected to build a peaceful recovery from conflict. Education keeps children safe. Obviously, if a child is in a school or in an educational environment, it is less likely that they will be married early, raped, abducted or recruited by armed groups. All that is much more unlikely when schools are open.

Actually, education is prioritised by families in conflict areas. We have seen on television, such as during the Iraq conflicts, and from our own experience how families that are often desperate and have nothing—owning nothing, surviving on nothing—still make the effort to dress their children in immaculate uniforms to walk through bombed-out streets to get school. Education is extraordinarily important for them.

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My hon. Friend makes a compelling case based on his experiences in Africa. It is deeply humbling when we go to developing countries in parts of Africa and elsewhere and see children who have walked miles and miles and miles to attend a classroom where they have no seats, but may have rocks to sit on, if they are lucky, and which have corrugated iron roofs. Their parents have made a contribution out of what limited resources they have, because they absolutely value education as the way out of poverty and conflict. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is deeply humbling for those of us here who take education for granted?

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My hon. Friend has made that point very movingly. We live in such a comfortable environment here where education is, frankly, of a fantastically high standard and is free—paid for by the taxpayer—that we simply do not appreciate the appalling sacrifices made in places where education is not free by parents who have nothing. They make that huge effort to try to educate their children, because they know, as we know, that education is everything.

We can establish a case that education is absolutely vital, therefore, in terms of taking children out of conflict situations and giving them life chances. So, having made that case, we would expect it to be prioritised by humanitarian agencies and Governments, but analysis of the 2013 United Nations appeal tracking data shows that only 1.9% of UN humanitarian appeal funds went to education. That seems to me to be very low, and I was surprised when I saw that. I cannot believe that the figure is so low, but that is what I have been told. Donors simply did not prioritise that part of the UN appeals.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that one way we can encourage donor countries to prioritise education is by the post-2015 development framework including secondary, as well as primary, education as a core priority?

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That is a very good point and I hope the Minister has made a note of it, and perhaps will reply to it.

UN-funded education projects, largely delivered through non-governmental organisations, only reach 3.5 million of the children who were targeted for education in emergencies in 2013, and development donors do not get involved in education in emergencies even though they prioritise the education of children in other places. When a humanitarian agency arrives in an appalling situation where people are dying, starving and so forth, and it has to feed them and make sure they are sheltered, I can quite understand the mindset leading it not immediately to prioritise education. However, we must recognise—my daughter made this point to me—that these are often not the sorts of the intensely violent conflicts that we have witnessed in Europe and that last for three or four years; they are often low-level conflicts that can go on for many years and therefore children can be kept out of school for many years, because education is not seen as a priority.

Education falls between the two major funding streams, therefore, with the result that of the 58 million primary-age children not in school, 28.5 million are in conflict countries. Pretty soon the only children not in school in the world will be those living in conflict countries, not because they are hard to reach—mostly, they are easy to reach—but because the funding system has bypassed them almost entirely. That is a serious point for us and this House.

What needs to happen? First, humanitarian donors need to develop policies for education in emergencies that make education a central part of the first response phase, so when they go in, education is at the forefront of their minds. Secondly, the development side of Government donor offices need to stretch their understanding of education to include providing primary education in emergency settings—primary education is absolutely vital—and to do this in a way that builds, develops and protects the local education infrastructure. This has to be a prominent and early part of their investment. Thirdly, total funding for education within humanitarian responses needs to reach at least 4% of total humanitarian funding in emergencies. That figure was given to me by War Child and it seems a fair one. This is the target supported by the Education Cannot Wait campaign, which is backed by the Global Education Cluster and the International Network for Education in Emergencies, so presumably it is a well-researched figure and it makes sense. Fourthly, there is a need to conduct an urgent review of the amount of humanitarian aid DFID allocates to education and child protection; the Minister can no doubt defend the Government’s position. Inclusion of this point in party manifestos would demonstrate a strong commitment to meeting the needs of children affected by conflict.

As chairman of my party’s Back-Bench committee on DFID and foreign affairs, I am involved in helping to write the manifesto. I do not know how much notice the Foreign Secretary will take of my comments, but I will do my best. The Minister might take back to the Foreign Secretary the suggestion to include a phrase or sentence about education in our party manifesto, and perhaps the Labour party will consider doing the same thing, because manifestos are very important. Once it is there in writing in the manifesto, when whoever wins the next election comes to frame their humanitarian responses, education will be at the forefront of their minds. Also, Members of Parliament need to talk about these things and to raise them up the political agenda, which is why this debate is important.

Before I sit down, perhaps I can give testimony from a family from Irbil in Iraq, which I have visited. This family testimony was given to me by War Child. It was of interest to me because I have been to northern Iraq, not with War Child but with another charity, and the situation there is appalling. It was terrible to hear what people had to say. There was a mother. She and her family had been living in Baghdad, and her husband and son went to church and were never seen again. They just vanished—kidnapped, and obviously murdered. There was mother after mother like that. The situation in northern Iraq is, dare I say it, even more terrible than what is going on in Palestine, so may I give a tiny mention for a part of the population there with whom I have worked? In the conflict in northern Iraq there is no doubt that the Christian communities around Mosul— I have visited their villages—are in an extraordinarily stressed situation now. They are being driven from their villages by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, and what is happening to the children does not bear thinking about.

So let me read out this family testimony from Irbil in Iraq, because it is important for me to put it on the record as it is personal experience, which is always more interesting than general comments:

“War Child met with a mother of two young boys aged nine and twelve who had suffered displacement three times as a result of the recent violence and ended up having to smuggle themselves into a place of safety. Their reason for leaving their home town was the mother’s fear of her sons being recruited to fight in the violence. The devastated 12-year-old told War Child, ‘I just want to be in school’. He has been forced to leave his education during his exams which will mean all previous years of schooling will count as a ‘fail’ within the system. He is unable to go to school as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) because when the family fled they had to leave all belongings, including the necessary certification, at home.”

The report continues:

“They are sharing rented accommodation with another three families and will run out of money at the end of the month. ‘We have nowhere to go’, the mother told us. ‘When our money runs out we will have no choice but to sleep in the public park.’ There are many families already sleeping in the rough and engaging in casual labour or begging for survival. ‘We are so frustrated and so humiliated. I used to work and have a normal life and now I have no idea what will happen to us,’ the mother said.

Let me sum up the arguments. To me, the education part of this debate is one of the most interesting and the most important. Sadly, humanitarian actors still often do not prioritise education programming at the start of an emergency. I accept, as I said, all the problems that they face, but education must be at the forefront of their minds. This is still considered something to pick up six months into or after a conflict. Instead, there is no reason why children cannot continue in school if authorities or humanitarian actors have the right support. Surely we can all agree that children have a right to education throughout their childhood. Schools can keep children safe and they are important environments for being able to provide other services such as social care to address trauma.

In the Central African Republic where an appalling conflict is going on, most of the schools in the capital are not open. This is largely due to the collapsed Government’s inability to continue paying teachers’ salaries, and the humanitarian NGOs that are providing most of the services in the city cannot access enough funding for education in particular, so reopening schools is not the priority. As a result, in the capital city large numbers of children are not in school. It is not just a question of funding. Unfortunately, the reality is that aside from conflict, the quality of education on offer in these countries is incredibly low. We need to ensure that once in school, children actually learn. Levels of violence are also shockingly high, with corporal punishment widely used. Organisations such as War Child and Save the Children are trying to address all these issues. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister, on behalf of the Government, will try to help them. Schools need to be safe spaces, with zero tolerance being shown if they are attacked or used by armed groups.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak this debate. I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell), and I am sure we can continue to highlight these issues and ensure that in these desperate situations our children all over the world get a decent education.

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I congratulate my good and hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) and the Backbench Business Committee on allocating time for such an important and timely subject for debate.

I want to cover some areas of interest relating to the protection of children in the conflict in Palestine and Israel, child prisoners and the situation of children in Gaza. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response. Clearly, the events of the past few weeks have once again brought to our attention in this House and throughout the world the enduring suffering of children as a result of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I draw to the attention of the House my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I would like to express my heartfelt and sincere sympathy to the families of the three Israeli youths abducted and killed in cold blood. My youngest son is of a similar age and I cannot begin to comprehend the grief that their parents must be experiencing at this time. There is no greater tragedy than that of a young and innocent life full of potential being taken away by conflict. In response to an urgent question earlier this week, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson) said something that I found poignant. He commented that there is no “hierarchy of victimhood” and that the deaths of innocent Palestinian children are equally tragic. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.

For Palestinians, this week’s kidnapping and murder of a 16-year-old boy in a suspected revenge attack and the two innocent teenagers shot dead by Israeli soldiers at Ofer in May this year are just as painful and just as tragic to the Palestinian communities as the deaths of the Israeli youths are for Israel. Since 2001, 1,407 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli military forces and Israeli settlers as a consequence of an unjust and illegal military occupation. Worryingly, according to the United Nations, the instances of Israeli soldiers using live fire against the Palestinian civilian population in recent weeks have increased. I place on record my condolences to all the families who have lost children in this conflict, and I emphasise my desire to see those responsible brought to justice under the rule of law.

It is my wish that no more families on either side should have to suffer such tragedies in the future. I know that that wish is shared by right hon. and hon. Members, some of whom are here today, who have participated in other debates and spoken knowledgeably about their experiences, bringing their insight and knowledge of international law and treaties. Right hon. and hon. Members who share this sentiment recognise that the conflict will continue, and children will continue to be harmed and killed until a fair and just settlement is achieved. Until international law, United Nations resolutions and international conventions for peace are implemented in the middle east, parents of the region will continue to worry for their children’s safety and young people will continue to suffer and die as a result of a conflict that is not of their making.

There is a danger that the current climate of vengeance and retribution will worsen the situation. Uri Ariel, the Israeli housing Minister, has called for a “proper Zionist response”, meaning an acceleration of Israel’s illegal expansion of settlements in the west bank and East Jerusalem and a programme of punitive house demolitions. The Israeli Deputy Minister of Defence, Danny Danon, said that Israel should make the entire Palestinian leadership pay a heavy price for the killing of the three Israeli teenagers, and Mr Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, advocated a full-scale invasion of Gaza as a legitimate response. In the name of security, rights, justice and peace, the demands of these politicians must be rebutted, resisted and challenged by the international community.

Children are never the causes of conflict, but too often they are its victims, and if the cycle of revenge and violence is accelerated, they will pay the heaviest price. I was interested in the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), in which she pointed out the radicalisation of Palestinian youth as a consequence of broadcasts in the Palestinian media. We should also think about the consequences of their day-to-day experience of being brutalised by the occupying power and the impact that that has on young minds. That cannot be discounted and the effects attributed to brainwashing by their own communities. These are relevant issues, but we cannot discount the huge pressures on the Palestinians’ day-to-day existence. Israel has by far the greater ability to make the Palestinians suffer. I fear that it will escalate its policy of punishing them collectively—a crime under international law—for the violent actions of a minority.

The subject of this debate is “Protecting Children in Conflict”. I would like to refer briefly to the plight of children in Gaza. The Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip has now entered its seventh year, spelling despair for its population of 1.6 million, 42% of whom are children aged 14 or younger. Some international organisations are suggesting that the situation cannot continue. The International Monetary Fund, for example, has said that the blockade and other restrictions imposed by the Israelis on Gaza cost the Palestinians 78% of their GDP, or an estimated $6.3 billion a year. With 80% of families in Gaza dependent on humanitarian aid, the consequences are more than economic.

Gaza’s children suffer immeasurably as a result of the severe restrictions Israel places on imports, exports and the movement of people, whether by land, air or sea. Restrictions on the import of construction equipment mean that vital infrastructure, such as housing, health care facilities and schools, are not fit for purpose. More worryingly, water and sewage treatment services are starting to break down. The blockade causes endemic and long-lasting poverty, preventing families from being able to put nutritious food on the table. That manifests itself in malnutrition among the children. Stunting as a result of long-term exposure to chronic malnutrition is found in 10% of children under five in Gaza. Anaemia affects 68% of children and a third of pregnant women. Some 90% of the water extracted from Gaza’s only aquifer is unfit for human consumption, and the UN has warned that it will be irreversibly damaged by 2020.

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My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Unfortunately, the Israeli authorities would not allow the Select Committee to travel to Gaza. Does he share my concerns about salt in the water? When mothers have to make formula with water that contains salt, that has huge implications for their young children’s physical and mental development.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I was a member of a delegation that visited the west bank, and we, too, were refused entry to Gaza. I have certainly heard from other right hon. and hon. Members who visited Gaza and can corroborate exactly what she says. I think that the Minister should make representations to the Israeli authorities on humanitarian grounds.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs has said that the blockade is

“a collective punishment of all those living in Gaza and is a denial of basic human rights in contravention of international law”.

I completely agree. There is no moral or legal justification for Israel’s collective punishment of over 800,000 children. Although they are kept apart by military checkpoints and separation walls—my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian and I were unable to gain access to Gaza because of the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities—the children of Gaza’s fellow Palestinians in the illegally occupied west bank and East Jerusalem, and indeed in the refugee camps, also suffer profoundly as a result of the conflict.

The rights of Palestinian children are routinely violated as Israeli military detention fails to safeguard basic human rights or to adhere to international law in relation to detaining children. The most recent figures indicate that 196 Palestinian children were being held in Israeli military custody at the end of April, but I suspect that the number has increased dramatically in recent weeks. I am disturbed that the Israeli authorities are no longer releasing information on precisely how many children are being held in military detention.

My hon. Friend referred to the independent report “Children in Military Custody”, which was authored by seven senior lawyers from the United Kingdom and funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It highlights how two distinct legal systems are applied by the Israeli authorities to residents of the west bank depending on an individual’s race or national identity. When that policy was applied in South Africa, it was called apartheid, and international politicians, including John Kerry, have used that term with respect to what is happening in the west bank. That independent report by leading lawyers, commissioned by our own Foreign Office, concluded that Israel is in breach of seven articles of the UN convention on the rights of the child, including in relation to discrimination, the child’s best interests, premature resort to detention, non-separation from adults, prompt access to lawyers and the use of shackles.

When I was first elected, I had the opportunity to visit the west bank and see one of those military courts in operation. Some of the children are very young. Some are arrested in midnight raids. The crime for which they are most commonly arrested is throwing stones, and there is often little evidence that the arrested child is the one responsible. They are then shackled and blindfolded before being questioned without their parents being present and without access to any legal representation. There are extensive reports indicating that physical and verbal abuse by the Israeli authorities against those children is commonplace. They can be detained without charge for 188 days and then be made to wait two more years before the conclusion of their trial. They are often arrested in the refugee camps or the occupied territories, but they are held in military detention within Israel. Again, I am not a lawyer, but I believe that that contravenes a United Nations convention.

Most of those children are forced to sign confessions in Hebrew. They might have some understanding of Hebrew when it is spoken, but not when it is written. They often sign the confession in the hope of speeding up the trial. Unsurprisingly, given the flagrant disregard for international law, the overall conviction rate for Palestinian children in Israeli military courts—I should not laugh, but this number is like something from North Korea—is 99.74%.

I believe that a form of psychological warfare is being waged on an entire community and that it is children who are being made to bear the brunt of Israel’s punitive measures. I have witnessed those court proceedings while visiting Israel. Indeed, the image of a young boy the same age as my youngest son being marched along by soldiers with his hands and feet in shackles was truly shocking and will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Recent events have served as a stark reminder of the brutality of life for children in conflict areas. As a parent, I wish that no mother or father had to experience the tragic loss of their child. For a serious commitment towards that end, we must understand that recent tragedies are rooted in a conflict that will not end until Israel acts in accordance with international law, United Nations resolutions and the overwhelming consensus of the international community in order to realise peace and justice in the middle east.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister, in conjunction with his ministerial colleagues, to press the Israeli Government to adhere to these international conventions, particularly in relation to the rights of the child.

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It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who made a particularly important speech about education. I will refer to that as well, but he has covered the ground extensively. I thank the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O’Donnell) for introducing the debate so well and so eloquently, and for her comradeship on International Development Committee trips to the middle east and elsewhere.

Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Somalia, Palestine, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Sudan, and many other places: there is a growing list of terrible conflicts, particularly civil conflicts, around the world. In all these, women and children, in particular, are at risk in many different ways: violence, of course; education, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough explained; health; and, as the hon. Member for East Lothian said, the way they think about things—their freedom of thought and freedom of faith.

In a powerful article in The Independent, the head of War Child, Rob Williams, wrote:

“Sexual violence in conflict zones includes extreme physical violence, the use of sticks, bats, bottles, the cutting of genitals, and the sexual torture of victims who are left with horrific injuries.”

Against anybody, these would be terrible, terrible acts; against children they are just unspeakable. Yet this kind of thing is going on day in, day out in many countries. It is not just about the violence itself but its consequences—not only the medical consequences that are so severe, but the rejection that can occur within these children’s communities and families because of things that have been done to them that are absolutely no fault of theirs. We hear of stories where girls and women who are raped are prosecuted for adultery. What an upside-down world we live in when that happens.

The article refers to the HEAL hospital in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Three years ago, the International Development Committee and I had the privilege of visiting that hospital, which was under the admirable leadership of Dr Lusi. Sadly, Dr Lusi passed away not so long ago. She was the subject of an outstanding obituary in The Economist that showed the sort of work that she and all those who worked with her in that place have done. In the first half of 2012, 74% of sexual violence survivors in the hospital were children—I repeat, 74%. We often hear about violence against women, which is absolutely terrible, but this is against children.

Then there is the issue of child soldiers, where I would like to introduce a slight element of hope. Although child soldiers are still recruited pretty much everywhere there is conflict, there can be a life after that. During the Committee’s most recent visit to Sierra Leone and Liberia, we saw two countries where child soldiers were commonplace—children as young as 10 taken and forced to carry arms and to kill members of their own families. Yet now, thanks to the intervention of the international community—in Sierra Leone, particularly the intervention of UK forces—those two countries are at peace, and many of the young children who were forced to be child soldiers are gradually adapting to a more peaceful life. A few years ago, I was involved in setting up a business in Sierra Leone, and some of the young men we were able to take on were former child soldiers. It is absolutely critical that those who have been involved, through no fault of their own, are able to re-engage in normal life afterwards. At the same time—we saw good evidence of this in Sierra Leone—there has to be emphasis on reconciliation: on truth coming out and on making sure that what went on in the past is not just brushed under the carpet. There is hope. There are examples in west Africa of how countries can come out of this, albeit with great pain and grief.

What are the answers? Perhaps “answers” is too trite a word to use. In his admirable work, together with many others, on violence against women in conflict and violence in conflict more generally, the Foreign Secretary has rightly focused on prosecution. War Child mentions volunteer committees, which are a more local solution in helping people to educate their own communities about what is going on and, perhaps, how to prevent it. There are also child safety centres. Last night, I attended the excellent debate on education led by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), the former Prime Minister. Focusing in particular on Nigeria, he talked about safe schools where children could be protected in that most vital of all activities, education. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said—I believe I am quoting him—that a central part of the first response to a crisis must be a focus on education. I entirely agree. When the Committee visited Lebanon and Jordan, we saw the work that DFID was doing in supporting education. I congratulate DFID and, indeed, the Foreign Office on their rightful focus on that.

I would like to put on record my admiration for the welcome that Lebanon and Jordan have given to refugees. Let us not forget that Lebanon, with a population of 4 million, now has more than 1 million refugees from Syria. Twenty per cent. of its population are now refugees, yet they were welcomed pretty much with open arms. The same is true of Jordan. Not only that, but those countries have accepted refugee children into their own state education systems. Quite a high percentage of the children being educated in Lebanon’s state system are now Syrian refugees. Let us think about whether we would do the same in similar circumstances. In relative terms, that would mean 12 million refugees coming into the United Kingdom, and probably millions—because a high percentage are children—being educated in our state schools. Would we be prepared to be as hospitable as that? I hope so, but Lebanon is doing it now.

I am glad of the support that DFID is giving those countries in upping their numbers of school places, because that will need to be done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said, education is not just a matter of going in and sorting it out for a few weeks or months—it takes a matter of years. The conflict in Syria is not going to go away; it is going to continue, regrettably and painfully. Therefore, our support for the education of those children must continue, wherever they are, including in Syria itself, where DFID is also helping, although obviously our Committee was unable to go there.

There is a serious problem, specifically, with girls’ education. In many countries, as the former Prime Minister said last night, girls are treated very much as second class in education. If there is not enough money to go round, they will be the ones who are not educated, or ideologies will say that it is not worth educating girls and they should not be educated. For Boko Haram, western education is forbidden, specifically education of girls.

Again, I want to introduce an element of hope. When we were in Sierra Leone, we saw examples of second-chance schools supported by DFID—schools for children who have completely missed out on education because of conflict but who are now able, in very difficult circumstances, to receive an education. Often, the buildings used are schools during the day and teachers go there in the evening or late afternoon to provide an education. It was humbling to see children crowding into those dirty classrooms, which had broken desks and no facilities and where white boards were a million miles away, desperate for a second chance at education, because they knew how important it was.

The impact of conflict on health, particularly that of children, is another issue. Worryingly, we are seeing the re-emergence of polio in Syria as a direct consequence of conflict. That is a problem not just for Syria, but for all of us. We had believed that we were close to eradicating polio—a magnificent achievement over the past 20 or 30 years—but its re-emergence in Syria may mean that many of those gains have been lost in that part of the world. Leishmaniasis, which is a terrible, disfiguring disease caused by the sandfly, is also on the increase in Syria. That is another disease that we were perhaps on track to, if not eradicating, certainly minimising around the world.

There are other diseases. In order to reduce the incidence of malaria, people need to sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets. I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases. When people are in a conflict situation and are being driven from pillar to post, it is very unlikely that they will have access to bed nets, so they, and children and pregnant women in particular, will be more liable to catch malaria and possibly die from it.

I pay tribute to those organisations that provide health services in the most incredibly difficult circumstances, including Médecins sans Frontières, Christian and other faith-based hospitals that provide assistance all the way through conflicts, even though they are under desperate pressure, and the committed individuals who sometimes give their lives in the service of their fellow women and men.

I want to touch briefly on the question of thought, belief and freedoms. At a time of conflict, people’s way of life and the way in which they have been brought up can come under tremendous pressure, because sometimes conflicts are driven by ideology. Children are taken away and brainwashed into thinking something completely different, perhaps into hating their parents and their upbringing to the extent that some who have perhaps also been given drugs are prepared to kill their own parents or other members of their family. We sometimes forget that this not just about health, education and violence itself, but about the emotional trauma of conflict and the way in which all the certainties with which a child has been brought up are taken away and replaced by hatred by vile men.

I also want to talk about the United Nations and what the world can do that it is not doing at the moment. The United Nations Security Council has set out six violations against children in conflict: the killing and maiming of children; the recruitment or use of children as soldiers; sexual violence against children; attacks against schools or hospitals; denial of humanitarian access for children; and abduction of children. Sadly, we have read about all those things in our newspapers in recent weeks and months, yet too little is happening at the United Nations.

I am a great believer in the United Nations—it is the only game in town and the only thing we have internationally to work together—but it must do much, much more. First, it must speak up constantly about this issue, which is relevant not just to one, two or three countries, but to dozens of countries across the world. Secondly, as has been said, peacekeepers play a vital role. Personally, having seen peacekeepers in various countries, I do not think we make nearly enough use of them. They are often sitting in camps, just protecting themselves. They do not have a robust enough mandate. That was particularly true in the DRC, where they were not able to go out and deal with the very problems that we as taxpayers believed we were paying them to deal with. Yes, they were there—this is not to take anything away from the peacekeepers themselves—but their mandates were not strong enough, particularly for the protection of children and violence against civilians.

I believe that the UK has a very important, perhaps unique, role to play. We are involved in training peacekeepers in many of the regions affected by conflict. Our armed forces and trainers do a fantastic job, but I believe we could do much more. As we draw down from Afghanistan, I believe our armed forces can play a very important future role in providing training in peacekeeping and the protection of civilians, particularly women and children, and in perhaps more muscular peacekeeping than is the case at present around the world.

We also need to see action from local citizens. We have seen how the great example of Malala Yousafzai and her courageous stand galvanised the world, but we need to see far more of that and we need to protect and endorse such people.

We also need to see more mediators and more women in particular involved in mediation. Far too few women are involved in the reconciliation and mediation that needs to take place in order to bring peace. That is not because of a lack of incredibly capable women, but because they are not thought of or they are not in the right place at the right time. We need an active programme to train and develop women mediators internationally, so that they can go in and help those countries achieve peace.

In conclusion, we face a difficult situation. The situation for children in conflict is, I believe, getting worse, not better. We have seen some encouraging examples of how countries can come out of it, particularly Sierra Leone and Liberia, and what can be done to reintegrate children affected by conflict, whether they have been involved as child soldiers or damaged by conflict. However, current events in Africa and the middle east in particular are throwing the issue into stark relief. We need much, much more robust international action. The United Nations needs to step up to the plate. I hope that in his response the Minister will outline what the UK Government are doing, particularly at the United Nations and with regard to the individual countries suffering from conflict at the moment.

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I am delighted to follow the very thoughtful contributions made to the debate so far. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) for making it possible, and I apologise for missing the very first part of her speech. I was talking about conflict and children in another context elsewhere. I had not anticipated taking part in this debate, but such is its importance that I want to pick up on some of the points made by previous speakers and draw on my own experiences of visiting conflict zones.

This is, of course, a timely debate, for the most tragic of reasons. The images we saw from Palestine earlier this week of the three Israeli children who became victims of war starkly brought home to us the ghastly things and tragedies that are occurring daily in other parts of the world. Another image that brought that home was that of the Nigerian girls, who were the subject of last night’s excellent debate—of which I read, but, alas, was not part—led by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). For hundreds of girls to be taken by terrorists from their schools, where they expected to be educated and to do all the things our children take for granted, and for their lives now to be in the balance—they have perhaps already been sold into the sex trade or whatever, because such threats have been made under the nose of that country’s Government—is absolutely alarming.

So alarming is that situation that we now have to talk about “safe schools”. Schools should be places of safety. When we send our children off to school, we expect them to be looked after and safeguarded. The fact that terrorists can make them pawns in some misguided holy war—that is how they try to portray their terrorism—is quite inconceivable to us today.

A third image that sends a chill down all our spines was one I saw on a news report from the conflict involving the so-called ISIS forces in Iraq: on the back of a pick-up were two boys, who could not have been more than 10 years old, with two AK47s and belts of ammunition to go with them. Those 10-year-olds are combatants of war, who have been expected to join, and coaxed and promoted into, the front line of the ghastly and misguided conflict in that country. We recently debated an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill—I supported the amendment, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois)—to make sentencing mandatory for 16 to 18-year-olds caught in unlawful possession of a knife as a second offence. That is something pretty ghastly in this country, but to have children routinely taking AK47s into places of conflict perhaps puts it into context.

Those three images starkly portray the tragedy that we are debating today, but they are of course the tip of the iceberg, as are the 250,000 children—surely an underestimate—who are child soldiers, including the notorious ones in places such as Uganda. I repeat the tributes paid by all hon. Members to the staff of the NGOs, whom many of us have visited and worked with in places of conflict. They absolutely put their lives on the line to try to protect and to give some safety and security to children who, through no fault of their own, find themselves victims of conflict. I particularly want to repeat the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) to Rob Williams and the excellent charity, War Child. He does such a good job with that charity, as he previously did with UK-based charities involved with families. Such images haunt all hon. Members and, I am sure, all our constituents.

There are, however, things in which we should take great pride, and I am sure that we will hear more about them when the Minister sums up. As in so many cases, the UK is setting the example—putting its money where its mouth is and leading the world—in trying to turn around the juggernaut of children’s involvement in conflict zones.

The international protocol on the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict, which was launched by the UK, is working to establish international standards to help to strengthen prosecutions for rape in conflict, and it is increasing the prospects for successful convictions. We have got to bring people to book to show that such sexual violence is unacceptable. In whatever part of the world, developed or undeveloped, it must not happen and the perpetrators must not get away with it. We must all work together against the forces of evil who allow it to happen.

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The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. In looking at our record on international prosecutions for acts of sexual violence so far, would the suggestion made by one of his colleagues about having a local form of justice, rather the western developed world being seen to impose its standards on other countries, be a better way forward?

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I absolutely agree. If there can be a home-grown solution—so that people have ownership of it, and it can be adapted to their cultures and to the baggage of tribal conflicts, histories and cultural identities that have been asserted through violence—that has to be better. Otherwise, there is a risk that the former colonial power is seen as trying to reassert its ways.

There are some common basic moral standards that we should not resile from asserting in the international context, including that children are children, not young adults to be sent into war zones or to become victims of war in all its ghastly forms. They are children, and we treat children differently—they need our protection and respect—whether they are in Khartoum, Boston, Worthing, East Lothian or anywhere else in the world. We should not resile from the expression of such international values, in which we should take pride.

The Government have already committed to providing more than £140 million to the survivors of sexual violence and their supporters. In the context of the many victims of historical cases of horrendous sexual abuse that have recently hit the headlines in the United Kingdom, a key factor is making sure that victims who have had the bravery to come forward get the support they need in order to come to terms with the trauma that befell them, often as children. In this debate, we are talking about victims who have perhaps seen their parents gruesomely killed in front of them, their homes burned, their sisters raped, or their brothers, sisters and school friends kidnapped and taken off into slavery or the sex trade. These children need our support, and they need rehabilitation to get over traumas caused by what happened in front of their eyes, which is why that project is so important. The Government have also called for all soldiers and peacekeepers to be trained not only to understand the gravity of sexual violence in conflict, but to help to prevent it and to protect people. Those are all practical measures that we can sometimes overlook.

The Government, particularly the Foreign Secretary, should be given great credit for the great initiative of the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict—quite rightly, it hit the media, including our television screens—which he co-hosted with the special envoy Angelina Jolie last month in the east end of London. It brought together more than 140 countries and more than 900 experts, making it the biggest global meeting ever convened on the issue. Let us hope that it was not just a talking shop, but that delegates from nations where such violence happens daily could take comfort, ideas and support, could make contacts and could engage with projects that will help them in the future.

The preventing sexual violence initiative—again, the Government are spearheading it—aims to strengthen and support international efforts to respond to sexual violence in conflict, including by enhancing the capacity of countries, institutions and communities to support survivors and to end impunity for perpetrators. A team of UK experts has been deployed to conflict-affected countries at the heart of the problem, such as Libya, Syria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Mali, to name but a few. The initiative provides good practical experience, and we should be proud that DFID, our Foreign Office and this Government are pioneering, leading and setting such an example on the global stage.

Education is absolutely vital in all this, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) mentioned. That is why I welcome DFID’s pledge that by 2015 it will spend half of its direct educational aid on unstable or war-torn countries where more than two fifths of the world’s out-of-school children are found and where a lack of education can contribute directly to conflict. In such a revolving doors scenario, kids are indoctrinated to hate other kids and families from other tribes and religions in other parts of the country. If they are brought up to accept that as normal, it is little surprise that they are susceptible to taking up arms when a conflict happens. We have to start at the beginning, by educating against conflict and the mentality of vehement retaliation right at the outset. Education is so important. The United Kingdom’s commitment of up to £300 million for the Global Partnership for Education over the next four years is therefore particularly welcome.

Many children out of school are marginalised and hard to reach, and nearly half of them live in fragile and conflict-affected areas. Marginalisation affects children right through the education system, from early education to university level. In post-conflict environments and fragile states, getting children back into school and addressing out-of-school youth, some of whom may have been child soldiers or refugees themselves, helps to bring back a sense of equity, justice and cohesion to what can be a fractured society. That has to be the start.

Girls’ education is a big issue. The girls’ education challenge will give up to 1 million of the world’s poorest girls the opportunity to improve their lives through education. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford was important: if more women were doing the educating—and, indeed, the negotiating before or after a conflict, as well—there might be a better chance of avoiding the worst excesses of conflict in the first place.

We will perhaps think of places such as Afghanistan, where under the Taliban regime girls were excluded from education. Despite all the horrors that have taken place in that country, one great success that we should never cease to emphasise is that so many young women and girls in Afghanistan now have the opportunity to get an education in school and to go on to university. We should never underestimate the importance of that. However, there are other countries, which are not in such familiar conflict zones, where young women do not get access to education. There is so much more to do, particularly in parts of Africa. That is why DFID’s priority of concentrating aid on getting more girls into education across the world is a good one that many of us can support.

I have seen projects in places such as Ghana. In my constituency, I run the EYE project—it stands for Eco, Young and Engaged—and every year we have an eco-summit; recently we had our seventh. A very enthusiastic local man called Jib Hagan runs a charity called CARE—Collecting and Recycling Ecologically. He collects old computers that are being thrown out by local schools and businesses, takes them to Ghana and puts them in schools, pre-loaded with lots of information about how to be more environmentally friendly, how girls can get better education, engagement in the democratic process and so on. In return, he brings back lots of wonderful shopping bags made from old plastic carrier bags by some of the kids and the families out there.

A few years ago, we did a satellite link-up with the British Council between one school in a very impoverished area whose pupils were using those computers and the 250 local kids at my eco-summit. Incredibly, the technology worked. British kids and Ghanaian kids in completely contrasting environments spoke to each other, and understood and empathised with one another. It was a wonderful moment. To see the advantage that a bit of old technology that we were throwing out had brought to those kids—it was going to transform their educational opportunities and, I hope, keep that country out of conflict—was deeply humbling, and a very proud moment for those of us who had helped to make it happen.

Girls’ education is a particularly important part of preventing conflict in the future. I will draw on a couple of examples. I do not need to go over all the statistics about what is happening in Syria at the moment, but there are now 2.3 million children in Syria who are out of school or at risk of dropping out of school. Many hundreds of thousands are refugees outside Syria, as well. I am due to visit some Syrian refugee camps in Jordan later this month—they are vast camps—just as some years ago in Syria I visited what was then the largest refugee camp run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the world. It was for Iraqis fleeing conflict who had gone to Damascus. I saw the great efforts of the UNHCR and other charities, which were trying to make sure that there was some normality in the lives of those kids. Getting some ongoing education for them was absolutely key. We must make sure that children who are displaced because of the horrible war dragging on in Syria can at least have some semblance of a normal childhood by continuing some form of education. The crisis in Syria has placed many women and girls at risk of violence, exploitation and insecurity. We often forget that.

Drawing on some of my previous trips, the very first parliamentary delegation that I went on, some 15 or so years ago, was to Ethiopia. That country had been riven by civil war under a particularly nasty Marxist regime. People had been driven out of their properties and sexual violence was part of the conflict. I remember visiting the Fistula hospital in Addis Ababa. It is a charity set up by some wonderful medics, where visiting clinicians go to help out. Daily I saw 12-year-old, 13-year-old and 14-year-old women—in some cases they had walked hundreds of miles—who had had bad experiences of giving birth because they had been too young. They were victims either of conflict, of misguided forced marriage or of being raped, effectively under the noses of their families in their villages, and had then been cast out. The only sanctuary and help they could get was by walking literally hundreds of miles to that wonderful hospital in Addis Ababa. The war in Ethiopia did huge damage but the country is, I hope, on a better path now.

I visited schools in the drought-affected areas, and, as I said earlier, kids were walking 10 miles or more each day to and from their homes to attend school, because it was such a big deal. They loved it. Nobody was playing hooky there; no truancy officer was needed. They went to school because their parents wanted them to go, as they could see it was a good thing. The kids themselves wanted to go to school and get an education, because that was their ladder out of poverty. It would stop them getting sucked into the conflict that so often happens in these impoverished zones, where people will fight over a little dustbowl of land.

I remember going to Mozambique—again, a country riven by vicious civil war over many, many years. There were many displaced kids who had fled parts of Mozambique and had gone to what they thought was the relative safety of South Africa, but had ended up in the sex trade. I worked with some hugely dedicated charities in Mozambique that were trying to rescue those kids.

A few years ago I went to Tajikistan, where I was taken to a school in Duschanbe, because I wanted to see some of the refugees from Afghanistan—there were a lot of them there. They asked me to give a class to kids of all different ages. They spoke wonderful English and were really enthusiastic about being there. They were there because they had been driven out of Afghanistan. There had been a big spate of kidnappings: brothers and sisters had been kidnapped; indeed, the teacher’s own children had been kidnapped and she had never seen them again. Tajikistan was giving them sanctuary, and had given them a school and some teaching resources, because the way forward is education.

There are many other subjects that we could mention in this debate. Forced marriages are another form of conflict, frankly. Female genital mutilation, of which we have been hearing so much recently, is another form of violence inflicted on children. It is not acceptable in the modern world, and we should not be afraid of saying so, whatever cultural differences might separate us from those people who say it is all right. It is not all right. It is not acceptable in this day and age. It is violence against girls and women.

There is no excuse for children being caught up in war and conflict. Children are different and special, and as adults we have a duty to do whatever we can to protect them, in this country or in any far-flung corner of the globe in which they are involved in conflict. In many of the countries that we are talking about, almost half the population is under the age of 18, so we are talking about huge numbers of people who are the future of those countries. If we do not get it right for those war-torn countries now, we will not get it right in the future. If they get back on the road to peace and prosperity, their kids might at last get an education and a chance to prosper.

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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) and the Backbench Business Committee for providing the opportunity to debate this subject. It is sadly not the best attended debate, but that is often the case on Thursday afternoons. However, the speeches have been genuinely excellent, if a little depressing in content.

We have heard much about the suffering of children who are affected by conflict and about the disproportionate, devastating and far-reaching impact that conflict has on children’s lives. Armed conflicts continue to take the young lives of thousands of children each year, whether as civilians or as child soldiers. My hon. Friend said that, whereas children used to be caught up in collateral damage, they are increasingly being targeted during conflict, whether to be recruited as child soldiers or as the victims of sexual violence.

When children are affected by conflict, it has a lasting legacy, even when countries emerge from that conflict. Some people have physical injuries because they have been maimed in the conflict. My hon. Friend spoke about the concern over the growth of indiscriminate explosive weapons such as cluster bombs. Other people are harmed psychologically and suffer trauma because of what they witnessed or took part in during their childhood. Quite often, people suffer because they have missed out on education or suffered health consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) spoke of the suffering and deprivation of the children living in Gaza.

Eight years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Uganda with Oxfam. It was the first overseas visit that I made as a Member of Parliament. What I saw there still resonates with me today. I went to the camps for internally displaced people in the north. That was at the beginning of the peace talks between the Government and the Lord’s Resistance Army, and there were about 1.5 million people living in the camps. I heard horrific stories about child soldiers who had been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. More than 25,000 children, some as young as 10, were abducted, indoctrinated and forced to become child soldiers or, in the case of girls, soldiers’ wives. Some were forced to commit atrocities against their own families, such as killing or amputating the limbs of their parents, brothers or sisters, so that they lived in fear of returning to their villages and would not escape.

Being forced to become a child soldier does not necessarily condemn someone for the rest of their life. The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) talked about setting up a business in Sierra Leone that recruited former child soldiers. I commend him for that. If he has not read Ishmael Beah’s excellent book, “A Long Way Gone”, I recommend it to him. It is aptly described as “a child’s journey to hell and back”. Ishmael Beah was recruited at the age of 13 by the Government army in Sierra Leone, but was eventually released. It is the amazing story of how he was helped by a UNICEF rehabilitation centre. I think that he is now living in New York and has published his first novel. He is a compelling writer and the book offers inspiration and hope for those who are suffering a similar fate today.

I also pay tribute to Emmanuel Jal, who is a former child soldier from South Sudan. I was privileged to meet him at Glastonbury last year in his new incarnation as a rap artist and political activist. That just shows what people can achieve. The fact that those two men are out there as spokespeople for former child soldiers is incredibly inspiring.

Many Members have spoken about the importance of education. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) was very specific in what he asked of the Minister. I look forward to what the Minister has to say about education often being neglected and underfunded in the humanitarian response to conflict. The hon. Gentleman argued that education should be included in the first phase of the humanitarian response and that at least 4% of the funding in such situations should be targeted at education. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that.

As we have heard, this is a timely debate, given the publication on Tuesday of the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, which documents 23 conflict situations in which children were recruited, maimed, killed or subjected to sexual violence and other grave human rights abuses in 2013. The UN reports that seven national armies recruited child soldiers, as did 50 armed groups in 14 countries. The Secretary-General concluded that last year was marked by “worrisome trends” that necessitate “a redoubling of efforts”, including

“a significant spike in the killing and maiming of children”.

There were 4,000 cases of the recruitment and use of children. Of course, those are only the documented cases and there could have been many more. The report also noted the continued detention of children allegedly involved with armed groups.

In Afghanistan, the Secretary-General documented the recruitment of boys as young as eight to be suicide bombers or sex slaves, or to manufacture and plant improvised explosive devices. In December, there were 196 boys in juvenile rehabilitation centres in Afghanistan on national security related charges. The UN has received several reports of alleged ill-treatment of child detainees, including sexual abuse. The number of child casualties in Afghanistan increased by 30% last year and the UN verified reports of sexual violence against girls and boys committed not only by the Taliban and the Haqqani network, but by the national police. Children were also affected by attacks on hospitals and schools. Schools were attacked on at last 73 occasions, resulting in at least 11 children losing their lives.

War Child reports that one in seven Afghan children will not reach their fifth birthday. There are no social services to protect the poorest and most vulnerable children. One in three children under the age of five is moderately or severely underweight. I could go on with the horrific statistics that are revealed by the report. Some 49% of Afghanistan’s internally displaced people are under 18. That all demonstrates the need to maintain a focus on Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the international security assistance force.

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian, the Central African Republic presents one of the most pressing challenges. The recruitment of child soldiers in that country is described as “endemic”. I have been contacted by many constituents, as I am sure have other Members, who support the Save the Children campaign for the more than 1 million children who are desperate for life-saving assistance. Save the Children has highlighted the threat of sexual violence in the CAR and I know that the Minister has focused on that issue. Indeed, I was pleased to attend his “Voices of Children in Conflict” event at the global summit to end sexual violence, as did my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian, where we heard more about the efforts to help the estimated 6,000 child soldiers in the CAR, 40% of whom are girls and are more at risk of sexual violence. As the Secretary-General summarised it, children are suffering “abominable atrocities”. We have heard of cases of boys being beheaded, for example.

I understand that the international contact group on the CAR is due to meet next week. I would be grateful if the Minister updated us on his priorities for that, and on what he thinks can be achieved. He will know that Save the Children has called for the appointment of a special envoy and the deployment of UK experts.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the picture is a little more mixed. Some 30,000 child soldiers have been demobilised, according to the World Bank’s figures from 2011. There has been progress in prosecuting the people responsible for recruiting child soldiers. The UN has reported that 910 children were recruited in 2013 to be used as combatants or for supporting roles in the camps. Most of the girls who were recruited were subjected to sexual slavery. The UN was able to verify 209 cases of conflict-related sexual violence. UNICEF has done excellent work to help nearly 5,000 children who had been associated with the conflict. It is imperative that such work continues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Easington made a powerful speech about his personal experiences of visiting Israel and the occupied territories. I am contacted regularly by constituents who are concerned by the plight of Palestinian children in particular. As we have heard, by the end of December, 154 boys were being held in Israeli military detention, most in pre-trial detention. There is concern at the fact that that more than 1,000 children were arrested by Israeli security forces last year. As my hon. Friend said, that conflict is a tragedy for the children on both sides and for the families on both sides who have lost children, who have seen their children suffer or who have had to watch their children grow up with the ongoing conflict, perhaps being stoned on the way to school, suffering abuse or living in fear of rocket attacks. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that.

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While my hon. Friend is on that point, I would like to ask her opinion on the specific recommendations of the report that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Baroness Scotland commissioned on the treatment of Palestinian child detainees, which the Israeli authorities have largely ignored.

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I have read the powerful “Children in Military Custody” report, to which my hon. Friend refers. Obviously, the Minister is not in a position to take it forward with the Israeli authorities, but the recommendations should be acted on.

Burma, too, is an ongoing concern. We had an excellent debate in Westminster Hall a week or two ago about the continuing conflict, particularly as it affects ethnic minorities in Burma, especially in Rakhine state, but also in other areas where it remains a problem. Given the time available, and that fact that we documented it in some detail in that debate, I will move on. However, at the end of the sexual violence summit, the Minister said that addressing the problem of children in conflict was a personal priority for him. Will he therefore tell us whether the training offered by the UK to the Burmese military was conditional on ending the use of child soldiers? There is also the problem of the prevalence of sexual violence in the Burmese military and the immunity enjoyed by the army. Given that we are providing some support for the Burmese army, it is important that we flag up the use of child soldiers with Burma.

As we have heard, the devastating crisis in Syria has created more than 1.2 million child refugees. I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) on ensuring that children are not the forgotten victims of the conflict. Several Members paid tribute to his Adjournment debate last night on the abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls and the need for safe schools there. I was a present at a debate that he held a couple of months ago about education for children, particularly displaced Syrian refugee children in the camps in Lebanon. He brought forward an amazing initiative. He had been talking to the Department for International Development that day and the Minister said that he would act upon the former Prime Minister’s suggestion for sharing school time: there are two shifts in a school, and the Lebanese children would attend for part of the day and the Syrian refugee children would attend for the rest of the day. Several hundred thousand children would benefit from that initiative, and I commend my right hon. Friend for that, and his work on addressing the problem of Boko Haram and the Nigerian schoolgirls. Boko Haram was added to the Secretary-General’s list published this week, and many other countries, such as Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia were also included.

Slightly more positively, the national army in Chad has met all the requirements of its action plan and has been removed from the list of those recruiting children, which is good news. That shows the difference that the UN can make. It is imperative that the international community pushes for, first and foremost of course, an end to all those devastating conflicts, but also for special consideration for how children can be protected, and for these countries to work with the UN on the development and implementation of action plans.

The examples we have heard today demonstrate the multiple and severe ways in which children are affected by conflict, necessitating a multifaceted, variable and enduring response from the international community. The UN Children, Not Soldiers campaign launched this March works in Afghanistan, Chad, DRC, Burma, Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen to end and prevent the recruitment of child soldiers by Government security forces by 2016. I would be grateful if the Minister set out how the UK is supporting this, and what discussions there have been on deploying child protection experts. It is important, too, as I am sure that the Minister agrees, that the FCO provides robust protections for human rights defenders speaking up for children who are denied a voice.

I am sorry—I am making an awful lot of demands on the Minister in the time he has—but it would be helpful to have an update on how enforcement of the arms trade treaty could protect children and deter the recruitment of child soldiers. I am sure that the Minister will, when he speaks, reiterate the personal commitment he has shown to helping children in conflict. He will know that the FCO has our full support for its work to end sexual violence.

I hope that the Minister can tell us a little more about the concrete steps taken at the summit last month to protect some of the most vulnerable children around the world from such appalling crimes and to ensure that survivors can access age-appropriate support, given the particular difficulties children will face in speaking out about the sexual violence that they have endured.

Today’s debate has also highlighted DFID’s role in working to secure access to education, health care and humanitarian assistance. I have not spent so much time talking about education because several hon. Members have done more than justice to that topic today. It is obviously incredibly important.

I conclude by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian again for leading the debate. She understandably cares passionately about the subject and I commend her for her efforts to ensure that the specific needs and vulnerabilities of children in conflict are not overlooked or subsumed in a homogenous approach that neglects the complexities of these atrocities.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) on securing this important debate and on the passionate, informed and articulate way in which she introduced it. She was right to highlight some of the complexities of these important issues, and I will come to some of the very specific points that she asked about later.

It needs to be said that the subject has been at the forefront of the Government’s agenda, coming as it does after the recent global summit to end sexual violence in conflict. The hon. Lady was right to congratulate the Foreign Secretary and all the officials who were involved in organising the summit, which was the largest ever held on the issue. It set in motion a series of unprecedented practical steps and commitments, such as the first ever international protocol on how to document and investigate sexual violence in conflict, and a statement of action, uniting Governments, UN agencies, civil society, experts and survivors in a shared determination to tackle sexual violence.

When it comes to children’s lives, all efforts must be made. That is why I am personally committed to tackling this issue, not least as the father of three children. I am concentrating my efforts on raising awareness and helping to prevent the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, focusing on demobilising child soldiers and preventing sexual violence against children, working with multilateral agencies and encouraging those with successful track records to assist those who still have challenges.

During visits to Somalia, South Sudan and the DRC, I have witnessed at first hand the devastation that conflict causes not just to children, but to whole communities. I have also seen the excellent work of NGOs such as War Child, which make a real difference to children’s lives on the ground. I take the opportunity to join other Members of all parties in acknowledging and thanking all the NGOs involved in the issue for their tireless commitment and energy.

As several hon. Members highlighted, on the fringes of the ESVC summit, I held and spoke at a meeting on children and armed conflict in front of a knowledgeable and large audience. There were powerful testimonies from a survivor of the war in Sierra Leone and a child soldier from Uganda, both of whom spoke bravely and articulately about their experiences. Closer to home, a very brave lady, who was affected by the conflict in Bosnia, spoke. That collectively underlined the grave dangers that children face during conflict and the need for us to take urgent action to prevent this from affecting a greater number of children around the world.

In addition to that fringe meeting in the ESVC summit, I also brought together Ministers from the DRC and Somalia along with countries that have experience of successfully tackling the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) rightly mentioned Sierra Leone, whose Minister underlined the importance of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes to ensure that children have crucial access to education and training. As other hon. Members have highlighted, that is vital in ensuring that children become less vulnerable to recruitment and sexual violence. As the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) rightly said, those who have made progress more recently, for example, Chad, have a significant role to play in assisting others.

At this stage let me tackle head-on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford about the role of the United Nations. It has been 15 years since the Security Council recognised children in armed conflict as an issue of international peace and security, with the adoption of resolution 1261. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) rightly pointed out, the United Kingdom continues to play a leading role at the United Nations and internationally on that issue. I was therefore pleased that under the UK’s presidency of the Security Council in July last year, the UN adopted a strong presidential statement to protect the robust mandate of the UN special representative for children affected by armed conflict, as well as introducing steps for tackling persistent perpetrators. That was followed by UN Security Council resolution 2143 in March this year, which outlines practical steps for combating violations against children, while drawing attention to attacks on schools.

I commend the efforts of the United Nations in tackling that issue, and in particular the excellent UN special representative of the Secretary-General for the initiative Children, not Soldiers, which is designed to end the recruitment and use of children by Government armed forces in conflict by 2016. As a result of the SRSG’s excellent work in that area, more than 20 countries have agreed action plans with the UN, and to halt the recruitment and use of children—including, most recently, the Government of Yemen. Those action plans play a crucial role in putting pressure on the perpetrators of those abhorrent violations against children.

In Africa, as I mentioned, we have seen progress in Chad with a completion of its action plan, and a recommitment from South Sudan this month to the action plan it signed in 2012. We must be clear, however, that this issue does not only affect African countries. As we saw in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, which was released on Tuesday, grave violations have been committed against children in 23 countries, including Iraq, Syria and Burma, and all those countries have been rightly mentioned in this debate.

In Syria and the wider region, 5.5 million children are in need of education, and more than half are out of school. There is danger of a “lost generation” of Syrian children experiencing trauma, displacement and missing out on education, which is the cornerstone for brighter futures. Their lives have been disrupted and potentially wasted. That is why the UK is supporting UNICEF and others in Syria and the region through the No Lost Generation initiative, which aims to increase support for education, psychosocial support, and protection for Syrian children. In addition to education, support partners are running child-friendly spaces that provide a safe place for Syrian children to play and study. This is therefore a global issue that requires a global solution. I highlight to the House the importance that the Prime Minister and Government attach to the girl summit that will be held in July in the United Kingdom, which will hopefully mobilise domestic and international efforts to end female genital mutilation, and early and forced marriage.

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To return briefly to the Minister’s comments about Lebanon and Jordan, does he recognise a possible future problem in that our aid is supporting refugees whereas the Jordanian and Lebanese populations are struggling as rent prices are forced up? We must guard against that possible tension in the future.

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