Thursday 21 February 2019
[Graham Stringer in the Chair]
Greater Manchester Spatial Framework
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. It is also a pleasure to be joined by hon. Members from across Greater Manchester. The cross-party interest demonstrates the real concerns about the spatial framework that exist among residents across our county. The Greater Manchester spatial framework will be the principal housing and planning document of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. It represents the combined authority’s plans for the management of land for housing, commerce and industry in the next 20 years. It will have a permanent effect on the location and the shape and character of local communities.
I am acutely aware that hon. Members participating, and other people watching, may have a strong sense of déjà vu, because we have had this debate before. Just over two years ago, I introduced a debate with the same title in this same room to discuss the same spatial framework policy. Since the highly controversial first draft in 2016, however, much has changed in the GMSF, including the controversial plans that originally sought to build on more than 8% of Greater Manchester’s green belt. After attracting criticism from across the political spectrum and getting negative responses from thousands of residents, the authority was forced to go back to the drawing board and rethink.
After months of delay, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority published its revised draft of the GMSF in January, which is substantially different from the original in many details. It is also the subject of a second period of public consultation, so it is right that we take a second look at it. Although the details of the GMSF have changed, controversy surrounding it remains. Those contentious points have centred on three areas: the overall housing numbers, the proposals to build in places that are designated as green-belt land, and whether the accompanying infrastructure, particularly transport, will be sufficient.
To be clear, I am not against development per se, nor am I against the concept of the framework itself. On the contrary, a cross-county approach to strategically sharing housing allocation is to be welcomed, because we need to provide new developments to address the housing shortage and to provide jobs for generations to come. However, that should be done in a way that is sensitive to the local environment and the wishes of local communities. It should also happen only where there is genuine need and infrastructure to support development.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and I apologise that I need to leave to return to my constituency before the end. He is right to draw attention to the importance of infrastructure development alongside the development of employment space and housing. That is particularly important in Partington and Carrington in my constituency. Does he agree that there will need to be sequencing, so that we do not get the infrastructure development after, but in advance of, or at least in conjunction with, the housing and employment space development?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. She is correct that, to get residents to buy in to that level of development, they will need assurance that it will not simply add to congestion on local roads, and that there will be adequate provision of hospitals, doctors and school places. That would be the same in all our constituencies.
Since being elected in 2015, I have campaigned alongside residents to protect the local green belt, particularly around the village of High Lane, from massive developments such as those proposed under the GMSF. I have attended public meetings, led debates in the House, submitted a petition from more than 4,000 constituents, worked with my constituency neighbours and lobbied three different Housing Ministers about the matter. I want to put on the record my thanks to all the local people who, with their letters, signing various petitions, organising demonstrations and making their voices heard, have supported the campaign so far, and I hope they continue to do so. I also want to thank my colleagues from across the region who have led similar campaigns in their constituencies, particularly my constituency neighbours in the Borough of Stockport, one of whom, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), we are delighted to see on the Front Bench and will speak for the Opposition today. At this time of apparently unsurmountable political divides, we have been able to work on a cross-party basis. If we can work in such a way, there is hope indeed. Despite my opposition to parts of the framework, I also want to thank the combined authority for listening to people and for taking note of their concerns and revising the plan.
What is the upshot of the policy changes, and is the revised GMSF any better? From my own constituency perspective, one major improvement is how the overall housing targets under the framework appear to have, in effect, been assessed at a county-wide level rather than a purely local authority one, which means that some of the house building targets from the first draft can be redistributed across the local authority boundaries to where local housing need is perhaps higher or land availability greater. The approach is sensible and was a change that I and others called for in response to the first draft.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He and I are both Stockport Members of Parliament. He knows that some in Stockport, principally the Liberal Democrats, have talked about pulling Stockport out of the county-wide co-operation on planning. Does he agree that that would be absolute folly because the situation that he has just described, whereby some of Stockport’s housing growth can be shared across the county, would not be available to Stockport should it pull out of the GMSF?
The shadow Secretary of State is absolutely right. It is highly irresponsible for any political party to make such broad statements, which could increase the pressures on local green belts by some 5,000 for the Borough of Stockport. He is completely right to place that on the record this afternoon.
The updated proposals also mean changes at a local level in Stockport and will instead see the number of new houses earmarked for building on the green belt reduced from 12,000 to 3,700. In my constituency of Hazel Grove, the figure has been reduced from 4,000 to 1,250. Critically, plans to more than double the size of the village of High Lane with an extra 4,000 houses have been reduced to 500. However, to fit some of the new homes needed, new sites at the former Offerton High School, Gravel Bank Road and Unity Mill in Woodley and Hyde Bank meadows in Romiley have been suggested under the revised plans. Those sites will be much smaller than the original High Lane proposals at about 250 homes each, and in some cases will partly use previously developed land.
The revised plans that greatly reduce the amount of green belt to be sacrificed show that when local people come together and we work on a cross-party basis we can get results. I have consistently urged that the overall number of houses needed to be reduced, and that where houses are to be built we should follow a robust “brownfield first” policy. I therefore welcome the fact that the revised GMSF plans do both of those things. The result of the changes is a step in the right direction, in many aspects, as regards the controversial elements of the framework. However, as ever, there is more work to be done.
Almost half of the UK population live in rural, semi-rural or suburban communities close to green-belt land. The green belt is a vital barrier to urban sprawl and is hugely valued by local people. Our road infrastructure and transport capacity already struggle with existing demands. The proposals for development will risk making matters worse. The green belt encourages regeneration of our towns and makes the best use of our land. It therefore protects the countryside and all the benefits that that brings.
To protect and enhance the countryside, which borders the homes of some 30 million people, we must press on with the “brownfield first” approach. The green belt should not be used for housing development on the scale currently proposed. The fact is that we need more housing, but it should be implemented following a vigorous “brownfield first” policy. Insisting that brownfield land, which has had development on it previously, should be prioritised for the building of homes would encourage the regeneration of our towns and would ensure that the best use is made of our land. Importantly, it would ensure that housing is located where there is already the necessary infrastructure, and where local services can be augmented and improved.
To minimise the pressure on the green belt, it is important that we identify as best as possible all brownfield land. We should look at areas that are vacant or derelict so that we can optimise their potential for development before considering green-belt sites. Credit is therefore due to the Government for the creation of the brownfield register, following the Housing and Planning Act 2017. It has enabled hundreds of additional brownfield sites to be identified, and so has removed a considerable amount of the pressure on the green belt. Some good progress has been made in that area.
Thanks to the brownfield register, we know that Greater Manchester has at least 1,000 hectares of brownfield land spread across 439 sites, which have not yet been fully developed for housing. That is enough to build at least 55,000 homes, and it is likely that more such land can be found. Stockport has a reasonable number of those sites, although not as many as other areas. Stockport’s brownfield register, which is administered by the local council, has made it possible to identify sites within the urban area suitable for the development of up to 7,200 housing units. That is a considerable amount more than when we began this process a couple of years ago.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England estimates that, across the country, there is enough brownfield land to build some 720,000 homes. That figure has been revised upwards from the 2017 estimate of 650,000. Those brownfield sites have the potential to contribute significantly to the construction of the homes that are needed.
Another significant development since the last debate came in September 2018, when the Office for National Statistics released its most up-to-date population figures and household forecasts. Its publication of the new household projections led to a reduction in the overall numbers generated by the standard method for assessing local housing need. They proved to be nearly 25% lower than previously thought. Consequently, they gave rise to a national need target of some 213,000 new homes per year.
In October 2018, the Government published a technical consultation on the update to national planning policy and guidance. I commend them for a masterpiece of obfuscation. The consultation paper set out proposals to update planning guidance on housing need assessment to be consistent to the Government’s ambition to increase housing supply. They propose that planning practice guidance should be amended to specify that the 2014 ONS projections provide the demographic baseline for local housing need, rather than the 2016 figures. They produced their consultation response just two days ago, so colleagues may be forgiven for not having read it yet.
Despite clear opposition to the proposals from organisations and individuals, the Government have signalled their intention to ignore the latest ONS figures and use the outdated but higher 2014 projections. That means that they will overlook the latest ONS forecast, and instead stick to the previous target of 300,000 new homes per year, which will, I am afraid, lead to increased pressure on green-belt land.
I have a number of questions for our excellent Minister. First, I want to make a rather technical but nevertheless important point. I reiterate the point that I made when I wrote to the Secretary of State in December in response to the Department’s consultation. I believe that the 2016 projection should be used to provide the demographic baseline for the standard method. I strongly disagreed with the Ministry’s proposals, and I still do. Failure to use the most up-to-date evidence in creating policies is, I think, directly contradictory to the rules of the national planning policy framework. Moreover, there were 498 responses to this question, and of those organisations that responded, more than half—55%—disagreed with the change; only one third agreed with the proposal. In fact, more than two thirds of local authorities opposed the plans. Individual respondents, of whom I was one, were overwhelmingly opposed; the figure was 86%.
I have concerns about the Government’s response to the ONS figures and the message that that may send. If the Ministry selectively considers evidence that justifies its housing need figures, that suggests that the direction of travel is only one way. It seems a departure, I contend, from evidence-based policy making. It is a case of cherry-picking facts to ensure that the means justify the ends. I therefore urge my hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider the approach of his Ministry in this area.
Secondly, there must be stronger consideration, at individual site level, of what is being lost in terms of green space or green belt, particularly with regard to wildlife corridors and recreational spaces. A local site of particular concern to me is the area at Hyde Bank meadows in Romiley in my constituency. It contains the well used community facilities of Tangshutt fields, including playing fields, three football pitches and a children’s play area, and is adjacent to Tangshutt meadow, which is a popular local green space, a nature reserve, a community orchard and allotments. The loss of that green space would damage the local environment, the community and the health and wellbeing of local people, and it is but one example from the GMSF second draft document.
Finally and importantly, as I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, more attention must be paid to how local infrastructure will support the new developments where and when they may be approved—that follows on from the excellent intervention by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green)—particularly in respect of roads, traffic and local amenities. Although it would obviously have fewer homes than the 4,000 previously proposed, even a relatively small site—250 homes—would mean at least 250 extra cars on the road; there would probably be two or indeed three cars per household.
Many of the site-specific proposals in the revised framework refer to road and rail upgrades, in the immediate vicinity of sites, to provide access to the developments and to manage traffic in and around the new estates. However, beyond that, the framework generally gives no further details of what that will entail in the surrounding areas. It makes only vague references to developing travel plans or travel corridors, or general improvements to highway infrastructure. Without any level of detail, it is very hard for local politicians or local people to know the true impact that there may be on their area.
Of course, the issue about capacity on local roads also applies to national highways and motorways and, in particular, the M60. The development of Carrington, which I warmly welcome for Trafford, is right by the junction to the M60. We need to have the co-operation of Highways England, as well as local roads authorities, in ensuring that we have adequate capacity to support the planned new developments.
The hon. Lady is spot on. There is a similar situation in my constituency with the M60 road and the junction at Bredbury, with one of the proposals being to expand Bredbury Parkway.
In summary—you will be relieved to hear that, Mr Stringer—the revised GMSF plans and the response hitherto show that when local people come together and when politicians work together on a cross-party basis, we can make our voice heard. Although I welcome the significant reduction in the amount of green-belt land released in Stockport, the policy of “brownfield first”, inclusion of appropriate infrastructure and further local public consultation remain top priorities for the Greater Manchester spatial framework.
I think that the Government are potentially entering difficult territory if they proceed as planned with updates to the national planning policy and guidance and continue to disregard the latest ONS household projections. This is an area where I would strongly urge the Minister to rethink, just as the combined authority has shown its ability to rethink with this draft.
We should now all look at the details of these revised proposals. With the combined authority’s consultation open until 18 March, there is still good time for residents to make their views heard. What is needed now is a robust system of local consultations, especially in my constituency around the newly proposed sites in Offerton, Woodley and Romiley. We should ensure the efficient use of brownfield land, and that any new housing developments are properly supported with additional transport infrastructure and local services.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
I thank my Greater Manchester neighbour, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), for securing this very important debate. It is a debate that has attracted a lot of attention and emotion, certainly within Oldham West and Royton, and I want to explore some of the issues involved. I also place on the record my thanks to the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), for allowing me to speak from the Back Benches.
I absolutely support the development of a spatial framework for Greater Manchester. We are a growing city region, we are a thriving city region and we are—in my opinion—the best place in the UK to live, and it is important that we plan ahead and make sure that we are fit for purpose in providing employment land, housing land, recreation and quality of life; but how we do that is critical, and I shall point out a number of ways in which we have not quite got the balance right.
We need to start at the beginning, and the beginning is that the Government have imposed a housing target on Greater Manchester that does not hold up to scrutiny. Greater Manchester does not need the housing numbers that the Government are imposing on it when, as has been outlined already, the latest population estimates show that we need far fewer homes than have been proposed. Today the Government could commit to using the latest population data and save us a lot of aggravation, a lot of grief and a lot of really high emotion, where people are losing valuable green-belt land unnecessarily. Why is there such emotion? For that reason, but also because there is in many of our communities a range of brownfield sites—sites that are dirty; former industrial sites—that the community would love to see redeveloped.
However, all of us present in Westminster Hall know that those brownfield sites will not be the ones to be developed if the developers are holding the ring on this issue. The spatial framework does not provide for the sequencing of land development, to enable us to have a genuine “brownfield first” policy whereby sites that commanded community support were developed, obviating the need to use the green belt.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point, because this issue is about more than the sequencing of the disposal of sites for development; it is also about market economics, or supply and demand. If there is an oversupply of green-belt land that does not meet the real housing need of the conurbation, is it not the case that in 25 years’ time our successors might be debating in this place the next version of the Greater Manchester spatial framework, speaking with regret about the missed opportunity whereby we had lost green-belt land but those brownfield sites were still brownfield?
That is absolutely the point, and it will be echoed by thousands of people in Greater Manchester who are not happy with the current settlement.
In my constituency, we had a programme called housing market renewal. The idea was that areas of the housing market that were underperforming would be transformed through modernisation, demolition and rebuilding, to create urban environments where people were proud to live—not houses that were simply built to service the industrial revolution but houses that were fit for the future, too. In 2010, when the coalition Government came to power, that scheme was cancelled overnight. That left many streets in my constituency with their windows boarded up. Actually, many of those houses eventually had the boards taken off and are now in the hands of private landlords, who are making an unreasonable amount of money from housing benefit, so that people can live in what I still consider to be substandard accommodation.
The principle of a brownfield fund is really important. Not only is green-belt land more advantageous to build on, but green-belt sites are often the sites that are commercially viable to build on. The problem with many brownfield sites is that mediation—such as taking out any services that might have been there for a different road layout, removing contamination, and removing a lot of very expensive material to landfill—costs a lot of money. In areas such as Oldham, where some of the house prices are depressed—that is certainly the case in Oldham town—it is just not possible to reconcile the high development costs with the end-sale value of those properties. So there must be Government intervention to bridge that gap. None of that is proposed as part of this new settlement for the community, so, as has already been stated, we will have a situation where green-belt land is taken because it is developable and viable and it will make a profit for the developer but, for a range of reasons, brownfield sites will be left as eyesores.
Many sites in active use in my constituency are waste transfer sites—abattoirs or former haulage yards, for example. They are currently earmarked for employment use, because that is their current use, but they are in predominantly residential areas, so the road layout does not service large-vehicle movements. The community would love those sites to be re-categorised for residential development, but that is not allowed under this process, because there is a requirement that sites be practically deliverable within the life of the plan. Of course, if the current landowner has no immediate intention of developing that land, it cannot be included because it has no reasonable prospect of being delivered.
We all know that demand for sites for employment use is changing rapidly. Oldham used to have 300 mills. Those that remain are now self-storage. People always said, “We’re always going to need storage, so there’s always going to be a role for Oldham’s mills,” until, of course, we built high-bay warehousing out of town on the green belt because distribution companies wanted more than mills with five floors, in which it is more expensive to move goods around. That shift in demand should be taken into account.
Local areas should be allowed more flexibility to re-categorise and transform dirty industrial sites into new residential sites. That is not the case at the moment, due to the requirement for there to be a reasonable prospect of a site’s being brought into use within the life of the plan. That does not enable local areas to lead from the front and say to landowners, “We have a better vision for our community than a waste transfer site.” [Interruption.] I am being heckled by the Minister. That is fine—I am quite used to being heckled—but it would be great if he provided a substantive answer to some of these fundamental questions.
Why have an inflated target for housing and population when the latest data says we do not need that target? Why not allow the creation of a proper brownfield fund, so that we have the cash in place to redevelop the land that people want to see redeveloped? What about infrastructure? In Greater Manchester, we have lost more than 1 million miles of bus journeys since 2010.
I want to clarify something. The hon. Gentleman said there was an inflated housing target. On a number of occasions in the main Chamber and in Westminster Hall, I have heard his Front-Bench team make serious promises about the number of houses they will build, which is not dissimilar to the number that we are aiming to build. I just wonder whether he still pledges to hit that target, and if so, where he thinks those houses will go, if not in large conurbations such as Manchester.
I am speaking as a constituency MP rather than as a member of the Front-Bench team, but it is a fact that housing units in urban areas—in town centres and the immediate surrounding areas—are denser than houses of the type that are built on the green belt. If we had a brownfield fund in Oldham, we would see a renaissance of town centre living, with more apartments and town houses built. Of course, we would get more units on land in the town centre than on the green belt, where we generally see larger family housing built and, obviously, we get fewer per acre.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing that clarification. Just for clarity, he is saying that he is concerned not about the number of houses that are built but about where they are built in his constituency, and that he would like to see higher-density housing on brownfield sites. I agree with that aspiration. I hope he recognises that that is perfectly within the capability of the local authority and the Mayor in Manchester to decide through their plan process. If he would like to meet representatives of Homes England to talk about the marginal viability funding that we can and do provide for trickier sites that require remediation or other action to make them viable, I would be more than happy to facilitate that.
I accept the Minister’s energy on this issue, and I welcome the opportunity to sit down for a meeting. However, the question will be whether he can show me the money. We can have as many conversations over a cup of tea as we like, but it will not get a brick laid in Oldham. We need to see cash, to redevelop the sites that we are talking about and for vital public service infrastructure.
A problem in Oldham is that our schools are oversubscribed; we have an expansion programme in our primary sector and we are looking for sites for new secondary schools to deal with the growth in the number of children who need educating. No facility is being offered by the Government to meet that demand, nor on transport links—we have lost a million miles of bus routes in Greater Manchester. GP practices are overwhelmed. The local A&E has missed its targets constantly because of the number of people waiting on trolleys for four to 12 hours. We cannot build houses without accepting that public infrastructure is needed to service them.
Housing need will be particular to each area; it will be different in Oldham from that in Stockport, Trafford or anywhere else. The real issue for the Government ought to be how much public money is spent on housing benefit payments, given to private landlords for housing that does not meet the decent homes standard. It is a scandal. Billions of pounds are spent every year, including in my town, on renting substandard terraced housing built to service mill workers that has no resale value as such. These houses can be picked up at auction for about £40,000, but landlords charge £500 a month rent to tenants, many of whom will be in receipt of housing benefit. It costs us taxpayers more to pay for that substandard accommodation than to build new social housing or to help people to get on the housing ladder.
We keep hearing that austerity is still in place, and that it is still difficult to find resources. Surely that gives us a bigger responsibility to make sure that money spent in the system is spent to the best effect. The experience in Oldham is that it is not. Too many people live in overcrowded accommodation that does not meet the decent homes standard. We could use that money better. That goes beyond Homes England’s land viability fund. Homes England will say that funding will bridge the gap if homes built on derelict sites have lower-end resale values. However, what if there are streets and streets of terraced housing that are not of the standard required to meet the challenges of the future and to provide people with a decent place to live? We need an urban renewal programme of significant money, geographically anchored, to transform the housing markets in those areas.
The other point I would make is on the community’s feeling in the process. Any situation like this, in which we talk about changing where people live, will be emotive. Many people who live in my constituency, including myself, are dislocated, relocated or newly established former Mancunians. We moved to Oldham, the gateway to the Pennines, because we wanted a different type of lifestyle; we did not want to live in the urban streets of Manchester. By the way, many Manchester properties that we lived in, including the one that I grew up in, have been demolished as part of clearance programmes. Many estates in Royton, for instance, were developed in the ’60s and ’70s, when there was an urban clearance programme in Manchester. People made an active decision to move from the streets of Manchester and to a better lifestyle, with a bigger house with a garden, and fields that they could take their dogs for walks on and where children could play. The idea that that is being taken away—in a process that I am afraid lacks transparency at some points—does not sit well with local people. I will explain what I mean by that.
The original call for sites in 2016 meant that landowners and developers could put forward the sites that they wanted to be considered for development. In that process, I would expect—I have made these representations within Greater Manchester—there to have been a record, a scoring mechanism and a proper assessment of those sites to determine which then went into the 2016 consultation. I cannot see what assessment was used for some of those sites that have been put forward, and why some had been recommended by developers but not proposed within the plan. I am afraid we are seeing the same thing again.
There is a new site that is massively problematic for my constituents around Thornham Old Road in Royton. That was not part of the original 2016 consultation. It has now found its way into the revised plan. During the consultation, Redrow, the developer, sent letters to the surrounding properties because it apparently wanted to buy one of the houses to knock it down and use the site as an access road. That was before the consultation had even finished, yet we wonder why local people do not have confidence in the system’s being fair, transparent and properly assessed.
It feels like we are being hit from all sides. We are being hit by a Government who are imposing a target that leaders locally are saying is inflated and does not present the latest population data. That means that those leaders are forced to go into the green belt when they would prefer not to. The process is being far too developer-led, not community-led. Not one area in my constituency has a neighbourhood plan developed by the community, where they get to design what their community development will be in future, so they feel as though it is being done from the top down.
Because the resources needed to produce a plan are significant. Like me, the Minister knows that since 2010, capacity in planning authorities has been massively swiped to one side by Government austerity. Councils are struggling to deal with day-to-day planning applications, let alone a voluntary neighbourhood plan process that is hugely time-consuming.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point on neighbourhood plans that I neglected in my remarks. We need to be clear about how the GMSF will take account of those neighbourhood plans. I have three such plans at various stages in my constituency. We need clarity on how they will integrate with the overall GMSF.
I have been heckled by the Minister and the Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake)—I hope the officials do not join in, or it will get a bit out of hand. We were promised after the original consultation that there would be no loss of green-belt land, and we were promised a radical rewrite. I accept completely that Greater Manchester has to comply with the requirements placed on it. I do not hold any Greater Manchester politician responsible for the housing target passed to them, but it cannot be a radical rewrite when for my constituency there are 450 more units than were in the original plan.
I briefly wanted to talk about some of the land issues that we have. In August, we will be reflecting on 200 years since the Peterloo massacre, where working people demanded the right to vote. Many in my constituency as it stands today did not return home. They were killed at Peterloo. One of the contributing factors to Peterloo—this is, I accept, a local history point—was that the Rochdale magistrate had been given word that the rebels or radicals had practised military manoeuvres in their hundreds at Tandle Hill in Royton. Word got to the Rochdale magistrate, and they sent word to Manchester. That definitely contributed to the feeling that there would be a riot and civil disobedience that could not be controlled.
What I am saying is relevant, because the marching ground at Tandle Hill was eventually planted out with a beechwood to stop people marching there. It is now Tandle Hill country park, which is adjacent to the site proposed for development at Royton. These are important historical sites. The country park is also where the Tandle Hill war memorial is placed. Given the topography of Tandle Hill, it is no surprise that it is on a hill. When someone is stood at the memorial, they are looking down at the sites proposed for development. The development would change the character and nature of what I consider to be a very special part of the Borough of Oldham. It is a place where people can come together, where there is more to life than just work, and where people can enjoy the countryside. That is very important.
It was an issue that the north of the Oldham borough was taking a disproportionate share of redevelopment when the south of the borough had none. We made recommendations that there should be a more fundamental review to make sure that each area took its share of development. In consequence, hugely problematic new sites have been added in the Bardsley and Medlock Vale area of Oldham.
By and large, the community would find a way to reconcile with some of those sites—for instance, a former landfill site that lends itself to development—but because different processes have not been brought together, former public open space is being redeveloped for housing at the same time as new sites are being proposed that take away the green belt around that community. Not only have people lost their immediate urban open space to development, but they are likely to lose the field at the back of their estate too, which further cuts them off.
I do not want a devolution of blame or targets that does not meet with what local people want; I want the Government to genuinely give local people the freedom and ability to decide the future of their communities. It is not enough to say, “We are doing that with the Greater Manchester spatial framework”, because the people who are being forced to make the decisions have been hamstrung by Government-imposed targets. The Government know that and they can do something about it.
I am proud of my local authority. The leadership of Oldham Council is working hard to set a new vision for our town, to give our town direction, and to give us hope and optimism when, to be honest, the Government have walked away from our town. The council wants to use the spatial framework to frame that vision, but it is being forced to go into areas that it would rather not go into, as is the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who has been clear about that.
Let us use the debate as an opportunity, not to restate what we already know—it feels as if that is how the Minister is beginning to line up—but to genuinely reflect on the contributions that have been made and try to seek compromise. If Parliament and the Government learned how to compromise a little more, our politics would be in a better place.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon). I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) for securing this important debate. It is a shame that it is on the Thursday afternoon of the non-recess week, so, unfortunately, a lot of our Greater Manchester colleagues are in their constituencies. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove has outlined the background to the Greater Manchester spatial framework, so I will not go over that. I am sure that the Greater Manchester MPs who are here are fully au fait with the scheme, having lived and breathed it for the last three years.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about preserving wildlife. This morning, in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, with reference to the recent report about the decline of the insect population, I asked about the increasing fragmentation of our landscape, which is leading to a decline in pollinating species. We must make sure that these plans do not add to that environmental problem.
I am pleased that the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, took away the original GMSF for revision, and that in the revised version the amount of green-belt land earmarked for development in my constituency has been reduced from 4.6% to 2.9%. I also understand that we need a plan. We need housing and employment opportunities plus the infrastructure—roads, schools, health services and public transport—to support them.
I am pleased that Andy Burnham has recognised the need for a joined-up plan that considers all development needs. I am also aware of and pleased about the protective effect of a plan on preserving the remainder of our green-belt land. Without an agreed plan, our green space would be at greater risk from speculative development.
Although the new proposals have reduced the amount of green-belt land proposed for development, what remains is still causing a great deal of unhappiness and outright anger, as in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton. Several well-organised “save the green belt” groups have formed, and they continue to protest against the proposals. Since the new plans were announced, I have been inundated with complaints and comments from constituents. Many appear to hold me personally responsible for the plans, which were drawn up by the 10 combined authorities.
Several green-belt sites in my constituency cause a great deal of concern. I will mention a couple in detail, but there are six in total, including the large Northern Gateway proposal of 1,000 new homes, with a new employment area, plus the link road at junction 19 of the M62. Most of the objections I have received have been to the proposal for Crimble Mill of 250 homes, with redevelopment of the mill, which is a listed building. That is a new proposal, which was not in the first draft, and yet in the council’s own strategic housing land availability assessment of 2017, the area was discounted for development because of flood risk. Many constituents have been in contact to ask me what has changed in the past two years to make the land suitable for building on. I have urged all my constituents to feed their concerns into the online consultation. It is really important for them to do that, in order for their views to be heard properly and, I hope, to be taken into consideration and to make a difference.
Another proposal is to build 450 houses in Bamford, in the northern part of my constituency. That number has been reduced from 750 homes in the initial proposal, but residents remain concerned about the number of houses and the fact that they will all be expensive, non-affordable homes. That is perhaps an unintended consequence of this Government starving our councils of funds—they propose the building of executive homes in order to maximise council tax revenue to replace lost Government funding. There is hardly an incentive for councils to build affordable homes.
As I said, there is a lot of anger in my constituency, with a protest “save the green belt” march planned for Sunday 3 March. Campaigners will come from Middleton and Slattocks in my constituency and from other areas such as Royton, Chadderton, Shaw, Milnrow and Newhey. The march will congregate at Tandle Hill, which we have heard a great deal about from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton.
Under the previous plan, the borough of Rochdale was set to lose 4.6% of its green belt. As I said, under the new plan that has been reduced to 2.9%, so 15.9% of the borough will remain green belt. That is the highest such figure in the region, out of the 10 combined authorities. Six hundred and forty-five hectares of land are earmarked for development, but that will be offset by 175 hectares that will be protected for the first time. However, many constituents are rightly sceptical about the assignation of parkland such as Queen’s Park in Heywood to the green belt. My constituents can see through that.
We need to be sure, as other Members have mentioned, that every available brownfield site is used first, so that the often-repeated phrase “brownfield first” is not just a slogan but a reality. That is a question for the local authorities as well as for the Minister, but I am interested to hear from him what financial help the Government will make available to councils to undertake the remedial work that is required to develop brownfield sites. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton went into a great deal of detail about that, and I fully support his comments.
Will the Minister make the most up-to-date population projections available to local authorities, to enable them to plan on the basis of realistic figures? We have heard from the hon. Member for Hazel Grove about the impact on the plan of the ONS figures that were released in 2018.
This is a difficult debate. None of us wants to stand in the way of progress or the growth and development of Greater Manchester, but we must get this right without losing our green spaces unnecessarily.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) on securing this debate. I will call him a friend, because although we are from different political parties, we represent constituencies in the same borough and have worked together on a number of issues. Sometimes the artificial barriers that this place sets up mask the real co-operation between Members on both sides of the House.
I believe in plan-led systems. They work best when larger areas co-operate over a wide geography, and I have experience of that. Before I became the Member of Parliament for Denton and Reddish, I served for 12 years as a councillor on Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council—one of the 10 councils that make up Greater Manchester. I remember very well, in my early days as a Tameside councillor in the mid-1990s, the proposals to introduce the Tameside unitary development plan. It was intended to replace the Greater Manchester structure plan, which had been in existence since the formation of the Greater Manchester County Council in 1974. The Greater Manchester structure plan, like the Greater Manchester spatial framework, covered the entire county. It made sense, because it meant that economic growth, housing growth and infrastructure planning happened on a county-wide basis, and that there could be co-operation across all the constituent authorities. Spatial planning actually worked. It is no good having 10 individual plans, because all 10 councils want to chase after the same goose that lays the golden egg.
Sadly, that is the situation that we fell into. When the Greater Manchester structure plan became obsolete, the then Conservative Government of John Major instructed the 10 metropolitan borough councils of Greater Manchester to get on and do their own thing. Each of the 10 local authorities produced its own unitary development plan. That was great for someone looking inside the box of just the city of Manchester—you served as a leader of that local authority for a considerable time, Mr Stringer—Rochdale, Oldham, Tameside or Stockport, but of course those boroughs do not act in isolation from one another.
With devolution, with the creation of the Greater Manchester combined authority and with the election of a Greater Manchester Mayor, I saw a real opportunity to get spatial planning right for the whole county so we can pool and share not just our resources, through things such as business rate retention, but our strengths as a destination—as a place to live and do business. I am biased. I will not get into a debate about which is the second city of this country; I will leave that to Birmingham and London, because we all know that Greater Manchester is the best place in the United Kingdom.
I saw those things as an opportunity, but I feel as though it is slipping away. We have had some really good co-operation on things such as housing targets, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove said very seriously, if Stockport were to go it alone, the housing needs that would fall on Stockport would mean that it would have to eat into the green belt. It is a very constrained borough, in the sense that it is surrounded by the green belt on three of its four sides. The only place where there is no green belt is where Stockport meets the city of Manchester and Tameside, but there is no room for it to grow that way either, because it has developed right up to those boundaries. By co-operating—not only has Stockport done that, but all the other outlying boroughs have done it to a lesser or greater extent—Salford and Manchester have been able to take around 40% of the housing growth for the entire county. That is good, because it will reinvigorate a large swathe of redundant brownfield sites in east Manchester, which borders my own constituency, as well as in the city centre and central Salford. The sites have lain derelict for decades and it is right that they are utilised first.
I do not just want to see growth in the central core, important though that is. There will only be a certain amount of demand for apartments and high-rise buildings without the greenery and the personal and private open space that comes with houses with gardens. There will have to be housing growth not just in the central core of the conurbation, but in the outlying areas. My hon. Friends the Members for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) and for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) are absolutely right. Unless we can get proper sequencing of “brownfield first”, there is a real danger for our conurbation.
The urban regeneration in the city centre is happening because land values have gone up, which makes brownfield sites worthy of developing, but similar brownfield sites—former old industrial sites that are now suitable for housing in Oldham, Rochdale, Tameside and parts of Stockport—will not have the same land value, and that value falls even further if there is an oversupply of green-belt land. This is about free market economics, and supply and demand. If I am a developer and a mass of sites have been identified, I will go for the cheapest site that gives me the greatest return. Frankly, in Greater Manchester, that is a green-belt site.
There could be much more buy-in to the loss of green-belt land. We all recognise that some green-belt land will have to be developed in the future growth of our city region, but if green-belt land is to be taken, we must have a proper “brownfield first” approach. I do not want to be here in future years saying that my constituents were proved right because the derelict site in the centre of Denton is still derelict 10, 20 or 30 years on, but the green-belt land surrounding Denton has been eaten up by development. If the green-belt land has to be built on—I accept that some of it might have to be—let that be because the brownfield land has been exhausted and it is absolutely necessary to build on the green-belt land. We should be creating sustainable communities. For a community to be genuinely sustainable, we need urban regeneration alongside new builds.
I want to commend the two councils in my constituency. Stockport Council is very ably led by Councillor Alex Ganotis, who is standing down in May. I thank him for his public service. He has done a great job of emphasising the need for urban regeneration. I particularly thank him for what I think will be a great legacy of his: the future regeneration of Stockport town centre. As part of the Greater Manchester spatial framework, with Andy Burnham using his new mayoral powers to create mayoral development corporations, Stockport is going to have the first mayoral development corporation in the country. It will regenerate Stockport town centre, which has got so much going for it. At the moment it is quite derelict on the edges. The historic core of the town—an absolute beauty—does not have the retail offer that it should have. However, the more people we get living and working in the town centre, the more vibrant and active it will become. I commend Stockport Council for its approach to urban regeneration, and I look forward to the mayoral development corporation transforming Stockport into the employment, residential and retail hub that a town of that size should be.
I also pay thanks to Councillor Brenda Warrington, leader of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, not least because she is my parliamentary agent; until last month she was also my constituency party chair. She, too, has approached the spatial framework process with fresh eyes. She understands that the environment matters, too; the built environment matters, and the natural environment matters.
One lasting legacy of the old Greater Manchester Council, and something I am really passionate about, is the transformation of the river valleys across Greater Manchester from industrial blackspots in the 1970s to linear country parks. In every part of Greater Manchester, there are river valleys that 45 years ago were industrial wasteland, but anyone standing in them now would think they had always been open countryside. One thing that unites the whole of my constituency, cross borough as it is, is the Tame valley.
I raise the Tame valley because the main campaign that has brought the hon. Member for Hazel Grove and me together is a campaign against the extension of the Bredbury Parkway industrial estate. I am not against economic growth, and Greater Manchester needs to grow economically. It is not a bad thing to want jobs to be created in Greater Manchester, in locations where our constituents can access them, but I have an issue with Bredbury Parkway. The existing industrial estate is locked in by the infrastructure in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. It has direct motorway access on to the M60 at Bredbury roundabout, but unfortunately most HGVs cannot use it because they cannot get under the low railway bridge on the main line between Manchester and Sheffield.
I have met Highways England, Network Rail, Stockport Council and the prospective developers. It is fair to say that the prospective developers do not want to pay for any infrastructure upgrades—certainly not of the magnitude required. Highways England and the highways authority of Stockport Council say that the road cannot be lowered under the bridge, because it has already been lowered to its maximum depth; if it is lowered any further, the bridge will fall down. Network Rail says that to rebuild the bridge would involve the closure of the main line between Manchester and Sheffield, which would require funding of many millions that we will not get.
If there is any extension to the Bredbury Parkway, HGVs will have to come through Denton in Tameside to get on the motorway network at Crown Point. My constituents will not have that. They are already blighted by a considerable number of HGVs coming from the Bredbury Parkway scheme. Any extension would not be acceptable to them on traffic grounds or, indeed, on air quality grounds. My constituency is one of the most air-polluted in Greater Manchester. Two motorways run through it—the M60 and the M67—and anything that makes air quality even worse for my constituents is, frankly, not acceptable.
However, the situation is worse than that. The developers propose, aided and abetted by the Greater Manchester spatial framework process, to build very large distribution sheds in the “v” of the Tame valley. Everything at the top of the hill, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, has basically already been developed, and everything sloping down to the River Tame, which is the constituency boundary as well as the local authority boundary, is currently pasture. Those sheds would be terraced, but—this is worse—they would come right up to the river bank. On the opposite bank are not one but two local nature reserves, which are very precious not just to the people who live in my constituency, but to those in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
It would be fine to destroy the green belt in that way if we took the jobs argument alone. However, this is not a Stockport local plan—this is not a matter just for Stockport—but a Greater Manchester strategic plan, and over the whole county there is an oversupply of new land for economic development in the spatial framework, so the argument for removing the green belt at Bredbury automatically disappears. That land is not just green belt; it is the Tame valley. It is the thing that unites Tameside and Stockport, and every part of my disparate communities of Dukinfield, Audenshaw, Denton, Reddish and the Heatons. That is why I am so cross; it is why I will continue to oppose the Bredbury Parkway scheme, together with the hon. Gentleman; and it is why I hope those who propose the Greater Manchester spatial framework exercise common sense with the next revisions, which will be published after the consultation ends.
I want very briefly to refer to the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), who cannot be here. I would probably have had to give her the same dispensation as I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton, because they are both members of the shadow Housing, Communities and Local Government team. She feels really strongly about this issue, so she has asked me to say a few words on her behalf. She has led a campaign with local councillors in Wigan against the use of land to create warehouses by junction 25 of the M6. In 2013, a similar scheme was thrown out by an independent planning inspector, but planning permission has already been submitted for warehousing the size of six football fields, and the jobs have been advertised.
That poses an important question: what is the point of even consulting on a spatial framework if developers can usurp the system as they seem to have done? That is precisely what is happening at Bredbury, where the developers have already held a public consultation. It makes a mockery of the plan-led system. I hope to get reassurances from the Minister that he takes very seriously the principle that developers and others should not seek to usurp the plan-led system, but that we need to get the plans in place before developers seek to develop cherished protected sites.
The other thing that has been mentioned—
I am bringing my comments to a conclusion. I just want to touch on the serious issue of the numbers. We need clarity from the Minister about whether we should use the ONS numbers or the earlier numbers he set out. That brings me back to my first point about supply and demand. If we have an over-supply of green-belt land because we have used the wrong set of figures, how can the Minister give assurances to any of our constituents that those brownfield sites will be developed first?
I hope that the Minister will take on board the concerns we have raised and that he understands our sincerity. We want the best for Greater Manchester—we want our city region to grow and be prosperous—but it has to be sustainable for the future of all our communities.
I will attempt to comply, Mr Stringer. It is a great pleasure to appear under your wise and steady hand for the first time. I apologise for my agitation during the debate, but I am eager for houses to be built across our great land for a generation that is crying out for them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) on securing the debate and on recognising the importance of the plan-making functions of local authorities and the importance of Greater Manchester, which is a place I know well, having been brought up at the far end of the M62 in Liverpool. I look forward to celebrating the relationship between our cities on Sunday afternoon, when the greatest football team of all time will play Manchester United.
Ten local planning authorities make up the Greater Manchester area, which is a key element of the northern powerhouse. The Government fully recognise how vital joint working between those authorities is to the success of Greater Manchester. The northern powerhouse is about boosting the economy by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture, as well as devolving significant powers and budgets directly to elected Mayors.
In that spirit, the Government have placed faith in the people of Greater Manchester and their elected representatives to shape their own future. We have backed that up through the devolution of a wide range of powers under the leadership of an elected Mayor. It is the Mayor’s role to work collaboratively across Greater Manchester, and across the political parties, to provide the leadership and coherent vision required. Of course, local MPs should play an important role in the development of his plan.
The Government have also set out a national planning policy in the national planning policy framework, which we revised last year. That sets the overall framework for planning nationally. Local authorities need to bring forward plans for their local areas that respond to the particular nature, challenges and opportunities in their areas, some of which have been outlined by hon. Members.
Our starting position is that we trust local planning authorities, or groups of local planning authorities, as in Greater Manchester and many other parts of the country, to work together to produce plans that reflect the spirit of co-operation and joint working that we want to see. As a matter of law, plans are subject to a range of engagement and consultation with communities and other organisations. That consultation is a vital element of the plan-making process.
Plans are then subject to rigorous examination by independent planning inspectors, who are appointed by the Planning Inspectorate. The planning inspector or, in some cases, a panel of planning inspectors, assesses plans against the national planning policy framework and any other material planning considerations before coming to their conclusions. Ultimately, planning inspectors make recommendations about the soundness of the plan. Paragraph 35 of the NPPF sets out four tests of soundness that plans must pass, namely that they are positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy.
I am sure that hon. Members will understand that I cannot comment on the content or merits of the draft Greater Manchester spatial framework, as that could be seen to prejudice the Secretary of State’s position later in the planning process. I am aware that the draft spatial framework is out for public consultation until 18 March. I encourage anyone with views about it to respond to the consultation and take an active role in its development, as several hon. Members have. Knowing the tireless work that all hon. Members present, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove, put into representing the interests of their constituents locally, I am confident that they will take on such a role.
The development of the spatial framework and the housing target were determined in this place and passed on to Greater Manchester to resolve. We agree with the spatial framework and the need to plan ahead, but there has to be a compromise. One Malthouse compromise has already died a death, so let us redo it for the Greater Manchester spatial framework.
Watch this space. I will come on to housing numbers, but I just want to finish this.
The plan-making process means that there will be a further round of consultation before the plan is submitted for examination by a planning inspector. I understand that that is likely to take place in summer 2019. Anyone with views about the document should make them known at that stage and, given that the timing is not yet fixed, those interested should remain in contact with the Greater Manchester authorities, as I know that all hon. Members and their residents will. The Government fully recognise the need to plan for and build more homes. We are committed to delivering 300,000 additional homes every year by the mid-2020s, and every part of the country has a role to play in reaching that target.
To some specifics, on the green belt, it would be wrong to think that this was just a numbers game. Clearly, the Government are committed to protecting the areas that communities value, including the green belt. The NPPF was revised last year and maintains strong protections for the green belt. It sets a very high bar for alterations to green-belt boundaries, and although a local authority—or even a collection of them, as in this case—can use the plan to secure necessary alterations to its green belt, that is only in exceptional circumstances.
The Government do not list those exceptional circumstances, which could vary greatly. Instead, it is for local plan makers and the Planning Inspectorate examination to check that any change is justified. At this stage, it is worth pointing out that there is obviously a difference between green belt and greenfield. In some cases, I think that hon. Members might be confusing the two terms—one is in regulatory protection, the other is not. Fundamentally, it is for local authorities and local decision makers to provide the evidence base whether for variation of the green-belt boundary or for possible mitigation changes to the boundary by creation of space elsewhere.
It is still the case that the green belt overall in the country is bigger today than it was in 1997. We have taken particular steps to protect it. I also point out that in the NPPF that came out in July 2018, we put greater emphasis on seeking to develop brownfield land, especially within the green belt, as a priority.
A number of Members have mentioned the importance of the environment. As I hope everyone knows, we are in the middle of a consultation on the notion of biodiversity net gain in our housing and general development across the country, and that will conclude later in the year. It is absolutely right that in all we do we should seek to make the environment as much of a priority as we possibly can, and to accommodate and make space for nature.
Several Members mentioned the need for infrastructure. Plans are also about securing the necessary infrastructure to support development. It is essential to identify the type, scale and timing of the infrastructure required in any area, and that applies to smaller-scale infrastructure such as doctors’ surgeries or children’s playgrounds, right up to new hospitals, waterworks or rail connections. By identifying what is needed and where, the planning system can help to deliver the required infrastructure, either directly through tools such as section 106 agreements or the community infrastructure levy, or indirectly by signalling to utility companies or Government agencies such as the Highways Agency that certain items are required. Those agencies and companies can then build things in their own investment plans.
As I am sure hon. Members are aware, the Government also provide a number of opportunities for local authorities to bid for funding to assist with infrastructure. We have a £5.5 billion housing infrastructure fund, which can be used to bring forward housing sites and to release land for housing in a number of ways, including large infrastructure projects such as the multimillion-pound funding package for Carlisle that we announced last week, which put in a bid.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) is aware that Oldham has submitted a bid to the housing infrastructure fund for marginal viability funding, which is designed to overcome exactly the sort of problems that he raised in his speech with difficult or marginally viable sites that might require work or some Government assistance to get them under way. We and Homes England are working with his local authority to solve some of the problems that he mentioned.
The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton also mentioned neighbourhood plans. They have been incredibly popular across the country. About 13 million people now live under a neighbourhood planning system. We have provided £26 million of capacity support for neighbourhood plans, and I recognise that it takes a lot of commitment from local people to take control of planning in their local area. If the hon. Gentleman is having difficulties with neighbourhood plans, I will be more than happy to look at whether we can offer some kind of support because, however long I am in this job, I am keen to see neighbourhood planning established as a way for local people to take control of planning, so that they feel much less like its victims and more its master, particularly when it comes to design.
One area that we have made great play of in policy over the past few months is design. Where new homes are permitted, it is essential that we ensure that they are well designed. That is why we have established the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, chaired by Sir Roger Scruton. We held an important design conference in Birmingham just last week. We have also appointed a chief architect to work at the heart of Government to champion the important role that good design plays. I highlight the fact that the revised NPPF states that permission should be refused for poor design, especially when it fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area.
As has been said, many residents’ objections to new developments tend to stem from the feeling that the new development will detract from the quality of the area. If we can get design right, if we make space for beauty, if we build the conservation areas of the future and communities that work coherently, people will, we hope, start to welcome new development in their area as something that will enhance it and make it more sustainable.
Finally, I want to raise the issue of numbers. All hon. Members mentioned numbers. We are very keen to see a lot of houses built in this country—many millions, perhaps—over the decades to come, because we believe that there is huge pent-up demand. We have set a target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, and I have heard nobody politically say that that is not a good and ambitious target for us to hit. The question is where those homes should go.
We have attempted to put in a standardised system to assess local housing need across the whole country on a formula basis. The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton is right to say that the ONS was tasked with producing the first projections, or the basis of the data for projections, of local housing need. Unfortunately, the numbers that the ONS produced created some very anomalous results across the country. For example, in relation to the city of Cambridge, one of the strongest-growing regions in the country and where there is enormous ambition, the 2016 forecast was that there was zero housing need in Cambridge. Other cities’ anomalous results caused alarm. As a result, we took the decision to step back and restore the 2014 numbers, and then consult further on a more coherent system going forward—one that could be generally agreed across the country. We really did not think that, on the basis of those anomalous results, it was a good time for people to take their foot off the accelerator, given that we all accept the strong need for housing, and that both major political parties have made ambitious promises about their housing targets.
I should clarify what the local housing need target is. It is exactly that—a target. It is a baseline from which a local authority can work to effectively establish the number of homes that it needs in its area. In the examination of any plan, a local inspector will look at the plan and accept properly evidenced and assessed variations from that target. If, for example, there are constraints such as an area of outstanding natural beauty, green belt or whatever it might be, and people can justify a lower number, an inspector should accept that. That said, if local authorities are ambitious for their area and want to address the legitimate housing needs of young people—many now have to live at home, with their parents and grandparents, into their 30s and 40s, even in the great cities of the north—they can go ahead of those targets if they wish. That, combined with the duty that now exists in the planning system to co-operate with neighbouring local authorities, means, we hope, that each area can arrive at a figure for provable, established local housing need, which has been assessed by an inspector, from a baseline that across the country will produce a target, we hope, of 300,000 homes.
I think, from what I have heard from the Minister—I must double-check this—that we may be making progress. Is the Minister saying that if Greater Manchester, on a proper evidence base, which could include more recent ONS population growth projections, comes forward with a lower housing target, the Government would be open to that?
I am more than happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to set out the precise way in which the target should be taken into account. There has been a lot of misunderstanding, resulting in the notion that this is a mandated number that local authorities have to hit. We recognise that within the United Kingdom there are lots of variables to be taken into account. If a local authority falls largely within a national park, there are obviously significant constraints on its ability to produce housing. The planning system must be flexible enough to accommodate that.
At the same time, however, I urge all Members to bear it in mind that we have an urgent national mission to build homes. All parties, when in government over the past two or three decades, have failed to build enough houses to accommodate the next generation. As a result, we have seen falls in home ownership, rises in density, and a homelessness problem, and we need to address that situation. Much of it is about supply, and most of that supply will necessarily be built in the great cities of the north and across the whole of the country because, frankly, as the right hon. Gentleman said, they are great places to live; I speak as a former resident of one of them.
I am delighted to hear what my hon. Friend says about mandated numbers and I should be very grateful if he would write to me as well on this issue, because we have just produced an Island plan, and unfortunately we assess that the target of the Government and the Planning Inspectorate would require us to build 640 new homes on the Island. I believe that we should argue that we have exceptional circumstances, and I should be grateful for advice from him, because the problem is that half that housing is for domestic use and the other half is part of a larger market.
I am happy to copy in all hon. Members who are present for this debate, so that they may understand how the local housing target will work. However, I urge hon. Members to recognise that there is a requirement across the whole of the country for us to look for more houses for younger people and, frankly, not to let local authority leaders off the hook—
I am afraid that I do not have time to give way again. We must not let local authority leaders off the hook in relation to taking the sometimes difficult decisions—they are difficult; I have been a councillor myself—to build and develop the right types of houses in the right places for the next generation.
I appreciate that there is likely to be a range of views about the Greater Manchester spatial framework; that is to be expected, and shows that people care passionately about what happens in their communities, which is a good thing and I applaud it. The current version of the GMSF has been agreed by 10 local planning authorities and the Mayor as being suitable to be consulted upon. That in itself shows a unity of purpose, and no doubt a degree of compromise.
I suspect that there may be further refinements to the framework, and its policies and proposals, over the coming months. As part of that process, some of the important issues that many hon. Members have so passionately highlighted today may be considered.
There have been excellent contributions in this afternoon’s debate from colleagues from across Greater Manchester, including the hon. Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), the shadow Minister—and, indeed, from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), who represents that well-known suburb of Greater Manchester, the Isle of Wight.
I am grateful to them all. I was very grateful indeed to the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton for his brief local history lesson. In 1819, those around Greater Manchester flocked to hear Henry “Orator” Hunt at St Peter’s Fields. They have not quite flocked here this afternoon, although we know that people feel passionate about this subject. None the less, we are hopeful that this debate can end on a more cheerful note than Henry Hunt’s speech did. The Minister is a man of great compromise; he will now tackle the Northern Ireland border, as well as the singularly intractable problem of the Bredbury roundabout railway bridge, which he heard about earlier.
On a serious note, we need appropriate housing figures that are fully justifiable; a proper and comprehensive “brownfield first” strategy; and appropriate infrastructure in place so that the Greater Manchester spatial framework realises its potential to be a great success.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.
Dog Meat in the UK
[Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered banning the consumption of dog meat in the UK.
It is a pleasure to speak on this issue. This is, unfortunately, the Thursday afternoon slot—I often refer to it as “the graveyard slot”, and today it certainly is. This is the recess week, and many people who signed the petition and added their names to the early-day motion are away. It is a pleasure to see hon. Members here to make a contribution to this debate on a very important issue.
Like my hon. Members, I am a dog lover, and so is my wife. She is a volunteer at Assisi Animal Sanctuary, just outside Newtownards. Since I was a young boy, dogs have played a huge part in my life. I cannot remember not having a dog; I have had them all my life. I remember my first dog, in Ballywalter when I was a four-year-old, very well. It was a collie dog called Flash. Its name has never escaped my mind. It was probably called that because it was like greased lightning; collies usually are. I also recall vividly a story of letting the dog into the back kitchen. We lived in a fishing village. Someone had left us fish for tea, and the dog ate half of it. We never realised what it was all about; we thought we had eaten the other half, but unfortunately that was not how it was.
We can share small stories about our dogs over the years. I remember as a child—I wonder sometimes how I survived my childhood—having an ice cream with the dog sitting alongside me. Every now and again, I gave the dog a wee lick as well, and I just kept on eating. It never did me any harm; that is a fact. I would not recommend it, but as children we did not have the precautionary attitude to life that we do now.
Dogs are and have always been an extension of my family. My dog—really my wife’s dog—is Autumn. We got it from Assisi. It had been badly treated, and she took it in. I remember that when it first came to our house, it was very nervous and scared. It obviously had a very difficult entry into this world. After it came to our house, it gained confidence. It had our love, and all of a sudden its attitude changed.
Dogs have two things in life that they want: they want to be loved and to love. It is as simple as that. A dog sees things very simply. We had a collie dog early on, and then we had Pomeranians and Jack Russells, and now we have springer spaniels. The reason why we have springer spaniels is that we love hunting and shooting. That is where I come from. Therefore, our dogs have a purpose in life. They say that you never own a Jack Russell; a Jack Russell owns you. As the owner of a Jack Russell, I can say that that is true. We have had many Jack Russells over the years, and they have taken over our lives.
Over the past weeks and months, I have heard enough about the horrifying practices of the dog meat trade to upset any animal lover. I thank animal welfare charities such as the World Dog Alliance for highlighting this issue, and for the work they are doing to stop this horrific practice. I am here today to call on the Government to enact a ban on the consumption of dog meat in the UK. That is why we are all here. It is unfortunate that others could not be here. They wanted to be, but they made other arrangements for the recess week.
Each year, about 30 million dogs are slaughtered for human consumption around the world. In China, it is estimated that 70% of those dogs are stolen pets. That horrific practice has a big impact on families.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. It is unfortunate that more people could not be here; it is probably because of the timing. I have known many people over the years who have campaigned on this issue, particularly about the dog festivals outside the UK. They are horrified by that. Once it comes to light that it is not illegal to consume dog and cat meat in the UK, they are shocked. They have been campaigning for the law to change in another country, but they have not realised that it is not illegal here. That is one reason why legislation should be brought forward.
What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right. Many of us are horrified. I see the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) in his place. He has tabled an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that I and my hon. Friend have put our names to. The hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) would have liked to have been here, but as we all know, unfortunately he hurt himself this week and had to go home early. He moved a ten-minute rule Bill this week.
Many of us have suddenly realised that there is a technical loophole in the legislation in the United Kingdom, and we want to use this occasion to highlight the issue and alert people so that they realise that we have not made it illegal to eat dogs or cats in the United Kingdom. It is against the law to kill them and to sell the meat, but it is not against the law to eat them, and that is why we want to bring legislation forward.
My hon. Friend and I, and others here to contribute to the debate, are well aware of the background information. It is truly horrific to observe how dogs are killed and the inhuman treatment they go through. During their short lives, they are treated horrifically and inhumanely. Treated like cargo, they are cramped in small cages and put under physical and mental torment as they wait to be killed for their meat. Worse still are the misplaced beliefs dictating that dogs are tastier and that their meat is filled with better properties if the animals are stressed or in pain at the moment of death. That results in the widespread torture of these poor animals. In many cases, dogs are skinned, boiled or even blowtorched alive. If that is not animal cruelty, what is? It is horrific, horrendous and should not be allowed anywhere in the world.
How can we as a proud nation of animal lovers—we make that gesture and statement many times—stand aside as millions of dogs are subjected to that fate? The Government will say that it is illegal to sell dog and cat meat in the UK and that no abattoirs can be issued with a licence to slaughter dogs. That is true, but the fact remains that it is legal for an individual to kill a dog or cat and eat it here in the UK in their own homes. We want to look towards change. That is why the hon. Member for Clacton tabled the amendment to the Agriculture Bill, why the ten-minute rule Bill was moved and why we are here today.
Many others support what we are saying. Thankfully, there are no official cases of dog or cat meat being eaten in the United Kingdom, but we should make explicitly clear that the totally unnecessary practice of eating dogs will never be welcome. Nor can we condone the cruel practice elsewhere in the world.
Although in the debate thus far people have made the case that there is no evidence that dog or cat meat is eaten within the UK, it can be very difficult to prosecute that type of crime. Surely the key thing is that it gives the UK the opportunity to be a world leader and join those other countries that have stepped forward to legislate, despite the fact it is not a problem in their countries. It sends a message to those countries where it is a common practice that we believe it is not acceptable. It also sends a message clearly across the UK that we do not want this practice to grow here either.
What my hon. Friend says is very true. I will speak later about the number of countries that have signed up and changed the law, as will other Members. It indicates why we are looking for change. Our reputation as a leader on animal welfare is testament to our national love of animals. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 was pioneering legislation in this country. We led the world. It outlined our national duty of care to those unable to speak for themselves, and it set the international standard. Under the legislation, animals in the UK are protected from pain, injury and suffering. I beg the House and the Government to consider our canine companions in the same light.
As anyone who grew up with a pet dog or cat will know, they can, and do, take up a lot of our lives. When I met my wife, she was a cat lover and I was a dog lover. I was not all that fond of cats, to be honest, but it was simple: “Love me, love my cat.” I acquired an affection for cats, and we now have four or five in our house. More often than not, people will say that the cats or dogs are members of the family. Our companions are treasured, loved and spoiled, yet around the world millions of dogs live short, unimaginable lives and are subject to incredibly cruel practices. I wonder if many Members here could imagine the same fate for their pets.
In Prime Minister’s questions just last week, the Prime Minister said:
“Animal welfare is a priority for this Government.”—
We welcome that commitment, which I think was in response to a question from an hon. Member here. She said she hoped
“that other countries will join the UK in upholding the highest standards of animal welfare.”—[Official Report, 13 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 887.]
To maintain that position, we must show, in unequivocal terms, that we cannot tolerate the consumption of dog meat.
Last night, in an Adjournment debate on horse tethering, the Minister referred to legislation in Northern Ireland, where we can impose penalties of up to five years for animal cruelty. We have a positive and enlightening attitude towards animal cruelty in Northern Ireland. The Minister referred to the five-year sentence; I think he hopes that it can be introduced in the mainland as well.
Introducing a ban on consuming dog meat would have a tremendous effect worldwide. Animal welfare charities such as the World Dog Alliance tell us that they face key barriers in their efforts to ban the practice worldwide. A ban would send a powerful message to countries where this horrific and disturbing practice takes place. We can no longer stand idly by. Enacting the ban would demonstrate the UK’s willingness to join global efforts to ban this horrific practice, standing shoulder to shoulder with the many animal rights and welfare charities working day and night to protect our beloved companions and it would save millions of dogs from torture and unspeakable death.
I will say again—I mean this sincerely and honestly; I am a dog lover—that dogs are our companions. They are not, and should never be, food. In practical terms, I ask the Government to consider a simple thing. A ban would put no additional pressure on the Government’s purse strings. We know that no dogs are eaten in the United Kingdom, and therefore that no additional resources would be required to police such a ban. Instead, by simply closing this legal loophole, we would send a powerful signal internationally that we do not condone the human consumption of dogs.
There is a great depth of feeling in Parliament to ban this practice. To date, more than 60 MPs have demonstrated cross-party support in various forms, with 32 backing an amendment to the Agriculture Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Clacton. Both myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) have added our names to that. We hope that the Government will take that amendment on board when the Agriculture Bill is next debated.
As hon. Members will have seen in recent coverage in The Sun, the Daily Express and in the popular online magazine, LADbible, a ban on the consumption of dog meat also has widespread support from the general public. I believe that what we ask the Government to look towards reflects the opinion of the general public. Widespread support for banning the human consumption of dog meat was clearly demonstrated in 2016, when a parliamentary petition protesting the dog meat trade in South Korea received more than 100,000 signatures, resulting in a parliamentary debate in that country. Many of my colleagues have spoken against the practice and have called for action.
I am pleased to say that, since then, South Korea’s largest dog farm has been closed down, and the Mayor of Seoul vowed last week to shut down all dog slaughterhouses. This shows a clear and increasing demand for change from east Asian countries. Last year, a Gallup survey found that only 15% of people felt positively about the dog meat trade. I do not think we can ignore those opinions where we see something wrong happening. There is a change coming there as well.
The movement against dog meat is also visible in China, where 64% of the population support a ban on the Yulin dog meat festival, which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South mentioned. One in seven people in China has never eaten dog meat and nine out of 10 people in Shanghai want a ban, so even in China, attitudes and trends are changing. If we take the stance that other countries have taken, it would be a positive step in the right direction. Sending powerful international messages and applying pressure can and does make a difference and would add to the momentum.
In September, following mounting international pressure against the dog meat trade, the Hanoi people’s committee urged residents to stop eating dog meat, as it was concerned that the horrific practice was tarnishing the city’s image as a modern and civilised capital. What we do here has influence over there, which is why this debate is so important. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to have the debate and for giving us the chance to be here. I look forward to what other hon. Members have to say, particularly the shadow Minister and the Minister, about how we can move the campaign forward.
Taiwanese and Japanese officials have already written to the Secretary of State to persuade our Government to support a ban. A member of the House of Councillors, Kusuo Oshima, highlighted the similar legal loophole that allows the consumption of dogs in Japan. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics close at hand, he feels that it would be an honour to work closely with our country, as a leader in animal welfare, to make the change and put legislation in place.
The Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada and his officials have already committed to follow the progress of the ban in the UK as an animal welfare leader. The introduction of legislation in the UK, as well as in the US, would help to give them the confidence to outlaw dog meat consumption in Japan. Collectively and singly, in this country and across the world, we can make the change that many people clearly wish to see.
Our influence in animal welfare has also been shown through efforts by Chinese officials to introduce a pet theft Bill to tackle the dog meat trade. Two people’s representatives have introduced the Bill because stolen dogs are generally sold to be eaten. It is tragic that when dogs go missing in some parts of the world, they can end up on somebody’s table, although I am mindful that, in many cases, dogs are treated as part of the family. As such, the Bill is a major first step towards introducing a ban on the human consumption of dog meat. I am informed that it was partly inspired by our Pets (Theft) Bill, which is making its way through Parliament. I thank the Government and the Minister in particular for the changes they are making there.
The United States of America is the latest country to enact a ban on the consumption of dog and cat meat. In December, the US House of Representatives took the lead in passing the farm Bill, which states that no person may
“ship, transport, move, deliver, receive, possess, purchase, sell, or donate…a dog or cat to be slaughtered for human consumption; or a dog or cat part for human consumption.”
That Bill laid the law down and made the change.
Let us be clear: the US ban is significantly stronger than the UK’s current legal situation. They have gone a step further and I believe that we need to match that. The US ban explicitly forbids the human consumption of dog meat by covering the personal use and possession of dog meat, not just its commercial sale. The recent US regulations, therefore, far outstrip our current legislation. In practice, it is now illegal in the US for an individual to kill a dog or cat to consume its flesh. At the moment, we cannot say the same in the United Kingdom.
Through that pioneering legislation, the US joins the ranks of Germany, Austria, Taiwan, South Australia and Hong Kong, which all have bans in place. The US ban is important because of the motivation involved—clearly, eating dog or cat meat is not a problem in the US. US lawmakers passed the ban solely because of the impact it would have on the international efforts to eradicate the cruel practice.
That is made clear in the letters to the Prime Minister from the Congressman who introduced the law in the US. Congressman Jeff Denham, a proponent of the legislation in the US, has said that adopting this policy signals that
“the U.S. will not tolerate this disturbing practice in our country”.
It also demonstrates
“our unity with other nations that have banned dog and cat meat, and it bolsters existing international efforts to crack down on the practice worldwide.”
Hopefully today in this House, through this debate and through our Minister and Government, we can add our support and our names to similar legislation, raising awareness and moving forward.
In their letter to the Prime Minister, Alcee Hastings, Vern Buchanan, Theodore Deutch and Lee Zeldin—all Congressmen of the House of Representatives—said:
“The adoption of this important legislation not only sent a message to people in the United States, but also, those around the world, putting all who engage in this heinous practice on notice that it will no longer be tolerated regardless of where it is found to occur...the slaughter of dogs”—
“does not prevent hunger or improve human welfare, nor is there any economic justification to continue this horrific practice.”
In enacting the ban, the US has played an important role in influencing the international animal welfare agenda. We are here today to highlight that and to raise awareness. Again, I look to the Minister and our Government to do the same.
As we look towards the end of March and our departure from the European Union—the Brexit question is at least part of this—we must consider what type of nation we want the UK to be. Do we want to be outward-looking or insular? Active or idle? A global leader or one that lags behind our peers? I think of all those here today who will go back to their constituencies and homes to be with pets and loved ones this weekend. Do we not owe it to our companions across the great continents and countries of the world to take these steps? We look for the Government to match the change in the USA and the countries mentioned earlier. We look to match the change in South Korea. We look to highlight the issues.
I call on the Government to enact a ban as soon as possible, either through primary or secondary legislation—as long as it is a full and explicit ban on the human consumption of dog and cat meat. Further, any person found to be in violation of such a ban should be subject to a fine and/or a prison sentence of six months. It is time this House sent the message and changed the law, and I believe the Government will find a way to do that.
Mr Bailey, I thank you for giving me the chance to speak. I look forward to the contributions from other hon. Members, and particularly to the comments of the shadow Minister—the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin)—and the Minister.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this important debate. Without any shame at all, I hope to reinforce a lot of what he has said about this important issue. Some of those watching these proceedings might question why we are discussing it at all. I appreciate that view because I have had letters in my inbox saying that there are other important things going on at the moment that we should get on with, but this issue is important, and all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, have the ability to multitask.
Many of those watching will think that cat and dog meat is already illegal in this great, forward-looking country of ours. Sadly, as has been stated, that is not the case. Amazingly, it is still legal to personally slaughter your dog or cat and privately consume its meat here in the UK, and I am sure most people would think such an idea abhorrent. In 2018 there were 20 million dogs and cats in the UK, and those wonderful companions have a positive impact on our lives. In our culture, they are our friends, confidants and playmates. They are our companions, and they have a great, measurable and positive impact on mental health. They are not food and must be protected here and internationally. A proper and comprehensive ban on consumption in this country can do just that.
Granted, as the Prime Minister said in response to my question last week, there are extensive restrictions in place in the UK to prevent the commercial sale of dog meat for human consumption, and I understand that there are similar restrictions in place for cat meat. Yet there is a glaring loophole in the law, as the hon. Member for Strangford pointed out, and as I touched on. That loophole must be closed. Thankfully, 33 colleagues from across the House agree and have signed my amendment to the Agriculture Bill. Of course—I am shamelessly advertising here—we would warmly welcome any others who wished to join us and pledge their support, too.
In the light of our shared desire to close that loophole, I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will look into this matter in the coming weeks, and I look forward to hearing what it comes up with. We can close the loophole quickly through secondary legislation, although that would require careful discussion to ensure we ticked all the necessary boxes.
I want to deal with the questions, some of which have been raised, about why we need to address this statutory deficiency at all. I recognise that some may say this is unnecessary or even just virtue signalling, given that there are no recorded instances of the consumption of dog or cat meat in the UK. However, even if it is virtue signalling, I say, “Why not? Let’s signal our virtue—our morality—on this issue to the rest of the world.” We can be ahead of the curve by getting legislation in place now, and can head off any possible incidents here.
Changing the law would also send a powerful signal internationally about our moral opposition to this horrific practice and encourage other nations to introduce similar measures. The most important point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) when he introduced his Bill earlier this week. During his excellent speech, he told us that Chinese authorities have said, “Until you make it illegal, why should we?” They have a point. We should lead the world on this issue, as we do on other international issues. We have already led the world in opposing ivory poaching, even though we have no elephants roaming the south of England—or anywhere else in Britain, for that matter. We should seek to mirror that example, as we should our world-leading opposition to modern slavery, bull fighting and whaling.
Unfortunately, that is not happening with dog and cat meat. As the hon. Member for Strangford said, we are coming in behind Germany, Austria, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Australia and America, where possession and consumption became an offence this year even though the problem is not widespread in the US either. The US Congress believed it was right to pass a ban regardless, to demonstrate its support for global efforts to eradicate this cruel practice. I would like to thank publicly those Members of Congress who sent a letter supporting my amendment directly to the Prime Minister.
It is important to recognise that that ban in America provided a real boost to the international prohibition campaign. We now have an opportunity to do the same and to help lead the global effort to combat these sickening practices. All we need to do is take the minor legislative step of outlawing the consumption of dog and cat meat with a proper, comprehensive ban. That is the right thing for us to do, as a nation of animal lovers. As I said earlier—it is worth saying again—these are our companions. They are not food.
As the hon. Member for Strangford said, 30 million dogs and 4 million cats—more than all the dogs and cats in the UK—are still slaughtered every year around the world for their meat. Of those, 15,000 are killed during the 10-day Yulin festival in China, which is often accompanied by international condemnation. Those animals are often stolen and, as we heard, kept in small, filthy cages with little food or water. There is a strong but erroneous belief that if they are suffering, their meat is tastier and has medicinal qualities—it does not—and that if they experience high levels of stress when they are killed, they are better to eat. That is obviously wrong. It results in horrendous suffering.
Those animals are often boiled, skinned and blow-torched, and—the hon. Gentleman said it—that happens to them while they are alive. They are blow-torched alive. That is horrific animal cruelty. No animal should suffer such pain and trauma. No person should, either. We should be humane. We should honour these animals that live with us. I thank the World Dog Alliance for its efforts to raise awareness of this troubling issue.
I am sure that anyone with a pet who heard what I just said about animals, and what the hon. Member for Strangford said earlier, would be distressed. We all feel that our pets are to be valued. I, too, am a proud owner of three noisy dogs, and I want to get them into Hansard. They are Mini, a 19-year-old Jack Russell, and Herbie and Humphrey, who are indeterminate, but there is poodle in there somewhere.
Cherishing our pets is surely a very British value, which can be utilised to prevent animal welfare abuses abroad. The Government are keen to assert our values through the Global Britain scheme, and this is a great opportunity for us to do just that. I recognise that it will take time to change hearts and minds, but nothing worth having is ever easy. As to how to do that, I believe there are ways to achieve a proper ban through secondary legislation, as I said, so it could be done quickly, but I will not go into that in detail. I want to hear what proposals DEFRA will come back with.
To conclude, I grew up with animals—horses, dogs, cats and all sorts—and that personal experience ensures that I am a keen supporter of animal welfare. It is always high on my agenda. I am keen to see the Government continue their positive recent record on dealing with animal welfare, which has rightly led to international renown. Properly banning the consumption of dog meat in this country—that must include private consumption—will send an international message and set an example for others to follow.
To come back to my opening question, that is why we are present today: to show our moral opposition to such deplorable practices, and to do more than just offer words of distaste, which will do nothing to protect animals around the world—only concrete action and a proper and comprehensive ban here in the UK, followed by a sustained projection of our shared values globally, will do that.
I again thank the Minister for his answer this morning and for his constructive assistance so far. I look forward to continuing to discuss the matter with him in the coming weeks.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Clacton (Giles Watling) for their impassioned contributions to the debate. I was at the Backbench Business Committee when the hon. Member for Strangford made the case for holding this debate on the consumption of dog meat in the UK. I also take the opportunity to recognise the work of the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), who is not present, on his Dog Meat (Consumption) (Offences) Bill, which obviously contributed substantially to this debate.
I should have said earlier that the hon. Lady’s colleague, the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), also could not be present, but wished to be part of the debate. She accompanied me to the Backbench Business Committee to ask for the debate, so I want to recognise her and what she did to make this happen.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s recognition.
As we heard, the World Dog Alliance has called for an explicit ban on the consumption of dog meat in the UK and has stated exactly why that is necessary. It is acknowledged that the issue is not one that is predominant in the UK, and there is no tangible evidence of such consumption. However, in a recent campaign, the Humane Society International rescued more than 170 dogs from a dog meat farm in South Korea. It is estimated that South Korea has about 17,000 dog farms, breeding more than 2.5 million dogs a year for human consumption. Around the world, it is believed that approximately 30 million dogs are eaten annually.
We heard from the hon. Member for Clacton that the Yulin festival takes place from 21 to 30 June. The lychee and dog meat festival is an annual 10-day event at which more than 10,000 dogs are eaten. Dog eating is traditional in China where, according to folklore, eating the meat during the summer months brings luck and good health. We have heard about some of the abhorrent practices that exist.
The hon. Member for Strangford is a vociferous campaigner on a great many issues. In fact, I cannot think of an issue about which he does not have something to say, which is quite impressive. His contribution was heartfelt, and so is his devotion to his own dogs—whether the collies, the Pomeranians or the Jack Russells. He said that dogs are often loved companions. They are not just family pets but part of our families. He highlighted the terrible conditions and practices, the abhorrent torture and animal cruelty, and the beliefs that fuel the trade in Asia. He called on the Government to set an international example.
The hon. Member for Clacton made an impassioned contribution on this rather unlikely subject. He called for a comprehensive ban, and asked for DEFRA to review the matter. It is entirely reasonable that we call on the Government to do everything they can in this regard.
It is accepted that this is not an issue in the UK, and that there is no evidence that dogs are being consumed here. However, we have heard that the US and other countries such as Germany, Austria, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia are leading by example, even though this is not necessarily an issue in many of them. Although the commercial trade in dog meat is illegal in the UK, it is clear that maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare ought to be our paramount consideration. The UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Committee currently advises DEFRA Ministers on this matter. I hope the Minister will consult it on this issue.
Although many aspects of this issue still remain reserved to the UK, many are not. The Scottish Government have established a Scottish animal welfare commission. Like the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Committee, it will form an animal expert advisory group that will advise on animal welfare, introducing new legislation, issuing Scottish Government guidance and public awareness campaigns. The Scottish Government have also committed to consult on amending the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. That consultation ended in January 2019. The proposed changes to the 2006 Act include increasing the penalties for the most serious abuses of animals, including attacking emergency service animals. It will also include fixed penalty notices for lesser offences, and will create enforcement bodies to rehome and sell on animals seized when welfare is compromised. The Scottish Government are using the powers that they have to do as much as they can, including on animal welfare, improving conditions, providing CCTV in slaughterhouses, ensuring that domestic animal welfare is improved through licensing, and introducing licensing for animal sanctuaries, rehoming agencies and commercial breeders.
It is essential that all Governments, including the Scottish Government and the UK Government, lead by example and do all they can for animal welfare. The international pressure that the Government can bring to bear on countries where this practice is prevalent is absolutely necessary. It could end the abhorrent practice of the consumption of dog meat. I hope the Minister will listen to the calls from across this House and see what more the UK Government can do in that regard.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate. Hon. Members from across the House will join the vast majority of people in this country in being upset at the very thought of eating dog meat. The hon. Gentleman made a powerful case, as did the hon. Members for Clacton (Giles Watling) and for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). The hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) did so, too, in presenting his ten-minute rule Bill in Parliament on Tuesday.
The very good news is that there is no evidence that dog meat is actually being consumed in the United Kingdom. We all want to ensure that it stays that way. There are questions that need to be asked about the most effective ways to prevent the consumption of dog meat ever becoming an issue in this country. Clearly, if the consumption of dogs started to occur in the United Kingdom, the Government would need to take action. I feel sure that if the Government are considering taking action, they will seek to make it effective.
I fully support the contention that this country needs to join others, such as the United States, in sending a strong message to China, the Republic of Korea and other countries where dog meat is eaten. If we do, we need to ensure that we do not pick on one particular country, in order to avoid apologists for consuming dog meat claiming that the United Kingdom is using this issue as an excuse to attack their country. It is the principle of eating dogs, and the unspeakable cruelty that the trade involves, that we need to concentrate on. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew):
“The UK government needs to stand up for man's best friend and ensure that we are upholding our reputation as leaders in animal welfare.”
At the same time, I do not want animal welfare campaigns in the UK to divert resources away from other serious issues, such as puppy smuggling, hare coursing or dog fighting, which are actually prevalent and inflict cruelty on dogs in our own country. All cruelty to animals weakens and coarsens our society. People who grow up with a cavalier attitude to animal cruelty are that much more likely to inflict cruelty on other people as well, especially in a domestic situation. Connected to that, I ask the Minister: when are we likely to see the Secretary of State’s proposed animal sentience Bill? Even more importantly, when will we see increased sentences for animal cruelty offences, which have been promised for more than a year but show no sign of being brought forward?
I do not want to prolong the debate unnecessarily, so I will simply say that we fully support any measures that will protect dogs from cruelty. We share the strongly expressed wish of the hon. Member for Strangford and others that this country should use its influence to persuade others to stop eating dogs.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important debate. It has been said that he is a redoubtable campaigner on many issues, and he certainly is. We welcome his enthusiasm for this subject.
I recognise the interest and concern on this issue generated in recent weeks as a result of several things, including the amendment to the Agriculture Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) and the questions asked earlier today in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions and yesterday in PMQs. We wish my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) a speedy recovery.
I also thank the World Dog Alliance for its ongoing dog meat campaign, which has drawn people’s attention to the plight of dogs in other parts of the world. They are often kept in dire conditions before being slaughtered, often in brutal and painful ways, as has been set out. Alongside, I am sure, all Members here, I condemn any practice that subjects animals to inhumane suffering and distress. Everyone, from whatever cultural or religious background, can unite in horror at unnecessary pain and suffering.
In this country, and indeed in many—I might say most—others, people just do not eat dog meat, on clear moral grounds. To us, wanting to eat man’s best friend is morally repugnant, as has been highlighted. As well as being loyal companions, many dogs dedicate their lives to protecting us and to making our lives better. They help us by bravely helping the police to restore public order, detecting banned substances, heroically searching for victims of earthquakes, helping to rescue people stranded on mountains—I recognise the work of the mountain rescue teams in Buxton and Kinder, close to my constituency, in this important area—and by providing invaluable assistance to people with visual or hearing issues or other disabilities. As a patron of the Macclesfield and District Sheep Dog Trials Association, it would be completely wrong of me not to recognise the huge contribution that these incredible working dogs make to the lives of many farmers.
Knowing what remarkable acts dogs are capable of, it is all the more surprising that anybody, anywhere, would consider keeping them for their meat. This debate has shown that the public and their representatives in this Chamber are rightly concerned about the welfare of animals, including when they are slaughtered or killed. They expect the Government to ensure that appropriate welfare protection measures are in place to ensure that animals are treated properly and humanely.
The Government abhor acts of cruelty to animals. That is why we have in place laws to deal with such appalling acts. In this country, it is an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal or to fail to provide for an animal’s welfare. The maximum penalty for both offences is six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The Government have already announced that they will go further and increase the maximum custodial penalty for animal cruelty to five years. That is one of a number of commitments that we have made to improve the welfare of animals. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) asked when that would happen, and the answer is that it will be as soon as we can get parliamentary time and get the right vehicle in place, because obviously there are very important measures ahead of us. But it is a huge priority. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can understand that there is a sincere commitment to take it forward.
That is of course the answer that the Minister had to give, but it is exactly the same answer as was given a year ago. This will not be a complicated Bill or one that takes a long time to get through. In fact, I have been told by someone—I am not sure whether this is true—that there could be an increase in the sentencing regulations as part of a statutory instrument; it would take only a day to do it.
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s frustration and desire to move things forward. I can assure him, on the sentencing point, that that cannot be done by secondary legislation. It requires primary legislation, and that is why we are in this situation. However, I can assure him and others in this Chamber that we are moving forward on that front. The same would apply to animal sentience, on which there was clearly an outpouring of concern several months ago. We are actively working on that issue with stakeholders.
I paid tribute earlier to service animals. To underline the Government’s commitment to protecting them, we are supporting Finn’s law—a private Member’s Bill currently before Parliament. Finn’s law makes it clear that attacking a service animal or dog is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill will have its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 1 March, having successfully completed stages in the Commons. I was pleased to hear that the Scottish Government are taking similar steps; that is to be commended.
We are going further to protect animal welfare by banning the third-party selling of puppies and kittens. That will ensure that only breeders can sell puppies and kittens for commercial purposes. We are banning certain types of electronic training collars for dogs. We have introduced an updated and improved animal activities licensing regime to cover dog breeding, cat and dog boarding, pet selling, riding schools and exhibiting animals. The new licensing regime came into force last October and means that licensees must maintain statutory minimum welfare standards. The licensing regime also encourages licensees to adopt higher standards, which, when achieved, will mean longer licences and fewer inspections.
I am very pleased to say that, as of last November, all slaughterhouses in England need to have closed circuit television in operation to aid official veterinarians in monitoring and enforcing animal welfare standards.
The Government—led, I am proud to say, by this Department—have animal welfare at the top of their agenda. I again recognise and welcome the steps that are being taken by the Scottish Government, which were highlighted by the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley).
The hon. Member for Strangford eloquently outlined in his speech, and I want to make it clear, that there is no evidence that dog meat is consumed in this country. That is a relief to us all. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton and the hon. Member for Ipswich also made that point. We have on the statute book a combination of laws that, taken together, make it extremely difficult even to conceive of doing such a thing. Most importantly, it is already an offence to sell dog meat commercially for human consumption. Strict food hygiene measures mean that dogs and cats cannot currently be commercially slaughtered, or sold or given to others for human consumption. There are strict rules for food businesses on slaughter and production of meat for human consumption in the UK, and dog meat would not be permitted under those requirements.
We have specific laws on the sale of food. EU regulation 2015/2283 on novel foods prohibits the sale of dog meat in the EU. That is enforced in England by the Novel Foods (England) Regulations 2018, which make it an offence to sell dog meat in England. That prohibition will, I am pleased to reassure hon. Members, be retained after EU exit. As colleagues will know, the UK has very strict rules on the welfare of animals at the time of killing; the rules are contained in EU regulation 1099/2009. Slaughterhouses must be licensed to kill certain species of animal. No slaughterhouse in the UK is currently licensed to slaughter dogs, which means that dogs cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. We are exploring how that can be strengthened.
Furthermore, it would be highly unlikely that an individual would or could humanely kill their dog, although it is technically legally possible. To humanely kill a dog would involve either a lethal dose of barbiturates—the recommended method—which would have to be carried out by a vet and would render the meat unfit for human consumption, or it would involve the correct use of a firearm, for which someone would need a licence, or the correct use of a captive bolt gun. It is important to emphasise, as hon. Members have, that there is no evidence of the consumption of dog meat in the UK.
I commend the United States for introducing legislation to ban the slaughter of dogs and cats for human consumption, which brings it broadly into line with the position in the UK and the EU. The US legislation is not a complete ban on the consumption of dog meat, as some have claimed. It is important to point out that there are good reasons why we and other countries have stopped short of banning the consumption of dog meat. It would be difficult to prove that someone had consumed it—a successful prosecution would need to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that dog meat had been consumed by the accused, which might require testing.
A relevant comparison is that we do not ban the consumption of drugs—instead, we ban on the possession and sale of drugs, which is the focus of criminal prosecution. Proving beyond all reasonable doubt that someone has knowingly consumed dog or cat meat would be very difficult in practice. Unless we have a witness or video evidence of someone slaughtering, preparing and eating a dog or a cat, a defendant would be able to claim that they were unaware of what they were eating, which would prevent the prosecution from meeting the standard.
Proving consumption to the required criminal standard would also require proving beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant had ingested the banned substance. That would require a form of intrusive test, such as a blood test. There are other tests, but we will not go down that route now—it could be unpleasant, so let us leave it at blood tests for the moment. For the same reasons, there is no offence in English law of consumption of human meat.
I admire and agree with the intention behind the debate and the campaigners, including those in the Gallery, but it is clear that there are challenges with the proposed solution. The Government have an ambitious programme of animal welfare reform. We want to ensure that we can use the parliamentary time available to deliver on our commitments on animal sentience; on increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty, as I have said; and on banning the use of wild animals in circuses. Those measures will have a direct and positive impact on the welfare of animals in the UK. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Ipswich is itching to help the Government to take those measures forward. I welcome his support.
I understand, not least from today’s debate, that one of the core aims of the campaign is to set an example and highlight to other countries that the UK considers that the dog meat trade is cruel and unnecessary. I applaud that aim and the contributions that have been made to the debate. The Secretary of State and I are working with DEFRA officials to explore what more we can do to address the matter, as I set out in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton in DEFRA questions today.
We want to send a clearer message, particularly to those countries where dog meat is eaten, that the consumption of dog meat should never be tolerated. That includes raising the issue directly with other countries. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has discussed it with South Korean counterparts. We are working through other avenues, including with welfare groups such as the Humane Society International, which has been highlighted—the dialogue with HSI was opened just over a year ago. DEFRA officials are exploring opportunities with the Department for International Development. By discussing the issues directly with the countries concerned, we hope to have an effect on the dog meat trade internationally.
I will keep the hon. Member for Strangford and other interested colleagues updated on progress. Once again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for introducing the debate and all hon. Members who have made such impassioned contributions to this important debate.
It is an absolute pleasure to sum up this debate.
First, I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) is very interested in—indeed, she is passionate about—animal welfare and opposing animal cruelty, and she wants to change attitudes. She represents a constituency that very much has that in mind as well.
The hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), as always, is actively engaged in change. The amendment to the Agriculture Bill is one that we are all very keen to support. He wants us to be a country that speaks up for animals worldwide; he wants to put us on that pedestal with others. I liked his comment “Nothing worth having is ever easy.” That is the truth. There is always a struggle, but when we get to the end of the road it is always good to be there and to know that we have been part of the process.
The contribution by the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) was, as always, significant and helpful. She encapsulated the enormity of this abhorrent practice and kindly reminded us of what the Scottish Government are doing with their legislative change. In many ways, the Scottish Government show the way legislatively on lots of things and this is another example of what they are doing, in this case to improve animal welfare.
The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin), referred to a nation united against this dreadful practice—the consumption of dogs for food. He wants to join with others in sending that message out, seeking the change in sentencing, which I think we all want to see. It is so important.
The Minister, in a very comprehensive response to all of our comments and requests, outlined the Government position. The Government have not been idle and we recognise that. We are keen to pursue legislative change. He also mentioned all the good things that dogs can do—I did not do that in my contribution, but I wish I had. There are dogs for the blind. I have walked that road—I think that probably all of us as MPs have walked that road—where I put on a blindfold and a guide dog led me. That is an example of what a dog can do.
There are also dogs in the services. One example came to mind while I was sitting here, listening. I remember when I was in Afghanistan with the armed forces parliamentary scheme and I chanced to see some of the dogs that seek out improvised explosive devices. They have a really key role—to save lives. That is man’s best friend again, doing that.
There are all the other dogs that were referred to as well: the rescue dogs, the police dogs and farmers’ dogs. In my constituency, there are very few farms that do not have a dog somewhere, either to bring in the sheep or to bring in the cattle. That is a fact. Dogs are part of our life.
The Government will stop acts of cruelty to animals; they are making the legislative change to do that. This issue also has cross-party support, including from an MP who was a member of another party at the beginning of this week but has now joined the new group. We clearly have cross-party support, from all the parties in this House—I can say that honestly today, from the expressions of support that I have here—including from the Independents.
Again, I thank everyone for their significant contributions, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for making the debate happen. Most importantly, today we have had a chance to stand up for man’s best friend, and that must be the challenge for us all. As we move forward, let us support our Minister in the changes that he will make.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered banning the consumption of dog meat in the UK.