Wednesday 7 September 2016
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
Psychosis: Early Intervention
I beg to move,
That this House has considered access and waiting time standards for early intervention in psychosis.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. May I welcome the Minister to her new role? I spent a great two and a half years in the Department of Health; it was the most invigorating time in my life. I wish her every success.
The debate is on something that I care a lot about: a new standard of access for people who suffer a first episode of psychosis, a cruel and punishing condition that can have a massive impact on people’s lives—incidentally, at enormous cost to statutory services. When I came into my role as Minister, I recognised that there was a complete inequality of access, standards and rights between those who suffer from mental ill health and those who suffer from physical health problems. That inequality of access has existed for many years. In the last decade, the Labour Government introduced comprehensive access standards in the NHS for physical health problems, and they were right to do so—the cancer standards that have transformed cancer care in this country are a leading example of those—but they left out mental health.
It is not just that individuals sometimes end up having to wait interminably for treatment in some parts of the country; that complete imbalance of rights between mental health and physical health drives where the money goes. There is enormous political interest in meeting those demanding access standards. The national media look at the four-hour A&E standard. Certainly in my time in the Department of Health, all the great and the good of the NHS gathered around the Secretary of State’s table every Monday morning to look at spreadsheets showing the performance of every hospital in the country against those access standards. That extraordinary almost micro-management from the centre on access standards in physical health sets the tone for the whole system and makes it clear that meeting them is critical. So what do clinical commissioning groups around the country do? They trim a little bit off funding for mental health, which is still funded primarily through block contracts, to feed the beast of those exacting access standards in physical health.
I was determined from the start to address that injustice—that is what it is; it is a discrimination at the heart of our NHS—and introduce access standards in mental health. We went through a long deliberation before coming up with two specific standards, which were set out in a Government document published in October 2014, that we wanted to introduce as the start of a process that would lead ultimately to comprehensive access standards in mental health so that everyone with a mental health problem had the same right to get treatment in our NHS as anyone else.
The first standard that we identified was a six-week standard for access to psychological therapies. That is part of the improving access to psychological therapies programme, a well-regarded, world-leading programme that does not do everything but has been a significant development. The other was a two-week standard to start treatment when someone suffers a first episode of psychosis. Those people are typically teenagers or perhaps in their 20s—that is the most common age—but such an episode could happen at any time in one’s life.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate. He has hit somewhat on the point that I was going to raise about early intervention. At what stage does he believe that we should deal with this condition? He talks about 18 or 20-year-olds, but should we go right back to primary or secondary school and deal with it in younger children?
We should always be guided by clinical judgment. That is critical. The standard that was introduced was for people between the ages of 14 and 65, which gives a clue about the appropriate level. This condition could emerge during teenage years, but we know that 50% of adult mental health problems start by the age of 14, so getting in and addressing problems early is critical.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for securing this important debate. Does he agree that although not everyone will suffer mental health problems in childhood, it is important that mental wellbeing is focused on in schools—both primary and secondary—to ensure that good mental health is promoted?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, because I totally agree. When I was Minister, we set up a taskforce to look at how we could modernise children’s mental health services. It published a report last March called “Future in mind,” the whole focus of which is on shifting fundamentally towards prevention: establishing wellbeing, particularly in schools, and intervening much earlier to stop deterioration ever happening. That approach is much more effective. It can help teenagers through difficult years as they grow up, but it also stops the enormous cost to the system later of neglecting those problems.
Psychosis costs the NHS £11.8 billion a year. That is a vast cost. Only 8% of people who suffer from psychosis are in work, so the cost of the illness to society is enormous. The evidence of the effectiveness of early intervention in psychosis is overwhelming. It is clear that if we intervene quickly, we can have an impact on that condition, stop it in its tracks and give sufferers the chance of a good life, which the rest of us take for granted. If we neglect the condition, those people will almost inevitably suffer lives on benefits and with difficult relationships, at—this is critical—enormous cost to the state. Analysis shows that if we invested £1 in services for early intervention in psychosis, the return on that investment over a 10-year period would be £15. We might ask, “What is the reason not to do that?” It is overwhelming common sense. It is both morally right and the economically sensible thing to do.
I pay tribute from the Government Benches to the immense work that the right hon. Gentleman did in government, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is no longer in his former position as Minister. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not acceptable to talk about parity of esteem unless that is matched by parity of provision and parity of funding so that those who suffer from mental ill health have the same provision as those who suffer from physical ill health? Parity of esteem means nothing to our constituents unless we actually deliver it.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. I totally agree. There is an awful danger of a damaging gap emerging between the rhetoric and the reality. The coalition Government legislated for parity of esteem, so it is in the legislation that people should be treated equally, but unless the reality of people’s experience is that they are treated equally, the rhetoric is absolutely meaningless waffle and they lose trust in the Government. That is why I feel so passionately that we must do concrete things to make parity of esteem a reality for people, and that is an example of how we can make a difference to people’s lives.
The standard was announced in October 2014, to be implemented by April 2016—it had to be met by this year. Why is it so important? If we fail on that, we fail so many people whom we have the chance to help and surely it would be scandalous if the NHS neglected a standard accepted by Parliament and introduced by Government that we know makes a massive difference to people’s lives. It gives people the chance of a better life and surely the NHS is fundamentally about giving people the chance to have happy, good lives.
What has happened in that period? We undertook a comprehensive Freedom of Information Act survey—now that I am out of government, I have to rely on such surveys to find out what is going on—and the answers from clinical commissioning groups and mental health trusts are deeply troubling. On the key findings, first the overall conclusion is that the implementation of the standard is just fundamentally flawed. It has failed to deliver what we committed to. If the Minister, on advice from her officials, is tempted to refer to the nationally published data that suggest that the standard is being met, I would discourage her from doing so because the data are a fiction—we have established that through our work.
The first detailed finding is that there is a complete lack of robust commissioning in many parts of the country. The whole purpose of the commissioner-provider split, which of course is fairly controversial in the NHS, is that the commissioners hold the money and are there to design services for their community to meet the needs of that community, yet a third of CCGs could not identify how much funding had been allocated to early intervention in psychosis. That in itself is scandalous. They just say that there is a block contract and that it is up to the mental health trust—a total abdication of responsibility. Later, I will ask what the Government are doing about that, because that is not acceptable and completely contradicts the national guidance that was published.
Incidentally, I should say that one of the excuses used around the country for slowness of implementation is that the final guidance was published in April this year—when the standard was supposed to have been met. That does not demonstrate particularly helpful leadership from the centre. Having said that, the draft guidance had been in place for the best part of a year, so clinical commissioning groups around the country knew the direction of travel and could absolutely have been getting on with the job of preparing for meeting the standard.
When we did the survey back in May and June, well into the financial year, another 18 clinical commissioning groups—that is 11%—were still in negotiation for funding for early intervention in psychosis for a standard that was supposed to have been met in April. The question I will keep repeating is: why is that is not being treated with the same seriousness as the cancer standards? Why do we treat that as less important than someone suffering from cancer? I absolutely support and endorse the cancer standards, because it is critical that people with cancer get access to treatment quickly, but why should not someone with psychosis? It is scandalous. No one stands up for them. The Government have to lead on that. More than one in three clinical commissioning groups could not provide an estimate of the number of people in their area in need of early intervention services, in spite of the national guidance that says that commissioning should be underpinned by estimates of the local incidence to ensure that services are designed to serve the needs in a particular locality fully. If CCGs have no idea because no work has been done to establish the need in that area, how on earth can they commission a service to meet that need?
Next, according to NHS England, the estimated annual cost of providing the full package of treatment is about £8,250 per patient per year. Only 60 CCGs in our study were able to estimate their investment at all and only 11 estimated that they will meet the NHS England guideline on the level of investment. The average investment per patient from those who were able to say was £5,199, but of course an average hides the fact that many are way below that level. To draw an analogy, that is like saying to a cancer patient, “Well, you can have the chemotherapy but we can’t afford the radiotherapy, so you’ll have to put up with what we can offer.” Of course, we would never allow that to happen—the Daily Mail and many others would be up in arms, and they should be about this issue as well because the situation is exactly the same.
On age, which the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) raised earlier, as I said in response to his intervention, the access standard is to provide the service to people between the ages of 14 and 65, in line, I should say, with guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which has done the work and provided the evidence-based guidance. Almost a quarter of trusts—23%—commission services only up to the age of 35, including my own county of Norfolk. How on earth can trusts justify anyone over the age of 35 not getting access to a service that we have deemed it appropriate to provide to people across the country? They are just ignoring the national guidelines. Again, that seems to me to be completely unacceptable. That totally conflicts with the clinical commissioning groups’ responsibility. Out of the 39 CCGs which commission only up to 35, nine said they had plans to expand the service—they have plans, but why are they not doing it now?—and another 10 said that that was under review, but the rest had no plan to provide a service to people over 35. Outrageous, in my view.
Next is staffing and skill mix. We found a widespread failure to provide the full range of interventions required by NICE as part of the package of treatment, which is due to the shortage of staff with appropriate skills to deliver the service. Most trusts reported shortages of staff trained in cognitive behavioural therapy for psychosis and there were many other training shortfalls.
On data recording, NHS England introduced new information standards to support the monitoring of standards so that we could have some confidence that they were being met. Providers are expected to use electronic care record for patients to enable the collection of data and monitoring of performance against the standard. The guidance says that commissioners should assure themselves that local providers have made the necessary updates to the electronic care record system to ensure that clinicians are able to enter the data required to monitor performance against the standard, but we have heard that many trusts have not upgraded their systems and so are incapable of doing what is in the national guidance. We talked to someone who was at the heart of the implementation of the standard in one part of the country who mentioned widespread failure to do that. That means, as I said earlier, that the national data published by the information centre, which we are all supposed to rely on to tell us what is happening in the NHS, cannot be relied on. I put this point to the Minister: can the information centre investigate that further to ensure that the data it publishes tell a true story of what is going on?
There was also a scandalous variation between regions. I met the woman who has been responsible for implementation in the southern region. She was driving a programme of implementation and had a complete handle on the whole of her region. She had enormous variation of performance across her region, but there was someone in charge, doing it. She was an impressive woman. She told me that she was being made redundant; she was told that her job was done, even though palpably it is not. However, in other regions there has been no programme of implementation—no one in charge, to take responsibility for making things happen. The situation in the midlands and east in particular is in my view a disgusting, outrageous shambles, which should not be tolerated.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. On several occasions he has talked about this important matter in the context of the entire country; he is now discussing comparisons. Does he agree—I have raised this issue on a number of occasions, particularly on health matters—that we need to ensure that best practice is replicated not just in local commissioning groups in England, but across the United Kingdom? Ministers would then share information across the devolved settlements, to ensure that best practice was replicated and improved on for all our citizens.
I very much agree. We should all be learning from each other—and internationally, as well; but so often we fail to do that in the NHS. People on the outside may think that the NHS is a Stalinist organisation where everyone does the same thing. Far from it—it is too often anarchic. In the context of the NHS England infrastructure that we are considering, there are regions of the country that just have not done their job as they should have, which is scandalous.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not good enough simply to understand an experience—because it affects someone close to us—when it is part of day-to-day life for the most vulnerable people? In Plymouth we have someone who is intimately involved in the system, and whose daughter is involved in the system, and who really gets mental health. However, it is not good enough in this place just to understand something because it happens to someone close to us. The vulnerable often do not have a voice, and we have to work harder. As the right hon. Gentleman is saying, it is not good enough to push the statistics away.
I totally agree. Everyone across the country who suffers this damaging, tragic illness has a right, surely, in anything that amounts to a national health service, to get good evidence-based treatment on a timely basis; but, tragically, that is not happening. I appreciate and welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has now taken specific responsibility for mental health. However, if I may be bold enough to offer some advice from my experience as a Minister, I would say that if a new standard of the type in question is to be embedded into the day-to-day life of the NHS, to make it something that happens as a matter of course and that is considered in the Monday morning meeting in the Secretary of State’s office exactly as the physical health standards are, there must be leadership from the top, including from Government. I appreciate that there are changes to Ministers’ roles under the Health and Social Care Act 2012; but they can demonstrate leadership. They can monitor, push, cajole and encourage, and set the moral tone about what is necessary for the approach we are discussing to become standard practice. That level of focus is needed from the Secretary of State downwards.
Will the Government consider the dossier of evidence and data that we have collated, and report back to us on their findings? Will they commit to addressing properly the defects and flaws in the implementation of the programme, as I think is necessary? One thing is clear: the Paul Farmer taskforce report published as part of the five-year forward view process sets out an ambition for mental health—for how we achieve equality for people who suffer mental ill health; however, if the lessons from the flawed implementation are not learned, every other part of Paul Farmer’s programme will fail to deliver the results that are so desperately needed. How will clinical commissioning groups be held to account for failure to implement the programme properly? What is the sanction for those who decided to ignore it—which is unacceptable to their communities? What is the Minister’s response to the findings I have talked about, and how does she respond to the clear evidence that people with mental ill health are not being treated with the same seriousness, or as if they have the same importance, as those suffering physical health problems?
It is time for mental health to come out of the shadows. We have started a national debate about mental health. The issue is much more out in the open than it used to be. However, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) said, there is a great danger of a damaging gap, which undermines confidence and trust in Government, between rhetoric and the reality that people experience in their lives. It seems to me that there is an absolute moral responsibility on the Government to ensure that the standard is delivered.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) for securing this extremely important debate. I declare an interest, having worked as a clinical psychologist for 20 years in the NHS, and as a continuing member of the British Psychological Society, our professional body.
I shall start by giving a little context. I am heartened by some of the progress that has been made and by initiatives on mental health taken by Governments in the UK and Scotland over the years. When I started out, it was quite commonplace for patients to wait up to or more than a year for treatment. There appeared not to be any urgency about dealing with the waiting list and waiting times. That has improved very much, and we have waiting list standards. The HEAT targets—health improvement, efficiency and governance, access and treatment targets—focus service providers, policy makers and resources. So things are improving, but we clearly still have much work to do. I concur that we need to work in a conjoined way across the UK and share best practice models in doing so.
The service when I started in practice clearly was not good enough. Patients had been waiting far too long by the time they came into treatment. Often they had been admitted to hospital in an acute situation—perhaps they were suicidal—or had had multiple episodes of psychosis, and we were not providing the best possible standard of care. Psychosis is a distressing illness, which tends to be long-term, although people can recover at an early stage if we pick up their symptoms and provide the appropriate care timeously.
In psychosis, people experience symptoms of paranoia and, often, delusional belief systems that take them outwith reality. They may experience visual and auditory hallucinations. It is distressing for the person and also very much affects their family and those around them, and we must take it very seriously. Although it affects quite a small proportion of the population, it has huge ramifications for family relationships.
The hon. Lady is building on an impressive speech by the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb). Does she accept that while it is right to pay attention to how quickly people get treatment after diagnosis, the biggest barrier to early intervention and treatment is securing diagnosis? I have personal experience, as my wife struggled for two years to get a diagnosis. Once she got it treatment was put in place, but it was far too long to wait. Until we crack that nut and, rather than dismissing people’s symptoms and struggles, deal with them practically, sympathetically and professionally, early intervention is only a myth to be discussed. We need the diagnosis first.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention about his personal and family experience. What he says is totally true; the issue is about shortening the gap between presentation and emergence of symptoms, and diagnosis. That is also true of other mental health problems and developmental disorders. Autistic spectrum disorders are the ones that stand out to me, particularly because parents often struggle for years to obtain a diagnosis, and therefore their children do not receive appropriate intervention early enough. They struggle with understanding their child and family relationships can deteriorate as a result, so I very much concur with the hon. Gentleman’s point.
That is why the mental health taskforce setting a standard for England is such a positive development. It is intended to achieve parity of esteem, but again, we cannot just have that in words—we must have the action to follow. The initiative and standard also establish that this is a national priority, which is important, because it has not been in the past. Mental health services have often been seen as an adjunct, which is not good enough, because we know that, for instance, one in four people experience depression in their lives, while many more experience other types of mental health problems, such as anxiety.
Although only a small proportion of the population will experience psychosis, mental health problems and difficulties are widespread. Most of us will at some point experience someone in our life having mental health difficulties, so it is important that we have the standard in place and that care is within two weeks from referral. It is also really important that the data are recorded, because services have to be standardised. That is the other issue to consider, because some trusts can often implement things more quickly than others. We need to ensure there is not a postcode lottery across services and that people can access good mental health provision wherever they may be in the country. I would welcome that.
Psychosis requires multi-professional services, so a specialist team is required. Providing such a team is often labour-intensive and costly, but we should focus on the cost-effectiveness over the long term. As the right hon. Member for North Norfolk said, if we do not intervene early, the cost to society, the health service and people’s lives far outweighs the cost of the NHS provision that we must make. Standards focus policy makers on resources and ultimately improve care. The Scottish Government are currently undertaking a consultation on their mental health strategy, and early intervention and prevention will be key pillars in that. We now have a Mental Health Minister, Maureen Watt, who will be focusing on the delivery of the strategy, which will be informed by carers, service users, professionals, research and best practice.
One project I am aware of is the Esteem project in Glasgow, run by my colleague Suzy Clark, which covers Argyle and Clyde and is an early intervention service for psychosis. I understand that there is no waiting list and patients are usually seen within five days of referral, which is a huge change from the days when I started out. If patients are admitted to hospital they are assessed at the service within 24 hours, so people can feel supported straight away. It is very much a holistic service, looking at psychiatry with a medical model but also looking at psychological interventions and family support.
In the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines, cognitive behavioural training for psychosis is important. It helps people who are suffering from the positive symptoms of psychosis to begin to reappraise those symptoms, so that they can once again make a connection with reality and begin to be rehabilitated back into day-to-day life. Behavioural family therapy is also extremely important. As I have mentioned, psychosis affects not just the person who suffers but their whole family and social circle.
People can suddenly find themselves in a caring role, and research indicates that spending 10 hours and above per week as a carer can be a challenge to someone’s wellbeing. Once again, we can see the ramifications of avoiding putting best practice in place and not giving early intervention the priority it deserves. Depression is common in carers. They describe a need for information, practical help and emotional support, often from other people in a similar situation. Crucially, the outcome for and individual who suffers psychosis also partially depends on their relationship with their carer and family. That is why services and treatment have to look at the individual in a holistic manner and make sure that the available interventions encompass the family.
The Esteem project provides CBT for psychosis and behavioural family therapy. It also helps individuals to look at early warning signs and identify their symptoms at an early stage when they start to become unwell, so that they can contact appropriate providers if they have a subsequent episode. Outcomes from the first episode study by Professor Gumley at Glasgow University show massively significant and favourable outcomes following early intervention and service involvement. I must mention that Tony Morrison is also leading on the issue at Manchester University, so we can see that areas of expertise are developing right across the UK, which is heartening. We need to focus on early intervention; it is key. It leads to better prognosis, has better outcomes and reduces the risk of further relapse. It helps a person reintegrate into society, assists their carers and family and is cost-effective.
I welcome the Minister to her role, and I urge that the direction that is given is the best practice that has been recommended. We need that for service delivery, patient care, clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. We must ensure there is parity of esteem for mental health.
As ever, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Roger. I also welcome the Minister to her place.
Psychosis is incredibly frightening for friends and family to witness, and I speak from personal experience. It means people in effect having lost control of what is going on inside their head but not realising it, and it is difficult to get through to them. It is also an incredibly frightening experience for the people who suffer such episodes— perhaps not at the time, when they are in the grip of psychosis, but it becomes apparent from talking to them afterwards. One person, a veteran of the first Gulf war who has suffered from psychosis for the best part of 20 years, said, “You never know again whether what you are experiencing, feeling and thinking is true, because other people are telling you your experiences were not true.” It is an incredibly distressing place to be.
Early intervention is crucial. Mothers in particular have come to my constituency surgery, desperate to keep their young adult sons out of the criminal justice system, yet that is often the only alternative. These are big lads who can be quite frightening when they are in the grip of psychosis. The last thing a mother wants is to see her son locked up in police cells for the night, but all too often that has been the only alternative. If the lads are not seen as a direct danger to themselves or to others they cannot be sectioned; the mothers do not want them to be sectioned but they desperately want to get them help.
I pay tribute to the police and crime commissioner in my local area, Sue Mountstevens. She is an independent candidate who has just been elected for the second time, and she has made it an absolute priority to try to get people with mental health problems out of the criminal justice system and to make sure there are beds available so they can get the help they need.
We know that psychosis is particularly prevalent among young men of black Caribbean or African origin. Indeed, the three mothers who have come to me about this issue are all of black Caribbean or African descent. It seems to be an established fact that these young men are more vulnerable, but I do not think we have ever got to the root of why that is the case, and I would like to see more research into that.
I agree with what has been said about parity of esteem; I think all parties now recognise that. Mental health has been the poor relation of physical health, but young people’s mental health has too often been the poor relation of adult mental health. Young people struggle.
Does my hon. Friend agree that overall people of black Caribbean heritage are over-represented in the mental health system? These young men tend to present late. They tend to be less likely to get talking therapy and tend to have poorer outcomes.
I very much agree, and I would love to see more research into the reasons for that. We know that early intervention is crucial and that if there is intervention after the first episode of psychosis, it can be deflected further down the line. It may be that young men’s reluctance or the lack of access to those services means that they go on to develop full-blown psychosis, which then blights their adult lives. There could be all sorts of reason. I have heard my hon. Friend speak about this before. I know she thinks it is a really important issue, and I agree with her.
Young people are even more marginalised. I have the Riverside unit for young people in my constituency at Blackberry Hill hospital. It is part residential, part day placements. I visited it recently. If the spaces are full, a number of young people get sent a considerable distance from home and away from their friends and families for treatment, which is not ideal. If we are trying to deal with young people in very vulnerable circumstances, displacing them from their families and support networks is obviously wrong.
Dr Dominique Thompson, who is in charge of the GP services at the University of Bristol, has given me figures in the past about the proportion of the casework of GPs at universities that is now on mental health-based issues, and it has grown exponentially. That is everything ranging from anxiety, stress and depression right through to severe psychosis. I make a plea that the health services at universities are not the same as ordinary neighbourhood GPs; they need particular support. They deal with young people who are away from home and away from their support networks. We know that GPs are under pressure—particularly in terms of recruitment, which is a debate for another day—and it is important they have the resources to deal with that.
I want to mention briefly one source of help that is available to GPs. I met a group of researchers yesterday who are part of the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust and are based at Blackberry Hill hospital in my constituency. They do something called BEST—best evidence summaries of topics—in mental health, which is a web-based service. Basically, these experts look through all the information available and distil it down to easy paragraphs for clinicians, so that rather than having to wade through all the material on the internet, clinicians are given some guidance as to what they are likely to be looking at and the likely best treatments. The funding for that service is under threat. A cross-party group of MPs from the Avon and Wiltshire area met those researchers yesterday. We think that the service should at the very least be piloted, with a view to rolling it out nationally, because it is a really valuable resource. We are going to write to the Minister about that, but I wanted to flag it up today.
Finally, I was looking this morning at the NICE guidance on early intervention in psychosis access. It pays passing reference to substance abuse, saying:
“Around 40% of people with first episode psychosis misuse substances at some point in their lifetime.”
I would like to see more research done into cannabis-induced psychosis. It is clear to me—partly from anecdotal evidence, but there is research out there—that partly because of the stronger strains of cannabis that are now available, more people are presenting with cannabis-induced psychosis. There may be a connection between that and people going on to develop full-blown psychosis, or people may have a cannabis-induced psychotic episode and then recover. Speaking partly from personal observation, I think that in some cases drug use makes it more difficult to diagnose when people are suffering first-time psychotic episodes. I would like to see more research into that.
The hon. Lady is making an extremely valid point in terms of comorbidity. Comorbid substance abuse often precludes people from treatment, and they can be turned away from treatment centres. As she said, it is very common and should not mean that people cannot access treatment.
There is also the issue of whether people feel they are self-medicating by smoking. They may feel that it helps their symptoms, whereas it quite often exacerbates their symptoms.
I appreciate the constructive and really helpful speech that the hon. Lady is making. She is absolutely right that we need to understand this issue better. Does she agree that whatever the link may be, we should not criminalise people for the use of cannabis in such circumstances? The idea of someone resorting to cannabis as a relief from pain and then being criminalised seems awful.
As I said earlier, I think that diverting mental health issues into the criminal justice system is completely the wrong approach. That includes people who have engaged in taking cannabis, which is an illegal activity. It serves no purpose at all to treat that as a criminal situation when people clearly need the intervention of the health services. The medicalisation of the problem is certainly something I endorse. On that note, I conclude my remarks.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate, Sir Roger. I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on initiating this debate. I commend him—I have done it in his absence but will now do it in his presence—for the experience and wisdom he brings to these debates, his passion for the subject matter and for letting us take advantage of his knowledge.
This issue is an essential one that needs to be addressed, and this debate is very timely. Just this week, on Monday past, I heard about a constituent who falls into this category. I was contacted by a residents’ group, which expressed concern about a young man. The young man’s parents have died and he is alone. It turns out that he is clearly not taking good care of himself. There is no electric in his home; I suspect that the bills were not paid, and that he was not even aware the bills were there to be paid. There were no benefit checks either. This is a young man who fell between two stools.
Unfortunately, no one was able to help this young man until they were made aware of his problems by the residents and those who lived close by. When the young man was approached, he made it clear that he wanted no help; that was his initial response. The residents’ association worried from afar, and despite calls to the local police, nothing could be done until he was seen with what was perceived to be an offensive weapon. The Police Service of Northern Ireland then intervened, assessed him and realised there was something unusual about his behaviour. It decided he was not a threat initially to anyone other than perhaps himself, and referred him.
I got confirmation yesterday that a social worker has been initiated to come in and assist the young man. Hopefully this is now an example of a response taking place, but there was the delay that Members have mentioned. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) gave a very personal example of that. It is about diagnosis and the system that is in place trying to help. That is something we believe has, at long last, happened, but it happened because of the residents’ group—the people who lived close by who had concerns and cared enough to raise them and assist when this man needed it. This is someone who obviously needed help for a long time and yet had fallen through the cracks. It is my belief that the onset of psychosis this young man is going through is not a new issue; it is historical, and yet nothing has been in place to help him in his situation.
Health is a devolved matter, and the Minister is not responsible for health issues in Northern Ireland, but I wanted to contribute to this debate to support what the right hon. Member for North Norfolk and others have said, and to comment about Northern Ireland.
The background information states that some 75% of mental illness in adult life begins before the age of 18 and that 17,000 people a year experience psychosis. It also indicates that many people aged under 16 also suffer psychosis—the right hon. Gentleman referred to that. There is clearly a massive issue to be addressed, and I know that the Minister will respond helpfully. I welcome her to her new position and look forward to her contribution.
The circumstances I have outlined underline the need for this debate. There must be a system in place to enable concerns to be raised and to provide a break for those with psychosis. There must be clear and dedicated guidelines for people to follow to get the necessary help. Without the observation of neighbours and the residents’ group, the person I mentioned would not have received help. The circumstances could have been dire and terrible to contemplate.
On standard waiting times for intervention by psychosis services, I understand that from 1 April 2016 more than 50% of people experiencing a first episode of psychosis will be treated with a care package approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence within two weeks of referral. The previous Prime Minister—this is not a criticism, but an observation for the record—committed £1 billion to mental health; perhaps the Minister will say where that money is. Is it in the system, and has it been used for its intended purposes? If not, with respect to the Minister, we need to know why, and I look forward to her response.
The standard is targeted at people aged 14 to 65. It is two-pronged—both the following conditions must be met for the standard to be deemed to have been achieved: a maximum wait of two weeks from referral to diagnosis and the start of treatment, because it is so important to have early diagnosis and to respond immediately with the necessary help; and treatment delivered in accordance with NICE guidelines and quality standards for psychosis and schizophrenia. I am not sure whether my constituency is different from others, but I know from experience and my workload that I now have more people with mental health issues. Whether I notice them more now or they are coming to the door more, it is certainly a big issue.
Those are the guidelines, but what is happening in practice? Currently, the constituent I referred to has been placed under arrest by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for his safety and the safety of others while social workers and medical professionals determine a plan of action. That is what we need. In Northern Ireland between 2013 and 2014, there were 996 compulsory admissions to hospital under the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, of which 54.7% were of males. I will give some other statistics that give an idea of the gender and age of people involved. Some 45.3% were female, 2.4% were aged under 18, 47.1% were aged 18 to 44, 28.2% were aged 45 to 64, 7.1% were aged 65 to 74, and 15.2% were aged 75 or over.
This issue is massive not just for the NHS on the mainland but for us in Northern Ireland, and indeed for Scotland. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) referred to that, as will the Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin). We must resolve to make the situation more acceptable and ensure that there is adequate funding for earlier diagnosis and response so that people go into the appropriate care system, whether at home with the trauma team or in a dedicated facility.
Recurrent funding of £40 million has been allocated to support early intervention and the psychosis standard for England, in addition to the previous Prime Minister’s commitment to provide £1 billion for mental health. NHS England’s report on implementing the recommendation of the mental health taskforce estimates the cost of treating an additional 10% of people within two weeks at £70 million per annum when fully implemented, including the cost of developing the workforce. The figures do not add up. How does the Minister expect to reach the goal within the specified time without adequate funding? I know she is up to the task, and I am confident that she will give a good response. We need to see action on the ground.
I ask about that for selfish reasons. Those who know me know that I have no problem flying the flag for Northern Ireland in any debate in the House, especially one as relevant as this. In Northern Ireland, the devolved Assembly determined that the appropriate guidelines were that at least 80% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first out-patient appointment and that no patient should wait longer than 15 weeks. However, it is clear that those guidelines are not being reached. The matter must be addressed at home, but that can come about only if adequate funding is committed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, and by the Government here, to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) referred to a UK strategy. We have many debates on such issues in this Chamber, and the Minister will know that I always ask whether there have been talks with the regional devolved Governments—the Northern Ireland Assembly in my region, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—to ensure that we have a UK strategy. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk, who moved the motion, referred in response to an intervention to the need to learn from one another’s regions. Where there has been good practice, let us use it. If there has been good practice in Northern Ireland, we should use it here in England, and if Scotland has an appropriate strategy, let us use it in Wales and elsewhere. Let us exchange ideas and work towards ensuring that a UK strategy is in place and that funding is ring-fenced for that purpose. Access to mental health intervention should be not a matter of postcode, but a right. One in five adults in Northern Ireland will show signs of a mental illness. The figures also show that one in four people will experience mental health problems during their lifetime.
We had a conflict in Northern Ireland for some 30 years, and we have the highest level of mental health illness in the whole United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), who serves on the Select Committee on Defence, served in Northern Ireland and is well aware of the issues facing those who served in the Army and the trauma they sometimes experience. In addition, families and other people in Northern Ireland have experienced at first hand the threat of terrorism. For us in Northern Ireland, mental illness is a massive issue. I cannot underline that enough, and we must be aware of it.
Figures have shown that when matched against 17 other countries, Northern Ireland had the second highest rate of ill health and problems with mental illness in 2015. It was 25% higher than in England. I urge the Minister to take note of that and to work with the devolved Assemblies—the Northern Ireland Assembly and the others— to ensure that in five years, the statistics are different from those in 2015. Let us set a target and a goal for change. If we aim for that, we can achieve some of what we want to do.
A lot of hard work has been carried out to remove the stigma attached to those who need help with mental health problems. Sometimes I wonder whether we can use different terminology. “Mental health” seems to flag up for people that they should perhaps be careful. People may have emotional problems that are not as bad as they seem. Perhaps we could use other terminology.
We need a system in place to deal with the rising number of people with mental health problems, and that is not currently the case. We need a target for reducing that number. Major changes are needed, and that is the reason for today’s debate. I fully support the calls that are being made, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister about how my constituent—she is not responsible for him—and those like him across the entire UK will be able to get the help they need to function and live in society.
Again, I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Norfolk on bringing the matter to this Chamber, and I look forward to the shadow Minister’s response and particularly that of the Minister.
I commend the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on securing this debate and on his long-standing commitment to this and related issues. He clearly cares very deeply about them. He is shining a light on some of the problems with the way in which the targets are being handled across NHS England.
The principle of early intervention and access to treatment for psychosis is fundamentally a moral one: at its heart it asks how readily we respond to some of the most vulnerable people in our midst. As others have asked, is there parity with people suffering physical ill health? We know that treating patients early improves outcomes significantly, not only in their mental health by reducing the rate of relapse and boosting recovery, but by reducing the knock-on impact of psychosis in other areas of a patient’s life. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) gave us an insight into the impact on the person themselves and their wider network of family and friends.
If someone is struggling to deal with an untreated episode of psychosis, there can be rapid deterioration in many of their life circumstances, particularly their financial circumstances. I would like to draw attention to the excellent work being done by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute to look at how mental illness, which includes psychosis, can impact negatively on personal finances. It is investigating ways to support people in those circumstances and is taking expert guidance from people who have been there. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) highlighted the case of an individual whose bills had not been paid—the chances are that he did not even know they had to be paid.
I want to give a simple example of something that the institute has come up with, with the support of the experts it is working alongside. Someone who may well suffer psychotic episodes in the future but is currently well lays out the key signs that they are experiencing such an episode. For example, they may say, “If I try to spend money between midnight and eight in the morning, that is a clear sign that I am suffering a psychotic episode. Don’t let me do it.” The banks are working with the institute and individuals to find ways for people to set parameters for their spending and be given support if that does not work out. As I said, the institute is taking guidance from people who suffer from mental health problems, but also from those who live and work with them, because they are the experts. I encourage anyone who has anything to say on the issue to join the expert panel; all they have to do is go to moneyandmentalhealth.org.
As many hon. Members have mentioned, particularly the right hon. Member for North Norfolk, £15 is saved in the long term for every £1 spent on early intervention. That is a powerful illustration of the importance and efficacy of that approach. It takes courage for Governments to commit to a course of action that might not produce results while they are in power or when they need votes but that will provide better outcomes for those who need them, so I am very pleased that the Scottish Government are now developing a 10-year strategy. I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) had to say about that.
As we have heard, many individuals have their first psychotic episode at an early age, but as many Members have said, we cannot exclude those over the age of 35 from the early intervention approach, which appears to have been happening in some parts of England. If roughly one quarter of men and one third of women experience their first incidence of psychosis after 35, CCGs are shifting the goalposts if they are applying the target only to the younger age group.
I hope that some of the progress that we have made on these issues in Scotland may be of benefit to the other nations of these islands, so I will mention a few of the key measures. However, I want to be clear that I am not claiming that all is perfect in the mental health world in Scotland, nor do I seek to set countries against each other. We are not competing. As many hon. Members have said, we should be sharing good practice. I want us to learn from the other countries in the UK and, as others have said, from international examples. However, I do think it is useful that, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow mentioned, the Scottish Government have appointed a Minister whose remit is dedicated wholly to mental health. That level of focus is vital and rightly reflects the impact of mental health issues right across society and across all Government directorates. As the right hon. Member for North Norfolk said—although perhaps not in exactly these words—we need a Government champion for mental health.
As I said, the Scottish Government are also developing a 10-year mental health strategy that focuses on early intervention and prevention. That longer-term vision is important for changing the way in which stakeholders across the public sector work and support mental health so that they are tackling issues head-on as early as possible. That is summed up by the principle of “Ask once, get help fast”, which is being put at the heart of the Scottish approach across this Scottish parliamentary term.
However, it is important for healthcare workers to understand that many people with mental health problems do not ask for help. Many of those they see on perhaps a six-monthly basis do not report what is happening to them, either because their mental health problem means that they do not want to be a bother or because they do not want to say what is happening to them. It is crucial that the holistic approach that my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow mentioned is taken so that families are involved and can give the person the support that is needed. Tackling mental health problems is not just the job of a psychiatrist and patient; it involves, or should involve, everyone the patient feels comfortable with.
On waiting time targets, the landscape in Scotland is slightly different in that, as we have heard, we have two key targets for mental health. One is that 90% of all those who are subject to a mental health referral should commence treatment within 18 weeks. I place on record my thanks to the mental health team at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which is currently meeting that target.
I would like to highlight the impact of Brexit and the British Bill of Rights on mental health provision. I make no apologies for raising those two issues, as it is surely self-evident that the country’s constitutional arrangements will have an impact across all policy areas. The Human Rights Act 1998 protects many vulnerable people who rely on health and social work support, and those safeguards must also be maintained for those suffering from psychosis.
I have a specific question for the Minister. The president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Simon Wessely, has stated that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will hamper the development of new treatments for illnesses such as psychosis. He said:
“I don’t believe there is a single scientist who does not think that being in the EU makes it easier to develop new treatments for mental disorder, and then to make them available.”
I would therefore be pleased if the Minister could tell us today how she will ensure that research and targeted funding for mental health from Europe is maintained or replaced.
I speak as someone who has close-up experience of significant mental health problems, including psychotic episodes. I will not say who the person is, not because I or they are at all ashamed or embarrassed but because there is still a lot of prejudice against people in that position. There is a lot of unnecessary fear. All of that only adds to the complications of trying to manage the condition. I mention this only because I hope the fact that someone close to me is currently in recovery from a traumatic psychotic episode, which I believe could have been prevented or at least been less traumatic had the person been able to access the services to which they were entitled, will add some weight to my words. Sometimes we have to look beyond the paperwork, policies and targets, important as they are, and find out what is happening on the ground, because people do slip through the net, and the impact on them and their networks can be catastrophic.
I commend the right hon. Member for North Norfolk again, and I also commend everyone else who has spoken in the debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and others for the very useful information that I have gleaned from them today. As someone with a close family member who is currently struggling and who initially did not get the help that they needed despite being entitled to it, I want to add my personal thanks to everyone in the room who continues to campaign for people such as my family member.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on securing this very important debate. The House appreciates his engagement with this issue, given all his wisdom and experience as a former Health Minister, and his continuing work since the 2014 paper “Achieving Better Access to Mental Health Services by 2020”.
Every Member of Parliament, on both sides of the House, will have had the experience in their own advice sessions of people coming to see them who either are experiencing mental health problems or are a family member trying to get help for a child or partner with mental health problems. I think that every Member of Parliament will also have somebody struggling with mental health issues within their own family or among their wider acquaintanceship, but it remains the case that the stigma around mental health issues means there is more concealment, more shame and more delay in reaching out to the NHS for the treatment and support that people need. We know that mental health issues are on the rise. We know that there is a relationship between recession, unemployment and mental health issues and we can see it in our communities across the country.
I have to declare an interest because my mother was a mental health nurse until she retired. She worked in a mental hospital called Storthes Hall in West Yorkshire, and like a lot of mental health facilities it was a former workhouse. Despite the dedication of the nurses and doctors who worked there, this former workhouse on the edge of the Yorkshire moors exemplified, in a very physical way, the Cinderella nature of mental health services.
All parties in this House are committed to parity of esteem between mental health and physical health, but this important debate tests that reality. As we heard earlier, mental health is not just an issue for the individuals concerned; it can have a very sad and serious effect on their families. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) touched on the issue of black and minority ethnic men and psychosis. This subject is not often discussed in this House, so I will be forgiven for saying a little about it. It has been an issue for many decades that black and minority ethnic people are disproportionately represented in our mental health system at every level. If someone goes on to the wards of the Maudsley in south London or of mental health hospitals across London, they will see that a disproportionate number of the beds are filled by people of black and minority ethnic origin. In some cases, nearly all the beds are filled by people of black and minority ethnic origin.
This subject has been examined and studied since the book “Aliens and Alienists: Ethnic Minorities and Psychiatry”, which is by Dr Lipsedge, I think, and goes back to the ’80s. First, the issue is disproportionate representation, but then it is what sort of access to treatment people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds get. The first problem is their presenting late, and one of the reasons why black and minority ethnic people present late is that they are so frightened of the mental health system. I have dealt time after time with mothers who are struggling with sons with very serious psychosis whom they cannot manage and feel physically threatened by. When I say to them that they need to approach the national health service, they are often very resistant because they are so frightened. They believe that if they let their sons go into the mental health system, they will just be pumped full of—
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady. I understand that she wishes to address the Member who moved the motion, but she is off-microphone and it is making it difficult for the Hansard reporter. That is why, traditionally, Members address the Chair.
It is true of many communities, and in particular the black and minority ethnic community, as the statistics prove, that they are reluctant to take family members into the national health system. When they finally have to engage with the national health service, their symptoms are much worse and it is far harder to get positive outcomes. I tell the Minister that it is really important to look at this issue of black and minority ethnic people and the mental health system, because it is causing real misery and problems within the community. We are less likely to be offered talking therapies and more likely to be offered electroconvulsive therapy. Again, mental health facilities within the prison service, such as Rampton, have disproportionate levels of black and minority ethnic persons inside those institutions.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She is making an incredibly important point about the over-representation of black and minority ethnic people in the system. Does she agree that they are also more likely to be subject to coercion—to sectioning under the Mental Health Acts—and more likely to suffer restraint and physical force within mental health settings?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that important point. It is absolutely true that, partly because they are presenting late and often have quite advanced psychotic symptoms, they are more likely to experience coercion and restraint. We know that some of those incidents of restraint have had very unhappy outcomes, and families continue to campaign against the misuse of restraint on mental health patients. All these decades after people first started to look at issues relating to black and minority ethnic communities and the mental health service, we have made little progress. Is the Minister willing to meet me to discuss this issue, which I have looked at for many years? One of the basic problems is statistics. It took years to get the health service to keep statistics broken down by ethnicity within the mental health service, and I am not sure what is happening to those data.
As we have heard, it is vital that psychosis is treated early as that prevents complications, improves outcomes and is more cost-effective. We know that psychosis costs £11.8 billion a year and we also know that mental health problems are on the rise. It is very disturbing to find that the research shows that a quarter of CCGs seem to be ignoring the access waiting time standard for psychosis, and the National Audit Office reports that there are insufficient funds available for the strategy to achieve parity of esteem to have any reality. We know, because we have heard, that too many CCGs cannot even specify how much money is devoted to early intervention; that gives rise to the suspicion that not enough is devoted to it.
The right hon. Member for North Norfolk made the fundamental point that this issue is still not being treated with the same seriousness as cancer standards are. This goes back to the issue that many Members have raised of stigma, shame and an unwillingness of the families of psychosis sufferers to speak out in the way that the families of people who suffer from cancer are willing to go into the public space and to the media to speak out.
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady about that. This week, in Plymouth we have been running a campaign called “Talk Don’t Suffer”, in conjunction with The Herald. I pay tribute to the Plymouth Herald for what it has done. Getting people to come forward and printing their stories is such a powerful testimony for those who suffer with mental health, because they know that other people are suffering too and about the impact on families. To talk about it is very important to improving the situation.
I again congratulate the right hon. Member for North Norfolk on securing this important debate. He spoke about discrimination and injustice, and that is what strikes people so strongly. There is the human misery of people suffering from psychosis, whether intermittent bouts or lifelong psychosis, and there is the misery and worry of their family members. We need to be a society in which the promise from all parts of the House for parity of esteem between mental and physical health becomes reality. We want to be a society in which people are not marginalised or almost warehoused just because they have mental health challenges, including psychosis, but have some promise of the support they need and of a better life. I look forward to the Minister’s response to questions asked by my Opposition colleagues. I assure her that I will return to this issue—not only black and minority ethnic mental health, but mental health in general.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for my first outing as a Minister, Sir Roger, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on securing this important debate. He has rightly pointed out that many areas of our mental health services are not yet meeting the standards that patients and their families deserve and have a right to expect, and he is absolutely right to say that improving access and waiting times for early intervention in psychosis must be a top priority among those. I assure him that both I and the Government share his determination and sense of urgency in such matters.
I think we can agree that for far too long as a nation we tolerated poor mental health services in this country, and we all know the terrible price that some have had to pay for our collective failure to step in earlier. That time is now over and we are in the process of creating a mental health service that we can be proud of—one in which, no matter where someone lives, they will be able to access the services they need when they need them, and just as importantly, one that people feel safe and confident using.
But we have to be honest about this, or we will get discouraged and lose momentum: it is not going to happen overnight. Although there are already some areas of outstanding practice that we should be encouraged by, we are, in general, coming from a low base, and only a sustained effort over the next few years is going to bring about the change that we are all demanding.
For that reason, I would like personally to thank the right hon. Member for North Norfolk for his pivotal role in securing parity of esteem and for supporting the introduction of the first waiting time standards for mental health services. With the previous Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), the right hon. Gentleman has set us on the road to better mental health services. Now we have to follow it through, no matter how bumpy the journey may become at times. I hope that he will meet me and give the benefit of his advice, because I suspect I am going to need it.
I would also like to thank everybody who has contributed to today’s debate. Some have given moving accounts of personal experiences or those of family members or friends. Others have taken the opportunity to raise difficult constituency cases. I know that all here today are committed to keeping mental health at the top of our agenda as the Government shape their new programme.
That brings me on to the challenges of the early intervention pathway for psychosis, which is designed to deliver the improvements to psychosis care that are urgently needed, as the right hon. Gentleman so clearly laid out. He pointed out that psychosis is more common than people realise: it affects one in 2,000 people in England in any given year. We know that the early intervention in psychosis programme is crucial in ensuring that mental health services maximise their opportunity to intervene at the earliest possible moment to prevent patients from relapsing, so that they are less likely to be admitted to hospital and have less severe symptoms. As the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) so expertly described, such services are recognised as the best model for helping young people to recover from the first episode of psychosis. They have the potential not only to save the NHS tens of millions of pounds but to reduce the serious impact of psychosis on those patients’ lives and those of their families and carers.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) asked about funding. When waiting times for mental health were introduced for the first time, they were backed by £120 million of investment. In addition, we have invested £33 million in developing EIP services. Further funding for early intervention in psychosis was announced in NHS England’s “Five Year Forward View for Mental Health” implementation plan earlier this year. That funding is designed to support delivery of the target to ensure that 60% of people who experience their first episode of psychosis receive treatment with a NICE concordant package of care within two weeks of referral by 2021.
I am encouraged by what the Minister is saying. I assume that the money she has talked about that will be allocated is part of the baseline that CCGs will receive and not a separate allocation. The question is how she ensures that CCGs actually spend the money as intended.
As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, this work is in its early stages. He is right that services are working hard to develop this process. NHS England has set out in its implementation plan how the services will need to grow and improve to meet the new standards. In particular, it has noted that the current block contract arrangements can result in poor transparency on spend per patient, as he has seen with his freedom of information request.
NHS England has been looking at alternative funding models that will link an element of payment to achievement of quality and outcomes, including the EIP access and waiting time standard. When there are variations in spend, we will need to consider the reasons for that and ensure that necessary action is taken to address any impact on the quality of care available. I hope that reassures the right hon. Gentleman.
In addition, the Royal College of Psychiatrists College Centre for Quality Improvement has been commissioned to undertake continued assessment and quality improvement work. This will be through a quality improvement network, supported by an annual self-assessment that will be independently validated and scored. All early intervention in psychosis services are going to be expected to participate. The first results will be published in April 2017, but any earlier results will be published before that. It is intended to provide a transparent assessment of services across England. This will give us a clear picture of service provision and enable us to target areas where additional development will be required, so that we can ensure that the standard is met and that people receive the care they need.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the important issue of age caps. The most likely age for a first episode of psychosis to occur is between 14 and 35, as has been pointed out.
Is the Minister saying that there is currently no way of making sure that CCGs spend the requisite proportion of their funding on mental health?
Currently, the block contracts make it less transparent than it should be and we are working to address that.
I had moved on to talk about the age cap. As I was saying, psychosis is most likely to occur between the ages of 14 and 35; consequently, services have traditionally been commissioned in this age range. However, a sizeable proportion of presentations take place after that, which is why NHS England guidance is clear that services should be available to people up to the age of 65. We are working with local commissioners to ensure that service provision is expanded to cover all age ranges. A regional assurance process is under way to assess providers’ and commissioners’ progress in making that happen. This is intended to deliver transparency across England on the plans currently in place, and, where it is not happening, to highlight where further development is required. Again, the Royal College of Psychiatrists CCQI’s assessment work and the development of robust data, which I will come on to in a minute, will enable us to see areas that are not providing services for people up to 65 and to target development accordingly.
However, none of that will happen without the right people to deliver it. To improve access to NICE-recommended psychological therapies, we have to ensure that there are the staff numbers and the appropriate skills mix to deliver the full range of treatment to those who need it. The modelling undertaken by NHS England for additional investment to achieve the new standard incorporates the costs of the necessary workforce development. Health Education England has a targeted work programme under way to increase the number of EIP staff trained to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy for psychosis and family interventions, with £6 million invested in training this year.
Finally, as the shadow Secretary of State pointed out, to ensure consistently good performance against this standard and future waiting times standards, we need robust data. I am very happy to meet her to discuss that point. We know that the data need to improve and we are working hard to make that happen. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk is well aware that we are starting from a low base on data availability and quality in mental health, but we cannot let that stop our progress or our ambition.
We are implementing the EIP waiting time standard with a clear expectation that providers will meet that standard. We are working simultaneously with the NHS, NHS England and NHS Digital to ensure that the data become robust enough so that we can hold providers and commissioners to account for meeting that standard. Data on mental health are behind that of physical health, and it will take time to get the data of the same quality. We know that from the improving access to psychological therapies data, which took some time to develop to a good quality. However, the IAPT pathway and standards are now an exemplar and represent a good model for development of other data sets. Encouragingly, data have started to flow via the mental health services data set from March this year, including experimental data on EIP. That is not robust, but there has been significant progress so far. We are currently working across Government to deliver a robust five-year mental health data plan to take us to 2020. The data plan, as recommended by the “Five Year Forward View for Mental Health”, will address the need for substantially improved data and information about mental health services for adults and children.
I hope that this response will show that we are committed to ensuring that there is no gap between rhetoric and reality on the ground. The right hon. Gentleman was right to identify funding, age caps, staffing and skills shortages and data limitations as the key challenges that we are grappling with in the implementation of the EIP, but we have in place work streams to address all those factors. We also agree that we require a systemic review of implementation to challenge and support local areas to implement the EIP more effectively. That is why we have asked independent experts at the Royal College of Psychiatrists to do exactly that. As I have said, they will be reporting in April 2017, but they will report as they go along with any earlier information so that we can make progress as quickly as possible. In the meantime, I will certainly write to him with a response on the detail of his dossier, and I entirely agree with all those who have made the point that we need to share best practice between devolved nations on these issues.
Today’s debate has been very important not just on the details of the EIP, but to test the Government’s commitment to health equality. I am grateful to all colleagues who have raised concerns today. I hope that our commitment to reforming our mental health services is now beyond doubt, but I know, as I look around the Chamber today, that I have heard in speech after speech the determination to see change, and I take courage. Great reform requires long-term vision and non-partisan partnership. I have heard all three of those here today and that truly is a firm foundation for the task that we have ahead.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland’s report on the murders at Heights Bar, Loughinisland.
I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and I am pleased that the Minister and the shadow spokesperson on Northern Ireland are also here.
On 18 June 1994, an Ulster Volunteer Force murder gang burst into the Heights Bar in Loughinisland in South Down and, in a nakedly sectarian act, shot dead six Catholic men and seriously wounded five others as they watched a World cup football match. Those six men were Adrian Rogan, Malcolm Jenkinson, Barney Green, Daniel McCreanor, Patrick O’Hare and Eamon Byrne. Nobody has ever been held to account, charged or convicted for those murders and that single incident revolted the entire community I represent and in which I reside, some three miles from that pub in Loughinisland. The community was outraged at such a heinous crime.
Two of those killed were well-known family friends to me. Barney Green was aged 87, and one of his late brothers was married to my paternal aunt. His nephew, Dan McCreanor, was a cousin of my cousins. I pay tribute to the families, victims, survivors and their legal team.
In view of the fact that nobody has been held accountable, the families of the deceased and injured went to the Police Ombudsman with significant concerns. In summary, those were: that the police failed to conduct an effective investigation of the murders, including failing to keep bereaved families updated on the progress of the inquiry; that the police failed to discharge the state’s duties as required by article 2 of the European convention on human rights; and that there was collusion between the then Royal Ulster Constabulary and those responsible for the murders.
On 9 June this year, the Police Ombudsman published the report. At that time, I said that, more than 20 years on and five years since the release of the totally discredited original Police Ombudsman’s report, the damning disclosure in this report that security force collusion played a major role in the murder of those six innocent men has finally been made. Disgracefully, the protection of informants took precedence over the preservation of innocent lives and the devastation visited upon their families and the wider community.
On closer examination of the report, Dr Maguire clearly demonstrates that collusion was a significant feature in the deaths of the six men. I will illustrate that by directly quoting Dr Maguire’s report, in which he writes:
“It is my view that the nature of the relationship between the police and informants undermined the investigative process in a number of ways…This was a ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ approach to the use of informants, which potentially frustrated the police investigation into the attack and restricted investigation opportunities and lines of inquiry.”
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene. This is an important debate about a controversial issue. I should put on the record that my late husband, who died eight years ago with Alzheimer’s, was, at one time, the Chief Constable of the RUC and was enormously proud of his role in an organisation that had been attacked and lost 302 members during the troubles.
The report is very controversial. Will the hon. Lady confirm for the record that the Police Ombudsman concluded that the UVF unit was responsible for the murder of the six innocent Catholic men? I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of those six innocent Catholics who were watching a football match. However, the ombudsman concluded that it was the UVF and that the RUC had no prior knowledge or warning that could have prevented that attack on the Heights Bar in Loughinisland. Will she kindly confirm that for the record?
Indeed, the report says:
“Let there be no doubt, the persons responsible for the atrocity at Loughinisland were those who entered the bar on that Saturday evening and indiscriminately opened fire.”
However, the Police Ombudsman goes on to mention the lack of rigour in the investigation and the fact that vital evidence was destroyed: namely, the car that had been accommodated at Saintfield police station, which is no longer there. I accept what the hon. Lady said and will ensure that the families—people I know very well indeed—are well aware of her deepest sympathies to them.
We are discussing the most heinous crime possible. There were many in Northern Ireland. We send our sympathies to the families. I note the ombudsman’s quotation, which the hon. Lady read out, but will she confirm that there was no collusion over the act of violence that happened in the Heights Bar? The accusation of collusion is awaiting evidence. We believe that, if there is evidence, it should go to court and, quite rightly, be looked after, but we do not want to blacken the whole RUC and Police Service of Northern Ireland.
It is worth noting what Dr Maguire says in his report. He uses the Smithwick report’s definition of collusion, which includes “commission” and “omission”. I firmly believe that if there had been an accelerated inquiry process following the deaths of the six men, we would have been in a better position than we were at that stage.
For some unknown reason, the police did not put in significant rigour, given the fact that there was a UVF unit operating in South Down and given that there were preceding events, including the murder of Jack Kielty in January 1988, the murder of Peter McCormack in the Thierafurth Inn on 19 November 1992, the attempted murder of his cousin, Peter McCarthy, some weeks before that in that bar, and the attempted murder of John Henry Smyth, who was originally from Downpatrick but was resident in Castlewellan and who, sadly, has since died from natural causes. The report is particularly instructive and provides the wider context about the importation of arms way back in 1987. According to forensic evidence, one of those arms was used in the murder of my six friends in Loughinisland.
Dr Maguire’s report also states that
“Special Branch continued to engage in a relationship with sources they identified in intelligence reporting as likely to have been involved at some level in the Loughinisland atrocity.”
The report is particularly instructive, and it develops that concern at paragraph 5.67, wherein the Police Ombudsman describes that special branch
“established an intelligence asset that revealed that Persons A, M & K were leading UVF members in the area, with connections to the security forces. In addition, the intelligence identified a relationship between Persons A, M, K and Person I, who was a senior member of the UVF with links to East Belfast, but who reported directly to the UVF leadership on the Shankill Road, West Belfast.”
Paragraph 5.80 further states:
“My investigation has established that at least three individuals and their families, directly associated with the UVF unit active in South Down, were members of the UDR.”
That does not make very pleasant reading for me or my constituents but facts are facts, and these facts were established by an investigation that produced a report after much interrogation. The report goes on to inform us that in the year before the Loughinisland atrocity, persons A, M, K and I “were responsible for” the deaths I have already mentioned, including the murder of Martin Lavery in Belfast on 20 December 1992.
The indiscriminate brutal savagery of these murders stood out because of the nature of our community in Loughinisland. I live some three miles away, and I am talking about myself, my family, my neighbours and my constituents when I say that we are harmonious, integrated and peace loving—we always have been and still are. After the inquest on 28 January 1995, my party colleague and former councillor, Patsy Toman, who resided in Loughinisland and who arrived within 10 minutes of the shooting, received an anonymous letter on 14 February 1995. He gave the letter to the police after talking to me, and some of its details were quite explicit in relation to the names of those who may have been involved. Dr Maguire’s report tells us at paragraph 7.203 that the letter has been lost by the police and, notwithstanding its contents, no persons, certainly none of those named in it, have been charged before the criminal courts.
The Police Ombudsman further states:
“I am satisfied that on the basis of a sound intelligence case, Special Branch identified Persons A, M, K, I & B to the Loughinisland Murder Investigation Team as suspects on Sunday 19 June 1994.”
That was the day after the murders, yet Dr Maguire’s report tells us:
“On 24 August 1994 police received information that members of the gang, which police suspected had been responsible for the murders at Loughinisland, were informed on 21 August 1994 that they were liable to be arrested the next morning. Intelligence the following month stated that the source of this warning was a policeman. I have found no evidence that efforts were made by police to investigate this information.”
In view of the very serious issues raised by the report, I wrote to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), on 10 June, and in a subsequent written response he stated:
“The Government accepts the Police Ombudsman’s report and the Chief Constable’s response and we take any allegations of police misconduct very seriously. Where there is evidence of wrongdoing it must be pursued—everyone is subject to the rule of law.”
On that basis, the then Prime Minister, the British Government and the current Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland accept the report’s finding that collusion was a significant factor. It follows that those who were to be arrested in August 1994—probably the same individuals mentioned in the anonymous letter to my colleague, the then Councillor Toman, and specifically referred to by the designated letters in the Police Ombudsman’s investigation—should be brought in by the PSNI for questioning and reinvestigation. I am aware of those names, the authorities have the names and now, with the Police Ombudsman’s report, the PSNI has grounds under reasonable cause to bring these individuals in for questioning.
Last week I had a meeting with the Chief Constable, and I raised this directly with him. I will continue to pursue the matter on behalf of the families, the victims and the survivors because I believe that there must be truth and justice. If the past and the investigation mean anything, we need truth. In the same vein, the Police Ombudsman has a responsibility to follow through on his work that identified problems within the then police force and those officers responsible. If we are to have justice, truth and any form of accountability, resources must be made available to the PSNI and the Ombudsman’s office to act now on what is a relatively recent crime. Hopefully we will then have a better chance of prosecutions.
I express my deep appreciation to the hon. Lady for her tireless efforts on behalf of her constituents and their families. The manner and tone in which she speaks display the real commitment and compassion that she always shows to her constituents. Will she confirm that, despite the very controversial findings of the Police Ombudsman’s investigation into Loughinisland, the Police Ombudsman did not send any prosecution reports, or suggestions for prosecution, to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland? Was that a surprise in the light of the fact that he concluded that there was collusion?
A section in the report states that the current Chief Constable has sent the specific names of junior and senior members of the then RUC about whom there are certain doubts—I put it like that—to the Police Ombudsman for investigation. As I understand it, they are currently being investigated. I want to put that on the record.
My hon. Friend has compellingly set out how the report shows that there was serial dereliction on the part of a police service that was meant to be the guardian of people and the peace and the upholder of law and justice, but there was not only serial dereliction. In the many years since Loughinisland, when all these concerns have been voiced and raised, there has also been serial denial by too many politicians, including Ministers. Does she hope that the Minister today will strike a different tone from the previous Secretary of State in relation to these important matters?
I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. I agree that we want to move forward with this investigation, but we cannot begin to move forward to build a shared and inclusive society if issues from the past are not comprehensively addressed. How the Government respond to the report on the Loughinisland massacre is critical for legacy issues. The past has wider implications for public confidence and justice in Northern Ireland. The comments by the previous Secretary of State, to which he referred, insulted the people of Loughinisland, the families and the victims. I regret having to say that, but that is the position.
I look forward to a more helpful response today, but there must now be accelerated work on prosecutions, a British Government apology to the victims and survivors and their families, and provision of compensation for the victims, for those lost lives. That must be part of the urgent answer and solution to this tragedy in Loughinisland on Saturday 18 June 1994.
Thank you for your chairmanship and guidance, Sir Roger. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) for bringing this important debate to the House.
What happened in Loughinisland in June 1994 was an act of unspeakable evil for which there is no possible justification. I am sure the whole House would want to pass our heartfelt condolences and sympathies to those affected by this appalling atrocity. I express my personal sympathies to the hon. Lady because of her personal link to this.
I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister’s comments, especially about the way in which the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) introduced the debate. However, does he accept that it would be reasonable for the House to see the definition of the word “collusion” being used by the Police Ombudsman in the report? That would give clarity on what it means, because the word “collusion” can be heavily baggaged.
It is not for me to define “collusion” for the Ombudsman. There are many definitions, and we may choose a different one, but we accept fully the findings of the report—I shall comment further on that in a moment.
The Government accept the Police Ombudsman’s report and the Chief Constable’s response. We take any allegations of police misconduct very seriously; where there is evidence of wrongdoing, it must be pursued. Everyone is subject to the rule of law.
This is now a matter for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Chief Constable apologised to the families after the Ombudsman’s first report on this atrocity in 2011 and he apologised again on 9 June this year when the second report was released. He has given his reassurance both to the families and to the public that he fully co-operated with the Police Ombudsman’s investigation and that he will co-operate fully with any disciplinary or criminal proceedings against former police officers. It is very clear from the Chief Constable’s response that the Police Service of Northern Ireland remains firmly committed to apprehending those responsible for these murders and has appealed to the community for information. On behalf of the Government, I reiterate that commitment and that appeal.
We have judged our security forces against the highest standards of integrity and professionalism in the past, and we always will. As a Government, we have been more forthcoming than any of our predecessors in accepting where the state has failed to live up to the highest standards and in apologising when it is the right thing to do. Where it is warranted, we will continue to do so.
There have been calls for the UK Government to apologise for what happened on the fateful day of 18 June 1994. Of course the Government deeply regret that the terrorists who committed these vicious attacks have never been brought to justice, and we are sorry for any failings by the police in relation to this case. However, the Ombudsman’s report makes it very clear that those responsible for this despicable attack were the Ulster Volunteer Force terrorist gang who planned it and carried it out, leaving utter devastation in the aftermath and for many years thereafter. The report also categorically states that the police had no prior knowledge of the attack that would have enabled them to prevent it.
The Government will never seek to defend the security forces by defending the indefensible.
Will the Minister comment on the fact that the Police Ombudsman’s report refers to a lack of resources invested in investigating the UVF unit operating in that area of South Down, which had resulted in prior murders of people who lived in the locality? There is a feeling that if more rigour had been applied to that investigation before Loughinisland, maybe Loughinisland would not have happened.
As I have already said, the Government accept the findings of the report and so does the Chief Constable. What is important now is that we show compassion to the families and those who have lost, and that we pursue the individuals who carried out this atrocity. I am confident that the Chief Constable will continue to do that.
The majority of those who served in the security forces during the troubles did so with great bravery and exemplary professionalism. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for what they did to uphold the rule of law and ensure that the future of Northern Ireland could only ever be determined by democracy and consent.
The report highlights the need to establish the legacy bodies set out in the Stormont House agreement. We all know that legacy issues in Northern Ireland have a continuing capacity to disrupt the political process and the economic stability of the people of Northern Ireland, and the current structures for dealing with these cases are not working as they should. We know for a fact, through many discussions with victims’ groups, that the current structures do not work for victims and survivors of horrendous atrocities such as that in Loughinisland 22 years ago.
The Government remain committed to establishing the legacy bodies set out in the Stormont House agreement: the historical investigations unit, the independent commission on information retrieval, the implementation and reconciliation group and the oral history archive. It is our view that they offer the best way forward for us to achieve better outcomes for victims, survivors and the people who suffered as a result of the troubles. We share the widespread disappointment that the “Fresh Start” talks last year were unable to deliver the new structures, but today I reaffirm the Government’s determination and commitment to do all we can to remedy that.
The Minister knows that one of the crux difficulties in dealing with legacy issues in the context of Stormont House was the insistence of the then Secretary of State on national security matters, which of course involve putting a primary emphasis on the protection of informants and others. Surely the Ombudsman’s report shows that it was a fatal flaw in the culture of policing and security control for so many years that primacy was given to protecting those people rather than protecting the innocent and prosecuting the guilty.
I reiterate what I said before: we accept the full findings of the report.
We will continue to work with victims’ groups, with the Northern Ireland parties and with the Irish Government to seek a way forward. The hon. Member for Foyle (Marl Durkan ) talked about tone; I reassure him that wherever I can work with Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland to try to bridge some of the issues that they face as constituency MPs—and that many other MPs throughout the UK do not—my door is always open. I hope we can have a really positive relationship in the months and years to come.
Before I put the Question, I place on record, as a courtesy, the fact that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), is present. The arcane rules relating to half-hour debates have precluded him from speaking, but it is important that it is recognised that he has been here and heard the remarks.
Question put and agreed to.
HGV Fly-parking: Kent
[Mr Andrew Turner in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered fly-parking by HGVs in Kent.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I welcome this opportunity to express my concerns to my right hon. Friend the Roads Minister. As he knows, fly-parking—the parking of lorries outside proper parking areas—is a long-term and growing problem in my constituency and across Kent. I thank my colleagues from Kent who are here today to show their support. I know that they share my concerns, as do other colleagues from Kent who are unable to attend this debate. Indeed, during this week, several colleagues from elsewhere in the country have mentioned to me that fly-parking is also a problem in their areas. I hope that through this debate I can push the issue up the Minister’s agenda.
The nub of the problem is that there simply are not enough places for lorries to park in Kent, so they stop where they can. They fill the lay-bys on major roads and park on the hard shoulders of slip roads, on the verges of country lanes and in housing estates. The M20 is the main route to the channel, carrying thousands of lorries every day. In my constituency, junctions 7 and 8 are particular blackspots. Along the A2-M2 route to Dover, Brenley Corner and Gate services are also renowned for large gatherings of lorries.
Since December last year, Kent police have dealt with 2,534 illegally parked heavy goods vehicles. A study in 2011 found that there was a shortfall of about 600 lorry parking spaces in the south-east. Since then, freight volumes have increased substantially. For instance, in just one year, 2014-15, freight increased by 12%. It is now estimated that 11,000 lorries pass through Dover and Folkestone each day to cross the channel.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. As a neighbouring MP—my hon. Friend and I share the town of Maidstone—I have received several complaints from my constituents about lorries parked on the hard shoulder, particularly on the M20 and the A2. I agree wholeheartedly that we need much stricter parking controls. I would also like to see many more overnight parking facilities.
I thank my hon. Friend for her support. We both experience problems with fly-parking around Maidstone.
A huge number of lorries pass along the M20 and through Kent every day. That number is increasing, and the growth trend is expected to continue. In fact, we should hope that it will, because lorry numbers and freight volumes increase as the economy grows. As that happens, the parking situation is likely to get only worse.
Fly-parking is not only a nuisance, it is dangerous, especially when lorries stick out of lay-bys into fast roads or occupy hard shoulders. Last year, tragically, a 74-year-old woman from Maidstone called Susan Mellor died when her car crashed into a lorry parked on the hard shoulder at junction 7 of the M20 in my constituency. Kent police have shown me footage of officers walking along the hard shoulder to move lorries on. As they do so, cars are pounding past, clearly putting the lives of officers in some considerable danger. The process also takes up material police time. Aside from the dangers, there are the problems of noise from the lorries, particularly refrigerated lorries in residential areas; the significant litter associated with lorries parking up; and—I am afraid there is no nice way to put this—human fouling of verges and areas where lorries park. That is truly disgusting, but it happens because the average lay-by or roadside verge has no facilities for drivers to use.
My apologies for missing the start of the debate; I was delayed at a meeting. I am enjoying the hon. Lady’s contribution, and I congratulate her on securing the debate.
The vehicle recovery operator who goes out to fix a vehicle in a lay-by that is awash with most unpleasant materials is the guy—typically it is a guy, although sometimes it is a lady—who has to lie in that to do the repairs. It is horrible. Does the hon. Lady have every sympathy with people, whether they are from one of the recognised motor clubs or from one of the many recovery businesses throughout the country, who have to lie in that to work on vehicles?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing to life very effectively the unpleasantness of what is on the verges.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Fly-parking is not just a problem in Kent. The Amazon fulfilment centre in Rugeley creates a lot of jobs, but we have the problem of a lot of lorries parking up overnight. My hon. Friend mentioned the litter, and there are a range of other associated problems. There are also the dangers of parking. Does she agree that we need to do more, in every way possible, to prevent lorries from cluttering up the backstreets of towns such as Rugeley?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that we need to do more. I will make some suggestions in a moment.
I want to look at this from the perspective of the lorry drivers as well. I am here to represent my Kent residents, but it is also important to understand that there is a challenge for lorry drivers. As my right hon. Friend the Minister will know, they are required by law to take breaks every four and a half hours, and they must record their driving hours on a tachograph. When the time comes for them to stop, they need to stop. Most drivers plan ahead for where they will stop, but all too often the stop they planned to use is full. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) tells me that the Stop24 lorry park in his constituency is often full. If that happens, drivers have to stop wherever they can.
The current situation has been intensified by the problems around Calais, which make drivers very reluctant to stop in that area. They are choosing to stop on our side of the channel, on their way over or on their way back, which is making the problem worse. The situation in Calais may continue for some time. I hope that it will be resolved, but even when it is, we should not think that the problem will go away, because the underlying problem of a shortage of lorry parking spaces in the south-east will remain.
In preparation for the debate, I have spoken to Kent County Council, which is well aware of the problem and working hard to tackle it. Matthew Balfour, the cabinet member for transport, told me that the council is currently doing a survey of the number of HGVs parking overnight across the county, which will update the figures for how many additional spaces are needed. The council is also looking into where lorry parking might be made available. Councillor Balfour also told me that enforcing parking restrictions is a challenge, and the level of fines tends to be lower than the cost of collecting them. A clamping pilot in Ashford was successful, but it proved prohibitively expensive because the cost of carrying it out was much greater than the revenue it brought in.
I have some specific examples. The penalty for parking on the hard shoulder is only £30, which is less than the £50 fine for exceeding safe driving hours. Parking overnight at a truck stop often costs around £21, so from a driver’s point of view, parking somewhere they should not might be a risk worth taking, even when there is room in a service area.
The hon. Lady mentioned the cost of truck stops and all the other fines, but if a driver parks at a motorway service area—quite often, there are no truck stops—that can be considerably more expensive again.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We need to combine available and affordable parking with penalties for drivers who park where they should not park.
The view from my local authority is that in order for it to properly enforce parking in sensible places, current legislation would require it to put up so much signage that there would be a veritable explosion in signage across the country, as well as extra yellow lines. That would be very high-cost and would have an unacceptable visual impact.
On the motorways, physical barriers can be effective, as has been shown at junction 8 of the M20 in my constituency, where permanent bollards have been put up, meaning that lorries are no longer parking on that slip road. However, rather than solving the problem, such barriers only shift it on elsewhere.
Issuing parking tickets is extremely time-consuming for the police. Where lorries are parked dangerously, the police’s priority is to move them along rather than issuing drivers with a ticket, but again that just shifts the problem elsewhere.
Every organisation I have spoken to—Kent police, Kent County Council and the Road Haulage Association—is clear that the current system is not working and has not worked for at least 15 years. While Kent is disproportionately affected, other areas, such as Wales and Essex, are also affected, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) said. This is a national problem and not just a Kent problem. Furthermore, it is a national problem because the M20 through Kent is the UK’s main route for international road freight, an industry that is worth about £11.2 billion annually to the UK economy. The Government must surely recognise that this is a serious problem that requires a clampdown.
First and foremost, however, we need more overnight parking spaces in Kent. There are not enough commercial truck stops to meet demand, so there is market failure going on. Having said that, my right hon. Friend the Minister will know how much I welcome the Government’s £250 million investment in the lorry parking area at Stanford West. It should save residents and businesses from the gridlock of Operation Stack, which closed the M20 in my constituency for 32 days last year. In addition, as has been proposed in the current consultation on the lorry park, it may also be used by lorries outside of Operation Stack, providing about 500 overnight parking places. That is absolutely crucial and would go a long way towards addressing the shortage of lorry parking spaces in Kent.
However, there is also a question of timing. I appreciate Highways England’s “stack first” approach on the lorry park at Stanford West; Highways England is working to get it open for next summer. However, I have also been told—albeit informally—that it might be several years before the lorry park is ready for parking outside of Operation Stack, which strikes me as being too long to wait. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to make sure that Kent and the country’s lorry drivers do not have to wait so long for more parking spaces. Moreover, the Operation Stack lorry park alone will not solve the problem. If the shortfall in 2011 was 600 places, it is likely to be significantly greater now, and it will only grow further. Also, using just one location is not the answer, because lorry drivers use other routes, or they might need to stop earlier or later, so we need more lorry parking spaces all along the trunk roads through Kent.
Freight organisations have said that planning and funding are major barriers. One suggestion is that parking provision should be a requirement in any major industrial development. Major projects, such as the new lower Thames crossing, are on the way, and I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister could say what steps he might be able to take to ensure that as road capacity is increased with such major projects, lorry parking capacity is also increased to meet the demand.
In turn, however, that prompts the question of whose responsibility it will be to provide such extra parking. In preparing for this debate, it has been unclear to me quite whose responsibility it is to ensure that there is sufficient provision of lorry parking around trunk routes. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend could say whether it is Highways England or another agency.
In considering what could be helpfully done to address this issue, we need to make it easier for local authorities, Highways England and the police to enforce parking control. Local authorities need to be able to restrict parking in inappropriate places without extensive and costly signing and lining. The police would like police officers and Highways England enforcement officers to be able to direct lorries to move on to a particular place, such as a lorry park, so that they can actually solve the problem when a lorry is parked illegally rather than just shifting it along to another lay-by. At the moment, no sooner do they move a lorry on than it goes and stops somewhere else that it should not stop, and another lorry comes along and fills the place that it has just moved on from, which is a pretty frustrating process for them.
Once sufficient parking provision is in place, I would like the Department for Transport to consider increasing the fines for fly-parking, because it is clear that the current fines are not an effective deterrent. I am not saying that we should increase the fines while there is a shortage of legitimate parking places, but once there is sufficient parking capacity it would make sense to ensure that there is also a sufficient incentive for lorry drivers to use it, even though they are likely to have to pay some level of charge for it.
Local authorities have told me that they need greater powers to collect fines, particularly from foreign-registered lorry drivers, who constitute the majority of lorry drivers using the trunk routes, although I should make it clear that it is not thought to be exclusively foreign lorry drivers who are parking in the wrong places. Judging from the evidence I saw with the police, a mixture of foreign and British drivers do that. Nevertheless, one suggestion from a local authority is that foreign lorry drivers could be prevented from crossing the channel if they have an outstanding parking fine.
To make things really simple for lorry drivers, once there is sufficient parking capacity, could there not be some kind of complete ban on HGVs parking for prolonged periods other than at an authorised truck stop? Then it would be really clear that lorry drivers were not allowed to park up for their official rests unless they were in an authorised place.
While I was looking into all of this, it struck me that there is some level of confusion about who is responsible for what, and that there are various hand-offs between the different parts of the road network. What is a police matter, what is a matter for Highways England and what is a matter for local authorities? I wonder whether there is any way of simplifying that framework and having a single organisation that is responsible for the enforcement of lorry parking.
I have a final request to make of my right hon. Friend the Minister. Could he meet Kent County Council and other stakeholders to discuss the problem? That is particularly important now, because there is an opportunity to take a strategic overview of the entire road network across Kent, taking into account the projected increases in traffic and the impact that the new lower Thames crossing is likely to have on roads that are significantly downstream of it. I hope the Government will take that opportunity, because this issue is not just about Kent; it is about making sure that we have a road infrastructure for the whole country that is fit for the future.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) on securing this debate. I do not intend to say more than a few words on this issue, which is one that I find very troubling indeed. I also draw the Chamber’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests regarding these matters.
I would like to highlight the fact that, as the hon. Lady said, across the country there is a shortage of something like 50,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers, so there is a real need for HGV drivers. One of the reasons—one of many reasons, agreed, but an important one—that there is such a shortage is, quite frankly: why would anyone want to be a haulier, for example a long-distance lorry driver, when it seems that the nation’s view of hauliers is that they should be quite happy to park up in a dismal layby, using the nearest bush as their toilet facilities and washing in a cup? That seems to be what we as a nation believe our HGV drivers should expect, because there are just not the proper facilities for them.
There are motorway service areas across the country, which are mainly designed for car drivers in particular and, to some extent, van drivers; they are not really designed for drivers of larger vehicles. The facilities in those service areas, including the parking facilities, are expensive, as the hon. Lady allowed me to say in an intervention on her: the food and drink that they serve are expensive; and the fuel that they sell is very expensive. Quite frankly, the driver of an HGV would not want to stop at one of those service areas unless they were just nipping in to grab something to eat or to have a toilet break. Also, HGV drivers will probably realise that their managers back at base will be breathing down their neck, because the extra fuel it takes to slow down, pull into such a service area and then accelerate away again means that any break or stop by an HGV has a genuine cost.
As the hon. Lady also quite rightly pointed out, HGV drivers are bound by what their tachograph says about the hours they are working, when they should have rest breaks and those sorts of things. However, a driver is dependent on a road infrastructure, while travelling through Kent or through other areas, which means they might face a delay in getting to their destination as they come through the channel tunnel or use one of the ferries, or a delay on the road itself, as they get snarled up in traffic jams. There are a whole host of things that can go wrong for drivers. Despite their careful planning of their route, they might find themselves having to take a break somewhere they might not otherwise wish to stop.
Indeed, given the appalling situation in Calais at the moment, which the hon. Lady has already drawn our attention to, HGV drivers may well decide that they will stop many miles from Calais, to avoid running the risk of being attacked, as a lot of drivers have been, or having their vehicle broken into, or—to add insult to what is quite often real injury—getting to other side of the channel only to find that somebody did manage to stow away on their vehicle and consequently getting a penalty for having brought them into the country. We will have drivers stopping a long way from Calais, doing the run through and having to stop very quickly when they get to Kent. It will be the same in the other direction, with drivers stopping in Kent on their way through. There are a lot of reasons why a driver will stop, and it is not the drivers’ choice. They do not want to stop in lay-bys and use the facilities or non-facilities there. They would like to use motorway service areas, but the cost is often prohibitive. The number of truck stops around the country is lamentable and poor. Where there are truck stops, they are often in places that historically were on main routes but that is now no longer the case because motorways or depots have moved.
It seems—from what I have picked up, this is what the industry believes—that the Government think this is just a commercial matter and the commercial side should just get on and build truck stops if there is such a demand for them. However, the developers that might be interested in building truck stops often say, “In all reality, it is often 10 years before the idea of truck stop produces a truck stop. We can’t be bothered with it.”
My final point is on Operation Stack and the £250 million. I know there is pushback from some people in Kent who say that the lorry park is in the wrong place and that there will still be problems with congestion on the roads getting to and from the location. Time will tell on that one. I have a feeling that they are probably right to be concerned. I hope that what we take from this excellent debate, which the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent initiated, is that we need to start valuing our commercial drivers and give them the facilities they deserve. At a stroke, that would resolve all the problems and appalling situations that local residents have to put up with. They are not the only victims in this, however, and the Government have to do something to take this issue on board and not just leave it to the commercial sector to deal with.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) on securing this important debate and on all her work since being elected to this House in supporting the people of Kent who have suffered blight from congested roads, lorry parking and fly-parking.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) said that this issue should not just be left to the commercial sector. I agree, but I am pleased by the big step change we have seen in the past year, whereby the Government have recognised that lorry parking in Kent is a major strategic national issue. It affects the whole county and all the strategic national routes when there is a major cessation in services through the port of Dover and the channel tunnel to the continent and back. It causes severe congestion on a major national route.
There is an ongoing problem with fly-parking because of the sheer volume and number of lorries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent said, when lorries have reached the end of their permitted time as set out in their tachograph, they legally have to find somewhere to stop. If there are not proper facilities for them to stop, they will stop wherever they can. That is far too often in country lanes and lay-bys and on the roadside and verges, which makes a mess and creates misery for those who live with it day to day. The solution is the Government’s decision, following strong representations by Members of Parliament from across the county, that there has to be a proper facility to provide overnight lorry parking on an ongoing basis and a permanent off-road solution to Operation Stack. I thank the Minister for the care and attention he has taken on the subject. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones). He has discharged his ministerial duties with great care for and consideration of the problems of the people of Kent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent rightly mentioned the problem at the Stop24 service station at junction 11 of the M20, where lorries seeking somewhere to park for the night are regularly turned away. The facility simply is not big enough. The figures given to me earlier this year by Shepway District Council showed that in October 2015, more than 1,200 lorries were turned away. In November, the figure was 1,600. In December, it was 1,700. It is a regular occurrence, and there simply are not enough spaces. To expand the services at Stop24 to allow for permanent overnight parking for 500 lorries is simply a case of meeting the need that is there.
I agree with what has been said: if we create the facilities, lorry drivers should be compelled to use them and not park up elsewhere in villages and on verges. The delivery of overnight parking facilities to prevent fly-parking is part of a much larger facility that will hold up to 4,000 lorries, meaning that it will be capable of taking the load of Operation Stack. The enforcement of phases 1 and 2 of Operation Stack requires the closure of the M20 between junctions 8 and 9 and junctions 10 and 11 to hold 4,000 lorries. Those lorries are simply queueing, waiting to make their journeys on through the channel tunnel and the port of Dover.
Last year, we lost more than 30 days with Operation Stack. The knock-on consequences for the county are considerable, because the coast bound lanes are closed. That puts amazing pressure on all the A roads. People simply cannot get around the county to do their ordinary business. A journey between Maidstone and Folkestone might take five hours by road when Operation Stack is at its peak. It is simply intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue. We know that volumes of freight traffic are likely to double over the next 10 years, meaning that the problem will get worse. Operation Stack is not just a question of migrant activity or strike action in Calais; it can be caused by any sort of disturbance that stops the flow, such as bad weather meaning that ships cannot cross the strait of Dover or a fire in the channel tunnel. All those things cause delays, and the more freight there is on the road, the more likely there will be delays and the more we will need alternative relief to Operation Stack.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South about the siting of the lorry park, which is required and absolutely essentially. Substantial work was done by Highways England, Kent County Council and other stakeholders, including Kent police, to look for an alternative. Quite simply, if we do not want to shut the motorway, we have to put the lorries somewhere else. They need to be in a place where they can be quickly drawn on and off the motorway network and held securely, close to the channel tunnel and the port of Dover so that the queues can be got rid of and drawn down quickly once the congestion eases. One of the worst aspects of Operation Stack is that once it is fully enforced, it can take up to five days for things to clear, simply because of the volume of traffic and even if the disturbance that caused Stack has long since stopped. The lorry park has to be on a site close to the motorway.
The other important thing—so important in the design of the lorry park that the Government have proposed—is that it is totally integrated with the motorway network, so that lorries can access the park and re-join the motorway without having to use other local roads and cause disturbance. The motorways and A roads should flow as they normally would, even when Operation Stack conditions are in place and lorries are using the lorry park.
An important part of the current consultation on the lorry park—I know the Minister is well aware of this and is speaking to my colleagues on Shepway District Council about it—is our concern that junction 11 of the M20 should be able to operate normally when Operation Stack is in place. Vehicles using the coast-bound carriageway should be able to exit the motorway at junction 11, even when the lorry park is in use and lorries are being drawn down from the lorry park to re-join the carriageway. Highways England has highlighted that there needs to be a proper traffic management system in place to enable that to take place safely. It is vital for my constituents that that is designed and in place by the time the lorry park becomes fully operational. That is a major concern for us, but I know that the Department has flagged up that it is working on a solution. No one thinks it is an insurmountable problem, so we want it to be addressed.
On the siting, the response to the initial consultation was absolutely clear. There were 1,300 individual responses, with a clear majority in favour of the creation of a lorry park, rather than continuing to use the motorways for Operation Stack. The respondents supported that solution, and it has my full support, too. It was also important to the people of Kent to recognise that the lorry park is a major piece of national infrastructure and so should be funded by the Exchequer and not by local authorities. We were therefore grateful that the former Chancellor committed the Government to spending £250 million to deal with the blight of Operation Stack.
I know that other colleagues from Kent wish to speak, but I want to underline the cost factor. Some have queried whether the lorry park is a good use of public money. The road haulage industry and others have estimated that the cost of Operation Stack to the UK economy is £250 million a day, so the cost to the British economy of one day of Stack is the cost of building the lorry park. It is a necessary facility that can be used to help manage fly-parking. It can relieve the county of the blight of Stack. I hope that the infrastructure gives us a better facility to manage other issues, including the regular build-up of traffic queueing to get into the port of Dover. Kent needed infrastructure to allow normal life to continue, and at last it will be delivered.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) for securing this debate. I have had much correspondence on this issue with the Kent Association of Local Councils—I am sure my hon. Friend has as well—and it regularly fills up my email inbox. It is a struggle to know exactly how to solve it. The Stanford West development will be key to solving the problem of fly-parking, which is unfortunately blighting not just the immediate area around Dover and Folkestone, but the whole county. The attendance this afternoon of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) demonstrates that this is an issue that extends beyond Kent, across the country.
I want to put a few facts on the counter today. Some 88% of all HGV traffic passes through Kent going towards the Dover ferry port or Eurotunnel and 70% of that traffic passes down the M20 as the most logical high-speed route from the M25 and elsewhere to get there. We have 10,800 freight vehicles—5,400 each way—passing through Kent every 24 hours. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) noted very well, one of the reasons that Calais is not used is that, in the current environment, lorry drivers simply dare not park for long periods in Calais, as they may need protection from unwarranted and unwanted illegal migrants.
It is not just the primary routes that are suffering. Driving up here from my constituency on a regular basis, I have noticed areas particularly around Cobham. There is a particular on-off road around a petrol station, which is the main route back on to the dualled M2, and which is always chock-a-block with fly-parked lorries. The issue also affects minor roads. It is not uncommon to go anywhere in Kent and see lay-bys, meant for people to take a temporary stop or to dispose of rubbish from their cars, that have become overnight stops. Minor roads are also used. Traffic regulation orders have some value, but local authorities are often hamstrung by fairly limited powers and the difficulty of enforcing any penalty notices they issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent noted that the fines are so small that the cost of recovering them, using the SPARKS network and the powers under the Local Transport Act 2008, which allow local authorities to pursue foreign fines across borders, is often so prohibitive and aggravating that it is simpler to do nothing.
Picking up on the point about the nature of the areas where these lorries are parked, does my hon. Friend agree that it affects residents badly, such as those on Leathermill Lane and Love Lane in Rugeley, but it also affects businesses and other organisations in the locality, because they are parking on business parks as well?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The problem is that, if a vehicle is properly insured and there is no traffic regulation order to prohibit the parking on, say, a housing estate, under the law the vehicle can park there. It comes down to the lack of facilities that we have. Because of tachograph requirements and driver hours, some drivers are forced to stop wherever they can. That enforces the argument for proper sites across the country to stop that happening.
The mess that is created down the last part of the Thanet Way has been mentioned. I know my right hon. Friend the Minister is familiar with that area. There are four or five lay-bys, which are used overnight. I have cause to stop there from time to time when driving with my dog, so that she can take an appropriate break. I pick up what comes out of my dog, but I sometimes wonder if there have been several inconsiderate dog owners. Sadly, that is not the case—it is human waste and filth, which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South ably described.
The way to solve the problem is a mixture of carrot and stick. Enforcement notices have a valid part to play. Figures from Kent police, which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent already raised, show that in the six-month period from December ’15 to May ’16, 1,354 lorries were moved on and 370 suffered a graduated fixed penalty notice. A penalty notice should be sufficient to prevent those drivers from fly-parking the next time, but, unfortunately, a degree of lunacy comes into play. The Minister might be interested in this point. I have been doing a lot of work in Sandwich to try to stop big lorries going into the town as a result of blindly using the free software on their phones that is designed for cars, not lorries. Thankfully, we now have a 7.5 tonnes traffic regulation order. When it came in, I asked the police what they were going to do to enforce it. There is new signage of course, but the big stick of fining can work when a fixed penalty notice is issued to a UK haulier, because we know where they are and they can be pursued easily through the British legal system. The problem is with foreign drivers, of which some 65% seem to be the ones responsible across Kent. There is just one handheld machine for taking a credit card across the whole of Kent police. I found that quite incredible. I could set up a shop tomorrow and get a credit card machine in, but Kent police only have one. I am taking that up with the police and crime commissioner.
Cost is the big issue. That £20, or whatever the cost is, is quite a lot of money to the driver or foreign driver and it is not surprising that they want to avoid that. Farthing Corner, one of the key stations on the M2, charges £20 per night—it is not surprising if drivers avoid that charge.
There is a big contrast here with our EU neighbours, who tend to do this better than we have. In France, they have the aires system of truck stops. In Hungary, a place that I am more familiar with—my wife is Hungarian—all main motorways have pull-in areas. They are not full service stations, rather they are off-the-motorway pull-in areas with toilet facilities, called pihenöhely—I will leave a note for Hansard. My first time in Hungary I thought it was a place; there seemed to be rather a lot of places with the same name—they are all over the place.
Drivers’ hours are at the heart of this and until we provide proper facilities we are hamstrung on what we can do. Carrot and stick needs to come into play. The provision of areas, at reasonable cost if necessary, is the carrot. I do not know if there will be a cost associated with Stanford West for usual use; I would imagine there probably will be.
The Stanford West site will have lorry parking charges for overnight parking but would be free for use for other means.
That may not solve the problem of overnight fly-parking, because people will want to park for free somewhere else. That is perhaps something we need to pursue.
Once facilities are available, we need the stick: a higher fine. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent raised that point. That stick should also be linked with Kent police getting more than one credit card machine—that might be useful. Also, local authorities should take the step to enforce. The cost to local authorities of cleaning up the human waste and rubbish in the lay-bys has not yet been quantified, but it must be substantial. It does little for the general quality of our road network.
Again, I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. This issue needs to be solved, because, no matter which part of the county we are in, Kent is very much at the frontline of the problem.
I thank the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) for securing this debate. From what colleagues have said, it seems that the problem of fly-parking does not only affect particular areas; my area is pretty badly affected, too. In my constituency I have the port of Liverpool, so colleagues can imagine the amount of traffic that goes along the A5036: about 40,000 movements a day. Not all of them are for the port, but about 10% or 15% are. There is a huge amount of traffic, and lorries make up a huge amount of that figure. We have the problem of fly-parking on that route and on surrounding roads. I do not think we can get to the point where we finesse this so much that we have a counsel of perfection of what we want to do, but we certainly have to have a clear, much more co-ordinated idea of what we can do to resolve the problem.
All the enforcement in the world will not make much difference unless, as hon. Members have said, we make provision for lorry parks. Even lorry parks will not necessarily be the solution for everyone. There may be different solutions for different areas, and Government policy should reflect the diversity across the country and address the impact that fly-parking has on particular areas. In reality, I do not know the effect that fly-parking is having in Kent any more than colleagues know what is happening in Merseyside, Bootle or Liverpool. However, we recognise that the problem exists and it needs to be dealt with.
On the grand issue of infrastructure, the Government need to recognise that lorry parks should be part of the transport infrastructure. They should not be something that somebody else provides, whether that be local authorities, hauliers or the Highways Agency, or Highways England as it is now known. There has to be a combined and co-ordinated effort by us all to try to find a solution to the problem—a solution that may be different in different areas. We have to recognise that across the piece. There is also, in the grand sense, the issue of thousands upon thousands of lorry movements up and down the country, and it is important to put into the mix the question of trying to move freight off roads and on to rail. We have a multi-modal transport system, and the ability to move freight from roads to rail may be part of the solution. I do not say it would be the whole solution, but a theme is beginning to develop. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and we have to recognise that.
In my area we have a consultation going on at the moment about upgrading the A5036 or having another road going through a country park. The cost ranges from £120 million to £300 million, depending on which solution is arrived at. To the best of my knowledge, although I am willing to stand corrected, as part of the consultation on that potential development, nobody has talked about a lorry park in that huge expenditure. I do not know where the lorry park might be. It is for others to try to determine the best fit and the best solution, but a lorry park should be considered.
We therefore have a consultation being undertaken about a very expensive road to a port that, thankfully, is expanding, but there is no really co-ordinated discussion about lorry access and where lorries may or may not park. If I may say so, this is a good opportunity for the Minister to put my plea into the mix of the consultation. I think that would go some way to helping to solve the problem—not tomorrow, not next year, but perhaps in five or 10 years’ time, because in five or 10 years’ time we could still be talking about this matter and going around the houses.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issues that affect my area. Notwithstanding the points made in graphic detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), it is important that we have everything on the table to get the matter going. Finally, I am really pleased that I had a very light lunch before I came here today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. On behalf of the shadow Transport team, I welcome the Minister to his place. In his reincarnation he brings a wealth of experience to the Department. I thank the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) for securing this debate and I pay tribute to her hard work highlighting the inconvenience that fly-parking by HGVs has caused her constituents and others across Kent. I also thank her for highlighting the wider concerns associated with the management and transportation of freight in and around Kent generally.
As we have heard, fly-parking, whereby heavy goods vehicles park in areas not intended for them, such as motorway hard shoulders, rural verges or local streets, is a significant problem both in Kent and across the country as a whole. It is a problem for residents, as we have heard, also for the drivers and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) so graphically illustrated, those who work in the recovery industry. Although fly-parking in Kent is closely linked with the implementation of Operation Stack and proximity to the port of Dover and the channel tunnel, as has already been fully explained by hon. Members, illegal parking by HGVs is a challenge nationwide. There have been shortcomings in the Government’s handling of the road haulage sector as a whole. Of course, fly-parking affects not only Kent but ports generally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) has pointed out.
I will recap the situation, although I will try not to repeat too many points that have already been well made by hon. Members. A study of national lorry parking published by the Department found that on-site lorry parking facilities in the country were unable to meet the demand for spaces. Kent County Council’s 2012-16 action plan stated that problems associated with parking off-site, particularly when close to residential areas, included lorry-related crime; road safety; damage to roads, kerbs and verges; environmental health issues; littering; visual and noise intrusion; and reduced personal safety. The same action plan also cited evidence from the Department, which found that at peak times many on-site lorry parking facilities in Kent exceeded full capacity. For instance, it found that facilities in Maidstone were at times 100% full, facilities at Gravesham and Ashford were 75% to 100% full, and facilities in the Medway Council area were 75% to 100% full.
Highways England suggested last year in its consultation on managing freight through Kent that there was a shortage of lorry parking spaces in the county. Indeed, while a number of commercially operated sites exist, they are often full, with lorries being turned away. As we have heard, lorry drivers rightly have to abide by strict rules as to how long they can drive between breaks, and the duration of those breaks, and if no formal parking is available, drivers stop where they can, inevitably leading to fly-parking.
The problem seems likely to intensify. Highways England reported last month that over recent decades the number of lorries crossing the English channel has increased sevenfold. It suggests that almost 90% of all UK roll-on/roll-off international freight goes through the strait of Dover, which means putting 11,000 lorries on Kent’s roads every day. It is further estimated that by 2025 the number of lorries travelling through Kent each day could double, putting huge pressure on the road network.
As I have already suggested, it is difficult to discuss the problems associated with the inappropriate parking of HGVs in Kent without talking about Operation Stack. As we have heard, in the summer of 2015 Operation Stack was implemented on an unparallelled scale, which the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) detailed fully. It clearly caused severe disruption to communities in Kent, the local economy, and the road haulage sector because it was in place almost continuously between 23 June and 1 August 2015.
It has been suggested by some that the Government’s response to the trials of that summer—the idea of building a lorry park the size of Disneyland California and larger than the Vatican City—could kill two birds with one stone, because it could keep freight moving irrespective of cross-channel disruption, and also circumvent fly-parking by providing additional on-site capacity for parking HGVs. Indeed, the Government’s consultation on the location of the lorry park had the stated aim not only of
“seeking to solve the problems associated with the queuing which arises whenever there is a lack of capacity at the Port or Eurotunnel”,
but also of asking
“whether a permanent lorry area could help address the issue of illegal and other inappropriate parking.”
In August, Highways England said it was exploring whether to use the planned Stanford West lorry park, which will have considerable capacity, to hold 3,600 lorries, provide overnight lorry parking, and stop lorries parking on roads not intended for their use. Building work on the site is due to start “as soon as possible”. I know that Kent Members have broadly welcomed the building of the facility, but it is worth pointing out that Stanford parish council has expressed concerns, as does the Kent branch of the Campaign for Rural England. That is hardly surprising, but the local communities that will be most closely affected should always have a full opportunity to be involved throughout the decision-making process.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that although Stanford parish council objected, the proposal has the support of the county and district councils, and overwhelming support from the people who responded to the initial consultation. We are responding to what residents want, and are being directed by the responses to the initial consultation on the siting of the lorry park.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s comments; as I have suggested, it is perhaps hardly surprising that local communities may express concerns in such processes. Whatever the consensus, the Select Committee on Transport has been more directly critical, and has questioned the wisdom of building a permanent lorry park for the considerable sum of a quarter of a billion pounds. It has suggested that so far the Government have proved neither that the benefits will outweigh the costs of construction, nor that the lorry park will ultimately help to keep the M20 open and traffic flowing. In the view of the Committee the decision is both hasty and disappointing, and has been made despite a lack of information and analysis. There has been little certainty about how the lorry park will be operated and the costs of doing so.
It is right that the Government should work to find an alternative to Operation Stack that will not bring Kent grinding to a halt and that will improve driver welfare. It is also welcome that direct access to the lorry park from the M20 will be provided, to avoid a detrimental impact on the local road network. Yet creating a huge lorry park in one location does not really address the wider problems that are manifest in the sector. It is also perhaps worth noting in passing that the cost of the lorry park is roughly equal to the entire annual cycling budget.
I fear that a new lorry park may have much less impact than hoped in terms of providing a solution to fly-parking by HGVs in Kent. The Transport Committee heard strong arguments that parking capacity to address fly-parking is needed across much of Kent, rather than concentrated in a single location. That, as has been mentioned, is because drivers are compelled to stop as and where they can when they have reached the limit on the number of hours they are legally allowed to drive. Furthermore, the Committee has pointed out that the provision of further paid-for parking capacity will not address the problem of those drivers who fly-park to save money, as the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) pointed out to us. In fact Kent County Council also suggests that the causes of fly-parking are
“excess demand, the cost of using truckstops and sometimes unclear signing.”
We really need more smaller, cost-effective parking facilities in several locations across Kent, as well as across the entire country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), who chairs the Transport Committee, said:
“Before a spade is put in the ground, the government must show it has given proper consideration to all possible alternatives.”
With respect to the Committee, people have been looking at this issue for decades, and a huge amount of work has been done. The Transport Committee may have given itself a few weeks to look at it, but the consultation is very detailed and the result of many years’ work. Any solution will also pose questions, but the reason for the lorry park’s size, and for where it is sited, is that it is big enough to hold Operation Stack phases 1 and 2, which is what we have 95% of the time. It is where the police and Highways England say it needs to go, which means that it is integrated into the motorway network and is as close as possible to the channel tunnel and the port of Dover.
The hon. Gentleman makes his points forcefully, but I am merely pointing out the issues raised by the Transport Committee, which I think are certainly worth considering. It has proposed a range of alternatives that should at least be considered, including upgrading the M20 and the A2/M2, increasing the capacity of cross-Channel services or, crucially, building a network of smaller lorry parks. Indeed, one could say that what is needed is a comprehensive plan to deal with the issues facing the freight industry, as comments by my hon. Friends have already suggested. Many of us would like a modal shift to rail, in particular, to decrease congestion and take the pressure off our roads, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle pointed out. A single freight train can, after all, take up to 80 HGVs off the roads, and rail freight produces 76% less carbon dioxide per tonne moved than road freight. Of course, as we have also heard, the road haulage industry has a driver recruitment crisis. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South made his points about that very well. With the average age of an HGV driver now around 56, the Government desperately need to take steps to recruit new drivers to the profession. Making it more attractive must be one of the answers.
More truck stops and better parking facilities would not only tackle fly-parking and improve the lives of local residents, but would improve the lot of hard-pressed lorry drivers and might make it easier to recruit as well. I congratulate the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent on obtaining the debate, and hope she will join us in pressing the Minister and the Department for the improvements that we all want.
It is a delight to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) on securing it. It is understandable that she has done so, and I well understand the problems that she and other hon. Members have highlighted. I know many hauliers, not least because road haulage is an important part of the economy of my constituency; it is vital to our whole economy as well. The high concentration of heavy goods vehicles passing through Kent is a subject of particular concern, however, in view of the deleterious effects outlined by a number of the contributors to this short debate. It is a matter on which I have cogitated as Roads Minister, in both my previous and current incarnations in the Department. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) said, I am visiting Kent tomorrow to look at exactly the matters in question, to meet councillors, and to look at the proposed site of the park, which has been mentioned a number of times.
As I said, HGVs are vital to the economy. They carry what we need to where we need it, and take what we make, grow and fashion to those elsewhere who want to buy it. Nevertheless, the presence of heavy goods vehicles on local roads and public highways can present a challenge and cause difficulties of the kind that have been outlined. In addition, parking is often at a premium. Those who park should of course keep in mind the effect on their neighbours of what they do. Careful and lawful parking is never more important than when the vehicle is a lorry. We hear regularly from the haulage industry that there is a shortage of affordable, good-quality facilities for lorries and their drivers. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) said—incidentally, I do indeed know the Thanet Way extremely well, and was in Broadstairs on holiday again this summer—there is a question of incentive, or carrot, and penalty, or stick, in dealing with the problem. I shall try to deal with both carrots and sticks in my short and pithy but none the less impressive speech.
The last national survey, in 2011, suggested that facilities on or near the strategic road network were underutilised, on average, across England, but not in Kent, where there are particular problems, which local stakeholders have reported repeatedly.
It is good to see the right hon. Gentleman return to the Department. He referred to the study on underutilisation, but the big problem is that a lot of the stops are in the wrong place. It is not surprising that they are underutilised outside Kent, because they are not where the lorry drivers want them to be.
I am inclined to agree with that, which is why I want to do a new piece of work on it. I have decided today that, as a result of this debate, we will look at the issue afresh. We need to do a new study that takes account of the current circumstances and the distribution of supply and demand, as the hon. Gentleman says. I send a message to Members in this Chamber and to my officials, whom I like constantly to surprise, that we will, as a result of this debate, have a fresh look at the provision and location of parking space. The hon. Gentleman is right.
I do not wish to try your patience, Mr Turner, so I will endeavour to be as brief as I can.
It is vital that we, as Kent Members, make the point that if the taxpayer is to get value for money, the lorry park proposed for Stanford West needs to be a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year facility, not just an Operation Stack facility. That will take a considerable amount of pressure off the M20 road system, but it will not help the M2, the A2 or the Thanet Way, which my right hon. Friend the Minister knows very well.
Given that we cannot waste Manston airport as an Operation Stack overspill for much longer—we need it back as an operational airport as quickly as we can—will my right hon. Friend the Minister undertake to look very carefully at Brenley Corner when that bit of the road system is sorted out properly? There is an opportunity there to create some lorry parking. When the gap in the A2 between Canterbury and Dover is dealt with, can we also look very seriously at parking facilities there? It really is time that we learned one or two lessons from the French.
It is right that we look at this issue more widely, and not simply at the provision of this additional facility. We must look both at the capacity challenges on the roads to and from Dover and, as my hon. Friend says—he has comprehensive knowledge of the locality—at additional facilities that could be put in place above and beyond the advantages we will get from the large new park. I will talk a bit more about that in a moment. I take my hon. Friend’s point. We should consider these things strategically, as a number of hon. Members, not least the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), have suggested, rather than on a piecemeal basis. My hon. Friend has made his point powerfully, and I will ensure that it is built into our thinking.
The clearer picture that I seek through that fresh strategic work will be conducted with Transport Focus, to understand better the current provision and road users’ expectations. As well as looking at the impact of Operation Stack, we will take account of projections of the growing use of the road network in Kent and elsewhere—this is not just an issue for Kent, as a number of hon. Members emphasised, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling).
Operation Stack is only ever used as a last resort, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said, that last resort might be brought about by a variety of causes. Its growing use at a particular period of time is illustrative of precisely that.
My right hon. Friend the Minister is absolutely right that it is used only when necessary, but the trouble is that there is no alternative to its use. If the port or the channel tunnel is not operational, at the moment there is no alternative other than parking the lorries on the motorway. That is the nub of the problem, which is why we require a different solution, and we are glad that the Government have found the resources and strategy to implement it.
Yes, and when Operation Stack is used it demonstrates just how significant the effect of the disruption on the M20 can be on businesses, local people and hauliers themselves. That is why I am determined to deliver an alternative solution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent said, we have committed £250 million for the lorry area, and now we are looking to make that a reality. I take the shadow Minister’s point that that needs to be done carefully and on a considered basis. We must not rush into this. We need to take into account all cost-effectiveness measures. This will be a significant project, so it has to be done properly and cautiously. That is an argument not for delay but for getting it right. I am sure all hon. Members in this Chamber and beyond want that to be the approach adopted by a responsible Government.
I can see that my hon. Friend wants to add further value to these considerations.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his thoughtful and full response. I want to emphasise the point about the Operation Stack lorry park, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) is incredibly knowledgeable; he has done a huge amount of work on it. As he said a moment ago, it has been talked about for at least a decade, yet nothing has happened. Although it should not be rushed—it is a substantial investment—the desire to get absolutely everything right needs to be balanced against the need to ensure that we do not have another summer with Kent at a standstill, with all the awful knock-on effects. Can we manage doing it carefully alongside getting on with it?
My rich experience of Government, to which the shadow Minister so generously alluded in his welcome, has taught me that there is always a plausible argument for doing little and a pretty convincing one for doing nothing. I am not inclined to fall foul of either of those approaches, but it is important that we do this in a way that takes local stakeholders with us, takes local authorities’ views into account, engages the local community, is satisfactory for hauliers and becomes an attractive option for them as well as a necessary one when stacking occurs. A number of hon. Members said that the facility needs to be available above and beyond Operation Stack, for the very reason that led my hon. Friend to bring the debate to the Chamber today.
The Minister is being very generous in giving way. I thank him for making that point. Although I and my county colleagues regard the creation of this facility as vital, we need to take into account the needs of a number of residents who live close to the site and have very special needs. Special consideration must be given to the needs of the residents and businesses. I know that the Department has already flagged up that issue and is looking at it in detail, and I am glad that the Minister has made that point.
That is one of the reasons why I am going to Kent tomorrow. My hon. Friend is right that we need to take fully into account the specific concerns in the locality. I will ask Highways England to work closely with residents and local stakeholders to ensure that the design of the new lorry area minimises the social and environmental impact while addressing this issue for users of the road network. Highways England is also exploring the use of the lorry park for the overnight parking requested by my hon. Friends. We are seeking feedback through the consultation, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe and others know, is going on presently, on how that can and should work.
This is not just about Operation Stack and the new facility. It is a national problem that requires the Government, local authorities and industry to work together. Overnight parking of HGVs on the highway and in various business parks has been a significant and growing problem for a considerable time, and the wider effects are various. There is a problem with noise, nuisance, litter, safety and environmental damage, as a number of hon. Members described. Dogs were brought into the equation by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet, who said that the solution requires a carrot and a stick. I thought it should be a bone and a stick—the stick to throw and the bone to feed.
Nevertheless, a variety of challenges arises from that important concern. To that end, I want to have ongoing discussions with motorway service area and lorry park operators and with the freight industry. I want to see what can be done nationally to improve the availability of quality, safe and secure parking areas. In Kent, Members, councillors and others will play their part.
I am aware of illegal parking by HGVs on the hard shoulder of motorways and local roads in Kent. On the motorways, last winter, in a concerted effort by Highways England and Kent police called Operation Kindle, Highways England traffic officers patrolled key locations systematically and advised drivers of illegally parked vehicles to move on. If they did not do so, the traffic officers informed the police. Fixed penalty notices were issued—if drivers refused to pay, their vehicles were moved to a secure location where they were immobilised until the fines were paid. Graduated fixed penalty notices allowed officers to issue cumulative fines measured against the number of offences and their severity. I understand that operation to have been successful in clearing the targeted areas. For example, on the night of 9 December last year, the police moved on 153 illegally parked vehicles on the M20 and M2, and more than 50 drivers were fined.
Many such vehicles are foreign-owned, which causes a particular problem, as changing the law to allow enforcement of tickets given to foreign-registered vehicles would require an international treaty. When I was told that by my Department, I said that I would quite like to sign an international treaty—it sounds so grand and important, doesn’t it? If that is what we need, that is what we will do, make no mistake. The important thing is to solve the problem, not to focus continually on the obstacles to doing so.
I thank the Minister for giving way. He is being generous with his time.
Forgive me if I have the figures slightly incorrect, but I understand from the Department’s own statistics that in the past two years alone there has been a 50% increase in the amount of freight carried by overseas-registered vehicles, so the issue will grow and grow. The sooner those treaties are on his desk and his pen is in his hand the better—that sounds like a very good move.
The treaty is not on my desk yet—I would not want to deceive the hon. Gentleman or anyone else. Certainly, however, we need to find the solution to the problem of foreign-owned or foreign-driven vehicles. Even if we get the rest right, if we do not solve that problem I suspect we will have only a partial success. Whether any solution involves clamping or seizing those foreign-owned vehicles I do not yet know, but I will certainly ask for further advice on what might be done to tackle that particular issue, which he is right to emphasise again.
Let me sum up and move to my exciting peroration. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent asked for many things. She focused her attention on the possible benefits of any solution for Operation Stack, but she also stressed that that was not the whole story. She talked about needing more space more generally in Kent—my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet emphasised that point—and we will certainly consider that. She asked me to be more specific about the timing of the provision of a new lorry park, and I will endeavour to do that. I want to get this right, and she is right that if we are to do it, we need to set out a timetable for it, so I understand the anxiety that we should do so. She and others have made that point well. She talked about enforcement and fines, which I will come on to in a moment, and about foreign vehicles, which we have heard about, and she also called for a meeting.
Let me tell the House what I think we should do. I take the view that debates in Westminster Hall and elsewhere in this place must deliver outcomes, rather than simply allow Ministers to repeat what they have already thought or, more especially, been told. This is what we are going to do: I will look at whether we can improve enforcement, if necessary through a change in the law. If we have to put in place new measures to allow enforcement, we will look at doing so. I will seek further advice on that, and will bring further information to the House accordingly.
I am happy to look at new long-term solutions for overnight parking, as I described in my response to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South. We also need more information—reasonably quickly, actually, as we cannot delay further—because relying on a survey from some time ago is not good enough. I am happy, too, to approach hauliers’ groups directly about the advice they give to drivers. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet made a point about sat-nav, which, personally I do not use, of course, but I understand others do. It can often divert people, unhappily, to routes that are not only unhelpful but injurious to the interests of local communities. We need to work with hauliers on that, and I am happy to meet the Road Haulage Association to talk through what advice it might provide to drivers about parking. I will do so as a result of this debate.
I want to do more on litter. Litter came up in the debate, but I did not raise it with my officials earlier, so this is another delightful surprise for them. I want to do a lot more about litter. I began the fight when I was previously in the Department, but I was moved on to the Home Office and was not able to complete the work. We need to do a lot more about litter in areas such as lay-bys, but also more widely on our road network.
At root, of course, the problem is one of how people treat litter. If they throw things out of car windows, it is pretty hard for Highways England or any local authority to cope. None the less, we can do more about the provision and emptying of bins and the clearing of lay-bys. Also as a result of this afternoon’s debate—I have listened carefully to what people have said—I will ask Highways England to look again at a new initiative on the littering of our roads and, in particular, areas where people stop or park.
I want to look at motorway service areas. A point made forcefully by a number of hon. Members was that the alternatives to parking in lay-bys are not sufficiently attractive. That is sometimes to do with the security of those areas. Someone who parks overnight in a heavy goods vehicle will be concerned about who might get access to that vehicle. The provision of adequate security at the alternative sites is an important element of the solution. I want to look at motorway service areas, the kind of alternative that they are offering, the security of that alternative, its attractiveness and, by the way, its cost. As a number of hon. Members argued, if something is too costly, drivers will avoid it. We need to look at whether the better offer, as it were, is competitive and attractive.
Briefly on that point, when my good friend Robert Key, the former Member of Parliament for Salisbury, was Roads Minister—when God was a boy, that was how long ago it was—I put it to him that the French road system has regular aires de repos. I was told by Robert that the British road system could not accommodate such areas because land was too scarce and journey distances too short. We can live with that no longer, and we have to get to grips with the situation. We absolutely have to provide off-road, properly landscaped areas, with lavatory facilities, and with parking not only for domestic cars but, significantly, for lorries. It is time we did that.
I agree. My hon. Friend is immensely widely travelled, which is why he is so well informed. I tend to limit my own travel to the east of England, which means that I am not as well informed, and therefore rely on advice that I receive from him and others. I will say, however, that part of this business of looking closely at the provision of parking for HGVs is to consider more widely—as he has just described—the sort of roadside services that we provide generally. I am not convinced that the roadside services that we provide in this country are generally good enough. Of course there are exceptions, and I recognise them, but again as a result of today’s debate, I may ask for some further work to be done on the quality of roadside services more generally—the problem we are discussing is a part of that issue. My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, based on his wide travel and deep understanding of all such matters, that encourages me to do that. I have already mentioned foreign drivers, and that is in response to my study and the argument that has been made by a number of colleagues.
Finally—I hope that this will excite my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent and others—I am more than happy to agree to a meeting, but I do not think that we should have just a small and insignificant meeting, not that any meeting with me is insignificant. We should have a round-table meeting with the people I have described. We need the hauliers; we need the providers of private lorry parks; we need the motorway service stations; we need the local councillors; and we need colleagues—and the meeting needs to be bipartisan. I am very happy to agree now to hold that kind of round-table meeting, where we can thrash out the range of important issues that have been raised in the debate.
Returning to where I started, I strongly support the principle and practice of moving goods by road. That is an important part of what we do as a country—let us be clear about that—but it needs to be done in an ordered way. Edmund Burke said:
“Good order is the foundation of all good things.”
My friend Evi Williamson, with whom I was discussing this very issue yesterday, affirmed just that idea in anticipation and preparation for the debate. The ordered use of our roads and ordered parking are beneficial to those who park and all those whom they affect. That is precisely why my hon. Friend has brought forward this debate in her constituents’ interests, championing their wellbeing as she always does. She can be assured that my Department and this Minister will respond in the same spirit. I thank her again for giving me the chance to give those particular and specific commitments in response to this important and valuable debate.
Helen Whately may wish to sum up.
Thank you very much, Mr Turner; I will do so briefly. I thank colleagues from Kent and elsewhere for their helpful contributions and the knowledge that they have brought to the debate from the perspective of residents, drivers and road hauliers, which has made this conversation valuable. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his comprehensive response and the list of actions that he will take, which makes me feel that this conversation has been worthwhile. I look forward very much to following up with him in due course on his progress.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered fly-parking by HGVs in Kent.
Enderby Wharf Development
[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Enderby Wharf development in Greenwich.
It is a pleasure to see you presiding, Mrs Main. I am pleased to see the Minister in his place; as the Minister for Housing and Planning and the Minister for London, he is the perfect person to respond on behalf of the Government. I am sure that he will have been briefed, and I hope that he can assist us. It is no surprise to see my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), who has worked hard on this issue.
I first raised concerns about the Enderby Wharf development in 2014, when the matter was brought to my attention by my constituent Ralph Hardwick, who was subsequently joined by Howard Wynne, Martin Young and many others. Although this issue is in one sense complex, it is essentially simple: it is about air quality. As the Minister will know, there is a lot of evidence of the poor air quality in London. Evidence reported by the Evening Standard and others demonstrates that EU and UK Government clean air targets have been breached. There is clear evidence of the impact of poor air quality on human health. It adds significantly to the number of premature deaths and impairs our children’s healthy development.
Those data are not in dispute. We know that we have poor air quality and we know about its negative impact on our health, so why on earth are we allowing additional emissions to be pumped into our atmosphere in the centre of our great city, prospectively 24 hours a day, 155 days a year, by some of the biggest diesel engines ever seen on the Thames? Not only that, but why are we doing that when there is a simple, affordable and—most importantly—clean alternative already being used by other European cities and international ports? Indeed, it is required by many.
We are talking about cruise ships being moored on the Thames between Greenwich and Tower Hamlets. Let me be clear: I support the building of the terminal. Tourism is very important in London and we need the homes. I support more use of the Thames for business, commuting and tourism, since that is still cleaner and more efficient than other modes of transport, such as road transport. As a former shipping Minister and shadow shipping Minister, I also support the development as well as shipping generally, but why require these visiting vessels to run their diesel engines for the duration of their stay in London when a shore-to-ship energy source could power the ships more efficiently and more cleanly? Why not? This is where it gets complicated.
That is not required because there are no rules, regulations or laws obliging ships to connect to the grid. I have been raising this matter since 2014, when I wrote to the shipping Minister at the Department for Transport, but apparently it is not a transport issue. I wrote to the Planning Minister, the Minister’s predecessor, at the Department for Communities and Local Government, but apparently it is not a planning matter—certainly not for the Government. I wrote to the air quality Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but it is not singly an air quality issue, except that it is, it is and it is—it is all three. That is the problem: nobody has sole responsibility for this issue.
The Royal Borough of Greenwich is not—or was not—empowered to make it a planning requirement. It could have made it one, but I understand that it was advised against that and it was worried about legal challenge because it would have had no legal authority to require the developers to connect to the grid and use a shore-to-ship power supply. Therefore, although it cannot be held wholly responsible, it is the start of the problem.
The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has no locus because the development is on the south side of the Thames, even though Tower Hamlets residents—my constituents—will be primarily affected. The Port of London Authority has no locus for land-based developments. The Greater London Authority cannot overturn the decision of the Royal Borough of Greenwich because it is a local planning matter. I understand that the former Mayor of London reluctantly approved the scheme because he could not challenge it and although the new Mayor of London, our former right hon. colleague, is taking a keen interest in addressing poor air quality, there is no power to overturn the decision of the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
The constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich who comprise the East Greenwich Residents Association and others have tried legal challenges, but so far there has been no success there, either. Therefore it is down to the developers, who could do the honourable thing and build a power source into their new development and still show a healthy profit, but they do not have to do that and, if that is not a requirement, why should they do that? Why should they do it? Because it is the right thing to do. The amount of money they would have to spend on that compared with the profit to be made off the site is negligible. I will come back to the developers later.
After I went through all the other Departments and having submitted a number of parliamentary questions and raised the matter in the Chamber, in Westminster Hall and in a variety of debates, the previous Minister of State responsible for air quality at DEFRA, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), before he was reshuffled, had promised to bring all the players together around the table to see if a voluntary deal could be agreed. However, he is in a new position and we, as Members of Parliament, local residents and campaigners, are almost back at the starting gate. As I explained informally to the Minister just before the debate started, it almost feels as if we are starting over again. We have had two years of campaigning on this, so I hope it will not take us two years to reach what I hope would be a successful conclusion. My question to the new Minister is: will he convene the meeting that was proposed and promised by the previous Minister at DEFRA, with his air quality ministerial colleague at DEFRA or off his own bat, because he outranks her, to get together with the developers, the Royal Borough of Greenwich, my hon. Friend and I to see if there is a way forward? Will he also look at the aspect of the planning regime and bring forward proposals to close the gap that exists not just for London but for other ports around the country? Especially with Brexit having been approved, we do not need European permission to introduce new regulations—even though other European ports in countries that are members of the Union do have such regulations while we do not. Why are we second class citizens when we could improve the situation for residents of our great ports and great cities?
The Minister may well be aware that the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently held an inquiry into air quality. It looked specifically at this issue.
I can see that the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary is nodding. She and I are on the Committee and she will remember the exchanges with the air quality Minister. We looked specifically at this issue. Our report is about to be published—in fact, I am surprised to see her here because the report is being discussed right now in the Select Committee. We should both be there, but obviously we are here for this debate.
I am not aware of the final recommendations, nor the Government’s response because that is being discussed, but I hope that the Minister will look closely at that report when it is published this weekend. I would be happy to meet him to examine that aspect of the report, because I am pretty confident that the matter will be covered, that there will recommendations and that there will be a Government response, which may move this matter on.
In terms of the developers, Barratt, I checked its website this morning, which advertises properties at Enderby. There are some lovely graphics that advertise flats from £425,000, which I suspect is a one-bedroom version, to £785,000, which I suspect is for the three-bedroom versions. It says that residents will be the “envy of south London”, with views of Canary Wharf and the City. I was curious about why the balconies of the flats are enclosed in glass. Every other development that has taken place in east London that has balconies has left them open to the air. Given that I have been here 19 years, I am a cynical person. Perhaps it is because the developers do not want diesel fumes from the cruise ships coming into the brand-new flats that they are selling for £700,000-plus. As I said, that is my cynical interpretation—that may very well not be the case.
I have to say to Barratt that I expected more from it, being one of our premier building corporations. The development should be an even better showcase, not a cheaper, second-best, dirtier option. It would not surprise me in the slightest if the matter has been raised internally. These days, shareholders take a much greater interest in environmental responsibility and community responsibility and I hope that Barratt might be prepared to engage with us in respect of what more it can do to improve what we know will be a very difficult situation.
As I described at the start, this is a simple matter of air quality and trying to improve that which we have in London by not adding to the emissions already present owing to an absence of regulation. We have DCLG, DEFRA, DFT—the Department of Health will be picking up the pieces—RBG, LBTH, PLA, GLA and the Mayor of London, and no one is able to sort this out to the satisfaction of the residents. We all know that transport contributes about 20% to 25% of emissions and shipping is a fraction of that total, but, for those living on top of the new cruise terminal, that will be a significant contributor to poorer air quality as well as that of their community, east London and London generally.
Something needs to be done. We need a champion in Government. We almost had one, but he has been reshuffled. I say to the Minister: there is a vacancy, sir. He could fill that job and be the saviour who makes sure that air quality in London does not deteriorate any further. I hope he will think seriously about this issue, be that champion, engage with my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich and me, the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the developers and try to ensure that the situation not only does not deteriorate any further but improves and gives a lead to ports and cities around the rest of the UK to ensure that no one else finds themselves in a similar situation.
Thank you for allowing me to catch your eye, Mrs Main. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said, this is an extremely complex and contentious matter and we have only a short time for the debate, so my remarks will be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, which is of the utmost importance to our respective constituents.
Very few of my constituents are implacably opposed to the siting of a new cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf. Indeed, most recognise that the new terminal has the potential to make a positive contribution to Greenwich in terms of boosting tourism, creating jobs and supporting local businesses. What they will not accept—they are right not to do so—is those benefits coming at the expense of local amenities and air quality. Air quality is not a frivolous concern: the toxic and illegal levels of air pollution across our country and in our capital are an invisible hazard that contributes to the ill health and premature deaths of tens of thousands of people each year. It is nothing short of a public health crisis and it is one that requires a response commensurate with the harm it is causing. We know that shipping emissions in the form of nitrogen oxide and dioxide, as well as sulphur, are a major source of that pollution. Indeed, if things are left as they are, shipping will be the biggest single emitter of air pollution in Europe by 2020.
In recent years, a range of technical measures to reduce harmful emissions from ships have been introduced—the addition of scrubbers and the adoption of cleaner fuels to name but two—but none is a panacea. For example, low-sulphur fuel reduces sulphur dioxide levels and some particulate matter but does not remove all harmful toxins. Given the potential health implications of constructing a cruise liner terminal that would berth vessels emitting hazardous toxins into the air in the vicinity of a high-density residential area that is already an air pollution hotspot, it is little surprise that local residents and the East Greenwich Residents Association have organised to oppose it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse said, what makes many of them particularly angry is that when it comes to this unique scheme, there is an obvious solution already available: ship-to-shore power, or “cold ironing”.
Before planning authorisation, the developers and their consultants provided the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s planning board with an assessment that asserted that cold ironing was not feasible in this instance for three reasons. First, they argued that very few cruise ships worldwide have the ability to link up to shore-based power. Secondly, they argued that ship electrical requirements differed from those supplied by the UK national grid, meaning that an on-shore power supply would be an extremely complex task to undertake in this instance. Thirdly, they asserted that the costs associated with providing such facilities could be prohibitive to both the provider and user.
The independent consultants tasked by the council to look over the assessment accepted each of those arguments. However, I remain unconvinced that each has been properly investigated. It may be that only a small proportion of cruise ships worldwide are currently equipped with the necessary technology, but most operators are fully aware that shore-to-ship power is the future, that a growing number of ports in north America, Asia and Europe are investing in it, and that they will have to adapt at some point in the future. The electricity grid and on-board ship systems do use different frequencies, but the technology exists to render them compatible.
What is disappointing in the case of the Enderby Wharf terminal is that the developers have made seemingly little effort to explore the range of grid connections that might have been available through the various distribution network operators that serve the area. There are upfront capital costs to install shore-to-ship power infrastructure, but there are good reasons to question whether such costs are necessarily prohibitive over the long run. Indeed, several studies suggest that over time there are significant savings to be made for cruise lines in terms of fuel not expended while stationary in port, which could easily, with an agreement, be shared between the terminal operator and the cruise lines.
What is required in the case of Enderby Wharf is a serious examination of the feasibility and benefits of installing shore-to-ship power—not just today but in terms of the cost of avoiding the expense of retrofitting the terminal in the years ahead—and, more importantly, a genuine willingness on the part of those involved to approach the issue with an open mind. I hope the Minister will give us his thoughts on how that process can be initiated. If, instead, the developers insist on ploughing ahead with the scheme as currently proposed, they will do so in the face of widespread hostility from the local community and continuing negative coverage before a single shovel has even been put in the ground.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing the debate and the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) for his contribution. They both vividly described their constituents’ concerns about this particular development and were both powerful advocates for the communities they represent.
I will start by addressing one of the points that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse made at the outset, which is that this is a complicated issue because it engages the policy of a number of different Departments. I am determined to do my best to speak not just on behalf of my own Department, but for the Government as a whole. When I was a constituency MP, one of the most frustrating things was receiving piecemeal responses from different bits of the Government on a complex issue, so I will do my best to respond to all the issues that he so forcefully raised.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will start with the issue that I am responsible for—the planning history in relation to the site. He made one point particularly powerfully: that the planning system has a difficult job to do, because it has to balance competing interests. He was commendably honest in saying that there are a lot of good things for London about the development, such as the contribution it will make to our tourism and the new housing units that will be built, even though they may be more expensive than the three of us would wish to see given the needs of Londoners and their ability to afford them.
By way of background, I point out that planning permission for a new docking jetty for cruise ships, plus a hotel, residential units, a skills academy and other infrastructure, was originally applied for in November 2010 and was granted by the Royal Borough of Greenwich in March 2012. As part of that planning application, planning obligations of about £400,000 towards the monitoring of emissions and improving air quality in the immediate vicinity were agreed. My Department did not receive any requests for the Government to call in the original planning application.
A further application was submitted last year to revise the terminal element of the development and other features, including by replacing the hotel with two residential towers. The 2015 proposal was subject to an environmental impact assessment, which identified no significant impact on local receptors. Though it was technically outside the scope of the application, because the principle of the jetty had already been agreed to in the original application, my understanding is that the Royal Borough of Greenwich commissioned consultants to undertake a detailed air quality assessment. The results of that assessment showed that vehicle emissions would not lead to any exceedances of the relevant air quality objectives for all pollutants, with the exception of short term nitrogen dioxide concentrations, which I think we would all agree are still a very serious issue. Those concentrations were calculated using the worst case scenario, and the results showed that it was highly unlikely that they would combine to result in exceedances of the directives. Interestingly, there was also no objection from the Environment Agency in relation to the application.
A number of residents in the constituencies of the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse and for Greenwich and Woolwich have recently campaigned vigorously against the development on air quality grounds, as has been explained, and asked for the 2015 application to be called in. I think the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse also wrote to the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), requesting that. He considered those requests, having regard to the national call-in policy thresholds that we set to determine when applications should be called in, and decided not to call in the application in this case. The Government are committed to giving councils and communities more power to make decisions on planning themselves and believe that, wherever possible, those decisions should be made locally.
As the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse said, a resident then took the case to judicial review, on the grounds that Greenwich council had failed to require, or take into account the need for, an assessment of the total cumulative effect on air quality, including the effects of ship emissions. The High Court held that Greenwich council had considered the air quality issues in line with the relevant planning policy and guidance, and had made no error in law in its decision.
On air quality as whole, as a Londoner I completely understand the strength of the concerns that local residents have expressed and that the two hon. Gentlemen have articulated in this debate, including the cumulative impact on local air quality. It is worth remembering that, since December 1997, each council in the UK has had to carry out a review and assessment of air quality in its area. If a local authority finds places where the objectives are not likely to be achieved, it must declare what is called an air quality management area. It is an indication of the scale of the issue that we face in London that the entire borough of Greenwich is designated as an air quality management area. Anyone listening to the debate will understand why both residents and their representatives have particularly strong concerns about the issue.
The planning policies and guidance issued by the Government include strong protections to safeguard people from unacceptable risks from air pollution, and new regulations on sulphur emissions from ships have also recently come into effect. The national policy statement for ports is clear that decision makers—in this case, the Royal Borough of Greenwich—
“should generally give air quality considerations substantial weight where a project would lead to deterioration in air quality in an area, or leads to a new area, where the air quality breaches any national air quality limits.”
The national planning policy framework, for which my Department is responsible, explains that those national policy statements are relevant to local authority planning decisions.
We have set out in the national planning policy framework that planning decisions should ensure that new development is appropriate for its particular location and that the effects, including the cumulative effects, on the existing background levels of pollution should be taken into account. It also sets out that planning policies should
“sustain compliance with and contribute towards EU limit values or national objectives for pollutants, taking into account the presence of Air Quality Management Areas”—
as I said, the whole Borough of Greenwich is an air quality management area—
“and the cumulative impacts on air quality from individual sites in local areas. Planning decisions should ensure that any new development in Air Quality Management Areas is consistent with the local air quality action plan.”
There is strong evidence that national planning policy gives significant scope for the consideration of those issues in the determination of planning applications.
I turn to shore-to-ship electrical provision, which both hon. Gentlemen mentioned. The national policy statement for ports—which, for clarity, is a Department for Transport lead, although I am not trying to pass the buck at all—sets out that all proposals should either include “reasonable advance provisions” to allow the possibility of future provision of shoreside fixed electrical power infrastructure or should
“give reasons as to why it would not be economically and environmentally worthwhile to make such provision.”
We have made clear that national policy statements form part of the overall framework of national planning policy, so that statement would have been a material consideration in decisions on the planning application. Ultimately, however, it is a matter for individual local authorities—in this case, the Royal Borough of Greenwich—to consider what conditions should apply to a planning application to make the development in question acceptable in planning terms before consent is given.
The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich set out with commendable clarity the three tests that have been applied in this case, and the fact that Greenwich Council—or its advisers, it sounded like—had accepted the three arguments put forward. He also laid out why he remains unconvinced on those three points, which we might wish to return to outside this debate.
The Government take air pollution very seriously and are committed to improving the UK’s air quality, reducing health impacts and fulfilling our legal obligations. Not only this Government but the Labour Government who preceded us have improved air quality significantly over recent decades. Since 1970, sulphur dioxide emissions have decreased by 96%, particulate matter by 83% and nitrogen oxides by 61%. None of those figures, however, mean that the situation faced by many Londoners, and indeed people in other parts of the country, is satisfactory. There is clearly further progress to be made, and I entirely understand the concerns raised by the two hon. Gentlemen today and by their residents and constituents.
I understand that colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Transport who lead on air quality and shipping and maritime policy respectively will be examining the issue of shipping emissions as part of the UK’s national emissions ceiling directive implementation plan. Shore-to-ship electricity is one feature that might control emissions. Clearly, we should consider all technologies and all possible regulatory levers.
We have made sure that local councils have the tools they need to ensure that developments are appropriate for their location and to prevent unacceptable risks from pollution. However, I end by saying that I am very happy to meet with the two hon. Gentlemen and to talk to my ministerial colleagues in order to look further into this case. I commend both hon. Gentlemen for raising their constituents’ concerns in the House.
As I have a two-minute response to the Minister in this half-hour debate, I will make three quick points. First, I am grateful for the response and for the opportunity of a meeting. Secondly, the High Court obviously does not believe that Greenwich had the powers in question, because the judicial review said that the guidelines were complied with. Thirdly, and most importantly, it defies logic and common sense that a borough that exceeds the current air quality limits and is going to have cruise ships sitting in the middle of the Thames, giving additional emissions, will not suffer worse air quality as a result of that. The law does not cover that, because the High Court has said it does not, but I am very grateful for the Minister’s offer of a meeting with myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook). We certainly look forward to taking him up on that.
Question put and agreed to.
Badger Culling/Bovine TB
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Badger culling and bovine TB.
Bovine tuberculosis—bTB—is a disease affecting beef and dairy cattle herds in England and Wales. Scotland is officially free of the disease and Wales is increasingly considered to be bringing the disease under control, but its incidence is rising in England.
Bovine tuberculosis is caused by the organism Mycobacterium bovis, which is excreted by infected cattle on to the land they graze where it survives in the soil. It can be and is then passed to other cattle and other species, including badgers, rats, cats, deer, foxes, moles, hedgehogs, worms and, I understand, even flies. However, the predominant mode of transmission in cattle is nose to nose and of course through trading, which promotes it between herds.
In recent years, the disease has spread extensively northwards and eastwards from the areas of original prevalence in the south-west of England, and that spread continues. In fact, the number of new herd breakdowns appears to double approximately every nine years, and in the last decade alone the UK Government has slaughtered 314,000 otherwise healthy cattle in an attempt to control the disease.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the spread he is talking about would be far better controlled by regular cattle testing than by a cull, which is simply not cost-effective and is inhumane?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point and I will come to it shortly.
In 2013, more than 6 million bTB skin tests were performed in England in an attempt to identify the disease, leading to the slaughter of more than 26,000 cattle. These tests are only 20% to 50% effective. One quarter of herds in the south-west and west midlands regions of England have been placed under movement restrictions at some point, and in the last decade the rising incidence of the disease has cost the UK taxpayer more than £500 million. Today, 20% of all new herd breakdowns are detected in the slaughterhouse, such is the ineffectiveness of current testing programmes.
The cost of culling is around £5,000 per badger compared with just £700 for a badger vaccinated. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that not only is culling counterproductive and cruel, but it is a vast waste of money?
The hon. Lady is ahead of me. I am just coming to that point.
In 2014 the UK Government’s inability to bring the disease under control resulted in a cost to UK taxpayers of almost £100 million, with additional costs to farmers estimated to run to tens of millions of pounds annually. There is also a significant human cost. Bovine TB causes misery for farmers. I suspect that many Members here today will have heard stories of farms effectively being closed because of the disease, farmers being made bankrupt and, sadly, some farmers even taking their own lives, such is the impact on businesses of the failure to address the disease effectively.
If the UK Government do not begin to manage the rising incidence of this disease in England, there will be not only an increase in the number of beef and dairy herds affected, but further geographical spread and a consequent spiralling cost to UK taxpayers over the next decade of potentially £1 billion. That figure comes from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, who is a colleague on the EFRA Committee, on securing this debate. It has been suggested that one way of solving the problem is to have more frequent cattle testing. How will that resolve the problem and eradicate the disease?
The hon. Gentleman flags up an important point, which again I will come to. We agree that this is a crisis that must be dealt with now. It affects mainly English cattle farmers, and their families and their communities, and the impact cannot be overstated. If the disease continues to increase unchecked in England, it will begin to threaten herds in other nations that are currently free of the disease, such as Scotland. I want to avoid that happening.
Inexplicably, some people hypothesise that the rising incidence of bovine TB in England is attributable to badgers. I say “inexplicably” because research shows that even in remote areas of England where bovine TB is rampant, 86% of badgers are clear of the disease, with just 1.6% of the badger population considered capable of transmitting it. The role of badgers in the transmission of bovine TB to cattle is controversial.
Badger culling was conducted under a number of schemes throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. These included at different times the use of snaring, gassing, cage-trapping and shooting. Many thousands of badgers were killed prior to the introduction of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. However, no effort was made to evaluate empirically the effectiveness of badger culls relative to reducing bovine TB incidence in cattle until the Natural Environment Research Council initiated the randomised badger culling trial in 1998.
The hon. Gentleman talked about evidence. Does he agree with Professor Rosie Woodroffe of London University, who says that the mismatch between killing badgers and the spread of bovine TB is
“a huge disappointment for evidence-based policy making”?
It is indeed a huge disappointment. I spoke to the professor on that very point just the other day.
The field trial I mentioned ran for seven years to 2005 and was overseen by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB under the chairmanship of Professor John Bourne. The study found that reactive badger culling resulted in a significant increase in cattle TB to the extent that reactive culling was abandoned early in the trial. Proactive culling of badgers resulted in an average reduction of TB in cattle of approximately 23% in proactive culling zones compared with control areas, but an increase of approximately 24.5% on neighbouring land not subject to culling, which was thought to be due to the perturbing impact of culling.
The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB concluded: badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to the future control of TB in cattle; deficiencies in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in areas where TB occurs—that is, cattle are the disease reservoir; cattle-to-cattle transmission is the main cause of disease spread to new geographic areas; substantial reductions in cattle TB incidence could be achieved by improving cattle-based control measures; and it was unfortunate that agricultural and veterinary leaders continued to believe, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, that the main approach to cattle TB control must involve some form of badger population control. No substantial or respectable body of scientific work has ever been produced to contradict the conclusions of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB.
In short, scientific evidence does not identify a causal relationship between the presence of badgers and a rising incidence of bovine TB in cattle, nor do scientific data suggest that culling badgers reduces the prevalence of the disease in beef and dairy herds.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter to the Chamber. I presume that many hon. Members have a different opinion from him. In Northern Ireland, there has been a five-year programme costing some £5 million. After trapping, testing and vaccinating badgers and removing any that tested positive, it was decided this year for the first time—
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman make his point very briefly?
It was decided after five years of deliberation that diseased badgers must be culled. What does the hon. Gentleman think about the position in Northern Ireland?
I do not think the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is borne out by scientific evidence. Indeed, experience in Wales and the Republic of Ireland contradicts what he is suggesting. In fact, the data suggest that badgers are contracting TB from cattle rather than cattle contracting TB from badgers. Worryingly, there is a possibility that other species may also be contracting TB from cattle and that that this is not being monitored. It is an unavoidable truth that if the UK Government hope to control bTB in English herds and to protect the wider environment through culling, they should logically cull not just badgers and cattle but bats, cats, dogs, mice, moles, rats, hedgehogs, sheep, goats, llamas, slugs, worms and even flies, all of which are capable of sustaining the disease. That proposition is clearly ridiculous, but it serves to highlight precisely how ridiculous the current persecution of badgers is, and that is exactly why the Welsh and Irish Governments have abandoned badger culling and why the European Union has never agreed with the UK’s policy in this area.
Culling never actually occurred in Wales. The hon. Gentleman needs to be reasonably accurate about his points, but he also should take note of the fact that the incidences of TB within the vaccination area in Wales are exactly the same as they are on the outside. There is no distinction between the two areas, so before he paints vaccination as the answer, he needs to look at the Welsh result.
I am arguing here today that the UK Government must begin to protect beef and dairy farmers in England and alter planned programmes of action to begin reducing the disease in existing herds in England. Anything less does a disservice to English farmers and undermines their work in support of local economies.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the one animal that is attacking the hedgehog is the badger and that hedgehogs have declined by 50% over the last 15 years? What action can we take to protect them?
I will stick to bovine TB. I predict that the recently announced plans to extend badger culling to a further seven areas will result in further new herd breakdowns and increased prevalence of the disease across England.
Just for information, I point out that I had a herd of Chital deer and we had to put them all down because of TB. I do not believe that badgers were the carriers; we think it was something else—probably a wild deer that came in. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should be putting more funds into tracing what else carries TB?
I absolutely agree and I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful point.
To make my point clear, it is worth noting that figures to May 2016 show that Wales has reduced new herd breakdowns by 14% without killing badgers, while at the same time bovine TB has increased in England by 26% along infection edge areas owing to inadequate testing, uncontrolled cattle movements and the distraction of killing badgers.
In 2015, the British Veterinary Association stated that there was a
“disproportionate focus on badger culling in the public debate about bovine TB”.
I agree and suggest that that focus is the result of the unscientific, ineffective, expensive and inhumane nature of culling policy; additional public concerns in respect of wildlife protection and welfare; and the inappropriate use of public funds.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He has mentioned the skin test. How effective has he found it to be, from the evidence? From a Northern Ireland perspective, I have found that it has resulted in animals being put down that should never have been put down.
I will come to the skin test shortly, but I think that there are more appropriate alternatives to it.
Returning to the point about public funds, it is instructive that the UK Government have never published the total costs of culling to the taxpayer or farmers. However, we know that the first two years of the two pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucester cost the taxpayer more than £14 million; that includes policing costs. That equates to £5,766 per badger killed and compares with an estimated cost of just under £700 per badger vaccinated in Wales.
Part of the trial culls is taking place in my constituency of Tewkesbury. This may be anecdotal, but the farmers there assure me that the incidence of bovine TB in those areas has been reduced since the trial culls began.
It must be anecdotal because it certainly does not appear to be borne out by the scientific evidence.
In 2016, the UK Government admitted that the full costs of culling in 2015 had not been worked out but that policing costs alone for three areas were just under £2 million. The additional costs to farmers of the cull repercussions have never been released. In January this year, it was reported that the European Commission had provided the UK Government with half the Commission’s entire budget of €62 million to tackle bovine TB: €31m, then worth £23 million, went on just four programmes. That money, earmarked for dealing with and controlling TB in cattle, as opposed to badgers, is obviously now at risk because of Brexit. In sum, the UK Government’s current policy wastes an estimated £20 million per month and will generate a cost of approximately £2 billion to the taxpayer by the 2038 target. In addition, the UK Government no longer collect data on humaneness. One wonders why. What are the actual costs, Minister, and what do data show on humaneness?
I am arguing not that we should do nothing, but that the UK Government should abandon the TB skin test as the primary means of identifying infection and new herd breakdowns and should adopt modern methods and technologies to address this disease. Specifically, the UK Government should adopt gamma interferon tests—that is, blood testing—and robust systems of biosecurity. Combined with a co-ordinated badger vaccination policy in high-risk areas for bovine TB in England and restricted movement, that course of action would be a more progressive and intelligent option than the relatively crude skin testing and redundant killing of badgers and would realise results within months. It would also be more humane.
I support further research into vaccination, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a global shortage of bovine TB vaccine? It is the same vaccine as is used in humans, it needs 10 times the dose, and it needs to be repeated every five years. There is no possibility of an injectable vaccine roll-out at this time, and the programme has even been suspended in Wales.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that information. However, it does not address the fundamental point that killing badgers is not helping the situation, either.
Following the introduction in Wales of the regime that I have just identified, the incidence of tuberculosis in cattle has declined sharply: a 30% decline over a 12-month period was recorded in 2012. The sharpest fall was in the area where the disease was at its worst. In Dyfed, 36% less cattle were slaughtered over two years, with a saving to the taxpayer of £6.5 million in compensation, and of course untold misery was avoided.
It is the case that 84% of the public are against badger culling. Like scientists, the public know that culling badgers is cruel, unjustified and expensive. It divides rural communities, damages the balance of nature and perpetuates disease. It gives false hope to farmers and sets a dangerous precedent that we can ignore this disease. Minister, look to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Recognise the importance of cattle welfare and husbandry. Combine that recognition with rigorous blood testing regimes and effective movement controls to reduce the risks of cattle-to-cattle transmission, and introduce a centrally co-ordinated comprehensive badger vaccination policy in high-risk areas for bTB in England. Start to reduce the incidence of this dreadful disease and stop the regressive and medieval practice of badger culling, which diminishes our collective humanity.
As of now, I am imposing a two-minute limit on speeches.
I enjoyed listening to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan), but he is about five years behind the times. To suggest that culling does not work and vaccination would be a substitute is unfair and unfortunate, given the evidence provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston).
The reason why we are all here is that bovine TB is caused by a species-jumping bacterium, and it affects people. That is why this is such an important subject, and it is no good saying that it is all about badgers. The Government’s record on it is superb. By identifying the edge areas, they have made it clear that a huge part of our country has badgers with no infection. There is a clear, healthy population of badgers, and they need to be protected from the badgers in my constituency, which have a high incidence of infection. If we lose sight of that, we do no favours to the people who love badgers or to the badgers that are not infected. We all know the reason why TB is a horrible disease, because the hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan), with his Chital deer, reminded us. These animals are our pets that we care about and that we like to see, and they need to be protected. By doing nothing we are being irresponsible and letting down both healthy badgers and the people whose livelihoods depend on cattle farming.
I have nothing but praise for my hon. Friend the Minister; he is doing what is right by protecting healthy badgers. We need to continue to look at the evidence, and I hope that the pilot schemes will start to publish successful evidence soon. During the recess I read that the incidence of outbreaks in Wales and in the edge areas where vaccines are being trialled has actually gone up, which is a disaster for those of us who want vaccines to work, but in among that gloom is a little sparkle of hope to all of those who voted to leave the EU, because when we are out we will potentially be allowed to vaccinate our cattle, which is illegal in the EU at the moment.
It is an honour to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Main. I thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) for securing this timely debate.
Animal rights and welfare is an issue I am very passionate about. The culling of badgers to prevent the spread of diseases is not a new concept and has gone on across Europe since the ’70s, but it was largely abandoned in the UK during the 1980s and is now completely prohibited in many European countries. The 10-year randomised badger culling trial, which started in 1998, demonstrated the ineffectiveness of culling, but despite the evidence the Government implemented a full programme.
Does my hon. Friend agree that culls without evaluation or monitoring are ineffective?
Yes, I completely agree, and I will come on to that in a while. The absurdity of such a process is that it directly contravenes the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which prohibits the wilful killing or injuring of a badger. Badger culling has time and again proven ineffective. Arguments against culling are not only emotive but factual: it is expensive, with the Government’s own figures showing it will cost more than it saves; it is not proven to work in any substantial or sustainable way; and Lord Krebs, who led the culling trials of the ’90s, has opposed further culling on the grounds that it is ineffective.
The Welsh Labour Government have rejected the culling of badgers as a means of controlling and eradicating bovine TB. However, as a rural country Wales is not without its problems in this area, and in a bid to control the spread of TB in 2012 the Welsh Government began a badger vaccination programme. That work has been targeted at an intensive action area, which has some of the highest incidence of bovine TB in Europe. Although the effectiveness of vaccination remains disputed, it is surely a better option than the equally disputed, and much more contentious, process of inhumane killing.
I am appalled that the current UK Government have not only ignored evidence, fierce campaigning and the experience of some devolved regions, but have actually taken the notion of culling even further, recently extending the programme to seven new areas across England. I urge the Government to reconsider their commitment to badger culling. How can the random slaughter of one animal to protect another ever be justifiable, logical or humane?
Three years ago I had the honour of being the mayor of my home town of St Austell, and one evening I went to visit the local sea cadets. I will never forget that memorable evening, because at the end of the evening, as I usually did, I asked the young people what they would like to see in our town that would make it a better place. I got all the usual answers—better shops, better leisure facilities, a skateboard park—and then one young man standing in front of me, who was about 12 years old, leant forward and said, “A badger cull.” I figured out very quickly that he was clearly a farmer’s son.
The point that I want to make is that this debate is about people; it is about the livelihood and wellbeing of beef and dairy farmers in this country. We must never lose sight of the fact that as we debate Britain’s biggest rodent, we are actually talking about the livelihoods of our farmers. Let us be clear that every time cattle are tested, our dairy farmers go through anguish. They stand there watching the test take place, not knowing whether this time it is going to be positive, and then many of them have to watch as their life’s work is destroyed as a result of a positive test. We must never lose sight of the fact that at the heart of this debate is our local farming community. I have spoken to many beef and dairy farmers in my constituency, and every one of them has told me that they are convinced we need to control the badger population to eradicate this disease.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. Speaking as a farmer’s daughter, I understand how devastating TB can be in a cattle herd, but I also absolutely despise the shooting and culling of badgers. Will the hon. Gentleman identify the scientific evidence that supports badger culling?
I believe that there is a great deal of evidence from other nations that have eradicated TB, where part of the programme of eradication has been the control of wildlife that carries the disease. There is evidence from around the world that supports that view. Our beef and dairy farmers have a very clear view, and I have learned over the years to listen to those most closely associated with an issue when forming an opinion.
Let us be clear: controlling the badger population will not, in and of itself, be the silver bullet that eradicates this disease, but I am convinced that it has to be part of a comprehensive programme, including vaccination and controls on movement where appropriate, if we are to move towards doing so. I will continue to support our farming community, the Minister, who has great experience of farming in his own right, and the Government on this issue.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Mrs Main. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan), who introduced it, and I obviously have different opinions. I want to express mine clearly in the two minutes that I have.
I have a deep interest in the rural community; I live in the middle of it, and most of my neighbours are milking farmers. They have large herds and depend on the stability of those herds for their incomes and those of their families. With that in mind, they want and need badgers to be controlled.
First, I want to refer to what we have done in Northern Ireland in a wee bit more detail. We are currently in the third year of a selective badger cull project to tackle bovine TB in Northern Ireland. The test and vaccinate or remove wildlife intervention research project—they call it TVR—is under way in a 100 sq km area around Banbridge in County Down. I live in an area that has some of the highest milk yields in the whole of Northern Ireland and the whole of Ireland. The project was involved in trapping badgers, testing them for TB, vaccinating clean badgers and removing any that tested positive for the disease. With all that research and information, this will be the first year that it has culled diseased badgers. Clearly the scientific method has not worked. With great respect to hon. Members, I hear some say that the scientific evidence is not there, but it is in Northern Ireland. The worldwide shortage of the BCG vaccine, which was used in years one and two, meant that it was unavailable for purchase in the third year.
As I have said before, my constituency has one of the highest levels of TB. It would be unwise and unfair of me not to come to this Chamber and say clearly that badgers need to be culled, because the cost to farmers and the £100 million in compensation over the last few years cannot be sustained. I want my farmers to be able to support and look after their families, and I want to make sure that the milk yield from my area can continue as well. That being the case, I am very sorry to say that I cannot support the hon. Gentleman.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) on securing this debate. He laid out very clearly the science behind this policy area and exposed the Government’s wilful abandonment of it. First, they ignored the recommendations of the independent scientific review group. Secondly, they ignored and rode roughshod over the independent group that looked at the review of the first year of culling, and in particular its recommendations on humaneness. They have also ignored the BVA, which has made it clear that culling should not take place on the basis of controlled shooting. Now that farmers are free to shoot on a controlled basis, there will be very little caging and trapping. The Government have ignored all that, and now on top of that we have a significant relaxation of the criteria for the roll-out of culling areas.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the farmers are also casualties of the situation, as the reality is that the culling of badgers is not an effective solution to TB? Does she therefore agree that the Government should at least think again?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. What we are going to hear from the Minister is probably what we have heard in the past: first, that TB was dealt with in New Zealand by culling possums. Well, I will say once again that badgers are not possums, and this is not New Zealand; it is the United Kingdom and the ecology is completely different. Secondly, we will hear that TB has never been tackled effectively without tackling it in the wildlife reservoir. There is new evidence on the table to challenge that concept. It has been established that there is very little evidence of direct transmission between badgers and cattle, so that needs looking at again. Finally, we will hear a point about farmers, and that is exactly where I would agree strongly with the Minister. I agree that this disease has to be tackled, but we are doing farmers no favours by pretending that the policy of culling badgers, which is the linchpin of the Government’s approach to this awful problem, is going to work, because it is not.
What we have not heard at any point from the Minister—I would like him to address this in his closing comments—is answers to questions on two issues. First, at what point will we get a thorough and independent assessment of the outcome of the first two culls in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset? We are in the final year of the culls in those areas. Secondly, how will the Government assess the new research on transmission between badgers and cattle? Wil they look properly at that evidence and make sure that it is thoroughly investigated, and will Parliament be informed of the outcome?
I am not going to go over the pros and cons of the debate about culling; I want to be quite parochial in the couple of minutes that I have just to highlight the issue in East Sussex, which is not only a high-risk area, but an edge area along the A27. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) about the devastation that TB can cause for farmers and their families. Even so, East Sussex is quite low down the list of priorities for DEFRA. We have talked to the Minister about being a trial area for a vaccination programme and he has been very supportive of farmers in East Sussex. We would be ideal because we are an edge area and have support from our farmers, the National Farmers Union and our residents. We also have a trained and licensed group of volunteers ready to go, and the support of the Sussex Wildlife Trust.
Evidence from a vaccination programme from 2005 to 2009 in Gloucestershire showed that vaccinating can reduce the number of badgers testing positive by 54% to 76%. That would make a significant difference to my local farmers. I acknowledge that there is a shortage of vaccine and I take the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) that the badgers would need vaccinating yearly for a period of five years and need 10 times the amount of vaccine that a human would need. However, we need to do something. We would also be keen to look at the Northern Ireland programme of TVR—test and vaccinate or remove. We think there would be some merit in that vaccination programme for East Sussex, but we await the results of that programme.
Farmers in East Sussex, given that it is on the edge, are worried that it will stop being an edge area and become a completely high-risk area, so I would welcome further discussions with the Minister, who has been so supportive of the farmers in East Sussex.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) on securing this important debate and on the clear and robust way he opened it. Like many MPs—I think there were 36 here at the start of this debate—I have received much correspondence from constituents about badger culling. My constituents feel outraged and upset that the Government are continuing with the programme of culls. Many say that the badger cull is cruel, costly and ineffective and I agree with them.
We have heard in this debate—this is one of the key points I want to make—that the Government have failed to take account of scientific evidence and advice on this matter. Culling is expensive, ineffective and in some cases is not being carried out in a humane way. The previous Labour Government carried out a 10-year randomised trial on badger culling, which concluded that culling will not achieve a lasting reduction in bovine TB. Indeed, the trial found that culling risked making things worse for farmers in neighbouring areas. I understand that new evidence released this year has called into question the likelihood of direct transmission of the disease from badgers to cattle.
As we have heard, the Government have failed to take scientific advice and assessments into account. An assessment of the first year of the pilot culls by an independent expert panel was highly critical of the Government’s practices and policies. David Macdonald, the former chief scientific adviser to Natural England, described the culls as an “epic failure”. The pilots raised significant concerns that badgers were being shot inhumanely, and the way the culls had been carried out meant that there was no chance that they could be effective, with a number of culls failing to achieve their targets.
Instead of reviewing the culling programme and accepting that other forms of intervention were necessary to prevent the spread of bovine TB, the Government disbanded the expert panel and continued with the culling programme. Professor Tim Coulson described the Government’s approach as “wilfully” ignoring the concerns of their own scientists. I think that is appalling.
Order. The hon. Lady has a few seconds to conclude her remarks.
Yes, indeed. I will end with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) made: there are two important questions for the Minister to answer, particularly in the light of what I just said. When will we have a thorough and independent assessment of the two pilot culls? And when will the Government assess the research on transmission?
Mrs Main, I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests that states I am a farmer. I represent one of the country’s greatest agricultural constituencies; sadly, it is also one of the constituencies that is most badly affected by bovine tuberculosis, so I speak with some experience on this issue.
The choices we face are stark. TB is an indiscriminate and profoundly unpleasant disease. In 2015 alone, 28,000 once perfectly content and otherwise healthy cattle were slaughtered as a result of contracting this horrible disease. The Government have stated that the cost to the taxpayer was £100 million; on current trends that will be £1 billion cumulatively over the next decade.
As my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) said, Opposition Members never mention the human stress caused to the farmers involved. Add to that the cost—
If the hon. Gentleman checks Hansard, I think he will find that I did make the point about the stress and hardship that farmers face as a result of the UK Government’s programme on badger culling.
I am intrigued that an hon. Member from Scotland has secured this debate, because I did not realise that it was a problem in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman must have few problems with his own constituents to have time to bring forward this debate.
As well as the emotional stress for the farmers involved, the cost to them is tens of millions of pounds. Add that to the costs to the taxpayer and this is a really serious problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, the only legal vaccine for badgers is the injectable BCG vaccine. It is in such short supply that it is needed for human use and therefore the vaccination trial in a quarter of the area of Wales has had to be curtailed. I hasten to add that I believe DEFRA is right to budget tens of millions of pounds to try and achieve an oral vaccine for badgers. That is the nirvana and when we get that, we will really make progress.
My constituents in the new badger cull area in Gloucestershire, with whom I have worked very closely and to whom I pay tribute, have had to go through an incredibly rigorous process to get the licence from Natural England. They are responsible for all the training and recruiting of firearms experts—forgetting all the equipment. I say to Opposition Members that they would not go to that huge amount of trouble and expense unless they really believed that a badger cull was the answer, so I think the Government are exactly correct in their 25-year vaccination strategy. We have to use all the tools in our box.
I met people from Natural England a few months ago and they very much gave me the impression that the process was little more than a rubber-stamping exercise and they took their steer from DEFRA as to whether they would go ahead. It came across to me as a political decision rather than, in any way, an academic exercise.
I invited the hon. Lady, when she was the shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister, to come to my constituency and meet some of these farmers, and I invite her to come and meet some of the people who have been involved in this licensing programme. She will find out the hours, days and weeks they have had to spend on this to get a licence. She will be amazed.
The hon. Gentleman is kind to give way. Does he believe that free shooting is acceptable?
I believe that the best way to cull badgers is with traps. Unfortunately in Gloucestershire, protesters have removed and damaged traps, which has made it essential to have free shooting in our armoury, as well as shooting badgers in traps. If there were no interference with the traps, I believe we could—as they have done in Somerset—operate culls on a much greater basis by caging badgers.
I repeat that the 25-year elimination strategy that the Government have announced is exactly right. We must use all the tools in our armoury, including ring vaccination, culls, vaccinations and, indeed, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, tightening biosecurity. On farms, we legally have to do so. Every year DEFRA has tightened biosecurity, the regulations on pre and post-movement of cattle and the regulations on skin testing. Those are the directions in which we need to go, but we need to eliminate this terrible disease.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Main. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) for securing the debate and for setting out a detailed position. It is a well-attended debate, which shows the significance of the issue to us all—to farmers and animal welfare advocates alike. The issue is significant to the public and forms a huge part of my mail bag, as I would imagine it does for many other MPs.
Some 150,000 people signed the petition and more than 70% of the population oppose the cull of badgers. We have heard that the subject divides rural communities. I also suggest that it has divided the House, although not officially. It is a devolved issue, so I will speak a bit about what we are doing in Scotland, and try to outline the main issues that various hon. Members have spoken about. The issue should not divide us because we must learn from good practice and from what works across the UK. We obviously have differing strategies in place currently and, therefore, we need to review the evidence and examine it closely.
In Scotland, the risk of bovine TB has historically been very low, and there is no evidence whatever of a wildlife reservoir of bovine TB. The Scottish Government have recognised a need for confidence on the issue and have introduced a stringent package of measures including tissue sampling at farm visits, an epidemiological risk assessment, tracing cattle, contiguous herd assessments, and two consecutive tests with negative results to retain bovine TB-free status. In October 2009, Scotland was added to the long list of European Commission member states and regions that are declared free of bovine TB. The Commission attributed that to the success of Scotland’s livestock industry working in conjunction with the Government.
I will attempt to summarise the issues that have been raised very briefly, as I am aware that I only have three minutes or so remaining. Some of the main issues appear to involve the crisis in farming. Farmers have already been significantly affected by pricing and they may be feeling the impact of Brexit. There are export issues and issues in being price competitive with comparators. Those problems are fundamental to the stress experienced by farmers.
The other issue is whether culling is effective. The independent scientific group has apparently stated that the culling is ineffective and the previous 10-year randomised trial, which was undertaken by the Labour Government of the time, also indicated that it was not effective. We must base what we do upon evidence. Some evidence indicates that cattle-to-cattle transmission is the main issue and that, in some instances, badgers may even contract TB from cattle. It is important to look at alternatives.
The experts have even cited a huge disappointment about the lack of an evidence-based policy, which is extremely concerning. It must be cost-effective but the UK Government’s route does not appear to be. Policing costs alone have been cited as £2 million, with culling at £20 million a month. The estimated cost by 2038 is £2 billion. However, there are difficulties because there is a shortage of vaccines, and that must be looked at within the scientific community. We must also look at the humanity of culling, as we have heard grave concerns about the relaxation of regulations and free shooting.
We are in a time of austerity. Our most vulnerable are suffering. The disabled are suffering. The bottom line is that any policy enacted by this Government must be evidence based. These are extortionate pilot studies. Culling has been described by professionals in the field as a wilful abandoning of science, and we are beginning to ignore independent outcome trials. We are going down the wrong route, and it is an expensive route that we can little afford.
I suggest a review of the policy, the research and the pilot evidence, which is, indeed, urgent. Policy must be evidence based. We cannot give farmers false hope by going in the wrong direction. We cannot base policy on desperation, anecdotes and experience. In all my time as a scientist practitioner in the NHS, belief has never equated to evidence. We are looking for evidence-based practice to ensure that we give the general public a cost-effective solution that works for all.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) for bringing forward today’s important debate.
Over the summer, I have been listening to the frustrations and concerns of those working with cattle about the ongoing risk that they continue to carry about the prevalence of bovine TB. They want solutions that work, which is why it is so important that we examine the evidence and look at the scientific research, which really does conclude that since 2011 when the strategy was put in place, research has moved on and we must move on with it.
The Republic of Ireland, after 32 years of culling, now recognises the flaw in it and has, therefore, switched to badger inoculation. In Wales, a fresh approach has been taken, which has seen 94.6% of herds TB-free and incidence continues to fall at a rapid rate—17% in the past year. I know that the Government want to be seen to be acting, but there are better ways of doing things. Therefore, they have a responsibility to farmers to ensure that they take an evidence-based approach.
There have been failings in the programme that has been put forward. Figures that have come from freedom of information requests show that the number of badgers culled has fallen far short of the Government’s criteria for an effective cull, so trapping has been used to support it. Therefore, when we trap a badger, why not inoculate it as opposed to exterminating it? The cull has failed on effectiveness and on humaneness. It simply has not delivered. Instead, we should take a different approach. This is about a public health issue and, therefore, we need a comprehensive health strategy and not just a simple sticking plaster to try to deal with part of the problem as opposed to the complete problem.
Bovine TB is a commutable disease. Understanding the pathogen transmission process is vital in understanding the associated disease management strategy. New research coupled with scientific analysis has unveiled more about the disease. Evidence-based policy making should engage with that. Ultimately, farmers are being let down if the Government do not act on the back of that. Research has shown that badger-to-cattle transmission is not through airborne routes and that it is likely to be through badger excrement, but more research is needed in that area.
May I add that recent research by the Department in Northern Ireland has shown that there is a potential that the spread of cattle slurry on pasture could be one of the contributing factors? That may be worth looking at.
I thank the hon. Lady for making that intervention about how we manage the environmental impact of bovine TB. Looking at slurry and manure spreading is one way of achieving that and it is an important point that I was going to come to later. However, cattle-to-cattle transmission is the key issue to address. Therefore, we need a comprehensive strategy that puts investment into more measures around biosecurity, which is really important to address the issue in a strategic way.
We also know that the culls that have taken place have not delivered the decrease in the badger population necessary to reduce the spread of TB, as identified by the independent expert group. As the years have progressed, scientists say that population estimates are becoming more inaccurate, so the effectiveness of culls is falling further year on year.
We also know that the new criteria, which seven out of 10 respondents rejected, will mean that the cull is less effective in years to come. We have therefore seen the prevalence of bovine TB increasing in the four culling areas, which clearly does not satisfy farmers. As the independent scientific review group has concluded,
“badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain”.
We know that the cull has failed on effectiveness. The cull has failed on humaneness—between 7.4% and 22.8% of badgers are alive after five minutes. We know that badgers are not shot in the target area—only 45% are shot in the target area. We know that the cull has failed on cost, and we have heard today that the vaccine costs a tenth as much as killing a single badger. That money could be repurposed to support farmers.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady cannot give way because the Minister must be called and we need a minute for Dr Monaghan to sum up.
New measures need to be introduced on biosecurity and testing, and we have heard about the gamma interferon test, which has a far higher level of accuracy but is not being widely used. The DIVA test is coming on board, and it will clearly differentiate between infected cattle and vaccinated cattle. We understand that that will be ready in about five years’ time. We need to look at the vaccination programme and build up vaccine stock.
I ask the hon. Lady to bring her remarks to a close.
Of course. Farmers continue to pay the price for a lack of evidence-based policy making. The Government are using a one-pronged approach. We need to see scientific evidence and a proper biosecurity strategy at the heart of addressing bovine TB.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) on securing this well-attended debate, which shows the importance of the issue.
Scotland, of course, has a very low badger population density. Scotland is also the only part of the UK to be officially TB free, but England, Wales and Northern Ireland have this big challenge. TB is a difficult disease to fight. It is a slow-growing, insidious disease. Diagnostics are difficult because the disease does not show up quickly. The only vaccine we have is the BCG vaccine and, despite decades of research, no one has come up with a more effective vaccine—the BCG vaccine is only partially effective. TB is having a huge impact on our agricultural industry and is causing huge trauma for farmers, with some 28,000 cattle a year being slaughtered.
We have put in place a comprehensive 25-year strategy to address bovine TB, and cattle control is at the heart of that strategy. Several hon. Members have said that cattle control is the answer, but I will explain what we have. We have annual testing in the high-risk area and four-yearly testing in the low-risk area. We have annual testing in the edge area and six-monthly testing in hotspots in the edge area, and we continue to consider rolling that out. We have contiguous testing in the high-risk area where there is a breakdown, and we have radial testing in the low-risk area, going out to 3 km, where we have a breakdown. We are now consulting on greater use of the gamma interferon test so that we can pick up the disease faster. We are also looking at what more can be done in other species. We are constantly trying to refine and improve our cattle movement controls, but I put it to hon. Members that for years we have been doing everything that everyone has said we should be doing.
We continue to work on vaccination. We are spending millions of pounds on trying to develop an oral vaccine for badgers because I believe that could give us an exit strategy from the cull once we have completed a reduction in the population of some areas. We are also continuing to work on cattle vaccination to develop a DIVA test. That work takes time and costs millions of pounds, but we are doing it.
In recent years we have set up an edge area vaccination programme, with a number of volunteer groups taking part. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, the World Health Organisation has asked everyone to stop using the vaccine we have on badgers, and we followed the Welsh Government’s lead in doing so. We will resume our testing when those stocks come back on stream.
We are doing a huge amount of work to improve biosecurity. In a few weeks’ time I will launch a cattle health certification standards—CHeCS—accreditation scheme to try to incentivise farmers to do more for biosecurity. We have grants available so that farmers can invest in water troughs that make it harder for badgers to gain access and in fencing to keep badgers away from farmyards. We are constantly trying to improve the management of slurry, and there is already a suite of measures on farmyard manure management. We are also looking at other novel things, such as genetics. Holstein UK is working on whether genetic improvement might be able to breed partial resistance into the dairy herd in particular. I have already asked our chief scientific adviser to find out whether further work could be done to enhance that.
The badger cull is just one part of our strategy but, as I have said before, there is no example anywhere in the world of a country that has eradicated TB without also addressing reservoirs of the disease in the wildlife population. A number of hon. Members have raised questions about the science. TB was first isolated in badgers as long ago as 1971. In 1974 a trial was conducted to remove badgers from a severely infected farm, with the result that there was no breakdown on that farm for five years. Between 1975 and 1978 the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food funded extensive work that demonstrated conclusively that there is transmission and a link between badgers and cattle, and subsequent work in Ireland has reaffirmed that finding.
The Krebs review observed that between 1975 and 1979 TB incidence in the south-west fell from 1.65% to 0.4% after the cull, a 75% reduction. Subsequently, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, more extensive work was done in three exercises. One was in Thornberry, where the TB incidence fell from 5.6% in the 10 years before culling to 0.45% in the 15 years afterwards, a reduction of 90%. In Steeple Leaze there were no breakdowns for seven years after badgers were cleared. In Hartland the incidence dropped from 15% in 1984 to just 4% in 1985, a reduction of more than two thirds.
There were claims that those experiments lacked a control, which is why the randomised badger culling trial took place. Despite having the challenge of the foot and mouth crisis smack in the middle of it, the RBCT concluded that in the four years after culling there was a significant reduction in the incidence of TB. The RBCT supported what the previous trials had shown. In fact, 18 months after the culling ended in the RBCT there was a 54% reduction in the incidence of the disease, so I am afraid that hon. Members who say that we have not followed the science have themselves not read the science. The science and the veterinary advice are clear.
Will the Minister give way?
I will not give way.
This is an evidence-based policy. We cannot remove and eradicate TB without addressing the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population. I would not sanction a cull of badgers unless it were necessary. Apart from anything else, it is incredibly expensive but I am also not the sort of person who wants to kill wildlife for fun. I would not sanction this unless it were necessary, and I believe that it is necessary.
I urge hon. Members to show some sense of perspective. I live next to Bushy Park and at this time of year, every year, a sign goes up on the gates saying, “We are afraid that the park will be closed for the next few weeks because we are having a deer cull.” Nobody bats an eyelid. They go somewhere else to have their picnic. We do not get protesters running around the park at night. Is that really so different? The level of scrutiny that we put on the culls and the requirements that we attach to licensing are incredibly thorough. We have rules on the distance that hunters have to be before they can take a shot and on precisely the type of rifles that they should have. We have rules saying that the badger must be stationary before a shot is taken. We are doing our utmost to ensure that the badger culling and shooting are done in the most effective way, more effective than for any other wildlife.
In conclusion, I believe that this is necessary. It is an evidence-based policy, which is why we continue to roll out the cull.
This has been a lively debate, but I think everyone in the room agrees that we must do everything possible to eradicate bovine TB in cattle. Everyone would also agree that the crucial issue is a human and a humane one. In Scotland we have introduced a stringent package of evidence-based measures that include blood testing and tissue sampling at farm visits, epidemiological risk assessments, cattle tracing, contiguous herd assessments and two consecutive tests with negative results in order to retain TB free status. The Scottish Government have also passed legislation that allows for certain specific non-bovine animals to be subject to the regime of bovine TB controls. Scotland, as we now know, has been officially TB free since 2009. We are proud of that, and we want to stay that way.
The hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) will be interested to know—
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).