Sir Alan Beith: Those measures, which the Government have introduced, are very welcome. People in the villages in my constituency are actively pursuing all those angles to ensure that local services continue to be provided. They have put a lot of effort into improving village

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halls, turning former schools into village halls and putting together schemes to help remaining schools, to work closely with them and to use community assets jointly with them. An awful can be done, but there need to be people to do it and young families to participate.

Let me give one salutary warning. The school in one village in my constituency closed many years ago. Later, there was some housing development. As a result, a busload of children now go from the village to another one five miles away because there is no school. Circumstances change, and we should think more often, when the situation allows, about reopening schools or even opening new schools in village communities that show real growth. That will be the exception, not the norm, but there are cases where such measures are appropriate. However, we need to try to sustain villages, so that our schools can continue.

Even in an area such as Northumberland, where no policy is being pursued directly to the detriment of village schools—that has been the case for some years—village schools are under serious threat. The threat comes from the decline of villages and the way in which the average age in villages is increasing year by year because of a shortage of young families. Safeguarding our village schools is therefore not just important, but part of a wider policy towards rural communities, and it will require great effort in years to come.

The Minister would be surprised—he can see what is coming—if I did not finish by referring to the high school that serves a large rural area of my constituency. Children go to the Duchess high school, in Alnwick, from villages from many miles around. I simply remind him that we are all waiting with bated breath for the school capital programme announcement. We are determined that the school—it is on a split site and in an appalling physical state, but it is a good school—can benefit from that programme as soon as possible.

3.13 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I did not come to the debate expecting to make a contribution, and I am grateful to you, Mr Turner, for allowing me to do so. I want quickly to refer to several points, which sprang to my mind while I was listening to the debate.

The first is that the Government are consulting on school funding, and that is absolutely right. It is important that rural school supporters, of which I am one, make absolutely sure to get across the point that these schools should be able to spend their budget with few prescriptions. We also need to sort out the argument over equality between rural and urban schools and, indeed, in rural areas. That is a fundamental issue, and the Government are rightly alive and alert to it.

The second dimension to the question about the future of rural schools is that some wish to expand. In my constituency, that is, to some extent, a pressure. The Government need to make it easier for schools to understand how they can expand and what mechanisms they might use to rise to the challenge of providing extra classrooms. The second issue, therefore, is letting existing schools expand.

The third point that we should discuss is the scope academies have in terms of primary schools and small schools. Giving schools additional independence and

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autonomy from local authorities addresses some of the issues that have arisen in the debate. It is critical that we send out the message to small rural schools that academy conversion is a way forward.

That leads to me to a point that struck me while I was listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey). She was talking about shared heads, and that is very much a direction of travel. Academies should be thinking very much about federalising structures, where appropriate, and about sharing facilities.

Stephen Gilbert: In my constituency, some very innovative academy chains are being created. That is allowing exactly the kind of economies that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, with a chief executive overlooking a number of primary schools. I therefore endorse his point.

Neil Carmichael: I thank the hon. Gentleman very much—I do like to be endorsed every now and again, and that was firm and fair.

Let me reiterate the point about free schools, which are obviously an alternative when a local authority is unwilling to countenance the continuation of schools. It is essential that local communities take hold of the powers and opportunities that the coalition Government have given them to voice what they want.

Mr Reed: The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting points, but one issue underlying a lot of the contributions that hon. Members have made is that school failures, for want of a better term, occur in areas of market failure. That is a fundamental problem, and we need to grasp it. It has been evident in England’s rural areas since the war, and it has been accelerating since then. These areas of market failure often have little, if any, real social capital. Are we really telling them, “You either have a free school or an academy, or we withdraw provision”? I do not think that we are, are we?

Neil Carmichael: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that interesting intervention—I do not think that it was an endorsement. I am challenging the old way of doing things, with local authorities providing schools and everything that was necessary. We have to take a step away from saying, “The local authority must do this, because it’s always been there, and that’s the way we like it.” We have to move towards a situation where we encourage communities to decide for themselves what they want and to move in the appropriate direction, seizing the opportunities and the tools that the coalition Government are providing. I am saying we should think of a different way of looking at this problem; we should not just go back to the local authority and say, “You must do this.” Instead, we have to go down the academy and the free schools route, if that is what communities want, because a sustainable community will be even more sustainable if it is in charge of its destiny. That is the point that I would make in response to the hon. Gentleman.

I am a great supporter of rural schools. They are absolutely important. They are a part of the rural fabric, make villages work, encourage farmers to be farmers and encourage local people to stay in local areas. However, we need to be more alert to changes that are already in train that will make it easier for many schools to prosper.

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We also need to address the fundamental and clearly most important question, which I raised initially, about the funding formula.

I support small rural schools. I have plenty in Gloucestershire and I want to see them thrive. The critical point that all of us must understand—I will end on this—is that all schools must strive to be really good schools. It is not good enough to say, “We have a rural school. Great.” Rural schools must provide first-class education. That must be the key test. That is what governs me and that is what I always think when I go around schools in my constituency of Stroud.

3.20 pm

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) on securing today’s interesting and important debate and on making a powerful case. He told us about the proposal to close Captain Shaw’s school in Bootle in his constituency, which has 16 pupils. I think we would all agree that, in bringing the matters before the House today, he has represented his constituents with great passion. Such decisions can be made only at a local level, but it is right for my hon. Friend to seek to raise the profile of the issue by securing today’s debate. The points that he has raised here should be fully considered by the local authority before making any final decision.

We also had interesting contributions from a number of hon. Members today, including the hon. Members for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) and for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and—in a rather impromptu manner, but no less interesting and important —the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael).

Before I start, I should set out my own credentials and declare that I live in a distinctly urban area of Newcastle upon Tyne, and it takes me only three hours to arrive here by train. None the less, there is a strong case to be made here in today’s important debate about the issues that face rural communities, especially in relation to schools.

Contrary to the assertions made by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, Labour had, within a year of coming into government, introduced a presumption against closures of rural schools. The year in which the number of rural school closures was the highest was 1983, when 127 were closed. The rate of closures continued at about 30 a year until 1997. The measures taken by Labour reduced closures to an average of seven a year throughout the period we were in government. Furthermore, under the Education and Inspections Act 2006, the presumption against closure was strengthened by requiring that the closure of rural schools must take the effect on the community into account and look at alternatives.

Mr Andrew Turner: Will the hon. Lady tell me whether the closure of schools under the Labour Government could have been stopped at the national level?

Catherine McKinnell: Sorry. I did not quite understand the question.

Mr Turner: I am trying to ask whether under the previous Government, closure of schools could have been stopped, as it had been before 1997, by the Government.

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Catherine McKinnell: That is a point to be debated. I think the hon. Gentleman was asking whether the Secretary of State could have intervened to stop the closure of state schools.

Mr Turner indicated assent.

Catherine McKinnell: Not during that period, and not now.

Rory Stewart: I do not wish to debate statistics, but I am afraid that the idea that the average rate of school closures since 1997 is seven is a severe underestimation. I could name, off the top of my head, seven schools in my own constituency that were closed in the past five years.

Catherine McKinnell: No, but I agree that the hon. Gentleman has made a powerful case for the concerns in the area, regarding the decline that he feels he has witnessed in his area. I feel that all hon. Members today have made a powerful case for state intervention, particularly in such areas, and for serious consideration to be given to how the state can intervene in the market to try to ensure that rural areas do not suffer disproportionately, particularly in the cuts environment that we are facing at the moment. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to the concerns that have been raised today.

Neil Carmichael: I do not think I was making a case for state intervention. I was making a case for empowering our local communities to take charge of their own schools and to take hold of the opportunities given by the Academies Act 2010, autonomous schools and active, vibrant communities.

Catherine McKinnell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his clarification. The overall impression that I got from hon. Members’ contributions today is that there clearly is a powerful case for concern about a purely market-led approach to education and the impact that that can have on rural communities.

Mr Reed: There is a world of difference between allowing communities to flourish and determine their own future, and throwing areas of market failure further to the forces and whims of the marketplace. Does my hon. Friend agree that we are all struggling with the following point? We are all debating different notions of rurality, and we are not considering some things that she will be aware of—as this is writ large in her own constituency—which are issues and notions of peripherality? They are the big issues that are driving the problem.

Catherine McKinnell: That is something we have witnessed not just in rural areas, but in urban areas. We need to ensure that taxpayers’ money and state support goes to all areas and all children—at the end of the day, they are what we are talking about today—that they benefit equally, and that that support is distributed equally across the country. We are debating that important wider issue.

Sometimes, when we consider all the factors, including the cost of additional school transport and the extreme case that was mentioned, in Alston in Penrith and The Border, it can make the case for closure of a small rural school more marginal. We were clear about the need to

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presume against closing rural schools when we were in government. In January 2008, the then Schools Minister, Jim Knight, now Lord Knight of Weymouth in another place, wrote to local education authorities. He said:

“Over the last 10 years, we have made it a statutory requirement for councils to presume that rural schools should stay open. There is not, and never has been, any policy for closing rural schools...We require councils to assess the full impact of closure on rural communities and allow every single parent to have their voice heard—and I am writing to local authorities to underline their legal duty to protect popular rural schools. This is not about funding. This is caused by falling birth rates coupled with families moving from rural to urban areas, which leaves some communities with falling numbers of pupils.”

He also said that local authorities should think creatively about their future planning and look at forming federations or consider collocating with other services to ensure that their buildings are viable.

Labour’s record was to reduce significantly the rate of rural school closures and to make it more difficult for failing ones to automatically lead to the seemingly easy option of closure.

One way of keeping rural schools open is to ensure that there are more opportunities for them to collaborate in an imaginative way. Despite the rhetoric that the Government sometimes spout, no school is an island. In the case of rural schools, that is particularly important—a point that has been highlighted by hon. Members today.

Under the previous Government, the Department for Children, Schools and Families undertook a research study in 2009 to look at case studies of formal collaborations between small rural primary schools in ways that could improve their services and viability. We saw examples of that occurring in sharing business managers and head teachers, creating patterns of executive leadership and sharing governance through federations and shared trusts. The study found a rich variety of informal collaborations but less awareness of formal collaborative models. It found that many of the 2,500 or so small primary schools in the country could benefit from more formal collaborations.

The main recommendations of the report include: producing better information and guidance of statutory models of collaboration; local authorities should develop strategic plans to promote formal collaborations; local authorities and Church of England dioceses should co-operate more closely; and local authorities should advocate formal collaborations more effectively through governing bodies and local communities.

One of the collaborations that was looked at involved shared trusts. In the unbalanced debate that there is at the moment because of the obsession with free schools and academies, not enough attention is being paid to the potential of trusts not only to keep open small rural schools, but to provide a coherent and integrated model of education in rural areas.

One of the most exciting developments is the spread of co-operative trusts. There are now more than 150 co-operative schools across the country. Particularly in areas such as Cornwall, there is real interest in that approach. Supporting co-operative models was a policy of the previous Labour Government and a commitment in “The Children’s Plan,” launched in 2007. By embedding what is essentially a social enterprise ethos in schools,

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co-operative schools can be based on values of collaboration and partnership, rather than the negative forms of competition between schools that the Government sometimes seem to advocate.

I shall put to the Minister questions that follow on from the points that I have raised and that respond to the points highlighted by other hon. Members. What are the Government doing to promote and encourage co-operative schools, particularly in rural areas? What are they doing to permit resources to promote the co-operative school model in the same way as they have earmarked funds for their pet project of free schools? How much money in total has the Minister allocated to the free schools policy? To what extent could that be diverted to other proposals? How much does it work out at per pupil? How many rural school closures could be prevented if money allocated to free schools in areas where there is a shortage of pupil places were diverted to small rural communities such as the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland is so concerned about? Will the Minister retain the previous Government’s presumption against closing rural schools? Will he guarantee that the current Government will ensure that the rate of rural closures does not go up on his watch? I have concerns and, indeed, there are many concerns among Labour Members that an over-focus on peripheral projects means that the Government are in danger of forgetting about the real issues that face rural schools. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

3.32 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) on securing this important debate. Cumbria in general and his constituency in particular are clearly among the most beautiful parts of the country. It was a pleasure to be in Cumbria this week, visiting schools—they were not in his constituency, but in a neighbouring one. There were times during this debate when I felt that there was an almost Mr Bounderby-esque competition to represent the constituency that was the furthest from London and the most sparsely populated. Of course, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) conceded that she would be in last place in such a competition.

The Government share the hon. Gentleman’s views on the importance of small rural schools. We recognise the contribution that they make, and that often they are at the heart of their communities. Rural schools play an important role in our education system. Of the 18,500 maintained schools, 5,400 are rural schools. As of this month, there is a total of 312 rural academies, including converters, and 1,294 urban academies.

Small schools are classified as state-funded primary schools with fewer than 100 pupils and state-funded secondary schools with fewer than 600 pupils. There are 57 small academies, of which eight are rural schools, and 2,800 maintained small schools, of which 2,300 are rural schools. Of those, 525 schools have fewer than 50 pupils on their roll, of which only 14 are not rural schools.

There are many high-performing rural schools that are popular with parents, and the Government want to see good and accessible schools in every community. However, as we have debated today, schools in rural

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areas face particular challenges, including smaller pupil numbers, budget and resource pressures, greater difficulty in recruiting head teachers and teaching staff, the technological challenges of ensuring adequate broadband, and less peer support from schools in neighbouring areas. All those pressures can lead, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), to the hollowing out of rural areas. He made a powerful speech in defence of rural areas.

However, although it is true that some rural schools are isolated, there are good examples of effective collaboration —something referred to by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North—and a growing trend towards federation, as pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey). Some schools in her constituency share head teachers. That helps to preserve the focus of education within the locality, while allowing the operation of a larger management unit and offering some economies of scale.

There is also a growing trend for good and outstanding rural schools to convert to academy status. We encourage such applications, in line with the Government’s overarching ambition for all schools to become academies—that was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael)—so that more children can benefit from the improved standards and autonomy that academy status brings. To support that intention further, the new academy presumption in the Education Act 2011 requires local authorities first to seek proposals for an academy or free school where they consider that there is a need for a new school. The Government’s free schools policy supports rural school provision, as it can respond directly to local parental demand—that was also pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud—and it adds diversity, innovation and commitment to the school system. Again, we encourage rural groups and parents to consider applying to establish a new free school where they think there is a need. There are already three small rural free schools, with a further 18 in the pipeline.

Home-to-school transport will invariably be part of any discussion about rural schools, as pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal. That will be the case particularly where a school is proposed for closure and the pupils will need transportation to a different school in a different village. We know how crucial transport is to rural communities. The Department for Transport has provided £10 million of extra funding for community transport in rural areas. Of course, local authorities need to consider transport costs when they consider the projected savings from closing a school.

I was struck by the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) about a rural school in his constituency. It was a village school that closed. Later, a new housing development was built, which required all the children from that housing development to get on a bus to a village several miles away, at considerable cost to the local authority.

Mr Reed: The Minister is making a very informed and intelligent series of comments, but how can we expect academies and free schools to flourish in the areas that we are talking about? The areas facing these difficulties and problems with school closures are typically areas where there is no social capital and where civic society has either withered or largely gone, yet we are

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expecting the people in those areas to take up the cudgels and run schools. There is a tension and a problem there. How do we get around that?

Mr Gibb: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, but there are very determined parents in all communities in all parts of the country. We have seen that. Many people have been surprised by quite how much demand there has been to set up free schools. The number of applications has been in the hundreds, and although there is a very rigorous vetting procedure that needs to be gone through before people can continue on to a business case, those applications have come from a wide variety of parts of the population—rich and poor, north and south and rural and urban—so if I was the hon. Gentleman, I would not be too pessimistic about who might come forward with such a suggestion. Also, some of the academy chains may wish to establish new free schools in areas where they perceive that there is an educational need, particularly in areas of deprivation, which can of course, as he and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North point out, be rural as well as urban.

Local authorities are responsible for the maintained schools in their area and as such they can propose changes, including closures, to those schools. Where changes are proposed, the local authority must follow a statutory process that includes consultation of those likely to be affected by the proposals. The proposals are then decided on under local decision-making arrangements by the authority. The Government have repealed the so-called surplus places rule, which obliged local authorities to remove surplus places in their school estate above 25%. Of course, local authorities are still obliged to ensure value for money. When considering whether to approve proposals to close a school, local authorities must have regard to DFE guidance for decision makers. That includes the presumption against closure for rural primary schools. As the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North said, such arrangements were introduced by the previous Government, but in answer to her specific question, this Government continue to support such a presumption. Although it does not mean that rural schools will never close, it does ensure that a local authority’s case for closure must be strong. Of course if local authorities are under a regulatory duty to eliminate surplus places, that would—and did—act as a countervailing pressure to close schools. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed made an important point about how circumstances can change.

Rory Stewart: Will the Minister explain what is happening with this long-term trend? Contrary to the claims of the shadow Minister that an average of seven schools a year were closed during that 13-year period, the Department’s figures suggest that the number of schools nationally has fallen from 26,362 in 1997 to 24,605 in 2010. If all these safeguards and formulae are in place to prevent schools from being closed, why have nearly 2,000 gone?

Mr Gibb: I stand to be corrected, but I think that my hon. Friend is citing the figure for schools overall. There was a considerable number of school closures, and we were concerned in opposition about the number of Titan schools that were developing. The average size of a secondary school, and indeed of a primary school, increased during that period. Much of that was driven

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by the regulatory statutory requirement on local authorities actively to eliminate surplus places beyond 25%. That has now led to problems. The birth rate has risen and there is an increasing demand on primary school places, and we now have to rebuild, purchase or expand primary schools to cope with the rise in numbers.

There is a case for saying, “Why don’t we mothball classrooms, because in several years’ time we could see an increase in the birth rate?” However, that comes at a cost, which local authorities must take into account when they make such decisions. As far as rural schools are concerned, my understanding is that the introduction to that presumption did reduce the numbers of rural school closures from about 30 a year to an average of 11 in recent years. None the less, I stand to be challenged by my hon. Friend at any point.

Rory Stewart rose—

Mr Gibb: Indeed, I stand to be challenged right now.

Rory Stewart: I am so sorry. I hesitate to quote, but the Conservatives’ own manifesto on rural areas based on freedom of information requests to local councils established that more than 400 rural schools were closed between 1997 and 2010.

Mr Gibb: I am rapidly trying to calculate 400 divided by 13. I will come back to my hon. Friend when I am sure that I have all the mathematics absolutely correct, that we are both defining rural schools on the same basis, and that we are not conflating rural and small. I will write to my hon. Friend because I want to know the answer to this question as well.

The protection for rural academies lies in their seven-year funding agreement with the Secretary of State, which requires his consent before it can be terminated.

Let me turn to the issue of school funding. The main funding issue faced by rural schools is that, as they are generally much smaller than schools in urban areas, they do not benefit from the same economies of scale. Our analysis shows that it is small primary schools in particular that need additional support to remain viable. The hon. Member for Copeland and my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border pointed out the discrepancy in funding that Cumbria receives—£4,828 per pupil compared with £5,082 on average nationally. That puts Cumbria 105th out of 151 local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) has taken an active role, as part of the f40 group—the Campaign for Fairer Funding in Education—in trying to address these issues.

Mr Robin Walker: I thank the Minister for his kind words and for giving way. Given that the Government are preparing to respond to their consultation on the funding formula and that the previous Government recognised that the funding formula was in need of reform, would he agree to meet me and other MPs representing f40 constituencies to hear the concerns of the group ahead of the Government’s official response?

Mr Gibb: I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who are part of the f40 group to discuss their concerns about the funding. We

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do want to address these disparities in our funding system. That is why proposals in the “Consultation on School Funding Reform: Proposals for a Fairer System,” which we undertook in 2011, looked at how small schools could be better protected, as well as at the underlying discrepancies and unfairness that are in the current system. We would like to address the disparities in the rural schools either through a sparsity weighting or, in the case of primary schools, through a lump sum figure. The lump sum suggested in the consultation—I emphasise that it is only a consultation at this stage—is £95,000.

We have published a summary of responses that we are considering and we will make a further announcement in the spring. We had better arrange this meeting with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members before that response; otherwise, the meeting might seem a little superfluous.

In the interim, for 2011-12 and 2012-13, we have set a cash floor of minus 2%, which means that, in practice, no local authority will see a drop in its dedicated schools grant allocation of more than 2% regardless of pupil numbers. That is to protect local authorities that have falling pupil numbers.

I understand the local community’s passion for Captain Shaw’s school in the constituency of the hon. Member for Copeland. I can see why it is the “beating heart” of the community and why it is supported by an “indomitable community spirit.” As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed pointed out, people prefer to see village children attending their local school, being heard at playtime and being seen walking home instead of arriving home half an hour or an hour later on a school bus. I understand that the local authority in Cumbria has provided small school support through its funding formula and that the school has received a one-off schools in financial difficulty allocation to protect its budget concerns.

3.47 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.57 pm

On resuming—

Mr Gibb: It is nice to be back after that short interlude to vote in the main Chamber. I see that we are now a little more sparsely populated than earlier, but I understand the pressures on hon. Members, and their commitments in the House.

I want to finish by commenting on the local authority and Captain Shaw’s school. It is concerned that the school has a capacity for 56 pupils but is now teaching only 16, which indicates issues about the popularity of the school. The local authority undertook a consultation on the proposed closure of Captain Shaw’s school and on Monday, after consideration by its scrutiny committee, it took the decision to go ahead and publish statutory proposals for the closure. Now a statutory process must be followed, and that will be decided by the local authority. As a voluntary school, Captain Shaw’s has a right of appeal to the independent schools adjudicator if it does not agree with the local authority’s decision.

The hon. Member for Copeland asked whether Ministers can intervene in the closure process. The Secretary of State cannot normally intervene in closure processes, but can do so under the general powers, where the local

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authority has not performed the statutory duty or has behaved unreasonably in that judicial review legal sense. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this, general funding issues for schools in rural areas and the other matters that he referred to in his speech.

Finally, I can confirm that the Department for Education is very committed to and ambitious for rural communities and their schools. We recognise the importance of preserving access to a local school for rural communities, and that is why we will be contributing to the Government’s rural statement, recognising the importance of ensuring that rural communities thrive, benefit from and contribute to sustainable economic growth, and are able to identify and address local needs. As part of that, we are working to ensure that there is greater choice in rural areas, that standards are improved by increasing the number of academies and free schools, and that the number of rural school closures is kept to a minimum.

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4.1 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I am delighted to serve under you today, Mr Weir, and I am pleased to have secured this debate on an issue that I know is of interest to a number of Members from all parties. I pay tribute to the Minister present, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), who has taken a keen interest in this area, and with whom I have had a number of meetings. I am a little disappointed that the debate is a short one and that I can give only the headline figures. There are many issues to raise, but I will try to concentrate on just a few.

I pay tribute to my constituent, Glenn Wilkinson, and to his family, who first came to see me in 2010 to tell me their story, and to raise the scandal of how he and thousands of others had received contaminated blood products as part of their treatment as haemophiliacs. There are two main parts to what I want to say today: the first is on the ongoing treatment for haemophiliacs, and the second is on the care, support and treatment offered to people who have contracted viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C through NHS treatment for haemophilia. I also want to pay tribute to the work, over many years, of the Haemophilia Society, and of campaign groups such as TaintedBlood and the Manor House Group, and also to the work of the Newcastle initiative, which was born out of a multidisciplinary workshop on haemophilia care held in the city in autumn 2010.

Turning first to treatment, I want to concentrate on the need to ensure that the care and treatment of people affected by bleeding disorders is addressed in the NHS reforms that are currently before Parliament. The haemophilia community has been the subject of what Lord Winston described in his evidence to the Archer inquiry as the

“worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS”.

There has been much progress in haemophilia treatment over the past decade, but it is now under threat, as is much else, from the Health and Social Care Bill, and I will go on to explain why. Standards of care vary considerably around the country, and there is the risk that the new commissioning arrangements for specialist services will result in a levelling down, rather than up, in haemophilia care.

Haemophilia services are currently commissioned by 10 regional specialist commissioning groups, with funds pooled from their constituent primary care trusts. The Department of Health has also injected extra funding for haemophilia care, which rose to £88 million per annum between 2003 and 2006, to finance the provision to all patients of recombinant rather than plasma-derived clotting factors. That money remains important to the quality of care, but has more recently been absorbed into PCTs’ baseline budgets, and I seek reassurance from the Minister that the money will still be available for haemophilia care post the NHS reforms. I understand that from April 2013 specialist services will become the responsibility of the NHS Commissioning Board rather than of the 10 specialist commissioning groups. That could mean that best practice is spread across England, but equally, there is the danger that under financial pressure standards will be levelled down.

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I also want to raise with the Minister the question of where responsibility for haemophilia policy will sit. Because of the contaminated blood scandal, the Department of Health has taken a leading role in the development of that policy, and it is unclear whether after the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill that role will be maintained, or all responsibility will pass to the NHS Commissioning Board. It would help if the Minister could set out her understanding of where that responsibility will sit. Also, will the twice-yearly liaison meetings between the Department and the Haemophilia Society continue? Those meetings were established in direct response to the Archer inquiry’s recommendation that a statutory committee be established to advise the Government on clinical, financial and other provisions for people with haemophilia. There is also a call for a new national policy statement on haemophilia care to replace health service guidance (93) 30, which is now nearly 20 years old and no longer reflects best practice. Can the Minister confirm that that will happen at this stage?

Does the Minister agree with the need to support the development of robust haemophilia networks to combine the best of local care with access to tertiary expertise 24 hours a day? For example, in a recent survey by the Haemophilia Society, only 15% of respondents were aware of having been offered a care plan. In both the report of that survey, entitled “Fit for the Future: Haemophilia Services in the New NHS”, and in the Newcastle initiative’s paper, “Learning from the past to inform the future”, it was found that standards of treatment and care were generally high, which is very encouraging, but that access to the provision of associated services, including dentistry, physiotherapy and psychological support, required significant improvement. The reports also concluded that patients must be given a comprehensive care plan, that they must be able to access home treatment, and that they must be involved in all decisions about all their treatment. Those goals are partially but not consistently met under the current system, and we would, of course, like to see consistency across the whole country.

All Governments have said that lessons about treatment have been learnt from the contaminated blood scandal and that there is a need to maintain the highest standards of care so to avoid any repetition of it.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this matter to Westminster Hall. Is she concerned about the level of support given to haemophiliacs who have received blood contaminated with HIV or hepatitis C? Should an additional level of care and assistance be given to those who suffer through no fault of their own but because of the blood?

Diana Johnson: I will come on to deal with the financial support that is available to individuals who have had contaminated blood products and now have HIV or hepatitis C, because that is an important issue.

To finish this first section on the treatment of haemophilia, may I ask the Minister to confirm that there should be continued research, for example into sterilisation in areas with a high risk of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob

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disease contamination, in order to support the need to ensure that a contaminated blood scandal never happens again?

The second part of my speech relates to contaminated blood. In recent months, along with many other Members of Parliament, I have been raising the issue of care and support offered to victims of the NHS contaminated blood scandal, as it has come to be known over the past 30 years. My constituent Glenn Wilkinson has campaigned tirelessly for proper support for those who have received contaminated blood products as part of treatment for haemophilia or via other medical treatments, such as blood transfusion in childbirth.

This week, Glenn and other campaigners established the contaminated blood campaign. The treatment of people who contracted hepatitis C from NHS-administered blood products has been particularly unfair, and many of those people have, unfortunately, died already. The campaign set up by Glenn is also fighting for an independent public inquiry on the same lines as the report in Ireland and the Scottish Penrose inquiry, which I believe is due to conclude shortly.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this excellent and timely debate. I have worked closely with her on the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood. Her constituent was instrumental in setting up the new contaminated blood campaign. It would be good if the Minister could pledge to meet leaders of the new campaign to discuss some of the issues and move forward. I know that the Minister has met regularly with some victims of the contaminated blood scandal. This would be a good opportunity to pledge to meet those campaigners and to keep that good communication going.

Diana Johnson: I am grateful for that intervention. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his involvement in and hard work on behalf of the all-party group. He makes an excellent point in asking the Minister whether she will find time. I know that she has a busy diary, but she has made time in the past to meet victims and Members of Parliament. I hope that that will happen in future as well.

On compensation for those infected by contaminated blood products, the Macfarlane Trust was set up in 1988 for people infected with HIV. In 2004, the previous Labour Government established the Skipton fund. In 2010, the incoming Government undertook to review the support available to individuals. Some progress was made, but unfortunately, there are still problems with the system.

In particular, I am concerned about the fact that the Government have introduced a two-stage payment for hepatitis C, but the criteria for determining the second stage are still fraught with difficulties for many. As I understand it, only about 20% of those people with hepatitis C are eligible for assistance via the second stage payment. That must be looked at. My constituent Glenn has produced evidence that removing the artificial distinction between stages 1 and 2 could be achieved and would cost about £22 million, which I am led to believe could be reallocated from the under-spend of other available compensatory pockets of money.

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Welfare reform is an issue for the group of people we are discussing. We have had a lot of discussion in the House of Commons about the impact of welfare reform on cancer patients, but there is a special case to be made for people with hepatitis C.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend on obtaining the debate. She speaks powerfully for her constituents, as well as for my constituents, Fred Bates and Peter Mossman, who will be grateful.

The core theme of my hon. Friend’s powerful speech is trust. The trust of that community was shattered by their experience. This Minister is trying hard to restore that confidence, and her work is important, but is it not the case that the needs of our constituents with haemophilia who have been infected with hepatitis C and other infections should always come first now, not last, after the dreadful experience that they have had?

Diana Johnson: My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point about trust and the need for us all to work together to ensure that those people do not suffer further, and that they get the compensation and support they are clearly due.

I want to concentrate on hepatitis C sufferers for a minute. I believe that they will be unfairly penalised by the Government’s plans in the Welfare Reform Bill. In a debate in October 2010, I asked the Minister whether it would be possible for people with hepatitis C and HIV to be passported on to the new system. The Haemophilia Society has also asked about people with fluctuating medical conditions, such as bleeding disorders, particularly those with viral infections from contaminated blood products. People suffering from fluctuating medical conditions such as haemophilia, HIV and hepatitis C tend to have good days and bad days.

The Haemophilia Society recommends that the work capability assessment be suspended for people with fluctuating conditions until Professor Harrington has considered the representations of the Disability Benefits Consortium. Many people living with hepatitis C in particular have been placed in the work-related activity group of the new employment and support allowance, rather than in the support group, where benefits will continue indefinitely. That has two consequences: it means that sufferers will have to have annual assessments, and that, after 12 months, their benefits will become means-tested. That is effectively penalising people for prudent behaviour and hard work while they were well enough to be employed.

People diagnosed with hepatitis C know that they are unlikely to be able to continue working until normal retirement age. Furthermore, people must currently wait up to 11 months for a tribunal appeal. It is to be noted that appeals for hepatitis C sufferers have a particularly high success rate. Automatically moving contaminated blood product victims into the support group would save patients stress and the Government money.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Lady for her graciousness in giving way. Many haemophiliacs have suffered from poverty and discrimination because of contaminated blood. Does she not feel for that reason that the Government must urgently address those still suffering from such maladies?

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Diana Johnson: The hon. Gentleman makes that point powerfully. To quote from the report “Fit for the Future”, to which I referred earlier, an individual was asked what could be done to improve their quality of life and said:

“I think the most obvious thing to do would be to be spared the ordeal of having to do battle with the Government for financial security and not having to justify my right to sickness benefit”.

Let us keep working on compensation and related issues to improve life in the longer term for haemophiliacs and all innocent victims of contaminated blood products. In the shorter term, when considering NHS and welfare reforms, let us ensure those people’s lives do not get any worse.

4.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Weir. I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for securing the debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the issue. I also thank her particularly for her comments about the contact that we have had. I will continue to keep in contact with her and many other Members who continue to highlight the specific issues suffered by their constituents. I know that Glenn Wilkinson and others, some of them not still with us, have worked tirelessly on the issue.

I was interested to hear about the new campaign. Of course I will meet its representatives, as I continue to do. This is an opportunity to say that Whitehall can be distant from the rest of the population. As a Minister, I will, as all Ministers should, use the opportunity that Back-Bench and Opposition Members have given us to ensure that we stay in touch and do not become insulated from what is happening in people’s lives.

I wish that I could make up for what happened. It is a very long and sad saga. I can do only what I can do starting from here. I am also aware of the fact that it will never really be enough, because I cannot turn back the clock, but what matters is that we keep contact going.

The hon. Lady asked specifically about future commissioning arrangements and specialised services for haemophilia and other related bleeding disorders. As she has rightly said, those services are currently commissioned at a regional level by specialist commissioning groups. We are working with the NHS to produce a list of specialised services to go in a new set of regulations for the NHS Commissioning Board. At the moment, we are not able to produce a final list, but a list of services currently set out in the Specialised Services National Definitions Set—the titles that the Department of Health and others come up with are extraordinary—will form a basis for the Commissioning Board’s final list. I expect that we will be in a position to announce that list of services in the coming months, at which point it will be subject to consultation.

The hon. Lady is right to say that that will be an opportunity to share best practice. I get frustrated when I hear that some areas do things well, while others do not or do not adopt the same sort of best practice. The hon. Lady has voiced her concerns and fears that this could lead to services being levelled down, but I think there will be an opportunity—I was born an optimist—to share best practice. The financial arrangements for this particular group of people affected by contaminated

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blood will remain an issue for the Department of Health. What matters on services, however, is that we ensure that best practice is shared.

The hon. Lady mentioned care plans. As somebody who trained as a nurse and who worked in the NHS for 25 years, I get frustrated about this issue, because everybody should have a care plan and everybody should be involved in it. The plan should involve all the different agencies, including the local authority on housing and social services on social care. It could also involve the voluntary sector for people who are isolated. A number of agencies can improve the quality of life and ensure that people’s lives are fulfilling and meaningful.

Today, treatment for haemophilia is much improved. On the issue of blood safety, which the hon. Lady raised, some haemophilia patients still need to be treated with products that have been manufactured from human plasma, but those products are manufactured under very strict safeguards. Many haemophilia patients are now treated with synthetic products, and both types of product are extremely safe. Lessons have been learned. The shadow of what happened all those years ago continues to hang over us and everybody involved with the safety of blood products.

Synthetic and plasma-derived clotting factors are procured nationally by the Department, with commissioners and clinical and patient representatives involved from an early stage. That means that the NHS buys products that are not only cost-effective, but reflect what patients and doctors actually need. In turn, manufacturers and suppliers can better understand what matters to the people who use those products. At the end of the day, that is what should matter to us.

To further improve patient involvement, the Department of Health has brought the Haemophilia Alliance into discussions on all the issues that affect haemophilia patients. The alliance is made up of patients, clinicians and other professionals involved in haemophilia care, and I am grateful to those who give up their time to involve themselves in it so positively.

A decontamination research funding initiative worth about £2.4 million over four years was announced in 2011. It will address the decontamination of surgical instruments, improving the effectiveness of washer disinfectors and exploring contamination and novel technological approaches to the decontamination of endoscopy scopes. These products will also have wider applicability to human prion diseases, such as CJD, and other health-care-associated infections. Some issues are unresolved, because the proven and effective technologies needed to address them do not yet exist. There will continue to be money in research until we are absolutely sure that we have done all we can.

When people were infected with hepatitis C and HIV, it also had a significant effect on their families. We often forget that such issues have a massive ripple effect, not just on immediate family but on distant family. In January 2011 the Secretary of State announced that we would provide additional support, not just for haemophilia patients, but for anyone infected with HIV or hepatitis C by NHS blood transfusion. That support includes ensuring that the annual payment for those infected with HIV is linked to inflation; introducing a similar payment for those most seriously affected by hepatitis C; and increasing

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the value of the lump sum. The support will also make £300,000 available over three years for counselling services. I find it interesting to look at the uptake for such things, because it lets us know when we have hit the target. It is so important that I continue to get that feedback. The combination of fixed and discretionary payments provides flexibility to enable them to be tailored to meet individual personal needs.

I know that there is concern that insufficient support is available for people who have developed hepatitis C, particularly the Skipton Fund stage 1 recipients. The scientific and clinical advice that we received during the review that we conducted in autumn 2010 did not support regular annual payments to everyone infected with hepatitis C, many of whom go on to clear the virus. I was delighted to hear from one such person, who has campaigned actively. New treatments are available, improving the prognosis for some infected patients, but I know—I think the hon. Lady was at the same meeting as me recently—that concern remains about the cut-off.

I know that one of the constituents of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North has worked out the potential cost of removing the distinction between stage 1 and stage 2, but the current system of payments for hepatitis C is itself based on expert clinical and scientific review, which continues to support the two-tier system. Evidence, however, evolves and it would be arrogant of a Minister to say, “That’s it for ever.” It is terribly important, as I hear about the experiences of the constituents of individual Members, that I continue to receive advice, so that what we do is relative to the current expertise.

I apologise to the hon. Lady for not responding to her e-mail about my meeting with the expert group, but I was delaying my response while departmental officials worked out the details of the meeting. I am pleased to say that I will write to the relevant patient groups, asking them to nominate two people—I think that seems about right—to represent them at the meeting. I think that will be important.

The hon. Lady is probably aware of the Caxton Foundation, which provides support tailored to the needs of those affected. All payments made by the foundation are for the trustees to decide. I have met the trustees and their feedback is important in enabling us to see how the support works. The charity’s objectives are laid out in its trust deed, and it is accountable to the Charity Commission. I do not have any powers to direct it, but it has to be kept under review.

Paul Goggins: On the Caxton Foundation, in future will the Minister take particular notice of the needs of carers? It is important that that fund is in a position to support carers as well as those directly affected.

Anne Milton: Yes. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that point. The discretionary ability to distribute funds is important. He is absolutely right to raise the issue of carers, who are all too often forgotten.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North mentioned the capability assessment. She might want to initiate a similar debate on that issue. Health conditions are not automatically a barrier to work, but we recognise that they are for some people. Indeed, some people will never work and we must make sure that we support them. It would probably not be right—this is certainly

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not in my gift—to give automatic exemptions, but I urge the hon. Lady to raise the issue with the Secretary of State and the Minister responsible.

Diana Johnson: It would be powerful if the Minister made representations to a fellow Minister. Has she had the opportunity to do that with her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions?

Anne Milton: As the hon. Lady rightly states, in my ministerial role, my responsibility is the health and well-being of the population. I will always continue to make representations, which often taken place—although sometimes they do not happen in the public eye. Just a word about the Lord Penrose inquiry: we will give assistance, but we will not be commenting on that. I have had a few letters about that. I will comment at the end of the inquiry.

The issue of trust has been raised. I will finish by saying that I know a lot of trust was damaged and that that has flavoured many things since then for good but also for ill. That is an extremely difficult issue and I would not presume to say that I can ever get anyone’s trust back for what has happened and what successive previous Governments have done or failed to do. I hope that we will continue to work constructively with other hon. Members to ensure that this group of people get the help and support that they need.

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Human Trafficking

4.30 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I must first thank the Speaker for granting a very important debate on the need for a national rapporteur on human trafficking.

I am delighted to see that the excellent Minister for Immigration will be replying to the debate. He is well known for his commitment to fighting the evil of human trafficking and, along with the Prime Minister, he has the desire to put the United Kingdom at the forefront of that fight. Sometimes it is like pushing at an open door, and I am really grateful that he is here. I would also like to thank James Newhall, my special adviser on human trafficking, and Tatiana Jordan, who is working in my office as an intern. She did much of the research and drafted this speech.

At the beginning of any human trafficking debate, thanks must be given to Anthony Steen, the former Member for Totnes. If he had not raised the issue of human trafficking in the previous Parliament, we would not be where we are today. Anthony has helpfully made a number of suggestions that have been incorporated into this speech.

As chairman of the all-party group against human trafficking, I would like to say that there is one small area where the Government could move the cause forward, improve the fight against trafficking and, at the same time, save taxpayers’ money. One of the problems surrounding human trafficking is the lack of reliable information and data analysis permitting us to assess the scope of the problem in our country. The solution in the UK to that challenge is to establish an independent national rapporteur.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the debate and on the excellent work he is doing as chairman of the all-party group against human trafficking. Does he agree that a positive example has been provided by the Dutch national rapporteur in this area, who since 2000 has made some 200 recommendations to the Dutch Government, many of which have led to improvements in Government policy in the field of human trafficking in that country?

Mr Bone: I am very glad that I gave way to my hon. Friend who is, of course, a very worthy colleague of mine on the all-party group. She is absolutely right about the Dutch rapporteur, about whom I will say a bit more later in my speech.

An e-petition on the subject reads as follows:

“Human trafficking is serious, international, organised crime. The money generated from it (an estimated $32 billion per annum worldwide) is only marginally less than from arms dealing and drug smuggling. Tackling it is a priority for all political parties and the current Government. Much effort is expended by NGOs, Police, Social Services and other key Government agencies, to tackle human trafficking in the UK and protect its victims. However currently there is no independent monitoring system to ensure that work is effective and coordinated. We call on the Government to establish an independent watchdog, in line with the recommendations of the CoE Convention on trafficking in human beings, to which the UK is a party, to monitor the

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performance of key agencies ensuring that victims’ needs and experience are central. The watchdog should report to Parliament on a regular basis to ensure transparency and accountability.”

Like many other e-petitions, once it reaches 100,000 signatures, the Backbench Business Committee can consider it for a debate. I am on the Backbench Business Committee, too.

I am pleased to be able to say to the Minister that that e-petition is well on the way to succeeding. This morning, I checked how many signatures there were and I am pleased to say that there were 116. That highlights the problem of the issue. Human trafficking is evil, wicked and underground. It is modern-day slavery, but so few people know about it. A national rapporteur would unite all our anti-trafficking efforts under one roof and guide us through the main challenges, making recommendations on measures that might be required on a policy level to protect victims’ rights and prosecute the traffickers.

As stated by our gutsy Home Secretary in “Human Trafficking: the Government’s Strategy”:

“The UK has a good record in tackling human trafficking...We need to do more to stop this horrific crime…By applying to opt in to the EU Directive on human trafficking, we have demonstrated our commitment to working with other countries in Europe to drive up standards across the continent in tackling trafficking.”

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining the debate. May I put on the record my appreciation and that of the people of Northern Ireland for his attendance at a conference last Friday night in Northern Ireland that brought a lot of groups together? We would like to put on the record our appreciation for his attendance and for his speaking at that debate. I am sure that he will agree that we need to do something drastically, whether through a rapporteur or whatever, because, as he has highlighted, there are 116 signatures and we have a long way to go to get 100,000.

Mr Bone: I say this deliberately: my hon. Friend is being very modest. He set up a conference on human trafficking in Portadown last Friday. Some 150 people were there. There were four main charities: Women’s Aid, A21, Stop the Traffick and the other important one I have just forgotten—[ Interruption. ] Against Child Trafficking. Senior police officers from Northern Ireland did a presentation and there was a short speech from me. We heard from Kate, who is a 21-year-old who rowed across the Atlantic with four other young women to raise awareness of human trafficking. Let us imagine what it must have been like rowing across the Atlantic, throwing up in the boat and all manner of other things. That shows the guts of those young people. I was delighted when my hon. Friend presented an award to her. He is a shining example of what Members can do in their constituencies. I have said to him—I genuinely mean this—that it was the best presentation I have seen. As usual, he is being unduly modest.

To return to the issue of having a rapporteur, the EU directive calls for the establishment of a national rapporteur or, as the Minister is probably going to remind me, an equivalent. I consider most of what the EU does to be wasteful, anti-democratic and not to be touched with a bargepole. However, in this case, the EU did not make the directive compulsory; it was something that member

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states could opt into. It was absolutely right for the Government to take their time to consider whether we should opt in. The all-party group urged the Government to opt into the directive, and then they decided to do so. That is exactly how we should consider EU directives. If it is in the interests of the country to opt in, we should do so. The crucial point is that, having opted into it, we have to implement it in full. If we accept that we must opt into the directive, then we must do so in full.

What we are doing? Maybe we should be looking at what gaps there are—that is probably better. There is currently no independent oversight of the human trafficking situation. A national rapporteur, or equivalent mechanism, must be independent from Government. If they are not independent, their work will not be considered authentic, as it will always be felt that the Government have somehow rigged the figures, and that whatever view is expressed will represent a spin on Government policy. No Government organisation will criticise its own Government.

What do we have at the moment? We have the Government’s interdepartmental ministerial group—something Jim Hacker might have thought up. It is considered to be the national rapporteur’s equivalent mechanism in the UK. This august body has only met twice in the past 18 months. However, the good news is that it has 20 Ministers on it—fantastic. All these Ministers getting together to discuss human trafficking—first class. There is only one slight problem. At the two meetings that have occurred, two thirds of the Ministers have given their apologies. I really do not think that we can claim that that is working in any way whatever.

The Minister for Immigration kindly wrote to me on 1 February, recognising the failure of the current system. He said:

“I will be reviewing the role and remit of the IDMG to ensure that it can effectively carry out the Rapporteur function in line with the requirements of the Directive.”

Well, I can solve the Minister’s problem. I can make his work load less. I can make his day happier. Instead of trying to bring together lots of disinterested Ministers and meeting once every nine months to be the equivalent of the national rapporteur, why not just have a national rapporteur?

The Netherlands, where a national rapporteur was established 10 years ago, has got a grip on the scale, variety and changing face of human trafficking, and can target their resources accordingly. The Dutch rapporteur is a former judge with a small professional team. She is independent from Government and her mandate and authority is recognised by every parliamentarian. Her annual report to Parliament includes information from various sources, such as the police, immigration service, border agency, social services, NGOs, churches and civil society.

Here is the latest Dutch rapporteur’s report, full of statistics, analysis and recommendations. It is debated in the Dutch Parliament. It is recognised by the Government, NGOs and media as the authentic guide to trafficking in the Netherlands. When I first met the Dutch rapporteur a few years ago, her office consisted of her and one researcher-secretary operating from a small office and costing next to nothing to run. Today, the Dutch Government have recognised the huge advantage of having a national rapporteur and have extended her remit twice. She now investigates not only human trafficking,

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but child pornography and sexual violence against children. The Dutch rapporteur fulfils the EU requirement and is cheap. More importantly, she has caused a step change in the Dutch fight against human trafficking.

How would a rapporteur help here? We have no idea of the scale of modern-day slavery in the UK. However, every so often, new information raises its head above the parapet. For example, it was in the news recently that at least 32 men, who were trafficked to six European countries, including Sweden, Norway and Belgium, to work on building sites, were duped, deceived, had their passports taken away and were not paid. Another example is from Bedfordshire. A group of Englishmen were abused by other Englishmen. The vulnerable victims, some of whom were starving, had been lured from soup kitchens, benefit offices and hostels with the promise of paid jobs and shelter.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he recognise the urgency of the situation, given that we have the Olympics this year and the Commonwealth games in Glasgow in two years’ time? During such international sporting events, there is an increase in organised crime and an increased risk of human trafficking. Therefore, we need a coherent strategy from the Government, working alongside the Scottish Government, to deal with the Olympics and the Commonwealth games in 2014.

Mr Bone: The hon. Gentleman is spot on when he says that this is organised crime. Where they see a big venue, they see money, and of course it is a danger. The Government are working to prevent that, but I still have my concerns about what might happen.

The latest example of human trafficking, which we discussed with my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), was revealed last week. For the first time in Northern Ireland, there was a conviction for human trafficking. A legitimate restaurant owner from Hungary brought young girls from eastern Europe into Northern Ireland, with the promise of paid work in his restaurant. They arrived all very happy. They then had their passports and documents taken away, and were forced into a brothel. When I say a brothel, it is a house in a road where they were locked in a room for 24 hours a day. Some 70 women were trafficked. I use the word “women”, but I bet that some of them were actually technically children.

I am conscious that I am eating into the Minister’s time. I wanted to say a little about the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which has not worked as well as it should have done.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order. There is slightly more time because of the earlier Division. If the hon. Gentleman would like to continue for a minute, I will not stop him.

Mr Bone: Thank you, Mr Weir. Do not encourage me.

The UKHTC costs £1.6 million a year and employs 30 people. Support for victim care, which the Government have increased, costs nearly £2 million a year and services nearly 1,500 people. There seems to be a little discrepancy there. We could take a fraction of that £1.6 million—

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perhaps, at most, £250,000—and establish a national rapporteur. It would do all the things we want at the fraction of the cost. The Minister could then go back to the Chancellor and say, “By the way, Chancellor, here is £500,000 back that I have found.” I know his career prospects are good, but that would be an added incentive for the Prime Minister.

Three components are required for a national rapporteur to make an effective contribution to combating human trafficking, as opposed to simply writing reports that gather dust: independence from Government; unlimited and direct access to all relevant information, not just Government information; and annual reports that should be made public, with their recommendations debated in Parliament. It is important to keep in mind that, while a report by the national rapporteur on the status of human trafficking is designed to cover the scope of the problem and the changing trends as well as the appropriate responses, it should not lose sight of the ultimate goal: to end this vicious modern-day slavery.

The UK Government’s human trafficking strategy clearly states its main four objectives and how to achieve them. If established in the UK, a national rapporteur could gather and synchronise the information to assess the Government’s progress on its timely and efficient implementation, make recommendations on where more attention and action were needed, and ensure the adequacy and appropriateness of services provided to victims of trafficking.

Another point that was brought to my attention is that the Dutch Government discovered that having a national rapporteur actually helped them. When outside bodies said that the Dutch Government were not doing enough, they could point to the rapporteur’s report and say, “Yes, we are doing the job.”

In conclusion, not only am I being a good European today, and not only am I making the Minister’s life easier—[ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) says that there is a first time for everything. Not only am I saving the taxpayer money, but I am arguing for a big step towards ending the evil of human trafficking.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab) rose—

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): I cannot call the hon. Gentleman unless he has the permission of the initiator of the debate and the Minister. Does he have the permission of both?

Michael Connarty: A minute of their time.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): But has that been granted?

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): indicated dissent.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): I am sorry; I cannot call the hon. Gentleman.

Michael Connarty: As vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking, I find that quite appalling.

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4.50 pm

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): I am happy to assure the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) that I will be generous in allowing interventions, even though I am restricted by time, because I appreciate his contribution and his long-standing interest in this subject.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) on making a uniquely Europhile speech, on securing this debate and on his work for the all-party group. I am grateful for his kind remarks, although I am deeply worried when he says that lobbying me is like pushing at an open door. I make it clear to all non-governmental organisations that that should not be taken as precedent.

There is, rightly, a lot of interest in this issue. Everything that my hon. Friend said about its seriousness and the importance of having an effective anti-trafficking strategy is, of course, true. The one point where I would slightly disagree with him, apart from on the central argument—I will come on to why I disagree with him about that—is on the lack of public awareness. It has struck me, over the past few years, not least through the actions of the all-party group, NGOs and successive Ministers in both Governments, that there is consciousness throughout the country of the evil of trafficking and the fact that it is present not just in our inner cities and the sex industry, but in many small communities, including rural communities, and all parts of the United Kingdom, as we have heard. Indeed, it is everywhere. That consciousness has grown in recent years, which is good, because we will be much more effective in fighting trafficking if, out there, the general public knows about it.

In that context, it is fair for me to outline some progress that we have made since we published the human trafficking strategy in July last year, which focuses, as my hon. Friend said, on four key themes: improving victim identification and care; enhancing our ability to act early; smarter action at the border; and more co-ordination of our law enforcement efforts in the UK.

Officials have been working across the Government to build a more collective and collaborative response to fighting human trafficking, bringing in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, the Department for Education and the Department of Health. Equally importantly—I take the point that there must be collaboration between the Government and extra-governmental bodies—this response is specifically supported by stakeholder groups on specific themes, attended by a range of NGOs. The current groups are focusing on five key areas within the strategy: raising public awareness; working with the private sector; working with child victims; tackling demand; and international engagement. Those groups have already instigated action to support the aims of the strategy. For example, they are considering how we can expand the awareness-raising initiative with airlines—something that I helped to launch with Virgin Airlines as part of the activities on the most recent national anti-slavery day.

We have already provided additional information to posts in other countries to raise awareness of trafficking and to support collaborative working with NGOs in those countries. Part of that work includes gathering information from posts, so that we have a better

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understanding of their challenges and issues to help inform how we might best support anti-trafficking efforts around the world. We recently agreed an awareness-raising campaign with a major supermarket in Lincolnshire to provide information to potential vulnerable workers in the agricultural sector.

Officials continue to review and refine the national referral mechanism to ensure that victims can be identified appropriately and to ensure that the picture on the extent of human trafficking within this country is clearer.

My hon. Friend was disapprobatory about the UK Human Trafficking Centre. Clearly, it can get better and is doing so, but improvements can always be made. That is what we are trying to do in respect of its intelligence function and organised crime group mapping, which will help inform the Government’s view of the priority areas to combat human trafficking.

Michael Connarty: I am reminded of the adage that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. On 18 January, the Minister said in his response to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s special representative and co-ordinator for combating traffic in human beings:

“Progress is monitored by a strategic board of cross-Departmental officials which meets on a six-weekly basis. This board reports to the biannual Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group…on human trafficking.”

That seems to be a larger number of people than is required to do a job, which, as the chair of the all-party group, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), said, is done by a co-ordinator—a proper rapporteur with a single purpose, independent of the Government.

Damian Green: Let me move directly on to the central point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough about whether we need a rapporteur added to our armoury. Obviously, this matter arises from the directive that we have now opted into. I am grateful to him for his support, not just for our opting in, but for the way that we did it—at the end of the process when had we ensured that it was appropriate and helpful to this country to do so.

We have given much thought to how we implement the directive. We are about to make changes to primary legislation, with amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill, to ensure that we are compliant with those parts of the directive to which our laws are not compliant at the moment, and we are making an initial assessment of where we may need to introduce secondary legislation. We are determined to ensure that everything is in place by April 2013, which is when we need to be completely compliant.

Article 19 allows the setting up of a national rapporteur or equivalent mechanism. I am unpersuaded by my hon. Friend’s example. He was mildly humorous about the inter-departmental ministerial group. I think that I am entitled, in return, to note that of the 27 nations in which he could have found examples of people being inspired to greater efforts on anti-trafficking by having a rapporteur, he adduced precisely one. I am disappointed on behalf of Finland, which is the only other country in the European Union that has a national rapporteur. I note that my hon. Friend did not come up with any great advantages from the Finnish system.

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Mr Bone: On that important point, the Minister is right; of course there are two countries that do it, but the Prime Minister wants—I hope that the Minister would want to support the Prime Minister—to make the UK the leading country in the fight against human trafficking. With a rapporteur, we could take that lead.

Damian Green: I share the ambition to make the UK a leading beacon, showing people how we can effectively fight trafficking. So let me get to the point of why I think that a rapporteur would be a fifth wheel on the coach.

The interdepartmental ministerial group, which meets every six months, is effective with support from the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which is the central repository of data—my hon. Friend made that important point—and it can effectively perform the national rapporteur function, because apart from the ministerial meetings, officials from across Whitehall meet once every two months to support the ministerial group, to inform it and to provide an update.

I agree that the current structure is not perfect, and I intend to make some improvements, so that it can become more effective. First, I will consider my hon. Friend’s point about the frequency of the group’s meetings, so that it can maintain effective oversight across the Government of the work on combating human trafficking. Secondly, I will review the group’s membership to ensure that we have the right people in the room discussing the issues across the Government. I recently wrote to group members emphasising the importance of their regular attendance: I take the point that my hon. Friend made in that respect, as well. Thirdly, I will revise the terms of reference for the group to reflect the required functions of the rapporteur role, so that it can effectively assess trends and measure the actions taken to address them.

As part of the existing arrangements, the group receives information on human trafficking trends from the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which informs our approach. If particular issues are raised, the group will be able to commission further data from the HTC. To that end, my officials are working with the centre to establish consistent data requirements to support the group in carrying out that role. In line with the requirements set out in article 19, the group will publish an annual report on the assessment of trends in human trafficking, as well as on anti-trafficking activities, and will work with the NGOs to achieve that.

In recent debates, as well as in this one, questions have been asked about the independence of the ministerial group and about the requirements of the rapporteur

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role. To be clear, the directive does not stipulate that the national rapporteur or equivalent mechanism must be independent of the Government. Indeed, we already have in the UK a vast array of extremely effective organisations independent of the Government that produce assessments of human trafficking inside the country and internationally. We of course consider proposals and recommendations in each report, and we will strengthen our response accordingly. In carrying out the rapporteur function, the group’s report will not only consider trends but will take account of assessments and recommendations from other reports and of the Government’s progress in delivering their strategy.

To make those pledges concrete, I intend that the group will produce an initial report following the first anniversary of the publication of the strategy, after the Olympic games, to ensure that the progress made on the strategy and any learning or experiences gained from the games can be captured and inform our assessment of such work.

As the problems that might come about because of the Olympics have been brought up, let me say that of course we have a threat assessment of the Olympics, including the possibilities of trafficking. I am pleased to say that, at the moment, there is no evidence of extra trafficking activity as a result of the Olympic games, which would have been intuitively plausible because there has been evidence of trafficking at previous World cups, but they attract a different kind of audience from the Olympics. We are now over the construction phase—the venues are built—which is another time that people were worried about, and I think that the sort of people who attend the Olympics will provide less of an incentive. More to the point, so far the police detect no evidence of any large-scale increase in trafficking activity related to the games.

I thank my hon. Friend for his continuing concern with and commitment to the fight against human trafficking and others present in the Chamber today. The appropriate structures are in place and will get better, and they provide the right oversight in this area. It almost goes without saying, but I can assure hon. Members that the Government continue to recognise the importance of fighting such a terrible crime and ending the plight of far too many vulnerable adults and children. I will bend all my efforts to ensure that we are as effective as possible in continuing that fight.

Question put and agreed to.

5.3 pm

Sitting adjourned.