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Bovine TB

1.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): Today I am publishing the Government’s bovine tuberculosis eradication programme for England. The programme sets out a comprehensive and balanced package of measures to tackle TB in cattle, badgers and other animals. Nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England in 2010 because of bovine TB, which cost the country £90 million in the past year alone. The problem is particularly bad in west and south-west England, where 23% of cattle farms were unable to move stock off their premises at some point in 2010 due to being affected by the disease.

Cattle measures, including routine testing and surveillance, pre-movement testing, movement restrictions and removal and slaughter of infected animals, will remain the foundation of the TB eradication programme. Measures to address bovine TB in cattle remain the cornerstone of efforts to control the disease right across the country, and existing measures will be strengthened. Measures already introduced include a significant expansion of the areas on more frequent routine TB testing and the DNA tagging of cattle to prevent TB reactor fraud.

Planned new measures that I am announcing today include reducing compensation payments for reactor animals from herds where TB tests are significantly overdue and removing some of the exemptions to the requirement to test animals before they move out of herds under annual and two-year routine testing. The Government will work with the farming industry and the veterinary profession to continue to promote good biosecurity and provide advice and support to farmers, as well as investing £20 million over the next five years to develop effective cattle and oral badger vaccines as quickly as possible. The programme also sets out the proposed way forward on controlling the disease in the badger population, including plans to license groups of farmers and landowners to carry out science-led, strictly controlled culls of badgers in the areas worst affected by TB.

This terrible disease is getting worse, and we have to deal with the devastating impact that it has on farmers and rural communities. There is also the effect on the farming economy and taxpayers. Bovine TB will cost us £1 billion over the next decade in England alone if we do not take more action. First, we need to stop the disease spreading even further, and then we need to bring it under control and ultimately eradicate it. We cannot go on like this. Doing nothing is not an option. Many farmers are desperate and feel unable to control the disease in their herds. If someone has repeatedly had to send their cows to be slaughtered, one can understand the desperation that they feel. We know that unless we tackle the disease in badgers we will never be able to eradicate it in cattle. We also know that no country in the world has successfully controlled TB in cattle without addressing its presence in the wildlife population.

Ultimately, we want to be able to vaccinate cattle and badgers, and we are investing in research, but there are serious practical difficulties with the injectable badger vaccine, which is currently the only available option. Badgers have to be trapped and caged in order to

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dispense it. We are working hard to develop a cattle vaccine and an oral badger vaccine, but a usable and approved cattle vaccine and oral badger vaccine are much further away than we thought, and we cannot say with any certainty if and when they will be ready. We simply cannot afford to keep waiting. We already have a robust set of cattle controls in place, but we need to accept that in some parts of the country they are not enough. Unless we tackle each and every transmission route, including from badgers to cattle, we are likely to see the situation deteriorate further.

There is great strength of feeling on this issue, and that is why I have carefully considered the scientific evidence and the large number of responses to our public consultation. I know that a large section of the public is opposed to culling and that many people are particularly concerned about whether it will actually be effective in reducing TB in cattle and whether it will be humane. I wish that there were some other practical way of dealing with this matter, but we cannot escape the fact that the evidence supports the case for a controlled reduction of the badger population in areas worst affected by bovine TB.

With the problem of TB spreading and no usable vaccine on the horizon, I am strongly minded to allow controlled culling, carried out by groups of farmers and landowners as part of a science-led and carefully managed policy of badger control. Badger control licences would be issued by Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to enable groups of farmers and landowners to reduce badger populations at their own expense. In light of concerns raised in the public consultation, a number of amendments to the proposed policy have been made. Key stakeholders will now be further consulted on the resulting draft guidance to Natural England, which is the licensing authority for the culling activity. The draft guidance to Natural England sets out strict criteria that applicants for a licence to cull badgers would have to meet to ensure that any culling is carried out safely, effectively and humanely. Initially, in the first year, the culling method would be piloted in two areas to confirm the effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting. An independent panel of scientific experts will be asked to evaluate the pilots.

Scientists agree that if culling is conducted in line with the strict criteria identified from the randomised badger culling trial, we would expect it to reduce TB in cattle over a 150 sq km area, plus a 2 km surrounding ring, by an average of 16% over nine years. The Government will not attempt to eradicate the disease nationally by culling, and there would be no culling over the whole endemic area at the same time. However, controlled culling can make an important contribution in the worst affected areas. In the event of a decision to permit culling following the consultation, any culling licences granted by Natural England would be subject to strict conditions, based on evidence from the RBCT, designed to ensure that culling results in an overall decrease in the disease in the areas where it takes place.

Applications for licences would be considered only for a cull area of at least 150 sq km, and with culling to be conducted by trained and proficient experts and paid for by groups of farmers and landowners over a minimum of four years. Farmer groups would have to take reasonable measures to identify barriers and buffers such as rivers, coastlines and motorways, or areas where there are no

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cattle or where vaccination of badgers occurs at the edge of culling areas, in order to minimise the effect of perturbation, where disturbing the badger population can cause an increase in TB in cattle in the surrounding area. If culling is ultimately authorised, we will look to the farmers involved to show that they take their responsibility very seriously and that they are committed to delivering culling effectively and humanely.

I can assure the House that I have not reached this decision lightly. I am very aware of the strength of feeling on both sides of the debate. However, having now considered all the evidence and all the views, I believe that this is the right way forward.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement.

The Opposition know that bovine TB is a major animal health problem. We understand the desperation of farmers affected by this devastating disease. That is why, in government, Labour set up the randomised badger culling trial. It cost £50 million and remains the most extensive scientific study over a 10-year period on the effects of culling badgers, protecting cattle and reducing bovine TB. The report concluded that

“the reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended and did not offset the financial costs of culling. These results…suggest that badger culling is unlikely to contribute effectively to the control of cattle TB in Britain.”

Labour’s approach in government was led by that science, and we continue to be led by it. The Secretary of State talks of a badger vaccine. However, when she became Secretary of State, she cancelled five of Labour’s six trials a vaccine for badger TB. Why did she not give those vaccine trials a chance to work?

The Government’s announcement today is led by short-term political calculation. These pilots will not change the science. The Secretary of State’s solution of the free shooting of badgers has never been tested. It is therefore not supported by the science. There is strong evidence that localised culling, which she proposes, significantly increases the TB risk in neighbouring herds, as badgers move out of cull areas and spread the disease, particularly in the first two years. Will she tell the House what steps she is taking to ensure that farmers outside cull areas and non-participating farmers inside cull areas are protected from bovine TB? The scientists who met at DEFRA on 4 April 2011 stated that vaccination, which she proposes, is unlikely to be effective at reducing the risk of infection. Her impact assessment states:

“For farmers in cull areas, monetised costs exceed expected monetised benefits.”

So the costs to farmers will exceed the benefits. That is hardly a compelling case to sign up for a DIY cull.

The Secretary of State said the costs of bovine TB will reach £1 billion over the next 10 years. What estimate has she made of the reduction in that £1 billion cost to the taxpayer over the next 10 years with her proposed cull? The taxpayer will still pay for TB testing, monitoring, issuing licences and judging the scientific effectiveness of her cull. Will she tell the House how much the cull will cost the taxpayer? The science shows

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that there will be, at best, a 16% reduction in TB cases after nine years. Does that mean a reduction in taxpayer costs of about the same amount?

The science also states that culling must be wholesale and sustained. What will the Secretary of State do if the results of the one-year pilot show that the cull has made things worse? How will she deal with farmers who sell up, move on or decide that they no longer want to be part of the cull? Will DEFRA pay for the cull if that happens? Has the Secretary of State seen the letter in The Times of Wednesday 13 July from seven members of the original independent scientific group? It states that

“there are no empirical data on the cost or effectiveness (or indeed humaneness or safety) of controlling badgers by shooting, which has been illegal for decades. If the Government decides to proceed with this untested and risky approach, it is vital that it also instigates well-designed monitoring of the consequences.”

There is obviously some doubt in the Secretary of State’s mind that this is a humane way to proceed. What kind of information will reassure her that killing badgers in this way is humane? How will she monitor and measure the effectiveness of the free shooting pilots? How will she prevent the pilots from becoming an open season on badgers elsewhere in the country? The Badger Trust estimated in 2008 that there were about 300,000 badgers in Britain. What estimate has the Secretary of State made of the number of badgers that will be culled, and of the time frame? The guidance states that the aim is to reduce the number of badgers in control areas by 70%. What measures is she taking to prevent the localised extinction of badgers? What contact has she had with the Bern convention secretariat? Does not the policy she announced today put us at risk of breaching the convention on protecting our wildlife?

The impact assessment estimates that the additional policing costs to deal with protesters against the cull will be £200,000 per year. Devon and Cornwall police are losing 700 officers over the next four years. Which Department will pay for the police required in cull areas—the Home Office, which has had its budget cut by 20%, or DEFRA, which has been cut by 30%? What advice has the Secretary of State had from the Home Office and what public order issues has it identified? Will she publish that advice for the House?

The right hon. Lady promised farmers a science-led approach on bovine TB; today she has turned her back on the science. She promised that she would do something on bovine TB; today she has shown that she will do anything. The right hon. Lady has achieved the almost impossible: with the forests sell-off, her inept handling of wild animals in circuses and now an ill-thought-out badger cull, she has shot herself in the foot not once but three times—a hat trick unmatched by any other Minister.

Mrs Spelman: This is a very serious matter and I do not think it lends itself to political point scoring. I am glad that the hon. Lady has acknowledged that this is a devastating problem. Her Government had the opportunity to do more to address it when they were in office.

The question of the science is an incredibly important and pivotal point. When the previous Government set up the randomised badger culling trial, the initial results showed that within the culled area, there was a significant reduction in TB breakdowns in herds. The perimeter of the area was where the perturbation effect was apparent. The science has continued to be monitored

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by Christl Donnelly, who has published and had peer reviewed findings on the long-term effect of the decision to cull badgers as a method of reducing the incidence of TB. In the longer term, the reduction in TB herd breakdowns is sustained within the culled area and the negative perturbation effect falls away 12 to 18 months after the culling ceases. That is the science and those are the facts. The scientists agree on the facts. I encourage the hon. Lady to read Christl Donnelly’s most recent publication.

The vaccine deployment trials, to which the hon. Lady referred, were trials not of the vaccine, but of the practical ability to inject badgers with the vaccine and to train people to undertake that. I have seen that with my own eyes. We have the results of those deployment trials and so those resources are no longer required. As I have said, the Government have spent £30 million since 1997 on trying to develop an oral vaccine for badgers and a cattle vaccine, and we are committed to spending £20 million over the next five years to continue the development of the vaccines, which we all want to see.

The hon. Lady described the action rather disparagingly as a DIY cull. I hope that I made it clear that a high level of proficiency will be required of those contracted to undertake the cull. They must have achieved deerstalking level 1 proficiency and must undertake an additional course to cope with the physiology of the badger and to understand the health and safety requirements.

The monetised costs are a matter for the farming industry. It is a fact that it costs a modest amount more to incorporate culling as a method of controlling badgers. However, how are we to estimate the social cost to the industry from the repeated breakdowns of herds and the spread of the disease? That is also an important factor in the decision. We estimate that there will be savings to the taxpayer of £900,000 for each 150 sq km area.

On the question of whether farmers will move out of an area having entered into a consortium during the four year period, the industry has agreed to provide the resources up front for a four-year programme of culling. Therefore, if anyone should leave during that time, the resources will be available to contract operators to ensure that the culling programme is seen through. What we know from the randomised badger culling trial is that it is not good to start and then break off before the exercise is completed. We have ensured that that is covered under section 7 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. The programme will be closely monitored, as I said, and we will establish an independent panel of experts to look closely at the efficacy and humaneness of it, including through a post mortem of the carcases that accrue from the culling trial, so that we can establish that the animals have been humanely dispatched.

The hon. Lady asked me about the number of badgers likely to be involved. It can only be an estimate, as there is no precise knowledge of the size of the badger population, but before any culling is carried out a detailed survey of the control area and all the setts within it will be required. We estimate that the number of badgers culled will be between 1,000 and 1,500 per 150 sq km area over a four-year period. I invite the House to compare that with the statistics produced by the Highways Agency showing that on average, 50,000 badgers are killed on the roads in this country every year.

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Of course, we have been in contact with the Bern convention secretariat on a number of occasions, and there is no question of eradicating the badger population. It is a protected species but not an endangered species in this country, and the most important thing to remember is that unchecked, this disease is spreading further and further north. At the moment we have TB-free badgers and cattle in England, and we want to keep it that way. Our endeavour is to reduce TB infection in cattle and badgers.

I have given the Home Secretary an undertaking that DEFRA will take care of the police costs. I am afraid I cannot share the Home Office advice with the hon. Lady, but I can assure her that I have met the police, who are responsible for public order, on a number of occasions and discussed how they will conduct their role in ensuring that the exercise guarantees public safety, and that those who are contracted to carry out the culling can do so without fear or intimidation.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I commend the Department for bringing forward this extremely difficult decision. May I go back to 1972, when I understand badgers were protected for the first time in this country? The badger population grew, but infections in cattle grew incrementally. I hope that the programme will recognise the animal welfare effects on farmers, who lose not just individual cattle but often whole herds. The statement partly redresses that balance.

Who will issue the licences, and what will the conditions of them be? How broad will the areas be, and what consultation will there be on the specifics of them? The report of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the last Parliament made some helpful recommendations, from which I hope my right hon. Friend will take some comfort.

Turning to vaccination in the long term, will the Secretary of State address the real concerns about vaccinating cattle and the prospect of their meat not being able to enter the food chain?

Mrs Spelman: I am publishing today the draft guidance to Natural England, which contains detailed information for my hon. Friend. I expect that her Committee will want to examine the conditions of the licences in some detail, but as I have said, there must be a minimum area of 150 sq km. Natural England will consult locally on each area to be licensed.

Cattle vaccination is a very difficult issue. It is prohibited by EU legislation, and since the United Kingdom and Ireland are the only two member states that currently have TB as an endemic disease, I am sure the House will appreciate how difficult it will be to get the law changed. We first have to establish that we have a viable cattle vaccine and a viable test to distinguish between vaccinated and non-vaccinated cattle.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): This is a sad day for conservation and animal welfare in the UK, especially given that in 2007 the independent scientific group rejected a cull as an effective means of managing bovine TB. How has the science changed since then?

Mrs Spelman: I do not accept that it is a sad day for conservationists, of whom I regard myself as one. I think the hon. Lady will be aware that nature conservationists

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regularly have to cull species in the natural world. That is part of good conservation. As regards the 2007 position on the science, things have moved on. I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh): in 2011 we have had the publication of the data produced by one of the original scientists, Christl Donnelly, which show that the ongoing beneficial effects of having culled the badgers in the cull area are maintained, and that the perturbation effect moves away. I think the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) will find when she reads that document that, since it has been peer reviewed by other scientists, it meets with strong support in the scientific community.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): The right hon. Lady will be aware that this is a matter of immense importance to my constituency, which is in the south-west. The coalition agreement states:

“As part of a package of measures, we will introduce a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine tuberculosis.”

Science-led policy would require a thorough and rigorous evaluation of the two pilot projects of which she has spoken before the policy was rolled out to the rest of the areas affected by TB. I imagine that it might take years for the scientists to evaluate them. What form would that evaluation take, and can she give more details of what resources DEFRA will put in place?

Mrs Spelman: I commiserate with the hon. Lady on the fact that her part of the world is so badly affected. That is one reason why we want to undertake the pilots in the worst-affected areas, where they are likely to be disproportionately beneficial. I can assure her that the pilots will be rigorously evaluated by an independent panel of scientific experts, veterinary scientists, academic scientists and practitioners. However, we need to be clear that the pilots are to establish the efficacy and humaneness of this method of reducing the population, and are not about the wider question of the science, which had already been established by the randomised badger culling trial. For that reason, I do not think it is remotely likely to take years. It will be more a matter of weeks or months.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I congratulate the Minister on fulfilling an election pledge, and indeed a coalition pledge, in her statement today. While other Members are elsewhere, fulfilling a media cull, it is good to see that DEFRA is going to pursue a cull of an animal that has put into our society great poison among our bovine herd. When people talk about the welfare of a wild animal, they never seem to be concerned about the welfare of our bovine herd. I am glad that we are hearing some sensible talk about protecting a multi-million pound industry, as opposed to protecting cuddly things in the countryside.

Will the Secretary of State share the basis of her scientific evidence with the Northern Ireland Executive, and with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland, so that in a part of the United Kingdom where we have suffered from TB in our cattle we can see the scientific information and protect our national herd as well?

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Mrs Spelman: The hon. Gentleman makes the very important point that the 25,000 cattle slaughtered just in the past year also deserve our respect for their welfare as animals.

The Minister of State has just mentioned to me that he did share our thinking on this subject with the Northern Ireland Executive in the spring, but given that we are now consulting on two pilots to examine a controlled reduction, it is important that everyone has the opportunity to learn from that science-led, evidence-based approach.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. May I just say before I bring any more Members in that there is a lot of pressure on time, so short questions and certainly short answers will be very helpful?

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister for all their work in looking at all sides of this argument. In 1997, 3,700 cattle were culled because of TB. By 2009, it was 37,000, and the point that Ian Paisley made—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. We are not meant to mention Members’ names. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is coming to the end of his question.

Neil Parish: The number of cattle slaughtered in those years has meant huge heartache for farmers, nowhere more so than in the part of Devon that I represent. The Republic of Ireland has had a cull that has reduced by 30% the number of infected cattle, so I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement.

Mrs Spelman: I thank my hon. Friend. The figure of 37,000 cattle related to England and Wales and this programme applies to England only, but the most important point is about the spread of this disease. We have published a map to accompany this statement, and I encourage hon. Members on both sides of the House to look at it and see how this disease has spread from the late 1980s to the present day: it speaks for itself.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Is not this big society, badger-slaughter spree a combination of bad science and animal cruelty by the nasty party?

Mrs Spelman: That was an emotive intervention without a critical question. This is a science-led, evidence-based policy for the eradication of TB.

George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): The decision by the Secretary of State to grasp this contentious issue will be welcomed by farmers in the west country who have been dismayed by years of dithering by the previous Government. I support the introduction of a vaccine, which we all know is the long-term solution, but can my right hon. Friend confirm that one of the limitations of a vaccine is that it is not a cure, as it can only inoculate healthy badgers against the disease?

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend is right to point that out. The life cycle of the badger is approximately four years and therefore vaccination to reduce the rate of infection is a slower method than controlled reduction by controlled shooting.

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Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Can the Secretary of State confirm whether those who carry out the cull will have their names published?

Mrs Spelman: The locations will be made public, but the identities of those contracted to undertake the operation will not, for their own safety.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): In the last Parliament, as a member of the Select Committee, I welcomed the report that we published which, having looked at the evidence, decided that the approach that the Secretary of State has set out would be beneficial. Some members of that Committee went into the inquiry opposed to a cull, but came round to that view having seen the evidence. Does she agree that it would be great if those who have understandable doubts about a cull could come to rural areas, such as Cornwall, and see the devastation on the ground so that they could understand that we need to do something about this issue?

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend makes a very good point and I thank him and the Select Committee on which he served, as well as the present Select Committee, for the efforts that they have put into addressing this difficult issue. However, nothing compares to visiting a farm in one of the worst affected areas and learning at first hand about the devastation and heartache that repeatedly having to send cattle to slaughter brings.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): There are some Opposition Members who do not have a romantic view of badgers, but nor do we want to see animals killed unnecessarily. As a former DEFRA Minister, I understand the pressure that Ministers are under to deal with the problem of infection in the cattle herds and among badgers. However, I do not agree with the interpretation of the science.

Will the Secretary of State say a little more about the reducing compensation for farmers, because that will be greeted with concern? This is about making the farming community observe the guidelines that some do not observe. Will she confirm that the evidence that swung her decision in favour of the cull is the latest extended evidence on the randomised badger cull, because that is a new element of science? How will she report culling progress to the House, and how often?

Mrs Spelman: To be clear, I do not have a romanticised notion either. Like anyone who loves nature, I love the badgers too, but we must be clear about the humaneness and efficacy of what we are discussing. As regards new science, the science published since 2007 by Christl Donnelly and peer reviewed is an important factor in the decision. On the compensation, if farmers do not get their cattle regularly tested in a timely fashion, as they are required to do, they will have their compensation reduced. This is a balanced package and people must take responsibility. The farming industry has shown its willingness to do that and I commend this balanced package to the House.

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): Will the Secretary of State expand on the criteria that will be used for granting a culling licence, and can she confirm that licences will be granted only when the recipient has a clear commitment to acting in a humane and safe way?

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Mrs Spelman: I commend to my hon. Friend a good read of the draft guidance that we are issuing to Natural England today, which is worth reading. It is very detailed and there will be a nine-week consultation period. Of course it requires those carrying out the controlled reduction to do so in an effective and humane way.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I agree with the Secretary of State that the status quo is not an option, but I am concerned that the vaccination programme will be put on the back burner. She said that she was concerned about Europe: can she assure me that the programme will carry on and be developed as a useful tool to eradicate TB, in Wales as well as England? Is she talking to the chief scientists in the devolved Administrations?

Mrs Spelman: I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance on that point. Not only are we putting resources behind the ongoing research and development required for an oral badger vaccine and a cattle vaccine, but both the Minister of State and I have been to see the relevant commissioner at the European Commission to discuss how we can accelerate an acceptance at the European level of the need for a change in the law to allow the vaccination of cattle. The £20 million that we have committed to vaccines over the next five years is evidence of how seriously we take that quest.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I warmly commend the Secretary of State for having the bravery to tackle this dreadful disease, which has heaped so much misery on farmers and indeed badgers. She will be aware that under the Labour Government 275,000 cattle were killed, some needlessly, at a cost of £700 million to the taxpayer. We owe it to farmers and wildlife—and above all to taxpayers—to get on with this job efficiently.

Mrs Spelman: As I have made clear, if we do nothing the bill for the taxpayer will mount to £1 billion over the next 10 years. That is a significant fact and we owe it to the taxpayer to try to do something about it.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): It has been obvious to those of us who attend Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions that the Government have intended for months to sneak this statement out on the last day before the recess. That is because the Secretary of State knows that the science does not support culling or the new blood sport that she has just created. When will the Government stand up to the farming lobby and tackle the impact of cattle movements and farmers allowing cattle that they know to be infected to go to market?

Mrs Spelman: It is clear that we have taken our time on this decision because it is important that we make the right one. We have taken more time than we originally intended to listen to all the stakeholders involved—some of them more than once. We wanted to make an oral statement and the decision is in our business plan for July. I have therefore come to make that oral statement.

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): May I urge the Secretary of State to ignore the advice from the Labour party, which failed to act decisively when it was in power and instead allowed the problem to escalate?

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Mrs Spelman: Perhaps more than anyone in the Chamber, I understand how difficult this decision is to make—because the Secretary of State has to make it. I have weighed the arguments and deliberated carefully. I am, of course, sympathetic to those who always have animal welfare uppermost in their minds. So do I, and that is one of the factors that I weighed in my consideration. However, I do feel that the decision we have announced today is the right one.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Is the message that the Secretary of State is sending out today not highly likely to be seen as a green light to an increase in small-scale illegal badger killing that in turn is likely to increase the incidence of cattle TB, and will she acknowledge that there is significant scientific evidence countering the evidence that she has cited today?

Mrs Spelman: I want to make it perfectly clear that the badger remains a protected species and that those caught culling them illegally face severe penalties. That remains in place. Today we are asking Natural England under licence to consult farmers consortia to undertake a controlled reduction of the badger population in a careful, effective and humane way. On the science, I think that we have been through this argument several times already. I recommend that the hon. Lady read the latest scientific evidence, peer reviewed, by Christl Donnelly, on the outworking of the random badger culling trial post-2007.

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): As I represent a constituency in the south-west, I wholeheartedly congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement. It sometimes takes courage to do the right thing in politics—and she has shown that courage. My farmers will be eternally grateful for this decision. Does she agree that there is not a country in the world that has tackled bovine TB successfully without getting on top of the reservoir of that disease in the wildlife population?

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend is right about other parts of the world trying to eradicate TB in the cattle population. Possums had to be culled in New Zealand, feral buffalo in Australia, and white-tailed deer in America; and badgers in Northern Ireland had to be culled in order to reduce the rate of infection in the wildlife population. No country has succeeded in eradicating the disease without doing that.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): The Secretary of State will know that in Wales a legal challenge in June stopped the badger cull, as a result of which an advisory committee on the science has been established. What contingency plans has she made for a legal challenge to this announcement? If the Welsh Assembly’s assessment is that the science shows that culling does not work, will she revisit her decision?

Mrs Spelman: One of the reasons we have taken our time to weigh up this decision carefully is that there is, as we acknowledge, a risk of a legal challenge. We are piloting reduction by controlled shooting and evaluating the results in part to establish the evidence base for our decision. I have done all that I can to deal with a potential legal challenge. The pilots themselves will prove whether the method is effective and humane.

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Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon) (Con): May I too congratulate my right hon. Friend on the courage she has shown in making this difficult decision and on making this balanced statement to the House today? Can she confirm that at least one of the pilot areas will be in Devon, which is one of the hot spots for bovine TB?

Mrs Spelman: I cannot confirm the location of pilots yet because the industry has not made such proposals to me. It is important to define pilot areas with boundaries so that the perturbation effect can be minimised.

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): I think that the Secretary of State has a curious way of showing her love for badgers and her desire to protect them—by introducing a new blood sport. I hope that the pro-blood sport influences on the Government Front Bench are not behind this decision. Does she accept that culling badgers will not solve this problem? The scientific evidence suggests that it will actually increase the likelihood of bovine TB. Bad husbandry can be a reason for the spread of bovine TB, too, so will she explain to the House why she is rejecting the scientific evidence suggesting that a cull will not work?

Mrs Spelman: Nature conservation includes the controlled reduction of species in nature. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would give me that as a fact. I beg to differ, however, on the science. The randomised badger culling trial showed in the initial period that if the badger population is controlled within a confined area under controlled conditions, the population is reduced and a significant reduction in TB breakdown of herds can be achieved. The subsequent outworking of that trial shows that that benefit lasts.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement because it shines a spotlight on the fate of cattle and the impact on farmers and rural areas. I thank her for the statement. Does she have any thoughts on the evaluation of the vaccination being developed in my constituency and on how long it will take to produce results?

Mrs Spelman: There have been trials in my hon. Friend’s constituency on the deployment of the injectable vaccine. That is all there is available to tackle badger TB. I have seen the trials for myself. They have concluded that it is possible but impractical and certainly difficult to make affordable. We have established through those trials the practicalities, and that was what was being undertaken in his constituency.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree with the assessment of her own expert wildlife crime unit that the free shooting of badgers presents a very real danger of persecution being carried out under the pretext of culling?

Mrs Spelman: I think that those assumptions were made before we published the detailed guidance today. I recommend to her the guidance that we have issued to Natural England because it shows precisely the controlled conditions we propose would be required for licences to be granted in order to minimise risks to public safety and maximise the effectiveness and humaneness of this approach to dealing with badgers.

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Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): I realise that many of my hon. Friends who represent farming communities feel strongly about this issue, but I hope they will accept that my constituents are likely to be concerned about what the Secretary of State has announced. The key thing is that policy is determined by scientific evidence, so may I encourage her to publish a plain English version of the evidence that she alluded to in her statement?

Mrs Spelman: I would be happy to do that. My hon. Friend’s constituents might be reassured to know that nine of the scientists—most of them involved in the original randomised badger culling trial—have agreed on one version of the truth and the facts relating to that scientific exercise. They are the facts that I have set out today: with a controlled reduction in the badger population in a confined area it will be possible to reduce significantly the number of TB breakdowns.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. I represent the area in the Northern Ireland with the highest level of bovine TB in the whole Province, where it is a devolved matter. I welcome her commitment to sharing the information with other devolved regions. It is good news. Will she agree to work with other regions in the United Kingdom—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—to ensure a concerted and concentrated eradication of bovine TB across the whole of the UK?

Mrs Spelman: Of course, and in the interests of the respect agenda in particular, we would be keen to work with the other devolved regions. However, it is also important to point out that Scotland is currently TB-free, and I expect that it would want us to do all that we can to ensure that that remains the case.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Can the Secretary of State confirm that badgers infected with TB and with TB lesions in their kidneys excrete large amounts of TB on to grass? We all get many letters from constituents asking us to ensure that cows have access to grass and are not reared on large factory-scale farms, so surely controlling bovine TB is an important way of ensuring that grass is safer for cows to eat.

Mrs Spelman: Of course, my hon. Friend has a professional background that helps her to understand epidemiology. However, the important point is that it is beyond doubt that there is transmission between badgers and cattle. The fact that they share pastures and fields means that they can pass the disease between them in the way she has described. Even the Badger Trust would acknowledge that the disease is passing from badgers to cattle, as well as from cattle to cattle. Controlling the badger population in a particular area in the way I have described should indeed help.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State publish any advice she has received from the Association of Chief Police Officers on public order issues arising from this decision?

Mrs Spelman: I cannot publish that advice, for security reasons.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): For more than a decade, it has seemed obvious to many of us that an effective pilot badger culling scheme is needed to help develop a policy to tackle the bovine TB catastrophe,

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for the benefit of both cattle and wildlife. However, we know that there will be a well-funded, well-organised campaign of opposition. What lessons has the Secretary of State learned from the legal pitfalls that scuppered a project by the Welsh Assembly Government a few years ago to carry out a similar policy?

Mrs Spelman: We have been following that closely, which is one of the reasons why we are proceeding with two pilots to establish the efficacy and humaneness of controlled shooting as a method of controlling the population of badgers in the affected areas. The measured approach that we are taking to rolling out the scheme is important in sustaining the Government’s case.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s statement today. She is clearly doing the right thing, albeit acknowledging that it will not necessarily be the popular thing among large parts of the community in this country. I have seen the suffering of badgers and cattle at first hand, so can she assure me that accurate information about the appalling suffering inflicted by this disease will be widespread, and say why the science-led approach is absolutely necessary?

Mrs Spelman: Yes, I can give that assurance, and the industry, too, will provide many examples of the human angle in the devastation suffered. I invite those who do not support the approach we are taking to think what the alternative is, in the absence of a viable vaccine at this point in time, to help to combat a disease that has devastated so many lives and so much of the countryside.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on the serious focus that she is showing on this issue. However, in Cumbria, which has been largely TB-free, we are now under threat. Recent incidents have arisen from dealers moving infected cattle from infected areas into Cumbria. May I urge the Secretary of State please to look at what we can do to prevent that from occurring in the future and, in the meantime, to encourage auction houses to let farmers know before they buy cattle whether they have been in an infected one to two-year testing zone in the previous six months?

Mrs Spelman: This is a balanced package of measures for the control and eradication of TB in cattle, and at its foundation are cattle movement measures. My hon. Friend is quite right, and we are looking to tighten up on pre-movement testing. We have already introduced an expansion of areas for more frequent testing. We are extending the use of gamma testing, and we will be strengthening enforcement of TB surveillance and control. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are tightening up on cattle movement as an integral part of this package of measures.

Royal Assent

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Act 2011

Finance Act 2011

European Union Act 2011.

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Point of Order

2.23 pm

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The House will be aware that on 8 July, the Prime Minister held a press conference during which he said that he had instructed or commissioned a private company to do a basic background check on Andy Coulson, but he did not mention the name of the company. Following the statement made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport at the beginning of the following week, I asked for that name to be released. However, it was still not released, so I tabled a written parliamentary question later that day, for answer on the Thursday. On the Thursday the answer did not come back. It has still not come back today, and No. 10 is refusing to issue or release the name of the company that carried out the basic background check. Is there any way that we could encourage the Prime Minister to fulfil a basic duty?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): What I can say is that it is not for the Chair, and my advice would be to go and see the Table Office. However, I am sure also that No. 10 will have heard the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and there will be an opportunity tomorrow to catch Mr Speaker’s eye.

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Betting Shops

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

2.24 pm

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to create a new planning use class for betting shops which would require the granting of planning permission; to provide that local planning authorities assess demand for betting shops when considering applications for premises in that planning use class and place a cap on the number of betting shops for which planning permission may be granted in any area; and for connected purposes.

In 2005, the Yellow Pages business directory created a league table for high streets in London. Deptford high street came first, beating Kensington high street into second place as the most diverse and vibrant high street in London. It is full of colour, and noise and smells, and people who originated in every part of the globe. It is not precious, and never pristine. Some establishments have been there for over a hundred years, such as Manze’s Pie and Mash; others are much newer, such as the Train Carriage café. Deptford high street is much loved by locals, and its diversity is a matter of pride.

But a change is being brought about in Deptford high street. It is unsolicited, unwelcome, and out of control. Betting shops are proliferating, squeezing out diversity and attracting antisocial behaviour. Again and again, when a property becomes vacant, another betting shop chain bids for the premises. Such properties have included some of the high street’s most iconic buildings. I am not opposed to betting, and it is clear that many of my constituents use such facilities; rather, it is the number of betting shops that is the problem and the lack of any opportunity for local people to have a say on the profound changes affecting their environment. That is why I am introducing this Bill today. It seeks to make a simple change to the planning laws, to put more power into the hands of local people.

Let me first pay tribute to the interest that Lewisham council has taken in this matter. In 2009, the council developed a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 for a change in the law. It had responded to local protests in Brockley in 2008 against a betting shop, and had turned it down. The bookmakers won their case on appeal, although the appeal judge said that had he been allowed to take demand into consideration, he might have refused the appeal. In its submission, the council said:

“The Gambling Act had what we believe was the unintended consequence of disempowering communities and local government by removing the ‘demand’ criterion for new bookmakers’ premises and replacing it with criteria including the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people which, while welcome, have proven ineffective in preventing unpopular applications being allowed and which allow no consideration of the number of existing bookmakers.”

Clearly those unintended consequences were not spotted in time, and Lewisham council was not successful in its bid to change the law.

A turf war is now under way, as bookmakers, including new entrants, seek to seize market share. The matter was aired again in an Adjournment debate on 24 November last year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), to whom I pay tribute for

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leading this campaign. He is one of my Bill’s sponsors today. He graphically described the effects of betting shop proliferation in Haringey, saying:

“Cultural landmarks that have been anchored in our communities for decades are evaporating and betting shops are opening in their place…The latest application for a betting shop on Tottenham High road—the 10th along that stretch of road—would mean a betting shop replacing one of the most famous independent music shops in the north London area.”—[Official Report, 24 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 403.]

In the same debate, the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), another of my sponsors, reported on a similar problem arising in her coastal towns, indicating that this is not just an inner-city problem.

Let me now return to Deptford, and to the latest campaign, led by my constituent, Ms Sue Lawes. About 1,000 individuals, alongside shop owners and other local businesses, rejected proposals for a Betfred to replace a building society. Ms Lawes said in her letter to the planning department:

“On behalf of the petitioners I strongly object to this application since it will be the eleventh betting office in the vicinity of Deptford high street, the eighth actually on the high street, and the sixth within a 150m stretch that already has five other betting establishments, two pawnbrokers and one money lender. As an A2 use, like banks and building societies, they”—

that is, Betfred—

“state that they expect to attract footfall throughout the day. However, very unlike banks and building societies, they also expect to attract footfall in the evenings, as well as weekends, especially Sundays. This does not sit well with residents, many of whom have signed the petitions or have written their objections.”

Clearly, something must be done.

In response to the Adjournment debate to which I have already referred, the Communities and Local Government Minister, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) told my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham that

“a localism Bill will give local authorities more discretion in regard to the way in which they reflect local need in the planning process. Before too long, we will present proposals relating both to the Bill and to associated planning reforms. I do not suggest that that will automatically provide a silver bullet either, but we will keep these matters under review.”—[Official Report, 24 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 410.]

Since then, the Localism Bill has passed through this House, during which process another concerted effort was made by Labour Members to get amendments accepted on Report. New clauses 30 and 31 were tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham and supported by me. Amazingly, for a Government supposedly committed to empowering local people, Tories and Lib Dems voted down the new clauses.

The Bill that I present today mirrors those new clauses. Taking betting shops out of their current place in use classes order A2 alongside banks and building societies would make it possible to make planning judgments appropriate to the local area. Local planning authorities would be able to assess demand for betting shops, and indeed place a cap on the number of betting shops for which planning permission may be granted. This simple measure would not inhibit the industry from creating a natural spread of outlets, but it would give some hope to areas such as mine, in which extreme clusters are totally unacceptable.

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Deptford is the 87th highest in the indices of multiple deprivation. The two wards surrounding Deptford high street are among the top 10% for deprivation in the country, and those in work are earning below the London average. Sadly, we have high levels of substance abuse, addiction and mental illness. Is this really a community that needs 11 betting shops, or is it a community that is being cynically exploited by corporate business?

Overall, however, Deptford is a vibrant and resilient community. It has an amazing arts and cultural scene, including the annual Deptford X festival. Over the past 10 years, I have campaigned for a new railway station on Deptford high street, and in April I cut the first sod. Developments around the station are under way, and much investment is in place. Given all this community endeavour, it cannot be acceptable that bookmakers should be allowed, in the pursuit of their own profits, to trample over the wishes and aspirations of the local community. I urge Ministers, as they undertake their review of the use class order system, to give my local constituents and those of other right hon. and hon. Members much-needed control over their local environment, and their local representatives the power to respond to local demand. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.34 pm

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): The right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) has spoken with great enthusiasm, passion and obvious care about her constituency. Because of other business taking place in one or two Committees here today, I do not intend to divide the House on the Bill, but I want to put forward another way of looking at this issue that might not have been considered.

First, I want to look at what betting shops are. They are no longer the seedy establishments that they might once have been. They are places where people can have an innocent flutter on the grand national, on the Cheltenham gold cup—which takes place in my constituency—on the Derby, or on the 2.35 at Lingfield on a rainy Tuesday. The betting industry, of which the shops are obviously a part, supports more than 40,000 jobs across the country. In addition to corporation tax, they pay extra betting duty, and all that tax put together amounts to £700 million being paid to the Exchequer every year.

The betting industry also pays the horse race betting levy, which goes a long way towards funding the sport of horse racing, which is the second most popular spectator sport in the UK, and employs many thousands of people on top of those employed directly by the betting industry. Betting paid £60 million to racing through the levy in 2010-11. On top of that, the industry pays millions of pounds in voluntary contributions as sponsorship of the sport.

It is important to look at where that money from betting shops goes. Yes, some of the money from those bets goes to prize money for the top races such as the grand national, but it also goes to many races that are worth less than £2,000. That money in turn is redistributed to trainers, and to jockeys and stable staff, many of whom are not very well paid at all. It also funds training and education, including the schools programme. It pays for integrity and regulation in horse racing, which keeps the sport clean. It pays for veterinary education,

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science research and advances in science. It is not only prize money that the betting shops pay for; they also fund the education of youngsters. There are moves to change the way in which the levy system works, but the betting industry will, without doubt, continue to contribute towards horse racing in a big way. There is an awful lot more to the role of betting shops than might meet the eye.

The Bill would introduce a planning requirement that applies to very few other businesses. First, it would restrict the number of betting shops in a particular area, although competition is hardly ever considered to be a valid planning objection. The Bill would also require an assessment of the demand for extra shops, but surely the person or company proposing to open the business will already have carried out such an assessment. The Government are now proposing to refine the planning guidance that they issue, but I hope that they will not be tempted down the road of preferring one business to another. I do not believe that that is the role of the Government.

The argument for restricting the number of betting shops is based on the so-called proliferation of problem gambling, but that problem does not exist. With less than 1% of those who gamble being defined as having a problem, the UK is way down the list in the international league of countries that might have problem gambling. It is also wrong to suggest that there has been a proliferation of gambling itself. It is important to remember that the amount of money that people gamble is not the most important statistic; the important measure is the amount that people lose, and that is not a problem for very many people in the United Kingdom at all. Nor is it the case that two shops operating on a high street instead of one would lead to double the amount of money being gambled in that area, because the law of diminishing returns will set in. Even so, the number of betting shops across the country has fallen from about 15,000 in the 1980s to about 8,800 today. That is almost a halving of the number of betting shops in the country. Indeed, in the right hon. Lady’s own area, I understand that there has been an overall fall in the number of betting shops. I also understand that Haringey council has recently refused a number of applications for betting shops, so the power to turn down those applications already exists.

Nevertheless, it is important to say that the betting industry contributed £5 million last year to support the research, education and treatment of problem gamblers, and that the Gambling Act 2005 requires the vast majority of betting shops to have an operating licence, a personal management licence and a premises licence before they can start trading. There are a number of safeguards in place—and quite rightly so.

To conclude, we have betting shops and the industry more generally paying a lot of money in taxation; employing thousands of people; funding horse racing and its associated activities, some of which involve education; and, yes, responding to market need. I thus ask where is the problem that requires even more nanny-stateism, even more needless regulations and even more

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costs to be added to businesses and local authorities? I would suggest that the problem is not there. With great respect to the right hon. Lady who is trying to introduce this Bill, it represents a solution looking for a problem. As such, although I will not divide the House, for the reasons stated earlier, if the Bill makes progress I will seek to oppose it in its later stages.

Question put and agreed to .


That Joan Ruddock, Debbie Abrahams, Heidi Alexander, Tom Brake, Mr Mark Field, Mike Gapes, Mr David Lammy, Tony Lloyd, Mr Andrew Love, Caroline Lucas, Tessa Munt and Mr Virendra Sharma present the Bill.

Joan Ruddock accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012, and to be printed (Bill 223).

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It has been the manner of the House that, before making a speech, one declares an interest. We have just heard a speech by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) and it is my understanding that he has a role supported by the betting industry. It should have been declared before his contribution, which, frankly, felt like a speech that had been written by the industry itself.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): That is not a matter for the Chair; it is a matter for each Member to decide whether they feel it is relevant to declare their interest.

Mr Laurence Robertson: I made the speech, and I think most Members would understand that I came from a horse racing background. I am indeed joint chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on racing and bloodstock, but that group is not supported by bookmakers.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I think that answers the point of order. I want no more points of order on that subject.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab) rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker: I take it that this is a different point of order?

Tony Lloyd: On a different point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It used to be the convention of the House that when a Member opposed a ten-minute rule Bill, they took that opposition to a vote. Will you consider whether that practice should be reinstated, Mr Deputy Speaker? Quite frankly, it is a waste of the House’s time for somebody to oppose my right hon. Friend’s Bill today, but not to seek to divide the House so that the opinion of Members can be tested.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I can reassure the hon. Member that that is not the case. It has always been an option not to seek a Division. Furthermore, we are now eating into the debate by raising points of order rather than making good progress. I want us to make some progress now.

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Backbench Business

[30th Allotted Day]

Summer Adjournment

2.44 pm

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.

Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker; I thought that this moment would never arrive. A total of 66 Members want to participate in the debate, including our newest Member—my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie)—who is hoping to make his maiden speech. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It is unfortunate therefore that two Government statements, important though they both were, have taken almost two hours out of Back Benchers’ time. To set an example of brevity and to prepare us for all the constituency carnivals and fairs at which we will be spending most of our time during the recess, I hereby declare the debate open.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): We are now coming to a maiden speech, and I remind hon. Members not to intervene on it.

19 July 2011 : Column 832

Business, innovation and skills

2.45 pm

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this debate to make my maiden speech. I regard it as both a privilege and an honour to represent the constituency of Inverclyde. My constituency has been served extremely well by many accomplished individuals; however, I am only the second Member for Inverclyde to have been born in Inverclyde. The first was, of course, David Cairns.

My two immediate predecessors in my seat, which has often had its boundaries changed, were Dr Norman Godman and the late David Cairns. Dr Godman served in the House for 18 years, and his hard work and enduring commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland earned him a great deal of respect and admiration. David Cairns was an excellent MP for Inverclyde; his parliamentary career was cut all too short by his sudden death, and I am well aware of the great respect that all parties had for David, as did the people of Inverclyde, as reflected in the large majority he held in the 2010 general election. If I can serve my constituents half as well as David, I shall be doing well indeed.

Like David, I was born, and for a time grew up, in a small part of Inverclyde. It is, I think, unique that an area of Greenock known as Broomhill should produce two MPs virtually from the same street. Back then Greenock’s population was growing, and my parents, guilty of participation in the ’60s baby boom, moved to a bigger home in the new housing being developed in the south-west of Greenock in the appropriately named Fancy Farm. Its housing was truly both modern and very fancy indeed, boasting electric underfloor heating, and even a rear door to the home.

My constituency is now composed of the towns of Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow, as well as the villages of Inverkip, Wemyss bay, Kilmacolm and Quarriers. We are surrounded by some of Scotland’s most stunning natural beauty. From the Lyle hill in Greenock, one can look down to Gourock’s Cardwell bay and watch the ferries head off to Argyll. Stunning views can also be enjoyed from the amazing engineering feat that is the Cut—a waterway cut into the hillside some six miles in length, with a precision gradient that offered steady and constant water power to our industries of the 19th century.

As anyone who recently visited Inverclyde in the by-election will confirm, at times it seems we do get more than our fair share of rain—an abundant energy source, water. From the Cut we can look across the Clyde and see the Gareloch, the Holy loch and Loch Long. Beyond the Rosneath peninsula lies Ben Lomond and the majestic Lomond range. To the west there is the unmistakeable figure of the Sleeping Warrior of Argyll, and to the south lies the Burns country of Ayrshire.

Our history is the history of the River Clyde—the lifeblood of my constituency. We continue to be a maritime people, either seafarers or shipbuilders, and two of our most historic sons are connected in that way. One of them, the great inventor and scientist James Watt, who captured the power of steam, was sought after by leading authorities in industry; the other, the pirate Captain Kidd, was just sought after by the authorities!

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Shipbuilding was, not surprisingly, our dominant industry over the last 300 years. We built the finest ships ever to set sail. Even today, many years after shipbuilding is all but gone from my constituency, Clyde-built ships can still be seen travelling the oceans—testament to quality in design and craftsmanship. It took us a long time to recover from the devastation of the closure of our shipyards. The cruise ships that visit the deep ocean terminal in Greenock no longer carry the label “Clyde built”, but are increasing in number year on year, bringing tourists into the west of Scotland. Again, the River Clyde seems to be playing its part in—we hope—delivering a new industry, tourism.

Only two weeks ago Inverclyde welcomed the tall ships race, a four-day celebration of all things maritime, and our young people took the opportunity to volunteer to help with that great event. Indeed, some sailed on the tall ships as crew to the next port of call. We have found that they return the better for the experience, motivated and energised, and ready to contribute positively to our communities.

Inverclyde has also shown its resourcefulness and determination to apply itself to new emerging industries and technologies. The 1980s saw us pioneer the mass production of the personal computer, adapting our skills to revolutionise the speed of communication across the globe once again, as once our ships did. A Labour Secretary of State for Scotland had the good sense some 50 years ago to persuade IBM to set up a plant in Greenock. IBM Spango Valley, which lies between Greenock and Inverkip, was to write itself into history as the venue where the world was first introduced to the mass-produced personal computer. So Inverclyde embarked on a new journey building and exporting computers, earning itself the title of the export capital of Scotland. A short distance from Spango, over the hill in Larkfield, ground-breaking work on processors by National Semiconductor pioneered the way for much of today's hand-held technology.

Unfortunately, with the decline in electronics Inverclyde again finds itself in the shadow of rising unemployment. Notwithstanding the delivery of new school buildings, new housing and modern leisure facilities, unemployment stubbornly remains our biggest challenge. On average, more than 30 people are chasing every job vacancy in my constituency, and an even higher average number of young people do so. That is an appalling and depressing level of unemployment. To retain and attract population growth we need employment, and a variety of employment, giving opportunity and hope, especially to our young people.

Full employment is a great and fine principle, as enunciated in the House by Keir Hardie when he spoke of the right to a job. The people of my constituency ask for the right to work: they are social people, who truly believe in a society in which all have a job, and they believe that it is the duty of Government to deliver full employment.

The number of tourists on the last cruise ship that visited Greenock was greater than the combined number of votes—3,000—for the Government’s candidates in Inverclyde’s by-election. It would seem that the people of Inverclyde need a lot more convincing that their ship has indeed come in.

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Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Time is pressing, so I am introducing a four-minute limit.

2.55 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Let me first pay tribute to the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) and commend him on his maiden speech. It was good to hear from a Member who, like me, was born in the constituency that he represents. Given his description of his constituency’s stunning natural beauty, it clearly has similarities with Cleethorpes.

I will be as brief as possible, Mr Deputy Speaker. The economy of northern Lincolnshire could be described as “stuttering” at the moment. It has taken many knocks, but it has the potential of a new dawn from the renewables sector. Despite its name, Cleethorpes is a highly industrialised constituency, containing Immingham docks and much of the Humber bank. Associated British Ports operates the Grimsby-Immingham docks complex, which is the largest in the country. However, expansion and regeneration are being held back by transport infrastructure that is in urgent need of improvement.

The northernmost town in my constituency is Barton-upon-Humber, which is just 20 minutes’ drive from the centre of Hull, but Humber bridge tolls are a tax on jobs. The free movement of labour is restricted. It is totally unrealistic to expect someone in Barton to accept a job in Hull paying the minimum wage, and even more unrealistic to expect people to take part-time work.

The hopes of all local people are resting on the current Treasury-led review, which is due to report in November. The business community and local people are encouraged by the work of the review team, and by Ministers’ determination to deliver a sustainable solution that may well be based on a social enterprise model. It is essential to have lower tolls in the relatively near future; we do not want promises that may never materialise.

In the East Halton and Killingholme area of my constituency sits the site of the proposed south Humber gateway development—in which Able UK Ltd has invested £100 million—alongside the largest undeveloped deep-water channel in the UK. It is thought that £1.5 billion of private sector development may follow, much of it in the renewable sector. That would offer an opportunity to develop a cluster for the sector, involving the construction of wind turbines. The ports of Immingham and Grimsby are ideally located for the service and supply of offshore wind farms—and offshore is where we want them to be, rather than in the countryside.

A major problem with the gateway development is the bottleneck in the planning process. It has been caused by a number of Government agencies, notably Natural England. Such agencies, including the Environment Agency, must appreciate that planning issues are commercial issues, and that they must move at the same speed as the demands of investors and developers. The current leisurely pace is not acceptable.

Northern Lincolnshire has taken a bit of a body blow in recent times, with the announcement of 1,200 job losses. Many of those jobs were done by my constituents at the Tata Steel works in Scunthorpe. It is encouraging that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will be visiting the steelworks tomorrow. It is also

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encouraging that the Prime Minister has taken an interest, and we eagerly await a meeting with him. I hope, however, that Ministers will be able to give us some confidence that not only the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, but the Government as a whole, will support the local infrastructure. The highways, particularly the A160 route to Immingham, urgently need an upgrade, and it is desperately important for that to be included in the first phase of the next building programme. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that he will press our case with transport Ministers at the earliest opportunity.

The area is building itself up for the renewables sector. There are great training prospects at the Grimsby institute, Lincoln university and other institutions—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

2.57 pm

Jon Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): Let me begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) on his eloquent and passionate maiden speech. Having made a maiden speech myself only two months ago, I can imagine the relief that he is feeling now that he has got through it and sat down, but his speech was excellent. I am also pleased that I am no longer the new boy in the House.

I welcome the equality impact assessment that was published yesterday. I think that some Opposition Members would have preferred it to have appeared a little earlier, but we are none the less grateful for its publication in time for this debate. I also thank other Members who have secured debates on English for speakers of other languages—commonly known as ESOL.

As many Members will know, Leicester is a richly diverse city, and for that reason the changes in ESOL provision are causing much concern in areas throughout the city, including my constituency. Five thousand learners in Leicester, 2,000 of them in Leicester South, have benefited from ESOL provision in the past year, with some degree of fee remission. A total of 1,500 learners were enrolled in the Leicester adult skills and learning service, 84% with fee remission, of whom 75% were not receiving work-related benefits. As the equality impact assessment showed, many of those people are women. That does not surprise me, because when I visit providers, such as Highfields youth and community centre, I am particularly struck by the number of low-income women, usually from Asian or African—particularly Somali—backgrounds, who are benefiting from ESOL provision.

Women have told me moving stories about how they would never leave the house before they went on ESOL courses, but had to wait for their husbands to come home. Other women have told me of wanting to help their children at school. Given that Leicester has one of the highest levels of child poverty in the country, I think that the ability of a mother to help her child at school is vital. As we know, education is the fastest route out of poverty for many of those children.

I have also heard stories of men and women who have moved into work, and even started their own businesses, after taking ESOL courses. As a result of the state’s investment in them, they are now investing in the local economy by employing people. Although

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I understand that ESOL provision will be maintained for those receiving jobseeker’s allowance and other active benefits, colleges and providers fear that following the cuts they will no longer be able to sustain courses this September.

For example, on the St Matthew’s estate there is a course just for Somali women. Its providers are worried that the course will have to end this September if the Minister does not change his mind. Although I have not met the Minister directly, I know he has met many Members, and I appreciate that he has listened on this topic. In his statement yesterday he made some concessions, such as saying he wanted to provide more support, but there is still a lack of detail, so will Minister say more today about how he expects the new changes he is working on with the Department for Communities and Local Government to develop? Also, will the new scheme be unveiled by September or August?

We talk a lot about community cohesion. Indeed, when the Home Secretary launched the Prevent strategy a few weeks ago she said that this Government would

“do more than any Government before us to promote integration”—[Official Report, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 53.]

I therefore ask the Minister this: has he discussed the impact of his ESOL changes with the Home Secretary? In cities such as Leicester ESOL is absolutely vital to community cohesion and integration. I am worried that the ESOL changes would not serve to back up the Home Secretary’s grand statement that this Government will do more than any other to promote integration. Will the Minister give us more detail in his summing up, and will he at least delay the changes in ESOL provision planned for this September? If not, I will be worried about the consequences for my constituency.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I am looking around at a very quiet Chamber, with no Members standing to indicate they wish to speak.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: I call Justin Tomlinson.

3.1 pm

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Before turning to the exciting subject of Swindon town centre regeneration, may I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) on his excellent maiden speech?

We in Swindon have had our challenges. For the past five years there has been an annual drop in footfall in the town centre of about 22%. Swindon has dropped 10 places to 65th in the league table for the best places to shop, with our neighbouring competitors Bristol in 12th place, Reading in 15th, Bath in 22nd, Cheltenham in 27th and Gloucester in 107th. In 2010, 17% of retail units were empty and local Labour politicians had seemingly given up on any hopes for town centre regeneration. But fear not: all is not doom and gloom, because we have seen some dramatic recent improvements.

The local council has introduced cheaper car parking, focusing on a flat £2 for four hours. That has reversed the fall in footfall; there is now a 10% increase. Crucially, there has been a significant increase in dwell time as well. Instead of shoppers popping in to do one task, such as banking, they are now staying and spending.

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Café Roma in the Brunel centre has reported an 18% increase in its business, and I salute it for helping refuel our shoppers. The new £10 million central library has been delivered on time and on budget. There has been significant private sector investment, which shows that there is a belief in our town centre, with a £20 million investment in the Parade, and new BHS, Topshop and River Island stores opening. The dirty old canopies have been removed from the Parade and replaced at the Brunel centre, and we have a refurbished Debenhams. Some £2.8 million has been invested in public open space, improving the shopping experience to Canal walk, Regent street and Wharf green.

In Swindon, the town centre business improvement district company, which is responsible for helping traders improve their business, is making a real difference, such as through marketing support for retailers, the town centre website, the four-page monthly promotional newsletter in the Swindon Advertiser, the events it organises—including the 2010 Christmas campaign, partnered with Walt Disney World, when 20,000 visitors came to the turning on of the Christmas lights—and additional street cleaning and security. I wish those people the best of luck in their re-election campaign for a further five-year term in early 2012. There has also been a significant fall in the number of empty units. The vacancy rate in the Brunel shopping centre is now only 4%.

Turning to the future, as developers once again gain confidence and access to funding, it is essential that we are first in the queue to secure further regeneration, in particular for Union square, a £350 million scheme which is one of the largest non-Olympics construction programmes in the past 10 years, and for the College site, which was delayed at the last minute due to Labour’s wrecked economy. To help achieve that, Swindon borough council set up the arm’s-length urban regeneration company Forward Swindon.

We must also embrace the Mary Portas high street review. In particular, I fully support Mary’s mantra that customer service is king. For example, the Forum, an independent clothes store in the Brunel centre, has traded from strength to strength for over 20 years. It has managed to survive the economic cycles and relentless competition as it focuses on providing an alternative with exceptional customer service.

We can all play a part in delivering Swindon town centre regeneration. As the local MP, I will continue to champion all that is good about Swindon, and through my work on the all-party parliamentary groups on retail and on small shops, I will continue to push opportunities for retailers. Swindon borough council must remain committed to town centre regeneration as set out in the central area action plan. Local traders must continue to focus on customer service and offering alternatives to our neighbouring competition. Finally, as local residents, where possible we need to continue to support and use our town centre, building on the encouraging recent increase in footfall.

3.5 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): It is fortunate that today’s debate follows yesterday’s ministerial statement accompanying the publication of a new equality

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impact assessment of courses in English for speakers of other languages. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth), I welcome its publication and I am pleased that the Minister has asked the Association of Colleges, together with Lord Boswell and Baroness Sharp, to advise on how funds can be targeted. However, I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that this is too little, too late.

Colleges have already planned their provision for September. ESOL learners who are no longer eligible for fee remission will have already decided whether they can afford to enrol on courses or continue their studies, and ESOL tutors will have made plans for the future. My first questions to the Minister are as follows, therefore: when does he expect to receive the report that he has commissioned, and why does he not delay these changes to allow him time to respond?

Not all Members will have had the opportunity to read the equality impact assessment, so it may be useful to highlight some of the key findings. Last year, there were 187,000 adult ESOL students, 68.1% of whom were female. The vast majority of them came from black or ethnic minorities. Some 42% of women enrolling on ESOL courses last year received fee remission because they were in receipt of income-related benefits. A further 2% of women and 7% of men were asylum seekers. If those learners were enrolling this year, they would have to pay hundreds of pounds towards their course costs. That is why 75% of colleges have scaled back ESOL provision. In the most basic terms, people on low incomes will no longer be able to afford to learn English. BEGIN —Basic Educational Guidance in Nottinghamshire—published its own equality impact assessment in April. It found that 73% of adult ESOL clients were from black and ethnic minorities, 83% were not on active benefits, and 84% could not afford new or higher fees.

The Government’s report summarises the evidence they received, stating that those required to contribute from August 2011 would be unable to afford to take up ESOL provision, that people will be increasingly reliant on their own families and communities to interpret for them, and that this change would deter people from accessing public services. It also stated that people would be unable to obtain work or make progress in the workplace, that parents would be unable to support their children’s learning at school, and that more would need to be spent on translation services. Members should note that the Government did not engage in an open public consultation, and by the report’s own admission it is “speculative”.

I therefore have a number of questions. The Department says that public funding should not substitute for employer investment and I agree, but what measures are the Government taking to ensure that employers do contribute to the cost of training for their workplace? What measures is the Minister taking to ensure that women learners who care for small children or dependants are not penalised for their caring responsibilities? The document also refers to the single learner support fund, but how much is available, and how much of this will be available to ESOL students? The report states that informal learning opportunities are expected to be available for older Asian learners, but what evidence supports this view?

The needs of asylum seekers do not appear to be addressed in any meaningful way, despite significant concern expressed by the Refugee Council. I know from

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my own discussions in Nottingham that it is vital that those who have been subject to persecution are not isolated and excluded due to lack of English. How can asylum seekers be expected to cover half their course fees when they are unable to work?

I would like to thank the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning for the constructive way he has kept colleagues on both sides of the House informed about this matter, but I have to say that, despite his good intentions, I fear his Government have fundamentally misunderstood the importance of ESOL to the communities we represent, and I urge him to think again.

3.9 pm

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I declare a lifelong interest in this subject and refer Members to the Register of Members' Financial Interests. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, because I want to talk about a tale of British craftsmanship at its best, our failure to compete and a remarkable industrial revival.

The automatic watch is almost the same now as when it was invented in 1770 and it has often triumphed over computers. For example, in 1970, after Apollo 13 was crippled by a ruptured oxygen tank, Jack Swigert’s Omega Speedmaster was famously used to time the critical 14-second engine burn, allowing for the crew’s safe return. Even today, the Omega Speedmaster is still the only watch to have been worn on the moon.

Secondly, I wish to discuss British craftsmanship. London led the world, changing the course of history in the 17th century by manufacturing accurate clocks that allowed us to sail throughout the world, trade, make maps and acquire the British empire. British companies such as Smith and Son, George Graham, Josiah Emery, and J. W. Benson forged the first clock-making industry, despite outbreaks of the plague and the great fire of London. Many hon. Members will know the story of John Harrison, a self-educated English clock maker who solved the problem of longitude and was eventually awarded thousands of pounds from Parliament.

Sadly, in the 18th and 19th centuries Britain lost its expertise. The decline of our watch industry is a British parable, just like the tin can.

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): My hon. Friend shares with me a love of watches. I know that he is also passionate about apprenticeships, so does he have anything to say about their importance in this area?

Robert Halfon: I will answer my hon. Friend in my later remarks, and I thank him for his intervention.

The decline of our watch industry is a British parable, just like the tin can and the car assembly line: we invent but others capitalise. In 1800, London was producing some 200,000 watches a year, which were exported not just to Europe, but to Russia, the middle east and even China. However, we became trapped by tradition. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, the Swiss started to make machine-made copies of London clocks and flooded the market with cheap products. Britain responded with protectionism and price controls. We failed to compete, and our expertise was lost to Switzerland, America and even the far east.

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However, there has been a revival in recent times. In 1923, the British National Physical Laboratory produced quartz oscillators, and we all know about the production of the atomic caesium clock in 1955. These are the foundation of telecommunications, satellites and space travel. Famous British household names in horology have resurfaced: Dent & Company, and J & T Windmills, which even has a factory in Essex. Today, we have one of the greatest living names in horology, George Daniels, a British man who invented the coaxial escapement, which is the first practical new watch escapement in 250 years; it is a smoother watch movement that almost eradicates friction, and it was commercialised in 1999 by Omega. Those who have done the most to support this revival in Britain are the British Horological Institute and the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. We have lost out to Switzerland and the far east, but we still have repair shops, a wealth of academic study and some ultra-high-end manufacturing.

So what is to be done? I welcome the Government’s policy on apprenticeships and the work of the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, who is in his place, in his promotion of craft. As I mentioned in my early-day motion 623, our funding for skills qualifications must be open to small specialist courses for industries such as horology. I strongly welcome what the Government did last year to extend funding for BHI certificates in clock and watch servicing, and repair, and I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his letter of support in that campaign.

However, there is a wider issue to address: many smaller qualifications are being discontinued because they are not profitable enough for awarding bodies. There are now just three horology training facilities in the UK: Birmingham City university; West Dean college; and the British School of Watchmaking. In Harlow, we are very lucky to have the Eversden family of watchmakers, and they show that in an age of digital technology there is still a public demand for the crafts of old. As George Daniels proved, there is still a demand for British horological genius. I hope that all possible support will be given to the watch-making and clock-making industry, which was once dying but is now showing signs of life in Britain today.

3.14 pm

Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): In the four minutes available to me, I wish to say a few words about the extractive industries in Africa. The UK has an important role to play, because some of the large mining companies from across the world are listed in London, and that brings a certain amount of responsibility to those companies. Most people recognise that, and I have had the good fortune to have long conversations with representatives of a number of mining companies based in the UK, which, naturally, operate mainly in Africa and across the rest of the world. Most of them seem to approach their role responsibly. New measures that are emerging, such as the Dodd-Frank legislation in the United States, which increases the transparency on payments made to Governments in some of those countries, are generally accepted as very important by most of the mining organisations that I have encountered.

I have spoken before in this place about a company whose way of operating in one particular country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has troubled me.

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I will not go into that today, but it is good that there has been some response by all the other companies. As they have seen that debate unfold to some extent in the newspapers and in the media, they have asked to have a chat with me and some of my colleagues who are interested in the issue. I think that these matters are taken very seriously across the industry.

The Secretary of State for International Development recently made a speech at the London business school about the importance of ideas that Paul Collier, an academic, has reflected on over the years. He wrote a very famous book called “The Bottom Billion” and what he says epitomises the argument that many others have put. He says that we should help these African states, which are potentially very rich in minerals but are very poor otherwise, to benefit from extracting the stuff that is beneath the ground and sometimes beneath the sea. Of course, such countries cannot always do that for themselves and need assistance from outside companies. Standards of governance apply to those companies, both in London, if they are listed in the UK—or in any stock market, for that matter—and in the countries concerned. The transparency with which payments are made is increasingly crucial.

For example, I discovered recently a number of cases in the Congo—I shall not give the names of companies or particular mines—where it seems that a mine may have been expropriated by the Government or may already have been owned by the Government and sold on. The World Bank has an understanding that it will be told the price for which state assets are sold, because that allows us to see how much is actually going back compared with the worth of the asset. It is clear that how much has gone to the treasury from a number of sales in the DRC in the past couple of years has been far from explained. I suspect that it is a very small amount compared with the large sum—hundreds of millions—that has been made available to private entrepreneurs.

The World Bank has an understanding with countries such as the DRC that when assets are sold to mining organisations it is known how much was paid for them. That is not happening in the DRC as far as I can tell at the moment. The UK Government, to their great credit and following on from the Labour Administration, make a very large contribution each year to the DRC and to other developing countries, such as Rwanda next door. The UK Government are doubling the sum at the moment and the Labour Administration ramped up expenditure too, moving towards a figure of 0.7%, but the amount that we give in aid is dwarfed by the amount that is not accounted for when such assets are sold on. It is completely pointless giving aid to a country if we cannot be sure that we are going to get the benefits, because money is simply being extracted from another place by the sale of assets. I hope that both our Administration and the European Commission, which will introduce regulations soon, will look very carefully at that.

3.18 pm

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): I very much welcome this debate and the opportunity to speak about the importance of the growth of business to our economy. In doing so, I should express a personal interest, in that I have a majority holding in a small private company.

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The Government have set the stage well for business growth, in that we have at least avoided being where Greece and Ireland are and where Portugal is teetering on the brink of being. Our economy is fundamentally sound and growing. That is happening against a backdrop of our having inherited the worst budget deficit in the G7 and against the more recent headwinds of the spikes in the oil price—it has increased by 60% in the past year—and the eurozone crisis, which we are all facing at the moment. Although some of the Labour Members who are shaking their heads may disagree with that, I am sure we can all agree that if we are to move away from a debt-driven, public sector-reliant economy into manufacturing and exporting, creating private sector jobs will be vital. I welcome the fact that the Government have done that over the past year, creating 500,000.

We must do whatever we can to support business and I welcome the fact that the Government have intervened in a number of critical ways. The first is Project Merlin, which aims to get the largest five banks lending another £190 billion to small and medium-sized businesses. I know from such businesses in my constituency that that is vital and I urge the Government to maintain that progress.

I also welcome what the Government are doing about red tape through the one in, one out rule on regulation, through embracing the recommendations of Lord Young’s review, which is extremely important, and through the work done by my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning on apprenticeships, on which this Government have a particularly proud track record, much of which is down to the personal commitment that he has shown in this vital area.

I also think that Government should get out of the way of business. It is important that we get taxation on businesses down. Over the next four years, as hon. Members will know, the corporate tax rate will fall by 5%, but that is not good enough. We need to do even more. When our local and national tax rates combined are compared with those of other countries in Europe they show that we are doing pretty well: in Germany, they are at 30%, in France at 34% and we are at 26%. However, when we look further afield, as we must when we consider the competitive pressures of the future, we see that places such as Hong Kong and Singapore have combined rates of 16% to 17%. I urge the Government to keep pressing firmly in that direction.

Let me make two more important points. First, although we have avoided the worst excesses of what Labour planned to do with national insurance, although it is expensive to lower national insurance as it is one of the three great revenue raisers of taxation and although I recognise and applaud the fact that the Government have introduced national insurance holidays in most regions of this country for new business start-ups, we must do more. It is a tax on jobs and we must start to get the figures down.

Secondly, micro-businesses—those that employ 10 or fewer employees—represent 96% of the businesses in this country and employ 700,000 people. We must get the number of onerous regulations for that group down. In particular, we should consider paternity and maternity rights and the idea that employees can leave the work force for 26 weeks or up to 52 weeks-a-year and their jobs must be held open. That needs to be considered and perhaps relaxed for those businesses, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that.

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3.22 pm

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise the concerns that have been expressed on both sides of the House about the impact of the Government’s plans to reduce funding for English for speakers of other languages courses, plans which undermine the Prime Minister’s own vision for community cohesion. Members will remember that earlier this year he said in Prime Minister’s questions

“we will be putting in place…tougher rules”

to ensure that

“husbands and wives, particularly from the Indian sub-continent”


“learn English, so that…they can be more integrated into our country.”—[Official Report, 2 February 2011; Vol. 522, c. 856.]

It is deeply irresponsible to talk tough on language skills while removing the opportunities to develop them.

When the Government’s decision on ESOL funding was announced in the skills White Paper, the accompanying equality impact assessment said of ESOL that the changes

“should result in a very small overall impact on protected groups.”

That is not an assessment that those of us who are familiar with ESOL provision would have made and I welcome the fact that the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning did not accept that either and commissioned an equality impact assessment.

We have been wanting that impact assessment to be published for quite some time and were assured in the Westminster Hall debate on 3 May that it would be

“published in good time—certainly before the summer recess”.—[Official Report, 3 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 211WH.]

I am sure that the Minister would have wished it otherwise, but the assessment was published only yesterday, 24 hours before the start of the recess. Better late than never, but what does it tell us? On gender, nationally 68% of ESOL learners over the age of 19 are women and in my city, Sheffield, the figure is even higher, with 83% of the 3,310 ESOL learners being women. That is a much higher proportion than the 50% of women learners in further education as a whole. On ethnicity, as would be expected a higher proportion of ESOL learners identify themselves as black or minority ethnic than those in FE overall.

In Sheffield, our local college is advertising a 34-week ESOL course, starting in September, at a cost of £715. Contributing half of that sum, as would be expected under the new rules, is simply unaffordable to those who depend on those courses so the college is planning for a “huge drop” —these are the college’s words—in numbers. Women who will be affected have written to me and they describe movingly how they rely on ESOL courses to interact with each other, with society and with their children.

I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged the negative impact, reflected in his Department’s own assessment, of the introduction of the changes. I welcome the fact that he is considering, in partnership with the Department for Communities and Local Government and in consultation with the Association of Colleges, ways in which the Government can mitigate that impact. I hope he will explain more about his plans to the House today and, crucially, the timetable for their introduction.

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The problem is that the new rules for ESOL funding take effect in just 12 days, so I urge the Minister to give us an assurance that before the start of the new college year he will put in place measures to avert the unfair impact—or, if he cannot do that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth) said, I hope that he will tell us that the new rules will be put on hold.

3.26 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I want to raise an issue on behalf of my constituent, Mrs Noureen Shah. She is one of several people caught in the same nightmare, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) have constituents who are also affected.

Mrs Shah was persuaded in 2006 to invest in the Cube, a development in the Westside district of Birmingham. It includes offices, an hotel and 244 apartments. Mrs Shah paid a deposit of about £65,000—her children’s legacy—and like other investors she was told that the properties would be completed in 2008. Gateley solicitors say that that is not the case and, apparently, buried in the large contract is a clause that covers delays. That is just as well, because the building contract was not let until 22 June 2007—two days before the cut-off point—which, not surprisingly, made a 2008 completion date impossible.

Early in 2010, the developers, the Birmingham Development Company, went bust and PricewaterhouseCoopers was called in as the administrator. The company was eventually restructured as Aruna Project LLP. Nearly half the investors cannot raise a mortgage because of the collapse in the value of the properties, but director Neil Edgington of Aruna is not too concerned, telling Property Week in April 2011,

“I’m sure some”—

that is, some investors—

“will need more of a nudge than others. Some people will need a bit of encouragement via the legal route”.

Such intimidation has been the hallmark ever since. Lloyds TSB claims that it is

“working closely with administrators to ensure all outstanding cases are handled fairly”,

but it appears that “fairly” means that the Cube, which started out on the loan book of HBOS, is going to be paid for by bankrupting and evicting from their own homes the small investors who have been foolish enough to believe the sales pitch.

Lloyds and Aruna are now using the solicitors Gateley to threaten those small investors. It is a disgrace, and I would appreciate it if the Secretary of State would agree to have a look at what has happened in this case.

3.29 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I declare my interest as a former college principal. As such, I am well aware of the need for local practitioners to make sense of the impact of decisions taken here on real people in the world out there. At least in the skills Minister we have someone who is truly committed to and genuinely cares about learning and learners. Unfortunately, the original decision regarding eligibility for free access to ESOL

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learning was probably taken to make the high level numbers add up, without the consequences being properly thought through.

The Minister’s written statement yesterday, however, makes it clear that he intends to take steps to address the shortfall in the equality impact assessment also published yesterday. I welcome this and thank him for contacting me this morning to ensure that I was apprised of the context of both documents.

A reasonable proportion of ESOL learners at North Lindsey college in Scunthorpe are currently working and already pay for their courses, so they will be unaffected by the changes. However, a significant number of North Lindsey’s adult ESOL learners, who are in low-skilled, poorly paid jobs in local factories, currently benefit from free tuition, but will not do so in future. Many of the college’s ESOL learners are highly motivated parents who learn English in order to help their children with homework and to not be reliant on them to be translators when accessing public services, such as the health clinic. Many of these mainly women learners will not be able to access ESOL and could therefore become isolated, rather than more integrated into our local community.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published the equality impact assessment yesterday, just in the nick of time to deliver the Minister’s promise that it would be published before the recess. Paragraph 53 of the assessment indicates that the policy changes

“may have a disproportionate impact on some groups or sub-groups of learners.”

Paragraphs 30 and 35 confirm that there are more minority ethnic groups and women studying ESOL than there are among FE students as a whole.

I ask the Minister to consider delaying the removal of fee concessions until a major change in the benefits system—the reclassification of claimants on to employment support allowance—is completed. The Government’s target timetable for this change is four years. The delay would allow current ESOL students on income support to remain in free provision, rather than be at considerable risk of dropping out of education for several years.

To ensure that parents are enabled to give the best possible support to their children, the Government might also consider giving all parents with children aged 0 to 7 fee concessions, regardless of their benefit status. This is essential if we want to prepare them to take an active part in their children’s education and be ready for work later on. These changes would not impact on Government budgets this year as the funds are already allocated to colleges. It is the restrictions and the changed policy in relation to ESOL that is preventing colleges from meeting those needs.

None the less, like my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), I welcome the Minister’s commitment to work with the Department for Communities and Local Government on developing new forms of community-based learning of English and working with the Association of Colleges to determine how best to target funds at settled communities where language barriers prevail. The involvement of Lord Boswell and Baroness Sharp, who are well respected and have much expertise, is also welcome.

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3.33 pm

The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury (Mr Brooks Newmark): I begin by thanking the Chief Whip for indulging me this one time by allowing me to speak. As the House is aware, in the Whips Office we take a vow of silence, so I am particularly pleased to be given this opportunity to respond to Members in the area of business, innovation and skills, and to thank everyone for their excellent contributions. I feel a little like Garbo in her first talkie, when the next day’s headlines were, “Garbo Talks”, although when tomorrow’s press reports that “Brooks Talks”, I suspect it will not be about my performance at the Dispatch Box.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for organising today’s debate, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for organising the format, which I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is known as the Hollobone format, in which there is a rapid-fire series of short debates and short replies—a sort of political speed-dating, in which the Member raises his or her questions and sees whether or not he or she fancies the relevant Minister’s replies. I shall therefore do my best to make the Government as attractive as possible in relation to all the areas covered in the debate.

Before I begin my formal response to hon. Members’ contributions, I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) on his excellent maiden speech, which was delivered with warmth and a deep understanding of the community he represents.

Let me respond first to the hon. Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth), all of whom rightly drew attention to the important issue of English provision to speakers of other languages. I know that hon. Members have previously campaigned on this issue and have highlighted the importance of English language provision to members of their respective communities. I am sure that they will agree that, although the ability to speak English is important to ensuring integration, if employers wish to recruit abroad—I address this point particularly to the hon. Members for Nottingham South and for Sheffield Central—they must not expect the state to pick up the cost of teaching their workers English. The reforms will target public funding to those in the greatest need and will ensure that higher standards are set for providers, thereby making ESOL provision work better for learners, employers, and taxpayers.

I am sure that hon. Members will have seen the second impact assessment, and yesterday’s written statement by my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, in which he further clarified our policy in this important area. Members will be aware that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will work with the Department for Communities and Local Government to formulate a strategy specifically to target vulnerable communities and particularly women and families who rely on community-based English language learning to help them gain access to public services and to communicate with their children’s schools. That point has been stressed by all the hon. Members who spoke on this issue. The Government are anxious to ensure that women and families do not lose out on this important provision.

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My final point on this issue is that my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has listened to and worked with the Association of Colleges and other key providers to make sure that we make rapid progress in this area—we hope by September when we reconvene—to ensure further and better integration in our communities.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who has demonstrated his lifelong interest in horology and has done much to promote that sector. I particularly appreciate his concerns about horology training facilities in the UK and the need for small, specialist courses, and I agree that we must support specialist British industries such as the watch-making and clock-making industry. I add that, although there is a British watch maker called Newmark, we are not related. My hon. Friend rightly cited the importance of the Government’s internship programme, and I assure him that the Government are exploring the opportunities for the craft sector to engage with the apprenticeship programme. I have met my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning to discuss this matter, and he will write to my hon. Friend about the progress that the Government are making to boost craft apprenticeships so that Britain will become the international centre of excellence in horology that he so rightly wants it to be.

On regulation, the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) should be commended for his continued focusing of attention on the behaviour of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, which he has mentioned in this place in the past. I particularly thank him for drawing my attention to the need for greater transparency and good governance, especially for companies dealing with developing countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Government expect and the law requires all UK directors of companies to adopt high standards of business conduct. We rightly focus on bad behaviour and we certainly do not condone criminal offences such as bribery or phone hacking. We need to help directors and shareholders through a strong system of corporate governance. Overall, the current system works well but needs to evolve continually to meet new challenges.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) for highlighting the importance of having a strong town centre and a vibrant community, as well as for continuing to be a strong champion for Swindon and for mentioning the importance of supporting retailers and small businesses in his area. I agree that having a successful and buzzing town centre helps to create and maintain jobs in shops and offices. A vibrant town centre creates a positive image that attracts new businesses and employment. Indeed, we should applaud the work of independent groups such as Forward Swindon and InSwindon which, in conjunction with the local council, have sought to revitalise growth and prosperity in the town centre.

I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) for focusing on Lloyds TSB and the sale of flats in the Cube in Birmingham, and for highlighting the concerns of Mrs Shah and other small investors. He

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raised the inability of flat owners to secure mortgages, and I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be made aware of his concerns.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) is right to raise the important issue of Tata Steel and the development of north Lincolnshire. He mentioned the importance of renewable industry in Lincolnshire and the need for improved transport links. The pan-Humber local enterprise partnership has focused on strategic opportunities growth based on renewable energy, ports and logistics, and chemicals among other things. The Humber LEP is bidding for an enterprise zone to support the creation of renewable clusters in the area. I shall of course pursue that matter with the relevant Ministers to ensure that the demands of local people and investors can be met. On Tata Steel, the recent meeting between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Members to discuss the issue was cancelled, and will be rearranged, as is the case with a visit by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. The Prime Minister has expressed disappointment at job losses resulting from reductions at Tata Steel, but he is working hard with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to bring a taskforce together to ensure that we do everything possible to mitigate the impact on local jobs and communities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) is right to emphasise economic growth. He mentioned the importance of not driving growth with debt, and the need to reduce unnecessary regulation. Growth remains at the centre of the Government’s strategy, and the growth review will work throughout this Parliament to address barriers facing industry. The Government’s role is to create the conditions conducive to private sector investment and to make long-term choices, not offer short-term fixes. We continue to listen to businesses to understand how to help them.

Finally, on maternity and paternity leave, Government proposals will allow both parents to take an active, caring role while retaining their attachment to the workplace. Our proposals allow more flexibility, because one size does not fit all firms or families. We will work with businesses to help them to adapt to these changes. My hon. Friend made a specific point about national insurance, and I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is made aware of his concerns. Once again, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for arranging this debate, all the speakers for their contributions and wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all Members a relaxing summer break.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Thank you, Minister. Before we move to the health debate, I remind Members who are taking part that page 5477 of the Order paper states:

“Members are expected to attend throughout the debate for which they are grouped.”

That includes listening to the Minister at the end of the debate, so it is regrettable that some Members who participated in the debate that has just concluded are no longer in the Chamber. I am sure that the Whips will inform them.

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3.44 pm

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): There is increasing evidence that the number of people taking part in shisha smoking is on the rise. Hookah pipes have become a regular sight on university campuses, and shisha cafés or bars are springing up across the country. I have seen evidence of this in my own constituency of Preston, and it is particularly true of young people from ethnic minority Asian communities, as shisha smoking is seen as a legitimate social activity compared with drinking alcohol. This is creating a number of issues for both the Government and local authorities. Chief among them is how best to educate smokers about the health risks associated with shisha.

First, what is shisha? To avoid confusion, let us be clear that shisha is the process of smoking tobacco through an ornate water pipe. Tobacco is mixed with fruit or syrup and then wrapped in aluminium foil before being heated by charcoal. The smoker then uses a pipe to breathe in, forcing the smoke through the water, producing bubbles, before it is inhaled. Shisha is also referred to as hookah, hubble-bubble, goza and narghile and is a common pastime in parts of Asia and Africa, where it dates back around four centuries.

There are a number of myths surrounding shisha, the most prevalent of which is the belief that it is either not a danger to your health, or much less serious than smoking cigarettes. This is simply not the case. There is of course variety in what is smoked, but in the majority of cases it is tobacco. The fact that it is flavoured or described as herbal hides the impact it can have. I stress this because reports have suggested that some people do not realise that tobacco is involved and many do not regard the activity to be the same as smoking cigarettes.

In addition, there is a belief that the process of passing the smoke through water filters out many of the harmful chemicals that are released by burning tobacco, but it does not. Shisha smokers expose themselves to nicotine, carbon monoxide, heavy metals and other cancer-causing chemicals, and they do so in much greater quantities than those smoking a cigarette. Research carried out by the World Health Organisation found that the average cigarette involves eight to 12 intakes and produces a total of between 0.5 and 0.6 litres of smoke over a five to seven-minute period. When looking at shisha, it was found that the average smoking session involves between 50 and 200 intakes, producing between 0.15 and 1 litre of smoke per intake, over a 20 to 80-minute period.

The health dangers associated with smoking tobacco are now well established. Shisha smokers expose themselves to the same risks as those who smoke cigarettes. Increased risks of heart disease, cancer and gum disease are all direct consequences of smoking tobacco. As I mentioned at the start of my speech, the increasing popularity of shisha smoking as a social activity is resulting in a number of challenges. How can we effectively regulate shisha cafes and bars to ensure that they comply with the Health Act 2006? How can we ensure that safety is maintained and risks minimised?

In short, Britain is witnessing the emergence of a shisha culture. Young people from a range of backgrounds, but especially those from ethnic minority communities,

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are taking up shisha smoking. We need to do more to dispel the dangerous myths out there relating to shisha smoking. Today I call upon the Government to instigate a nationwide campaign, similar to that instigated by the Labour Government, to talk about the dangers of this type of smoking.

3.48 pm

Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon) (Con): Before the House rises for the summer recess, I would like to draw attention to the importance of speech therapy and communication aids for profoundly disabled young people, and to raise a query about care home costs.

I am privileged to have in my constituency, in Ivybridge, the Dame Hannah Rogers Trust, which for over 220 years has provided education, therapy, care and respite for children and young people with profound physical disabilities. It is a genuine centre of excellence and has been rated as outstanding by Ofsted since 2006. A few weeks ago, I attended one of its special assemblies, which was designed to promote a greater understanding of the importance of electronic communication aids for people who have no other way of communicating. A number of dignitaries and members of the press were invited, along with parents and friends of the students.

During the time together at the assembly, we were given a presentation by a young man called Ben, whose sole method of communicating is by pushing a yellow button with his cheek to select certain words and phrases from his computer. In a very powerful presentation lasting about 15 minutes, he sat in his wheelchair in front of the whole assembly and told us, with a large screen behind him to illustrate his computerised words, about his family, his likes and dislikes; about his life. He told us that when we spoke to him we should look at him and not at his carer, and that when we asked him a question we should be patient when waiting for his response. I will never forget those words of guidance.

Ben did something else: he told us a joke—in front of all those people, using just his cheek, his yellow button, and his computer. I was so impressed that I promised him that I would share it with the House of Commons, and here it is: “I say, I say, I say, why did the fish blush?” “I don’t know,” came the reply, “Why did the fish blush?” “Because he saw the sea weed!” As you can imagine, the assembly dissolved into laughter. I am sure the House agrees that that would be a pretty good joke at any time, in any place, but for it to be delivered by a fine young man facing so many challenges, in a school assembly, with dignitaries and press present, was quite remarkable. I went up to him afterwards and told him that his presentation was awesome. I pay tribute to Ben, to his family and to his carers. I acknowledge the wonderful work done by Nicola Blundell, the speech therapist at the school, and her team, and of course to Dame Hannah Rogers Trust itself for so many years of astonishing service and dedication.

I intend to return to my second issue, which relates to the cost of residential and nursing care, in the autumn, but I wish to put down a marker at this early stage. It was recently drawn to my attention that local authorities are operating one set of charges for residential homes run by themselves and another, much lower, set for care homes run in the independent sector. I have taken these issues up with councils in my area and wish to share my

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findings with the House. In one local authority area, the going rate for a person entering one of its council-run care homes is £630 per week, while in independent homes in the same area the going rate is £429 per week—a differential of £200 per person per week. A similar disparity appears in neighbouring authorities.

My immediate reaction was to wonder why it is possible to have such a discrepancy. I have visited many care homes in the private sector and the public sector over the years, as we all have, and I would certainly not say that local authority care homes are necessarily superior. I took up the discrepancy with the council and received an interesting response:

“the £630 per week cost of in house services includes nationally agreed terms and conditions for local authority employees to include pensions, absenteeism, sickness and leave entitlements. This makes it difficult to compare rates with the independent sector.”

I do not agree with that. The Minister needs to look into this—no doubt he can do so in his thorough review following the Dilnot report on the costs of residential care—as it is something that possibly needs to be changed.