3.52 pm

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): The hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) makes the House a better place with his story about Ben. I am delighted to follow him on that basis.

I, too, want to talk about care homes, particularly in relation to Southern Cross. The House will know that not so long ago Southern Cross announced its intention to go into liquidation—to cease trading. That means that the 750 Southern Cross homes in this country now face a varied and uncertain future. Some 250 of those homes will pass automatically to landlords who intend to continue to offer care, but that means that the majority of homes, and therefore the majority of residents, are still in a kind of limbo as to what their future is. In my own city of Manchester, where the local authority has already made contact with one of the care home owners who intends to carry on the process of caring for the residents, things are proceeding in a sensible way. However, my local authority has found it difficult to have any dialogue with some of the offshore companies, which are merely rentiers, that own the property in the Southern Cross homes system but seemingly have no interest in pursuing the care packages involved.

Everyone on both sides of the House would agree that the care of the 31,000 elderly people affected should be the paramount consideration. It should not be a question of the profits of these companies. The care element must come first and foremost. A secondary issue, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for South West Devon, is the important employment base involved. These homes do not exist to create employment, but they do have employees who are entitled not only to reasonable working conditions but to some certainty about continuity of employment. However, the primary need must be to give reassurance to the 31,000 care home residents that their future is secure.

In previous exchanges in the House, the Minister has rightly said that the regime that allowed Southern Cross to operate as it did was not the right one, and that people need to look back and accept responsibility for that. I absolutely agree with him.

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I would ask the Minister to do two things. First, up and down this land there are people who are genuinely concerned. They want to know that the offshore landlords will not simply take the roofs from over their heads, and that there will be continuity of care. We need an absolute statement that that will be the case. I know that things have progressed with NHP, one of the property owners, and that it made a statement yesterday. We need a much more positive approach that tells people home by home, or residence by residence, that their future is secure, who their landlord will be, and how their care will work.

Looking to the future—the Minister has hinted that he is sympathetic to this—we need a system that locks in a process whereby in all circumstances the needs of the residents, not the needs of the private operator, are the paramount driving force. We must not have the kind of unseemly operation that applied with Southern Cross, where profit was filtered from the homes and some people made an awful lot of money. Those people are long gone, and the people facing uncertainty are the elderly people and their carers. I hope that they are not facing too much uncertainty, and that the Minister can put the uncertainty to rest today. We have to move on, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give some clarification.

3.56 pm

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): I am grateful for this opportunity to speak, and for your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise if I am unable to be here for the winding-up speech, but I have to be in Westminster Hall at 4.30.

This is an important opportunity to raise issues that are close to our hearts. I want to talk about the potential contribution of the NHS to medical innovation in the life sciences sector and in this country, and to driving economic growth. Before coming to Parliament I had the privilege of working for 15 years in the biomedical industry. It is a subject close to my heart, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to raise it. I draw Members’ attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

My key message is that because of major changes in biomedicine and the structure of the pharmaceutical industry, including in the disciplines of drug discovery and drug development, the NHS is now one of the most valuable assets in global biomedicine. It is vital that Parliament and the Government support the NHS in unlocking that opportunity, ensure that our NHS reforms recognise and support it, and recognise the global potential of our health care sector and our NHS to drive growth and revenues around the world, which can be reinvested back into our research base.

The life sciences are an important sector in the UK. Some 27,000 people are employed in UK pharmaceutical research and development, and there are 250,000 employees in life sciences-related industries. Employees working in the highest value sectors each generate more than £190,000 in gross value added. We are of course home to GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, but we also have a range of specialty pharma, biotech, device and diagnostics businesses.

However, there is a problem: the pharmaceutical sector has been a victim of its own success. While research and development spend has doubled in the

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past 15 years, the rate of success in new chemical entities discovered has fallen by about a third. That crisis is driving a wave of consolidations and restructurings in the industry, some of which we have seen recently, and the rapid closure of some of the older-style, Fordist discovery structures. The increasing trend in biomedical discovery is towards patients and getting back to the places where one can observe disease and watch it taking hold in tissues. The trend is to look at anonymised, consented mass patient data to understand how it is that different patients respond differently to diseases. That is undermining the global pharmaceutical business model. These days, a one-size drug does not fit all. The industry needs to understand why it is that people react in different ways.

As the industry looks around the world for places where it can access large repositories of anonymised, consented patient data that are in the hands of world-leading clinicians and scientists with an ethical regulatory framework, this country and the NHS stand out. This is a massive opportunity for our sector and the NHS to unlock new revenues around the world. The benefits for us are obvious. We can accelerate new medical discovery, cut costs, generate new funds for the NHS and give our sector a position of global leadership. The irony and the challenge is that the NHS itself is an obstacle to the rapid uptake and adoption of some technologies and innovations because of its centralised and bureaucratic budgeting, its lack of empowered and devolved responsibility, difficulties with its reimbursement and procurement structures, which are often dominated by the bigger companies rather than smaller more innovative companies, and problems with career structures for our most innovative scientists.

I know that Ministers and officials at both the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are considering this matter. I merely wanted to take this opportunity to highlight how important it is, not just for our medical innovation and health care but for our global growth imperative, for the UK to unlock that potential and ensure that the NHS reforms, far from undermining that important sector, support it.

4 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): NHS changes and the drive to achieve efficiency savings are causing a diminution in health services in my constituency. Salford has fewer GPs than the national average, and the Little Hulton ward is in the most deprived 3% of areas for health, yet the Little Hulton walk-in centre, which has served 2,000 people a month, is set to be closed by the primary care trust—a real blow to local people.

Salford PCT has also consulted on ending active case management for people with long-term conditions. Active case management is aimed at co-ordinating health and social care interventions to prevent deterioration, enable the patient to stay at home and avoid an emergency admission. It has had positive benefits for my constituents, and the loss of that support is another blow. Health Ministers say that they are protecting NHS budgets, so can the Minister tell me why my constituents in Salford are losing those vital health services?

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GPs in Salford are also in the final year of moving on to practice-based commissioning budgets, which are based on the Department of Health’s fair shares toolkit. Two local GPs have alerted me to a problem with the way budgets are calculated. Their practice had 70% of its patients from the most deprived categories, whereas another practice had only 58%, yet the toolkit weighting applied to list size gave an uplift of 9% to the more deprived population’s practice but a 21% uplift to the less deprived. We could call that a lottery within a postcode. That calculation means that the practice in the more deprived area is faced with an apparent overspend of £200,000, and that GPs have to re-examine referrals and cancel activity for patients, giving them an increased work load and potentially having an impact on treatment for patients. Will the Minister find out why the toolkit gives a smaller uplift in weighting to a practice serving a more deprived area? As GP practices move on to real budgets, getting those calculations right is vital, as is dealing with the anomaly that I have outlined.

On social care, I welcome the report of the Dilnot commission and the opportunity to deliver a settlement on the funding of care and support. We need to work together across parties to agree a solution based on the report’s recommendations, and that work has already started in Parliament. I feel that it must include an acceptance of the report’s clear finding that additional public funding is required now for social care. As the Dilnot commission says,

“the impact of the wider local government settlement appears to have meant that additional resources have not found their way to social care budgets”,

and

“the current social care system is inadequately funded. People are not receiving the care and support they need and quality of services is likely to suffer”.

Social care provision is suffering as councils struggle with the Government’s front-loaded cuts of 27% over four years, and research by Age UK has highlighted cuts of 8.4% this year in council spending on older people’s social care. The social policy research unit has projected that spending cuts of 6% to 7% would mean that 250,000 older people would lose their services, so cuts greater than that would mean more than 250,000 losing services.

Back in 2005-06, half of all councils provided support to people with “moderate” care needs, but now only 22 councils provide that level of support. In its document “Care in Crisis”, Age UK states that there are

“huge discrepancies in the quantity and quality of support offered to older people by different local authorities”.

We have to deal with the current crisis as well as working to carry forward the reforms in the Dilnot report.

4.3 pm

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): The principle that the national health service should be free at the point of delivery and based on clinical need, regardless of background or wealth, is one that few in the House would disagree with. It is a principle that we are all proud to defend, knowing that there is nothing as important as the health of the nation. We recognise that the NHS is paid for by taxpayers’ money and is the result of the hard-earned wages of citizens and taxpayers,

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and as citizens we are happy to provide for those in the greatest need—the vulnerable, the elderly, those who cannot care for themselves and those who are dying; we know that one day that fate will be ours, and we hope that the NHS will be there for each of us then.

We also recognise that the NHS must make record efficiency savings over the next four years, savings that will be reinvested in the service so that the NHS can meet another challenge—rising demand and an ageing population, which will put ever greater pressure on health care services. As a result, NHS spending is coming under greater scrutiny than ever before. But in recent years there has been a rise in the number of foreign nationals, ineligible for free care, who have been using NHS services. A recent parliamentary answer that I received on this issue revealed that since 2002-03 the Department has written off, and is no longer seeking to claim back unpaid bills, of nearly £35.4 million. The figures show that last year alone £6.9 million was written off, three times the £2.1 million lost in 2002-03.

It was made clear in the Minister’s reply to me that this figure does not include money yet to be collected, or money owed to foundation trusts for which the Department does not hold data. I have now begun to collect these data, which the Department does not keep, as a result of a freedom of information request to each trust. As a result of this, a picture is beginning to form that points to a far deeper problem than perhaps we recognise. So far 31 trusts have responded, stating that they have written off a total of £7.8million. This includes my own local trust, North Bristol NHS Trust, which has written off a total of £1,727,000 since 2003. That is as unacceptable as it is unsustainable.

The problem is not just one of cost. The variation and discrepancy in the collection of data is astounding. It seems that no criteria or framework exists under which one hospital or trust might charge another for its services. As soon as I have a more detailed and complete picture, I shall be happy to share these findings with the Minister.

I know that the Minister and the Department have been actively consulting on the problem of how to deal with the use of NHS services by foreign nationals, and I would welcome an update on the Department’s current thinking on how to tackle this issue for the future. We need to expose the reality of the problem, especially at times when the NHS seeks to make savings. We need a comprehensive plan to ensure that local services are not put under pressure by what many are now calling “health tourism”. The NHS may be free, but it is not a free-for-all. It is a national health service, not an international health service. Let us do all that we can to ensure that that remains the case.

4.7 pm

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the critical issue of public health. This time I want to look at the importance of exercise to promote health and well-being. Like many people, I have been alarmed at the rising levels of obesity in the UK and its associated diseases. Treatment of chronic conditions now takes two thirds of the health budget.

The problem is complex. The chair of Public Health Wales, Sir Mansel Aylward, believes people have lost their sense of belonging—once so evident in the south

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Wales valleys when heavy industries, coal and steel thrived. So he has called for local communities to be made formidable again—a bold ambition.

The latest figures for Wales show that one in three children are overweight. The costs of obesity are huge. If you include the wider cost of days lost from work and out-of-work benefits, they nudge £8 billion. Given the complexity of the problem, we need a much stronger regulatory and policy toolbox. Only 25% of children are getting the recommended 60 to 90 minutes of daily exercise outside school. Nothing can be more fun, or better exercise, than taking a young child to the park. So it is important that we invest in play for young children, and veto charges for playground entry.

Encouraging youngsters to keep active can take patience, good humour and a tailored delivery. Teenage girls sometimes feel that sport at school is a “boy thing”, so I applaud the BBC for its recent coverage of the women’s football world cup. But if young women do prefer dance, martial arts or yoga, they should be timetabled and encouraged. Swimming is a great way to exercise for all ages, all sizes and both sexes. I therefore regret the coalition’s removal of free swimming for under-16s and over-60s—a Labour Olympic legacy initiative.

Buzz Bikes in Blaina, in my constituency, was founded by teenage boys hanging around on their bikes. They received money from the Prince’s Trust, which helped them to set up an outdoor cycling club, and now they run a small shop, and repair and hire out bikes too. Funding was given not to improve the boys’ health, but rather to keep them out of trouble, but it has been a great boost to their physical health and self-esteem.

Finally, I would like to comment on the need for the elderly to keep active. In my area up and down the country, bowling is a popular pastime enjoyed by all ages. It is a source of physical, social and mental activity. It makes for better neighbourhoods, and opportunities to play should be increased, not jeopardised. I understand that the Government’s new obesity strategy should be published soon, and I hope that it will be the subject of a full parliamentary debate. If people of all ages are to become and keep active it is critical that local infrastructure, and play and leisure facilities, be maintained, and that charges be kept low. Many people cannot afford a gym subscription to keep fit, and investing in projects with longer term dividends is always difficult. Nevertheless, if we do not do it the cost to the NHS could be overwhelming.

4.11 pm

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): I wish to bring to the attention of the House and particularly the Minister the east midlands cancer drugs fund. The original concept of the fund was to help thousands of extra cancer patients receive treatment if their clinicians believed it would help them. The policy was warmly welcomed by cancer patients and their families. I have had two patients come to my surgeries on different occasions trying to access the life-prolonging drugs Avastin and Rituximab.

Since my election, I have discovered enormous anomalies between different parts of the cancer drugs fund. The East Midlands strategic health authority provides Avastin for the first-line treatment of both metastatic colorectal cancer and renal cell carcinoma, but it will not make

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provision for the use of Avastin as second-line treatment. In fact, it has been rather obstructive in giving us information about what it does. That has turned the life of one of my constituents, who is a cancer patient, into a living nightmare. In order to prolong her life, my constituent, who wishes to remain anonymous, has to date spent more than £50,000 of her own money on funding second-line treatment with Avastin. That included money that she got from taking early retirement. She has also sold many of her possessions, including her car and family heirlooms, to continue her treatment. But now she is running out of things to sell.

The drug costs my constituent £1,600 every three weeks—a sum that most people would find very hard to find—but she is still alive, which she would not be had she not funded it herself. She is living proof of the effectiveness of the drug in second-line treatment. However, if she resided just 12 miles away in Staffordshire, she would fall under the West Midlands SHA, which has confirmed that it provides Avastin—the drug that she so desperately needs to stay alive—for patients on both first and second-line treatments to treat the type of cancer that she is suffering from. However, the East Midlands SHA has not approved any applications for Avastin for second-line treatment of bowel cancer. This lack of consistency across the country is appalling. The Avastin that my constituent has funded herself, when used alongside chemotherapy, has seen her tumour levels drop from 41 to five—so clearly it is working very well. She is naturally infuriated that the east midlands cancer drugs fund is so resistant to funding Avastin for second-line treatment. I cannot understand why it is not looking at the clear medical evidence that she personally presents showing the effectiveness of the drug. She is living evidence that the medicine works, and she needs such help now.

I know of another patient with scleroderma who has been refused Rituximab. Hers is a terminal illness and she is being refused the drug. According to her doctors, she has three years left to live. She was told seven months after she applied that she could not have it, and it takes six months to take effect, so this lady is having enormous difficulty in understanding why she is not allowed it. She has been to London and been told that, yes, people get it there, but she cannot have it in the east midlands. I would therefore like to ask the Minister whether he will see how he can help those two brave individuals, because although I believe in local decision making, the current situation is just not fair, and they are not getting the treatment that they both deserve.

4.15 pm

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): I rise to speak briefly in the time available to me about mental health services throughout the country. The Government are quite rightly focusing on mental health, as well as on provision in the acute sector. Their commitment to “No health without mental health” is absolutely right, and the £400 million being put into the early prevention of mental health conditions through talking therapies is an important commitment.

Before I go any further, however, it is worth highlighting how mental health services have historically been something of a Cinderella service in the context of the NHS

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budget. A good reason why we need reform to get rid of primary care trusts and put medical professionals in charge of service delivery is that mental health services have been particularly targeted for front-line cuts by PCTs over the past few months. For example, Leeds has seen £3.5 million cut from mental health budgets, with Oxford and Buckinghamshire withdrawing all police mental health liaison officers from their services. I am sure that the Minister would agree that mental health services are already under-invested locally throughout the country, and also that such cuts to front-line services are not desirable given the importance of early primary intervention in mental health. Indeed, that is exactly why we need reform to put professionals in charge of the NHS, so that they can deliver the community-focused services that we need.

It is also worth pointing out that nearly half of all adults suffer from depression at some point in their lives. We know that 60% of adults in hostels and the homeless have some form of mental health condition, while 90% of prisoners are estimated to have one too, so there is a big issue. We know that intervening and helping those individuals earlier in the disease process—through exactly the sort of commitments that the Government are making, with their £400 million commitment to talking therapies, and through commitments on a local level throughout the country—would make both a difference to health care economics, by driving down the cost of care for mental health patients later on, and a huge human difference to the patients themselves.

In the time available to me, I want briefly to call on the Minister to reconfirm the Government’s commitment to early intervention. We know that too many people are presenting with mental health conditions in the acute sector too late, when they are already in crisis, which is expensive for the NHS and bad for those people. The failure of mental health services has been to become a responsive service, rather than what we need, which is a service focused on patients and developing a properly community-sensitive approach, particularly in isolated rural areas and areas of high population churn, such as the inner-city areas over the river from this place.

I am not going to say much more; there is no time to develop a full argument. What I would like to hear from the Minister—I am sure that he will give us this—is a confirmation of the Government’s commitment to one of the key reasons for the NHS reforms that we are putting through, which is that we need much more of a community focus to mental health services, much less reactive mental health services and a much more proactive focus on helping people early on in their condition. Such a service would be good for them and good for the NHS, not only because it would reduce the cost to the taxpayer, but primarily because it would be good for the patient.

4.19 pm

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I really enjoy these pre-recess Adjournment debates, which give us Back Benchers such a useful opportunity to raise issues that otherwise might not get discussed. However, this is a slightly bizarre pre-recess Adjournment debate, given that we shall be back tomorrow to discuss phone hacking.

I want to talk about an issue that is pretty topical, given today’s reports about the Government reviewing private finance initiative contracts to save the taxpayer

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£1.5 billion. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who has been a thoughtful and tireless campaigner on the issue. We have all heard stories of the catastrophic mistakes made in relation to PFI that have resulted in astronomical costs to the taxpayer. We should also have a debate about another classic example of Labour’s poorly executed attempts to bring the private and public sectors together. I want to talk about private sector contracts with the NHS.

The Cheshire and Merseyside NHS Treatment Centre was located in my constituency, in Runcorn. It was run by private company Interhealth, on a fixed-term, five-year contract between Interhealth and the Department of Health. The contract ended on 31 May, and the terms imposed by the Labour Government mean that the operating contract cannot be renewed. The high-quality care provided at the treatment centre very much fits as part of a modern national health service. The treatment centre is in a new building with high-quality facilities, and it has received excellent patient satisfaction feedback. The centre was also extremely popular locally, as demonstrated by the thousands of constituents who signed a petition opposing its closure.

That shows that, given the right conditions, the private sector can work with the NHS for the benefit of both organisations and the patients. Indeed, I agree with the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who said when he was Labour’s Health Secretary that we should celebrate the role of the private sector in the NHS. Even if orthopaedics do not return to the treatment centre site in Halton Lea, patients are almost certain still to be treated in the private sector under the “any willing provider” guidance.

However, it is essential that any private sector contracts with the NHS are undertaken for the benefit of the taxpayer. Due to Labour’s poorly thought-out contracts, treatment centres under private ownership were paid a fixed amount regardless of how many patients they treated. The Runcorn centre did okay, and the local primary care trusts did their best to fill it to capacity, but others paid out millions for operations that were never carried out. Private providers were also paid a premium above the national NHS tariff. This is why I strongly welcome many of the aspects of the coalition’s NHS reforms, which will prevent the taxpayer from getting ripped off in bad private sector deals and ensure that patients get better choice and high-quality treatment.

Going back to the local case in Runcorn, the treatment centre building has now reverted to the ownership of NHS Halton and St Helens PCT, which is running a consultation on its future. It is vital that this world-class facility should continue to be used for the benefit of the local area, and I continue to urge my constituents to respond to the consultation to make certain that their voices are heard.

4.22 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow): I should like to start by responding to the hon. Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick), who talked about the impact of shisha water pipes. I entirely agree with his comments about the need to dispel the myths surrounding them. They do endanger health, and it is not the case that they are less harmful than smoking

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cigarettes. The flavours might hide it, but they can still kill people. The hon. Gentleman was right to bring this matter to the House’s attention today. Water pipe use might actually increase exposure to carcinogens by smokers and those exposed to second-hand smoke. The evidence is clear that water pipe usage can increase the risk of cancers of the lung, mouth and bladder. It is also associated with markers of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and an increased risk of mouth and gum disease.

A number of local councils are already doing work in this area, not least the London borough of Tower Hamlets and Coventry city council, which are implementing enforcement strategies that include information and advice on the health hazards from smoking water pipes. We believe that, as local authorities take on their new public health responsibilities over the next few years in conjunction with Public Health England, they will be well placed to improve awareness of the risks of these practices, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing the matter to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) raised two issues. He highlighted the work of the Hannah Rogers Trust on speech and language therapy, and I can tell him that Health Ministers have been working closely with their Education colleagues on the production of the Green Paper on special educational needs that was published earlier this year. We are now looking at the results of the consultation. He included a well-delivered joke from Ben in his speech, which demonstrated compellingly the importance of ensuring that people have access to appropriate communications technologies, so that they can fully express their views, wishes and feelings and live full lives.

My hon. Friend talked about the differential fee levels that are paid—on the basis, it seems, of ownership rather than anything else. The Government have set their face against that when it comes to the NHS. My hon. Friend rightly raised some issues that need to be looked at. Particularly when local authorities are facing resource difficulties, they need to look challengingly at how they use resources to ensure that they deliver quality, while also delivering value for money for the taxpayer. In that regard, we will certainly look at such issues as part of the work we are doing on the White Paper.

That brings me to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) and his questions about Southern Cross. Here, too, we have work in hand around the need to reform social care in England to make sure that it is genuinely fit for the 21st century. Earlier today, I laid before Parliament a written ministerial statement to update hon. Members on further developments in the restructuring of Southern Cross. The Government’s overriding concern is and remains the welfare and safety of the 31,000 residents in Southern Cross care homes. Whatever the outcomes of the restructuring processes to which the hon. Gentleman referred, no one will find themselves homeless or without care. We expect Southern Cross, its landlords and lenders to continue to work together to secure a consensual, solvent restructuring of the business that meets their collective responsibilities to secure the welfare and care of residents.

My officials continue to maintain close contact with Southern Cross, its senior management, lenders and landlords. We continue to stress to them the need for timely announcements of the sort we saw from NHP

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yesterday about who will be taking on the operation of homes as we go forward. We need the necessary work to be done by the Care Quality Commission to ensure that the operators meet the necessary standards to be able to operate these homes in the first place. I entirely understand the concerns of hon. Members of all parties about this matter. That is why I have undertaken to keep Members informed while we are in recess. I will do just that as matters progress.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) raised issues about the NHS’s contribution to economic growth. As he rightly says, the NHS has huge potential for supporting UK innovation and research. We are increasing investment in health research by more than 8% in real terms over the next four years. That includes the £775 million that we are providing to promote translational research and development through biomedical research centres and units, and an additional £220 million for the construction of the Francis Crick Institute. My hon. Friend is right to say that we are, in a way, passing from the era of industrialised medicine into one of personalised medicine; that will certainly transform these things.

The Health and Social Care Bill, which has been the subject of much of my life over the past few months, includes measures to place duties on commissioners to promote and drive forward innovation and research. We think that that is a crucial way of unlocking the potential of the NHS to secure for patients the full benefit of research in that regard.

The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) talked about social care funding and resource allocation in the NHS. She will know that in last year’s spending review, the Government identified the need to support the fragile social care system that they inherited. That is why by 2014-15 an additional £2 billion of support will be going into social care. In fact, over the next four years, £7.2 billion extra—over and above what was committed previously—is going into social care.

We recognise that local authorities have to make tough decisions, but some of them ought to be about ensuring real efficiency in the way social care services are delivered. That means looking at things like telecare and reablement, and looking critically, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon said, at the way local authorities procure the services they provide for people in need. I think I need to write to the hon. Lady in more detail about the questions she posed about the working of the fair shares toolkit in active case management and the Little Hulton walk-in centre. I will write to her about that.

The hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) raised issues about foreign nationals’ use of the NHS. While we have a clear entitlement to a free NHS based on current residency in the UK, it is not based on nationality. There are exemptions for some categories of visitor, which are set out in the arrangements that have been in place since the 1980s. I commend the hon. Gentleman's research, and, along with my ministerial colleagues, I look forward to seeing the results of his freedom of information requests. As he said, the Government announced back in March that we would

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conduct a fundamental review of current rules and practices. That work is just beginning, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will contribute to it.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith)—I apologise for my mispronunciation of his constituency—made a compelling case for the benefits of exercise. We know that the taking of more exercise is linked to a reduction in the risk factors connected with coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, musculoskeletal conditions, and much more besides. Some of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman should be addressed to the devolved Administration in Cardiff, but the Government remain aware that a cross-Government approach is needed to issues that involve transport, planning and housing if we are to secure the public health dividends that we need to see.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) raised an important point. Notwithstanding the success of the cancer drugs fund, which has already delivered relief to 2,500 patients, it seems that the situation is different in her local strategic health authority in the east midlands. I will look into the matter carefully, and will seek explanations for the difference. I shall also want to be assured that these processes are genuinely transparent, so that justice is seen to be done and people can gain access to the benefits of the fund.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) talked about mental health. In February, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I launched “No health without mental health”, a cross-Government strategy. I believe that our “life course” approach sends the clear and powerful message that prevention and early intervention are key mental health priorities for the Government. The strategy also recognises the critical interdependencies between physical and mental health. The bulk of the strategy will have to be delivered by experts on the ground working with service users and their families and carers, but the Government are absolutely committed to integrated services. On the day on which I have launched the consultation on our new suicide prevention strategy, I should make clear the need for us to ensure that we no longer have a health service that patches people up physically while leaving them struggling mentally.

We must tackle stigma. Given that one in four of us in this country suffer from mental health problems, this is not about “them and us”; it is about all of us. We need parity of esteem between physical and mental health services, and that is a task for commissioners as well as those who provide services.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) raised the subject of the independent treatment centre in his constituency, and the consultation that is currently under way. I will certainly undertake to look at the report of that consultation. My hon. Friend rightly raised some of the downsides of “one size fits all” contracting, which cost the taxpayer large sums under the last Administration without delivering any benefit for patients.

This has been a good debate. I will look again at the contributions made by all Members, and if I have not responded to all their points, I will write to individual Members about those points. Let me end by wishing all Members and Officers of the House a healthy, productive and refreshing recess.

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Barbara Keeley: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister has just replied to the debate very fully, and I thank him for responding to my points and those raised by other Members. A while ago, however, his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), was answering a debate in Westminster Hall, ran out of time, and said what Ministers frequently say: “I will respond later to the points with which I have not managed to deal today.” I have received no replies to the questions that I raised on that occasion, and I wonder if you can advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on what we can do when Ministers make pledges of that kind and do not follow them up.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): That is not a point of order for the Chair. However, the hon. Lady has taken the opportunity to make the point directly to the Minister. I am sure that he has heard what she has said, and that he fully intends to reply to the points that have not been dealt with today.

Paul Burstow: I entirely take the hon. Lady’s point. I will certainly ensure that I respond to the questions that I did not cover in the debate, and I will ask colleagues in the Department what has happened to the replies to the hon. Lady’s earlier questions.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I am grateful for the Minister’s assistance.

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Communitites and local government

4.35 pm

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): It is a great pleasure to be able to speak in this debate. I have chosen to speak about an issue that, although it is of great importance in my constituency, is not just a local, parochial issue. Rather, it should concern all of us, because if we do nothing about it, we risk losing a large part of what makes the places we represent unique.

The health and diversity of our town centres and high streets are at risk. They are increasingly dominated by chain stores and businesses that have a national profile. This is now so much the case that it is often difficult to tell different places apart when we go shopping. The phenomenon has been dubbed the “clone town” by the New Economics Foundation.

We are fortunate in Cambridge to have several streets that buck the trend of the “clone town”. One road in particular, Mill road, has been renowned for decades for its vibrant mix of independent shops and restaurants from all around the world, yet not even Mill road is immune to the danger of slowly becoming another “clone street”. A couple of years ago there was a major campaign to prevent Tesco from having one of its express stores there which, sadly, failed. It became Tesco’s 14th store in Cambridge—there are now 15 in Cambridge—and now Sainsbury’s wants to open one of its express stores further down the road.

I do not want to criticise these businesses. They are successful British companies that employ a large number of people, and they did not get where they are by missing opportunities to expand. It is entirely reasonable for them to want to acquire new locations, sell more products and make more profit, but they do cause harm. They drive other shops out of business, employing a range of tactics.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. May I help the hon. Gentleman? The clock is not ticking down. When he resumes his speech, he will have two more minutes, which will mean he has had his four, without my intervention being counted, of course.

Dr Huppert: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall do my best to comply.

Such chain stores drive other shops out of business, and we need to have some tools available to limit their growth. Local people should be able to find an appropriate balance between the convenience of the familiar and the excitement of the eclectic.

This has been a live issue for a number of years, and Cambridge city council has worked with the Local Government Association and Lord Greaves to table an amendment to the Localism Bill in the other place. This amendment—153AKC, according to the other place’s rather opaque numbering and lettering system—has become known in some circles as “the Cambridge amendment” because of the key work done by Sian Reid, leader of Cambridge city council. It sets out in simple steps how we can give local communities the tools they need. Put simply, the amendment adds to the duties of a local planning authority the requirement to assess the vitality and diversity of local shopping areas.

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It does not bar specific companies; it does not set targets for the number of independent retailers; it would not, in itself, have any bearing on the current make-up of our high streets; but it would give local communities such as Cambridge the freedom to decide whether a planning application will add to, or detract from, the vitality and diversity of the area. In some areas of the country a Tesco store may increase the viability of the high street, whereas in others, such as Cambridge, it would decrease it. Communities will get the decision they want.

It was clear in the debate on the amendment in the other place that many people shared the concerns I have set out. The question is: what can, or should, be done about it? This does, of course, require people to vote with their feet as well, but I hope that Members on both sides of the House will agree that giving local authorities the right tools to strike the right balance is desirable, and I also hope that the Government will support the Cambridge amendment and allow communities around the country to have more say on their high streets, such as Mill road.

4.38 pm

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): On 14 June I led a Westminster Hall debate on the effect of property regulations on holiday lettings. In that debate, I urged the Department for Communities and Local Government to look again at the effect that changes to property regulations would have on holiday lettings and domestic tourism. The key regulation I talked about relates to the fact that as of 30 June new rules, introduced by DCLG, came into force requiring the owners of holiday lettings to obtain an energy performance certificate, or EPC. That is being defended as a European Union requirement when it is not being adopted by any other European country. This will force an unnecessary, costly, pointless and, I believe, legally questionable burden on holiday lettings, doing damage to British tourism in my constituency and many others.

In my Westminster Hall debate, I examined a range of possible reasons for this change and discounted each in turn, concluding that the only possible justification could be that this is being demanded by Europe. However, as I pointed out, it is not being implemented by any other European Union country. In response to my concerns, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), made a number of points. In reply to my assertion that England and Wales would be the only countries enforcing this, I was told that it was already a requirement in Scotland. However, I would like to make him aware that the regulations in Scotland are somewhat different from those being imposed by his Department in England and Wales.

An answer from the Directorate for The Built Environment in Scotland states that EPCs are not required for holiday lettings unless the property is let to the same person for more than 12 weeks. The advice is clarified by the Building Standards Agency in Scotland, which also says:

“An EPC is not required for a property sold for the purpose of a holiday”,

so the regulations in Scotland are very different from those in England and Wales. Very few people rent a

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holiday property for 12 weeks of the year and if this rule was applied to England and Wales, the number of holiday lets requiring an EPC would fall dramatically.

On the way in which other European countries are implementing the directive, the Minister went on to say:

“My hon. Friend produced some information about what France had done, and referred to the fact that a provider of holiday lets in his constituency had evidence from a much wider field around Europe. I hope that he will accept, as a glimmer of light, that the very first thing I shall do after the debate is seek whatever validation we can for those two pieces of evidence. We do not want providers in England to be at a disadvantage to other European countries simply because we have taken too robust a view of how the directive should be interpreted.”—[Official Report, 14 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 236WH.]

I welcomed that commitment from my hon. Friend. I know that he is not due to give the response today, but I wonder whether the Minister who is present has received validation on the two points. I ask because in addition to the much more sensible interpretation in Scotland, my research still indicates that EPCs are not required for holiday lets in France, Denmark, Sweden or Germany. Given that, it seems likely that they are not required in other European countries.

That brings me on to the question of who we class as a “tenant”. During the debate on 14 June, the Under-Secretary made the point that the way in which the DCLG was interpreting the European directive was that people renting the cottages in this country were “tenants”. That view has been robustly rejected by the English Association of Self Catering Operators, which has obtained a 16-page Queen’s counsel’s opinion on this matter.

In conclusion, my intention all along has been to help Ministers to reduce the burden of red tape on small business. I feel that they have done a good job so far, but with these new regulations they are going in the wrong direction. I ask the Minister to reconsider them.

4.42 pm

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I am most fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the country and to represent my neighbours, as they are my constituents. They enjoy communities with access to the countryside, from which so many of them benefit. Although I am sure that there is much to commend in other places such as Swindon—I am sure that other Members have commended them in this debate—the fact is that my constituents chose not to live in Swindon but to live in the market towns, villages and countryside of Wiltshire and they wish to keep them that way. It is therefore with some alarm that they hear of the Government’s determination to assume a presumption in favour of sustainable development. That is not because my constituents do not believe in sustainable development—far from it; it is because they do not have confidence that the Government will be sufficiently rigorous in imposing the test of sustainability in respect of development which may be permitted.

It was thus with some relief that I read in the natural environment White Paper of the Government’s enthusiasm for a new designation of “green areas” in the planning system. In addition, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), gave me a commitment on 20 June that they would seize

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on that definition in the planning system through the use of neighbourhood plans, and I wish to focus my remarks on them this afternoon.

It seems to me that the way that neighbourhood plans work in the planning process is essential to their effectiveness. In Wiltshire, we are watching our council embark on consultation for a 15-year core strategy on a local development framework. In many cases, it is consulting on proposals that my constituents do not consider to be sustainable development. Ultimately, the decision about that plan will be made by just under 100 councillors from across the county—yet the Government believe in empowering communities through neighbourhood plans, adopted with the support of local referendums, to set the direction for the future of where they live.

I want the Department to address some important questions and I hope that the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), the Whip answering the debate, will be able to speak about them this afternoon. The requirement is that a neighbourhood plan should be in general conformity with the local development framework and it is important that we understand exactly what the Government mean by that. In the old planning policy statement 12, the definition of general conformity began:

“The test is of general conformity and not conformity.”

The key to that definition is that it should be possible for a neighbourhood plan to conflict in some way with land allocations that have already been set aside in a core strategy or local plan, so long as the general thrust of development can be achieved, perhaps by bringing other land into use.

Who is to judge whether a neighbourhood plan is in “general conformity” with the local plan? I hope it is not the local authority, because if such bodies are the ones to judge they will effectively exercise a veto over neighbourhood plans. I hope that the Department will issue some guidance on this point. Once land is allocated in a core strategy, is it then unassailable for development?

In conclusion, giving local people a meaningful say in the development of their communities is, I believe, an excellent idea. I am keen to ensure that the details are thought through so that not only are their voices, including those of “Save Lacock” and of Chippenham’s community, heard but they are truly empowered.

4.46 pm

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): I am delighted to participate in today’s debate. I want to talk about the recent National Audit Office report on fire control centres and the lessons learned. The FiReControl project was introduced to replace 46 local control rooms around the country with a network of nine purpose-built regional control centres using a national computer system. In many ways, on the face of it, Members might have thought that that was a good idea, but the NAO’s report describes the plan as “flawed from the outset”, with “unrealistic estimates of costs”, an under-appreciation of the complexity of IT involved, hurriedly implemented and “poorly managed”, and concluded that at least £469 million will have been wasted.

As many Members will know, the project was doomed to failure but was sadly continued with for a very long time. It is of particular sadness to the people of Gloucester, my constituency, that the tri-service centre—a centre

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combining police, fire and rescue and ambulance services, which was a model of its kind when it was created only a few years ago and which performed strikingly well during the 2007 floods—was to be replaced by a regionalised fire control centre at Taunton. Despite that sadness and the irony of the then Minister with responsibility for fire services having been my predecessor, I want to discuss the lessons that can be learned from that botched project. There are four particular aspects that I would like the Minister to consider.

The first lesson concerns the plan for regionalisation. Over the past 13 years, we have seen a series of attempts to regionalise our country. That was particularly the case in my constituency with the attempt to regionalise the Gloucestershire constabulary and then the fire control centres. I hope this Government will never again try to regionalise services that are best delivered locally through the long-established shires, cities and districts of our nation.

The second lesson concerns large IT projects, a lesson that has surely been learned time and again by Governments, at least over the past quarter of a century. When IT projects are large and complex, they tend to be beyond the hopes and expectations of Ministers, Departments and the companies implementing them. I hope that our Government will look closely at the issue as we take forward important new projects, such as the single universal benefit.

The third lesson that the Government will want to study concerns project management, which bedevilled the previous Government in relation to Building Schools for the Future, the rising costs of architects’ and consultants’ fees, and the unnecessarily complex procurement mechanisms and processes. In the case of the regional fire control centres, project management was a skill sadly lacking at the top of Government. Again, as this Government look at reducing costs, taking out waste and making government more efficient, I hope we will focus on the most effective project management skills available.

The final lesson in this unhappy saga comes from the role of the Select Committees. It is still not clear to me whether the Communities and Local Government Committee of that time, over the 10 years of the project, firmly identified to Government the error of their ways by pointing out the likely problems at the beginning, where—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order.


4.51 pm

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): I was privileged to be here earlier, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) on his maiden speech.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), who was due to speak, has not managed to get here, which is a great shame.

I shall deal with the speeches in the order in which they appear on the Order Paper—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I should inform the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) withdrew and is not required to explain why.

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Bill Wiggin: It is a great shame none the less, but thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) spoke about the National Audit Office report on FiReControl and the lessons learned from that disastrous project. I can assure him that the Government will not repeat the mistakes of the previous Administration—mistakes that led, as he rightly pointed out, to £469 million of taxpayers’ money being wasted on an over-complex, centrally imposed solution that was not proportionate to the risks faced and failed to engage with the fire and rescue services. When it was clear that the main contractor, Cassidian, could not deliver the IT system within an acceptable time frame, we had no option but to close the project down last December. We were not going to commit any more resources with no certainty of delivery.

Following the closure we made it clear immediately that we would not impose a central solution. There would be no large-scale national IT systems with such a long lead-in time that the pace of change overtook the promised advantages. Last week the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a new £83 million scheme that builds on locally determined solutions and encourages collaboration and innovation. Every fire and rescue authority can apply—for up to £1.8 million, as a guide—to improve the efficiency of its fire and rescue control services. This will cover the installation of Firelink interfaces to give enhanced voice and data services, which is the priority for most in the sector, according to the Department’s recent consultation.

Through sharing these interfaces, fire and rescue authorities can use the funding for further enhancements that improve the service that they provide for their communities and for firefighters. In addition, we have put aside a further £1.8 million for sector-led initiatives that will deliver benefits to all fire and rescue services. For example, in the recent consultation many responses from the sector emphasised the need for common standards. These would underpin collaboration and interoperability between fire and rescue services, facilitating improved overload and fall-back arrangements. The Chief Fire Officers Association has already indicated its intention to apply.

That brings me to another lesson learned. We have taken careful account of the consultation responses and we are working closely on both the political and the operational sides of the fire and rescue sector. The Department is grateful to the Chief Fire Officers Association and the Local Government Group for their help in developing the new scheme and agreeing to be part of the oversight measures.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) spoke about the effect of property regulation on holiday lettings. This Government are committed to being the greenest Government ever and improving energy performance by encouraging energy performance certificates, like those that one sees on white goods, showing an A to G range, depending on how energy-efficient they are. We want that process to take place for every building; in this case an EPC is required for the construction, sale or rent of a building. The EPC shows how energy-efficient the property is and includes recommendations about how to improve energy efficiency.

The Government recognise that this issue is important to holiday home owners and creates a problem for that industry. We do not want to impose unnecessary burdens

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on the industry or to gold-plate this directive, and we are seeking to establish why it has been interpreted in the way it has. We are also prepared to seek further legal advice to ensure that we are not going beyond the minimum requirements imposed by the directive. I have investigated this and it seems to be a classic case of gold-plating. We have made inquiries to establish the position in other European Union countries and it seems that, as my hon. Friend said, EPCs are not required for holiday lets in a number of other member states, including Germany, Sweden and Denmark—he also mentioned France and Scotland. It gives me great pleasure to tell the House that we should have a clearly defined position on this within the next few weeks.

On the issue raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), I think we all agree that there is tremendous value in having a prosperous and diverse high street for all the community. Mill road is undoubtedly an area of local importance and value, and reads extremely well on the internet. Town centres are key to sustainable growth and local prosperity and are at the heart of our neighbourhoods, giving communities easier access to shops and services. The Government gave a clear commitment in the debates on the Localism Bill, most recently on 12 July, and as part of the Budget, that we will put town centres first for new retail development. We will set out planning policies on retail to support competitive town centres through the new national planning policy framework and we are determined to give local communities greater power to shape their areas and to be clear about the balance of uses they want in town centres. We are legislating to introduce new local level neighbourhood plans to give local people greater control over the future of places that are important to them.

Neighbourhood plans are a positive planning tool that will have real weight in the planning process, but we must be clear about what planning can and cannot do. Planning policy on town centres is not pro or anti-supermarkets and it cannot seek to restrict lawful competition between retailers. It is and always has been blind to the issue of who the operator of a retail proposal would be—whether a supermarket or an independent. We want the right scale and type of development in the right location to meet people’s shopping needs. That is what planning policy can support local councils in achieving in a more practical manner than by legislation. Local neighbourhood plans and low rates for small businesses should help in encouraging new shops and businesses so that we do not lack variety—the hon. Member for Cambridge referred to clone towns—in our high streets.

The hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) also raised this issue. The Government believe that planning is most effective when local residents, businesses and civic leaders are in the driving seat of planning for their areas and when they can deliver the development they want to see. Neighbourhood planning is a radical new right being introduced by the Localism Bill. It enables communities to shape their local areas in a manner that can respond to local needs and ambitions and is part of our reforms to ensure that the planning system delivers sustainable economic growth and should be used to shape, rather than prevent, development.

Neighbourhood plans and orders are prepared by the local community and can be used in a flexible manner to suit local circumstances. They will result in better,

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more effective and more locally responsive decisions that will deliver an overall increase in sustainable growth and will change people’s attitudes to development. They will become an important part of the planning toolbox, while existing planning tools will remain entirely open to communities and local authorities working in partnership. The hon. Member for Chippenham asked who will decide. Local councils will have an important role in helping communities to produce plans or orders through a duty to support, and an independent qualified person and the local planning authority will check plans and orders to make sure that they are legally compliant and take account of wider policy considerations.

I shall touch briefly on the national planning policy framework, which will consolidate more than 1,000 pages of planning policy documents into a single, streamlined document. The framework will be strong where it needs to be, and it will include policies that support the Government’s priorities for economic growth and infrastructure. It will also set out the Government’s priorities for environmentally and socially sustainable development. The policies will provide local communities with the tools that they need to protect the environmental and cultural landscapes that people value so much. It will make a presumption in favour of sustainable development, and a working draft was released in June. We have made a commitment to publishing the framework for full public consideration and consultation in July. It is a privilege to answer hon. Members’ questions, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in wanting to wish Daphne Neill a speedy recovery.

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

5 pm

Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Approximately 7.5 million to 8 million tonnes of waste wood is produced every year. It is mostly construction waste, and the greater part—some 80%—is landfilled, which is a far higher proportion than for other waste items. About 1.2 million tonnes is recycled and reused for animal bedding, plywood, fibreboard and so on, but energy is recovered from only about 0.3 million tonnes or 4% of the total. However, according to Eunomia Research & Consulting, a net estimated saving of 1,400 kg of CO2 per tonne of wood can be made where waste wood is used as fuel for biomass energy. If waste food in landfill was sent to digestion with wood to energy recovery, the joint product would be about 42 TW of energy a year, or getting on for a fifth of our renewable energy target, by 2020.

The benefits of diverting wood and indeed other categories of waste from landfill are clear and straightforward. Despite the strides that have been taken to reduce landfill as a destination for our waste, we still have a long way to go, and for some waste streams, as I have illustrated, almost the whole distance. So how might we get moving on this diversion? There have been suggestions that such wastes should simply be banned from landfill. That is what a number of countries do, and that in itself stimulates substantially the sort of use that I have outlined. That appears to be the Government’s intention, because in the waste review 2011 they stated:

“As a starting point, in 2012 we will consult on whether to introduce a restriction on the landfilling of wood waste…Building on this we will review the case for restrictions on sending other materials to landfill over the course of the Parliament”.

That is encouraging until we recognise that that is exactly where we were in 2009. The 2009 renewable energy strategy stated that the Government would consult later that year on banning certain kinds of material from landfill. In March 2010, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did indeed produce such a consultation with a view to banning a number of wastes from landfill. That consultation set out an EU target that by 2020 a minimum of 70% by weight of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste should be prepared for reuse, or should be recycled or recovered. We have a long way to go on that target.

The results of the consultation were “published”—I say that advisedly—in September of last year. Hon. Members will have to work very hard to find them because, astonishingly, they were published straight to DEFRA’s archive, and I am not sure that that counts as publication at all. Fortunately, the Welsh Assembly Government published the responses to their part of the consultation on their website, and hon. Members can access the results there. I suppose that it is not surprising that the consultation responses were smuggled out and filed away so abruptly, because a landfill ban was supported by over two thirds of consultees. However, the Government’s response was that they were

“not minded to introduce landfill bans in England at the present time”

but would reach a view on the best way to ensure waste was dealt with in the most appropriate way as part of the waste policy review that was announced by Secretary of State earlier this year.

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Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker, that waste review was under way at the same time as the consultation, following which the Government decided to consult on a landfill ban of wood followed by other waste, with a view to banning them between 2012 and 2015.

If a consultation had taken place, why have another one? And why did the Government say that they were not minded to introduce a landfill ban if they might do so just a few months later? Why hide the results of such a consultation from public view at a time when they were consulting on something very similar? If we really wanted to make progress on such a ban—and I think the case for doing so is overwhelming—would it not be easier to note the consultation results and get on with it? I fear that I am missing something, but I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate he will be able to put me right. At the very least, I hope that he can restore the results of the consultation to the DEFRA website so that we can all see what has transpired, then perhaps get on with it substantially before 2015.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I call Chris Kelly—as long as you do not call me Madam Deputy Speaker.

5.5 pm

Chris Kelly (Dudley South) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this pre-recess Adjournment debate. We have a problem in Dudley borough: the number of roaming horses that residents have to put up with, particularly in the Brierley Hill, Brockmore and Pensnett, and Wordsley wards in my constituency. The problem of roaming horses is now so widespread that residents have set up an action group, Dudley Borough Against Roaming Horses, with nearly 600 people having signed up to the group’s Facebook page—not quite as many as the 1,500 members of my Facebook group.

The problem of roaming horses has been widely reported elsewhere in the country. Indeed, the Highways Agency reported in 2009 that more than 200 stray horses are removed from its roads across the country every year. It might be helpful to highlight the fact that the methods used to address the problem vary by type of land, depending on whether it is highway, public land or private property. Public authorities appear to interpret the rules differently, as do third-party organisations. I will concentrate on the actions of my local authority, Dudley metropolitan borough council, later in my remarks.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs cites three pieces of legislation that can be used to remove roaming horses: the Animals Act 1971, the Highways Act 1980 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Other organisations advocate the use of other legislation or regulations to address the problem, including section 24 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847.

Having researched the problem on behalf of my residents, it quickly became clear to me that different councils appear to be deploying different legal approaches. For example, Cardiff council has used antisocial behaviour orders to punish the owners of stray horses, and my own local authority has used section 24 of the 1847 Act, which states that officers are permitted to seize cattle,

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including horses, found on the highways. I commend Dudley metropolitan borough council for the innovative way it is trying to tackle this costly and worrying problem. I support the council, West Midlands police and the Highways Agency in using any of the methods at their disposal to protect the taxpayers of my borough and safeguard the welfare of these poor creatures, which is an issue I will return to.

There is a long tradition of horse ownership in the black country, and there are many responsible owners who legitimately graze animals and whose horses are legally insured, passported and chipped. There is also a long history of less responsible horse owners, who often tether their horses on council land so as to avoid grazing charges and food costs. Their horses are normally secured with chains and moved from site to site to feed, which is known as “fly-grazing”. I do not think that any of the owners of these tethered horses in my constituency have received or read DEFRA’s code on tethering, which has been available on its website since March.

The amount of grazing land in the borough is limited, and I am told that the council’s current waiting list exceeds 200, with little likelihood of many on the list ever obtaining grazing space. The council does have the opportunity to develop more grazing fields, but horses can be powerful animals and there would need to be significant investment in new fencing and infrastructure to release the fields for use.

The problem of stray horses and illegal grazing has been a long-standing problem in the borough. In the latter part of 2010 and early 2011 the number of stray and illegally grazing horses reported to the council increased, which in turn raised considerable concern within local communities. The cause of the problem was irresponsible horse owners abandoning their horses on open land with no regard to the potential danger to their animals or the public. Inevitably, these animals strayed while looking for food and water and got on to the local road network, causing significant upheaval.

Today I call for clear guidance to be placed on the LocalGov.co.uk website, based on best practice from across the country on how to tackle the issue, and for advice to be placed on Direct.gov.uk to advise people in my borough and across the country.

5.9 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I wish to speak about something that is a great boost for the countryside—rural country sports and the benefits that they bring to the countryside and to the economy. In the time it takes me to load two cartridges into my over and under shotgun and shoot the pheasant on the far side of the Chamber, my time will be up because I have only four minutes.

Eighty thousand people participate in country sports in Northern Ireland, contributing £45 million to the local economy in the past year. Some 480,000 people are involved in country sports across the whole of the United Kingdom, with the equivalent of some 70,000 jobs in primary and secondary roles. They contribute some £2 billion each year in goods and services and some £6 billion in the whole UK economy. The role of country sports is critical. Shooting, in particular, is important to the management of two thirds of the rural land area.

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Two million hectares are actively managed for conservation as a result of shooting. It is recorded that shoot providers spend some £250 million a year on conservation. Indeed, shooters spend some 2.7 million days on conservation—the equivalent of 12,000 full-time jobs.

There are 17 hunting packs in Northern Ireland and some 325 registered hunts across the whole of the United Kingdom. Eight hundred people in Northern Ireland are involved in hunts, and some 45,000 people are so involved in the rest of the UK. The benefits are clear—they come from the farriers, the veterinary surgeons, the feed merchants, the insurance companies, the saddleries, the horse box people and horse lorry suppliers.

Point-to-points have been described as

“the lifeblood of the racing industry in Ireland”,

and they clearly are. They contribute some £5.3 million to the economy, and on the UK mainland they do even better than that. Point-to-points are a good opportunity for horses to graduate to national hunt racing—ultimately, to the Cheltenham gold cup. One example of that would be the aptly named Looks Like Trouble, who was born and bred in Northern Ireland. This is clearly how champions are created. The overseas interest in the horse industry is also of great importance, and a great many people can see the benefits of that.

Shooting takes care of almost 1 million hectares in Northern Ireland, with £10 million spent on habitat improvement and wildlife management, and some 640 jobs created in Northern Ireland and some 12,000 jobs across the whole of the United Kingdom—Scotland, Wales and England. It can do better, and I believe it will. Some 150,000 people regularly shoot clay pigeons. There are about 1,000 shooting clubs in the United Kingdom, and the benefits and spin-offs that they bring are very important for the industry and the sector.

Angling in Northern Ireland is worth about £40 million. Some 420 angling destinations in Northern Ireland are open to tourists, and Northern Ireland is one of the best places in Europe to fish. We have some 800 jobs in angling in Northern Ireland, and by 2015 there will be 2,000. In relation to antisocial behaviour, of 660 youths in England who took part in a police angling scheme, 98% are still fishing and not one has reoffended. There is clearly a lesson to be learned from that. Casting for Recovery, a unique charity specially designed for women who have or have had breast cancer, uses angling to promote mental and physical healing.

Time has not permitted me fully to express the benefits of country sports to the economy, but I hope that I have managed to highlight the great spin-offs that come from this thriving industry. Perhaps Members have seen it as being more than what they thought earlier on. Now I will go and collect that pheasant on the far side of the Chamber.

5.13 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, about the TB situation in my constituency. I very much welcome the statement made by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier today, and I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister here this afternoon. He, too, has put a lot of work into putting proper controls in place to try to eradicate TB eventually.

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Many people do not realise the emotional effect that this disease has had on farming. Someone who has TB in their cattle is unable to trade, especially in young stock, and it affects their business extremely badly. Where testing of cattle is taking place, someone’s cattle might be grazing in the summer, they bring them inside for the winter, they are tested, some of them prove positive for TB, and they are then culled to take the disease out of their herd. The farmer then puts the rest of the cattle back out in the field the following summer, only for them to be infected by the wildlife, such as badgers, roaming around in the fields. If we are going to test cattle successfully and take out the infected animals, it is absolute nonsense if we do not tackle the problem in wildlife.

What I like about what the Secretary of State said this afternoon is that she had consulted everybody properly to get a scientifically backed way of culling badgers, to reduce the reservoir of disease. In the long run the farming industry is losing. Devon alone is losing nearly 2,000 cattle this year. It is terrible because not only are those cattle being lost, but it is very much the heifers, the young stock that are the seedcorn of the dairy industry for the future, that are affected. We want to see excellent milk production and good-quality milk in this country. That can happen only if we have the necessary stock to carry on the dairy industry. Across the country, 10 times as many cattle are now taken with the disease as was the case 10 or 12 years ago. We cannot go on like that, because eventually the industry will be destroyed. This country has such great grass-growing potential, particularly in the west country. The Blackdown hills in Tiverton and Honiton are probably one of the best dairy areas in the country.

We must be sure that cattle can be out grazing without being infected with TB. Everybody wants to see cattle out in the fields. That is what people come to Devon to see. This issue affects not only good agricultural production, but the tourism that benefits from the cattle. The last thing we want to do is to shut them up in sheds all summer to keep the badgers out. It is right to tackle the pool of disease, and I welcome the Government proposals. I look forward to the pilot schemes. I suspect that pilots will take place in the west country, possibly in Devon, which is one of the great hot spots. Let us consider how the controlled shooting will work and ensure that we do it humanely, and then we can go forward to an even greater cull.

5.17 pm

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I am not interested in media-driven lynch mobs. I am not interested in the politically motivated settling of personal vendettas. The big issue in my Colne Valley constituency is the wanton destruction of beautiful and historic countryside.

Thousands of concerned local residents have attended public meetings, registered their objections via e-mail and on the council website, written letters and contacted their local representatives to oppose plans to bulldoze the countryside for hundreds of new homes and industrial developments. I called one such public meeting in Lindley in north Huddersfield to oppose plans for 300 new homes and a data campus on Lindley moor. The church hall was packed on a Friday evening with hundreds of concerned local residents. There have been other recent meetings in Slaithwaite and Meltham.

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These plans are being forced through with little meaningful consultation and little regard for the already creaking local infrastructure. Roads are clogged, schools are oversubscribed and people are extremely lucky if they can get an NHS dentist. That all stems from the previous Government’s regional special strategies and top-down housing targets, which were imposed on local communities. My local Kirklees council was given a figure of 28,000 new homes. It is still pursuing that figure via a blueprint for development called the local development framework, which has been widely lambasted—rightly so.

The consultation has been flawed, with thousands of homes failing to receive the consultation leaflet that had supposedly been delivered to all homes in the area. As a result, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Simon Reevell) and I called for the LDF consultation to be suspended. That was because the LDF in our area was not

“reflecting local people’s aspirations and decisions on important issues such as...housing and economic development.”

A High Court judgment on 7 February this year stated that councils should make the intended abolition of the regional strategies, otherwise known as the top-down targets, a “material consideration” pending enactment of the Localism Bill. However, the housing target numbers remain at Kirklees council.

I warmly welcome the Government’s promise to reform the planning system radically and to give neighbourhoods much more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live. The Localism Bill will give local people a real say in what developments go on in their area. Community groups, parish councils and local business organisations will be involved in developing neighbourhood plans. However, we have to wait for the autumn for that to happen.

Another change that I would like to see is related to the new homes bonus. I have proposed in the Chamber a higher rate of bonus for homes built on brownfield sites, to incentivise developers to go for those sites over and above greenfield sites. I really believe that developers and my local council need to engage better with local communities. That will happen after the Localism Bill becomes law later this year, but planning applications also need to demonstrate clear improvements to local infrastructure. The plans for housing at Lindley moor, for example, show little regard for the heavily oversubscribed schools and clogged roads.

Finally, I stand side by side with the many people in my constituency who are deeply worried and angered by the way in which plans for homes and the data campus are being railroaded through with little genuine consultation, no regard for infrastructure and little explanation of the need. We are not anti-development, we just want better, sustainable developments that involve the whole community.

5.21 pm

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I want to talk about bioethanol. As Members may have heard in other debates, there is a strong vision, both cross-Humber and cross-party, in our area, in that we want to see the Humber being developed into a renewables centre hub. Indeed, we have Siemens coming to the area, and we

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have huge progress on carbon capture and storage. A key part of our vision for the area involves bioethanol, for which we will have two plants in the Humber—one is in Hull and one is proposed on the south bank.

There are concerns about the future of UK bioethanol because of what seems to be some confusion in policy and the legislative framework, emanating from both the European Union and the UK. The UK bioethanol industry has invested more than £550 million in the past five years, with a further £200 million to be invested imminently. It has created thousands of highly skilled jobs and reinvigorated manufacturing communities in the north and north-east of England, where we especially need those jobs.

In my own area, northern Lincolnshire, the proposed Vireol plant would provide 750 jobs in construction and a further 70 directly at the plant, plus those in the supply chain once it was up and running. However, there is concern that because of policy uncertainty and the tough financial climate in which we find ourselves, bioethanol projects in the UK may have stalled. Recently, the Ensus plant in Teesside had to shut down temporarily.

Biofuels have been controversial in the past, and I am certainly not talking about biodiesel. I am talking about bioethanol production that would also produce a high-quality feed product, so we would get two uses from the crop. It is an entirely sustainable process, which is why the Conservative party’s policy Green Paper on a low-carbon economy signals support for sustainable biofuels.

However, there is a problem at the moment with biofuels in the UK, particularly bioethanol, because of the domination of US imports. I am pro-free trade, pro-United States and pro-transatlantic agreements, but we have to accept that those US imports are supported by a domestic subsidy in the United States that is designed to support the industry and blending over there. It is not aimed at undercutting UK bioethanol production. A number of countries in the European Union, such as France and Germany, have already categorised those imports differently, and I ask the Minister whether the UK will consider doing that.

I am conscious of the time, so it is difficult to go into all the details of this important issue—[ Interruption. ] An extension would be nice, but that is not going to happen.

There are four things that we seek from the Government: a commitment that the UK is committed to bioethanol; a confirmation that we will make it part of our carbon reduction target; a clear signal that bioethanol is part of the 10% target for renewable transport; and action to ensure that the problem of bioethanol imports from the US, which seem to undercut the UK with the domestic subsidy that I mentioned, will be addressed. I apologise to the Minister because this issue cuts across, by my count, five different Departments, and I am sorry that it has landed in his lap today, but perhaps that demonstrates why we need more clarity and direction from one Department on this. Any assurance that the Minister can give us will be greatly appreciated by my constituents.

5.25 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I thank all the hon. Members who have contributed to this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole

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(Andrew Percy) suggests, I am surprised by some of the issues about which it has fallen to me to respond, and which have—at least for today—fallen under the DEFRA umbrella. I will do my utmost to respond to the points that have been made, in the order in which hon. Members spoke.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), whom I have always respected for his knowledge of waste and renewables policies, rightly raised the issue of landfill bans. I hope that he will understand that I answer on behalf of Lord Henley, who leads on this issue and is therefore far more acquainted with it than I am. We have immense sympathy with the hon. Gentleman—and in fact there is very little difference in what we are trying to achieve. I know that he chided us a little, and I will try to answer him, but we are trying to prioritise efforts to manage all our waste—not just domestic waste, but also industrial waste. We tend to concentrate on worrying about what councils do with domestic waste and ignore the wider issues of industrial waste, but we are trying to prioritise our efforts in line with the waste hierarchy and reduce the carbon impact of our waste, as well as considering what sort of inheritance we are leaving for future generations in terms of the contents of holes in the ground.

We are rightly concentrating on the higher levels of the hierarchy, including reducing waste in the first place, and then working through reuse, recycling and energy recovery before we end up at landfill. Clearly we want to move to a zero-waste economy in which all our material resources are fully valued or used in one way or another. The hon. Gentleman talked particularly about landfill, and I am sure the House will agree that landfill should be the option of last resort for most waste, especially for biodegradable waste.

We need to move towards eliminating landfill, and landfill volumes have fallen by a third in the last three years. That must be good news and the waste review, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, will play a substantial role in pushing wastes up the hierarchy and away from landfill. We are going further, and that is why we are maintaining landfill tax increases towards a floor of £80 per tonne in 2014-15.

On the specific issue of the consultation on restricting wood waste being sent to landfill, I can say from a personal perspective that I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a huge waste of a valuable resource. There have been times when I have been known to fumble around some skips to fetch decent bits of timber out for a bit of DIY at home. I commend that approach to other hon. Members—if we all did our bit, perhaps we would not need to ban landfill.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the consultation that was begun under the previous Government—one of a number that they set in train in the last few weeks of their life and left to the new Government to resolve.

The Government were committed to a waste review, which is why we had to respond to the earlier consultation, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. That consultation—on banning individual items from landfill—was very general, unlike the specific and more targeted consultation on wood waste, which we are talking about now. That consultation allows us to explore in much greater detail the practical implications of dealing with different types of wood. For instance, some wood waste might be treated with toxic materials that we cannot burn. There

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is a raft of issues. However, he raised a specific point about the previous consultation and criticised us for putting it in the archive. This is not an issue of secrecy; it is just where these things eventually belong. The DEFRA website has been refreshed over the past year under the new Government. The material has not been buried—or even put in landfill—but is freely available in the archive. I can assure him that we take this seriously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Chris Kelly) referred to the problem of roaming horses. I am sure that that is an issue of which most of us, whether we have urban or rural constituencies, have some understanding, although perhaps not in the fine detail to which he referred. He referred to fly-grazing—horses being chained on the verge. I suspect that virtually every Member has witnessed that and, if nothing else, questioned the welfare of those horses. He rightly listed the three pieces of legislation to which DEFRA Ministers usually refer—in fact, he virtually delivered my speech. I am not going to waste time, or insult him, by repeating them. He also rightly referred to the innovative use of other legislation, particularly by Dudley metropolitan borough council. I congratulate it on that sort of innovation; it is what we expect from local government. However, if he can think of other areas, we would be happy to consider them. He specifically referred to putting guidance online, and I am happy to consider that and respond to him when we have had time to reflect further.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was not on my list of speakers—so, not for the first time, I will have to wing it. Fortunately, he spoke about a subject extremely close to my heart, and I could not disagree with any of his points about the value of country sports, not just to the country’s heritage, but to the economy and job creation. There was one important point that he did not make but which I feel strongly about: although country sports might provide only a handful of jobs in a particular area, in a rural area a handful of jobs can be very important. We need to understand that point. He referred to the racing industry. As he knows, I represent the area surrounding Newmarket, where about 7,000 jobs are dependent on the racing industry. I can assure him that the Government strongly support the continuity of country sports and recognise their economic contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) had the good fortune to raise an issue that we have largely answered today already, so I hope that he will forgive me if I do not wax too lyrical about bovine TB, as it was discussed earlier in the Chamber. I would make one critical point, however. He spoke about the trauma to families of disease breakdown. For the past four years, more than a quarter of the herds in Devon have been under restriction at some time during the year. That is a huge proportion, and demonstrates just how bad the problem is in Devon. Unusually, he underestimated the seriousness of the situation. I think that he said that about 2,000 cattle were slaughtered in Devon, but the actual figure is 5,700. That, too, demonstrates the seriousness of the situation. I cannot tell him the location of the pilots because we have not got to that stage yet. We expect applications for licences to be made, but as I have said in the media today, I would be astonished if one of them was not in the south-west somewhere.

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The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): Somerset.

Mr Paice: Well, there are a lot of counties.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Shropshire.

Mr Paice: Even I do not think that Shropshire is in the south-west. Two suitable sites will be selected.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) referred to the green belt. Let me make it absolutely clear that this Government will maintain the green belt, despite some spurious reports about how the national policy planning framework will weaken it. It will not. The Government have no intention of weakening the key protections for the green belt. Inappropriate development should not be approved in the green belt except in very special circumstances. This is a matter for local planning authorities, through the planning process. Clearly my hon. Friend has differences of opinion—on the face of it, it sounds as if I would entirely agree—with his local council about the number of houses. I need to stress, as he did, that our commitment to abolish regional spatial strategies means that there is absolutely no obligation for local authorities to pursue the planning policies that they may have been forced into by the previous Government. Local authorities can stop, as mine has, and start again if they so wish. I wish him success in persuading his local authority to do that.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) spoke about the bioethanol industry. In answer to his final point, the Department that is primarily responsible is the Department for Transport, as he probably knows. The Government strongly support the use of biofuels, as long as they are sustainable. The industry—particularly the ethanol sector, to which he referred—has done a considerable amount to improve its greenhouse gas savings. The latest data suggest that bioethanol from home-grown wheat and sugar beet achieved direct emissions savings of 60% and 77% respectively, compared with fossil fuels, which is a significant gain. However, there are concerns, particularly about the indirect effects of displacing food production, which is why sustainability is so important.

I can also assure my hon. Friend that we are looking carefully at the issue of tariffs, to which he referred. I fully understand what he was saying; it always amazes me that although the United States is very good at telling others to practise free trade, it then introduces its own domestic support—in this case for the ethanol sector, taking something like a third of the corn production in the United States for that purpose. As he said, other countries in the EU have not allowed the use of the chemical tariff for fuel ethanol, which attracts lower duty than the other categories. At present the British Government are examining the legality of that and looking into whether we can learn lessons from the approach taken by other EU countries. Let me conclude by assuring my hon. Friend that we support the domestic bioethanol industry, which has shown the way forward. Clearly sustainability is at the heart of it, but so too is fair and free trade. We must ensure that that does not work against our own domestic industry.

I thank you for the opportunity to respond on DEFRA issues, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish you and all Members of the House present a very pleasant summer recess.

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Home Department

5.38 pm

Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You may not have heard of the drug khat—indeed, many people in the United Kingdom have not—but it is a plant that is grown in the middle east and Africa whose leaves are chewed among Somali, Ethiopian and Yemeni communities here. Its effects are similar to those of better known substances, such as amphetamines. Khat is a stimulant, creating euphoria. Like nicotine, it is highly addictive; like cannabis, it is linked to mental health conditions; yet unlike those drugs, khat is not controlled in this country. Despite its physical effects, including liver and kidney problems and mouth lesions, it is neither classified nor regulated. Yet khat’s main component, cathinone, is a class C drug —the same cathinone that is found in mephedrone, the drug that this House was so quick to act on last year. Khat is illegal in 16 European countries, as well as in the United States and Canada. It is legal in Holland, but regulated.

However, rather than the physical effects, it is the social impact that many ethnic communities in the UK are railing against. Khat can easily become a way of life. One former addict in my constituency described his routine: waking at 3pm, buying the leaves from a local house or car boot, and assembling in a local living room, or “khat house”, with around 20 others to begin an eight-hour session of chatting and chewing—a bit like the House of Commons. The inevitable come-down involves many users sleeping all day after a session before resuming the routine. Unsurprisingly, unemployment is rife in such communities. The habit perpetuates a lack of integration on those diverse estates and creates tensions. I have had complaints from residents about the obstruction caused by people queuing for khat, about night-time disruption and about intimidation from nocturnally high neighbours.

Meanwhile, family breakdown is often fuelled by khat. The financial strain increases the problem in deprived areas. Although khat costs only £3.50 a bunch, up to four are required per session, so the habit can cost £98 a week. Abandoned mothers and community leaders, and even users themselves, are crying out for something to be done.

The problem might come as news to many people, but it is certainly not new to Parliament. It was first raised in 1996, when the then Government said that they were monitoring the issue. In 2011, we are still monitoring it. Meanwhile, the problem continues to grow. Usage has risen with immigration, with the UK Somali population doubling in a decade. The way in which khat is used is also shifting. In its countries of origin, elders chew it on special occasions, but in Europe, contemporary patterns of consumption are excessive. Anecdotal evidence suggests that consumption is spreading to women, teenagers and even indigenous residents on our diverse estates.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs considered classifying khat in 2005, but declined to do so because its prevalence in the UK was relatively low. Therefore, while the plight of those addicted to cocaine, cannabis or alcohol is well documented, the fate of those who are under the spell of khat rarely comes to light. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has stated that

“khat use is both common and commonly overlooked”.

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It has 20 million users worldwide. It is thought that about 7 tonnes of khat are imported into the UK each week, but we do not have a full picture of its effects, as the police do not collect data on khat, and hospitals do not collect admissions statistics related to the drug.

Those omissions need to be rectified. While that is being done, with a view to possible classification of the drug in future, will the Minister tell us whether he believes that, after 16 years of inaction, the time has come to regulate khat as a first step? If sellers required a licence, antisocial behaviour problems would be reduced. A minimum age for purchase would stop the drug’s popularity spreading to youngsters, and it would at last register on the Government’s radar.

5.41 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): One of my priorities as MP for Brighton, Pavilion is to tackle our city’s sad reputation as the drugs death capital of the UK. Since being elected, I have met many of those in my constituency who are most affected by drugs to explore ways of reducing the harms associated with drug use. Based on those meetings, I have two proposals for the Minister today. The first is that future drugs policy be based on evidence. The second is that responsibility for drugs policy be moved from the Home Office to the Department of Health, and I hope to demonstrate why such a move would be commensurate with an evidence-based approach.

Drug-related harms and the cost to society remain extraordinarily high in Britain despite decades of prohibition, yet successive British Governments have put their faith in the illegality of drugs being a deterrent in itself. Just last weekend, however, new research published in the Journal of Substance Use corroborated previous studies that suggested that whether a drug was illegal had very little bearing on people’s decision to use it. Why do we not look at the evidence?

In Portugal, the number of people taking heroin has halved since its use was decriminalised. In Switzerland, a series of new policies based on public health rather than on legality has led to a sharp decline in heroin demand and crime. A comparison between Norway, which has a very liberal regime but similar levels of drug use to Sweden, where strict controls are in place, shows very little correlation between levels of punishment and levels of drug taking.

In other words, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that prohibition is not the most successful way to reduce drug-related harms, and that there are other approaches. As the chair of the UK Bar Council, Nicholas Green QC, has said:

“A growing body of comparative evidence suggests that decriminalising personal use can have positive consequences. It can free up huge amounts of police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health. All this can be achieved without any overall increase in drug usage.”

The Government, however, appear to be unwilling to countenance any approach other than prohibition. Their 2010 strategy makes a firm commitment to evidence-based policy making, yet in the very same document, the Home Secretary completely dismisses alternatives such as the decriminalisation of personal use.

There has never been an impact assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971; nor has there been a cost-benefit assessment, or any attempt to compare its effectiveness

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in reducing the societal, economic or health costs of drugs misuse with the alternatives. Yet we surely owe it to those affected to ensure that the overall policy framework—as well as spending decisions about particular treatments, for example—is informed by the evidence. Evidence-based prevention needs to be considered as well. If we want fewer young people to use drugs, we must craft messages that work, and we must do so in the context of the Equality Trust research that shows a clear and demonstrable correlation between high drug use and high levels of inequality.

The message I am hearing loud and clear from those I have met in my constituency is that rather than criminalising drug addiction we need to give people treatment and support. That view is echoed by Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett of Brighton and Hove police, whose personal view is that

“the use of drugs is not well addressed through punitive measures.”

As he goes on to say,

“Providing people with treatment not only resolves their addiction—thereby minimising risk of overdose, drug related health issues, anti social behaviour and dependence on the state, for example—but cuts the costs to the community by reduced offending.”

That is why my second recommendation is that we decriminalise personal drug use and remove responsibility for drugs policy to the Department of Health. I am hosting a round table in Brighton in September to discuss how we might move forward as a city on this issue. It is clear that any changes need to be brought in slowly and carefully, but if the Government were to lend their support to such an approach, committing to a drugs policy that is evidence based and treatment led, I am confident that we could save lives locally.

5.45 pm

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): I want to speak about an issue that affects a growing number of women and girls right across our country—female genital mutilation. It is the third time that I have raised the issue in the Chamber over the last year, and it has been raised by Members in both Houses in recent weeks, with a thoughtful debate taking place in the other place on 30 June.

FGM is not a religious issue; nor is it restricted to one ethnic group. It is a cultural practice prevalent in Africa, the middle east and parts of the far east. But behind the acronym FGM is a crime—a brutal crime perpetrated against those who are least able to protect themselves: little girls and young women.

FGM is the full or partial removal of, or injury to, the external female genitalia for non-therapeutic reasons, which means that there is no beneficial medical basis for the practice. In every case, the health of the girl or woman is damaged, often irreparably. What is most shocking of all is that a great many of these criminal acts are perpetrated against girls aged 10 and under, right down to infants. It is “the unkindest cut of all”, as FGM is carried out in the full knowledge of those who are supposed to protect their children—their families.

FGM causes all kinds of severe problems for girls and women’s sexual and reproductive health and general well-being throughout their lives. The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development, FORWARD, estimated that around 66,000 women and girls in England and Wales have already been subject to FGM and that

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well over 22,000 should be considered as “at risk”. In some areas of London, about 5% of women giving birth present with signs of FGM. Those grim figures are based on the 2001 census. Given migration patterns over the last decade, these figures are likely to be much higher today.

In a recent article in The Guardian, Hugh Muir stated that some 6,000 girls in London were taken abroad and subjected to genital mutilation. Head teachers have described to me happy and outgoing young girls who have returned from their summer holidays withdrawn and distressed. I struggle to understand why the systematic and brutal wounding of young girls is not considered a national scandal. I know that right hon. and hon. Members would not tolerate a situation in which little British girls were taken abroad and returned missing their fingers. Likewise, we should not tolerate FGM. It is a child protection issue. FGM in the UK is child abuse; it is that simple—yet FGM continues to grow, largely unchallenged, in British society.

Since 2008, there have been more than 100 metropolitan police investigations into cases of FGM, but despite that, and even though FGM has been illegal since 1985, there have been no convictions to date. France has made more than 100 successful prosecutions. Ms Efua Dorkenoo, a leading expert in the field, believes that we must make it clear to communities where FGM is prevalent that the Government, police and courts take this issue very seriously and that it is completely unacceptable. Prosecutions would make that clear. We need to understand the barriers to prosecution. Have Ministers discussed with their counterparts in France how that country’s successful prosecutions were secured?

Prevention is even more important. Are we focusing on children aged under 10? Are Departments such as Health, Education and the Home Office working together to make the existing framework of child protection even more effective? Are we urgently addressing the need to update the evidence base on FGM? Figures that are now more than 10 years old suggest that the practice affects more women, in the number of new cases, than ovarian or cervical cancers—yet female genital mutilation can be eliminated, and I would like to see it given the emphasis it deserves.

5.49 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): I want to talk about the innovative and excellent work done by Fortalice house in my constituency. Before I explain why I believe that its work should interest Back Benchers as well as Ministers, let me give some statistics for domestic violence.

Domestic abuse accounts for almost 25% of recorded violent crime. An average of two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner, 30% of domestic violence starts during pregnancy, women are assaulted an average of 35 times before seeking help, and every six seconds a woman is assaulted in her home. Those are staggering statistics in a modern, advanced, civilised society such as ours.

Fortalice house, which has existed for three years, accommodates up to 22 women and up to 70 children in fully furnished, self-contained flats with 24-hour supervision.

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Its ethos involves not just providing physical shelter, but re-educating women and children so that they can change their own patterns of behaviour. Its staff work with women to deal with issues such as alcohol, drugs, living skills, relationships, money and physical health, and to motivate them to take responsibility for their own mental and emotional health. The skills that they teach include managing money and using IT, sewing, and cooking healthy food. As a result of their work, in the last year only 5% of women who went into Fortalice house went back to the perpetrators of violence: it had a 95% success rate. Staff also provide practical help, filling in forms and liaising with different agencies to ensure that the ladies receive the benefits to which they are entitled, which helps them to look after themselves and their children.

The work of Fortalice house is, by nature, people-intensive, and funding cuts of more than 18% will have a severe impact on its ability to deliver the excellent services that it currently provides. Domestic violence is an issue in Bolton, where, between April 2010 and March 2011, there were 8,160 incidents of domestic violence, more than in any other area in Greater Manchester. Twenty per cent. of recorded crime in Bolton is domestic violence, and 50% is alcohol-related. I know that there are budgetary constraints, but I urge Home Office Ministers to recognise that some of the work that is being done is so vital and crucial that it must be supported. I ask the Home Office to consider not just funding Fortalice house so that it can continue its work, but enabling that work to be extended to other domestic violence refuge centres throughout the country. Ultimately more money will be saved, because prevention is always better than cure.

Finally, I invite Ministers to come and see for themselves the excellent work being done at Fortalice house, and ask them again to consider providing resources so that domestic violence refuges—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The hon. Lady’s time is up.

5.53 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I want to draw the House’s attention to increasing concern in my constituency about gang-related crime.

Let me begin by saying that the London borough of Harrow is the second safest borough in London in terms of crime. The police do a brilliant job in apprehending criminals and ensuring that they are processed through the courts and punished accordingly, and they have my huge support. The Mayor of London has increased the number of police officers available to the borough, as well as the number of police community support officers. However, there is a great fear of crime in the area, which has been exacerbated by recent events. It stems from what happened two or three years ago, when Wealdstone was essentially a no-go area after dark because of the gangs in the area. The situation culminated in the stabbing of a young man at a petrol station. I am delighted to say that the police apprehended those responsible and broke the gang, and that those responsible are now in prison, but, of course, gang membership starts at different ages.

The police cracked down in Wealdstone, and that was a tremendous success, but the gangs then moved north into Harrow Weald. A gang has terrorised the local

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neighbourhood there. There are recorded crimes. On Friday 24 June, nine of the gang’s members were arrested after a young man was stabbed in the street at night. Happily, the young man was not severely injured, but he was badly injured. On Sunday 3 July, there was another incident in which a young man was stabbed. The criminal involved has, we believe, been apprehended, and will be processed.

This is the tip of the iceberg, however. The gang is causing mayhem in the area. Young people on their way to and from school are frequently mugged—relieved of their money and their mobile phones—and are in fear of going about their normal business in daylight hours. We must combat that.

I ask the Minister for one simple action that we promised before the general election, and which I hope will happen. Those who are apprehended carrying knives should face a custodial sentence, regardless of their age. Even if they are under 18, we need to challenge young people and say, “Do not carry knives, because if you do so and you’re apprehended, you’ll face a custodial sentence.”

We must go further, too. We must encourage parents to make sure that young people do not join gangs in the first place, and we must offer alternatives for young people. Just yards away from where this gang is operating, there is a tremendous initiative in Harrow: a joint arrangement between Watford football club, the lottery and Harrow council to open a state-of-the-art youth centre, which will offer an excellent set of facilities for young people. My fear is that parents across Harrow may be discouraged from allowing their children to go to the youth centre because of the activities of this gang. We must take strong action to remove the gang from the streets, so that young people are given positive outcomes for their future development and positive things to do. Over the summer, I hope to see this youth centre, which I shall visit this week, start to come into operation so that we can see a more positive future.

5.57 pm

The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Jeremy Wright): I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to this short but varied debate. I should apologise to all Members who have taken part, however, as I will not be able to give them the detailed answers their contributions deserve in the time available, but I do want to respond to some of the points they raised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) expressed concerns about the drug khat. The Government share his concerns. He rightly pointed out that we do not have a great deal of information about the extent of the use of khat. What we know at present is based on a 2010 estimate that about 0.2% of the population reported using it. My hon. Friend asked about acquiring more information. I can tell him that there are now—since, I think, October 2009—questions in the British crime survey about the use of khat, and I hope that will lead to the Government having more information in making appropriate decisions.

In 2006, the previous Government decided to accept the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs not to ban khat at that point. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wrote to the ACMD in February of this year asking it to review the available evidence now, and to reconsider the question of controlling

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khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. I can tell my hon. Friend that that work will begin in the autumn, and that we therefore expect in the fullness of time to have a good deal of information available from the ACMD and conclusions the Government can consider in deciding what to do next.

My hon. Friend would not expect me to prejudge the outcome of that ACMD review, and I will not do so. However, I can tell him that it will be thorough, and I am also sure that the ACMD will be interested in any evidence he and others can bring forward for its consideration. As I say, the decision that it takes and the decision that the Government then take will be based on evidence.

That brings me neatly to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). She made two proposals to the Government, the first of which was that drugs policy should be evidence-based and the second that we should move away from the criminalisation of drug use towards a more health-based model. I shall deal with both of those in turn.

The first point to make is that we already have a balanced drugs policy. It is right that drugs policy should be based on evidence and that it should be balanced, not just on criminalisation but on other issues. The title of last December’s drugs strategy, to which the hon. Lady referred, starts with the words “Reducing Demand, Restricting Supply, Building Recovery”. All those elements are important, and we will continue to evaluate the strategy to make sure that it is delivering what it should. The strategy set out, for example, that the commissioning of drug and alcohol treatment services will be a core responsibility of local directors of public health, so there will continue to be a health-related element to the Government’s drugs strategy, and that is as it should be. There will also be an education element to the strategy. It is right to say also that young people need to understand exactly what they are dealing with when faced with a variety of illegal drugs and they need to be discouraged from taking them.

That brings me on to the second area. I understand that the hon. Lady had a very limited time in which to make her case on this important issue. I have an even more limited time in which to reply, so I understand that we are restricted in what we say. However, I disagree with her view that the right answer is to decriminalise the drugs that we are discussing. The simple reason for that is that legalising something that was previously illegal sends out a very clear message, and that message is that society no longer disapproves of this item in the way that it previously did. That would be acceptable only if the effect of these drugs was not as damaging as it is. The hon. Lady says that she is interested in evidence when it comes to drugs policy, so she must accept that the evidence clearly shows that illegal drugs of the type we are discussing are extremely damaging. They are damaging to the individual who takes them and to their family, and to the wider community. Therefore society should not take a neutral view on whether these drugs are a good or bad thing; society should take a strong view that they are a bad thing. The Government’s view is therefore that those drugs should remain illegal.

I will certainly pass to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone),

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the invitation from the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) to visit the Fortalice refuge, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will consider it. The hon. Lady was right to say that the people who work there do a remarkably good job and offer a service that many people find extremely valuable. However, I do not think it is right to conclude that the funding difficulties with which the Government certainly have to contend on a range of fronts mean that these types of services cannot be provided.

The hon. Lady will know that a substantial part of the local funding to refuges such as the one in her constituency comes from the Supporting People programme. In relation to that programme, £6.5 billion-worth of funding has been secured for the current spending review period. Admittedly, that represents a reduction, but the average annual reduction over the four-year period is less than 1% in cash terms. Central funding is also available and the Government are making available £28 million of stable Home Office funding over that period for specialist services, including independent domestic violence advisers, independent sexual violence advisers and co-ordinators for multi-agency risk assessment conferences. Those are all important services that she will recognise, and they co-ordinate with the types of services at the refuge in her constituency that she is describing.

I was discussing the Government’s commitment to preventing violence and abuse against women and girls, not just in the UK but more broadly so I shall move on to deal with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison). As she said, she has spoken in this House before—and powerfully—on female genital mutilation. She has done so again today and she is right to say that this practice constitutes horrific abuse of often very young children. It remains a crime, as she says, and it has been a crime since 1985. More specifically, under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 the maximum sentence for this offence has been increased to 14 years’ imprisonment. Crucially, as she said, this Act allows the behaviour of British citizens abroad to be punished, whereas previously it could not be. That is an important point for the reason she gave, which is that occasionally such activity was transferred abroad to avoid the effect of the criminal law.

My hon. Friend would probably also agree that there are a number of things we can do. We should look not only to punish those who are responsible for committing these offences but to improve the guidance available to prosecutors so that they can prosecute more often. She is right that there have been no prosecutions, but it is worth noting that there have been some 58 investigations into this offence. If there are difficulties with prosecuting, they might be to do with the types of information and understanding that Crown prosecutors need to have, and later this summer the CPS will therefore be issued with new guidelines to assist, we hope, in taking forward prosecutions where appropriate.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that we can do more. We can raise awareness of the issue, which remains in many ways a hidden crime, and we will therefore attempt to get more Government guidelines to teachers, general practitioners and nurses, who need to

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understand the signs of such offences so that they can identify them. We also need to broaden awareness more generally and we have sent out some 40,000 leaflets and 40,000 posters to schools, health services, charities and community groups, because wider society needs to understand what is happening. We also need to assist victims, which we are doing with 15 specialist NHS clinics offering a range of services, including so-called reversal surgery. Women can go to those centres direct and do not need to be referred. Finally, this is a cross-government issue. It is not simply the Home Office that must act but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Education and the Department of Health.

Let me turn finally to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who spoke, as he has before, about the tragic and worrying events in his constituency. He is right, of course, that the Government should be very clear about the consequences of knife crime not just for the victim but for the offender. Let me make it very clear that so far as this Government are concerned, those who commit a criminal offence using a knife can expect to go to prison. As my hon. Friend knows, a prison sentence is available not just for adult offenders but for young offenders, and in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is making its way through the House, the Government propose a new offence of having an offensive weapon in a public place and threatening someone with it. That offence will receive a mandatory six-month prison sentence, unless that would be unjust in all the circumstances.

My hon. Friend is also right to point out that we need to ensure that resources find their way to the problem. On that front, he might know that the Home Office has committed £18 million over the next two years, up to 2013, to support police, local agencies and the voluntary sector in tackling crime involving weapons and youth crime more generally. That includes £3.75 million for the three police forces where most knife crime occurs, and, as he would expect, that includes London.

It is also important, as my hon. Friend said, that we support those community projects that help to deter young people from involvement in knife crime. On that front, he will be interested to know that the Government have committed £400,000 to an organisation known as Kids Taskforce, which helps to educate school pupils about knife crime. He may have come across the organisation, because its materials are used by schools in Harrow.

My final point—I know my hon. Friend would support this—is that we must make those who are tempted to carry a knife understand that doing so does not, as they might believe, make them safer but makes them less safe. That is part of our education task when we deal with knife crime. I know that he would wish us to pursue that and that he would hope that it would be pursued in his constituency.

My speech has not covered all the contributions that have been made in the detail that would be justified, but I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to respond to the extent that I have. I wish you and all those who work in this building a very prosperous and happy recess.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The final debate is the general debate and, as Members can see, it is well over-subscribed and we will finish at 7 pm. Although there is a four-minute limit, if Members have only one point and can make it within those four minutes, they will help other colleagues.

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general matters

6.9 pm

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): I shall be as brief as I can. It would be an understatement to say that there has been a great deal of interest in the national media and, in particular, in newspapers in recent weeks. Indeed, that interest continues today. Whatever we think, a free and thriving press is undoubtedly important to us all. In any vibrant democracy there are two important ingredients—the first is competitive politics. We need parties competing with each other, and of course the battle of ideas. Secondly, we need diverse, challenging and inquisitive media, which legitimately hold to account politicians and others in positions of power and responsibility. Those media should be diverse, with a variety of radio stations, newspapers, television channels and the new media.

We often underestimate the importance of the media at the local level. That is the subject of my short speech today. Strong local media are equally important to hold people to account, whether they are politicians or others in local communities or regions who have positions of influence and power. In my area I am fortunate to have a diverse range of media. We have a daily newspaper, a weekly newspaper, two radio stations and two TV channels, all covering local issues in and around the Carlisle area, north Cumbria and south-west Scotland. However, if we scratch beneath the surface of those media, we discover that all is not necessarily as good as we would hope.

The papers are struggling because the recession has affected advertising and the income that that generates for them. The purchase of papers has fallen in recent years, which is worrying for the sustainability of the local newspaper. One of the TV channels is, in effect, a north-east channel and only occasionally covers Cumbria. The second channel has been greatly reduced. It was once known as Border TV. Now it is, to a certain extent, an outpost of the north-east. As for radio, we have CFM, which functions well on limited resources. The real strength is in Radio Cumbria, but that is under potential threat from BBC cuts. I shall concentrate on that.

We cannot underestimate the importance of Radio Cumbria and its contribution to local community. Back in 2001 we had the foot and mouth crisis, and in 2005 the Carlisle floods. In many respects it was the only source of information during that period. Then in 2009 there were the west Cumbrian floods. More recently Radio Cumbria provided information and reassurance to many people when Derrick Bird was murdering people in west Cumbria. Radio Cumbria is also a source of local news, information about community events, coverage of the local football team and coverage of politics. It is one of the most listened-to radio stations in the country.

I support other radio stations up and down the country, as I believe that local radio is extremely important for local communities. The danger is that with the proposed cuts by the BBC, that will be a much diminished service. I therefore call upon the Minister to put as much pressure as he can on the BBC to ensure that local radio is taken care of and is supported properly. I would rather see local radio survive than channels such as BBC 4. There is enough national coverage already. What we need is more local support.

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6.13 pm

Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): According to a European comparative study of children’s exposure to accidents conducted in 2005, the fatality rate for child cyclists in the most vulnerable group—10 to 14-year-olds—was found to be around five times worse in the UK than in the Netherlands and Sweden. Every year about 50 cyclists are killed in collisions with cars. Many more are badly injured.

For health and environmental reasons, there is a consensus across the House and the country that we need to encourage more people, including children, to take up cycling. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to consider how we can improve the cyclist safety record in this country, hopefully bringing it into line with other European countries. A good starting point is to look at the difference between our country and countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands. I am sure there are several differences, but one thing stands out. Here in the UK, if a cyclist or pedestrian is injured or killed in an accident with a motor vehicle, it is for the victim or the victim’s family to prove that the driver of the motor vehicle was negligent. In Europe, we share that approach only with Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.

In every other European country, stricter liability applies for insurance purposes. Under stricter liability, which reverses the burden-of-proof balance, it is for the driver to prove that the cyclist or pedestrian was negligent and therefore caused or contributed to the accident. As Lord Denning said, as long ago as 1982:

“There should be liability without proof of fault. To require an injured person to prove fault results in the gravest injustice to many innocent persons who have not the wherewithal to prove it.”

I believe that adopting stricter liability in this country for road accidents would be an important step forward for justice and, more importantly, would save considerable numbers of vulnerable people from injury and even death.

A report produced for the Department for Transport in 2004, “Children’s traffic safety: international lessons for the UK”, attributed at least some of the differences in the safety record here, as compared with other European countries, to the law of stricter liability in those countries. The evidence points to the fact that stricter liability has the psychological effect of making drivers more aware of the vulnerability of children, cyclists and pedestrians. That is what the 2004 study concluded and it is also the conclusion of many cyclists who have experience of cycling in this country and on the continent. My constituent, David Naylor of the Swansea Wheelwrights cycling group, who first raised this issue with me, is one such person. He wrote informing me that he has toured in the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. He went on to say:

“This has made me aware of how much safer one is over there. Motorists treat cyclists and pedestrians with respect. The better infrastructure helps but my judgement is that the existence of stricter liability is more important”.

When I took that up with the Department for Transport earlier this year, the Minister replied: “Even if there were some benefit for road safety such benefit would need to be weighed against the disbenefit which might result from overturning the well established and effective law that applies in civil liability.” Personally, I think that road safety should trump legal tradition every time.