[Mr Edward Leigh in the Chair]

I shall conclude on that important point. Like many astute Members of Parliament, I go into communities and talk to people. Many people in rural communities say that it is a waste of time calling the police because by the time they arrive, the perpetrator of the crime has disappeared. People tell me that it is pointless calling the police and reporting incidents to them. That is worrying, and we should all be concerned about it. Reported crime may fall, but coupled with that there will be an increase in robberies and burglaries because of the scale of resources that have been taken away.

I urge the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to consider the matter seriously. Instead of imposing across-the-board cuts next week, he should consider rurality as a special case, and put the rural grant back into the policing figures. In north-west Wales we have one of the best records, and the Government are snatching that away from us because of how they are imposing the cuts across the board. I appeal to the Minister to stand up for rural areas because crime is out of kilter with the rest of the country, and areas such as mine are going from best to worst through no fault of the police on the ground, who do an excellent job. I pay tribute to them and to the chief constable in these challenging times.

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12.1 pm

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on securing this important debate on an issue that is dear to our hearts as elected politicians and to our constituents. I will not be police-bashing. The police in north Wales have done an excellent job over the years, including the former chief constable, Richard Brunstrom. Despite all the shenanigans and publicity-seeking, he put the extra funding that we provided into front-line services. Mark Polin, the new chief constable who replaced him, is also doing an excellent job.

However, things are not right in north Wales. The latest statistics show that there was a 1% drop in crime, but if one drills down and looks at the areas of crime, there has been a 12% increase in household burglaries, a 30% increase in fraud, a 10% increase in theft, and a 60% increase in robbery. Those increases are directly attributable to the cuts in the number of police officers and back-office staff. North Wales used to be the safest place to live in the United Kingdom, and if we are too complacent and do not stand up and be counted, and if we do not challenge the coalition Government, we will not be doing our job as Opposition MPs. The Opposition have been told not to be party political about the matter, but it was a political party that made the cuts. That political party stood on a manifesto of putting 3,000 extra police officers on the beat, but it cut the number by 16,000. Those political decisions were made by political parties, and Labour MPs in opposition will hold the Government to account.

Tom Brake: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Ruane: I will not give way yet. I have a few more messages for the right hon. Gentleman. He stood up and said that he was party political for 13 years, and that he hoped he had done a good job in holding the then Government to account. We are going to be party political, and we will hold the right hon. Gentleman and his party and the other coalition party to account.

Tom Brake: I have no problem whatever with the hon. Gentleman providing scrutiny. That is the Opposition’s role, but they must also provide solutions.

Chris Ruane: I will provide solutions. I will come to them. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), the shadow Minister, announced an inquiry into the future of policing, the Minister said that that was political abdication. Now is the time to have an inquiry, as we are going into a double-dip recession with massive cuts. Now is the time to analyse the issues facing a modern police force in the 21st century, but the Minister called that political abdication.

Another issue is the decline in the number of criminals caught and prosecuted. In north Wales, there was a drop of 11.5% between April and November last year. I do not believe that that is the fault of the police. North Wales is a big geographical area. It requires a lot of policing and resources, and a lot of funding.

I have given the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), a bit of a roasting, and the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) deserves the same. He did not stand up for his constituency when his party pulled out of holding its spring conference at

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Llandudno, and he has not stood up for policing in north Wales. The cuts are dangerous, and are having a dangerous impact in our communities. All he can say is to ask what the Labour party did. He and his Government are in power now, and they are implementing cuts too far and too fast.

Guto Bebb: I said that it is easy to spout platitudes from the Opposition Benches. The truth of the matter is that the Labour party has not explained how it would deal with the current deficit and ensure that the cuts in north Wales would be avoided in view of the shadow Chancellor’s comments that he would change any spending cuts undertaken by the Government.

Chris Ruane: The hon. Gentleman’s complacency is unbelievable, as is that from his colleague, the junior Minister at the Wales Office, the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. When faced with these horrendous statistics, he said that it was most important that crime continues to fall in Wales, and that the latest figures showed that recorded crime is down 7%, which is even better than the 4% fall for England and Wales. That is complacency.

The Home Secretary did not stand up for policing during the cuts review. Other Ministers stood up for their Departments and their cuts were lowered. The chief police officers said they could cope with 12% cuts, and that was what the Labour agreed to. Our answer was to listen to what the professionals had to say, and to back them with 12% cuts. That was our answer then, and that is our answer now. The Tory and Liberal cuts are too far, too fast. There are also cuts in court costs. Denbigh magistrates court and Rhyl family court have both closed in my constituency. The prison population is at an all-time high. We are coming to a double-dip recession, and we know that crime patterns follow employment patterns.

The cuts are wrong; the pacing is wrong; the timing is wrong; and the scale is wrong. The pacing is wrong because the cuts are front-loaded. All the cuts are coming to suit the political timetable of a general election in 2015. The Government are front-loading the cuts and introducing them thick and fast to avoid the political consequences in 2015. The timing is wrong. We may be going into a double-dip recession when crime rates will rise, but the policing cuts are bigger than ever. The scale is wrong, because 12% is acceptable, but 20% is not.

Hon. Members have asked what Labour would do. When Labour left power, unemployment was coming down, confidence was going up, and growth was going up. Since then, all three have gone in the opposite direction. That has led to £158 billion of extra deficit, which is the responsibility of the coalition parties. That is what the shadow Chancellor meant when he made his comments. He cannot plan for 2015 and say that he will not cut this or that. We do not know how much more of a pig’s ear the coalition Government will make. How high will the £158 billion go? Will it perhaps go to £258 billion? Our solution would not have been to have an extra £158 billion of extra deficit.

Mr Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. Could we please have less mumbling from hon. Members. They may try to intervene if they wish.

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Chris Ruane: Hear, hear. That is excellent chairing, Mr Leigh. I agree with every word you said.

In other areas, such as youth unemployment and youth crime, the Rhyl city strategy in my constituency put 420 young people back to work in 18 months, but that was ended within three weeks of the coalition Government coming to power because of political spite. It was an effective Labour interventionist policy, and it was ended because of political spite. Since then, we have been promised a Work programme but, as I suggested to the Prime Minister last week, it is a doesn’t work programme, because the number of people the Government said would go back to work will not do so. We have massive youth unemployment and massive police cuts in north Wales. We have seen what happened in the inner cities—riots—and the coalition parties should be very careful about making such cuts.

I pay tribute to the coverage of this issue by the Daily Post, in both its reporting and its political commentary, and I will conclude with an editorial from 8 December:

“The blame for any fall in standards arising from these budget cuts will rest with the Government, not the chief constable.”

12.10 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Leigh, and I thank the previous Chair, Mr Crausby, for his chairmanship in the early part of the debate. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones). She has raised an important issue and generated a significant debate.

Contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), and for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) have highlighted the concerns felt by their communities, and I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) for his concern about western north Wales. We have also heard interesting contributions from the hon. Members for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), and from the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). He was helpfully reminded of his election pledge to support 3,000 extra officers during this Parliament, although he has since voted for cuts that over the past 18 months have led to a reduction in police numbers of some 8,000 officers.

I pay tribute to the chair and members of North Wales police authority, and to Chief Constable Mark Polin and his team. They have done a professional job over many years to ensure that north Wales is still one of the safest places in the UK in which to live. There has been great police support, good detection rates and sound community-based policing, and the engagement at levels of inspector, constable, sergeant and police community support officer has been helpful to Members of Parliament and to my constituents.

North Wales is a challenging area to police. It contains large rural areas, two languages and strong urban areas where crime is driven by urban challenges. There is also the cross-border challenge involving crime that potentially enters north Wales from parts of north-west England. There are the ports of Holyhead and Mostyn, which is in my constituency, and a range of other issues that create a complex and challenging model with which North Wales police authority must deal. I speak today

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as shadow Police Minister, but also, proudly, as the Member of Parliament for Delyn, which falls within the area of North Wales police authority.

The partnership of North Wales police authority with local councils and Members of the Welsh Assembly—who, as has been mentioned, were re-elected in May last year on a pledge to support 500 police community support officers—is important, and the authority’s co-operation with neighbouring forces has led to a reduction in crime over the past 10 years. At the start of the last Labour Government’s term in office, there were around 65,000 crimes each year in north Wales. By the last year of the Labour Government, that had fallen to 44,919 crimes—a reduction of over 30% that meant 21,000 fewer victims per year. As has been mentioned, victims feel 100% of the crime committed against them, and to have 21,000 fewer crimes is a compliment to the efforts of North Wales police authority and the Labour Government.

That reduction in crime was due to a range of issues such as new ways of working, innovation, the previous Government’s approach to community safety and attempts to make authorities work with the police, better co-operation and prevention, closer working partnerships, improvements in CCTV, an increase in DNA testing, automatic police number plate recognition to look at cars crossing the border, improvements in vehicle safety, station improvements, a whole range of criminal justice measures, and increased confidence in policing and co-operation with the communities as a whole. I contend, however—this is the central argument of the debate—that one of the biggest issues in helping to support policing and reduce crime over that period concerned the number of officers who were on the beat and visibly engaged with their communities.

In 1996, the last year of the previous Conservative Government, 1,378 officers walked the beat and worked in North Wales police authority. By the last year of the last Labour Government, 1,578 officers were in place—there were 200 additional officers in north Wales. Additionally, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friends and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, 159 PCSOs were put in place in north Wales during the last five years of the Labour Government, to help to support levels of policing and visibility on the ground. That was coupled with a rise in the number of special constables, which again helped to increase police visibility. There was a major increase in police numbers at the same time as a major reduction in crime, and 21,000 victims of crime were saved.

Guto Bebb: On a point of accuracy, is it not the case that the number of special constables in north Wales fell significantly between 1997 and 2010?

Mr Hanson: I would contend that. When I was the Minister responsible for policing, I encouraged and set a target for an increase in the number of special constables over the course of this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman cannot escape the fact that, during the last Labour Government, there were 200 more police officers and 159 PCSOs in north Wales. After the first year of this Government we have seen a worrying fall in police numbers for the first time, and we are likely to see a further fall over the next few years.

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Chris Ruane: The only way to get rid of a police officer is to force them out after 30 years under regulation A19. When those police officers retire, however, they are on a pension that is two-thirds of their pay. Will my right hon. Friend say how that is a saving?

Mr Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. Before he replies, I will ask Mr Hanson to conclude his remarks by 12.20 pm in order to give the Minister a chance to reply.

Mr Hanson: I can assure you of that, Mr Leigh. Thirty police officers in north Wales have been forced to leave under regulation A19 because of reductions in policing in the Budget. That is worrying, but I am most concerned that between March 2010 and September 2011 we have lost 85 police officers in north Wales. I am also worried because Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—these are not my figures—suggests that we will lose 207 officers during the course of this Parliament. The grant settlement for 2011-12 is £49.6 million but, if approved next week, that will drop to £46.2 million by 2012-13. Projections for North Wales police authority mean that by 2015 the grant will be £43.7 million a year—a cut of almost £6 million.

I challenge anybody to explain how we can cut £6 million from policing budgets in north Wales and make that up solely from back-office savings and other efficiencies. When in government I supported efficiency measures in procurement, overtime, improving back-office support, adopting single uniforms, IT systems and a range of other issues. However, the level of cuts that we now face, and which we will vote on next week in the House, is dramatic. The cuts will impact on police morale and, more importantly, on the ability of the police to fight crime in north Wales.

Police spending per capita over the past year in north Wales has reduced from £148 to £137. The changes now being implemented have led to consultations on police station closures—including at Mostyn, Flint, Holywell, and Mold in my constituency—due to officer numbers. Now, for the first time, crime is rising. The figures presided over by the Minister last week showed an 11% overall rise in levels of personal crime. In 2011, north Wales saw worrying increases in crime: a 60% rise in cases of robbery, a 12% rise in instances of burglary, and an 11% rise in sexual offences.

As well as cuts to the budget, there is the uncertainty caused by the elections of police commissioners on 15 November this year. We will participate in that experiment as it is the law of the land, and we will fight that election, but I still worry about the future of policing.

I believe, however, that there is another way. The Labour party agrees with HMRC’s projection that a 12% cut is realistic when looking at overtime, procurement, modernisation, collaboration and back-office procedures and, as the Minister knows, we would have done that were we in government. The figures he produces for north Wales, however, show a cut in funding of £5.9 million over the next two years. That will lead to further pressures on the chief constable, further difficulties in fighting crime and, in my view, a poorer service for my constituents and people in north Wales.

The Minister needs to think again. He has an opportunity. This very day, he has announced an extra £90 million

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for the police force in London—coincidentally, just before a London election this year. If he can do it for London, he can review the position of north Wales for next week, and I will urge my hon. Friends next week to scrutinise seriously the Minister’s proposals.

12.20 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) on securing the debate. She referred to the fact that she asked me a number of questions on the Floor of the House about police funding. On the most recent occasion, she referred to me as the Prime Minister. That is the only nice thing that has been said to me since I became the Police Minister. I was grateful to her for the brief compliment that she paid me, even though it was done in error. That said, I regret the way in which she chose to introduce the debate. She kicked off with a partisan attack on the Conservative party.

Chris Ruane: And the Liberals.

Nick Herbert: No, the hon. Lady kicked off with an attack on the Conservative party and she made it clear that that was to be the tenor of her speech.

I would like to deal with a few factual matters. The hon. Lady kept talking about 20% cuts. She said that there would be 20% less money; she talked about 20% budget cuts. That is, of course, the persistent implication of those on the Opposition Benches. It is correct that in the spending review there has been a 20% reduction in central Government funding, but all the Opposition Members know perfectly well that police forces are not funded just by central Government and therefore it is simply not the case that there are 20% budget cuts in the North Wales force or any other force in the country. It is important that I make that clear, because the difference is very substantial.

I wonder how many hon. Members think that there will be no precept rise in north Wales in the next three years. I ask them to intervene on me if they think that there will be no precept rises. There is no intervention. Clearly, none of the Opposition Members thinks that there will be no rises.

Chris Ruane rose—

Nick Herbert: Oh, I have an intervention from the hon. Gentleman.

Chris Ruane: Can the Minister answer the intervention that I made on my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn? How is it a saving if an officer who has been employed for 30 years is forced out of his job and paid a pension that is two thirds of his pay to sit at home doing nothing? For an extra third, he could have been kept in his job.

Nick Herbert: That is a completely different point, but the hon. Gentleman should ask himself why chief constables are taking decisions about the early retirement of a minority of officers if they think that that will not save them money.

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Let me return to the point that I was making, because it was important. I was asking hon. Members whether they thought that in north Wales there would be no precept rises in the next three years. No hon. Member appears to think that there will be no precept rises. Clearly, they all think that there will be precept rises. Even if there are no precept rises in the next three years, the real-terms reduction in funding is just over 15%—not 20%, but just over 15%. That is a cash reduction of 7%.

Susan Elan Jones Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Nick Herbert: Let me complete the point and then I will give way to the hon. Lady. Let us say that there are precept rises in line with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast. That is entirely a matter for the police authorities, so we do not know, but if there is a precept increase along those lines in the next three years, the real-terms reduction in funding in that period will be just over 10%. Translated into cash terms, that means that the force will have 1.2% less cash at the end of that period than it does now. That is the devastating impact that hon. Members are claiming for force funding.

Susan Elan Jones: The right hon. Gentleman is right: I once made a slip of the tongue and referred to him as the Prime Minister. I think that that is probably because I confused his complacency and arrogance with that of the current incumbent. Will the Minister please answer the point that I raised and the point that Chief Constable Mark Polin raised—that people had no choice whatever in the decisions that were made? Can I bring the Minister back to some of the real questions that people have asked, rather than the Tory partisan sophistry that he is giving us today?

Nick Herbert: I withdraw my kind remarks to the hon. Lady. She dished it up and she should expect to get it back. I can assure her, if she wants a serious debate about police funding, police organisation and how police forces can rise to the challenge, that no one is more anxious to engage in that serious, measured debate than I am. Indeed, I think that it is too absent from the House of Commons. It is, however, going on in policing in the real world, because out there, people are having to deal with that challenge. She, however, chose to introduce this debate in an entirely different manner—in a partisan, often cheap manner. She started off in those terms, and I will therefore give her back what she dished up to Government Members, without apology.

I was, however, making a serious point. I was making the point that the spending reduction—

Albert Owen: Will the Minister give way?

Mark Tami: Will the Minister give way?

Nick Herbert: Hang on a minute. The spending reduction that this force confronts ranges in the field of a real-terms reduction of 10% to 15%, or a cash reduction of 1.2% to 7%.

Mark Tami rose—

Nick Herbert: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman of course.

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Mark Tami: The Minister keeps bringing down the size of the cut that there actually is. I do not believe that he is right, but if he is, why does he think that North Wales police and, indeed, all police forces are cutting and feel that they have to cut front-line policing?

Nick Herbert: I will come to the issue of—[Interruption.] I will come directly to that issue. We have always said that the reductions in spending will mean that there will be a smaller work force. No one has ever disputed that. The issue is how those reductions are managed and what the impact then is on policing. I completely reject, and have consistently rejected, the binary link that hon. Members make that suggests that any reduction in public spending will mean a reduction in the quality of the service or that any reduction in headcount will mean a reduction in the quality of the service. That is the fundamental difference between Government Members and Opposition Members. We do not make that binary link. We are interested in the quality of the service and how well resources are deployed. Until Opposition Members understand that point and start talking about value for money and wise spending rather than big spending, they will continue to be in the position that they are in.

Albert Owen: The Minister is generous about giving way. He talked about the precept and council tax. Does he think it fair that the people of north Wales, through their council taxes, have paid extra into other forces but are getting the same level of cuts from central Government? Does he want to balance the situation? If north Wales taxpayers paid less through their council tax, would he increase the central Government allocation to them in the interest of fairness?

Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. We can discuss it further in the forthcoming funding debate. I am happy to answer it. In taking decisions about damping, we had to consider whether to make an adjustment for those forces that raise more from council tax. I considered that matter very carefully and it was a difficult decision, but in the end we decided that it was not fair to penalise those local populations

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that are already raising more from local taxpayers by saying that they would receive even less central grant than would otherwise be the case. The expectation of all chief constables and police authorities at the time was that there would be an even reduction in funding. We decided to apply an even cut as a consequence. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand—he may shake his head in disagreement—that that was a proper justification for that decision. It would have been unfair to penalise local taxpayers even more for the fact that they were contributing higher amounts than was the case in many other areas.

I want to make another point to the hon. Member for Clwyd South, in the short time left to me, on the facts of what is happening. There was a reduction in police officers in north Wales of 3.4%, according to the latest figures, in the year to September 2011. That is slightly lower than the national reduction. The reduction in staff is greater than that; staff are often overlooked in relation to these decisions. The hon. Lady’s case is that any reduction in funding is bound to produce an increase in crime, but of course the facts have not been going with her. The facts would not support the case that she makes even if it were intellectually a consistent case. On the latest figures, total recorded offences in north Wales in exactly the same period—to September 2011—were down 1%. There are, of course, particular crime categories within that where that is not the case, but equally there are other categories where crime levels have gone down by bigger margins than that.

It is very important that the force keeps on top of crime. I spoke to the chief constable this morning, and he reassured me. I will quote him. He believes that the force is

“on track to hit a three-year reduction target of 6.3%.”

That is the right ambition. The simple point is this: there is no simple link between spending levels, officer numbers and our ability to fight crime. It depends on effective organisation, good management and effective deployment of resources. It is about—

Mr Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. We now move to the next debate.

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Social Mobility

12.30 pm

Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): It is a pleasure to bring this debate to the House today and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh.

Social mobility, the advancement of the individual irrespective of birth, gender, colour or class, was the underlying reason I entered politics. My inspiration for that was not so much politicians, I am sorry to say, but the great industrial philanthropists of the 18th and 19th centuries, with their business ethics, worker engagement and strong principles. I grew up in Liverpool, so for me one person stood out above all others: William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers, who, incidentally, did go into politics. William started work at his father’s grocery business in Bolton, working his way up the ranks before setting up his own business. Perhaps it was that journey, from shop floor to business ownership, that shaped his outlook on life, which was that anyone could achieve, given the right support and conditions.

Lever’s belief in others and his ability to achieve inspired me, and it is that notion of support allowing social mobility that we need to engender in society, allowing for personal fulfilment and opportunities for all. Business at its best can do it, and so can politicians. That said, everyone has a role to play: parents, teachers and community leaders. All can offer support, encouragement, hope and advice. In Britain today social mobility has never been so remote for so many people, with only one in five young people from the poorest backgrounds achieving five good GCSEs including maths and English, compared with three quarters of those from the richest families. Only one in four boys from working class backgrounds gets a professional or managerial job, and just one in nine of those from low-income backgrounds reaches the top income quartile, whereas almost 50% of those with parents in the top income quartile stay there.

Such lack of social mobility is damaging for those individuals, who are never able or allowed to fulfil their potential, for their families, the community and the country. The personal waste is tragic and, in the cold light of day, to a number-crunching statistician, so is the economic waste, which must surely act as a wake-up call to politicians of all parties to do something. One study has estimated the economic benefits of creating a more highly skilled work force at £150 billion a year by 2050—an additional 4% of GDP; and there is evidence that the demand for skilled workers currently outstrips supply, so there are jobs out there at the top that cannot be filled.

I have personal knowledge on the matter in question, coming from an area where I saw only too clearly the extra hurdles that put achievement a pace or two further away from people—although I also lived among a few startling exceptions who managed to defy the odds and become socially mobile. It was for that reason that I went back to university to study corporate governance and wrote a paper on the character types and personality traits of those who succeeded, irrespective of background, as well as interviewing more than 500 school kids from tough areas, to see what support and guidance they felt they needed to succeed. I hope today that I can bring some personal knowledge to the debate.

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Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): My hon. Friend has done far more than she has said, and has produced a book, “If Chloe Can”, a careers book to help inspire people. It was turned into a theatre production, which is now touring the country, and I and several of our hon. Friends went to the premiere. I saw at first hand how many children from poorer backgrounds were inspired by the role models on stage that day, whom my hon. Friend brought along. Does she therefore agree that a key to introducing social mobility is to get great role models to inspire people and show them that people from their background can achieve success in life?

Esther McVey: My hon. Friend makes a strong point. That was one of the key things that came up when I went round schools on Merseyside, asking children what they needed to know, and what answers they wanted. Some asked, “How did you ever know what you wanted to become?” or “How do you know what jobs and opportunities are out there?” More importantly, they said they wanted to see people like them, from their backgrounds, who had achieved. I put together a magazine and distributed it free to more than 5,000 girls in Merseyside, and the people in it were role models such as Jo Salter, the first lady from the UK to become a fighter pilot; Louise Greenhalgh, the first to become a bomb disposal officer; Debbie Moore, the first woman to set up a plc; Lucinda Ellery, a single mum of three kids who has an international company; Jayne Torvill, the ice skater; and Emily Cummins, the inventor. All those people managed to overcome personal adversity to achieve, irrespective of where they came from. That was what made me look into character types and personality traits, which seemed so much more influential on where someone ended up than background or grades. Ambition, focus, being a team player, being positive and being able to complete a task, were key, and we need to tell children about those things, which give them hope. They do not need to know that they came from a certain background. They need to know that they need inner strength to achieve.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this matter to the House. I hope she will comment on social mobility for people who are disabled, and on the need for public transport to enable them to go where they want to be. Does she agree, and will she comment?

Esther McVey: I will make one comment, because I worked with people who were able-bodied, and with others who were not so able-bodied. One in particular who was a huge inspiration to me was a young girl called Shelly Woods, who I hope will get an Olympic gold in the Paralympics. She was supported by other people and thought she could achieve, even though she had always wanted to do sport as an able-bodied person. She became paralysed in an accident playing hide and seek, when she fell out of a tree, and has lived both as an able-bodied person and as someone who is not able-bodied. Her story was poignant, and she talked about the vital strength and support of teachers and family members. I do not know whether I can give a clear answer to the hon. Gentleman’s point—I am sure that the Minister can—but I hear what he says; the support he speaks of is needed.

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It is important to look in the round at what can be achieved. The coalition Government are doing that, because social mobility will not be achieved by a single initiative. It is a question of a host of interventions, providing small steps at various stages in someone’s life, to enable them to climb up. Social mobility appears to have stagnated in the UK in the past 30 years. Children’s educational outcomes are still overwhelmingly tied to their parents’ income. The OECD published “A Family Affair: Intergenerational Social Mobility across OECD Countries” as part of “Going for Growth 2010”; it shows the United Kingdom as among the countries where socio-economic background appears to have the largest influence on students’ performance. Although initiatives have been introduced in the past 30 years, it appears there has been little success.

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing the debate to the House. Does she agree that more effort needs to be put into boosting self-confidence and self-esteem in children? As she knows, those are prerequisites for mobility, success, and the goal that she is describing. Assuming that the importance of self-confidence is accepted, does she perhaps also believe that school subjects such as music, drama, art, sport and reading out loud in class may need to be given upward value? That is not at all to put a negative slant on the baccalaureate idea or the education policies that we are putting forward, but to underline the importance of the issues in question.

Esther McVey: I do indeed believe that self confidence is crucial. In fact, I led a debate on confidence for girls in particular. There is a lot of evidence, both academic and from Ofsted, that we need to encourage that, which is why I am so impressed with our national citizenship service in which kids from all backgrounds come together to get involved in team play and outdoor pursuits. The 30 children from the Wirral who participated last year said that it was a life-changing experience and that it really boosted their confidence. Yes, confidence needs to be developed both inside and outside school.

We need to look at social mobility as a whole and consider the various interventions that can be made over a life cycle. I welcome the fact that the social justice agenda and the social mobility agenda have come together with an emphasis on fairness and life fairness. Family support and support growing up are crucial.

The Department for Communities and Local Government found that 120,000 families in England have complex social, health and economic problems and it has designated an early family intervention programme. Yes, I know that it will cost £448 million to support such families, but it is in an attempt to break up a never-ending cycle of dependency and under-achievement that ultimately costs the country £9 billion a year. We therefore have not only the evidence to show that we need to take up such a programme to help the lives of people, which so often can be forgotten when we look at numbers, but the economic imperative to ensure that we push it through.

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that even beyond the 120,000 most troubled families throughout our society, the gap between

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rich and poor appears by the age three, which puts into sharp relief the need for support for parenting in the family?

Esther McVey: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The coalition Government are right to introduce new nursery care for toddlers. There will be 15 hours of free early education a week for all two-year-olds from poor homes, which will help 240,000 disadvantaged children. The pupil premium for disadvantaged children in England’s schools will be worth £600 per pupil per year.

Today, I want to dwell on the sciences not just because the Minister for Universities and Science is present but because it is a passion of mine. An education in the sciences can promote social mobility. As chair of the Chemical Industries Association, I hear on a daily basis about the need for more science students, technicians, engineers and scientists. The jobs are there, but we do not have the children to fill them. Moreover, they are high-paying, life-long jobs with futures. Only last week, I was promoting science in schools with the Chemical Industry Education Centre and one of the companies present admitted that it had taken on 10 post-graduate chemistry places, and, sadly, only one of them went to somebody from the UK—such is the lack of those in the UK with suitable qualifications.

I hear such stories on a weekly and even a daily basis. People comment not just about what is happening on the jobs front but about science education itself. David Braben, who is known for computer games such as Elite and Rollercoaster Tycoon, said:

“We have become a nation of consumers rather than creators in terms of technology in education, and this has implications further down the line.”

Eric Schmidt of Google had a withering summation of the British system, saying that it has forgone teaching computer programmes in schools. He said:

“I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn’t even taught as standard in UK schools...Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made.”

The president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Moshe Kam, said that there were systematic failures in the UK education system, which has serious knock-on effects for the economy.

The fact that our nation, which created and advanced the computer, has now become a nation of consumers is absolutely outrageous. Therefore, how we teach the subject is vital, which is why I welcome the determination of the Secretary of State for Education to have five core subjects taught to everyone in school. We have to start off by pushing five core subjects to everybody from every background, and not just to those who come from a slightly wiser professional background. There must be an imperative in the school system.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I know that my hon. Friend is a doughty fighter on this subject. Does she remember from our conversations after her “Workhouse to Westminster” paper that I too can claim to have descended from people who were in a workhouse? On the issue of the E-bac, she is right to say that we must ensure that we spread these core subjects as widely as possible. However, does she also agree that we must accept that a lot of these kids who will take on these subjects go back to very disturbed backgrounds and

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difficult home lives? They do not get the same support that someone in a more middle class school might get. We must be careful about what we wish for and we must ensure that proper support is available to those kids to do their best in those subjects.

Esther McVey: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. We must ensure that we give those children the support that they need. I am delighted with the new university technical colleges that Lord Baker, Lord Adonis and Peter Mitchell are fighting for because they could provide people with a startling difference in their life. The timetable starts at 8.30 in the morning and ends at 5 o’clock. It does not matter whether someone comes from a difficult background or has a difficult home life, because they do their homework in school.

I know so many bright children who need an application for their education. For so long, we have learned a subject in isolation without really knowing where it is going. The university technical colleges are addressing that issue. Yes, they are academic, which is excellent, but the fact that they have a longer day and a longer week means that the pupils will have 30% extra time to do projects for companies and to mix with people whom they had never mixed with before, which goes back to the issue of those vital real life role models.

I am glad that we are at last having a discussion about going to university and encouraging people to ask, “Is that really best for me or is an apprenticeship better? Do I really need to get a job?” The Office for National Statistics reports that we now have more than 1.3 million graduates who earn less than the average wage for someone who has been educated to A-level standard. Did university really benefit those people, or did they feel pushed into going to university by quotas for schools? Did a lack of knowledge lead them on to that journey to university? Did university support them in the way that it should?

According to the recruitment agency Adecco, one in five employers says that school leavers make better workers than university graduates. It is crucial to be able to stop for just a second and think, “What is it that I want out of life? What can I do and have the support there?” We should not limit our options at a young age because we did not take the subjects that we would need later on in life. When I was at school, if we did not know what to do, our teachers would say, “Study science for as long as you can because you can do anything with a science O-level”— I am giving my age away now. If youngsters study science at GCSE or A-level, they can always do something. By the way, the lynchpin is chemistry, which is something that we are not always told.

University technical colleges are brilliant. I have read the JCB college booklet and seen what the very first university technical college in Staffordshire is doing. For the children, the experience has been life changing. Some were not doing well in school and feel that they have been given a second opportunity. A life sciences university technical college is coming to north Liverpool, which is associated with the university of Liverpool. Therefore, it will be linked with the university and with business, including Unilever, Novartis, Redx Pharma, Bristol Myers Squibb and Provexis. Hot on the heels

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of the Liverpool university technical college will be the Wirral university technical college.

[Interruption.]

I notice that the Minister is smiling there. All that is key.

I want to mention, as an aside, the significant effect that Brian Cox has had on the uptake of physics and maths, so much so that the president of the Institute of Physics, Professor Sir Peter Knight, has talked about the Cox effect. He has inspired new physicists and new mathematicians, so much so that applications to Surrey university this year for physics have gone up by 40%. I mention that because how we communicate our message is key. Brian Cox had a platform: television and the media. People found him exciting, innovative and interesting, and they went and did it.

Mr Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. It is entirely up to the hon. Lady for how long she speaks, but there is only 10 minutes left for this debate, and she may want to leave some time for the Minister.

Esther McVey: Thank you, Mr Leigh, for pointing that out. I am just about to come to my questions.

I want to know about our communication strategy. How are we going to reach out to the kids whom we want to help and support, not just to the people who are already going to get it? It is key that we talk about it not only in policy—it is not just about words, but about deeds and actions. I want to mention the Speaker, who will hold an event for me on social mobility tonight, for 150 different people who have all turned their lives around, from business, drama and the arts. He is also giving Back Benchers a voice—he has introduced the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme, in which 10 people from different backgrounds are having a new look on life. I have one, and I want him to be known here: Luke Shaw Harvey from Stoke. He is working with me, and I think it is important.

How will we co-ordinate what we are doing? How are we following it through? How are we looking at the impact? What is our media strategy? How are we going to promote science to children? I see science as a great enabler for everyone. What are our careers advice and opportunities? How will we know about and promote the success stories, so that they are part of the cycle of social mobility?

12.51 pm

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): Thank you, Mr Leigh, for protecting the Government’s interests by giving me an opportunity to respond to the large number of extremely pertinent questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey). We all know how committed she personally is to the cause of social mobility. I have read the accounts of “If Chloe Can”, and clearly that is exactly the type of initiative that is needed to raise aspirations and for young people to know what they can achieve regardless of their background, and I congratulate her on that.

I also welcome the interventions from my hon. Friends. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility, and it is great to see him present in the Chamber. My hon. Friends the Members for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant),

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for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) also made important interventions. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole suggested the exciting sub-heading of “Workhouse to Westminster”—it is good to see that the Minister responsible for the workhouse, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), has just arrived in the Chamber. “Workhouse to Westminster” is the motif for our debate today.

The challenge that we have in improving social mobility, which my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West painted vividly, is one that the coalition is committed to addressing. Probably the most important single document in which we have set out our policies is “Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility”, which was published last April. It had the important feature of tackling all the different stages of a life cycle, and it showed that at each stage, we had to raise our performance. We have already heard, from the interventions, about the importance of the early years, and we recognise that. That is why we are committed to a new entitlement of 15 hours a week of free early education for two-year-olds, in order to try to tackle the problem in that area.

Coming to school years, the coalition is delivering the pupil premium, which for next year will be worth £600 a year for pupils from tougher backgrounds. The excellent free schools policy is already working, with new free schools being set up. Rising to my hon. Friend’s specific challenge of communication, we also have “Speakers for Schools” and a related programme, “Inspiring Futures”, which aim to get 100,000 people into schools and colleges to talk about their jobs and career routes. The challenge is not just about aspiration—sometimes people have the aspiration, but they do not know how to fulfil their aspiration or understand the routes to get from where they are to what they want to be. Having people who have taken a route through to achieving their ambition in a certain career arrive in a school or college to describe it with practical examples is important to tackle the communication challenge that she identified.

I recognise that universities, which are my particular responsibility, are only one of the routes into a well-paid job, a career and a fulfilling life. It is equally important that people have the opportunity of apprenticeships, which is why the coalition is delivering 100,000 extra apprenticeships. We have achieved that in our first year, and with the excellent leadership of my colleague, the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), we are ahead of that target; we will deliver even more.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West asked about universities. One of the encouraging things about universities is that whereas in the earlier stages of the education process, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, sadly, fall further and further behind, getting to university is the first stage of the process in which it looks as if—the evidence is controversial, but I think the majority

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of evidence is pretty clear on this—young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds over-achieve compared with others. It is the first stage in which instead of falling further behind, they start catching up. That is why it is important that we do everything we can to ensure access to university, which the coalition is committed to.

Although the decision to go to university or not has to be for an individual, and we want more information for young people as they make their choice, so that they can decide whether going is the right thing for them, nevertheless, I offer to my hon. Friend some figures: on average, graduates earn £32,000 a year, while on average, non-graduates earn £19,000 a year. The averages are pretty compelling.

My hon. Friend referred particularly to science and asked me what we could do on that. There is an excellent initiative of STEMNET ambassadors. These are people who have made practical careers in the sciences, who may have built up a business or may be working as scientists. There are 28,000 of them, 40% of whom are women; it is important to get the gender mix. Again, they go around to schools, science fairs and elsewhere to explain what they have achieved as engineers, scientists or managers, drawing on their expertise and communicating it to young people.

There was an intervention particularly about disabled people. While we sometimes focus exclusively on social background and access to university, we have made it clear in the letters that we have sent to the Office for Fair Access that it should look at other things as well. One that we specifically identified is proper arrangements for disabled students, so that they have an opportunity to learn and do not suffer from excessive drop-out rates.

My hon. Friend also talked about other examples of what could be achieved. She was right to refer to the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme. It is important that people have a fair opportunity of internships. We are clear that if young people are in employment, they should be properly paid for it. The Government attach a lot of importance to that.

As well as the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme, we should also remember—I suspect that this also applies to several Members present—the Social Mobility Foundation, which also finances people to come to work in the House of Commons if they would not otherwise have been able to afford to do so.

The lesson that the coalition takes from the debate is that yes, we need to intervene at every stage of the life cycle: early years, school, apprenticeships, university and opportunities afterwards. However, nothing beats the personal experience of seeing people who have overcome barriers. What my hon. Friend describes and promotes, not least through the excellent play to which she referred earlier, is fundamental to providing young people with opportunities. I very much support and welcome the efforts that she is personally making.

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Inflammatory Bowel Disease

1 pm

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Leigh.

I called for this debate to draw attention to the crippling effects of one of the country’s most common health conditions and the problems that people living with it face in their working lives. I will be honest: before securing this debate, I knew very little about inflammatory bowel disease. I knew the bare facts, but I did not know the impact that IBD has on sufferers in their daily lives. For example, I did not know that there are more people with IBD than people with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. However, if we asked the person on the street about either of those two terrible conditions, I am sure that they would know at least the barest details. By contrast, if we mentioned IBD to someone, it is quite possible that there would be some confused looks and silence. Indeed, when I mentioned this debate to people over the weekend, I had to explain what it was about.

Perhaps the problem comes down to the fact that many of those who live with IBD are often too embarrassed by the symptoms or are afraid to speak out about what they have to go through daily. Living with IBD is particularly difficult as the condition is known to fluctuate and can flare up at any time without warning. What is more, unlike the impact of many debilitating illnesses, the impact of IBD is not always obvious to other people, making it difficult for them to understand what a sufferer is going through.

The problem is particularly acute in the work environment, as someone who is suffering from IBD can find it difficult to tell their employer what is wrong with them. In a survey by Crohn’s and Colitis UK, 78% of people with IBD said they worry about their ability to manage their symptoms in the workplace. In addition, 62% said they worry about not being able to carry out their responsibilities adequately and 36% said they fear losing their job as a result of their condition.

Those of us with a long commute may worry or moan about traffic on the roads or finding a seat on a train, but few of us have to worry about where the nearest toilet is, which really is the difference between being in or out of work for someone with IBD.

Those fears are particularly prevalent among young people with IBD who are about to enter the workplace for the first time. When young people with IBD were asked about their condition, 56% of them said that their condition causes them to rule out some career options that they might otherwise have considered.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I am sorry for not giving the hon. Gentleman notice that I wanted to speak; I had not realised that he had secured this debate. I just want to emphasise the point that he is making. My mother suffers from Crohn’s disease and has twice had operations to remove part of her bowel. On both occasions, she nearly died. I have seen her symptoms daily and growing up as a kid I actually saw her cry because she was unable to get to a public toilet after being refused the use of a toilet—a private toilet—in a shop. This condition really impacts on people’s lives.

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It changes the whole way in which they have to live and work, and sadly a lot of workplaces are not set up at all for people who have it.

Chris Evans: I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman, and I will develop that point about workplaces further as I go through my speech. I am glad that he has raised it. Very often in this place, we quote statistics and sometimes we use them to bash the Government, but in the middle of all those statistics there are real human tragedies and stories that are taking place. As I have said, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised that point and I hope that his mother is dealing with life a bit better now.

I want to return to the point that I was making about young people with IBD. At a time when more and more of our young people are struggling to find work, the last thing that we need is for them to rule out career options. Since becoming involved in the campaign to raise awareness of IBD, I have heard story after story from young people who are unable to fulfil their potential because of the problems that the condition causes. This story is particularly common:

“Leanne is a full time foundation degree student from Crewe and has a part time job in a local pub. As a 19 year old she finds it especially hard having an illness which isn’t highly understood or visible. Having a condition which includes side effects like fatigue means not all employers or educational institutions understand the challenges she faces, and she even says that most people mistake this fatigue for laziness. She has had bad experiences in the past with employers and teachers who do not fully understand her condition and what it can mean on a daily basis. She describes herself as a passionate individual who wants to commit to jobs and her education, but finds it difficult on bad days. She has in the past been called “unreliable” during a flare-up of her illness. This ignorance can be damaging and can have a lasting effect on someone so young.”

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) for bringing this matter to the House. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), who spoke earlier, has illustrated very clearly the issues involved. As elected representatives, every one of us has to deal with these issues every day with our constituents.

The hon. Member for Islwyn has referred to work. The civil service in particular seems to have issues with its “early warning scheme”, as it calls it, and there is no flexibility in that system. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that it is time for the civil service to address that issue, so that people who want employment in the civil service can stay in it and not have to leave?

Chris Evans: Yes, absolutely, and that is really the crux of the issue. IBD is not a condition that causes symptoms all the time; there are flare-ups, and then the condition goes back down and people go back to normal life. If there is a problem in the civil service, I hope that the Minister will address it when he responds to the debate.

In today’s economic climate, with youth unemployment at the level that it is, we cannot allow someone with IBD to believe that their condition bars them from the job market. I heard another story of a young person, James, who was diagnosed with IBD in his early teens. James is currently studying for a degree at the university of Sheffield, but he is worried about managing his symptoms

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in the workplace when he graduates and begins to look for work in what is already a challenging job market. James has said:

“I think the use of the toilet without restrictions has to be paramount. I also think employers should give employees the opportunity to confidentially declare any illnesses which may affect the efficiency of their work. I think employees, regardless of what illness they have, should be allowed to use the facilities, so people who are ill do not feel isolated. Also, I think there should be no stigma attached to having the sudden urge to use the toilet. This is often the case, I would have thought, if you work/live with the same people for a long time. I am concerned that, after having worked so hard to get my first job after I graduate, if I have to have time off for illness or procedures I will be under more pressure in my job. The job market is so competitive and if someone is less ill than me, I will be placed under more pressure due to a situation beyond my control. It is pretty inevitable that I may need time off while working, but due to the competitiveness of the job market there will always someone who will be able to take my place.”

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I congratulate him on securing this debate. In my own company, which I have registered in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, we have experienced this problem, as it affected one of our management team. As a company, we decided that we would facilitate that individual because they were a good worker; they were enthusiastic in what they did. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has raised the issue of the civil service, surely the private sector needs to take a grip of this issue and a company ought to overlook the difficulties that a person—old or young—may have and see the potential benefits they can offer.

Chris Evans: I commend the hon. Gentleman for putting that policy in place in his company. As I have said, when I have spoken to people about IBD there is a real fear of being embarrassed about it and not being able to tell someone about it. If a company creates a culture or an environment where an employee can go to their boss and say, “I’ve got this condition,” in many cases the problem can be overcome and resolved. As the hon. Gentleman has this example of something that has worked, I hope that it can be passed on to the Minister, perhaps to solve the problem that the hon. Member for Strangford raised about the civil service.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene on him, and I do so to support the point that he is making. I have had a colostomy, having suffered from bowel cancer. As an individual, I made a huge point of being very public about that fact, including about the ways that I have dealt with the disease. And I must say that that approach has given a lot of people in my constituency hope. A disease such as bowel cancer is not something that is embarrassing any more. People talk about bowel cancer and bowel issues now as part of normal life, and it is hugely important that people in the public eye—as we used to call it—talk about these conditions and do not hide them away, so that they become more accepted by everybody else.

Chris Evans: I remember the hon. Gentleman in his previous life as a Welsh Assembly Member, and I also remember the good work that he did to raise awareness

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about this issue. I hope that more people follow his example and raise awareness of what is a really serious situation.

Returning to my example, when they graduate, people such as James may be too embarrassed to ask for help from careers advisers or Jobcentre Plus staff, who are already feeling the strain caused by the sheer volume of people whom they are trying to get back into work.

Some people do not even make it to university due to the challenges that they face in their teenage years from IBD. Here is an example of such a person:

“Because of immune suppressants which I take to manage my IBD, I have a very low immune system and become very ill, very quickly. I have already missed one year and I have had to re-sit my A levels. I feel a complete failure. I wanted to become an architect but I just cannot keep up with my studies. I feel I have let myself and my family down and my career is only just supposed to be starting.”

There are endless stories of young people with IBD who are worried and concerned about their future. A diagnosis of IBD should not mean that a person has to restrict their ambitions, whatever those ambitions are. The prospect of starting work is particularly daunting for anybody leaving school or university, but it is made even harder for those who are simultaneously coming to terms with a long-term health condition.

Many employers lack knowledge of IBD, which complicates the problem further. A study undertaken by Crohn’s and Colitis UK found that two thirds of employers admitted to knowing very little or nothing at all about the needs of employees with IBD. When asked to name some of the symptoms of IBD, most were unable to name any, while others displayed a misunderstanding of the condition. One even attributed IBD to a lack of “work passion”. That could not be further from the truth, as we see from the example of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies). Half of people with the condition revealed that they feel they need to put in additional effort to compensate for the time they take off for hospital or doctor’s appointments.

There are steps that employers can take to provide extra support for employees who suffer with IBD. There are simple adjustments, such as allowing an employee with IBD to visit the toilet when needed and, if possible, sit near a bathroom. That can help an IBD sufferer stay in employment and not feel awkward about the condition when they are in work. Some 65% of people with IBD believe that the opportunity to work flexible hours could maximise their productivity.

I do not want anyone to think that young people are the only group to be affected by the condition, as we have seen with examples today.

Andrew Percy: On the issue of work ability, there needs to be an acceptance not only that sufferers need to use the toilet, but that a lot of people rely on vitamin B12 injections. As one gets nearer the time for the injection, energy levels drop. Employers need to recognise that there could well be a change in work patterns as the time for the injection approaches.

Chris Evans: That was the point that I was trying to make. All we are looking for is a little understanding from employers. We are not asking for a great change in legislation. We want them to foster an environment

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where people do not feel embarrassed about going to their employers about their condition and that, when they do have to take medication, they are allowed time to do so. That will not affect anyone’s productivity; if anything, it will improve it.

As I have said, I do not want anyone to think that only young people face this problem. Some are forced to take early retirement due to the unpredictable nature of their disease. Until last year, John was a university lecturer. He found that working and living with a chronic condition such as inflammatory bowel disease was too much to cope with. He was unable to rely on the stability of his bowels while giving lectures. He chose to take early retirement without much of a fight. It took 18 months to get his pension released early on partial incapacity grounds, which took a toll, as his condition was going through a flare-up. Even though he has come to terms with his current medication, in order to help keep his symptoms under control, the IBD is difficult to live with and dictates how much travel he can do on a daily basis. It has been financially tough on John and his family, as he was the sole source of income, which has now been halved. The majority of his lump-sum payment made on retirement had to be used to fit a downstairs toilet.

I do not have to tell anyone how important it is to keep people in work, particularly in this economic climate. However, we have to accept that people with fluctuating health conditions may be in or out of work, and employers have to adapt to the different needs of those with the illness.

Jim Shannon: One clear issue is the disability living allowance and the benefits system. Does the hon. Gentleman feel there are occasions—I am aware of them—when the benefits system is not flexible enough to enable someone to achieve disability living allowance and to return to work later, if they have to?

Chris Evans: That is why we need flexibility in the benefits system. When people have this debilitating disease that very often stops them from working—they cannot do anything, they cannot leave the house—they cannot claim benefit. They do not even slip into the system or anything like that. That has to be borne in mind.

In the week that we are debating the remaining stages of the Welfare Reform Bill, it is important that the benefits system reflects the different needs and requirements of those with fluctuating health conditions. It is crucial that those with IBD do not struggle to cope at work through illness, or live in poverty when they are unable to work. I have heard stories about people with the disease having no income, which forces them out to work. Take this testimony:

“As my symptoms are not regular, I do not qualify for any benefits. So when I am actually too ill to work, I must simply either choose not to work or lose money. It is stressful having to explain the situation without going into too much detail.”

The Government need to recognise the disabling elements of long-term fluctuating conditions such as IBD and include provision for those in the benefits system. The importance of that is underlined by the Government’s introduction of universal credit, and the

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need to attend back-to-work interviews. The unpredictable nature of IBD means that people with the condition, who are required to attend interviews and undertake other work-related activities, may at times require flexibility, should they experience a flare-up of their condition.

Ultimately, IBD does not have to hinder someone’s work potential. People live with the condition and make a positive impact in the world of work every day. All they ask for is sensitivity and understanding. I do not think that is too much. Therefore, I believe that employers, health professionals and policy makers have a duty to ensure that there is a greater understanding for those with fluctuating conditions such as IBD.

1.15 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh. I congratulate the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) on securing the debate. What we have heard in the past 15 minutes is an example of this House at its best, where we all seek in as positive a way as possible to have an influence on the lives of people who are struggling with very challenging circumstances. There is no doubt that that applies to those who suffer from the two main conditions we are discussing in this debate, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both known as inflammatory bowel disease. We understand that they are serious conditions. In severe cases they require hospital treatment and surgery, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), and they make life extremely difficult for those who suffer from them.

I would like to deal with the hon. Gentleman’s questions in two parts. In the latter part of his remarks he referred to how we treat people with the conditions in the benefit system. I would like to touch on that first, and then on employment and universal credit, which I believe will help people with fluctuating conditions.

I start with the question of ensuring that we provide appropriate support through the benefit system for those unable to work because of the scale of their condition. We seek through the work capability assessment to take sensible decisions about those with fluctuating conditions. I hope and believe that the work we have put in place over the past 18 months will improve the way the WCA works and responds to fluctuating conditions. We are continuing to look at how to improve the process in relation to fluctuating conditions.

Where the effects of the condition are such that an individual is unable to work, they will and should receive appropriate support by way of employment and support allowance. Individuals with IBD are most likely to score under the incontinence descriptor of the WCA, which recognises that in the workplace an important consideration is personal dignity. It looks at continence in relation to the ability to maintain continence of bladder or bowel or prevent leakage from a collecting device. Additionally, individuals who are either moderately or severely affected by the disease may also have restrictions in a number of other work capability assessment areas, for example, where there is low body weight, malnutrition, persistent pain and fatigue.

As a result of the hon. Gentleman initiating the debate and a number of other people raising concerns with my office recently about these particular fluctuating

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conditions, we have looked again at how we are handling people with the conditions who are going through the work capability assessment, because I want to ensure that we get it right. In fact, all we have identified is that people with a primary diagnosis of the two different IBDs we are talking about are more likely than other groups to be allowed employment and support allowance, to reflect the high level of debilitation experienced by many individuals with such conditions.

The majority of people with IBD who have completed their work capability assessment are allowed employment and support allowance. The statistics show that they are more likely by around a third to be placed in the support group or the work-related activity group than the employment and support allowance client group as a whole. I think we see a picture of a system that is reflective of the nature of the challenges that these people face. We will not always get it right; I never pretend that that will be the case. From what I can establish, we are already reflecting, in the way we handle people with IBD, a recognition of the severe and significant issues it can pose for sufferers.

The work capability assessment considers each case on its merits. Alongside that, it is important to state that, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, many people can and should continue to work. There is a duty to ensure that employers understand, help, and work with people to make sure that they stay in the workplace, and I praise him for his comments on that. We have therefore ensured that the work capability assessment recognises that some people can manage their conditions successfully and return to work. In some cases, symptoms might be less severe, or might fluctuate so that they are unable to work for only short periods. Others might respond well to medication and be unlikely to have any long-term functional restrictions. For those people, it is important that we provide them either with appropriate support to stay in the workplace or with help to get back to work.

We can all play a role, as the hon. Gentleman is doing today. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) for his comments. One great strength of the House is that we can take a lead. Sometimes we might be frustrated that individually, as Members of Parliament, we cannot wave a wand and change something overnight, but we have the ability to access, influence, create platforms and shape the way people think. Within our constituencies and beyond, we have the ability to influence the way employers think, as the hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly seeking to do today. I commend the message that he is sending out. It is one that I hope Members will continue to send in relation not only to IBD but to the many fluctuating conditions that make people’s lives more difficult, although they should not and need not make it impossible for people to stay in the workplace. A bit of understanding from an employer can go a long way in preserving skills important to the organisation while giving employees the flexibility to deal with the challenges that they face.

However, for those who are struggling and finding that their employers are less supportive, which is bound to happen, we seek to personalise support for each individual through the work done by Jobcentre Plus and the Work programme. Along with both sets of organisations delivering support for the unemployed— our Jobcentre Plus offices up and down the country, and the different organisations working with the Work

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programme—we seek to individualise support as much as possible and ensure that we match individuals to employers.

One great way to overcome the challenges that people with different disabilities and health problems face in the workplace is by matching individuals to employers who understand, respect and support them. We encourage our Work programme providers and Jobcentre Plus offices to work closely with charitable groups for people who face different health challenges in order to ensure that organisations have the best possible understanding of the support that they need, so that we can do job-matching work to the best of our abilities.

In addition, where mainstay provision is not appropriate, we provide specialist support through Access to Work and Work Choice, which are available to the individuals with the most complex support needs. Each year, Work Choice aims to help about 9,000 people with disability and health problems into work, and Access to Work provides support to about 35,000 individuals.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole that it is essential for employers to make reasonable adjustments, which might include unrestricted access to toilets for people with IBD. It is common decency, and there is no earthly reason not to. I know we have not always moved beyond the world in which we have lived, but one would hope that in today’s world, not many employers would deny someone access to a toilet. I believe that in most of our economy—ideally, in all of it—that should be a management practice of the past. Employers now have a duty under the Equality Act 2010, and they are putting themselves at risk if they do not pay attention to an individual’s needs, if those needs are reasonable and sensible. I certainly regard unrestricted access to a toilet as being entirely that.

We are also trying to ensure that all those who work with us in the Department for Work and Pensions networks and who have a responsibility for health care—particularly health care professionals working with people undergoing the WCA and, in due course and Parliament permitting, the assessment for the new personal independence payment—have an understanding of the nature of the health conditions that they will confront in their work. The doctors and nurses working with us and Atos Healthcare on the assessments, for example, already have a knowledge of IBD from their professional training. However, those who are not from such a background—physiotherapists, for example—undertake a training module on inflammatory bowel disease as part of their work capability assessment induction. A learning set on continence, including a focus on IBD, is offered to health care professionals as part of the Atos Healthcare continuing medical education programme. To assist them in their knowledge of such conditions, health care professionals also have access to an evidence-based repository.

We try hard to ensure that we provide the people who work for us with access to information about fluctuating conditions, mental health problems and other issues that they will come across in their duties, so that they are as well placed as possible to be responsive in their decision-making and to get those decisions right. We have no interest whatever in getting such decisions about people wrong. This is about taking the right decisions and providing support for people who have the potential or are perfectly able to continue to work,

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and then finding the right employers for them. However, it is also about understanding the limits of an individual’s ability to work and ensuring that we do not end up making someone work who cannot realistically do so.

We are continuing to work to improve our knowledge, understanding and processes, and the responsiveness of those processes, for people with fluctuating conditions. In the past few months, our adviser on the work capability assessment, Professor Malcolm Harrington, has carried out a project in partnership with organisations that represent people with Crohn’s disease, IBD and other fluctuating conditions to enable us to understand better how we can improve our processes to ensure that we take well-informed, appropriate decisions. The group has made a number of recommendations to us through Professor Harrington. We are considering our response, but I have given a clear commitment that the Government will do everything that we realistically and reasonably can to improve the way we work and ensure that we take the right decisions.

It is important, too, to find the dividing line. That will always be a difficult challenge for any Government, because, as the hon. Gentleman has said, there are two sets of points. The first is about employment and the need to get things right for those in work, and the second is about the need to get things right in our benefits system for those who cannot work. Finding a dividing line between the two is very difficult. There is no simple black-and-white answer to the two sides of that problem. The Government must do everything we can in our assessments and judgments to make our decision-making as accurate as possible. There is no exact science, of course. When we come to that grey area, no individual on the borderline is definitely able or unable to work.

I give the hon. Gentleman every commitment that our goal is to get right what we do. In all our reforms, including the reforms coming through Parliament this week to which he referred, it is not our wish or intention to do the wrong thing by people who find themselves in a difficult position in their lives. We have to find the correct approach in one of two different routes. It might involve finding the right support to get them into work; it might involve getting them into the benefit system. However, what we are trying to avoid is sending people down the wrong route: for example, somebody with the potential to work who is not asked to do so, or somebody who has the potential to work but is not encouraged to do so.

All of our reforms are about taking the right decisions, as far as we possibly can, by those individuals, and providing support, knowledge, and understanding for people with such conditions. We will not always get it right, but we will do our best to do so, and to deepen knowledge and understanding right across the workings of the DWP about IBD and other fluctuating conditions suffered by the people whom we seek to help.

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Offshore Renewable Energy (East Anglia)

1.29 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh. I am very pleased to have secured this debate, because it provides an opportunity to focus on the East Anglia offshore renewable energy industry at a particularly important time in its fledgling life. Much work has already been carried out, both by the Government and industry, and exciting times lie ahead, if the right policy and investment decisions are made and seen through.

The future can be bright; thousands of new jobs can be created; the economy can be rebalanced towards the regions and towards engineering and specialist manufacturing; and the country can have a source of energy that is secure, stable in terms of price and environmentally friendly. Looking further ahead, we can build an industry that can compete on a global stage, with firms taking their services and skills around the world, and in due course we can become net exporters of electricity, instead of being importers vulnerable to fluctuations in fossil fuel prices.

We are at the dawn of a new era. The two largest wind farm developers off the coast of East Anglia—Scottish and Southern Energy and East Anglia Offshore Wind—are about to enter important stages in the process of obtaining the necessary statutory approvals for their developments. Moreover, the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth enterprise zone, which is focused on the offshore energy sector, will come into operation on 1 April.

These are exciting times, but it is important that we ensure that we realise the full potential that this opportunity presents for the East Anglia economy. The Thanet wind farm is a great engineering feat, but much of the value generated by that project went to companies outside the UK. Non-UK ports have been large beneficiaries of the round 1 and 2 offshore wind farm projects. Lessons must be learned so that we can ensure that our coastal communities, such as that in Lowestoft in Waveney, which I represent, benefit fully from this opportunity.

Much good work has already been done and the foundations have been laid. The original foundation stone, which has been there since time immemorial, is the North sea, one of this island’s most vital assets. It is a great resource, out of which the fishing industry in Lowestoft and other ports was created, only to be reduced to a shadow of its former self by the common fisheries policy. The North sea also gave us the oil and gas industry, which has many features that are transferrable to the renewable energy sector—skills, a supply chain of approximately 500 businesses employing more than 10,000 people across Suffolk and Norfolk, and the best health and safety regime in the world. Now the North sea offers another dividend, in the form of wind in the immediate future and, in due course and with the right nurturing, wave and tidal power.

I should emphasise that, while I want to ensure that we realise the full potential that the North sea has to offer, I am conscious that it is an asset, a treasure that we should nurture for future generations. The role of guardian is played by organisations such as the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which is based in Lowestoft, has a long track record of

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applying science in the management of fisheries and provides sound impartial advice to support the green economy.

The OrbisEnergy centre in Lowestoft has become a centre of excellence for the offshore renewables sector. Six sites in and around Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft form part of the enterprise zone. The New Anglia local enterprise partnership is a green economy pathfinder, and Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth ports have been granted CORE status as one of five centres for offshore renewable engineering.

All that work is to be applauded, but various challenges need to be addressed if the industry’s full potential is to be realised in East Anglia, and I shall outline those challenges in the time remaining. The first is the policy framework. The offshore renewable industry is highly mobile—investment will flow to the most attractive destinations. It is, therefore, important that the Government send out the right message that there is a stable fiscal regime and a secure support mechanism to encourage the necessary investment in new technologies.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) addressed the need for a stable fiscal regime when he referred to the oil and gas sector during his Adjournment debate last week. On the need for a reliable support mechanism, the Government’s proposals in the consultation on renewables obligation banding for offshore wind and wave and tidal technologies are acceptable to the industry, but it is vital that those for offshore wind are not reduced any further, because that could delay the projects, and wind supply chain companies might be tempted towards competing European nations.

It is also important that electricity market reform mechanisms are delivered quickly and at a level that gives confidence to developers, investors, manufacturers and contractors to invest in the post-2017 opportunities that will come from the round 3 wind farms.

On the wave and tidal sector, the proposed five renewables obligation certificates per megawatt-hour will help the UK maintain its lead over the other competing nations in this emerging sector, and that can be reinforced if support is forthcoming from the green investment bank. It is also important that the UK takes a lead role in developing transparent European market rules that in due course will allow us to export surplus renewable energy to Europe and vice versa.

The second challenge is planning. As I have said, both SSE and EAOW are at crucial stages in obtaining consent for their developments. There is a concern that the consent process is taking too long, that statutory bodies are not showing sufficient flexibility in considering applications and that they should adopt what the developers call the Rochdale envelope approach.

Delays could have a negative knock-on effect on investment decisions in relation to the wind farms themselves, in terms of the creation and reinforcement of supply chains and in relation to grid connections. That could lead to a loss of confidence in the UK sector just as it has become a world leader. It is important that decisions are made promptly and that statutory consultees are properly funded to cope with the number of planning applications, which will increase dramatically with round 3 applications.

RenweableUK, the trade body for the wind and marine industry, has recommended the establishment of a stakeholder resource fund to build capacity and expertise

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among statutory consulting bodies. It recommends a total spend over the next three years of £12 million and that the industry should be open to considering the possibility of making contributions itself.

Further down the line—although this is already concentrating people’s minds in Suffolk and Norfolk—is how best to connect the East Anglia Array, which will generate electricity equivalent to five Sizewell C power stations, to the national grid.

Traditionally in Britain, electricity has been generated in the north and the midlands and has been transported up and down the spine of the country. We are now looking to change this axis so as to transmit power in an east-west direction. It is important that, if possible, use is made of the existing infrastructure. At present, the National Grid Company is establishing whether that will be possible. If not, it will be necessary to provide a new transmission route. In doing so, open dialogue will be vital from the outset between communities, the National Grid Company and councils, to ensure that all factors are taken into account when determining the most appropriate and best means of transmission, whether overground or underground, and when determining cost—both immediate and whole life—and environmental impact.

All parties must face up to this challenge. With 25% of the current electricity generating capacity due to be retired by 2016, it is important to move quickly to ensure that the lights do not go out. At the same time, however, we must not unnecessarily blight what is a special landscape.

Thirdly, it is important that we ensure that people in Suffolk and Norfolk have the necessary skills to take up the many jobs that will be created. At a recent seminar on supporting young people in Waveney, which I held jointly with Jobcentre Plus, Mark Jones, the managing director of Lowestoft-based AKD Engineering, spoke graphically about the importance of doing this and the fact that, if we do not, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring prosperity back to the Lowestoft and Yarmouth area will be lost, with work going elsewhere. The further education and apprenticeship policies that have been enthusiastically promoted by the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning provide an ideal basis on which to build, but we also need to promote the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths in our schools.

The technology and innovation centre for renewable energy needs to be up and running as soon as possible, and I hope that organisations such as OrbisEnergy and CEFAS in my constituency will play an important role in that project. The private sector and the East of England Energy Group, through its skills for energy programme, also have a key role to play, and it is important that national and local government work with them.

Fourthly, it is important that the supply chain is reinforced. The enterprise zone and CORE designations will help do that. We should promote manufacturing processes, whether they involve turbine manufacturing, foundation manufacturing or the provision of sleeves for turbines. If we can encourage those to take place in East Anglian ports, it will help to support supply chain businesses. That will lead to costs being driven down,

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which will make offshore wind more affordable and, in turn, will consolidate the UK’s position as a world leader in this sector.

A problem that supply chain companies often face is that they need three types of contract to come together at the same time: the contract with the wind farm developer for the provision of a piece of equipment, the contracts with sub-contractors for component parts, and, finally, a financing agreement with their bank. At present, securing any one of those three types of contract requires certainty on at least one of the other two. That leads to an unenviable chicken and egg problem. A means of addressing that dilemma would be for the green investment bank to offer loan guarantees to offshore wind projects entering the construction phase. I would be grateful if the Minister could look into that.

Finally, I come to infrastructure. Good infrastructure is vital. In previous debates, I have emphasised the importance of improving road, rail and broadband links to the East Anglian coast, which is very much at the end of a line. I will not restate that case here, other than to repeat the need for investment in the road network in and around Lowestoft, which is currently gridlocked as a result of sewer repairs taking place in Station square.

Instead, I want to emphasise the importance of two other types of infrastructure investment—first, ports and, secondly, the grid. The enterprise zone and the CORE initiatives will help Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth ports, but they are at a disadvantage both when compared with other British ports that are in assisted areas and that benefit from capital allowances and the £60 million UK ports competition, and when compared with European ports that are in public ownership. I wholeheartedly support the tradition of private sector investment in UK ports and the advantages of innovation and dynamism brought to the industry by a market-based approach. However, East Anglian ports need to be able to compete on a level playing field. I therefore urge the Government to consider the provision of a three-year replacement fund that would act as the equivalent of the capital allowances and port infrastructure funding that is available elsewhere.

With regard to the grid, there is the need not only for upgrading with additional transmission and distribution capacity, as I have mentioned, but for a smart grid and a European supergrid. That would allow peaks and troughs in electricity generation to be smoothed out while enhancing security of supply and, in due course, enabling Britain to export electricity, thereby helping the balance of payments.

In conclusion, this is not a plea for a blank cheque, although the coastal communities fund should recognise the contribution of offshore wind farms to the UK economy. The Government have already made a significant investment and are pursuing the right policies. However, we need to ensure that such policies come to fruition and that they hit their two targets: first, to achieve a secure low-carbon energy supply with less price volatility and, secondly, to build a new industry in which Britain is a world leader and to create new jobs.

East Anglian people and businesses want to be at the forefront of this drive. On their behalf, I conclude by saying this to the Minister: work with us and together

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we can not only hit these targets, but achieve the economic growth that this country so urgently needs at the current time.

1.43 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh. I am delighted to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing the debate. He has shown a long-term interest in the scope for East Anglia to become a leader in renewable technologies and, within the Department of Energy and Climate Change, we are very grateful indeed for his constant support. I am delighted that he is supported today by some of my hon. Friends who represent Suffolk constituencies. They share his ambitions for East Anglia and how it can take advantage of the opportunities that are clearly there.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there are bright prospects for East Anglia and that this is an area where international opportunities could develop for the businesses setting up and operating within Norfolk and Suffolk. The expertise they can gather is something they can certainly take overseas as well. Earlier on in this Government, the Prime Minister said that we would be the greenest Government ever. The actions that we in DECC have since taken have shown how seriously we take that commitment.

I well remember my visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency a year ago, when I had the chance to go with him to the OrbisEnergy centre to meet some local business leaders to try to understand the commitment, enthusiasm and excellence that they can bring to this area. On that visit, I was also pleased to have a chance to go to Great Yarmouth, Sizewell and Norwich to see for myself how well poised East Anglia is to take forward opportunities in the low-carbon sector. I have also had opportunities since then to talk to the New Anglia local enterprise partnership. I am very encouraged by its enthusiasm and commitment to make the best case for businesses in East Anglia and to address the skills issue, which my hon. Friend rightly mentioned.

As my hon. Friend said, since my visit, both Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth have been designated centres for offshore renewable engineering, or COREs. That is a great achievement and a tribute to the skills that are already based in those areas. Both towns are home to an impressive energy sector supply chain, with some 500 businesses employing more than 10,000 staff directly within the two port areas, and many times more people in the wider supply chain spread across East Anglia more generally.

My hon. Friend raised the issue about supply chain opportunities. I want to reassure him that the Government are not neutral about that. We are sending a clear message to those who are developing the offshore facilities that we would like them to give British companies every opportunity to pitch for their business. My concern is that sometimes they are not even on the tender list. We are going to great lengths to ensure that they get the chance to pitch. At the end of the day, it is a commercial decision, but we are very happy to call up the chairman and the chief executives of those companies investing here to highlight to them the strengths of British companies and those companies operating out of the United Kingdom in this area.

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My hon. Friend also raised the issue of the UK ports funding scheme. As he will be aware, that shifted from being a ports project across the whole of the United Kingdom to an economic development scheme, because we felt it was important to link the development of the port to a specific economic activity. As a result, under EU state aid rules, the funding can go only to assisted areas. However, it is encouraging to note the extent to which companies are willing to look outside the assisted areas for where they see the right port facilities and the rights skills base. We are seeing some good, encouraging interest from companies looking at the United Kingdom more generally.

Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft are home to some of the leading offshore wind companies, including ScottishPower Renewables, Vattenfall, SSE, Seajacks, ODE, Gardline, SLP Smulders, CLS, Petrofac and AMEC, among others. Lowestoft is already the operations base for the Greater Gabbard wind farm and is well positioned to take advantage of future developments. Later this year, we expect the first offshore wind project from the East Anglia zone—East Anglia ONE—to submit its application for development consent to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. East Anglia is well positioned to take advantage of future wind farm developments.

My hon. Friend understandably picked up the issue of planning. During this year, those decision-making powers will be transferred from the Infrastructure Planning Commission, where such decisions are currently taken, directly to Ministers. The one thing we have been absolutely clear to enshrine in that is the time scale. The final decision will be taken by Ministers, which means there will be no extra delays as a result of the process. Somebody can be sure that, within just over a year of submitting their application, they will have a determination. What frustrates people most is not being turned down; it is the absence of a decision at all. People want to know whether their investment is likely to go ahead and therefore we are keen to ensure that they have that clarity.

I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that the future of the UK’s energy supply has to be secure, flexible and low carbon. We envisage a mix of low-carbon generation made up of new nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and renewable sources. We must also combine that with energy efficiency, as the cheapest energy of all is the energy not used. In all those areas—nuclear, carbon capture and storage and renewable sources—East Anglia has an extremely important role to play. The skills base and expertise that are already there are very encouraging and the ambitions of the companies involved to take this forward is something we can truly celebrate.

Renewable energy, and offshore renewables in particular, are set to be a major part of our future energy supply. Some technologies, such as onshore and offshore wind, are already established and some, such as wave and tidal, are still emerging, which is why we have given the higher level of ROC support to them. It is absolutely clear that offshore wind will play an important part in the UK’s energy future. It is a low-carbon energy source. It is also a domestic energy source, which means that it will play a role in securing our long-term energy security.

The UK is already the world’s biggest offshore wind market. We are working hard to maintain that position, and are determined to do so. We already have the most installed capacity and this is only the beginning. We

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also have the biggest pipeline of projects to 2020 of any country. Deployment of offshore wind will require an investment of tens of billions of pounds. For that huge sum to be invested by industry, we need to do all we can to ensure that developers, investors and manufacturers have confidence in the market and see the UK as the No.1 destination for their money.

Electricity market reform, as my hon. Friend rightly says, will give confidence and long-term visibility to investors, and will encourage the investment we need to renew our generating infrastructure. We have seen great progress in just a year-and-a-half, since the Government were elected. It was not even on the agenda before the election. In the course of just more than a year-and-a-half, we have established the structure of an entirely new electricity market—massive progress that we will shortly enshrine in legislation, but with ongoing discussions with developers to ensure that, if they need to make earlier decisions, they will understand how the funding will work to secure their investments.

Our reforms to the planning system will ensure faster, more efficient consenting, while retaining democratic accountability. We are currently considering the responses to the consultation on the bands for the renewables obligation to ensure appropriate levels of support for renewable technologies and value for the taxpayer and consumers. We are creating the green investment bank, to which my hon. Friend referred, to deliver financial interventions that address market failures specific to green investment needs, thereby supporting growth and environmental objectives. One of the priority areas for the green investment bank will be offshore wind.

We are working with Ofgem to ensure cheaper and timelier offshore grid connections, to encourage innovation through competition, and to enable new entrants to compete in the market. Ofgem has already run one successful tender round for offshore transmission and is in the process of running a second.

My hon. Friend rightly raised the issue of onshore grid issues. This week, the Institute of Engineering and Technology publishes a very authoritative report, which goes into more detail than anything I have ever seen before, about the comparative costs of undergrounding and overgrounding. Where it is possible to use existing infrastructure, that should of course be part of the process, because significant concerns have been raised.

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on all his work in pushing Suffolk to be the greenest county and for Waveney to develop a national leading hub, and I acknowledge the support given by the Minister.

The issue of where cabling goes is very important. Suffolk wants to be the greenest county, just as the Government want to be the greenest Government, but it would be a contradiction in terms if developing the green hub means putting pylons all over the countryside. I ask for the Minister’s support in pushing those energy companies hard to ensure that pylons are not installed in a way that will destroy the beautiful Suffolk countryside.

Charles Hendry: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest and for the recent event he hosted for businesses in East Anglia to talk about that matter. He raises an issue that is current and important. We face

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the absolute fact that when electricity is generated we need to find ways of getting it to market, and that requires a massive upgrading of our grid infrastructure. We have made changes to how that is dealt with. In a national policy statement on grid, we talked about the need to explore alternatives to overgrounding. The report published this week by the IET is a further example of our determination to get a clear understanding of the facts. The companies involved—National Grid, in particular—are in no doubt whatever about the public anxiety that this can create, and they are looking at ways of ameliorating that. I am encouraged from my discussions with them that they are keen to explore how best to ensure that a new generation comes through in a way that is harmonious with the communities through which that electricity will pass.

Offshore wind is quickly making the jump from an emerging technology to a major part of the UK’s electricity supply. Through the industry-led Offshore Wind Cost Reduction Task Force, we are working to create an action plan to bring down the costs of offshore wind to make it cost-competitive with other forms of low-carbon generation. The task force will report to Ministers in spring. It is clear that industry and investors recognise our commitment to offshore wind. Many companies, including those in East Anglia, are gaining access to that new market. I want the UK to benefit from the jobs associated with offshore wind, not just from the low-carbon electricity. I want UK companies not just to supply UK wind farms, but to start supplying other countries, too.

The supply chain is already building up to support the wind sector, and it is doing good business. As this debate is focused upon East Anglia, let me just pick a few recent examples since April 2011. Gaoh Energy, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney, has secured a met mast order for the Moray Firth offshore wind development. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), there is a new energy skills centre, where courses will be offered to support the UK offshore

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wind industry from early 2012. It will eventually be able to accommodate more than 200 young people a year on engineering and welding courses. Wells Harbour, in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), has secured contracts for work at Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm.

We are therefore already seeing some key investments coming forward, and not just in the domestic market. Seajacks, which is based in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), has won a £100 million order to supply the Meerwind offshore wind farm in Germany. There is no doubt that the levels of deployment we are likely to see in the UK and in Europe are far in excess of current production capacity—rapid scaling up will be needed. That offers the potential for significant employment and economic benefit for the UK, with the opportunity to create a broad manufacturing base in a high-value-added sector that, partly as a result of the sheer size of the turbines, really needs to be somewhere close by. I intend it to be here in the UK.

The industry is at an early stage of development, but is set for huge growth. The UK is well placed to make the most of it, and the Government intend to do so. We have a strong research and development capability, and some excellent engineering, technology and manufacturing opportunities. In East Anglia, I have seen for myself some of the outstanding examples of businesses that are ready and able to take advantage of those opportunities. I have met the people in the local authorities who are determined to ensure that the educational provision is there to bring forward the skill set. I have met with the local enterprise partnership, too. That, combined with the immense commitment and enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney, and my hon. Friends from other parts of the county, shows that this is an area with immense potential and we look forward to it being realised.

Question put and agreed to.

1.57 pm

Sitting adjourned.