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Westminster Hall

Volume 607: debated on Tuesday 8 March 2016

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 8 March 2016

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

BACKBENCH BUSINESS

Welfare of Young Dogs Bred for Sale

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Looking at the number of colleagues present who wish to take part in the debate, I am minded to impose immediately a time limit of four minutes on speeches, other than that of the mover of the motion. That will allow 10 minutes for each of the three Front-Bench spokesmen, whom I shall call at 10.30 am, with a little injury time in the case of interventions. Once Dr Cameron has spoken, I will endeavour to be helpful to colleagues and give an indication of the order in which I wish to call them.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the welfare of young dogs bred for sale.

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. It is a privilege to have secured this debate. This is an issue I feel very strongly about, having had rescue dogs in my family since childhood, and it is one on which there is overwhelming support from the public across the UK.

I would like initially to thank the organisations, many of which are represented here today, that work tirelessly on animal welfare and have supported this debate. They include the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Dogs Trust, Marc the Vet, the Blue Cross, Pup Aid and the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, to name but a few. There are three important strands to this debate that I will cover: the breeding, trafficking and sale of young dogs. I know that other Members are keen to contribute, and I will therefore aim to be concise.

In terms of what is most visible to the public—the sale of young dogs—there is a real issue with puppies being sold in pet shops on our high streets. That is a long-standing issue, which was debated in this House only last year. The sale of dogs in pet shops gives the impression that they are mere commodities and does not afford them their status as man’s best friend.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. Can she inform the Chamber of the position relating to Scotland’s powers on the breeding and sale of dogs? Have the Scottish National party Government looked at this issue and are they going to act?

I am pleased to inform the hon. Lady that the Scottish Government are currently looking at this issue. I will touch on that later in my speech.

The sale of dogs in pet shops badges them as commodities and does not give a clear message to the public that a dog is for life. Pet shop puppies are often removed from their mothers too early, separated after just four weeks. Many have been reared in puppy farms, which many notable recent reports have exposed as unacceptable in terms of their animal welfare conditions. Puppy farms do not foster good care, socialisation or attachment with mothers, and we know that those issues contribute to poor temperament in dogs and an increased likelihood of illness and disease. That is not good for puppies, and it is not good for the public.

The high street is not, in my view, the place to buy a puppy. Selling puppies on the high street fosters puppy farming and puppy trafficking. It also leads to impulse purchases, where the household may not be best suited to the dog, nor the dog to the household. That is a very poor start. I am not alone in my view: polling indicates that 90% of the public do not wish to buy a puppy that has been reared on a puppy farm. People are often doing so unknowingly when they buy on the high street.

Numerous recent reports on puppy farming indicate an overwhelming lack of care and concern for basic animal welfare. Mothers who are used excessively as breeding machines for profit purposes are then discarded or even killed when no longer of any use. They are kept for their whole lives in cramped, unhygienic and often horrendous conditions that make us weep.

Puppy farming and trafficking is, however, big business. Recent studies indicate that, in the European Union, trade in cats and dogs is worth £1.3 billion annually. In 2015, 93,424 dogs were imported into the UK from the EU. The RSPCA indicates that in the past year, 30,000 dogs were imported to the UK from illegal farms in Romania, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania, and 40,000 came from Ireland.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. This is an animal welfare issue, but it is also linked to serious and organised crime. Does she agree that if we are to tackle it, we should do so from a welfare point of view, but also from a crime point of view?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I feel extremely strongly about this. Having looked at the literature, it is clear to me that this is organised, professional and big business, and we must make concerted efforts to address it.

The RSPCA petition to scrap the puppy trade was signed by 50,000 UK citizens, with 82% of people surveyed indicating that they wanted the puppy trade scrapped. The petition highlighted the fact that a licence is needed to sell scrap metal, but not to sell man’s best friend. Concerns have also been raised by ferry companies and port authorities in Stranraer in Scotland and beyond that puppies brought in from the EU under puppy passport schemes often have no microchip, health certificates or rabies vaccines. That goes beyond animal welfare; it is organised and surely poses a public health risk.

Legislation must be fit for modern day society, where many transactions, including the sale of dogs, take place via the internet. The Pet Advisory Action Group indicates that, in conjunction with the authorities, it has had to remove 130,000 inappropriate adverts regarding animal sales. We must reform our system so that it is fit for purpose and so that welfare requirements are universal in our modern society.

We know that to develop into a healthy, well balanced dog, puppies must be reared in natural environments. It is recommended, including by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that puppies remain with their mothers for a minimum of eight weeks after birth. That must be properly enacted and monitored to protect dogs, ensure puppy development, attachment and socialisation, and reduce the incidence of aggression, illness and premature death. All responsible breeders should abide by the best standards and take pride in doing so. The “Where’s Mum?” campaign, supported by the public, highlights those issues and argues that puppies should only be purchased from a breeder when the mum is present and standards are adhered to.

The journey of a puppy should also be tracked from birth by registration and microchipping. Disreputable breeders ignore guidelines but often go unpunished, which only reinforces their behaviour. Guidelines indicate that dogs should breed no more than six times in their lifetime, and the Kennel Club’s recommendation is no more than four times. The Kennel Club reports that one in five pups bought in pet shops needs veterinary care or dies before they are five months old. They become sick due to the sickness of our system.

We are aware that animal welfare legislation is a devolved issue but close collaboration is needed to ensure that we get this right across the board and across the nations of the UK. In Scotland and England, further consultations are under way. The Welsh Assembly introduced additional animal welfare legislation in 2014. I ask that all Governments across the UK view these issues with the gravity they deserve. Actions, not merely words, are required.

I request today that the Minister consider the following. We need a public awareness campaign, co-ordinated across the UK, outlining how to recognise best practice in dog breeding and providing the public with guidelines on how and where to buy puppies reputably. We are looking for leadership on this issue directly from Government, and I would advocate that concerned citizens contact their MP or Member of the devolved Assemblies and ask them to champion that.

We need stipulations that those selling a puppy must have licences with adequate welfare conditions attached, and we must reduce the threshold for a breeding licence from four litters to two, as recommended. The construction and monitoring of a national database of puppy sellers is required to ensure the enforcement and checking of welfare conditions. The microchipping and recording of all puppies for sale is needed to ensure welfare and consumer confidence. Internet advertisers must also display the licence number of the puppy seller so that the puppy journey can be checked.

On welfare, the minimum age of selling a puppy at eight weeks should be not just recommended, but clarified and made mandatory. The principles of the assured breeders scheme must be enacted. Guidance under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 needs to be updated to prohibit the sale of puppies from pet shops or retail premises, and training and increased resource for local authorities should be provided to ensure that regulations are randomly monitored and enforced. Reporting on the monitoring and conviction rates of rogue puppy dealers and traffickers is needed. The public require action.

We must tackle the sale and trafficking of illegally imported puppies. Key agencies require regular shared intelligence across the EU and a published strategy that is monitored, enforced and reviewed. Visual checks must be routine for dogs entering the UK. That is required not just on welfare grounds, but on public health grounds, as outlined.

I have listened very carefully to what the hon. Lady has said. I am glad to hear of a consultation by the Scottish Government, but I do not see, in anything she has said a clear commitment from them to do all the things that she is demanding of the UK Government—the Government relating to England. Is she saying that the Scottish Government will do all the things that she is outlining today?

I am saying that these are the issues that I wish to be taken forward across the UK, so that there are commensurate animal welfare policies right across all the devolved Governments and in the UK Parliament. I would not seek to pre-empt the outcome of any consultations, but this is certainly an issue that I feel strongly about. It is an issue I have brought to the House and I hope that the Governments will take it on adequately, given what I believe to be the gravity of the situation.

In conclusion, there is cross-party support on this issue. More importantly, there is widespread public support. Fundamentally, we are here to represent our constituents, not to enable big businesses trading in puppy maltreatment. The public demand and deserve action—meaningful action—on the welfare of young dogs bred for sale. We claim to be a nation of animal lovers; it is time that we walked the walk, because at this moment—today and tomorrow—puppies are being maltreated in this country by rogue breeders, traffickers and traders. We must put a stop to it.

I said that I would try to indicate the order in which I will call Members to speak, so I shall do so now. In a moment I will call Sir David Amess and then, in the following order, Angela Smith, Jim Shannon, Drew Hendry, Jim Fitzpatrick, Margaret Ferrier, Liz Saville Roberts and Danny Kinahan. That should leave sufficient time for the Front Benchers to reply if everybody adheres to the four-minute time limit and does not take too many interventions.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on her introduction to the debate; I wholeheartedly agree with everything she said. I hope she will not take offence, but as you and I know, Sir Roger, having debated this matter many times, unfortunately every time the House comes to an agreement on it, clever individuals try and get round the law. However, with our excellent Minister present today, I am sure that this will be a groundbreaking debate.

Puppies are cute, but they grow up and then perhaps they are not so cute. I utterly condemn unlicensed breeders, as articulated by the hon. Lady. I also want to step into more controversial areas: I am not very keen on what I call “designer puppies”. To me, that seems to have increasingly got out of hand, and of course there are health issues there.

The illegal practice of the puppy farm trade affects the whole of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, in my county of Essex, an investigation was launched by the RSPCA last June into a puppy farm, as there were serious concerns about the owner selling underweight and ill dogs and not providing the right paperwork to buyers. Although the owner has insisted that no puppies are bred on the premises and the council has confirmed that the owner is covered under a pet shop licence, the grey areas surrounding the licensing laws make it very difficult to know whether these operations are legal or to check whether the welfare of the puppies is of a responsible standard.

The excellent RSPCA reported over 3,500 calls on puppy farms in 2015, which was a 122% increase on the last five years. Many of those calls included people complaining that their puppies had become ill after they had been bought, as the hon. Lady said. I absolutely agree with everything that she said about the number of litters that should be allowed and think that the number of ill puppies that are being sold is totally reprehensible.

I do not want to start a row about membership of the European Union, but the importing of puppies from Europe to the UK has soared in recent years, due to the change in EU law in 2013 to allow the free movement of people’s pets—perhaps that is another reason to leave the EU. According to the RSPCA, the British puppy market has changed in the past three years, with the number of imported puppies increasing to over 60,000 puppies a year, coming from places such as Ireland, Lithuania and Hungary. That leads to puppies not being vaccinated against diseases and showing behavioural problems due to the transit conditions from the continent to the United Kingdom. EU regulation No. 576/2013, which intended to strike a balance between allowing the free movement of people’s pets for holidays or dog shows and ensuring that diseases such as rabies are contained, has simply not worked.

In conclusion, what can be done to tighten the rules and regulations of the puppy trade in the UK? I welcome the review by DEFRA of animal licensing, which recommends changing the legal framework, which, in some parts, is outdated and preceded the internet age. Furthermore, compulsory licensing ought to be implemented for anyone selling a puppy—including commercial breeders who breed two or more litters a year—setting out clear requirements for the vendor, such as clearer sales information on any online puppy adverts, and more transparency for consumers on the puppies they buy online. That could be achieved by having model licensing conditions for puppy breeding and selling to provide better harmonisation between local authorities. To mitigate the illegal trade in puppies from the continent, surveillance at ports to catch and prosecute puppy dealers should be intensified to ensure that puppy dealers are not evading import controls. Most importantly, there should be a revision of the current European Union regulation on the free movement of pets.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, especially on a subject on which you have so much expertise. It is a pleasure, too, to follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who is absolutely right to say that we have debated this issue many times, including in the main Chamber, where we had an excellent debate on it only two years ago.

I want to restrict my comments to illegal importation. The pet travel scheme—otherwise known as PETS—was set up to allow companion animals to enter the UK without the need for quarantine, as long as the owner complies with the rules of travel and the animal involved has a valid pet passport. I think we would all agree that since the scheme’s introduction, it has allowed many owners to take their pets away on holiday and helped reduce the need for pets to be placed in quarantine for many weeks, reducing stress both for pets and owners.

Unfortunately, however, the scheme is open to abuse, the level of which is now causing significant concern. There is clear evidence that the illegal importation of puppies into the UK is a major problem, especially when one considers that the practice is often coupled with the sale of puppies online through classified websites. The need to reform the scheme has been recognised, and I want to acknowledge that on the record. I welcome the recent changes that have seen the introduction of measures to improve security and traceability of passports, and a new minimum age of 12 weeks for rabies vaccination. However, I contend that more needs to be done.

In its second investigation into abuses of the scheme by commercial smugglers, Dogs Trust found yet again that dealers in Lithuania are regularly importing puppies illegally. It has also been found that there is a problem with Romania and Hungary, where vets and unscrupulous breeders are regularly exploiting loopholes in the scheme to import puppies illegally into the UK.

Adequate enforcement of PETS is part of the problem. It is left to carriers, ferry companies and Eurotunnel to enforce it. A Dogs Trust investigation reveals the inadequacy of the checks that are carried out or example, there is no obligation for carriers to do even a sight check of the animals being imported. In fact, there are various problems, one being that the owner can scan a chip that may not belong to the dog, and may not be embedded in the animal.

Not only are buyers here in the UK being duped into buying puppies that they are told are UK bred, but they often spend considerable sums on these animals. Tragically and most importantly, these puppies often suffer serious stress and illness because of the way in which they have been bred in those countries and conveyed into this country. Welfare standards are just not being met.

What do we need to do about this? I am pleased that the Minister has started a broad consultation on the breeding and sale of dogs and that that includes online sales, which are a huge part of the problem. Illegal importation is not good for anyone. It is not good for pet owners, it is not good for legitimate puppy breeders who work to high standards and most of all it is not good for the puppies. I hope that the Minister will come up with a meaningful response today, especially on illegal importation. We need visual checks of all dogs entering the UK and more rigorous enforcement and penalties, such as fixed penalty notices or on-the-spot fines, to make sure the problem is tackled effectively before more dogs suffer and more owners are duped into buying dogs that are supposedly UK bred.

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate on this important issue. It is always good to come to this Chamber and say what we have done as a devolved Administration. The Minister will be aware of that because I am sure that he will have done his homework before coming here, as will the shadow Minister. The Northern Ireland Assembly has introduced legislation to make wonderful and important changes to animal welfare rules. My party is committed to that, has shown great concern about it, and has championed legislation and activism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) launched our party’s animal welfare policy about a year ago and we have taken steps to make Northern Ireland a zero tolerance country for those who seek to abuse animals. With great respect, Sir Roger, as so often happens, Northern Ireland leads the way legislatively and sets standards for other parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to follow.

In addition to introducing legislation, we have created public awareness campaigns throughout the Province to highlight the issues, making those who wish to report abuse aware of how and where to do so, and those who abuse animals aware that their time is up. The Democratic Unionist party supports the creation of a centrally compiled banned offenders register, which I think we should share across all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, one of our neighbouring countries. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow also referred to the movement of animals, so let us have a relationship and an offenders list that take in the Republic of Ireland.

Just last month, our plans were put into action with an amendment to Stormont’s Justice (No.2) Bill. Under the amendment, the maximum sentence that can be handed down in the Crown court for animal cruelty crimes will increase from two years to five, sending a clear message to those who abuse animals. As the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) said, much more needs to be done. There is evidence to show that removing puppies from their mothers through sale or theft has a detrimental impact on the welfare and wellbeing of the puppies. How that affects pups is important.

There is an issue when selling puppies because of the inherently negative impact on their health, welfare and behaviour. Infection and disease in puppies removed from their mothers before weaning is commonplace. These puppies have underdeveloped immune systems and are often sold to the public with infections such as, Parvovirus, Campylobacter, Giardia, kennel cough and hip dysplasia. Those are just some of the problems animals may have. Just last week, I was made aware that puppies can be bought on Google and eBay with absolutely no control. Again, I would like to hear what the Minister has to say about that.

Inbreeding and lack of health testing leaves puppies prone to painful hereditary conditions that may be life limiting, and when someone buys a puppy, they want to know that it is healthy and well. On lack of socialisation, it is important to have interaction and communication between human and animal so that behavioural issues can be addressed. Transportation of puppies, which the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow mentioned, from breeding establishments to licensed pet shops, poses an immense health and welfare risk. Again, enforcement must be part of the process. Acclimatisation of puppies to new premises before they are sold is necessary, otherwise they are exposed to the risk of disease. That must be addressed.

I have spoken about retail outlets. Poor health and behavioural issues also result in dogs being relinquished to the rescue system and possible euthanasia by owners who are unable to cope.

In conclusion, what we have done in Northern Ireland sets a pattern for the rest of the United Kingdom. I hope that the shadow Minister and the Minister will respond to that positively. Animal cruelty and theft have no place in a civilised society. Although it seems to be only now that real and coherent action is being taken, it is encouraging to see the successes I have mentioned. We look forward to more of that.

I apologise to the shadow Minister and the Minister for having to leave to go to the Defence Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important debate. As I have indicated, unfortunately I will have to leave before the end of the summing up due to a ministerial meeting, but I would like to underline and back up the comments so far about this trade.

It is impossible not to have an emotional reaction when seeing a puppy. They give us a warm feeling and we are automatically attracted to them so they are easy to sell. It is also easy to blind others with barriers against how they have come to be available for sale. One has only to look on the internet to see the booming business of so-called designer puppies and young dogs. It has never been easier to buy a puppy.

Despite that, puppy farming has been illegal in the UK since the 1970s. Scotland has taken additional steps through our Licensing of Animal Dealers (Young Cats and Young Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations 2009 to restrict further the sale of young cats and dogs and to ensure the welfare of any puppies that pass through a dealer. From 6 April this year, it will be compulsory for all dog owners in Scotland to microchip their dogs.

I agree with the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) about designer dogs, which is a growing issue. Dogs should be bred for the benefit of dogs, not for fashion. Mixed breeds, such as Jack Russell terriers crossed with pugs, which are called “Jugs”, may sound attractive, but are not necessarily a good thing. The consequences of mixing different genes will come through in time, perhaps with serious health problems and defects resulting in high vet bills, which owners may struggle to meet, not to mention the long-term suffering the dog might endure. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the benefits of being in the European Union, because last month it introduced new resolutions to end the illegal trafficking of pets. That is a direct benefit us being in the EU.

The RSPCA received over 3,500 calls about puppy farms in 2015, which is a 122% increase from five years ago. Many were from people complaining that their puppies had become ill after they had been bought. The RSPCA claims that criminal gangs can earn £2 million annually from the puppy trade. That is also a cost to the taxpayer. A puppy farmer’s main objective is profit. As we have been told, to maximise their profit, they typically separate puppies from their mothers too early, and keep the dogs and puppies they breed in insanitary conditions.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we also need to target some of the big breeders? As he rightly said, this issue is not just about welfare, but about organised crime. A targeted approach by DEFRA and other agencies, targeting some of the big breeders, would make big inroads into the issue.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree that there should be some targeting and, if it is not possible to get these people on other things, perhaps the Al Capone principle should come into effect and we should catch them for tax evasion.

As I was saying, the breeders breed the puppies in insanitary conditions and fail to follow breed-specific health schemes or to apply basic, routine health measures such as immunisation and worming. As a result, puppies bred by puppy farmers are more likely to suffer common, preventable infectious diseases, painful or chronic inherited conditions, behavioural issues because of poor early socialisation, and shorter life spans. According to Battersea dogs home, fewer than 12% of puppies born in Great Britain every year are bred by licensed breeders; 88% of puppies born in the UK are born to unlicensed breeders.

The Kennel Club has asked the Scottish Government to endorse its assured breeders scheme and to prohibit the sale of puppies in pet shops. Can the hon. Gentleman give us a view on what the Scottish Government will do to respond to that?

I would have to look in detail at that, but I can say that pet shops do have to be licensed and they now account for fewer than 5% of puppies sold. I am sure that, as part of the consultation, further measures will be taken. It is important to say that there is a common purpose here across the piece. We do not necessarily need to make this a party political issue. There are issues on which we agree about the welfare of puppies and other young animals and about the long-term welfare of the families who are looking after them as well. We can come together across the political divide on this issue, and I am sure that there will be a warm reception for any suggestions that can improve our ability to clamp down on this illegal trade.

Puppy farms are places where dogs are often bred in filthy conditions and, as I said, with very little human contact. Female dogs, or dams, are often discarded when they are unfit to breed anymore. As we have heard, a dam may be forced to have litter after litter of puppies, even though the recommendation is for only two to four. That can be quite a traumatic experience for the animals involved.

There needs to be a focus on Government help to fund rehoming centres, such as Dogs Trust and Battersea, which are actively working to end illegal breeding. It should be illegal for a puppy to be taken from its mother before the age of eight weeks. There should be stricter licensing by local authorities. Online adverts absolutely should carry the details of the licence, and we must continue to inform and educate people that puppy farms and the illegal importation of puppies will result in a generation of pets that are likely to have health problems and to suffer in the long term.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important debate. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry). I thank colleagues at Dogs Trust and Battersea dogs and cats home for their briefings and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), who is also my colleague on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I want to concentrate on the trust’s briefing on the illegal importation of puppies into the UK under the pet travel scheme.

Since the introduction of the scheme, Dogs Trust has found that it is being used as a cover for the illegal importation of puppies for commercial sale. In 2014, the trust’s undercover investigation, “The Puppy Smuggling Scandal”, found evidence of puppies being brought into the UK for sale via PETS from both Lithuania and Hungary. Despite changes to the scheme in December 2014, including the requirement for member states to carry out non-discriminatory checks, the problem continues, with the second investigation in 2015, “Puppy Smuggling: The Scandal Continues”, identifying that the changes have not been the deterrent that they were intended to be, with the trade continuing from Lithuania and Romania.

Dogs Trust tells me that it is conducting a pilot scheme with Kent trading standards to pay for the quarantine costs of any puppies that they seize at the border, in the hope that that will disrupt the trade. Last year, more than 3,000 dogs were imported into the UK from Hungary under PETS. From Lithuania, 2,000-plus dogs were imported, and more than 2,000 were also imported from Romania. However, those figures represent only the dogs that have been declared. The trust cautions that many more undeclared dogs are entering from those countries and others.

Despite the trust’s work to raise awareness of this illegal trade, it is concerned that little progress is being made in tackling the problem. This is a very important point, to which I would like the Minister to respond: during the pilot, it has not received any details about the puppies that are handed over to it and, as a result, it does not know whether the pilot is disrupting the trade because it is unsure where the puppies have come from and how they have been found. Dogs Trust would like to know, first, what assessments the Government have made of the Dogs Trust pilot quarantine scheme and, secondly, how effective the Government believe that that scheme has been at disrupting the illegal importation of puppies under PETS.

Dogs Trust makes four recommendations. First, if there is to be real progress in tackling the ever growing problem of illegally imported puppies, the UK’s key agencies need to share intelligence. Secondly, visual checks, as raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge and others, of all dogs entering Britain will help to ensure that they are healthy, not underage and match the information given in their passport. Thirdly—this was also raised by colleagues previously—there should be immediate sanctions such as fixed penalty notices or on-the-spot fines that are large enough to act as a deterrent for those found to be illegally importing puppies. Fourthly, there should be a crackdown on vets who supply fake pet passports, through work with the veterinary regulatory authorities in the countries that import puppies into the UK.

Battersea raises a number of points, mostly on domestic matters. It welcomes the consultation launched in December 2015 by DEFRA and the progress that has been made, but it raises a number of issues and statistical anomalies to which I hope the Minister might be able to refer. The Minister is held in high regard—he knows that—and we would be very grateful for his responses. We look forward to his comments and those of other Front Benchers.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I might “litter” my speech with a few dog puns, but if you think any of them are a bit “ruff”, I will understand if you have to “paws” the proceedings to “collar” me.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this important debate. It is often said that the UK is a nation of dog lovers, although the pedant in me would point out that we are four nations. That is salient, as it is important to bear it in mind that these animal welfare matters are devolved. Although my speech today is made in London, the points that I raise are just as pertinent in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast.

I think that the scale of the problems associated with the breeding and trade of young puppies would shock most people. The RSPCA estimates that anywhere between 700,000 and 1.9 million puppies are sold each year in the UK. About 60,000 puppies are imported, as we have heard, from other European countries. Only 70,000 puppies are born to licensed British breeders. That massive shift in how the industry operates has it operating much more like an industry, and anyone who has ever taken on the responsibility of raising a pup will understand why that is so damaging.

In the first eight weeks of life, a pup needs to be mentored by its mother and, in playing with littermates, will learn important lessons in behaviour and interaction. Those few formative weeks are crucial for a pup to grow up balanced, confident and healthy. Unfortunately, many of the puppies mass-bred and reared purely for profit are denied that, and disease is an inevitable consequence. There are major issues, too, with the import of puppies, as we have heard. However, not all people who sell puppies are irresponsible. I acknowledge that there are many very capable, principled and accountable sellers and breeders.

There are simple things that prospective puppy purchasers can do to ensure that they are not, as it were, being sold a pup. They should always see a pup with its mother. They should ensure that it is not being sold when it is younger than eight weeks old, and it is important that they understand what they are letting themselves in for and educate themselves about the animal’s welfare needs. Most important, they should not buy a pet on impulse; it is a serious commitment.

I know that the UK Government are consulting at the moment. I hope to see serious consideration given to restrictions and regulations to address the issues discussed today, and I hope to see similar action from the devolved Administrations. There is a great need for the nations to work together to tackle the trade and to ensure that rogue dealers are not able to evade the law by crossing a border. I would like the Minister and the responsible Ministers in the devolved Administrations to give serious consideration to measures that could ensure that puppy welfare improves across the UK.

The licensing of puppy sellers and breeders needs to be looked into closely and there needs to be greater surveillance at ports to catch and prosecute puppy smugglers. Many measures can be taken, and a far-reaching consultation involving key animal rights and welfare charities will highlight many others. I thank hon. Members for taking the time to listen to my contribution. If they will permit one last dog pun, I will tail off my speech now.

Diolch yn fawr, Gadeirydd. I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing the debate.

It is worth remembering that it is now 15 years since the foot and mouth outbreak, so we should be alert to animal welfare and health. Unlike foot and mouth disease, a number of particularly unpleasant and possibly fatal diseases are transferrable between animals and people. Some are passed directly from dogs and other mammals to people, and others involve parasites.

One disease that causes concern to vets and doctors alike is echinococcosis, which is transmitted by a type of tapeworm. The disease causes cysts in people’s livers and lungs that may require surgery to remove. It presently affects 1 million people worldwide and the particular species of tapeworm is increasing in range and numbers across the continent. It is worth mentioning that the UK chief veterinary officer has expressed concern about the disease.

Another serious risk is rabies. The rabies virus attacks the brain and, unless treated during the incubation period, it is fatal. The World Health Organisation estimates that someone dies every 15 minutes from rabies and that 40% of victims are children. Some 99% of cases in humans are caused by dog bites. However, the rabies risk must be considered proportionately because the disease is completely preventable if dogs are vaccinated against the virus. Vaccination against rabies is therefore a critical requirement of the pet travel scheme.

In December 2014, changes were brought in that stated that puppies must be at least 12 weeks of age before they could be vaccinated against rabies. The vaccination requires three weeks to take effect, which means that no puppies under the age of 15 weeks should be entering the UK. Surely that needs to be clarified in Government advice about pet travel and, more importantly, must be enforced properly. No dog with any risk of carrying rabies should be allowed to enter the UK, which would mean extending the waiting period for travel from three weeks to three months.

I understand that the problem of puppy farming is a very serious issue in Wales. Would the hon. Lady advise the House whether the Welsh Administration have debated the subject in the past year?

I have to answer completely honestly: I do not know. However, issues regarding dogs, including their welfare and how they are treated with electric collars, have been taken very seriously. I will find out and come back to the hon. Gentleman.

Dogs Trust has been supporting overwhelmed trading standards officers and port authority staff in Kent by stepping in to care for illegally imported puppies that are seized by funding their veterinary treatment and quarantine fees. The pilot scheme has been in operation for only three months, yet it has had to deal with 100 illegally imported puppies, and the charity believes that that figure is just the tip of the iceberg.

Although some puppies were so ill that they did not survive, many have been saved, socialised and found loving homes at great cost to the charity, with one puppy requiring veterinary care costing in the region of £5,000. The sickly puppy was destined to be sold online and its new owner would have been dumped with that hefty bill had the charity not stepped in. The scheme receives no Government funding at present and is due to be reviewed in May.

Consider what is likely to happen if Dogs Trust were to cease funding the care of those puppies. What incentive is there for local authorities and port authorities to prioritise issues such as dog smuggling at a time of ongoing budget cuts and concerns over the movement of people? How are they expected to identify a 15-week-old puppy? What incentive is there to seize puppies when it will only result in extra costs?

I have been very kindly informed that the subject was last debated in the Welsh Parliament in December 2014. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) for informing me of that, as hon. Members will appreciate that I have been concentrating on the topic of rabies.

If traffickers are caught, they can abandon puppies at the border. Regardless of the fact that dogs are living creatures, in law they are simply property. Surely, many traffickers are making regular journeys through the Eurotunnel. Could agencies not share information such as car registrations? Such cars must be going back and forth, and must be seen regularly. Surely that information could be used and we could make better use of it.

I call on the Government to respond to Dogs Trust’s proposed actions regarding the pet travel scheme; to share intelligence about those caught illegally importing puppies across agencies; to ensure that proper visual checks on dogs entering the UK are undertaken; and to ensure that key staff to have the expertise to assess the health and age of dogs. That last point is an important one. Vets may not be at hand, and the critical point is to know the age of the dogs—staff must be able to age them.

Dogs Trust also proposes that the waiting period for a rabies vaccination is extended to six months to safeguard against the disease’s incubation period—we should at least have a full discussion about that—and that sanctions such as fixed-penalty notices are imposed to deter the dog smuggling trade.

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate, in which I am pleased to speak. I did not want to have any puns in my speech but then realised that I wanted to say, “It’s quite nice to be tail-end Charlie”, which is one of the better speaking positions.

I thank all the people who work so hard on animal welfare in the devolved Administrations and here. In particular, I thank Dogs Trust for bringing the issue to my attention. I am deeply ashamed when I hear that 40,000 dogs—various numbers are mentioned—come from Ireland, through Northern Ireland, into Scotland and into the trade here. My main drive today is to call for us all to work together and to set up some mechanisms to make it possible for us to stop the trade.

I asked a written question on the pet travel scheme in January. The answer I received stated that 184,000 dogs came here under the scheme in 2012, and that the figure went up to 267,000 dogs in 2015. However, the number of quality assurance checks decreased from 6,070 in 2012 to 4,863 in 2015. Over those years, we did fewer checks although more animals came in.

The numbers we hear about differ between speakers. We are told that there are 9 million dogs in the UK and that some 900,000 puppies may be needed each year. That is why we have to deal with 70,000 coming in illegally. I ask that all the devolved countries work together.

As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, legislation was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2013 that works on breeding establishments based on three breeding bitches having three or more litters a year. That is the way we have been dealing with the issue, but that is different from the recommendations we heard earlier. We must adopt something that works. There are nine councils and there is one council inspector in each whose job it is to check, so we do not even cover it. In Northern Ireland, crime is still linked to the troubles of the past. There is not just puppy farming, but fuel laundering and cigarette trading. A whole mass of things are going on and puppy trading is part of the criminal world.

Coming back to my main point, we must start working together, and sharing information and data. That includes working with the Irish, who work phenomenally well with us on other major crimes. We must learn from the issue and look at how we deal with advertising, including on Gumtree and Google, which just makes dog trading look easy. We do not know where those dogs have come from, what diseases they are carrying and how they are looked after. Think of the poor things travelling long distances.

While I am here, I will keep banging on about the need for the Union to work together. It is not just about little Northern Ireland. It is about Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all the parts of England working well and ensuring that we deal with things together. We need a Committee or a group that meets at least twice a year so that we can work together, share information and deal with the matter.

Everyone adores their animals. Dogs, particularly, are a great love. Every year our little Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary in my patch does a draw. Hon. Members might expect that small numbers of tickets are sold, but 8,500 are sold every year. The sanctuary does a wonderful job. However, going around knocking on doors, we can see how many dogs are probably illegal. We need to deal with the problem together.

I will be brief, as I have just an odd few comments. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important debate. Pets are an emotive issue. They have affection, they develop relationships and they understand torment and mistreatment. However, the purchase of dogs seems all too easy, particularly from overseas breeders but also from domestic breeders. There is a real issue here.

The 2013-14 figures, the most recent available, in my Hyndburn constituency were drawn to my attention under freedom of information. Seventy-one dangerous dogs had to be put to sleep—rescued from their owners but then destroyed—and 525 had to be kennelled. Those figures are absolutely appalling, and a lot of those dogs are pit bull types, and so on. They are trophy dogs that are bought from breeders, both domestically and internationally. That ease of access between breeders and disgraceful, poor owners is causing the problem we need to address. Breeders should not be easily able to supply dogs to people who are clearly inadequate in looking after such pets. The Government should look at that. Something should be done, because to see so many pets put down is disgraceful, to be honest.

Not enough information is provided to some dog owners. Besides tougher regulation, we need to do something about some of the breeders. I have a Sealyham terrier. He is a small dog, but he is difficult to breed. Sealyham terriers have an eye disease, and if they are not cared for, and if the eye disease is bred and re-bred through generations, further dogs bred from the parent suffer, too, and are imported. There is not enough regulation of dogs and the diseases that they carry, such as through dog passports and checks on breeders to ensure that their dogs are healthy before they breed and before they put them on Gumtree or wherever for sale into the United Kingdom. There is an issue with disease and the breeding of disease into breeds. Pet owners in the United Kingdom buy such dogs in all good faith, only to find when they take their dog to the vet, that there is a serious issue.

Many issues in this industry need to be considered, and I am deeply concerned that we do not seem to be a nation of pet lovers any more. I see so many dogs being destroyed in my constituency alone, and I hate to think what the figures are for the United Kingdom. I will draw my comments to an end on that sad note.

Members have been extremely prudent in their time conservation, so if the Front Benchers act in similar vein, Dr Cameron should have a few minutes at the end to wind up the debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate. She has raised an issue that touches the hearts and minds of many people living in Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the UK. We have heard powerful arguments that have attempted to give voice to the plight of young dogs that have been bred in appalling conditions, removed from their mothers early and exported, sometimes thousands of miles, to be sold as pets to unwitting owners who are ignorant of the suffering and torment that the new member of their family has experienced.

The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I am a member, recently reported on greyhound welfare. While conducting that inquiry, my colleagues and I encountered many accounts of dogs being bred in poor conditions and smuggled across borders for sale as puppies, whereas other animals, having been deemed unfit or too old to race, were transported abroad for breeding or other activities so horrific that I can scarcely begin to imagine their torment. We live in a cruel world. I know that the Minister takes a keen interest in animal welfare. Backstreet breeding is the unregistered, unauthorised and unlicensed breeding of dogs, and it has much in common with puppy farming. Unseen, but commonplace across the UK and elsewhere, mothers live miserable lives in sometimes squalid conditions and are forced to produce litters repeatedly without respite, so that their puppies can be sold for easy money. Exhausted and under-socialised, such dogs are all too often thrown on to the streets once they have served their purpose.

My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) noted that puppy farming has been illegal in the UK since the 1970s. Anyone involved in the large-scale production of puppies without being licensed, or without fulfilling licence conditions, can already be prosecuted under existing UK legislation. Scotland, as we have heard, has taken additional steps through our Licensing of Animal Dealers (Young Cats and Young Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations 2009 to further restrict the sale of young dogs and to ensure the welfare of any puppies that may pass through a dealer or pet shop.

The Battersea report on breeding licensing exposes the ineffectiveness of the current system. The law states that a licence is required if more than five litters are produced in a year and/or if dogs are sold commercially. The report notes that there are only 895 licensed dog breeders in the UK, and 40% of those breeders are located in just 6% of local authority areas. A third of local authorities do not have any licensed breeders. Some 90% of licence applications each year are renewals, rather than first-time applications. Licence fees vary greatly, from £23 in Glasgow to £741 in Lambeth. Only 12 licensed breeders are registered in London, a city of more than 8 million people, of whom on average a quarter, or 2 million, are dog owners. Less than 12% of puppies born in the UK each year are bred by licensed breeders, who produce an estimated 67,000 puppies each year. Those facts prompt the question as to what the current system is for, given that it is clearly not achieving what is expected. Nevertheless, it has been identified that the trade in puppies within England and Scotland has significantly increased over the past 10 years. The main areas of increase relate to the importation of pups into Scotland from eastern Europe and Eire.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advises me that pups from eastern Europe are predominantly high-value breeds such as British bulldogs, pugs and French bulldogs. Those points have also been made by the hon. Members for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). The countries involved include Romania, Hungary and Lithuania. The average price of a pup imported from eastern Europe is between £1,000 and £1,500.

The increase in imported dogs from Eire is most notable in new crossbreeds such as labradoodles. Research shows that a large number of dog breeders have been established throughout the Republic. Premises are both licensed and unlicensed for the purpose of breeding, and some are known to have more than 1,000 breeding bitches—this is dog breeding on an industrial scale. Evidence obtained by the SSPCA reveals that pups are being transported from the Republic through the north of Ireland and into Scotland via ferries at Cairnryan, a point made by the hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan). From there, the pups are transported throughout the UK, with little consideration given to welfare by dealers intent on making a profit. Pups can quickly become ill, often with fatal consequences, among a group of animals with already compromised health due to breeding conditions, lack of vaccination and stress, having been removed from their mothers at an early age—a point eloquently made by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts).

Enforcement by the SSPCA has evidenced efforts by breeders to maximise the value of their pups by subverting attempts to trace dogs back to the Republic. For example, pups are not being microchipped, which is a legal requirement in the Republic, and they are not being vaccinated. Unvaccinated pups, as we have heard, are at risk of developing diseases, most commonly canine Parvovirus. Risks also increase where pups are held in poor conditions, such as in the boot of a car, or become stressed through transportation or changes in circumstance and/or diet. Pups are being sold in Scotland to consumers who are told that they have been bred in Scotland or England. To promote that, bitches—often not the parent bitch—are transported with pups by breeders. Once the pups are sold, the bitches are returned to the breeder to enable further breeding. Within the illicit trade, these bitches are referred to as “show bitches”.

The motive, of course, is money. Pups are believed to be purchased in Eire, for example, for as little as €50 and sold in the UK for up to £700. Pups originating in eastern Europe are also believed to be purchased for as little as €50 and sold in the UK for up to £1,500. As we have heard, a recent investigation by Dogs Trust showed that vets in Lithuania and Hungary freely admit falsifying information on pet passports, such as vaccinations, and that breeders and dealers regularly transport under-age puppies to the UK, as the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) noted.

Dogs Trust also found that vets issue passports for puppies that they have not seen, that puppies’ ages are changed to evade the pet travel scheme, that dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 are being brought into the country and that false vaccination stamps are added to indicate that puppies have been given rabies vaccinations when they have not. That point was made eloquently by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd.

Worryingly, the scale of profit and the rapid turnover mean that organised crime groups become involved in the puppy trade to exploit the potential for making profit from offences with relatively low risk and penalties, and for laundering the proceeds of other crimes, as the hon. Member for South Antrim pointed out. Eurogroup for Animals suggests that puppies are the third most valuable illegally traded commodity in the EU, after narcotics and arms. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) rightly highlighted the importance that we should place on tackling organised crime.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that between 700,000 and 1.9 million puppies are sold in the UK each year from all sources. The RSPCA also claims that criminal gangs can earn more than £2 million annually from the puppy trade, costing the Treasury millions in unpaid tax and the animals concerned significantly greater hardship—as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), who also noted that animal welfare is devolved to Scotland and that the Scottish Government have used their powers to good effect, initiating a review of existing companion animal welfare legislation, including legislation on the breeding and sale of dogs. The Scottish Government are developing long-term options for further work in that area. My colleagues in Scotland are at the forefront of animal rights. From 6 April this year, it will be compulsory for all dogs in Scotland to be microchipped.

Last month the European Parliament introduced new resolutions to end the illegal trafficking of pets. The regulations will ensure that microchipping of pets across EU member states is more harmonised, so that pet microchips can be more easily compared and more compatible databases are produced. A range of additional measures are being considered to enhance the powers of local authorities and to make breeders identifiable and accountable.

Scotland’s voluntary sector is not being found wanting either. The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ special investigations unit has been collating intelligence and targeting offenders in an attempt to disrupt and reduce the illicit trade in dogs bred for sale. Importantly, it has been working with the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) noted.

Nevertheless, the ease and popularity of the internet has meant that the impulse buying of pets has in many ways become an even more pressing issue. As we have heard, online sellers have little accountability, and web adverts are often a front for puppy farms with highly questionable welfare standards. The problem is exacerbated by the ease of acquiring pet shop licences, which are often used by puppy dealers to distribute animals for sale rather than regulated traditional high street pet shops.

How can we effect change in the UK context? First, as we heard, principally from the hon. Member for Strangford, a public awareness campaign is needed. We have also heard that an outright ban on the sale of puppies through licensed pet shops might be the simplest, cheapest, most effective and most easily enforceable means of making a significant and swift improvement to the welfare of thousands of dogs and puppies. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow noted that a ban on the sale of puppies under eight weeks old would also help, and the hon. Member for Southend West suggested the introduction of a required breeding licence for any household producing two or more litters per year.

A system involving a single animal establishment licence should be introduced and applied equally to online and offline sellers of dogs. The list of registered and licenced sellers should be publicly accessible and, ideally, centralised, so that potential buyers can check breeders’ credentials. Website sellers could be required to enter their licence number as a mandatory field on adverts, so that each potential buyer can see it. We also need revisions to the pet travel scheme, as we have heard. All those measures would be consistent with the proposals outlined in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ consultation on the breeding and sale of dogs, issued at the end of December 2015.

However, the key message remains simple. Anyone considering buying a puppy should do so only if they can see it feeding with its mother at the breeder’s premises. The importance of visual checks cannot be overestimated. That simple demand minimises the risk of buying an illegally imported puppy or one that has been bred in unsuitable conditions, and it should form the basis of any consideration undertaken by any individual or family seeking to purchase a dog.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important debate. She and others have put a powerful argument about the need for change. Although we know that activities in this area are currently subject to consultation, I hope to hear at least some encouraging noises from the Minister in answering the debate to show that he recognises that need.

Animal welfare issues always attract a great deal of support among the people we are here to represent. We have heard about the problems of unregistered, unauthorised and unlicensed dog breeding. Colleagues from across the House have put forward many excellent points that are worth emphasising. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) referred to our many past debates, but was sure that this one would be groundbreaking. I leave him to judge that, but he demonstrated great confidence that the Minister would put an end to what he called the dodges used by the unscrupulous to get around the law. We will hear later what the Minister has to say.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) reminded the House of the need for action across the UK, and rightly placed the challenge at the door of the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and the Scottish Government to use their powers in that area. Others referred to other delegated responsibilities. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) took the opportunity to promote the benefits of EU membership and outlined how European legislation protects animals. Perhaps the Minister, who I believe is in favour of leaving, will tell us what work he is doing to ensure that animal welfare will retain those rigorous controls if we leave the EU.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) littered her speech with puns—I will just leave that there. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) questioned whether we are still a nation of dog lovers, but also made the point that there is insufficient information for buyers out there in the marketplace. I hope the Minister will comment on that.

I was stunned by the size of the trade that we are discussing and horrified by the content of some of the briefings from animal welfare organisations. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow rightly paid tribute to such organisations. The briefings outline how some dogs are effectively bred to death, resulting in the birth of weak dogs, themselves likely to face suffering and even abandonment.

The RSPCA tells us that as many as 1.9 million puppies are traded in the UK each year. That number is driven by factors including fashion, family and friends. I am sure that hon. Members across the House will have had substantial numbers of contacts from constituents angry about what is happening. I agree that it is appalling that the latest fashion can drive overbreeding and suffering for dogs, or any other animal for that matter. Steep demand creates a market for puppies that often focuses on small numbers of popular breeds, such as Shih Tzus, labradoodles or pugs. As demand increases, prices rise and the unscrupulous enter the market on a huge scale. The puppies to satisfy that demand come from a vast array of sources both within the UK and further afield. Breeding practices and welfare standards vary enormously during the rearing, transport and sale of such animals.

Sadly, one upshot of this situation is that thousands of animals end up being mistreated, with many developing health problems and being abandoned each year. Institutions such as Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, along with the rescue centres run by organisations such as Dogs Trust, see the sorry results of this growing problem on a daily basis. They are being left to care for the dogs, to rehome them or to take the decision to end their lives.

One issue of particular concern is the ease with which breeders, dealers and traders can advertise and sell puppies, not to mention an array of other animals, online. We do not have to look very hard to unearth some shocking examples of animals being purchased over the internet that have been cruelly mistreated after being acquired by abusive owners. The RSPCA tells me that it has received over 3,500 calls about puppy farms in the last year—a 122% increase on just five years ago. Many were from people complaining that their puppies had developed illnesses after they had been bought, and of those calls where the point of sale was noted, almost nine out of 10 of them involved an internet advert. That is backed up by data from the Kennel Club suggesting that as many as 20% of puppies bought from pet shops or directly over the internet, where many so-called farmed puppies are sold, will suffer from parvovirus and other potentially fatal diseases, which can cost up to £4,000 to treat. That represents an incidence rate roughly four times higher than among puppies from other breeders.

That leads me to an issue that has been touched upon briefly this morning already, but is worth mentioning again—the suspected illegal puppy trade from Ireland and continental Europe that supplements the legal movement of puppies. Estimates of the number of puppies born to licensed British breeders stand at just 70,000, with the Kennel Club registering around 250,000 puppies each year and rescue organisations rehoming roughly the same number, so there remains a significant shortfall to meet the demand. Inevitably, the remainder are imported or come from unlicensed breeders. Dogs Trust has noted a huge increase in the number of puppies being brought into the UK for sale, particularly from eastern Europe. Other hon. Members have already mentioned this in some detail, but Dogs Trust also says that it has identified a 61% increase in the number of dogs entering Britain in the 12 months after the introduction of the pet travel scheme in 2012, with the number arriving from Lithuania and Hungary between 2011 and 2013 rising by 780% and 633% respectively, and those figures only account for the dogs that were actually declared.

Although some unlicensed British breeders, including many of those registered by the Kennel Club, will sell only one litter a year, other litters will doubtless come from large-scale commercial breeders for whom animal welfare is often only of secondary consideration, if it is considered at all. As we have already heard, this backstreet breeding has much in common with puppy farming. As the RSPCA has highlighted, these practices, although frequently hidden behind closed doors, are alarmingly commonplace across the UK. The mothers often live miserable lives in sometimes squalid conditions and are forced to produce litter after litter so that their puppies can be sold for easy money. Exhausted and under-socialised, these dogs are abandoned once they have served their purpose.

Although it is not our primary concern here today, it is none the less important to recognise that such trade, based on cash transactions, could be costing the UK millions of pounds each year in undeclared income. A recent European study found that the trade in cats and dogs was worth €1.3 billion annually in the EU, with 10% of the trade coming from breeders who each breed more than 200 dogs annually. A ring of puppy dealers in Manchester who were uncovered by RSPCA investigations were found to be earning £35,000 a week—more than £1.8 million of undeclared income annually. A separate investigation estimated that a different dealer was earning £200,000 a year importing puppies from Ireland into Scotland.

It is to be welcomed that the Government are working with the Pet Advertising Advisory Group, which, in co-operation with several internet sites, has agreed a set of minimum standards for animals sold online. Indeed, I understand that as many as 130,000 inappropriate adverts have been removed as a result of this code, which is undoubtedly good news for animal welfare. However, the practices of puppy farming and backstreet breeding still exist, along with the various welfare problems with which they are inherently associated. I would therefore be interested to hear what actions the Minister is considering taking to widen the uptake of the PAAG’s code of conduct and what measures are being examined to further strengthen these minimum welfare standards. At the same time, I would also like to hear what steps are being considered to better enforce higher welfare standards and to better target enforcement actions across the board.

As many Members present this morning will be aware, the Government are currently reviewing animal licensing schemes, including for the sale of pet animals, with a consultation running until the end of this week. A couple of months ago, we had a debate in Westminster Hall about the trade in exotic pets—pets sold to people who were ill-equipped to care for them. The Minister was clear in his resolve on that occasion to take action on that particular issue. I recognise that today the Minister may not able to pre-empt the responses to the consultation exercise and that it would be unwise for him to commit to decisions without a thorough consultation and an evidence base in place. Nevertheless, I would like to hear his current thinking on the steps that could be taken to drive up standards and drive out unregulated breeders and dealers, in order to improve and safeguard animal welfare. I challenge him to tighten licensing requirements to achieve those goals.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, especially since you yourself have done so much on the issue of animal welfare over the years.

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate, which is undoubtedly an important one on an issue that many Members have strong views about. Indeed, when I was a Back Bencher and a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, I spent a number of years pressing for change, and it has been a pleasure to be a Minister responsible for this area.

I start by saying that we have made some progress over the years. First, there had been concern for many years that local authorities were taking an interpretation that said that, if someone was breeding fewer than five litters of puppies per year, they did not need a licence. It took me some time in the Department to get to the bottom of why that was the case—the figure used to be two litters per year. The law had been changed in 1999 because in one debate in Parliament, the view was expressed that the authorities should focus more on large puppy farms and not on smaller breeders. Although the law as drafted means that anyone who is in the business of buying and selling puppies requires a licence, an idea had taken hold—encouraged by a Home Office circular sent at the time in 1999—that five litters per year was the correct threshold to go by. In 2014, therefore, we clarified things. We wrote to all local authorities and made it clear that anyone in the business of breeding and selling puppies, irrespective of the number of litters per year, must have a licence.

The second area where we have made progress is microchipping. I hope hon. Members have seen the attempts in the last few days to raise awareness about the new provisions that will commence from next month. They require all dogs to have a microchip and will make it easier to reunite stray dogs with their owners, to tackle the problem of dog theft and to track down irresponsible dog owners.

The third area where we have undoubtedly made good progress is, as a number of hon. Members have already alluded to, through the Pet Advertising Advisory Group. I pay tribute to those online advertisers who have participated in that group. Some real progress has been made. In total, 130,000 inappropriate adverts have been taken down. We have had volunteers from a number of the animal welfare charities assisting in moderation to do that.

However, when I talk to companies such as Gumtree—I regularly attend the PAAG meetings on these issues—they say that, in the last three years, they have seen an 80% reduction in the number of pets being advertised on their websites. It is a real credit to them that they have engaged in a responsible code of practice that has seen such a drop in the number of pets being advertised online. For instance, if any of those companies see high-velocity sales—that is, if anyone advertises a pet on their website more than three times in a year—they immediately block that individual or firm from being able to advertise again, and they report that to animal welfare charities. If someone has a licence, it must be displayed in any advert on a website, and they have to show a photo.

PAAG also looks for keywords. One of the saddest, most tragic things is when pets are being sold online for use in baiting or dog-fighting. There are certain keywords—code words—that people who are involved in that dreadful and appalling activity understand, and PAAG is now picking up on them.

I am greatly enjoying the Minister’s response to the debate. I acknowledge absolutely the work that charities, online sellers and websites, and indeed the Government, have done on this issue—I will be absolutely honest about that. However, does he not acknowledge in return that there has been a shift from registered sites to unregistered sites, and that more needs to be done?

Yes, and I was going to come on to that point.

Finally, Gumtree, Preloved, Friday-Ad, Pets4Homes, Epupz and Vivastreet have already signed up to be members of PAAG, and some of them are now starting to send guidance on buying a puppy and caring for it to anyone who expresses an interest in buying a puppy or searches for puppies online. Again, that is quite a big step forward.

I agree about getting others to sign up. Some of the classified ads are registered and based overseas, and it is harder for us to track them down. Just a few weeks ago I had a meeting with Facebook, to encourage it to participate. It obviously has a slightly different model and it is harder to search for puppies in the same way as on the internet in general. Nevertheless, it has given an undertaking to go away and think about whether there is something it could do.

I also accept that there is more to do, and that is why we are doing more. First and foremost is the consultation, which a number of hon. Members have mentioned, that is reviewing the licensing of animal establishments. The consultation closes at the end of the week, and I encourage anyone watching the debate who has ideas to make a contribution. We are looking at a number of key areas, including in relation to puppies.

First, we are reviewing the Pet Animals Act 1951. The Act makes it clear that, if someone is in the business of selling pets online, they require a licence. Not everyone understands that, so we are looking to tighten the provisions to put it beyond doubt that, if someone is internet trading, they require a pet shop licence, whether or not they have a shop in the high street.

The second area we are looking at, and which a number of people have raised with me, is that of selling puppies that are under eight weeks old. Under the new microchipping regulations, it is illegal to microchip or transfer ownership of a dog until it is eight weeks old, but when it comes to pet shops, there is a quirk that allows such practices to continue. We propose to tighten the provision and ban the sale of puppies that are under eight weeks old.

Only about 70 pet shops in the whole country still sell puppies. There is a danger that we get distracted by what is a small part of the overall sales when, to me, we should focus our efforts on the much bigger problem of people who are totally unlicensed, not inspected by local authorities, off everyone’s radar and trading on the internet. That is my priority.

Thirdly, on the number of litters, we are adding a condition that puts it beyond doubt that, if someone breeds more than three litters a year, they must have a licence, whether they are in the business of trading puppies or not—it is a backstop. That would bring us into line with countries such as Wales.

We are also looking at the issue of giving information on the sale of a pet, which is particularly important for exotic pets. The matter was considered in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and we are now considering adding it as a legal requirement.

I am going to make some progress—I am conscious of the time.

On enforcement, it is all very well having a licensing system for the breeding of puppies, but it is a big problem if local authorities do not enforce it. The statistics for most local authorities are in single figures. We are considering introducing a system that is accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service under which responsible puppy breeders, who sign up, for instance, to the Kennel Club accreditation scheme for rearing puppies, can be exempt from the licence requirement. Local authority resources could be freed up to go after those who are off the system altogether. In doing that, we borrow an idea that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) pioneered in the field of greyhound racing. There is a UKAS-accredited system for most tracks and a backstop local authority licensing system for those outside that system. People have their own views about greyhound racing, but that hybrid system has been successful and we want to learn from it.

A number of hon. Members have raised the issue of enforcement. I accept, particularly when it comes to the importing of puppies, that we can do more. In 2015, the border police, trading standards and the Animal and Plant Health Agency worked together on Operation Bloodhound and brought a number of prosecutions. At the end of last year, I met with our chief veterinary officer to ask what more can be done. Some veterinary practices, particularly in Lithuania, Hungary and Romania, have been fraudulently signing off paperwork for pet passports, and the chief veterinary officer has written to the authorities in those countries to raise his concerns. Investigations have taken place and, in some instances, veterinary licences have been suspended, so we have taken action on that front.

We are also working with the Dogs Trust initiative. The trust has made available some quarantine premises, which is helpful to the work of the Animal and Plant Health Agency. Since 2 December, when the operation, led by APHA and local trading standards and supported by Dogs Trust, began, 108 puppies have been licensed into quarantine. The principal reason is that the puppies were under age when inspected by a veterinary officer, either because they had not been left for three weeks after receiving their rabies jab or because they were given the jab prematurely. That is a matter of serious concern and APHA will follow it up, learn lessons from it and raise concerns where necessary with any other European authorities. In one case, there was a deliberate attempt to deceive, with microchips being hidden in the collars of five puppies. The puppies appeared to have valid pet passports but these did not correspond to those particular dogs.

We are doing a lot of work on enforcement but there is more to do. I have considered whether we can do many more random inspections, for instance tracking vehicles that are associated with the trade, working more closely with the border police and making use of thermal imaging. I asked our veterinary experts to give consideration to that. It is not easy. It is a complex area, but we are redoubling our efforts to tackle the terrible trade of illegally imported puppies.

I thank all the gracious and hon. Members for their contributions. It is clear that we are all equally keen that best practice is realised right across the UK. Constructive dialogue and policy formation is required to ensure best practice across and between devolved Administrations. I particularly thank the Minister for his detailed response, and for his reassurances regarding both the progress that has been made in some areas and the action that will be required as a result of the consultation.

No one wants to return to the debate in a year’s time to reiterate the same grave concerns. I am sorry that there was regression in 1999, because I feel that this is an area in which we always need to show progress. I am heartened, however, as it is clear that the issue is not a party political one but one of animal welfare, dear to the public and dear to all.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the welfare of young dogs bred for sale.

Autism Diagnosis Waiting Times

I beg to move,

That this House has considered autism diagnosis waiting times.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to lead this important debate.

As hon. Members will know, autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It is a spectrum condition, which affects different people in different ways. Some people with autism are able to lead a substantially or even completely independent life, while others may need a lifetime of specialist, complex support.

Diagnosis, which is what we are here to discuss, is a critical milestone for people on the spectrum. It helps individuals to take control of their lives and can unlock access to essential support and services. Diagnosis is important not only for those who are on the spectrum. It can be just as important for their parents, friends and loved ones, enabling them to better understand their child, friend or partner.

My hon. Friend may know that I have an autistic child in my family and that I chair the newly formed commission on autism. Would she agree that it is absolutely about the family support that would come from early diagnosis? At the moment, so few people get it.

Absolutely. I bow to my hon. Friend’s experience, expertise and doughty campaigning on this issue, and I could not agree with him more. Tragically, as we know, many thousands of people up and down the country, including children, wait far too long for a diagnosis. For children, on average the current wait is now more than three and a half years.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on obtaining this debate, which is very important to a large number of people beyond this Chamber. As she knows, I hold the honour of being the elected chair of the all-party group on autism, which has been going for many years now. Diagnosis waiting times are a very important issue for Members of Parliament involved in this area. Does she also hope that we will hear in the Minister’s reply about the importance of NHS England’s collecting and monitoring those diagnosis times for each clinical commissioning group in England? That is important and will mean that we have the data.

I agree entirely. Let us hope that we have an answer on exactly that point from the Minister. I applaud and bow to the right hon. Lady’s commitment and experience on this issue.

While the average waiting time for children is more than three and a half years, many adults receive a diagnosis only five years after concerns first emerge and often two years after seeking professional help. Some 61% of people who responded to a National Autistic Society survey said that they felt relieved to get a diagnosis when it finally came, and more than half—58%—said that it led to their getting new or additional much-needed support. It is of particular concern that children are having to wait so long for a diagnosis. Not only does that place tremendous strain on their whole family, but it means that many children do not receive the early intervention that could have a big impact on their formative years. Indeed, in many cases, children are being locked out of the services available to them, and that support can be life-changing.

Snowflakes is a nursery for children with an autism diagnosis or who are awaiting an autism diagnostic observation schedule assessment. The nursery is run by my sister-in-law, Stacia. One of its children was lucky and got an early diagnosis aged three. He joined Snowflakes and the team worked with him and his family for two years. The dedicated staff managed to help him into a mainstream primary school with support, and he is still in that school and is thriving. Another child came to Snowflakes because her mainstream nursery was unable to cope with her challenging behaviour. She is now on an 18-month waiting list for a diagnosis, but is due to start primary school in just six months’ time. She is making good progress within the specialised setting and is now a role model for other children. Her parents want her to move on to a primary autism resource, but to get a place she needs a diagnosis.

I thank the hon. Lady for securing this important debate, which I feel strongly about. In my constituency, I have had contact with families experiencing exactly the issues that she is raising. Is it not important that more clinicians are trained to diagnose and that teachers are able to pick up very early signs of autistic spectrum disorder?

I thank the hon. Lady for that helpful intervention. I agree with her, and let us hope that the Minister addresses that point in his comments.

To return to the example of a little girl who faces a choice. Without a diagnosis she will be forced to accept a place in a mainstream primary school that will not be able to meet her needs. With a diagnosis, however, she would go to a primary autism resource using the specialised teaching methods she knows and trusts. She would be able to continue her education and in turn increase her life chances.

Many parents tell the National Autistic Society that delays in getting diagnoses have also led to the development of serious mental health problems, both for the individual and for the family. For example, having presented himself to GPs for 20 years, Chris was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in 2007 after finally deciding to go private. Without a diagnosis, appropriate support or an understanding of his needs, he experienced mental health conditions for most of his life, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and mild Tourette’s. He was hospitalised when he was 15 and later became suicidal when his needs were not met.

We now know the value and importance of early and fast diagnosis, yet our system continues to fail so many children and adults. Members present will have heard stories from their constituents or family members and will have no doubt been deeply affected by them, as I have. One has to meet only a handful of parents to realise the unbelievable pressures that the waiting times put them under.

I could tell a number of stories from my own constituency—members of some of the families affected are here today—but I want to tell the story of a young man from Batley. He is one of the lucky ones: he now has his diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. His mum wrote to me and told me what a blessing the diagnosis has been. It did not just provide access to support and services, but it helped everyone, including him, to understand why he felt and behaved the way he did. He said he wished he had been diagnosed earlier because:

“I always knew I was different, now I know why.”

He is one of the lucky ones, because his parents had the ability to pay for a private diagnosis. They raised £2,500 to fast-track the process, but they should not have had to do that. What about the great many of my constituents who do not have the means to afford a private diagnosis? Another of my constituents, who is also from Batley, has had to give up his job to accompany his son to school every day. Without a diagnosis, the school is not able to fund the additional staff it needs to take care of his complex needs. It is a problem not only in my constituency, but throughout the country.

My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. Is it not also disappointing for constituents and for people we know in the autism field—some very experienced people have intervened on her on that count—when someone goes into a health diagnosis and the health people say, “We can give you the diagnosis, but you will not get any help because the local authority does not have the capacity or the trained people to provide that help”?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend again raises a very valid point. We are talking specifically about diagnosis delays, but once someone has a diagnosis, that opens up a whole range of issues that I hope the Minister will address.

Further to the intervention by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), one of the key things that the all-party group has been pushing for is better data collection in local areas so that we can more effectively plan and commission services. Nationally, it would mean that we could then ensure that each area is meeting the needs of its local population. Does the hon. Lady agree that it will be interesting to see whether the Minister can tell us what discussions he has had on that and how he intends to take the subject forward appropriately and properly with NHS England?

I agree entirely, and one of the worrying things that became apparent to me in my research for this speech is the growing regional disparity in autism diagnosis waiting times, as well as in the service someone gets once they have a diagnosis. Let us hope that the Minister addresses that point.

My constituent from Batley has given up his job so that his son can attend school every day. As I have said, the problem exists not just in my constituency, but up and down the country, and stories from the NAS highlight that. There is Mel from Watford, whose son waited nine years. Noah, who is four, waited two years for his diagnosis—that is half his life. Meanwhile, data from Public Health England from the latest adult autism strategy show huge regional variation in adult services, with waiting times between referral and first appointment —not even the whole diagnosis journey—in the south-west reaching 95 weeks. In my region of Yorkshire and the Humber, it is 84 weeks. The NICE quality standard on autism is clear: once referred, people should wait no longer than three months before having their first diagnostic appointment. For this to happen, the Government, local authorities and NHS England need to act.

In my own local authority, Kirklees, despite strong leadership and a clear commitment to protect and safeguard vulnerable children and adults, there is an acknowledged crisis in children’s mental health and autism services. Some families have been waiting more than two years for a diagnosis, often longer. I have been encouraging Kirklees and its clinical commissioning groups to clear the backlog and redesign their services, and I am pleased to announce that, starting last Friday, a plan to clear the backlog within 12 months is now being rolled out regionally. This will quadruple the number of diagnoses that can take place in my constituency.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Autism diagnosis across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a big issue. In Northern Ireland, some 2,000 young people are waiting for a diagnosis, although the Minister has set some money aside. There is a need not only for early diagnosis, but for further stages of the education programme as well. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Minister should consider what has been done regionally—in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—because there are lessons to be learnt that would benefit all of us?

I agree entirely. It is time for the Government to bring a wider discussion about autism services to the Floor of the House.

My local authority’s announcement last Friday now means that we will quadruple the number of diagnoses that can take place in my constituency. It still needs to redesign the service in a way that prevents future backlogs, but this is good news for Batley and Spen and for people across Kirklees. However, it should not go unacknowledged that local authorities such as mine are working hard to reform services in an environment of severe and disproportionate budget constraint, imposed on them by Government. Of course, this is just one local authority; what about the hundreds of others and the desperate families in their care?

We also now have to accept that this failure to diagnose autism early ends up costing taxpayers much more. When developing its guidance for health services, NICE stated:

“Investment in local autism services also contributes to: a reduction in GP appointments, fewer emergency admissions and less use of mental health services in times of crisis, including the use of inpatient psychiatric services.”

The hon. Lady speaks with great power and passion. I support her absolutely and thank her for securing this debate. In my own constituency, the Grange Park School, which I have often visited, specialises in autism care. The school’s view is that proper care and diagnosis relieves the burden on the police, who are often called in to deal with situations that are not policing matters and not for the judicial system, but for the mental care system, and, if handled properly, for the education system.

The hon. Gentleman makes a fascinating and pertinent point, particularly as we heard about a case this morning that was very tragic and relates to some of the themes he has raised. I know he is personally committed to this issue, and it would be good to have a response from the Minister on his point.

The National Autistic Society tells us that by investing in autism diagnosis, the NHS could save the enormous amounts of money currently spent on mental health services that result from autistic people not getting the support that they need, as they have not got a diagnosis. As well as having negative consequences for someone’s life, acute services are also very expensive, with in-patient mental health care costing between £200 and £300 a day. In other words, the annual cost of supporting two people with autism in a mental health ward would fund a specialist autism team serving an entire borough for a whole year.

Furthermore, identifying and supporting someone on the autism spectrum can save money in the wider public sector. According to the National Audit Office, an 8% identification rate would save £67 million a year. Over the five years to 2020, that is a potential saving to the public purse of £337 million.

We rightly look at pounds, shillings and pence when we talk about the public purse, but does the hon. Lady recognise that identifying and supporting autism saves families from failing? The saving to the public purse is significantly greater than the figure she has given, because it relieves the burden on many other branches of public services that would otherwise have to support a failing family.

I entirely agree. The hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point.

Crises in autism services are a decade or more in the making. The blame cannot and should not be pinned on one party or one Parliament, but now that we are more aware of the problem and the scale of it, this Government should be judged on how they fix it.

I urge the Minister, who I know is personally committed to this issue, to agree to implement in full the National Autistic Society’s key recommendations to help tackle the crisis: first, a new requirement on NHS England to collect, publish and monitor data on diagnosis waiting times, including data on how many people are known to their GP to have autism. Secondly, NHS England should ensure that standard waiting times on mental health reflect the NICE national guidance that no one will wait longer than three months between referral and being seen for diagnosis. Finally, the Government must share in this commitment, ensuring that NHS England now meets the three-month target. To help fulfil that aim, access to an autism diagnosis should be clearly written into the Department of Health’s mandate to NHS England, which means that it will be held to account on this target and it becomes a priority to get it right.

Before I finish, I have three additional questions that I hope the Minister will address directly. What steps has his Department taken to ensure that the work done by NHS England’s information board will improve the collection and recording of data on autism in primary and secondary care? Will the Minister ensure that the recommendations in the King’s Fund’s recent report relating to autism diagnosis waiting times are taken forward? Finally, what assessment has the Minister made of the costs to the NHS of failing to diagnose people with autism in a timely manner?

The fundamental question facing us is this: the crisis is now so acute that some desperate parents and individuals are paying for help that by right they should be able to access on the NHS, but what about those without the resources to pay? They are currently left in a distressing and damaging limbo, often for years. I hope for their sake that when the Minister responds we will hear clear, time-bound commitments and actions, rather than vague assurances. I also hope, along with other Members, that he will commit to more time on the Floor of the House to discuss the many challenges facing individuals and families even after they have received a diagnosis.

I pay enormous tribute to the National Autistic Society, whose relentless campaigning continues to raise awareness and continues to press for action on this critical issue. I also pay tribute to all the parents, carers and professionals who support and love people living with autism.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on securing the debate and on how she has represented her constituents’ particular interests and also the wider interests of those with autism. I thank colleagues for their interventions. The hon. Lady is right: there are a number of colleagues in this room with considerable experience in autism. Before I get into specifics, let me say that I will not have time to answer all her questions, but I will write to her on those that I cannot answer.

The debate raises once again one of those issues that in the course of my parliamentary lifetime has changed markedly. Only a generation ago, recognition and understanding of autism was extremely vague, but now it is very different. Recognition of the need to treat and to understand the families involved is beyond where it was, but that creates pressures in the system.

I want to say a little bit about what is happening locally. What the hon. Lady has described is a good example of how things can be recognised over a period of time. As she said, it is not the responsibility of one particular Government, but the responsibilities have grown over time, and what has been done about them might be a pattern for others. I will also say something about what we are trying to do nationally. I also want to recognise the work done not only by parents and those who are intimately involved, but by the National Autistic Society and the Autism Alliance—organisations that have done much work to represent those involved and will continue to do so.

Before I forget, I should respond to the hon. Lady’s last question: I would be very happy to spend more time discussing autism in the House. We ought to have a three-hour debate, or longer, and I would be very happy to respond to that. There are a number of questions out there about autism, not only in the House but in other places, and I would be happy to try to answer them, although I would have to deal with the general rather than the specific.

As chair of the all-party group on autism, I am hoping to apply for a three-hour debate so that we can celebrate national autism week. I hope that the Backbench Business Committee will look on my application favourably, and I am sure that several colleagues present would not mind signing up to it as well.

I am sure it is of little interest to the Backbench Business Committee whether or not a Minister welcomes a debate, but if it is in any well helpful, colleagues can be sure that I would indeed welcome such a debate.

Before addressing the national picture, I shall discuss briefly the situation in Batley and Spen. Why has it taken so long to resolve the issues there? The list built up over a period of time because of pressures on both autism services and child and adolescent mental health services, and because of how services were commissioned. The number of referrals has increased to a level greater than one would expect based on national prevalence, so the clinical commissioning groups involved—North Kirklees and Greater Huddersfield—had to identify a service that had the right capacity and expertise to meet requirements. Colleagues who made points about training and the need to ensure that professionals are in place were absolutely right.

The CCGs have been working on the service for some time. As the hon. Member for Batley and Spen said, the issue has been identified and they are investing £340,000 over the next 12 months to bring down the backlog, including agreed funding for additional diagnostic capacity. The CCGs recently appointed Socrates Clinical Psychology, an independent sector organisation, to deliver extra assessments over a 12-month period, and they are about to begin writing to parents and guardians to inform them of developments. Appointments will be prioritised based on the length of time patients have been waiting for an assessment. As the hon. Lady said, the extra capacity will see the number of assessments rise from four a month to around 16.

The CCGs are currently in the process of redesigning adult social care services to meet national guidelines, to provide a greater number of assessments and to avoid the development of long waiting lists in future. A draft service specification and business case, which includes several options, will be discussed by the CCGs in the coming months, and the new service is to be in place by, at the latest, March 2017, when the existing contract comes to an end. Their response in recognition of the pressures that have built up is to be commended.

It is important to understand what is happening nationally as well as locally. We are all agreed on the importance of the timely diagnosis of autism. Although diagnosing someone with autism can be complex and involve a number of different professionals and agencies, it is clear that some children and adults can wait too long. Getting an autism diagnosis can be particularly important for families who are worrying about their children or for adults who did not have their condition recognised when younger and who need support to live their lives.

Yes of course early diagnosis saves money, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) said, it is not simply a question of saving money later in the system: early recognition makes such a difference for the families involved, as well as the individual. That is taken as read, which is why there is now much more concentration on early diagnosis than there used to be.

Young people with autism face challenges to their education and wellbeing in all areas of their lives, and that can have an impact on their academic attainment and their ability to make the transition to independent adulthood. For adults who have not been diagnosed, their life to date may have been affected by a sense of not fitting in and not understanding the way they respond to situations or why they find social settings difficult.

Let me outline the framework that is in place to improve the lives of adults with autism. The 2010 cross-Government autism strategy, which came out of the Autism Act 2009, was updated in 2014 as “Think Autism”. New statutory guidance was issued in March 2015 which set out what people seeking an autism diagnosis can expect from local authorities and NHS bodies. The aim of the adult strategy is to improve the care and support that local authorities and NHS organisations provide for people with autism.

Nevertheless, we know that there is more to do to ensure that all those with autism get the help and support they need. In January, the Government published a progress report to further challenge partners across Government in areas such as education, employment and the criminal justice system—the latter was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling. The reforms to the special educational needs and disabilities system that came into effect in September 2014 represent the biggest change to that system in a generation. They are transforming the support available to children and young people, including those with autism, by joining up services across education, health and social care to identify and meet their needs.

The Department of Health’s mandate to NHS England for 2016-17 sets the priorities for the NHS and signals what the Department will hold the NHS accountable for. It includes an important call on the NHS to reduce health inequality for autistic people. Waiting too long for a diagnosis can be one of the health inequalities that autistic people face. Local authorities and the NHS should work in collaboration so that there is a clear pathway to diagnosis that is aligned with care and support assessments. Commissioning decisions need to be based on knowledge and awareness of autism and the needs of the local population, and, importantly, informed by people with autism and their families.

We know that in some parts of the country more needs to be done on developing diagnostic assessments. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen referred to the bane of the NHS system: local variability and the fact that things are not always done in the same way in the same place. I absolutely support the call by the National Autistic Society to ensure that good practice is shared across all areas. It is essential that the practice of the best becomes the practice of all, and I know that right hon. and hon. Members support that.

To help to standardise and improve the care and management of autism, particularly around diagnosis, and to enable health and social care services to support people with autism more effectively, NICE has published three clinical guidelines on autism and a quality standard. It recommends that there should be a maximum of three months between a referral and a first appointment for an autism assessment, and the NHS should follow that recommendation. Local areas will continue to be asked to assess their progress on implementing the adult autism strategy through Public Health England’s informal local area self-assessment exercise.

Let me address the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), as well as by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen. The Department of Health has discussed with NHS England the difficulties that can arise in getting a diagnosis. As a first step, NHS England, with support from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, is currently undertaking visits to CCGs and local authorities with the specific purpose of developing an understanding of the existing diagnostic process for children and adults, including engaging with people who have had experience of accessing the process, and their families. The focus is on identifying local barriers and how they can be overcome; how local areas measure quality and outcomes; the alignment with care assessments; and the identification of positive approaches that can inform learning for other areas. NHS England will issue an initial report in April, once the visits are complete.

To help with local planning, NHS England has also made a new commitment to collect data on the number of people in touch with learning disability and mental health services who have a diagnosis of autism. It is not for me as a Minister to task NHS England formally with monitoring waiting times; it is for NHS England to determine how it holds commissioners to account. Nevertheless, it will have to demonstrate effectiveness to me in meeting its mandate requirement. It is essential that waiting times are monitored locally by commissioners and included in their oversight of provision. I am interested to see the information that will be collected on the commissioning exercise that was mentioned. That information must be made public and will help with the provision of much-needed extra data about this subject. I hope that will help the new commission, the all-party group and others.

It is important to note that there are others involved. I draw particular attention to the service provided by our hard-pressed and excellent GPs. They are, of course, usually the gatekeepers to diagnostic services, and need to have a good understanding of the autistic spectrum and the diagnostic pathway that has been developed in their area. To build knowledge and expertise among health professionals, the Department has provided financial support to the Royal College of General Practitioners’ clinical priorities programme on autism, which is undertaking practical work on autism awareness and training for GPs. That will enable people who may have autism to be supported more effectively from the start of the assessment process.

In recent years there has been considerable progress on how effectively we identify and support the needs of people of all ages on the autistic spectrum. I do not deny that the complexity of autism and the multifaceted nature of the needs of those on the spectrum pose particular challenges to professionals and commissioners. CCGs locally and NHS England at a national level are working to bring down the waits in line with NICE guidelines, working with many different agencies, along with service users and their families, to create a more responsive environment of diagnosis and support. I know that the House will welcome that, although there is more to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Swansea Tidal Lagoon

[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]

Many colleagues have indicated that they would like to speak in this debate, so it might help if I point out that we anticipate Divisions in the Chamber at 3.50 pm. It is entirely up to hon. Members whether they wish to continue the debate after 3.50 pm. If so, we will have to come back after a suspension.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential economic benefits of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.

The 2015 Welsh Conservative manifesto said:

“We know how important Wales is to the UK’s energy security…We’re entering into the first phase of negotiations on a Contract for Difference for Swansea Tidal Lagoon to recognise Wales’ potential to become a major hub for tidal and wave power. This project will create thousands of jobs and attract millions of pounds worth of investment into Wales. We will continue to support strategic energy projects in Wales to boost the Welsh economy and help secure Wales’ energy future.”

So far so good. It is unusual in this day and age for a manifesto commitment to have the widespread support of quite so many interested groups. They include the UK Government, all parties in this House, the Welsh Government, all parties in that Assembly and local government in areas where the lagoon might be constructed and other areas in Wales that will reap the benefits of it. Environmentalists by and large see it as a clean form of renewable energy; economists across the UK and further afield recognise the long-term value of the project; and, almost without exception, the local communities affected directly or indirectly support the proposal. I can remember few, if any, commitments from any party’s manifesto that have such widespread and cross-party support.

The hon. Gentleman did not mention the Scottish National party—perhaps for understandable reasons—so may I say, as an SNP Member, that I am very supportive of it as well?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The only reason I did not mention the SNP is that I forgot. I hope he does not take that to heart.

The Swansea bay tidal lagoon project ticks a lot of boxes—to use that rather awful expression. If I make only one point this afternoon, it is this: it must not be seen as a one-off project or a stand-alone proposal. It is part of a four-part proposal for the Severn estuary. It will lead to other projects around the UK coast, and after that—who knows?—perhaps across the rest of the globe. We have a chance to be a global leader in this technology; to start it down with us in the Swansea bay. It is equally important that the Government look at it not as a stand-alone project, but in the context of the proposals for Cardiff and Newport. This is not about just Swansea, Wales or the UK; nor is it about just renewable energy, which has been debated so often here.

I have four issues that I will deal with as quickly as I can, given your steer, Mr Brady: the current situation; employment opportunities; the questions about costs, which have been reported in the press; and other benefits, which sadly do not seem to have been reported at all. On the current situation, this is about a long-term plan for the UK and beyond. Over the next 10 years, the UK will lose 11 of its coal-fired power stations, followed by our ageing nuclear capability. In technical terms, that is the same as a 25 GW reduction out of a total capacity of 85 GW across the UK. As yet, nobody has made it entirely clear how we will fill that void. Hinkley Point is 10 years off, and today further questions were raised about the speed and certainty of that project. No new gas-fired power stations are under construction in the UK.

I congratulate my constituency neighbour on securing this debate and on his opening remarks, many of which I agree with. The big issue with Hinkley C is the strike price. The problem with the tidal lagoon is that the financing model that is envisaged for it is the contract for difference. Does he agree that we should perhaps look at other models, such as direct public investment? If we go for a CfD, the cost ends up with the consumer. If we go for direct investment, it ends up with the public, but it is far cheaper than a CfD.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I will come to that issue later in my speech. That is an important message to the Government. I entirely agree that using a model for this form of energy infrastructure simply because it is used for other forms, such as offshore or onshore wind, is potentially a mistake. There is an opportunity, especially with the Government review, to look at other models to see whether we can make it work over a longer period using different technology.

My hon. Friend is being very kind in giving way. He is making a series of very good points. Does he agree that time is of the essence not just for the company and its employees, but for investors, for the communities that he mentioned and for our ability to show technological leadership, which could lead to a great export business?

My hon. Friend is spot on. Many people are watching the Government’s approach to this—not only investors, but people who question whether we have the technical capability and the political will to proceed with this type of project. He is absolutely right that, as long as the Government do not prevaricate about the outcome of the review, they have the chance to put right the concerns that he raises.

I apologise for turning up late because of the vote in the Chamber. I commend my hon. Friend for securing this debate. Is not the issue that we are at the proof of concept stage? The review is very welcome. I know that we need time on our side, but proof of concept is a difficult stage for any project. Although we wholly support it, we need to review it and look at the financing.

I think I understand my hon. Friend’s comment. I should have said earlier that we are not unique in using tidal power. This technology has, in various forms, been tried and tested in other parts of the world, so there are not significant doubts about its workability. We should look elsewhere to ensure that the lessons learned from projects in other parts of the world are applied here.

I will. The chances of us finishing at 3.50 pm are getting slimmer by the moment, but we will do our best.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate and on his opening remarks. This project is as significant as the previous investment in the offshore wind industry in the east of England, which included £60 million of pump-priming for port infrastructure and so on. This project is as significant, not only because it will have an immense impact on the region, but because it will make us a global leader. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are those looking to take it elsewhere if we do not get on with it.

I will devote a section of my speech to concerns about the cost, which are raised in the media. I want to address those points, because at the moment we are looking at added value or some of the other elements that move this project from being simply a good idea to being an irresistible one. However, I will hopefully deal with the hon. Gentleman’s point properly in a moment.

Before I took those interventions, I was talking about the uncertainty about Hinkley Point. Until literally the last few days it was seen as the saving grace of UK energy production, but suddenly we discover that we are back in the land of the unknown. An important message for the Government is that an energy void needs to be filled, about which we know very little. I do not want to sound too melodramatic, but there will be a lights-off moment in about a decade’s time unless the Government—I would say this to any Government—take it seriously. They must act with haste, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) said, to ensure that no uncertainty creeps into the proposals.

It is also reasonable to say that everyone who supports the proposal understands that it is not a silver bullet. Our energy demands will be met by a range of different options, of which this happens to be one, but it is an important one. Tidal lagoons can provide—there is no doubt about the statistical back-up for this—8% to 10% of the UK’s total requirements. That is an extraordinarily tempting prospect. To quote, or possibly misquote, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, it is home-grown, reliable, affordable, sustainable and clean, and I am not aware of any other current proposed energy projects that can boast such descriptions.

The second thing that I want to cover is the added value, which has not been discussed in great detail in this House or in the wider media. It is important to point out that the Swansea bay tidal lagoon will employ nearly 2,000 people at its peak construction period. The programme over the whole of Wales—including Cardiff, Newport and Colwyn Bay—if it goes ahead, will consist of a £20 billion investment, which will need an average of 12,000 jobs for 12 years and result in more than 2,000 full-time positions. That does not even begin to touch on some of the supply chain, tourism and leisure benefits associated with the proposal.

The statistics for the steel required for the project include 8,000 tonnes in the mechanicals package, 60,000 tonnes of rebar and 3,000 tonnes of structural steel. Furthermore, Sheffield Forgemasters and DavyMarkham, another world-class manufacturer in Sheffield, are both well placed to work on several of the core turbine and generator components, remembering that the project includes 16 turbines. On that basis, it would be good just to get on with this—UK steel would be helped enormously to get over its difficult period if the project were given the go-ahead as soon as possible.

The hon. Lady makes a good point, although of course I want all the construction work, including the steel, to be in Wales and, preferably, with bits of it in Pembrokeshire. However, I recognise with a heavy heart and rather grudgingly that we may have to extend our reach to Sheffield—

This is a UK debate, but nevertheless DavyMarkham has said that it will invest in Wales as a result of the project, so I think we are all friends on this.

I accept the hon. Lady’s polite reprimand in the spirit in which it is intended. According to my figures—I will come on to steel in a moment—we are talking about 370,000 tonnes of steel for the Swansea project alone, and double that as we scale up to include Newport and Cardiff. As that figure goes up, it brings a whole range of other possibilities for UK steel, which, given the state of the industry at the moment, can only be welcome. I take her point.

To keep the Yorkshire theme going, one of the chief advisers for the Swansea tidal lagoon project is my constituent Bernard Ainsworth, who has also managed construction of the Shard and the millennium dome. Does my hon. Friend agree that this project, as the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) just said, is not only about boosting the economy and confidence of Wales, but about benefiting all of us across the whole of the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right. At least 50% of the £20 billion investment to which I referred is to be in Wales, so by definition the other half is not. My very next comment was to be that more than 1,000 companies have already expressed interest in this project, or these projects. I have seen a rough outline map, and the whole of the UK is covered. The line-up is impressive, and includes companies such as General Electric, Andritz Hydro, components suppliers, construction companies and a whole range of small and medium-sized enterprises from sandwich makers to pretty much every area of SME activity in Wales and beyond. Everyone in the Chamber will have a bite of the cherry, in terms of constituency interest, as might plenty of those who are not present and do not yet realise it. Our job is to remind them of that.

My third point is about cost, which has been cited regularly as a major obstacle to progress on the project, despite its being a manifesto commitment and Government having trawled the numbers for a long time. It cannot come as a particular surprise that the costs are what they are. However, over 90 years—this is key—the Swansea bay tidal lagoon needs a contract for difference, or CfD, of £118 per MWh, which is the same as for offshore wind projects that already have consent. So Government have already taken a favourable view of projects at that cost, admittedly possibly over a different timescale. None the less, the revised figures show a more attractive number as far as value for money for the British taxpayer is concerned and, once we add in Newport and Cardiff, the cost actually falls to £68.3 per MWh, which really gets it into the realms of acceptability in anyone’s language—even that of the Treasury during these difficult times.

That means that if the Swansea project alone were to be built at the current cost, arguably 10p per annum would be added to energy bills throughout the UK. If we add Newport and Cardiff into the scheme, let alone all the other places that we are talking about, annual bills would be reduced by between £8 and £12. So Swansea alone will add 10p per household bill per year, but Swansea with Cardiff and Newport will start to make significant reductions to householders’ energy bills.

That leads me to my fourth and final point, which is the other benefits. We have not learned much about them so far. Starting with leisure and tourism, the comparable Rance project in France attracts between 70,000 and 100,000 people a year, and there is no reason to believe that the same level of attraction cannot be generated for Swansea and the other tidal lagoons. There is already interest in individual sporting events around the lagoon constructions, which could attract up to 8,000 people a year. Plans are afoot for an offshore visitor centre, sailing and boating centres, and a hatchery. Local and national sporting groups have put in for a sailing triathlon, and there are rowing, canoeing, open-water swimming and sea angling ideas and concepts. There is no shortage of significant extra activity around the lagoon constructions, which can only be good for the tourism offer and employment in Wales.

The great unknown is the export of technology. The lagoon products will be at the cutting edge of global technology, so we have the possibility of creating and growing our own experts in the field, with our own concepts, ideas and plans, which could be exported to 30 or 40 countries, all of which have potential capacity for tidal lagoon generation.

That leads me to steel. I have had various conversations with interested parties, and the fairly modest figure for the steel requirement on the Swansea bay project alone is 370,000 tonnes. Anyone who has been following the plight of the steel industry in Wales and beyond will prick their ears up at that potential for rescue and sustainability. In passing, one potential investor in the project is Liberty Steel, which has already stated that it would move its operation to Wales in the event of the go-ahead from the UK Government, because it sees the opportunity for a UK recycled steel project. At the moment, recyclable steel is exported, recycled and then reimported for use in the UK, which is a crazy situation in anyone’s language. Now we have investors thinking that the scale of the tidal lagoon projects is sufficient to enable them to set up shop properly in the UK, thereby forgoing the need to export 5 million tonnes of recyclable steel. We could do it all here, with significant benefits for the country that are not only to do with tidal lagoons.

My hon. Friend is making a strong case for looking at the development in the round. Is it not also the case that a tidal lagoon in north Wales would not only be an energy and tourism-generating opportunity, but play a significant part in flood defences? That is another issue that should be brought into the equation.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Many people have raised issues with me in support of tidal lagoon technology but I had not heard that one. It is useful to use occasions such as this in Westminster Hall to bring to the Minister’s attention the added benefits that somehow never seem to get into the Treasury calculations as prominently as they might.

I thank my hon. Friend for calling for the debate and for his reference to north Wales. It is important to protect national infrastructure such as the A55 and the north Wales branch of the west coast main line. In fact, tidal lagoons on the north Wales coast offer an opportunity for that as well as for development in areas currently categorised as flood risk zones.

My hon. Friend reinforces the earlier intervention. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister on that.

We have a Minister representing the Department of Energy and Climate Change here, which is welcome, but I hope that she will share her thoughts with the Treasury, because it is as much a decision maker in the process as her Department. I know that she takes our manifesto commitment seriously and recognises that the project comes with almost unique widespread support, and I hope that she recognises the huge economic, social and practical benefits that this and other projects will bring, should they be rolled out. Her Department is aware of the safe and clean nature of the proposal and the longevity it offers the country in an uncertain time.

Back-Bench Members welcome the Government’s review, but we have all been down the review road before on various issues and so often we have come away disappointed that instead of “review” we could have said “delay”. I have no doubt that the review is genuine, but that needs to be demonstrated—the Minister has an opportunity to do that—because as colleagues have mentioned, investors and interested parties do not want prevarication, delay and doubt; they want us to honour our commitment, stick to our word and see the project through under the new, revised terms. DECC has already been involved in negotiations on this project and others for five years, so it has got a lot of the information it needs and it has already granted the development consent order, so it is not as if the project is coming out of the sun without having been seen before. A lot is known about it, so there is no reason to delay matters beyond the lifespan of the review.

I hope that the Minister will address the issues that colleagues have raised and that above all she will recognise and confirm that Swansea on its own is not the entire picture. We are looking at a range of projects of which that is just one, but it is important because it is the first one. I hope that she recognises that, for Wales and the wider UK, there is nothing but upsides from the project and that, as a result, the Government will give it the go-ahead at the earliest opportunity.

Order. Before I call Mr Flynn, it may be helpful to say that, because a large number of hon. Members have indicated their desire to speak, I propose a five-minute limit for Back-Bench contributions in the debate.

I am filled with optimism, because the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), who called for this debate, recently had a debate about S4C and, lo and behold, the Government miraculously found some funding for it. Therefore, this debate might well presage good news about investment in the tides.

This is an ancient dream. There is a nineteenth-century painting of a Severn barrage—somebody foresaw it in Newport—and an inquiry in 1980 looked at it in great detail. I wrote an article for the Western Mail in which I foresaw a series of barrages that would make use of the tides all around the Welsh coast—different pulses of electricity come at different tides—which, to ensure that the project was demand-responsive, were locked into pumped storage schemes in the valleys of south Wales. When the high tide came in at about 3 o’clock in the morning, the water would be pumped up the hills in the valleys and then it would be let down. Dinorwig has proved to be a battery for all of Britain.

When I dug out that article, which I wrote 40 years ago, I was struck by the fact that in all that time we have ignored what is the great source of untapped power, certainly of Wales, but of all the British Isles: the great cliffs of water that surge around our coasts twice a day. Immense amounts of untapped power are wasted. As the hon. Gentleman said, such power is clean, green and, unlike most other renewables, it is entirely predictable. We know exactly when it will happen and it will last as long as the human race inhabits the planet. What are we doing with it? Very little. The great example is in Brittany, where a barrage was opened across the Rance river and now, 50 years later, the turbines are in pristine condition and, without carbon or pollution, it produces the cheapest electricity in Europe. Of course, we should go ahead.

There is now another reason why we need to invest in the project: what I believe is the collapse of the Hinkley Point C project. All that is left promoting it is the stubbornness of the French and UK Governments and the reluctance to accept the mountain of evidence that says that the project cannot work. It has not worked in the past, it is not working now and it will not work in the future. Even today, in The Times, following similar articles in the Financial Times and many other papers in the last seven days, I note the realisation—it was in the main headline—that £17 billion could be saved if we abandon Hinkley Point. There is no rational case left for European pressurised reactor projects. Have they worked anywhere? Three are being built in the world but none is working. The one in Finland, due to cost €6.4 billion, should have been generating electricity in 2009.

You will have to rule as to whether this is the right place for an anti-nuclear campaign, Mr Brady. May I gently suggest that many of us here believe that we need more energy full stop, from nuclear and from tidal lagoons?

Yes. At the moment the Government are approaching an impasse, because Hinkley Point is doomed, and that is crucial to where else they can go. They must go somewhere else to create energy for the future, so it is crucial to the debate that we understand what the entire scientific establishment and the two chiefs of EDF have recognised: it cannot go ahead. EDF is €37 billion in debt—if it were anything other than a nationalised company, it would be bankrupt and out of business. Its share price has collapsed by 10% in the past 24 hours.

EPR electricity has not worked anywhere. The other great EPR project is in Flamanville, where there is a serious problem with the roof of the reactor vessel, which means it may never be completed—it will certainly be delayed for years. Again, that project is billions over budget. How on earth can anyone rely on that?

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the difference between nuclear power projects such as Hinkley—which he is dilating on at the moment—and the proposed technology at Swansea bay and around the Welsh coast is that in lifespan, while nuclear projects are finite and have potential unforeseen consequences in terms of disposal of waste, tidal lagoons provide a clean source of power that, built on a Victorian scale, will last for many decades if not centuries?

Order. Mr Flynn, before you respond, I hope you will use your last two minutes to focus more on the tidal lagoon side than the nuclear side.

Of course. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about every comparison we make on what tidal has to offer. It has cleanliness as a source of power, it is ours—it is British—and it is eternal. It does not have to come from anywhere else. There is a simplicity in taking moving water, getting it to turn a turbine and then generating electricity.

It is time now for this dream to come true. The Government are into investing in huge projects. They have spent £1.2 billion on their railway project, but they have not built an inch of track yet. Those projects they have taken on are long term, and some of them have failure written into them, but this project has success written into it. Tidal power has simplicity and works in several other ways, whether it is through a lagoon or some other project.

We should look at the serious objections there have been in the past 40 years to building a barrage, particularly from those in the natural world who say that building a brick wall across the Severn will have all kinds of repercussions for the natural world. That is not a problem that occurs with lagoons. In order to provide electricity for the future that is green, non-carbon, eternal and everlasting, it must be tidal power.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on securing this important debate. It is a pleasure to represent my constituency of Gower, part of which this tidal lagoon falls into, in the Mumbles area.

The lagoon is the result of five years of hard work on the part of the developers, and we have now arrived at the point of the strike price. The pilot scheme at Swansea may, as has been said, move forward to bigger projects at Cardiff, Newport and elsewhere in Wales and, indeed, the UK. The lagoon has the potential to produce energy that is cheaper than even nuclear and gas. The potential future investment in Wales alone is more than £10 billion, and more than 3,500 jobs will be generated over a decade in Wales, with many more generated in the supply chain across the UK. That is a particularly important point.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the economic benefits of the project. The Chancellor has talked about a northern powerhouse; this would strike me as being a western powerhouse. At a time when borrowing costs are low and there is a need for demand in the economy—Martin Wolf is even talking in the Financial Times about helicopter drops—this lagoon would add to our energy security and strengthen the economy in Wales, which needs to happen. Wider interconnectivity would benefit not only Wales but Europe, and that is another reason the project should be supported.

I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman; I could not have put it better myself.

More than 1,000 companies in the supply chain across the UK have registered their interest in these projects. The scope for further investment in other lagoons and in the export market will eventually give rise to a contribution to the UK balance of payments of tens of billions of pounds.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) for securing this debate. I want to add to the comments being made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Byron Davies) by saying that the whole community of Britain will benefit from this project. I represent one of the largest landlocked constituencies in England and Wales, so Members are probably wondering why I am praising a tidal lagoon that is many miles away from Brecon and Radnorshire, but it really will benefit our people. We will have a lot of people travelling down to work there. Businesses will benefit on a daily basis from the tidal lagoon, and the people of Brecon and Radnorshire are very keen that it goes ahead.

Indeed; I totally agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a valid point.

A study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research has found that a national fleet of six tidal lagoons would contribute something in the region of £27 billion to UK GDP during construction, as well as creating or sustaining 35,000 jobs on average and roughly 70,000 jobs at its peak. When operating, the fleet would contribute just more than £3 billion per annum to UK GDP.

I am sure Members will be aware that Gower was the first area of outstanding natural beauty in the UK. It is a great tourist attraction, and I am sure that the development of the tidal lagoon will add to that. Swansea bay tidal lagoon would be the birth of a new industry based in Wales, and it now needs our support to get it into construction. Where that project leads, others will follow.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, since the mention of a tidal lagoon being in Swansea, his constituency, my constituency and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) have seen a great increase in the feel good factor and a driving of the agenda to take forward other projects that would be less exciting without a tidal lagoon?

The hon. Lady makes a good point. The tidal lagoon has great benefits, including from a health point of view.

Tidal Lagoon Power started work on Swansea bay in 2011 and has spent more than £30 million on the project to date. The company has been wholly privately financed by a number of private individuals, and more recently by a small number of institutional investors. The enterprise is therefore a purely UK-led initiative in the area of tidal power.

In February, the Department of Energy and Climate Change announced an independent review of tidal lagoon energy, which I support and believe is the right decision. Swansea bay tidal lagoon has development consent, while the other projects do not. This has to be looked at in the round, and DECC is making the right decision in considering it properly. Tidal Lagoon Power has welcomed the review as a clear signal that tidal lagoons are being taken seriously and are no longer simply a footnote to UK energy policy. With negotiations on Swansea bay progressing in parallel, it should be possible to sustain investor confidence and ensure that this first-of-its-kind project at Swansea bay is ready to go, should the review conclude that the UK needs tidal lagoons.

In conclusion, I am concerned that the project has been used as a bit of a political football locally. We need to come together on a cross-party basis to provide the project with the support it needs. I know there is support in the Swansea area from other politicians. We all want to see the project develop for the benefit of our communities and the Welsh economy, so we need to lay aside political differences and have a serious and sensible dialogue, as we are today, on the way forward for the lagoon.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on securing this debate. The presence of so many hon. Members here today shows why the project is of such importance. I rise today to urge the Government to give this vital project the go-ahead soon.

I believe that the tidal lagoon should be approved for the following reasons. First, it offers Wales, and the Swansea bay region in particular, an unrivalled opportunity to place itself at the forefront of what this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos called the “fourth industrial revolution”—an industrial revolution that will be characterised by new forms of renewable energy and by the exponential outward expansion of technological innovation. We can be at the vanguard of that revolution, and the Swansea bay tidal lagoon could be a catalyst for it.

To have the first project of this type in Wales—not only in Wales, but in my constituency of Aberavon and, I hasten to add, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris)—would be a source of tremendous national and local pride. The project would also provide a significant alternative to carbon-intensive industry.

This is a chance to harness the natural environment and the unique nature of Swansea bay to our advantage. It is an opportunity to use the environment to protect the environment, power the local community and local homes and to save money—because, secondly, the tidal lagoon will help not only to tackle climate change, but to save money in the long run. The lagoon requires a strike price of £96 per MWh. That is 16% below the cost of any offshore wind farm ever granted a contract.

I am interested in that strike price. Will the hon. Gentleman explain what period that is over? My understanding is that it is over a period of 90 years, rather than the 35 years that would apply, for example, in a wind farm contract.

The hon. Lady is correct. My argument is still that that strike price, as a unit price, is very attractive, particularly when we consider the economies of scale that would come from the construction of further tidal lagoons. We will see a downward trend in that strike price, which is a very convincing economic argument.

I understand that the Government want to get the financial details right and the best value for money for the taxpayer and bill payer, but on the basis of such unanimous cross-party support throughout Wales—at Assembly, ministerial and MP level, as well as right across society; there are no dissenting voices—should it not be the case that at the end of the consultation we have the deal on the table and we go ahead?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend and also with the hon. Member for Gower. There is a cross-party consensus and what seems to be a rare outbreak of unanimity. Let us take that opportunity to move forward.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is losing time because of interventions; he is very kind. To put the matter into some context, the strike price for nuclear will be for 35 years, but we must remember that nuclear has been on the go for 60 years in the UK. So 60 years after it first came along, it is still getting support for a further 35 years—95 years in total—and the strike price being talked about for the barrier is for only 90 years. I do not want to get into a debate about tidal versus nuclear, but that is interesting for context and background.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I would add that we have seen a disastrous overrun in the cost and timing in Flamanville and in Finland, so let us give the tidal lagoon a chance, because in the long run it looks like a very good investment.

Over the project’s lifespan, it will deliver cheaper-than-wholesale electricity. The combination of the Swansea and Cardiff tidal lagoon projects, the first two of their kind in the world, would, over the course of their lifetimes, deliver the cheapest form of electrical generation on the UK grid. Thirdly, the project will create thousands of highly skilled, well paid jobs locally, supporting hundreds of local businesses. Indeed, it is already having a positive impact in the local area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East mentioned, giving rise to plans for many small businesses in the city bay region and feeding into the strategy for the Swansea bay city deal. This is exactly the kind of project that must go ahead if we are to see the rebalancing of the economy that this Government are so keen to talk about, but are apparently not always so keen to act upon. Well, here is the chance: approve the tidal lagoon and create jobs; support small business in the area; help to rebalance the economy and produce green energy.

Finally, as hon. and right hon. Members will be aware, the Welsh steel industry is going through testing times. Nowhere is that more acutely felt than in my constituency, where we are recovering from the devastating news two months ago of 750 job losses at the Tata steelworks in Port Talbot. With the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, there is a real opportunity to support not only the local community, but the local steel industry. The turbines and generator package are worth around £300 million, and Tidal Lagoon Power has committed to sourcing all the major components from the UK.

The company has detailed plans in place for a turbine manufacturing plant in Swansea docks and heavy fabrication in Pembroke, and the generators are to be manufactured in Newport and Rugby. This is all welcome, but I want to see the Government go further when approving the project, and show real leadership by committing to help to source all or as much of the steel for the turbines from the British steel industry. Not only would that help to create jobs across the Swansea bay area, helping some of those highly trained and skilled men and women who were made redundant at Port Talbot in January; it would also help to support local jobs at the Port Talbot steelworks, supporting local jobs and Welsh steel.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way so near to his closing remarks. I want to reiterate that we in Newport also urge the Government to get on with the Swansea bay lagoon. We can also see the benefits further down the line in terms of procurement—my hon. Friend mentioned the steel industry—and in terms of investment, construction and long-term jobs.

My hon. Friend and I stand shoulder to shoulder on this issue.

A positive decision on the lagoon would put a much needed tick in the Government’s green credentials and deliver a massive boost to the local economy and steel industry. This project needs and deserves rapid advance. The Government need to get off the fence and fast, because each day of delay is costing months or years of progress. The recently announced review cannot be another airport-style case of kicking things into the long grass. While welcoming the review, the chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Power, Mark Shorrock, stated:

“A welcome review should not be a substitute for action.”

He made it clear that unless work starts on the lagoon now, and unless structuring and commercial negotiations are concluded in the next six weeks,

“the opportunity will be lost and the review will be all for nothing.”

That was almost a month ago to the day. That gives the Government just two weeks if the project is to go ahead on schedule. The clock is ticking. If the Government want to know what the time is, it is time to act now.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) for securing this debate. I sat on the Environment and Sustainability Committee in the Assembly for a year and we did an inquiry into energy in Wales. I know very well the potential for tidal power in Wales, but I would like to sound a small note of caution. My hon. Friend made a very good speech that highlighted the sunny uplands, which will no doubt be reflected in the beauty of his constituency. However, on the plains of Cheshire, the concerns of my constituents are about the cost of electricity. I think this project is fantastic, but not at any price.

I currently sit on the Energy and Climate Change Committee, and I have real and substantive concerns about the reported strike price.

My speech was not an entirely optimistic picture of energy production in the UK; I hope my hon. Friend accepts that. My point is that her constituents will not have any electricity at all, expensive or cheap, unless we fill the void that will be staring us in the face in about a decade’s time.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. He will know about the excellent progress being made by the Horizon project and the Wylfa nuclear power station in north Wales, which will provide a large amount of generation. I am delighted because that is a very good project that will proceed at an even lower strike price than Hinkley Point’s, which is £92.50 per MWh. That is my real concern around this.

I will just finish making this point. Citizens Advice has issued a report that highlights that, per unit of output, this would be the most expensive significant renewable energy project in Britain, with an impact on those who can least afford to pay the bills because, as was pointed out earlier, the project would be funded by a contract for difference, which gets added on to consumer bills. That means that the poorest and least able to pay would have the levy on their bills to pay for the project. I therefore welcome the review that the Government have announced, because there are other tidal projects and other forms of tidal energy and research coming forward.

Value for the taxpayer is absolutely key. As has been pointed out, the technology in itself is not new and would not attract a patent that could then be sold around the world. It may lead to some experts who could go and deliver that expertise elsewhere, but in terms of the unique deliverability of the technology, the project is using already established technology. There are no doubt potential benefits in relation to coastal protection.

To go back to the hon. Lady’s comments on Wylfa and nuclear, does she not agree that the decommissioning costs of any nuclear project far outweigh any benefit that there would be in the on-costs to begin with?

The hon. Lady will know that the strike price that has been agreed includes the decommissioning costs, and that Wylfa is a project that is very much welcomed in north Wales. Voters on the Isle of Anglesey are extremely supportive of the Horizon project going forward.

Citizens Advice said there was a danger that the project would repeat the mistakes that were made at Hinkley. It highlights an

“opaque negotiating process, lack of scrutiny of cost effectiveness and excessive politicisation of the decision”.

I am aware, as is every Member in the Chamber, that Assembly elections will take place in May. No doubt the project is being used to sell the dream. On behalf of my constituents, and particularly those who have difficulty in paying their bills, I welcome the review and urge an element of caution before we commit ourselves to a hugely expensive project. If it can deliver, and at the right price, it clearly needs to go ahead, because of the many advantages that have been and no doubt will be outlined in the debate. However, I want to say to the Minister that it should not be at any cost—only at a cost that is reasonable for the taxpayer. The clear, substantive advantages can be argued for, but I have concerns about the project.

The hon. Lady is making her point clear. Is she ideologically opposed to direct public investment, if she is opposed to the contracts for difference model?

My understanding is that the rate of return to the investors in the project is 12% to 15%, which is very high. It is a very high cost to taxpayers and I query where else in the market anyone could get that kind of return. When we are talking about payments over 90 years, I urge caution. I do not say “Don’t go ahead”: I say that the review is appropriate. There could be clear advantages, and the boost that would be given to the steel industry and, no doubt, the domestic supply chain would be welcome. There are positives to be expressed, but there are also concerns, and it is right that if we are debating the project in the House we need to know some of the risks as well as potential rewards.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on obtaining the debate. The issue is close to my heart, and the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock).

We have heard that Tidal Lagoon Power is entirely privately owned, so when in February the Department of Energy and Climate Change announced an independent review of the tidal lagoon project I was shocked and disappointed, because the Government have been in talks with the company for more than a year. What stone has been left unturned? Surely we must all acknowledge that the tidal lagoon is a new approach, which will bring considerable environmental and social advantages to every region in the United Kingdom. There are plans for future lagoons. Tidal Lagoon Power is developing five full-scale tidal lagoons to employ the blueprint that needs to be established in Swansea bay. Between them, those projects would represent more than 15 GW of installed capacity, 8% of the UK’s total electricity requirement, and more than £40 billion of capital expenditure. Each project would secure a home-grown power supply for 120 years. Those are phenomenal figures.

The economic case is astounding. Six tidal lagoons would contribute £27 billion to UK GDP during construction, creating nearly 36,000 jobs on average, and 71,000 at the peak. Once in operation, the fleet would contribute £3.1 billion per year to UK GDP and sustain or create as many as 6,500 jobs. What region can afford not to welcome that? What Government can afford to risk that potential? As to the UK supply chain, Tidal Lagoon has set a target to achieve 65% of project spend in Swansea bay on UK content; with 50% of that staying in Wales. Wales cannot afford to miss this opportunity. There are phenomenal financial implications, with turbines, generators and turbine houses to be manufactured locally in Pembroke, Llanelli and Swansea. Detailed plans are in place for a turbine manufacturing plant in Swansea docks—a part of the city that has been left for a considerable time, since the decline of the dock—heavy fabrication in Pembroke and generator manufacture in Rugby and Newport. The turbines and generation package for Swansea bay are worth £300 million with almost all the parts to be UK-sourced.

As for employment, up to 1,900 full-time equivalent jobs will be created and supported during construction, and up to 180 will be created and supported through the operational life of the lagoon. There will be up to £316 million of gross value added during construction. So it goes on; the figures just keep coming. The project is a win-win all round, for Swansea East, Aberavon, the Gower, Wales and the UK—we all gain from every aspect of the project. The region needs the project, and so does my city—and the UK. It is an opportunity for us to become global leaders in a new and exciting technology; let us not let anything stop that.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I will be very quick. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on securing the debate. He alluded to the consensus, and I feel like a bit of an interloper in the debate, following the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who has done so much in her constituency to champion the cause. I speak as a Welsh Member, to reiterate the point made by the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire about the consensus on the issue between all the political parties. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) got a few of us to sign an important letter to the South Wales Argus last year, to reiterate the case, and on 2 December our colleagues in the National Assembly unanimously voted to urge the UK Government to take action.

I suppose if I were to characterise the debate as encompassing the caution of the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Swansea East I would on this occasion side with Swansea East. Although the review has been acknowledged by Members all around the Chamber—with some more enthusiastic about it than others—the key point is that if it is happening, to quote the chief executive of the lagoon project, it is not “a substitute for action”. The debate is about timing.

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me I will not take an intervention, because we want to hear the winding-up speeches.

There is a question of timing. We have a consensus, and the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire talked about the need not to prevaricate. If concern is felt in some quarters that the project is being put into some kind of grass—long or otherwise—I hope that the Minister will dispel that.

We have heard all the evidence. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon project is critical for Swansea and the adjacent areas. It is critical for Wales and the UK, not just as a means of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, but also to increase the important renewables sector and for the Welsh economy. The technology is not new. Some of us have been on the Welsh Affairs Committee for quite a long time. The right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) is nodding. I remember a trip in a rubber dinghy in the Bristol channel with the predecessor of the hon. Member for Swansea East and the present shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). It was an intriguing experience bobbing around in the Bristol channel with my colleagues; but we were there because, even 10 years ago, we were looking at the potential for such approaches. I cannot go back quite as far as the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) did in his speech, but we were talking about it 10 years ago.

Although it is not new technology, we need to look at other precedents around the world in France, Canada, Korea and elsewhere. We have the opportunity to be at the forefront of the technology. The lagoon could be the first of many such projects around the UK and elsewhere, if it is shown to be a success, bringing down the price of technology substantially and allowing us in Wales to export that technology around the world. I will repeat the figures: the Centre for Economics and Business Research has estimated that a UK tidal lagoon industry could increase our exports by £3.7 billion a year—for Swansea and the south-west of Wales. There would probably not be many jobs in Ceredigion; maybe a few. Setting the industry up would provide about 2,000 jobs, and much-needed high-skilled work in areas where that has sometimes been lacking. There would be several hundred ongoing jobs when the project was completed. We have heard about the tourist potential. In the years since I used to go there on holiday as a child, a huge amount of regeneration has happened in Swansea. We could build on that massively if this project moved ahead speedily.

If we are to meet our climate targets, it is vital that we invest up front for these kinds of projects and do not allow short-term thinking to scupper the long-term ambitions for our environment and economy. We need to ensure that we are at the forefront of encouraging the development of green technologies at a time when, if I am allowed briefly to be slightly party political in the last 30 seconds, there have been concerns about the direction of travel of the Department of Energy and Climate Change since the general election—but I say that only in passing.

The message of this debate is that politicians from all political parties—from direct engagement in Aberavon, the Gower and the city of Swansea, and from those of us from further afield—are urging the Government to get on with it. Have the review, but at the end of it, have some outcomes from which this project can grow and the communities we have heard about can prosper.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I thank the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart)—a quite beautiful part of the country—for bringing this key debate to the House and all the Members who have taken part. I feel that all the speakers today have contributed significantly and that many excellent points have been made.

A comprehensive and concise case was made by the hon. Gentleman, much assisted by contributions from Members across all parties. He reminded us of the Conservative manifesto and made key points about how with the STL we could, and should, be a global leader. That sounds very much like the positive argument for carbon capture and storage, and we all hope that, unlike with CCS, the Government will look to the longer term in this case and push forward. He spoke of a lights-off moment and the problems that would create in respect of black start, and the many benefits of added value, which I will come to later and which have been commented on by many Members. Critically, he corrected the common misconceptions about pricing, which were also covered by other Members.

The economic benefits that the project would bring to south Wales were particularly well covered by the hon. Members for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), for Newport West (Paul Flynn), for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). The point was well made that the Swansea tidal lagoon will bring fantastic economic benefits to the local area, creating thousands of jobs and permanent roles in tourism-related industries for Wales and beyond. Over 2,800 construction jobs will be created, as well as up to 40 permanent roles in tourism industries. The Centre for Economics and Business Research, which was well quoted by Members, has estimated that the tidal lagoon could result in an annual boost to Welsh gross value added of 0.14% and would create direct and indirect jobs for the Welsh economy.

It is vital not only that Wales benefits as much as possible from this huge and exciting project, but that local communities benefit from energy developments. The community share offer made by STL will give the local community a direct stake in the project’s success, which will of course increase public support. It is also important that Tidal Lagoon Power works with the region’s universities and colleges to ensure that young people are encouraged into the green energy sector and that apprenticeship schemes are made available at the site. North Wales is also home to world-class marine science and energy research departments, which should work in tandem with the project. This should not just be Wales-wide; we should expect it to go beyond that and be UK-wide.

A positive point about UK fabrication, particularly in relation to steel tonnages, was made by the hon. Members for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and for Aberavon. We must not forget the cautionary note that the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) sounded about the strike price or the points made about the politicisation of this project in the upcoming elections.

Contributions were made by many about the role of Wales and how it is well placed to take advantage of the increased demand for renewable energy, with its vast coastlines making it a fantastic place to harness tidal energy. Wales is home to the second highest tidal range in the world, in the Severn estuary, and has 1,200 kilometres of coastline—however, as yet none of it is being utilised.

Plaid Cymru is committed to making Wales self-sufficient in renewable electricity by 2035, and tidal power is a crucial part of that plan. Wales is already an energy-rich nation. It produces almost twice as much electricity as it uses, but at the moment only 10% of that is generated from renewables, compared with 32% in Scotland and 14% across the UK. This project will help Wales on its way to achieving the 2035 renewable electricity goal and will hopefully create a template for the proposed Cardiff tidal lagoon, which would generate enough electricity to power the whole of Wales. This is a long-term investment in the future of Wales. It is hoped that the success of the project would make the cost of any future projects based on it cheaper, through lessons learned, the evolution of design and technology, and so on.

A point was made about the potential flood defence benefits, which is another dimension of the project that will doubtless be investigated. STL is just the start. The hon. Member for Newport West spoke about the future of the project technology as a veritable eternal dream come true. The hon. Member for Aberavon spoke of the fourth technology revolution.

The UK Government have demonstrated that they are not fully committed to investing in renewable energy and meeting targets. Points on that were well made by the hon. Member for Newport West, who predicted potential miraculous funding, and we hope that comes to fruition. In February this year, the Government were criticised by the European Commission for failing to make sufficient progress towards Europe-wide renewable energy targets.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Sorry for the delay. The debate will finish at 4.28 pm. Mr Boswell is halfway through his remarks, so he has another five minutes. There will be 10 minutes for the Opposition and Government Front Benchers, and then we have the delight of Mr Hart having two minutes to sum up the entire debate.

In February 2016, the UK Government were criticised by the European Commission for failing to make sufficient progress towards Europe-wide renewable energy targets. The Government’s recent record of industry disappointment in constant policy changes is well discussed and recorded, particularly in respect of the early closure of the renewables obligation for onshore wind, solar energy subsidy cuts, privatisation of the green investment bank, carbon capture and storage and the legislative changes on oil and gas. Do not let the Swansea tidal lagoon project be the next renewable energy disappointment in that growing and far from comprehensive list of UK Government fails. Is it any wonder that the energy industry has somewhat lost faith in the Government? The continual moving of the legislative goalposts has seriously damaged market confidence.

There is an opportunity in Swansea for the UK Government to get back on track not only in respect of Britain’s commitment to green energy targets, but in reinstating investor confidence to some degree by delivering a best-value strike price for the people of south Wales and Britain as a whole. The anticipated and very real delay failures of Hinkley Point C have been well covered by hon. Members. Those extensive, real concerns should be a catalyst for moving forward with the Swansea tidal lagoon project.

In summary, tidal energy as a real contributor to our UK-wide climate change targets must be taken seriously. This project in south Wales is perfectly placed to take advantage of that need and must therefore be enabled to play its part in our collective success. Like, I am sure, the rest of the hon. Members present, I have been struck throughout this debate by the high level of cross-party support for STL. The fantastic ambition and progress made by the devolved nations on renewable energy cannot be held back by the regressive energy policies of this Government. I urge the Minister to get off the fence—as urged by the hon. Member for Aberavon, who is no longer in his place—and do everything in her power to ensure that the project goes ahead. It is about time this country had a good news story on renewables, or no one will take us seriously in our attempts to hit climate change targets and to keep the lights on.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. It is also a pleasure to debate opposite the Minister for the first time. It is fitting that two ladies are representing the Government and the Opposition on International Women’s Day. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on securing this debate. In his opening remarks he eloquently explained why the Swansea bay tidal lagoon is a particularly exciting subject.

The construction of a tidal low-carbon power plant represents a real opportunity for the UK to be at the forefront of renewable technology innovation. That fundamental point has been echoed by other hon. Members today. I do not intend to go over those remarks, as the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell) has already done so rather articulately.

This debate has been a fantastic opportunity to highlight the potentially huge economic benefits of encouraging tidal lagoon power. Of course, we have also heard the hopes of hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Government will come to an agreement on the level of state support required to get this project off the ground. Indeed, the Conservative party’s manifesto contained a commitment to the Swansea tidal lagoon as a source of

“secure, affordable and low-carbon energy”.

However, there is a fear in many quarters that, since then, the Government appear to have kicked the project into the long grass. I hope that this debate will help to remind the Government of their commitment and that we will see some movement towards meeting it.

As we have heard, the proposed Swansea bay tidal lagoon has clear environmental benefits, as it harnesses a sustainable source of energy to generate a significant amount of carbon-free electricity over a long lifespan. Tidal Lagoon Power, the company that will construct, own and operate the plant, has suggested that it will generate enough electricity to power 90% of homes in Swansea bay over a 120-year lifespan. Indeed, as the generation of power relies only on the tide, it is an entirely predictable source of renewable energy.

Given the Government’s cuts to other renewables, we hope that tidal lagoon technology will not be the next to suffer, particularly because the economic case, as we have heard today, is as strong as the environmental case. For instance, a key benefit of developing the Swansea bay tidal lagoon is the number of jobs that it will create and support during its construction and lifetime. Tidal Lagoon Power estimates that the project will support 1,900 jobs during construction and 181 jobs during each year of operation. That is supported by research by the Welsh economy research unit at Cardiff University, which estimates that 1,850 full-time equivalent jobs will be supported across the region for the three-year construction period.

Such employment opportunities will be incredibly beneficial to the Swansea bay area of Wales, which has a somewhat high rate of economic inactivity and has recently been dealt a blow with the loss of jobs in the steel industry—another sector that, frankly, the Government should be doing much more to support. In fact, today we heard that an estimated 370,000 tonnes of steel are required for this project alone.

The Swansea bay tidal lagoon presents a real opportunity to rejuvenate the area, offering employment in a new, growing industry. As the Cardiff University research unit explains,

“integrating construction demand with local manufacturing inputs and new industry will be an important means of strengthening prospects in these important parts of the regional economy.”

Similarly, trade unions have added their voice to business leaders and academic experts. Unite Wales, for example, hailed the project as

“both superb and significant in terms of the vision, energy and employment potential it could bring to Wales.”

Furthermore, the local community will benefit greatly from the plans for the lagoon area itself. We have heard today that Tidal Lagoon Power has outlined its ambition

“for the lagoon to become a major attraction and recreational amenity…showcasing tidal range technology and providing a unique venue for opportunities in the arts, culture”.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way and for confirming from the Front Bench that the Labour party is fully behind the project. The key question for her as someone who aspires to be in the Minister’s seat is this: how would a future Labour Government pay for the project if they were in charge of it? Would they use a strike price model via a contract for difference, or does she agree that we should consider direct public investment as a far cheaper way for the public to finance the scheme?

The hon. Gentleman raises some interesting and pertinent points. I hope that the Minister has considered them, and that the Government will address many of those issues in the review currently being undertaken. We as a party will comment on them when the facts and information become available in due course.

It is clear from the debate that everybody, across parties, thinks that this is a wonderful scheme and would like it to go ahead, but we know from experience that such schemes go ahead only if a satisfactory economic case is made. Does the hon. Lady welcome the review and the work going forward? The Government will be in a position to recognise the benefits, and it will confirm that the scheme is based on value for money as well as ticking every other box.

Yes. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments and those made earlier by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach). The scheme needs to represent value for money, but that must be assessed in the context of the whole economy, not just the specific project. As we heard earlier, it is not just a stand-alone project and should not be treated as such. If we consider it in a national context along with the other projects in the offing, I think that we will see throughout the review—I hope that the facts are presented as I have been told they will—that it will represent more value for money than a single project in Swansea alone.

The Cardiff University research unit also considered community benefits. Tidal Lagoon Power has suggested that the lagoon could become a foundation venue for local and national sports use, as the lagoon wall would provide a track for cycling, walking, angling and running and the lagoon itself could be perfect for swimming, rowing and sailing.

Not only will the project be a fantastic source of job creation and regeneration for the Swansea bay area, but it is expected to have a huge impact on the Welsh economy in general. A 2014 report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimated that the impact on Welsh gross value added could amount to approximately £76 million a year, in 2014 prices, over its 120-year lifespan. The development of such a new and exciting industry could also provide a much-needed boost to UK exports. Tidal Lagoon Power estimates that the potential to export UK content to a new global tidal lagoon market has been valued at £70 billion. The review should refer to the wider global impact.

Tidal power is an easily replicable new industry. The UK could be a world leader in exporting the technology and manufacturing across the globe. I am sure that the Minister will agree that at a time when the balance of payments leaves much to be desired, the development of a new exportable industry would be highly beneficial to the country. In short, investment in renewable energy technologies is a long-term win for everyone, saving jobs, money and the environment.

The Opposition understand that the Government are not set against this or other tidal lagoon energy projects in principle but have announced a six-month independent review, delaying any decision until autumn. However, Tidal Lagoon Power has said that it will need a decision on a much faster timetable. I welcome any reassurance that the Minister can give us that the project will not be allowed to fail simply due to the timescale of decision making. In conclusion, it is clear that the potential economic and environmental benefits of developing the Swansea bay tidal lagoon are huge. I hope that the Minister can assure me that the Government are doing all that they can to agree a level of state support to make the project viable.

Mr Hollobone, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate all hon. Members on this interesting debate—I mean that sincerely—in which some good points have been made. I welcome the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) to her place on the Front Bench. It is a pleasure to speak with her for the first time in this debate. Interestingly, we both have landlocked constituencies, yet we share a keen interest in this project.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on securing this debate. His chosen topic is of great interest to the Government, and I sincerely welcome this opportunity for an exchange of views. He, like others from the south Wales region and beyond, is keen to understand better how the proposed Swansea bay tidal lagoon project, if it goes ahead, would benefit the local economy.

I want to clarify one important thing: my hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention that the Swansea bay project was in our manifesto. The Government absolutely recognise its potential to deliver low-carbon, secure energy for the future. However, as I am sure he will accept, it was not a commitment to deliver a contract for difference. This Government are absolutely determined to prioritise keeping costs down, to be on the consumer’s side and to decarbonise at the lowest price while keeping the lights on. Although the project is of huge interest to us, I am sure that he will appreciate that we must keep a close eye on the cost.

The Bristol channel has the second highest tidal rise and fall in the world. We must harness it. We look to the Minister to find a way to fund that over a long period, because I think it has a timescale of more than 120 years. Once the lagoon is built, if the banks and turbines can be repaired, it will have an infinite life. If we can get the funding right, the power will be right, because the tide will be there, hopefully. As long as the moon is there and the earth revolves around the sun, we will have a tide.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I agree completely. As I said, we are keen on the project, but not at any price.

Since the Government entered bilateral negotiation with Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd on a possible contract for difference for the project, my officials have been undertaking due diligence to establish a better understanding of the project, including detailed scrutiny of its costs, timescales and potential benefits. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) that the bilateral negotiation process is set out in a stakeholder engagement document that my Department published in January 2015, so it is not an opaque process. I urge hon. Members to read it.

Let me be clear that this Government continue to recognise the potential for the deployment of tidal lagoons in the UK. The scalability of the technology is of genuine interest to us. We are attracted to the proposed Swansea bay tidal lagoon because of its potential to unlock larger, more cost-effective developments elsewhere in the UK.

I will answer the hon. Gentleman’s point, which I know he has made twice already. I will come to it in a moment.

There is speculation, following recent announcements, that this Government have kicked the project into the long grass. The simple truth is that the developer’s current proposal for a 35-year contract is too expensive for consumers to support, and the deliverability of the wider lagoon programme is too uncertain at this point. The developer is seeking a very significant amount of financial support for the project from consumers, and its most recent proposals for a longer contract would be a significant deviation from where Government policy is just now.

For that reason, it is only right that we take more time to consider the proposals. As I have said, the Government cannot support the technology at whatever cost to the consumer. It must represent good value for money and be affordable. We have told the developer that Department of Energy and Climate Change and Treasury officials stand ready to continue discussions. In parallel, there will be an independent review to assess the strategic case for tidal lagoons and whether they could represent good value for consumers.

The independent strategic review was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Gower (Byron Davies), for Eddisbury and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), as well as the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams). It will consider a number of issues, including the potential scale of the opportunity in the UK and internationally, including, importantly, supply chain opportunities.

Shortly, we will set out more details about the review, including the name of the person who will lead it. I hope that it will be possible to complete the review by the autumn. It will help us to consider further what role tidal lagoons could have as part of our plans to secure clean and affordable energy for families and businesses across the country.

As I say, the make-up of the committee is being discussed right now, and I will certainly take that point away. I am quite sure that there will be someone from Wales on it, but I cannot say for certain because we have not got the names of individual members yet. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. As I was saying, we will not be able to make a decision about whether to award a CfD to Swansea bay until the review has been completed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire suggested an intergenerational CfD for up to 90 years, as did the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). We will consider this and other means of financing this type of project as part of the review. However, hon. Members will appreciate that a 90-year CfD, or a CfD for even longer, is a very, very long-term intergenerational funding commitment that is not something that the Government have looked at so far. It requires further review; it is not something that we can simply pick up.

One of the very important reasons for the widespread interest in the proposed Swansea bay tidal lagoon and of course the wider lagoon programme is the potential for significant economic growth and job creation. We are taking this opportunity very seriously. If a decision is taken to award a CfD to this project, the Government will look to maximise the potential economic benefits as far as humanly possible. I can tell hon. Members that consideration of the supply chain is always a key part of a CfD negotiation, and the Government have already requested a supply chain plan and map from the developer. We are very pleased that the UK content of the project is likely to be up to 65% and that the Welsh content is likely to be about 50%.

That is good news, but hon. Members—in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, and the hon. Members for Aberavon, for Salford and Eccles and for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), and my hon. Friend the Member for Gower—asked, “What do we get from this, especially for the steel industry and so on?” I can tell all hon. Members that in the context of offshore wind, where there is a very clear commitment to further growth, I am pushing extremely hard to maximise the opportunity for the UK supply chain, and if this tidal project goes ahead I will be like a Rottweiler and absolutely fighting for as much UK content as possible. That is a very important point to make to all hon. Members.

My hon. Friend has mentioned offshore wind. Is it not the case that the strike price proposed for the Swansea lagoon is comparable to that for offshore wind? Does not the lagoon have the substantive advantage of not being intermittent, unlike offshore wind?

My right hon. Friend is exactly right that the advantage of this project is that it is despatchable and not intermittent, which is the problem with offshore wind. However, I am afraid that he is not right that the cost of this project is comparable to the cost of offshore wind, because the timescale for this project is vastly different. If we compare like with like, we find that this project is much more expensive.

Once again, I congratulate hon. Members; this has been a very constructive debate and I have taken away a number of points from it. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who has expressed his very long-term vision, which is far beyond the pedigree of most of us here, if not all of us here. He has been promoting the possibilities for tidal and he is absolutely right to do so. However, I can assure him that Hinkley Point is not comparable. We are very confident that the Hinkley Point project will get built and I will make the specific point that, as he will know, the decommissioning costs are taken into the CfD price, and so there is not a further cost of decommissioning, as some Members suggested.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remarks. If the Hinkley Point European pressurised reactor suffers the same fate as all other reactors—delays of six or seven years—what is the Government’s plan B to fill the energy gap?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are not dependent on any one technology. The important thing is a mixture of technologies and we are confident in our strategy for ensuring reliable and affordable supplies of energy.

It is entirely understandable that people are getting behind this proposed tidal project. It has the potential to be a very exciting development for Swansea, south Wales and the UK. If the project goes ahead, it should have a positive impact on the local economy, and if a positive decision is taken, we will look to maximise the opportunity and the effect as far as possible. However, we have a duty to ensure that the decisions we take are in the best interest of consumers across the UK, both today and in the future. So while we will continue to discuss the project with the developer and carefully scrutinise its most recent proposals, we will await the outcome of the independent review before taking any decisions on the Swansea bay proposal.

Thank you very much, Mr Hollobone, for calling me again.

I thank the Minister, the shadow Minister, the Scottish National party representative, the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell), and many colleagues for their contributions today.

This has been an interesting debate, summed up by three words beginning with u: unity, which is good and somewhat unusual—to give a fourth word beginning with u; uncertainty, which is bad, and I hope that has been taken on board; and unique, because this proposal has a unique nature. There have been some erroneous comparisons with other projects. This project is not the same as other projects and therein lies its strength. I hope that the Minister will agree.

I hope that the Minister will not mind my saying this, but as far as manifesto commitments are concerned, nothing annoys me—and I suspect voters—more than something that gives a very clear impression in the written word in a manifesto that is followed up a few weeks or months later with, “Oh, we didn’t mean it quite like that.” The manifesto was really pretty clear about this project; there was no indication anywhere that this project might run into the long grass at a later stage.

Also, when the Minister talks about “not at any price”—I accept that, because nobody is going to do anything at unlimited price—I hope that she will stipulate at some stage in the future what the acceptable price is. It is all very easy going round and saying, “Not at any price”, but we need a slightly clearer indication of what we are talking about.

On behalf of many colleagues, I will say that this has been a healthy kick-around of this subject, and I hope that the decision makers in this process realise that there is some momentum behind this proposal and that, as far as we are concerned, it would have nothing but positive benefits for the Welsh economy and the wider UK economy.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the potential economic benefits of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.

Bowel Cancer Screening Age

I beg to move,

That this House has considered bowel cancer screening age.

Bowel cancer is second only to lung cancer for the number of lives it takes. Across the country, 165,457 people have signed a petition to bring down the bowel cancer screening age in the UK in a bid to hit this devastating disease.

It is extremely unfortunate that bowel cancer— screening is available only in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from the age of 60. Would the hon. Lady’s welcome the Scottish Government’s approach of screening people from the age of 50 being taken up across the rest of the UK? That would surely give many individuals an early diagnosis and a higher chance of survival.

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I recognise that earlier screening in Scotland and would certainly welcome it.

The petition that I mentioned has been well supported; in fact, it has had 500 new signatories this very day. The originator of the petition, Lauren Backler, has travelled from Eastbourne to be with us today in Westminster. May I at this point pay tribute to her courage and endeavour? For anyone hearing the news that they or a loved one have been diagnosed with bowel cancer, it will be simply earth-shattering, as Lauren knows. She writes:

“On 2nd December 2014, my Mum Fiona Backler was diagnosed with bowel cancer, at Eastbourne DGH’s”—

Eastbourne District General Hospital’s—

“Accident and Emergency and was told a few days later that the cancer was terminal. She started palliative chemotherapy within a week, but despite us being told that potentially she could have up to 2 years to live, she passed away on 28th March 2015, just under 4 months after diagnosis and a week after her 56th birthday. Before she was diagnosed, she had been back and forth to her GP with vague symptoms, and had even had an endoscopy about a year and a half beforehand, which she had been told was all clear. When she was diagnosed, her consultant told us that the cancer had possibly been missed at that stage.

Bowel cancer screening can often pick up abnormalities in people who have no symptoms at all, and so I believe that if the screening age was lowered to 50 it would give thousands of people a fighting chance of beating the disease.”

My hon. Friend knows that I have come to the debate for personal reasons. My husband was diagnosed with bowel cancer in December 2014, when we were right in the middle of fighting the campaign, and it was I who spotted the unusual signs and dragged him to the GP, where, like many men, he would never have gone, or at least not for a very long time. Ironically, he received a letter some months later saying, “Come for the screening,” when he would have been 55. Had he had that letter at 50, the polyps would have been recognised and removed and they would, potentially, not have turned into cancer. As it was, he did have cancer, and we had to go through that earth-shattering experience that the poor lady whom my hon. Friend talks about has also been through. I sympathise with her, and I urge support for my hon. Friend’s motion. We need to continue to explain why the matter is so important.

I thank my hon. Friend for her moving contribution. Personal testimony highlights just why earlier intervention is vital—it can be life-saving.

My hon. Friend makes reference to personal experience. I would not be here today without an early diagnosis of the bowel cancer I suffered. I had an operation that left me with a stoma, and I am living proof that someone can make a 100% recovery and even become a Member of Parliament, if they work hard.

I hope my hon. Friend agrees that one of the big benefits of screening is not only the identification of blood as a possible sign of bowel cancer, but the raising of awareness. The truth is that it came as a huge shock to me, and I imagine that it comes as a huge shock to people who think they are invulnerable and do not believe that they could possibly be suffering from bowel cancer.

My hon. Friend makes an apposite point, and I hope that, in a small way, this debate, underpinned as it is by personal testimony, plays a part in raising awareness. As I said at the beginning of my speech, the disease takes the second highest number of lives of all cancers.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. As someone who lost both of his grandfathers to bowel cancer, I think that early diagnosis is absolutely key. However, it is not just a case of screening at a specific age; it is about spotting the signs. I have friends who have developed this dreadful disease in their 30s. It is all about spotting the key signs. One of those friends went on, after recovery, to carry the Olympic torch and is now a champion for young people with bowel cancer. Will my hon. Friend go on to talk about spotting the signs and not just about screening?

My hon. Friend makes a very worthy point. He brings glad tidings, too, that bowel cancer can be beaten and that those who have suffered from this terrible condition can go on to lead rich and fulfilling lives—which, in some cases, bring them to Parliament.

The hon. Lady is being very generous in giving way. I commend her excellent speech, the petitioners and her remarks about her brave constituent. With the national rate of screening at 58%—it is only slightly higher in Oxfordshire—does she agree that, as well as raising awareness and pushing for an earlier age of screening, which I fully endorse, still more needs to be done to increase take-up, notwithstanding the adverts and the reminder letters that are already sent?

The right hon. Gentleman is right in identifying that as a key way to move forward. In fact, screening uptake has not really moved in more than a decade, so we do need to be in the business of raising awareness of the condition, its symptoms and the opportunities for screening, at whatever age it is set.

While we are on the personal stories, cancer—bowel cancer in particular—touches all families. I sadly lost my sister this time last year through it and my father is in a hospice at the moment for that exact reason. I am someone who is going through the investigative treatment, just as the husband of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) did, and everything is fine so far. As uncomfortable as it is, it is particularly difficult for men to be brave enough to go out and have the investigative actions take place. I am 48, so reducing the age would not necessarily have covered me. My sister, sadly, was 50 when she passed away. But bringing the age down will certainly give other people a chance, and that is the most important thing. I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing the debate forward.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has secured this debate. My mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 56 and, ironically, my father, who was 60 at the time, had received the screening kit five months previously. Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows the need to review the age at which people are screened?

I agree, and I hope we can put that need forward today. I know that the Minister and her Department are working hard in this area and that they are all the time seeking to secure better outcomes. I hope that they might just revisit the screening age as part of that.

It has been really moving to hear from right hon. and hon. Members about their own experiences and about the losses they have suffered. Lauren is here today, having lost her mum. What a terrible tragedy that is. It feels especially poignant that we are here so soon after celebrating mother’s day.

With today’s advances in life expectancy, 56—the age at which Lauren’s mother died— is incredibly young, yet if Lauren’s mother had lived in Scotland, she would have been screened three times before the age at which she was diagnosed, increasing the chances of early detection and therefore survival. Learning that must have been a bitter blow. England has, however, led in this area. In 2006, we became the first home nation and one of the first countries in the world to offer routine screening for bowel cancer, with the faecal occult blood test, or FOBT, being sent every two years to those aged 60 to 69—later extended to 74. However, a year later Scotland implemented the same screening, with the crucial difference that it would begin from the age of 50.

The national screening committee, which ran FOBT pilots in the early 2000s, felt that 50 was the right age at which to begin to screen. It noted a lower take-up of the test in 50 to 60-year-olds compared with those over the age of 60, but recommended that the Government take measures to address that. However, when deciding on final implementation it was recognised that, due to a shortage of endoscopy equipment and with substantially higher incidence rates over the age of 60, screening would begin with that age group. It is conceded that more than 80% of those diagnosed with bowel cancer are over the age of 60.

A University of Sheffield study recommended that offering both bowel scope screening and the FOBT from the age of 60 would maximise survival rates and have the important trade-off of being cost-effective. Yet the same study also found that the FOBT would substantially lower the number of deaths by as much as 23% if it was run for 50 to 69-year-olds, whereas running it from the age of 60 only would reduce the number of deaths by only 14%. It is hard to talk about percentages but, just to bring the debate back to the personal level, that significant 9% would have included Lauren’s mum, and perhaps other people we know.

We know that there is a clear upward incidence of bowel cancer over the age of 50. The rate of bowel cancer roughly triples between one’s 40s and one’s 50s, before doubling again in one’s 60s. We all should be aware of the signs and take precautions in our diet and lifestyle to prevent and detect bowel cancer—and, yes, perhaps we ought to shed the very British attitude that we must keep calm and carry on, and seek out our GP. More must be done to improve screening uptake rates. Bowel cancer screening rates remain disappointingly low nationwide, having barely moved above those achieved in the pilot 16 years ago.

Spotting the signs is absolutely crucial, and we have had some great receptions in Parliament about just that point with the bowel cancer organisations, but I want to put a positive spin on things. Let us not be negative. If we spot bowel cancer early, which is exactly what my hon. Friend is talking about, it is fully possible to recover. It is one of the ones that has a positive outcome. We have got some great medical teams in this country, and I think we should praise them. In particular, I praise the team at Musgrove Park hospital. It has one of the best support teams in this area. I know Lauren has had a terrible time, but for other people there is an awful lot of positivity, which is why my hon. Friend secured the debate.

Indeed, there is a lot of positivity. Lauren brings that positivity: she wants not only to reduce the screening ages, but to advance awareness of bowel cancer across the piece. I know that she is particularly concerned about those who are at risk and are already carrying the condition in their 20s and their 30s. So much more needs to be done, and that includes us talking about our symptoms and taking that forward. As we have heard, there is a good prognosis if we can strike out for that early intervention.

On that positive note, my mother had a scare at 90. She ended up with a colostomy and she is shortly to be 104. There are good outcomes. Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that the national average for take-up is 58%? In Southend, it is 52%. Our excellent Minister will be keen to ensure that there is a much higher take-up rate.

Indeed. I am looking forward to hearing more from the Minister about the excellent work the Government are doing. I know that they have plans and prospects for hitting that low take-up. I fear that that low take-up might be a very British sort of thing, and we need to break through that if we are to strive to see the same survival rates as some of our European counterparts.

On early diagnosis, those diagnosed with stage 1 bowel cancer have a 97% chance of survival, which is hugely positive. That compares with a chance of survival of just 7% when the cancer is more advanced. Early diagnosis not only provides patients with a much better chance of survival, but would cost the NHS far less, saving an estimated £34 million according to the charity Beating Bowel Cancer. That is because treatment for the earlier stages of cancer is often less intensive and invasive than treatment for more advanced diseases.

Sadly we also know that we are lagging behind other countries on survival rates. A 2013 study for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which was part-funded by the European Commission, found that in Britain we diagnose bowel cancer later than other countries, while our survival rate overall for bowel cancer was only 51.8%. That is lower than the European average of 57% and lower than Germany’s survival rate of 62%. That is not where we want to be. I am looking forward to hearing from the Minister about her Department’s sterling work, but my question today is: could the age of screening be revisited? Is there scope to further personalise and target testing in those younger years?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The quite extraordinary level of participation in this half-hour debate speaks volumes about the level of interest in and engagement with this issue from parliamentarians. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) on securing the debate. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to speak to Lauren at the Beating Bowel Cancer reception here in the House in January and to have heard her story in person. My officials and I enjoyed that conversation. As my hon. Friend said, she is a remarkable young woman.

Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. The statistics around the number of people who die from it each year have been eloquently explained. We accept that we as a country want to do better. That is why, looking at cancer in the round, NHS England set up the independent cancer taskforce, which produced the new strategy “Achieving world-class cancer outcomes”. That was widely welcomed when it was published last July. The Government are committed to implementing the recommendations of the taskforce, and that will see improvements right across the cancer pathway, including in screening. The strategy sets a clear ambition for a further improvement in survival rates. They have improved, as my hon. Friend said, but we want to go further.

Today’s focus is very much on screening, which is a crucial part of diagnosing bowel cancer early. We know that outcomes are significantly better for people diagnosed at stages 1 and 2 as compared with stages 3 and 4. When deciding whether to undertake bowel cancer screening, we have to remember that it is a choice for each individual, so it is important that people are provided with the information they need to make an informed decision. I will go on to talk a little about how many people either decide not to do it or do not get round to doing it. Screening is a significant challenge, and I welcome attention being given to it.

On the advice of the UK National Screening Committee, the expert body that advises Ministers and the NHS in the four UK countries about all aspects of screening policy, bowel cancer screening using the faecal occult blood self-sampling test is offered in England. The bowel cancer screening programme offers screening using the kits every two years to men and women aged 60 to 74 who are registered with a GP. Men and women aged over 74 can self-refer for screening every two years if they wish. People eligible for screening receive an invitation letter explaining the programme, along with an information leaflet explaining the benefits and risks of bowel cancer screening. By the end of January 2016, nearly 29 million men and women in England had been sent a home testing kit and more than 17.5 million had returned a kit and been screened. More than 24,000 cancers have been detected, and nearly 70,000 patients have been managed for high or intermediate-risk adenomas, or polyps, including polyp removal.

The age issue has been the focus of much of the comment today. The NHS bowel cancer screening programme began in 2006, with full roll-out completed in 2010. The programme initially offered screening to men and women aged 60 to 69 because the risk of bowel cancer increases with age. More than 80% of bowel cancers are diagnosed in people aged 60 or over. In the pilot, which was conducted in Coventry and Warwickshire and in Scotland in the late 1990s and early 2000s, more than three times as many cancers were detected in people aged over 60 than in those aged under 60, and people in their 60s were most likely to use a testing kit. Only 47% of men aged 50 to 54 completed a kit, compared with 57% of men aged 60 to 64.

There are also issues of capacity, particularly for endoscopy services, as has been mentioned. The roll-out of screening required that the NHS bowel cancer screening programme take into account and help balance the increasing workloads and pressures placed upon services providing diagnosis and treatment to all people with bowel cancer, not just those found through the screening programme. I emphasise that point to the House, because it is important. The latest routes to diagnosis figures from Public Health England show that in 2013, only 9% of bowel cancers were diagnosed through screening. That 9% is important, but it compares with the more than 50% of bowel cancers that were diagnosed following a GP referral. Sadly, 25% were diagnosed via emergency routes, and those have very poor survival rates because the cancers tend to be at a later stage. The programme has to be able to respond. The skills and the clinicians we need to respond to those GP referrals have to be available, so there is always a difficult balance in terms of the resource we need.

The programme was also required to consider possible changes to it. One such change—this is an important point that has not quite come out in the debate so far—is bowel scope screening, also known as flexible sigmoidoscopy, for people in their 50s. It is a one-off examination that is an alternative and complementary bowel screening methodology to the self-testing kit. It aims to find polyps before they turn into cancer, so it actually prevents cancer ever developing. Evidence has shown that men and women aged 55 to 64 attending a one-off bowel scope screening test could reduce their individual mortality from the disease by 43% and their individual incidence of bowel cancer by 33%.

In 2011, the UK National Screening Committee recommended offering bowel scope screening for bowel cancer. The NHS bowel cancer screening programme is currently rolling it out to men and women around their 55th birthday. They will be invited to take part in the self-testing part of the programme from age 60. Although Scotland is piloting bowel scope screening for some people in its programme, England is the only UK country committed to a full roll-out. Some 77% of bowel scope screening centres in England are currently operational. The Secretary of State is committed to rolling out bowel scope screening to all screening centres in England by the end of 2016, and we are on track to deliver that commitment.

As of the end of January, more than 230,000 invitations had been issued and more than 85,000 bowel scope screening procedures performed. Although that is very good, Members who can do the maths quickly will realise that uptake is currently running at 44%, compared with nearly 60% for the self-sampling part of the programme. If, on the back of this debate, Members can do anything to raise awareness in their constituencies and to empower men and women to make informed decisions about taking up these free tests, I encourage them to do so.

I am afraid that I cannot take any interventions because there were so many in the opening speech. I do apologise, but I really want to get through my response.

So far, nearly 3,500 people have attended colonoscopy following bowel scope screening, with 125 cancers detected, and 1,688 people with high or intermediate-risk polyps and 1,270 people with low-risk polyps have had them detected and managed or removed.

Delivering the bowel scope screening programme will obviously place huge demands on endoscopy services, but it can be safely delivered by members of the hospital team other than trained doctors, such as nurses. That is why we announced in September last year that Health Education England is developing a new national training programme for an additional 200 non-medical staff to get the skills and expertise to carry out endoscopies by 2018. The first cohort began training at the end of January. In addition, NHS England’s sustainable improvement team is working intensively with trusts that have significant endoscopy waiting lists, in order to improve performance. That learning will then be shared widely. NHS England is also exploring ways to improve endoscopy performance through pricing changes.

I have already mentioned low uptake rates. We know uptake is lower in more disadvantaged groups, in men—as has been referred to—and in some black and minority ethnic groups. Public Health England is providing support and technical advice to its partners in the NHS on reducing the variation in coverage and uptake. Local screening providers are working with commissioners to address that, which is really important, because some of the variation in these important programmes is astonishing. Again, if any Member can do anything to reduce the variation, it would be greatly appreciated.

The Independent Cancer Taskforce has also recommended an ambition for 75% of people to participate in bowel screening by 2020. To facilitate that change, it recommended a change to a new test, the faecal immunochemical test—FIT—which is more accurate and easier to use than the current FOB test and also improves uptake. I encourage Members with an interest to compare the two tests and try to understand how different they are and why they are likely to have such different effects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne will be aware that in November last year the UK National Screening Committee recommended that the FIT test should be used as the primary test for bowel cancer screening instead of FOB. We are currently considering that important recommendation. If it is accepted, it is worth remembering that it will be a major change to a programme that saves hundreds of lives, so we will have to ensure that it is rolled out in a safe and sustainable way, which will include the procurement of cost-effective kits and IT systems.

In any debate about cancer screening it is important to underline the difference between population screening programmes and people going to see their GP with the symptoms of cancer. Information for the public on the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer is available on the NHS Choices website. The Department advises people who are concerned about their risks to speak to their GP. Many of the cancers we have heard about in the debate were found at a very late stage. It is probable that there were some symptoms that could have led to a GP referral.

Since 2010-11, the Department and Public Health England have run 10 national “Be Clear on Cancer” public awareness campaigns, including two national campaigns to promote the early diagnosis of bowel cancer. The first campaign ran from January to March 2012, raising awareness of blood in poo as a sign of bowel cancer. It was the first ever national TV campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of this cancer and to encourage people with relevant symptoms to go to their doctor without delay. A second campaign ran later that year.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has guidelines on the recognition and referral of suspected cancer, which were updated in June 2015. That is important because in updating them NICE urged GPs to lower the referral threshold when they are assessing whether a referral is appropriate and to think of cancer sooner when examining patients. Switching the way we think and lowering the referral threshold is a critical change that NICE estimates will save many thousands of lives. Of course, professional advice is also available through the various expert bodies.

I emphasise that all screening programmes are kept under review, and the UK National Screening Committee will always look at new evidence. I will of course make sure that our expert advisers are aware of the significant parliamentary interest that has been demonstrated today. In responding to this short debate, I have been trying to illustrate the interaction between the two different parts of the programme—bowel scope screening and the original screening. I have also been trying to underline the point about take-up. Of course it is about individuals making an informed decision, but beyond rolling screening out to different ages, we must ensure that people in the highest risk groups, particularly the over-60s, are aware that they can choose to be screened. Many lives could be saved, so it is really important that we get that message across. We can do more.

In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne again for securing this debate and drawing the important issue of bowel cancer screening to the attention of the House. I assure her and the families of all those affected—including, of course, Lauren, who started the petition—that preventing premature death from cancer is of the utmost priority for the Government. I hope I have set out how we are responding to that vital challenge.

Question put and agreed to.

Ceramics Industry

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government support for the ceramics industry.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

I shall begin with a quotation from Arnold Bennett, the Tolstoy of the potteries. In his masterpiece, “Anna of the Five Towns” he described Henry Mynors working the potter’s wheel as follows:

“He knows all its tricks and aptitudes; when to coax and when to force it, when to rely on it and when to distrust it…Clay is always clay.”

Those of us who were lucky enough to catch the recent excellent BBC series, “The Great Pottery Throw Down”—filmed in Middleport in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth)—know just what wonders clay can conjure. From the success of the British ceramics biennial to the continuing allure of Emma Bridgewater’s earthenware, Britain has rediscovered its love for cups, saucers and tableware.

More than that, the defining image of the first world war centenary commemorations has been the ceramic poppies installation, filling the Tower of London moat with a sea of red. Designed in Derby and fired in Stoke, the tens of thousands of hand-crafted poppies symbolised a revival based on not just artistic innovation but industrial might. We therefore hold this debate in a moment of optimism about the future of the ceramics industry and that of the greatest ceramics city in the world, Stoke-on-Trent. Yet, if we are to secure the continued revival of earthenware, china, clay, tile, roofing and other ceramic industries, we need a Government committed to an industrial strategy that supports and grows pottery businesses throughout the UK.

The history of pottery in Stoke-on-Trent is long, stretching back a good 500 years. Out of the brown and yellow north Staffordshire clay came butter pots and flower pots. In the sun kilns of Bagnall and Penkhull, local artisans started to glaze their wares and develop a reputation for craftsmanship. But Europe’s ceramicists remained in the shadow of China, which had long mastered the magic of porcelain, the famous white ceramic formed by kaolin, named after the hill just outside Jingdezhen. Only in 1768 did the Plymouth apothecary William Cookworthy crack the recipe. With the help of Cornish clay, Britain joined Meissen and Sèvres in porcelain production. China—Britain’s new word for pottery and porcelain—became the eighteenth century rage. No one exploited the new era of industrial production, design and innovation more than Josiah Wedgwood. From his Etruria factory, he unleashed a volley of fashionable new designs that caught the attention of Queen Charlotte and Britain’s expanding middle class. His trademark jasper and basalt production followed.

In 1934, J.B. Priestley visited Stoke-on-Trent on his celebrated English journey. He, too, fell for the elemental, timeless attraction of ceramics. He celebrated the fettlers, the mould-makers, the dippers and the master potters for

“doing something that they can do better than anybody else…Here is the supreme triumph of man’s creative thumb.”

Priestley caught the industry at its peak. The decline of the British ceramics industry arguably began with the Clean Air Act 1956 and the dismantling of some 2,000 coal-fired bottle kilns. For all the benefits of open skies and modernised plant, the law imposed sudden and significant costs on the manufacturing process. In an attempt to offset those costs, the industry embarked on a round of mergers and acquisitions, resulting in an over-concentrated ceramics sector. The high interest rates and exchange rates of the 1980s hammered exports. The rise of takeaways and the end of wedding lists undermined demand. Most damaging of all was the growing threat of the far east. Labour and energy costs in China put British production at a marked disadvantage.

Wedgwood went bust and Spode went into receivership, and between the early 1980s and 2010, some 40,000 jobs were lost in the ceramics industry. With them went Stoke’s cityscape and parts of its culture. The Minton factory, where Pugin’s tiles were fired for the Houses of Parliament, was turned into a Sainsbury’s. Then the final insult: in 2010, the entire collection of the Wedgwood Museum was threatened with disposal.

Six years on, the Wedgwood Museum has been saved and the industry is making profits, creating jobs, finding export markets and coming up with new designs. There is excitement and enthusiasm about British ceramic design. There is a new competitiveness in great companies such as Steelite, Churchill and Portmeirion. There is a new culture of partnership.

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. Does he agree that Dudson, Steelite and many other companies have a strong record of exporting around the world? The last time I looked, ceramics make a net contribution to our balance of trade. It is one of the few industries that does.

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right: it is a great export industry. It is interesting that the companies that stayed in the UK, did not offshore all their production, invested in research and development and design, and supported innovation, are growing. As I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North will explain, her constituency is pretty much dominated by Steelite, which grows every week. That is only to be admired.

A new culture is emerging among trade unions such as GMB, the British Ceramic Confederation and local businesses, and a new culture of research and innovation is coming out of facilities such as Lucideon in Stoke-on-Trent—our ceramics research hub. Today, as the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) suggested, the ceramics sector exports £500 million a year, employs about 20,000 people directly and enjoys annual sales of about £2 billion.

To sustain that success, I have some requests for the Minister. The ceramics industry is an energy-intensive sector. Energy comprises up to 30% to 35% of production costs. We are severely disadvantaged by the current plethora of UK and EU policies. For example, only seven ceramics manufacturers in the UK are likely to receive renewables compensation, in contrast to more than 100 German and 140 Italian companies. Policies relating to the EU emissions trading scheme are very important for competitiveness. The question for the sector is: which processes will be awarded carbon leakage status for phase 4, which will begin in 2021?

There are particular worries about the tiering on just a handful of sectors, and concerns, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) might pursue, about the roof tile and brick businesses. The Government’s much-vaunted house building programme should not be carried out on the back of Polish, Belgian or Dutch bricks. We should produce them in the UK.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although of course we are all concerned about the future of the steel industry, it is very important in our discussions with Brussels that the ceramics industry is not disregarded or harmed as a by-product of our attempts to help the steel industry?

My hon. Friend, who has been a brilliant campaigner for the brick business over many years in our part of the world, is exactly right: we would be shooting ourselves in the foot, in terms of industrial policy, if the advances that we want to make in the steel industry undermine the ceramics industry. They are both energy-intensive sectors, so they share similar challenges relating to energy costs.

We would like to hear that the Minister is fighting to ensure that heavy clay producers are also awarded carbon leakage status. We welcome the ceramic valley enterprise zone, but without support on the EU emissions trading scheme, even state-of-the-art facilities will be punished for their carbon costs. We serve neither British industry nor the global environment if we rack up industrial energy prices, export jobs from Britain and import carbon emissions.

It is very important that consumers know where products are made. The outsourcing of production is nothing new in the ceramics business—indeed, during busy periods, Josiah Wedgwood himself sometimes asked other manufacturers to make up blanks for him—but in an age of brand value, the back stamp remains all-important. In Stoke-on-Trent, we are proud to house the turnover club, whose members flip the crockery in restaurants and even dinner parties to find out where it was made.

Not while the food is on it, Minister. [Interruption.] Well, sometimes.

For a long time, manufacturers have made products abroad and backstamped, “Made in England”. The rules are clear: the country of origin is where the blank is fired. In an age of global trade, it is perfectly right that products are made in China, Thailand or Indonesia, but consumers also have a right to know whether their purchases are subsidising poor environmental standards and weak labour laws. For an embarrassingly long time, the free market fundamentalists at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have opposed the European Union’s compulsory country of origin proposals. Will the Minister tell us whether that is still the case today?

As I am talking about Europe—I subject I know you care passionately about, Mr Hollobone—this is a good moment to reflect on the merits of being inside the European single market for the ceramics industry. It is not only that Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire have been helped by £130 million of EU funds and that Europe is a crucial export market; it is thanks to being part of the European Union that our ceramics industry has benefited from the anti-dumping tariffs of between 13% and 36% that are placed on Chinese kitchenware and tableware. Those tariffs have played an important role in the pottery industry’s regeneration. Will the Minister confirm that we will support their extension in 2018, that being part of Europe has helped us—although, I hate to say it, the Government have always opposed those measures—and that if we were outside Europe, tariffs would be placed on British ceramics manufacturers exporting to the single market?

I might be guilty of over-concentrating on the history of the ceramics industry—[Interruption.] Never! Our heritage is part of our brand and our pride. We have to build the careers, apprenticeships and markets of the future. I support the Government’s apprenticeship levy, and I hope that Staffordshire University will forge new partnerships with other higher education institutions to increase the number of designers and manufacturers. I hope to see new factories in the enterprise zone, and I fully back the Materials Processing Institute’s plans for a materials catapult centre to benefit research and development in the ceramics industry. Will the Minister ensure that the materials catapult is given a supportive hearing by her Department?

This week we heard that the Government will centralise all school expenditure as part of the funding review. As a Stoke-on-Trent MP, it drives me mad to see schoolchildren eating off trays, rather than plates, as if they are being set up for life either in prison or as airline passengers. Education Ministers love to micro-manage, so will we see them urging schools to buy and use ceramic plates for their pupils?

New jobs, new orders, new businesses being started, and even another series of “The Great Pottery Throw Down” being commissioned—these are exciting times. Thanks to automation and globalisation, we will not return to the tens of thousands employed in the ceramics and pottery industries in previous decades, but we can build a new high-wage, high-skills ceramics industry of the future, trading on Stoke-on-Trent’s heroic past while taking products and processes into the future. I very much hope that we may take from the debate the Government’s support in that endeavour.

Order. The debate finishes at 5.58 pm. I will call the first of the Front-Bench speakers no later than 5.36 pm. Two Members are standing, so you have about 12 minutes each.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) on securing the debate on a subject that is close to my heart. The motion is about Government support for the ceramics industry, and the starting point of any industry is the raw material—I am speaking about china clay. If we are to support the ceramics industry in the UK, we need to support the china clay industry as well.

I am incredibly proud to speak not only as a Cornishman who grew up surrounded by the china clay industry in and around St Austell, but as the Member of Parliament for the area, which has been at the forefront of china clay production for hundreds of years. The sky tips dominate the landscape of mid-Cornwall, reminding us every day of our great heritage and our history of clay production. Generations of Cornish families, including my own, have worked in the industry. Barely any part of my constituency has not been touched directly by china clay production.

China clay has long been big business in Cornwall. St Austell’s relationship with it, as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, goes back more than 200 years, to when William Cookworthy first made the discovery in Cornwall. At the height of the trade, literally millions of tons of china clay were being exported to all corners of the world. Cornwall soon got a reputation for the highest-quality clay in the world, so it is no surprise that that was quickly recognised by the ceramics industry, establishing the connection with places such as Stoke-on-Trent.

A large proportion of Cornwall’s china clay production has moved overseas in recent years, but the industry remains extremely important to Cornwall. In fact, it is difficult to overstate its importance to Cornwall and, in particular, my constituency. Although employment in the industry has declined over the past 20 or 30 years, it is still the largest private sector employer in the area. The majority of the clay produced in Cornwall is exported. In fact, china clay contributes about £150 million a year to the UK’s balance of payments, and that should be preserved. The industry has also shaped our heritage in mid-Cornwall, and that is of great importance to us. As I said, every day we see the marks left on our landscape—for example, the Eden Project is built in a former china clay pit.

With the clay and ceramic industries so important, we should look at ways in which the Government can support the industries and the thousands of workers throughout the country employed in them. As producers in Brazil and China emerge, undercutting exports, there are fears that problems could be exacerbated if action is not taken and if the existing proposals for carbon leakage protection are pursued.

In my constituency, Imerys is the only remaining company that produces kaolin and ball clay. Such operations, by their very nature, are highly energy-intensive processes, and energy represents about 27% of production costs. Consequently, energy consumption has always been a major focus for the industry and is minimised by it wherever possible. Imerys has been at the forefront of energy efficiency and the use of alternative and renewable energy sources for many years. However, the fact remains that, given the international market for its products, further increases in production costs could result in it losing business to European Union and non-EU competitors.

That brings me to my key point: what will the Government do to support the ceramics industry and, specifically, the china clay industry? Kaolin and ball clay operations are deemed to be at risk of carbon leakage. They therefore received a free allocation of allowances. However, there are concerns that, under the UK’s preferred approach to carbon leakage protection post-2020, Imerys is likely to receive what it feels is an inadequate level of free allowances to remain internationally competitive.

The reduction in the free allowances will have a significant impact on the industry and force the company to purchase a significantly greater proportion—possibly all—of its allowances to cover future carbon emissions. That will obviously severely damage its global competitiveness and disadvantage the kaolin and ball clay sector against competing suppliers that may receive higher levels of carbon leakage protection.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when we talk about rebalancing the economy, we are talking not only about the midlands and the north of England, but about areas such as Cornwall, which desperately need to maintain this kind of economic activity? Surely it is incumbent on the Minister to remember that when thinking about the relevant policies.

I wholeheartedly agree. It is well known that the Cornish economy, and that of the south-west in general, fall way behind the UK national average. It is crucial to do all we can to bridge the gap, but I would say that the Government are doing a great deal, investing record amounts of money in the south-west and already supporting the Cornish economy in many ways.

I am, however, addressing the specific sector of the china clay industry in Cornwall. I do not want to see it put at greater disadvantage on the world market, so no decisions that make it less competitive on the world stage should be made. Based on existing emission levels and forecast prices of carbon, the proposed carbon leakage changes could add £1 million a year to Imerys’s production costs. We should, however, not only be proud that the UK produces the best-quality china clay in the world, but be doing all we can to protect and support the industry as a world leader.

Recently, we have seen the impact of uncompetitive production costs, driven in particular by energy costs, on a major industry: our steel industry. We cannot allow the same fate to fall on the china clay industry. We cannot sacrifice the china clay and ceramics industries in order to save other sectors. I simply urge the Government to look carefully at their approach to the carbon leakage allowance and not to make any decisions that will reduce the competitiveness of an industry that is vital to Cornwall.

It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double).

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) for securing such an important debate. I, too, am proud to represent the potteries, the beating heart of the British ceramics industry since its birth, and I am the chair of the newly formed all-party group for ceramics. I have the privilege of representing Burslem, the mother town of Stoke-on-Trent, where—I hate to challenge my hon. Friend—a thriving pottery industry has existed since as far back as the 12th century. Today, it is the home of such fantastic British companies as Steelite, Royal Stafford and Moorcroft. Those businesses are complemented by competition from Dudson and Churchill, based in Tunstall, and are supplied with raw materials from my hon. Friend’s constituency by our very own Furlong Mills.

Those companies live up to our heritage and represent the very best of modern British manufacturing. In Middleport, home of our historic Burleigh Ware, we see the firing up of a new generation of master potters on “The Great Pottery Throw Down”, which I am delighted to announce has been recommissioned for a second series by BBC Two—I urge all hon. Members to apply for next year.

Today, more than 2,500 people are directly employed by the ceramics industry in my constituency, fuelling world demand for high-quality ceramics from tiles to tableware. The industry remains the single largest employer in Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove. It continues to innovate, invest in new technology and fulfil its commitments to green and sustainable manufacturing. While I am touching on the industry, it would be remiss of me to suggest that ceramics is only tableware and tiles. Many other products are reflected in the industry.