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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 23 May 2012

[Mr Lee Scott in the Chair]

Hot Takeaway Food (VAT)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Jeremy Wright .)

9.30 am

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Scott, and to welcome so many hon. Members. I place on the record my personal thanks to Mr Speaker for allowing the debate, which was originally slated for the day of Prorogation and so fell from the order of business. I am grateful to Mr Speaker for allowing it to take place today instead.

There is much to welcome in the Budget announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, particularly the lifting of more than 2 million of the lowest paid out of paying income tax and the additional tax burden placed on those fortunate enough to be among the wealthiest in our society. However, I would not be doing my job as a Member of Parliament if I welcomed only the good news from the coalition Government and turned a blind eye to Government proposals that had a significant negative impact on my constituents and the country. The proposals for the extension of VAT to hot food, and in particular how they relate to baked goods, fall into that category.

I am, however, grateful to the Minister and to other colleagues in Government for the constructive way in which they have handled this issue and the concerns raised by me, my hon. Friends and the industry. I found them willing to listen and receptive to alternative solutions. It is surely in the best tradition of Government to recognise that none of us has a monopoly on wisdom. Their constructive engagement with me and others has been welcome.

I support the overall aims of the Government. It is right to seek to simplify the application of VAT rules on hot food, to close anomalies that have been exploited by supermarkets and others and raise revenue from those flouting the rules, to help tackle the national deficit and create a level playing field as between bakeries and other sellers of hot food, such as fish and chips. However, we have to do so in a way that actually creates simplicity, is enforceable by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, is deliverable by businesses across the country, and, crucially, is understandable for consumers. The effect of the Government’s current proposals on the baking industry fall short in all four of those tests.

I would like to set out the practical problems and concerns with the Government’s proposals, and the likely economic impact on the baking sector if the proposals are not altered, and then present an alternative way forward that I hope will achieve the Government’s aims without any negative impact. I am not proposing, however tempting it is, to stand here and argue for an

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exemption for the Cornish pasty or the baking industry. I want to set out a framework that delivers the Government’s intention of consistency and simplicity.

I am delighted to have the support of my hon. Friends the Members for St Ives (Andrew George), for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), and for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), and that of many other hon. Members from across the House and the country, including an alliance, however unlikely, with Devon.

It is understandable that the Government should seek to move away from the current situation in respect of VAT on hot food, where the basis of the test rests on the intention of the supplier. That is subjective, and has led to considerable inconsistency of application. In recent years, a plethora of case law tribunals have established significant anomalies—for example, two hours for zero-rated food, a position exploited by supermarkets in particular.

In place of that subjective and contestable test of intention, the Government’s proposals attempt to move towards a more precise test that centres on ambient air temperature, but that simply replaces one set of anomalies with another when it comes to baked products—pasties, sausage rolls, meat and potato pies and all the other savoury staples in our high street. There is little doubt that the ambient air temperature test will become the subject of significant dispute between bakeries and HMRC, with the potential for litigation. Why is that? The ambient air temperature is constantly changing. As the temperature of a naturally cooling baked product is also constantly changing, it raises the possibility of a pasty or pie at the same temperature being subject to different VAT rules in different parts of the country at the same moment. That is clearly a nonsensical position that will cause considerable difficulties in establishing a consistent ambient air temperature for every bakery in the country, a duty unlikely to be welcomed by HMRC. It will place an additional difficulty for the businesses concerned in deciding when to charge the customer VAT.

The proposed changes would be open to challenge in terms of legal certainty, and could tie up the industry and the Government in the courts for some time. The changes are contrary to the stated intention of the consultation—to simplify current rules and reduce uncertainty and costs for both businesses and HMRC. The ambient air temperature has already been found wanting by the courts. In the Court of Appeal, during the Pimblett case in 1988, Lord Justice Parker said:

“The test is a precise one. It involves a remarkable result that frozen food would be regarded as hot if the ambient temperature was one degree lower than freezing. A praiseworthy attempt to produce precision does not, in this instance, appear to me to have advanced clarity one whit”.

To an extent, that view seems to be shared by colleagues in the Treasury. In my discussions with them, it seems that the Government’s intention is not even to enforce the letter of the proposed rules, but to make a number of assumptions based on the quantity of each bakery’s products that should be standard-rated. That is untenable.

Any apportionment scheme cannot override the basic rules on supply, consideration and liability. That is even recognised in HMRC’s guidance. Any agreement based on the temperature of cooling products will be impossible,

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given the size and variation in bakeries and the fact that a reference point for ambient air temperature cannot be established.

There are a number of other practical difficulties for businesses. When do they issue a VAT receipt if requested to do so by customers? They will have to re-write till software systems and determine the price on which VAT would be charged, all set against the unworkable backdrop of legislation that will be prone to confusion and challenge.

Another issue relates to products sold on a seasonal basis—perhaps we can add mince pies to the list. At what point would HMRC agree with bakeries on the apportionment scheme for seasonal products such as mince pies? I doubt whether that would be able to be done in a timely way, and it shows that the Government’s tests are unworkable. If agreement on an apportionment scheme cannot be reached, the industry will have to fall back on legislation, which would be problematic at the very least.

The Government’s current proposals are unenforceable by HMRC and undeliverable by the industry. They will be confusing to customers and open to challenge in the courts.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): My hon. Friend has ably demolished the Government’s primary claim that the measure is a means by which they can resolve an anomaly. The Treasury knows that wherever a line is drawn, even a new line, a new anomaly is created. Does my hon. Friend agree that under all Governments the Treasury tends to use sophistry when arguing that it is resolving an anomaly and that that is simply a way of increasing tax income?

Stephen Gilbert: My hon. Friend puts his finger on the Treasury’s intention, but I will demonstrate that the negative effects of the measure make it unlikely that any net additional revenue would be raised, when the damage to jobs, business rates and so on is taken on board. He is right to say that the Government expect to raise money from this measure—their impact assessment suggested that £50 million would be raised in the first year, rising to £120 million annually in subsequent years—but at what cost would that be to the baking industry in particular? I am afraid that it will cost jobs and investment in an industry that we want to see more of, not less, on our high streets.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument. Surely there has been unfairness in the takeaway industry, with the fish and chip shop up against the supermarket selling hot chickens, as he has already mentioned. There has to be a clear definition of what constitutes takeaway food, because that is lacking at the moment.

Stephen Gilbert: I share my hon. Friend’s concern. There needs to be a level playing field. I shall say how I seek to achieve that for the Government, but with a simpler test. He is right to say that there is confusion between different takeaway outlets and types of takeaway food. That is also reflected in planning law, in which takeaways selling fish and chips are in a different category from bakeries.

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It has been estimated that some 2,000 jobs throughout the UK are at risk and 300 bakeries on our high streets are at risk of closure. With the impact of the ongoing recession and the significant supply side inflation of recent years, the baking industry is unable to absorb the imposition of the standard rate of VAT, and price increases are inevitable. Research from YouGov shows clearly that this proposal is unpopular with the public—69% of people have said that they do not support it—and that is also demonstrated in a petition signed by more than 50,000 people, which hon. Friends and I gave recently to Downing street. That research also suggests that the measure will change people’s behaviour, with up to one in three people saying that they will stop buying baked savouries. Consumers being able easily to swap to cheaper zero-rated alternatives will impact on the entire supply chain, but with no net additional receipts to the Exchequer.

As I said, the National Association of Master Bakers estimates that some 2,000 jobs will be lost nationally, many hundreds in Cornwall. Bakeries will close on our high streets, creating more empty units at a time when, through the Portas review and other measures, the Government are seeking to boost the high street. The overall economic costs created will undermine any additional tax from the baking industry.

Cornwall Food and Drink estimates that at least 100 businesses in Cornwall contribute to the production of more than 170 million Cornish pasties each year. The total turnover of the industry is thought to be more than £280 million, double the estimates of 2005. It is a growing industry. At least 25% of the turnover is spent in the local economy; the industry is thought to be worth £72 million indirectly, with £15 million going to Cornish farmers.

Pasty production produces other socio-economic benefits as well as purely economic ones—supporting village shops in rural communities, for example. It is a vital part of the Cornish economy, which still languishes on European aid.

In 2011, the university of Exeter showed that keeping retail prices down while suffering strong increases in input costs, particularly fuel and other costs, would seriously affect margins in the Cornish food and drink sector. The industry is clear that it cannot afford to absorb the potential increase in VAT, which will be passed to consumers.

What does that mean for my constituents? The impact will be devastating. The producers, retailers and suppliers will lose more than £100 million a year, an estimated 1,100 jobs will be lost and scores of high street bakeries will close. These proposals come at a time when retailers, including food-to-go shops, have already been hit by an additional £350 million business rate bill this year and when the sector overall already contributes £5 billion a year in VAT—some 9% of the total VAT take—despite accounting for only 5% of gross domestic product. The British Retail Consortium tells us that consumer spending is falling and household incomes are shrinking.

Sadly, there is no evidence that HMRC has considered the impact on the cost of welfare payments resulting from job losses, the reduced amount of corporation tax that the Revenue will receive, the loss of income tax and national insurance revenue as a consequence of the

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bakery industry’s contracting, and the high street supply chain’s being hit, including the loss of business rate revenue to local authorities.

There is also the socio-economic consideration, pointed out by the Association of Convenience Stores, among others. This change will hit the least well off the most. The poorest households spend almost one fifth of their net household incomes on VAT, but the richest spend only 9%. The measure will compound that, hitting the lunch of hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country.

What is the alternative? The Cornish Pasty Association, the National Association of Master Bakers, Greggs, the West Cornwall Pasty Company and others have suggested in their responses to the Government’s consultation that we need to return to the original intention. VAT was first extended to hot takeaway food in 1984 by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, who said in his Budget speech:

“Most food is zero rated, but food served in restaurants is taxed, together with a miscellaneous range of items including ice cream, confectionery…Takeaway food clearly competes with other forms of catering, and I therefore intend to bring into tax hot take-away food and drinks”.—[Official Report, 13 March 1984; Vol. 56, c. 303.]

That relates to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) ably made about the need for a level playing field.

The then Chancellor elaborated that statement in a written response to the former Member of Parliament for Leeds South, Merlyn Rees:

“The VAT extension to hot take-away food which I announced in the Budget applies to food and drink which has been deliberately heated so that it can be consumed whilst still hot. It does not apply to food and drink which has cooled to room temperature by the time it is sold, or to things like pies and pasties which are sold warm because they happen to be freshly baked, and not to enable them to be consumed while still hot.”

I could not have put it better myself. That is the fundamental difference between a meal cooked to order in a fish and chip shop—or a curry or a pizza—and a baked product, which is simply hot as a result of its production, but cools naturally over time. The former Chancellor recognised that baked products are hot or warm by virtue of being baked, not because they are made to order and hot for consumption in the same way as curry or fish and chips are. His position has not been challenged by subsequent Governments and it is my view, and that of my hon. Friends, that it should be upheld while we seek to clarify the additional anomalies that have arisen since 1984.

To put it crudely, we can hit the £280 million rotisserie chicken business and provide the level playing field with fish and chips, but we must maintain the additional principle of food being hot at the time it is provided to the customer, recognising the differences that the former Chancellor recognised many years ago. The additional principle should be that baked goods are zero-rated, except where they are kept hot for consumption.

In short, we seek to amend the Government’s proposals to include the provision that VAT on baked goods should be charged only if they are kept in heated cabinets or if other paraphernalia are used to keep them hot for sale, in the same way that battered fish and chips are kept hot for sale in a cabinet in fish and chip shops.

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That would not interfere with the Government’s proposals to charge VAT on hot food cooked to order and provided hot to the customer for consumption.

I am sure that the Minister will want to consult Treasury counsel on the exact wording of any change and that he has a mountain of responses from the consultation to wade through. However, my view is held not only by me, but my hon. Friends and the industry. In practice, our suggestion would mean that a pasty sold in a fish and chip shop that is currently standard-rated, because it is kept hot for sale alongside some pre-cooked fish or a battered sausage, would be on the level playing field sought by the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

The alternative would mean that any pasty kept hot for sale in a bakery would also be standard-rated, achieving the level playing field that the Government want in a way that is enforceable by HMRC. By closing the loopholes exploited by the supermarkets, the measure would raise at least £56 million per annum, which is equivalent to the vast bulk of the Government’s expected revenue from the changes.

The alternative provides a simple test for business: VAT on baked goods that are kept hot artificially, and no VAT on those that are hot simply as a result of their cooling process. It avoids the legal uncertainty and likely challenge to HMRC, it delivers to the customer a clear and understandable difference in pricing—VAT on a product that is kept hot, no VAT for a product that is not—it allows flexibility for businesses to adapt their models accordingly and, crucially, industry suggests, it would have none of the damaging effects that I outlined earlier.

My view and that of my hon. Friends is that the Government’s proposals are unenforceable, are undeliverable by business, replace one set of anomalies with another, are likely to be heavily contested and will do significant damage to the Cornish economy and to high streets throughout the country. By contrast, the alternative proposal put forward by me and my hon. Friends is clear and consistent, is enforceable by the Revenue, closes the loopholes exploited by the supermarkets—therefore raising the vast bulk of the revenue that the Treasury wishes to obtain—and creates the level playing field with the fish and chip shops that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly demands. It is deliverable and would be publicly welcomed by the baking industry. I hope that the Minister will say in his remarks that he is actively considering our alternative as the consultation proceeds.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Lee Scott (in the Chair): Order. Before I call the next speaker, let me say that the wind-ups will start at 10.40 am at the latest. I call John Mann.

9.51 am

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Scott, it is an honour to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) on securing the debate and on his accurate description of the problem that the Government have got him into. I appreciate his panic, because with this betrayal of Cornwall one almost expects Mr Sacha Baron Cohen to appear at the door.

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For 100 years, the Liberals have been out of power, then the first time that they can get into a real argument and debate it is on the destruction of the core Cornish industry. One could not make that up. Of course we know why it has happened. When I asked my innocent question of the Chancellor in the Treasury Committee, he was somewhat stumped by the fact that there might be a problem. The reason he was stumped is that he is not a man who pays any attention to detail—that has been proven time and time again. Ask him a factual question, he gives a vague answer. That is a problem for someone who is the Chancellor of the Exchequer meddling with detail. There is good reason why no Chancellor has meddled with such details since 1984—because the detail is so complex that whatever rules they come up with, it is possible to find a way round them. I shall explain some likely scenarios in a minute.

What has been the Government’s stock response, fed to their loyal Back Benchers over the past month or so? Fish and chips. Yet, coming from the country’s heartland of fish and chips, I do not recall anyone in my lifetime who eats fish and chips cold. Unless the Government surreptitiously intend to continue to spread VAT to include cold foods, in which case the nation would like to be informed of the plan, they need to reverse the absurd decision that was made.

Let me give some examples, because it is not only Cornwall that has been betrayed—England has been betrayed. I mentioned Bakewell pudding in the Finance Bill Committee yesterday, and Ministers started muttering about almonds. Attention to detail is everything for Treasury Ministers. When I talk about the Bakewell pudding, I am not talking of a processed derivative created by a Mr Kipling, sold in supermarkets with almonds on top and bearing no comparison to the traditional English Bakewell pudding. The Bakewell tart is an entirely different product and, because it is cold, is zero-rated. No, I am talking about the Bakewell pudding, the quintessential English product made as it has been for many centuries, using traditional methods, of which Prince Charles and many others, myself included, would wholly approve—doing things in the traditional way, passing on the skills needed to create the product. Now, solely because Bakewell pudding is made in the traditional way, it will be taxed at 20%. If the manufacturers of the Bakewell pudding were to use processed ingredients, they would be able to concoct a product—vastly inferior, but in some way with the same name; as I pointed out, a major manufacturer has already done so—which would be zero-rated, but we lose the English tradition, we lose the real food. There are other such examples.

By definition, the businesses involved are small businesses. Those traditions, kept in the traditional way, cannot be transported into some mass-produced product sold in supermarkets throughout the country and the world. That is the point and that is what we will lose if those traditional producers are disadvantaged by being charged 20% VAT under this cack-handed measure.

Let me give another example. There has been a rush to eat pasties among senior politicians, including the Chancellor. The Prime Minister allegedly once ate a pasty on Leeds station—a station I know extremely well, coming from Leeds—but from a shop that had

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closed two years previously, so it was a time-lapsed pasty which, by definition, must have gone cold in the time. But he ate the pasty.

Let us take a railway station such as Knutsford—let us assume that there is a station there, although I have not been to the Chancellor’s constituency—or think of our own stations. We might have a traditional English baker outside the station, baking away, producing Cornish pasties and the rest. Currently, those products are VAT-free, but they will now have the 20% applied, although the Government are still looking at how to define their new criteria. Inside the station we have a café; the baker passes the baked products on to the café, which sells them, and the Government might say, “Ah, hot product, it has got to be VAT-ed.” But how do we do that? It has been passed on and is no longer baked on the premises, so it must be zero-rated. We must make sure that there is no anomaly.

What about seats? If there are seats, we might apply VAT because it is a café. Yet it is in a railway station, and the railway station decides in this beautiful temperature to have some seats outside the café. The Government have their test of ambient temperature, so we have ambient temperatures inside and outside the café—I hope that hon. Members will go to Bakewell and see the on-street seating available for those who wish to purchase Bakewell puddings there. So, inside and outside, there are different ambient temperatures—ah, clever Government! We might therefore ensure that all the chairs are incorporated inside the café, but it is a railway station and Network Rail has put a couple of benches outside. Will we have different temperatures between the railway bench and the café seats, and between the café seats inside and outside? There is also the baker who serves inside and the baker who has a little hatch and serves outside. Such examples show precisely why since 1984 the concept of ambient temperature has been ducked, as Treasury officials have tried to persuade every single Chancellor since then to extend VAT. Of course, now that has happened, although things could get worse.

I know that the Chancellor likes his football, and the nation groaned during the Champions League final. People support their own team, but the Prime Minister, who is allegedly an Aston Villa fan, was cheering Chelsea. That is a contradiction. As the cup was lifted, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics was, rightly, in his place, and who was alongside him? The Chancellor, the new Chelsea supporter. When politicians are having problems, they pretend to support a football team that is winning. If it loses, they disappear into the hospitality room, but if it wins, they are there, beaming. I know what the nation said when it saw him on their telly screens. The Chancellor’s local team is Macclesfield Town, and I happened to be there for a match in January.

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman explain the connection between hot baked food and football matches? I would be fascinated to hear it.

John Mann: I am about to do that. Macclesfield Town’s stadium, like every football stadium, has a pie shop, but the Chancellor does not know that. When he goes to a football match, he is in the corporate hospitality room, so VAT is not an issue because he does not pay,

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just as he does not pay for his ticket or his travel, but that is another issue. The Chancellor does not pay for corporate hospitality, so whether something is VAT-ed does not matter to him. But I was stood there, hungry, having gone to Macclesfield to watch a cup match between Macclesfield Town and Bolton. I went to the pie stall, where pies are heated up on the premises. Will they be VAT-ed or not? If I buy a takeaway, will it be VAT-ed or not? If I heat it up in a microwave in the corner, will it be VAT-ed or not? If the shop staff heat it up in the microwave, will it be VAT-ed or not? Will there be a fancy process to avoid the VAT? It is fairly obvious how that can be defined.

The Government could introduce criteria for seating, so that if I sit down in the nice seats—there are not many seats at Macclesfield Town—I might pay VAT, but not if I stand up, as I did. Those anomalies will arise whatever way the Government move. My appeal to this out-of-touch, anti-English, inept-on-detail Treasury team and Government is to do their friends the Liberals a favour. They are up 4% in the north of England, and 2% in recent elections in my area, but the Government should give them a fighting chance in the south-west, and do the decent thing for England: get rid of this nonsense, and introduce a system that the country wants, which is no VAT on pasties, and no VAT on Bakewell puddings. Keep things as they are.

10.2 am

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Lee. I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who made a passionate speech in defence of the Bakewell pudding, which I hate to say I have not sampled, but I will remedy that. Hon. Members may be surprised when looking at me to learn that I enjoy the occasional baked goods from establishments—[ Laughter. ] I know that that is hard to believe, and that they expect me to go to salad bars, but now and again I like to support the baking industry.

In my maiden speech in the House, I took the opportunity to talk about the campaign for protected geographical indication status for the Cornish pasty, a battle that was fought and won. One can buy pasties with many interesting fillings throughout the country, but Cornish pasties can be bought only if they have been made in Cornwall, no matter where they were baked. That is a serious point, because it protects jobs, and the quality of the traditional recipe. In Cornwall, we are proud of the Cornish pasty, and if someone is eating one, we want them to eat a proper one. “Proper” is an important word in Cornwall, and that campaign successfully delivered the mark of quality.

Businesses in Cornwall that invested in making that hand-made product, which is now sent throughout the country and baked locally, have created a huge number of jobs. They have created permanent jobs, part-time jobs, particularly during peak times in the summer, and even jobs for students. I am aware of that because when I was a student, I spent a summer making proper Cornish pasties in Bodmin. I had the glamorous job of going in at 5 o’clock in the morning to peel onions until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and the pasties were ready for the next day. I am delighted that, the business having grown, the onions now come already peeled. That saves someone from having yellow hands, but the

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job provided valuable support for me when I was a student. As my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) said, the industry now employs a huge number of people in Cornwall, as does the retail side elsewhere in the country.

I followed what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw said. I would be delighted to pop to a station in my constituency to talk through the issues he raised but, sadly, I do not have any stations in my constituency. It is a mere 500 square miles, and there is no room for one, but I hope that the Government, who, as the hon. Gentleman said, take a close interest in Cornish affairs, will remedy that situation which, sadly, was not remedied under the previous Government.

The importance of the matter in the Budget has been questioned, and even in Cornwall people have said that many issues need to be dealt with: the state of the economy; sorting out public services to ensure that they are the most efficient and best delivered; and the inequality in funding. Cornwall receives lower school funding, and so on. It is right to raise such matters, and I, with my hon. Friends throughout Cornwall, will do so.

An issue should not be put to one side and allowed to go through unexamined, untested and unreformed just because it affects a specific group of people. Although it might affect a smaller group of people than some broader problems, it is incredibly important to those it does affect in terms of the economic impact and, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw said, traditional skills. I was only peeling onions, and I was not let loose on crimping pasties, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) is very experienced in that, and could give a demonstration if visual aids were allowed during debates.

The Budget measures that my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay welcomed include the increase in the income tax threshold, the biggest pension increase, and the commitment to the pupil premium—on Friday, with the Deputy Prime Minister, I talked to the head teacher at a local school about how that is having an effect. Those are good news stories, and it is good to hear from people how they are benefiting from them. However, we must not ignore the smaller issues that are incredibly important to some people.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay pointed out the wonderful anomaly whereby when the ambient temperature is below freezing, a frozen pasty would have to be sold, with VAT, as hot food. That sums up the huge problem and a further anomaly. I suppose the Treasury could create an arbitrary cut-off point, but we are not going to the heart of the problem, which is a sensible, cogent system. We come, therefore, to the proposal that my hon. Friend and others have advanced: if a hot cabinet is used to keep something warm, it falls into the same category as fish and chips and other foods that are kept warm to the point of sale. That is easily seen, and easily inspectable by the poor employees of HMRC who may have to do spot checks, and there would not be negotiation about the proportion of hot and cold food sold in every shop.

If the Government adopt that sensible position, we might find that those who represent the industry making hot cabinets call for a debate in this Chamber. We had lots of petitions last night on behalf of the caravan industry, and wherever the Government turn, employers will be affected. However, there is a simple cut-off

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point, and people who want to buy hot food, wherever it is sold, can have that option and accept that they will pay VAT on the takeaway.

Bakeries are different. As my hon. Friend pointed out, if people are asked whether they want another takeaway in their town centre, the answer will probably be no. Many already exist, and we have heard about different use classes, which are appropriate in many locations. Bakeries belong in the heart of town centres. Nearby shops would love to have a bakery there because it increases the footfall and the sense of local provenance of the goods on sale. Bakeries give a very different feel to a town centre or a village—we do still have, clinging on, a few villages that contain bakeries.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the possible loss of 300 shops on our high streets as a result of this tax would be a severe blow, which would greatly affect high-street businesses and jobs across the country?

Dan Rogerson: I entirely agree with the hon. Lady.

In conclusion, I wish to add a little extra plea for the Cornish pasty. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay was generous, and hands have been stretched across the river Tamar between Cornwall and England as people have spoken about their respective products that they value and support. In Cornwall, however, there is a feeling that the Government are taxing something that people might eat instead of a sandwich or some other cold product that they would find elsewhere. There is a cultural element to that. People love a pasty; it is what they grew up with and what their mums, grannies or aunties made at home. Everyone has a favourite shop to go to, and that is part of what it means to grow up in Cornwall. Furthermore, we are a very low-income part of the country.

Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con) rose

Dan Rogerson: I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman who has experience of this issue.

Mr Offord: The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech. Does he agree that the pasty was originally created for miners going to work? Nowadays, people around the country who are not able to have a plated meal often have a pasty or another baked product as a substitute. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that this tax discriminates against those people as it may not allow them to have a proper nourishing meal at midday?

Dan Rogerson: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and having been educated in Cornwall, he knows all about the importance of the pasty. As he said, the pasty was designed for taking down the mine and has a crust that can be left behind after being held with a dirty hand. It would have been baked hot, taken down the mine and consumed cold, as it was unlikely to still be hot by the time the miners got to it. Many other people will buy something hot from a bakery and eat it later in the day, which is different from the cold fish and chips that we have been hearing about.

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To return to the Cornish perspective, the feeling is that there is a lack of recognition of a strong sense of identity and of Cornishness. To mention another visual aid, when the last runner with the Olympic flame left Cornwall and set off across the Tamar bridge, he held in his hands a Cornish flag that was sadly confiscated by the police who were running alongside. To many in Cornwall, such things send out a signal that English, Welsh or Scottish identity is fine, but we do not really want to know about Cornish identity. I know, however, that that is not the case in the Treasury, which understands the issue. As a Scot, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury understands that sense of Celtic identity, and I know that the Treasury will listen sympathetically. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay, and other hon. Members, I urge all Treasury Ministers to look at the sensible alternative that has been proposed. It has a clear cut-off point and is enforceable, and I hope that the Treasury will respond positively to the consultation.

10.13 am

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): May I say “Well done” to the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), who I will call my hon. Friend, for securing this important debate? He has made an exceptionally intelligent contribution to a significant discussion.

I will speak only for a couple of minutes, but I want to register my concerns about the tax under discussion, and touch on the impact that it will have on the high street and hard-working families. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) pointed out, it is possible that 300 shops will close as a result of this proposal. The current rate of retail vacancies in shops across our high streets stands at around 14%, and I cannot help thinking that this proposal will have a further impact.

As has been said, we want more bakeries and a diverse range of shops across the high street, yet this proposal puts at risk retailers such as Greggs and Greenhalgh’s in my constituency, as well as independent shops such as Wells bakery on Oldham road in Rochdale, which is a fantastic bakery that makes the best meat and potato pie that people can get their hands on. We want a retail mix and vibrancy, but this proposal creates a real problem and puts a burden on those businesses. It comes on top of the 5.6% increase in business rates—the largest increase in 20 years—that retailers and other businesses have experienced since it was brought in last September and applied this financial year, and we are adding further taxes to that.

In the context of diversity, one point that has not yet been raised is the impact of this tax on other segments of the retail mix, in particular Asian sweet centres. A number of such places in my constituency, particularly on Milkstone road, sell not only Asian sweets but samosas and pakoras. Will the Minister say whether this tax burden will also apply to those products? I have no doubt that my constituents will be interested to hear whether this is also a samosa tax, as well as a pasty tax.

Finally, let me look at the impact of this tax on hard-working families, because I get the impression that the Government do not understand ordinary working people’s lives. Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister spoke about snobbery in education, but I believe that snobbery is also attached to pies, pasties and samosas.

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Members might be aware of a lady from Rochdale called Gillian Duffy who challenged my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) during the last general election. Gillian is a very good friend of mine, she occasionally bakes me a cheese and onion pie, which I enjoy. For some unknown reason, The Guardian newspaper got hold of that information and ran a story about it, ridiculing me for eating Gillian Duffy’s cheese and onion pies, as though that was in some way inappropriate. People are snobbish about the fact that people, perhaps in northern towns or in Cornwall, like and enjoy pies and pasties.

John Mann: They are all sushi eaters.

Simon Danczuk: That’s right; absolutely. In reality, pies, pasties and samosas are part of the staple diet of ordinary people, and we should not forget that. The Government are placing an additional burden on hard-working families. People in Rochdale I speak to think that this tax is absolutely absurd. They laugh at the Government and find it peculiar that such a tax would be applied. It feeds the public perception that the Government just do not get it and are on a different planet, and I urge them to drop these proposals.

10.18 am

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Scott, and I congratulate my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) on securing this debate.

As the granddaughter of a Cornish baker, nobody knows more than I what it is like to make a pasty. Yes, I know the ingredients, and yes, I can crimp a pasty. Today, I speak on behalf of my constituents in South East Cornwall who are all exceptionally concerned about the proposed VAT on hot baked food, although of course that is not restricted to the pasty.

The only time that I lived away from Cornwall was when I spent some years in Stoke-on-Trent, where the meat and potato pie was very popular. However, the pasty in particular is a big part of the famed Cornish heritage and history, of which we are all so proud. I will be discussing my deep concerns about the introduction of VAT on pasties and other hot foods, because this tax will affect many small businesses such as traditional bakeries in my constituency and will no doubt have knock-on effects on the already struggling town centres. In South East Cornwall, there are six very small town centres, which are seeing the life drained from them. If we see the bakeries decline as well, we will be going completely against the principle of what Mary Portas has been trying to do.

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the unintended consequences—I believe that they are unintended—is that small bakers will be further hit by this tax applying to freshly baked products such as scones, doughnuts and muffins? They happen to be warm because they have just been baked, but are a whole category of food that clearly is not intended to be eaten hot. The tax will further penalise those bakers as against supermarkets.

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Sheryll Murray: That was an issue that I intended to come on to, because where is the definition of baked food? Will we find that we are paying VAT on hot bread that comes out of the oven? I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider all these implications.

I feel uneasy about how the tax will be implemented with the highly ambiguous term “ambient temperature”. That is variable and therefore very difficult to enforce. Thirteen businesses in my constituency are members of the Cornish Pasty Association. That is just over a quarter of the whole membership. Many of those are small businesses and they are mostly family-run businesses. They have spoken to me and to my hon. Friends the Members for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) and for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who would have loved to be here today.

I shall point out one particular case. Mr Richard Rice is the director of Dashers Pasties, a pasty shop in my local town of Torpoint. He spoke to me about his concerns. It is a small business, with an annual turnover of about £160,000 a year. Torpoint boasts two supermarkets, and Mr Rice is concerned that the supermarkets may be able to afford not to pass the VAT on to the consumer, whereas local businesses such as Dashers will have to charge 50p or 60p more per pasty, which is a massive increase in the price of the product. Bakers are already having to absorb ever-increasing utility bills and the rising cost of ingredients. They believe that the only winners will be the supermarkets, which have the ability to keep their prices low.

My hon. Friends the Members for Truro and Falmouth and for Camborne and Redruth also met people from Rowe’s bakeries, who gave them a similar message. That sentiment was shared by the chairman of the Cornish Pasty Association, who led the demonstration earlier this month

“to raise awareness of the greater implications”

of this tax. A petition has gained 500,000 signatures. That roughly equates to the population of Cornwall. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister can see the knock-on effect that the tax will have and how people will clearly be disadvantaged.

When considering how the Government will implement the changes, we meet a whole series of problems—things that need to be simplified. “Ambient temperature” is a dependent variable and very difficult to enforce against. It would result in products being taxed based on the weather and heat retention, as we have heard from many other hon. Members. That could lead to significant legal action while tax inspectors and local hard-pressed pasty makers argue over the tax due.

I believe in a much simpler distinction—that a baked product is VATable only when an effort has been made by the vendor to keep the product hot. I signed an amendment to the Bill expressing that sentiment after the Budget was announced. The tax code is complicated enough. I hope that the Chancellor will consider that proposal as a serious alternative to deciding whether VAT is chargeable based on the ambient temperature. On 28 March, I wrote to the Chancellor, outlining my views and saying:

“Surely the last thing we need is to employ an army of thermometer wielding tax inspectors poking our pasties to see if they have cooled enough”.

I still believe in that sentiment and I hope that the Chancellor will consider what I have said today.

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10.25 am

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Scott. I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) on securing the debate. Those of us with a history in taxation wish that every new tax measure could be the subject of an hour and a half of detailed debate. I suspect that we would make much better law if that were the case.

This is an interesting situation. I think that we all agree that tackling tax avoidance and sorting out anomalies is something that the Government should do, but when they come forward with proposals, there is a huge outcry about them, because trying to sort out some of those anomalies is much harder than people think. The reason why this anomaly has lasted for nearly 30 years is that it is incredibly hard to sort out. I jokingly wonder whether, if the Government had called this a fat tax, it would have received a lot more support, but I am not sure that that is a road I would like to encourage them to go down.

Like many other hon. Members, I am concerned about the impact on high street bakeries, especially the small local ones that are a real attraction on the high street. I am talking about those shops on the high street that drag people in to shop there because they like the better-quality product, the choice and the service that they get, compared with the standard, bland products that they might think they get from a supermarket.

I can list many bakeries in my constituency. There is Luke Evans, which has a factory shop that has been in existence for 200 years. There is the Birds chain of bakeries, which I suspect the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) will know well; it is a big chain in the area. It has just opened a new shop on Heanor high street, and given that Heanor is a high street with some challenges, anyone opening a new or revamped shop there is very welcome.

I have real sympathy for such businesses. Their shops sell a wide range of products. Pasties and sausage rolls are a sizeable part of that range, although nowhere near the majority of their trade. They are one very useful way of getting income and dragging customers in. However, they are clearly craft bakeries, selling freshly baked products. That is how they make their money. They are not trying to be a disguised takeaway or to flout the law. They are trying to run a perfectly sensible, viable and valuable business of long standing that we desperately want to support in our high street.

Mr Offord: My hon. Friend is making an eloquent speech. Does he agree with my constituent Jonathan Grodzinski who runs Grodzinski’s bakeries, a business that has been in his family for well over 120 years, who says that the difference between his products and supermarket foods is the quality, which my hon. Friend has already mentioned? Mr Grodzinski’s concern is that customers will decide that they would rather buy cold food and that that will mean that they are buying food that is less than fresh, compared with when it first comes out of the oven.

Nigel Mills: Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for the intervention. The last thing that we want to do is to encourage people to buy horrible cheap food with only

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processed ingredients. That is much less healthy for us than buying proper quality stuff. I therefore have some sympathy for my hon. Friend the Minister in his predicament. It would be useful if he could set out what has tipped the Treasury over the edge into making the change. Was it a case of having to get the train home and thinking, “I’m a bit hungry. It’s been a long day in the Treasury. I can’t face the Chancellor’s bowl of jelly. I’ll have something from the station on my way. If I go to McDonald’s and buy a burger, I pay VAT, but if I go to that nice-looking pasty stand, which seems to be selling only hot pasties, for some reason there is no VAT”? Is that the contrast that tipped him over the edge or is it the fact that supermarkets are selling things that clearly should be VATable but they are manipulating their way around that? Is that what tipped the Treasury over the edge? It would be interesting to know.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking my intervention, particularly as I missed the first part of the debate. He is very generous. Since I have been an MP, I have been approached several times by fish and chip shop owners. Perhaps unusually for an MP, they are the only approaches I have had—and I have had a lot—complaining bitterly about unfair competition, because people are selling pasties and using a microwave to heat them up after they have been sold. I understand exactly why people are concerned, but if we are challenging the whole concept of VAT on pasties, we need an answer—I certainly need one—on that issue.

Nigel Mills: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. The point I was trying to make was about a craft baker on the high street who is not trying to be a takeaway in disguise for VAT planning, which is in contrast to what looks like something trying to be a takeaway, but is in fact something different. That is perhaps one of the things that has tipped the Treasury over the line. It would be interesting to know what mischief it is trying to fix. Which bad guys are we tackling? I honestly suspect that the bad guys are not the high street craft bakers who will be dragged into this. Their staff will be in a horrible situation.

I went to a couple of bakers in my constituency to see what the measure will mean. The sausage rolls are out of the oven and slowly cooling down in the very much non-heated—I was careful to check—displays in the shop. I guess that if they have been there for 20 minutes, they will still be hot, and therefore there might be VAT. If they have been there for 30 minutes, they might be on the border. If they have been there for 40 minutes, perhaps they are cold enough for no VAT. I have a horrible picture of the member of staff having to poke their finger into my sausage roll to check whether the one they are selling me is cool enough not to charge VAT on or still too hot.

There is a practical issue of how the shops will know day to day that the products sat cooling have cooled long enough for me to get a 20% discount, or have not cooled so the customer has to pay VAT. I suspect that such shops will put VAT on everything and put the prices up by 20%, and they will get a nice windfall for the bits that they can convince the Revenue are not VAT-able. In practice, they will not want to charge separate prices depending on whether someone buys a

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product marginally above or below the ambient temperature. That would be an unfeasible and rather strange situation for everyone to get into.

Dan Rogerson: With his expertise in the intricacies of tax law, the hon. Gentleman makes good points. I suspect that the windfall he mentions will be offset by any decline in trade due to the 20% increase in the cost of the product, set against cold products such as sandwiches.

Nigel Mills: I suspect that that is probably right. This will put people off buying some products entirely. I was trying to say that I suspect that the customer will end up with a 20% price rise on all products and it will be down to the baker to match that loss of sale with the income that they get to keep on non-VATable stuff.

The Government need to produce coherent, understandable and enforceable rules. The suggestion that a product would definitely be VATable if any effort was made to keep it warm, by putting it in a heat-retaining bag, under a hot lamp or on a heated rack, after it had been baked would lead to an understandable and clear situation. I am not sure that it would tackle all the mischief that the Government seek to tackle, which is why it would be helpful to understand exactly what problem they want to solve. It would not stop something that looks a lot like a takeaway pretending to be a bakery, which I suspect is something that they would like to deal with.

Ian Swales: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s tax knowledge, from which we are benefiting on the Finance Bill Committee. Does he agree that there is an EU law that requires changes in taxation to be clear and precise? From his knowledge, does he recognise that the Government could be challenged under EU law owing to the complexity of the potential change?

Nigel Mills: I spent many years in practice looking at areas where UK tax law could be challenged under EU law. As the years went on, the European Courts became a little more sensibly in favour of the tax authorities rather than the taxpayer, so I never like to predict what a challenge under EU law could achieve. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point; as taxpayers, we are entitled to expect clear tax law that can be sensibly enforced.

Can the Minister think of other ways to tackle the mischief he wants to tackle without putting staff in every high street in a situation where they have to finger all the products they sell? I am not suggesting that they will literally do that; they will have to have some kind of technical probe or something.

Could the Minister find a way to exempt businesses in which the sale of hot baked products accounts for no more than half their turnover? Clearly they are not in the business of selling hot food, but are trying to sell cakes and bread, so such products are but a small part of their trade. That suggestion will not fix the problem for my hon. Friends from Cornwall, who are looking at businesses based entirely on pasties, but it would take away the worst position for high street shops, for which there are definitely unintended consequences. I fear that otherwise we will end up with a measure that will not work, will clobber the innocent, and those who flout it will find a way to redesign their businesses to get out of

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it. That is the worst situation—innocents caught in the crossfire. Some people have pushed the whole system too far.

We all know that thirty years ago, Lord Lawson tried to exempt bakeries that produced freshly baked goods. We have a picture of bakers putting things in ovens at 5 o’clock in the morning and customers queuing to buy hot bread, and that clearly should not be VATable. That is not really what happens in most high street bakeries, where the goods are baked in a central bakery and appear in the shop early in the morning. It is unlikely that I would get hot bread, unless I was in the shop nearest to the central bakery very early in the morning. We need to get away from that quaint image that probably applies only to a factory outlet bakery of the type that Luke Evans has. I do not think that most of the baked products I buy are hot, except for those that are carefully baked on site, and they tend to be the products that the customer wants to have a chance to eat hot. That is the line we need to work around.

What exactly are we concerned about? What mischief are we trying to fix? What are we trying to protect? The proposals the Government are consulting on will not get them to where we all want them to be and will need some careful revision.

10.37 am

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Scott. I thank the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) for securing the debate. It was intended to take place prior to Prorogation and I am glad that it was rescheduled for this morning.

We have had an extremely interesting debate, with some very intelligent and well thought through contributions and suggestions on which the Government can act. A thing that struck me on this virtual tour of the UK—via train stations, football clubs and various forms of hot snack—is how much unites, rather than divides, the different parts of the United Kingdom. In this instance, most of us, at least, are united in support of the industries based in our communities. In this instance, the bad guys—to quote a term used by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills)—are the Government, but bad guys always have the opportunity to redeem themselves. I am sure that as we go through the Finance Bill, the Government will look at the suggestions made today and try to do so.

I want to cover a few points made by hon. Members. In his opening speech, the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay highlighted the real issues about the ambient temperature test and the potential problems in identifying what an ambient temperature is in different parts of the country. As those of us in the northern parts of the country know, we have yet to see any form of spring, never mind summer. Not only do we have geographical variations, but we could have different ambient temperatures on different days of the week.

How will the Government devise the system? Will people come round using thermometers, as the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) said, or probe with a finger, as the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) suggested, to see whether hot snacks are above the ambient temperature? That seems to be nonsense.

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During our deliberations on the Finance Bill Committee yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) gave a useful exposition on the difference between a Bakewell pudding and a Bakewell tart, which I confess is something that I had not previously understood. That only goes to show that we learn something new every day. Indeed, I learned today that the hon. Member for South East Cornwall and I have a shared heritage, because I, too, am a baker’s granddaughter, although I am not from Cornwall and could not begin to explain how to crimp a pasty.

The issues raised this morning are similar to those raised when we discussed the matter on the Floor of the House. I sensed a sharp intake of breath when the hon. Lady asked what hot food had to do with football. I am a football supporter and have supported my local team, Kilmarnock, since I was a child. I certainly did not choose to do so on the basis that they were likely to win trophies, given that during my lifetime they have won something on only three occasions: 1965, 1997 and this year, when they won the Scottish communities league cup.

As a vegan, I confess that the delights of some of the pasties that have been mentioned have passed me by, although, as I said during the debate on the Floor of the House, my son is an avid eater of the Greggs steak bake and my husband often chooses, as a vegetarian, to enjoy the Greggs cheese and onion pasty at lunchtime. I do not necessarily partake of such delicacies, but when my local team played at this year’s cup final, a local bakery in my constituency decided that I should not lose out on the experience by not being able to eat a Killie pie—the Kilmarnock football club pie, which is reckoned to be the best in Scotland—and made me a vegan Killie pie.

I have still not received an answer to one of the questions that I asked during the debate in the main Chamber. If I buy two freshly baked Killie pies from my local Brownings the Bakers—should it choose to continue the production of that wonderful vegan pie—and decide to eat one there and then and take the other away so that it will have cooled down later, would one be VATable and the other not? That is an example of one of the dilemmas and anomalies that have been thrown up again by a number of Members during this debate. Members have also identified that any system of taxation and of collecting VAT needs to be understandable, enforceable and workable. As the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay pointed out during his opening speech, the proposals do not meet any of those tests.

I want to address some other points that have been raised. The second time that I sensed a sharp intake of breath and felt a shiver run down my spine—“shiver” seems to be the word of the week in relation to the economy—was when my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) suggested that samosas or pakoras could be taxed. Notwithstanding the popularity of the Scottish bridie, there are parts of Scotland for which samosas or, indeed, pakoras, have become more or less part of the staple diet. Thousands of constituents would be extremely concerned if there was an additional tax.

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Stephen Gilbert: The hon. Lady is making a powerful case. Does she agree that one of the interesting things about this debate is the fact that the scope of concerns has widened rather than narrowed? I have mentioned mince pies, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) has mentioned Bakewell puddings and the hon. Lady is now talking about samosas. Muffins, doughnuts and other products have also been thrown into the mix.

Cathy Jamieson: Indeed. That highlights the powerful case that, initially, the Treasury may have viewed the proposal as something that could be taken off the shelf, dusted down and presented as a way to correct some anomalies. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale has argued, it did not consider the detail and the issue has become a problem. It has become a problem in relation not only to pasties—I am aware that we cannot deviate too far from the issue under discussion—but to the proposals for VAT on work on church buildings, on which there has been some movement.

Moreover, last night, multiple petitions were presented in relation to the caravan tax, and yesterday, I, along with a number of other Members, met representatives from the newly formed—it was formed in response to Government proposals—UK Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance, which has pointed out that some of its members’ products do not appear to fall under the categories for which VAT was originally intended to be charged.

This series of Government proposals do not seem to have been properly thought through. Their impact on our high street has not been considered. That is important. We want to see people shopping on their high streets and spending what cash they have on local businesses in particular, and to ensure that our high streets continue to thrive. When the British Retail Consortium, the Association of Convenience Stores and the whole range of organisations that represent the baking industry, as well as ordinary people, think that the Government have got it wrong, it is time for the Government to think again.

I will not speak for much longer, because I want to allow the Minister as much time as possible to respond to the debate, but I want to return to the widening scope of things affected by the proposals. The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay suggested during his opening speech that the Government were prepared to listen, but I am disappointed to say that I have not found that to be the case. We have raised the issue on the Floor of the House and have continued to raise it and a number of other issues in the Finance Bill Committee, but on every occasion—no matter what the subject—when we have asked the Government to go away, make another assessment, come back with a report and consider the implications, they have not done so.

Sheryll Murray: Does the hon. Lady not accept that there is a consultation, so the Government are listening, and that we cannot expect them to respond until they have the results of that consultation?

Cathy Jamieson: I understand the importance of consultation, but consulting on something that will happen after the fact—when the Government say that they are going to do something and then ask people about it—is not necessarily the best way to do it. Those representatives of sports nutrition companies whom I

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met yesterday told me—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong or have misunderstood—that no one from that industry was consulted when the impact assessment was done.

There are issues to address. I am trying not to make this an attack on the Government, but I am disappointed at the lack of movement. I understand that consultations are important and hope that the Government will listen and consider making some of the changes that have been asked of them today. The torrid headlines that the Government had to endure when their proposals were first announced should make them realise that the country wants them to do something and change their plans. My favourite headline read: “Half-baked Tory tax a mistake-and-bake”. It was indeed a mistake—let us try to fix it.

10.48 am

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Scott. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) on securing this debate and on his thoughtful and constructive speech. I thank all those who have contributed to the debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), whom I congratulate in particular on her expertise on the matter. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) for providing his expertise on tax, rather than on pasties. I also thank the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who gave a characteristically passionate and, at times, entertaining speech.

Since the Budget, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has been running a consultation on addressing a range of VAT anomalies, including the treatment of hot takeaway food. I am well aware that the changes that we have announced to the VAT treatment of hot food have attracted a considerable amount of attention. Indeed, I have had meetings with my hon. Friends the Members for St Austell and Newquay and for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) and representatives of the Cornish pasty industry.

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): The definition of hot food has caused much uncertainty, not least for Auntie Anne’s pretzel company in my constituency, which I visited last week. The company has put on hold quite big expansion plans because having to charge VAT would put it in competition with a whole new set of fast food outlets. The pretzels are baked on the premises from a dough mixture, and the company needs some clear guidance from Her Majesty’s Treasury that it will not be liable to VAT so that it can get on with its growth plans and with creating jobs in the local area.

Mr Gauke: I am grateful for that intervention. There is a carve-out in this measure that relates to bread. My hon. Friend refers to pretzels made from a dough mixture. HMRC will provide guidance on the definition of bread, so that matter will be covered once final decisions have been made.

Before I turn to some of the arguments against the proposal, I should like to step back and remind hon. Members of why we have proposed this change. As I

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announced to the House on 18 April, we extended the consultation period until last Friday in the light of the responses received and I have, of course, been listening to the contributions to this debate and will ensure that they are taken into account in the Chancellor’s decisions.

Ensuring that VAT will apply to the sale of all hot food—to the extent that it does not already do so—is one of a series of VAT measures announced in the Budget designed to make the VAT system fairer to all traders, and to make it easier to administer and comply with.

The current rules on the VATability of hot takeaway food have been made particularly complex and unfair by a patchwork of different legal decisions over the decades, as my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay pointed out. VAT has always applied to food consumed on the supplier’s premises, notably in restaurants and cafes, and was extended to hot takeaway food in 1984. The definition of hot takeaway food in the 1984 legislation is that the food

“has been heated for the purposes of enabling it to be consumed at a temperature above ambient air temperature”

and that it

“is above that temperature at the time it is provided to the customer.”

There have been repeated efforts since the 1980s to chip away at this boundary. A number of businesses have argued in litigation that, although the food they provide to their customers is hot and is taken away, it should not be taxed as “hot takeaway food”, but it should instead be zero rated.

Some have argued that, in heating the food, their intention was not to provide their customers with food to be eaten hot, but to follow rules of hygiene, to finish the cooking process, to provide evidence of freshness, to create an aroma, or to improve appearance, crispiness or texture of the product. Such arguments have not always been successful, but where they have been, they have allowed some businesses to secure VAT-free treatment for a range of hot food products such as hot rotisserie chickens, meat pies, pasties and panini. However, other businesses have continued to apply VAT to the similar hot food products that they sell. They have accepted, or the courts have ruled, that their intention is to heat their food products so that their customer can eat them hot. Under the current rules, the VAT rate applied to hot takeaway food depends on the particular supplier’s purpose in heating the food.

In reference to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), a small independent fish and chip shop will have to charge 20% VAT on its hot chicken, but a major supermarket will argue that its rotisserie chickens are zero rated. One baker who keeps his sausage rolls in a hot cabinet to provide his customers with a hot snack will charge tax, but the baker next door who also keeps them hot and argues that this is to maintain an appealing aroma will claim that they are zero rated.

The current situation is unfair, and it is right that we seek to change it. There was some agreement on that point from at least some hon. Members. That is why we are introducing new rules to ensure a level playing field. We have proposed the removal of the subjective element of the zero-rate definition, which has led to these anomalies, to provide more consistency in the taxation of hot food.

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As I mentioned earlier, we are adding a simple carve-out that bread, irrespective of its temperature, will not be liable.

Simon Danczuk rose

Mr Gauke: I will give way, but I am keen to proceed quickly.

Simon Danczuk: Will the Minister address the point that I made about the samosa tax issue?

Mr Gauke: On that point, our proposal is that if food is sold at above ambient temperature, it is standard-rated, which is the same as takeaway food from Indian restaurants.

We have heard a number of arguments about why businesses will find it difficult to apply the test on ambient temperature. The test to determine whether takeaway food is hot is not new; it has been in place since 1984. However, I accept that, in many cases, suppliers do not need to ask themselves that question because they accept that their takeaway food is meant to be eaten hot and thus they pay tax even if, on a handful of occasions, the food may not actually be hot. They may make use of one of the other arguments about the purpose of the heating, and thus do not pay tax, even if the food is hot. However, the test is reasonably straightforward and will be policed in a pragmatic way.

Some hot food will have been kept hot or provided straight from the oven and will obviously be standard-rated under our proposals. In most other cases, people know when something is hotter than the air around it. A leading high street bakery chain, which has campaigned against these changes, said on its own website that customers who want a hot sausage roll should test whether the sausage roll is hot enough by feeling the temperature through the bag.

It is important to inject some common sense into this potentially trivial debate about food that at one moment is hot and at another is at ambient air temperature. We are not expecting staff to take detailed temperature readings every time they sell a pasty. HMRC will take a pragmatic approach and provide businesses with guidance, taking into account businesses’ responses on how to implement the change.

Dan Rogerson: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way as he sets out the Government’s thinking behind this matter. I hope there is room, following the consultation, for that thinking to develop. On the specific point of temperature, we have heard that many pasties are sold outside or through hatches and so on. Will the

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Minister tell us what would happen if the outside temperature is freezing or below freezing? That is the sort of issue that our constituents are raising with us.

Mr Gauke: I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall not start taxing food as hot if the outside temperature is 40°C and the item is warm only because of the air around it, or hot because the temperature is freezing. Existing simplification schemes are already available that allow businesses to calculate their VAT liability by reference to a fixed percentage of their turnover, without requiring staff to consider the temperature of every product sold. Pragmatic approaches to apportionment are, and have always been, a common feature in VAT.

Let me turn now to the proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay. I am aware of the strength of opinion on this question, and I hear the proposal that he has made. The consultation was genuine. As it is also complicated, it would be premature of me to make a knee-jerk response to it within a few days of it closing. However, we are considering his and other constructive suggestions closely, and we are aware of the difficulties in operating a test based on ambient temperatures. As I said earlier, such a test has been in place since 1984, and it is no more than a legal definition of “hot food”. At present, it is rarely applied because businesses that accept that their food is heated in order to be eaten hot accept that it is taxable hot food, and those that argue that their food is heated for other reasons can escape VAT, even if the food is hot.

There are problems with my hon. Friend’s proposal, which potentially risks bringing hot pizza into the zero rate—I suspect that is an unintended consequence. However, it is one of many suggestions that we are considering, and we hope to be able to respond in the near future.

It has been suggested that this change could lead to business closures in the baking industry, and would disproportionately affect businesses in Cornwall, and that it should be delayed until there is stronger growth. However, it does ensure that businesses of all sizes and in all locations receive the same tax treatment for similar products and that that preferential tax treatment does not go to those with the most ingenious arguments, or the best lawyers, to support zero rating.

I accept that all taxes have an effect on growth and jobs, but VAT as a whole is less damaging than many other taxes. I hope that my comments today have provided more information on why the Government have made this proposal. The changes are designed to introduce new sensible objective tests that are less open to abuse and provide a level playing field for all businesses supplying their customers with hot food. I also hope that I have explained that we have undertaken a genuine consultation and will respond as soon as possible, and that we are listening closely to all the arguments.

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Pancreatic Cancer

11 am

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): Thank you, Mr Scott, for calling me to speak; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I am pleased to have secured this debate, as it is on a subject of huge importance to thousands of families across the UK. It is also a subject that is close to my heart.

This debate was originally scheduled for the last week of the previous parliamentary Session. However, the cause of Prorogation it was cancelled, so I am particularly lucky to have been drawn again so quickly. Whether that was because of pure luck or the Speaker’s Panel taking pity on me, I do not know, but I am grateful none the less.

As it happens, the timing for this rescheduled debate could not have been better, because last week we established the all-party group on pancreatic cancer. It is chaired by Lord Patel, the Cross-Bench peer, who has huge experience of the medical profession, and it has a most fantastic treasurer in the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who is here in Westminster Hall today. The all-party group aims to work with Pancreatic Cancer UK, Cancer Research UK and others to increase awareness of pancreatic cancer, and to help campaign for better care and treatments, which will lead to improved outcomes.

The simple fact is that we need better care and treatment. The number of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is rising. In 2008, around 8,100 cases were diagnosed—about 22 cases a day. Compared with other types of cancer, those numbers are quite low. However, there is a very poor prognosis in pancreatic cancer cases, with only 3% of patients surviving for five years or more. In my own particular case, my partner survived for only seven weeks after being diagnosed.

Despite advances in technology and improvements in survival rates for other forms of cancer, that figure of 3% has remained unchanged for 40 years, which is quite incredible. There are also wide regional variations in UK survival rates, the so-called and much cited problem of “the postcode lottery”. On a national level, that survival rate—only 3% of pancreatic cancer patients in the UK survive for five years or more—is the worst in the developed world. To put it into context, it is half the survival rate of the US, Australia or Canada. Those countries’ survival rates are obviously still low, but they are much better than the British survival rate.

There have also been reports from people with pancreatic cancer that the care provided in the UK has fallen below expectations. The 2010 NHS national cancer patient experience survey found that pancreatic cancer patients fared significantly worse than patients diagnosed with other cancers. That needs to change. Some things will be easier to rectify than others. For instance, improving the patient experience seems an obvious and relatively easy thing. However, we can and should work on improving awareness, diagnosis, treatment, care and—ultimately and most importantly—the survival rate across the board.

One can look at the impact of the advertising to increase awareness of bowel cancer, which is a difficult cancer to deal with. We are looking to achieve a similar impact in terms of increasing awareness of pancreatic cancer. Increasing awareness is vital, because too often pancreatic cancer is diagnosed at far too late a stage.

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Although symptoms may have manifested themselves for several months, many people do not visit their doctor until it is too late and the disease is quite advanced. In fact, 50% of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed only as a result of an emergency hospital admission and more than 80% of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed only once the tumour is inoperable. Those are startling, sobering and depressing statistics.

Let me refer again to my personal situation, in which the pancreatic cancer was diagnosed only after a series of what were just stomach aches, and tests were carried out only after those stomach aches and after a number of visits to the GP.

For the record, the symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be quite vague and varied. They can include weight loss and pain in the stomach, which both appeared in my particular experience of the disease, as well as back pain and jaundice. But if someone does not have any knowledge of the disease—neither I nor my partner had any such knowledge at the time—how would they realise that, because one is feeling tired every day there is something particularly wrong, until the stomach aches develop? Even then, in my personal experience the stomach aches were not significant in terms of pain. We had no awareness that that feeling of tiredness was anything to do with cancer.

We need to ensure that doctors are making the right diagnosis. Nearly 30% of pancreatic cancer patients will have visited their GP five times or more before being properly diagnosed; that was true in my situation. So we need to make sure that GPs are provided with the proper tools and training to recognise the symptoms of pancreatic cancer. Moreover, we need to ensure that GPs are able to refer their patients swiftly to hospitals for further tests when they suspect a case of pancreatic cancer.

As part of that process, Pancreatic Cancer UK is holding an early diagnosis workshop next month. Hopefully, that workshop will help to come up with more concrete actions that could be taken. I understand that the Minister’s colleague, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), has agreed to support that workshop, which is an encouraging sign.

Put simply, late diagnosis means that the few treatments available might not be an option, so it is absolutely imperative that we improve awareness and diagnosis.

Let me turn to treatments. The uncomfortable fact is that few options for curative treatments exist. One of the reasons why survival rates for pancreatic cancer are so low, compared with those for other types of cancer, is that pancreatic tumours are relatively highly resistant to chemotherapy. Having said that, I note that Cancer Research UK has said that it believes there is some kind of breakthrough in terms of a new class of drugs, details of which it announced in April; that new class of drugs looks quite promising in terms of being able to improve treatment.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on a very important issue; every one of us will have constituents who will be affected by it. Does he share my concern—and, I suspect, the concern of many people—that pancreatic cancer is the fifth most deadly cancer in the whole of the UK and yet only about 1% of cancer research is on

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pancreatic cancer? Also, does he feel that it is now time for the Minister to work with all the regional bodies across the UK—the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly—to introduce a UK-wide strategy to reduce deaths from pancreatic cancer?

Eric Ollerenshaw: The hon. Gentleman can obviously read minds, because that point about research is in my next paragraph. His other suggestion about a UK-wide strategy is a really interesting and positive one, because pancreatic cancer obviously does not respect any boundaries, or any devolved Government or national Government. So he makes an interesting point, which the all-party group can perhaps consider.

Effective cures for pancreatic cancer remain stubbornly elusive, but we need to try to find ways to prolong patients’ lives and to ease their pain and suffering, while always remembering that, with cancer, it is not only the patient who is affected but the people around them, including their family. Cancer affects not just one person; its effect spreads to other people. I had not entered the cancer world before my own personal experience—I call it a separate world, because it is like entering a separate universe that has never been experienced before. Patients’ loved ones also experience suffering.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important debate. I know how personal this issue is to him. Linked in with the point that he has just made, does he agree that this issue shows why it is so important that we have a strong hospice movement in our country? That is because hospices have the expertise and are able to treat conditions such as pancreatic cancer with a holistic approach, so that it is not only the patient but the extended family and loved ones who receive support—support that they need, too.

Eric Ollerenshaw: My hon. Friend represents Pudsey, a Yorkshire constituency, so he says it like it is. I will go on to say something about hospices; what he said about them is true. In a sense, for a lot of families cancer is almost like the end. With pancreatic cancer, proper treatment is vital and nobody should underestimate the work of the hospice movement. As I say, I will go on to say a couple of things about hospices.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this very important and timely debate. I also pay tribute to his passion for this issue and to the personal experience that he brings to this debate; he brings real understanding. In addition, I pay tribute to Pancreatic Cancer UK, which is doing excellent work, and to campaigners such as Maggie Watts, a campaigner in my constituency. She has direct experience of this issue and is driving an e-petition forward on it.

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that we need more support from the Government in the area of research into cures? Only 1.6% of research funding is spent on pancreatic cancer, and the Government can move things forward here.

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Eric Ollerenshaw: I thank my colleague from the all-party group for his intervention. Like the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), he seems to have a copy of my speech—my next paragraph is about research funding. We are all in this together, as it were, particularly on this one.

The point that the hon. Member for Scunthorpe makes so well is that more research into the cancer is absolutely imperative, to find new and more effective treatments. Pancreatic cancer receives just 1% of cancer research funds, despite being the cause of 5% of cancer-related deaths. More research funding will help us discover why this type of cancer is so resistant to treatments that can cure other forms of the disease, and identifying early markers will help to establish screening programmes and lead to earlier diagnosis.

In addition to funding new and expanded research programmes, it is key that we increase patients’ take-up of clinical trials. According to the National Cancer Research Network, fewer pancreatic cancer patients enrol in trials than people with other cancers. I do not know whether that is due to the poor survival rates, but it is fundamental that we encourage more of those patients to take part if we are to get the research we need.

Finally on the subject of treatment, we desperately need to find out why there are such regional variations in survival rates. I am sure that the hon. Member for Scunthorpe will agree that the amazing thing at last week’s inaugural meeting of the all-party group was the personal evidence from three survivors from different parts of the country.

One survivor in particular had had to push doctors and fight to get the treatment, and he ended up—I think he came from the midlands—in Reading or somewhere in the south. That was due to his own perseverance, however, and it should not be like that, because once there has been a diagnosis of cancer everything goes to pieces for the family and friends. That man’s will was the most powerful thing about that meeting; he is living evidence that something can be done. We need to ensure that GPs learn from successful parts of the country and that effective procedures are copied wherever possible. That will need top-down leadership, and I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on how that matter is being addressed.

Treatments, including surgery, for pancreatic cancer are few and difficult, but that is no excuse for poor patient experiences. The 2010 NHS national cancer patient experience survey found that pancreatic cancer patients fared significantly worse than those diagnosed with other cancers. For instance, nearly a third of pancreatic cancer patients said that they felt their diagnosis should have been communicated more sensitively, compared with 18% of all survey respondents. The survey also showed that 41% of pancreatic cancer patients were not given information about their cancer when it was diagnosed, compared with 27% of all respondents.

Although I was given a great deal of support, for which I pay tribute to Homerton hospital in Hackney—I will come on to talk about cancer specialist nurses; we had a brilliant one—when coming back from surgery to relieve some fluid, my partner, who was slightly drugged up from the operation, asked the doctor, “How is it?”

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and he simply turned around and said, “It’s terminal.” That was the first time that either I or my partner had been so informed.

I do not know why doctors find it harder to explain things to pancreatic cancer patients than to other cancer patients—perhaps it is because of the low survival rates—but although effective treatment might not always be possible, we need to do more to improve the patient experience and, as I keep saying, that of family and friends. Other than by way of better information being more sympathetically delivered at the point of diagnosis, that can be done through the support and care provided by clinical nurse specialists. We were lucky, because there was a cancer specialist nurse in the hospital, who guided us through what was going on. The national cancer patient experience survey, which is proving to be a fundamental part of my speech, also found a link between positive patient experiences and access to a clinical nurse specialist. Is the Minister able to comment on that?

I should state that although there can clearly be improvements in patient care, with such low survival rates much of the care can end up, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey has said, being provided in hospices. My experience of St Joseph’s hospice in Hackney was for only two days and two nights, but it was unbelievable, and I pay tribute to everything in the hospice movement. The treatment is holistic, with the family and everyone involved.

As some kind of conclusion, I want to place on the record how grateful those of us who have personal experience of this dreadful disease are to charities such as Pancreatic Cancer UK and Cancer Research UK, which drive the case for change and generally help to give people hope that the situation will improve in the future. Also, we should all pay tribute to the doctors and nurses who provide care and treatment for sufferers, especially in their last days, and I again praise the hospice movements. Their efforts and attitude help to make an extremely difficult time for patients and their friends and family a little more bearable—if it is bearable.

With my personal situation, the biggest thing I would underline is my description of going along in life and assuming that everything is okay and then entering this kind of cancer world, with cancer specialists. The support from other people who are going through the same thing as well is unbelievable, but in 2012, with an NHS of which we are all so proud, why is there such variation, and why has there been no improvement over 40 years in dealing with this virulent form of cancer? I would be grateful to hear what the Minister has to say.

11.17 am

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): It is a first, and a pleasure, for me to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Scott. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) on securing this important debate. It was very moving to listen to his speech. His real knowledge and personal experience made it more powerful than many of the speeches one hears in this House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment as secretary of the newly formed all-party group on pancreatic cancer, and congratulate all the other Members and people from outside this House who have an interest in

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this particularly nasty and difficult disease and who have recognised the need to set up such a group. I know that my ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), will watch the work of the group with interest, and no doubt the Department of Health will await with eagerness any reports or investigations that the group pursues in the coming years of this Parliament. All contributions, whether from the voluntary or charitable sectors, or from within the Department or the NHS, or at a parliamentary level, are important, because, as my hon. Friend has said, this is a very difficult disease which, sadly, can be extremely swift-moving. Far more needs to be known about it, so that one can address the alleviation of the symptoms and the longer-term management of the condition—if that is possible. Sadly, as my hon. Friend said, during the course of his experiences, time regrettably was not on his side.

We in the Department recognise that we need to do more to bring cancer survival rates up to the standards of the very best. The cancer outcomes strategy sets out our ambition to halve the gap between England’s survival rates and those of the best in Europe, saving an additional 5,000 lives every year by 2014-15. To achieve that, we must tackle common and less common cancers. We know that later diagnosis is a major reason for variation in cancer survival outcomes, and our strategy prioritises early diagnosis. To assist the NHS in achieving earlier cancer diagnosis, the strategy is supported by more than £450 million over four years. That funding is part of more than £750 million in additional funding for cancer over the spending review period.

To improve awareness of rarer cancers such as pancreatic cancer, we are considering piloting a symptom-based awareness campaign covering multiple cancers. Feedback from rarer cancer charities suggests that as a possible approach to improving public awareness. We are considering the results of discussions in order to find the best way forward. I hope that that addresses one of the important points raised by my hon. Friend.

We also need GPs to recognise symptoms and, where appropriate, refer people urgently for specialist care, as my hon. Friend said. A range of support, such as referral guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, is available to help GPs assess when it is appropriate to refer patients for investigation of suspected cancer. However, we can do more to support GPs. Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and the National Cancer Action Team are working together to develop a broader GP engagement programme for the coming years, including by working with the senior leadership of the Royal College of General Practitioners on a strategic initiative.

I commend the pancreatic cancer charities for the work that they do to support patients, raise awareness, promote research and identify how we can improve the survival rates of people affected by pancreatic cancer. They do a tremendous amount of excellent work, and we welcome that work and congratulate them on their commitment. We are determined to work with them and others to help minimise the problems highlighted by my hon. Friend.

As I said, we must tackle rarer or less common cancers alongside common cancers. That is why our cancer outcomes strategy set out a commitment to work with rarer cancer charities. Officials have held meetings

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with numerous rarer cancer charities, including Pancreatic Cancer UK and Pancreatic Cancer Action, to assess what more can be done to encourage appropriate referrals to secondary care for early diagnosis of rarer cancers. The discussions will inform the Department’s future work in the area.

Pancreatic Cancer UK, as my hon. Friend said, is hosting an early diagnosis workshop in June, which will be attended by national cancer director Sir Mike Richards and my ministerial colleague the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam. The workshop will examine practical steps that can be taken to help GPs and secondary care health professionals diagnose pancreatic cancer at the earliest possible stage. We look forward to receiving the workshop’s findings. As my hon. Friend rightly said, the earlier the diagnosis, the better it is for addressing individual patients’ problems. That is the nub of the challenge facing us all.

Pancreatic Cancer UK’s survival study 2011 confirms what we already know about regional variations in survival rates. “Improving outcomes: a strategy for cancer” makes it clear that reducing variations and tackling health inequalities is essential if we are to improve outcomes and save 5,000 additional lives by 2014-15. To support the national health service in tackling regional variations in cancer survival rates, we are supplying data to providers and commissioners that will allow them to benchmark their services and outcomes against one another and identify where improvements need to be made, so that they can move forward on making the improvements that we all desperately require and seek.

In December 2010, we published the report of the 2010 cancer patient experience survey, which recorded the views of more than 67,000 cancer patients treated across 158 trusts. The results enabled providers to assess the experience of cancer patients locally, benchmark performance against other trusts and identify areas for improvement. It also showed that cancer patients supported by a clinical nurse specialist had a better experience of care overall. My hon. Friend mentioned the importance of ensuring sufficient numbers of clinical nurse specialists. We expect the NHS to consider that in developing policies to improve patient experience. Field work for the 2011 survey is now complete. We will look closely at the results when they are published in summer to see where improvements have been made and more are needed.

The Department is fully committed to clinical and applied research into treatment and cures for cancer. The percentage of cancer patients in trials in England is now more than twice that in the United States. The UK now has the world’s highest national rate per capita of cancer trial participation. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.

In August 2011, the Government announced £6.5 million in funding for the Liverpool biomedical research unit on gastrointestinal disease. About half that investment

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will support pancreatic cancer research. It forms part of this Government’s total yearly spend of more than £200 million on cancer research. Patients and clinicians can find out about trials in all therapeutic areas, including pancreatic cancer, on the UK clinical trials gateway website.

On the important issue of clinical audits, I reassure my hon. Friend that we are committed to extending national clinical audits across a much wider range of conditions and treatments, and to developing their role as a driver of quality improvement. Following a call in early 2011 for new topics for national clinical audit, the National Advisory Group on Clinical Audit and Enquiries provided advice to the Department on new topics to be included as part of the national clinical audit and patient outcomes programme. A proposal for a pancreatic cancer audit was considered as part of that process, but the advisory group’s view was that elements of the proposal should be taken forward as part of the existing bowel cancer audit when it is retendered during 2012. We will ensure that that option is considered when the Department reviews the existing arrangements for the bowel cancer audit later this year.

I reassure my hon. Friend, other hon. Members and the all-party group that, although the challenge of preventing cancers and improving diagnosis and treatment is huge, we are committed to it. Our cancer outcomes strategy, published in January 2011, set out how we will deliver health-care outcomes as good as those anywhere in the world. That is our commitment. The first annual round of the strategy, published in December 2011, highlighted our priorities for this year, which include providing benchmark data to the NHS as a lever for improvement.

Of equal importance is the commitment of the many charities and campaigning organisations that provide vital support to thousands of people with cancer and—as importantly, but sometimes forgotten—to their families. However terrible it is to suffer from cancer, we must not forget the knock-on effects that it has on the emotions of families and friends, who must do so much to support patients through difficult health conditions at a time when they themselves are in a fragile emotional position. They also advocate on behalf of family members and friends suffering from cancer. That is a crucial role, and one that we must not forget.

The contribution of the charitable and voluntary sector to our recent cancer strategy has been invaluable, and I trust that we can continue to count on its help in delivering our aims and objectives. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing up this important issue. As he made clear in his remarks, because relatively few people suffer from pancreatic cancer, it may not always get as much attention as more common cancers such as breast cancer and lung cancer. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to outline the Government’s position and assure him that we continue to work towards achievement.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Dangerous Dogs

[Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): This debate was born out of an incident that probably lasted all of 30 seconds, but sadly such things happen every single day. In November 2010, I was a keen, young MP and decided to go campaigning with my campaign team. I walked down the street with a load of leaflets in my hand, went to a house and did the one thing that people are told not to do when they first join a political party and learn how to leaflet—I put my hand right through the letterbox. Without a word of warning, I felt something clamp on my hand and a low growl made me realise that a dog had me. When I pulled my finger out, I noticed what I thought was a small cut, but it developed into a deep gash that spurted blood out everywhere. I had to go to hospital and the treatment my finger received resulted in five stitches and a one-inch scar on my middle finger, which I will not raise, in case I am called to order by you, Ms Dorries. I had become one of the more than 100 people a week in the UK who suffer injuries so severe from a dog attack that they are admitted to hospital.

Of course, I was one of the lucky ones: my treatment amounted to a trip to A and E and a course of antibiotics. However, many people are not so fortunate. Sadly, some well-publicised cases have seen people severely injured or maimed by a dog. Having been bitten through a letterbox, I have sympathy with the 10,000 postal workers who have been injured by domestic dogs. The most upsetting statistic is that seven guide dogs a month are attacked by out-of-control dogs.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way so early on in his speech. I have a partially sighted constituent whose guide dog was attacked and who is now afraid to set foot outside his door. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is completely unacceptable that blind and partially sighted people should feel like prisoners in their own homes? Does he not agree that the Government should heed Guide Dogs’ words about microchipping as soon as possible?

Chris Evans: I fully agree with my hon. Friend. I did a lot of research before this debate and one of the most harrowing things I found was a video on The Sun website, in which some sort of a dog had hold of a guide dog and the owner was kicking him to try to get him off. It was harrowing to see the guide dog’s reins. I hope that my hon. Friend’s constituent will have the confidence to go out in future and enjoy life once again.

I want to make it clear from the very beginning that I am pro-dogs. I would even say that I am a dog lover. I have been lucky enough to own dogs all my life. Anyone who has owned a dog will say how much they enrich life. I have great memories of a border collie cross called Pep that I grew up with. He lived until he was 19 and we all cried when he passed away. Moreover, when I arrive home from this place, I know that my dog will always be there, wagging his tail and happy that I am home—at least somebody at my house is happy when I arrive home.

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I pay tribute to a number of animal charities and organisations that work tirelessly to raise awareness of the many problems with our current dangerous dog legislation. Groups such as Battersea dogs home, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Dogs Trust, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Communication Workers Union are all long-standing campaigners on the issue. Each in its own way does a tremendous amount of work promoting responsible dog ownership. In my constituency earlier this year, the Dogs Trust ran a three-day centre in Risca and provided free health checks. It also offered to neuter and chip dogs for just £10. The event was a major success and about 70 dogs were booked in to be neutered and chipped. Across Wales, the Dogs Trust has neutered more than 13,000 dogs and microchipped 46,000. Such work makes a real difference to responsible dog ownership. Speaking to charities and groups on the front line makes me realise how our dangerous dog legislation is just not good enough.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. A local newspaper of mine, News Shopper, is running a shop a dog campaign, which seeks to highlight the fact that we should primarily be targeting irresponsible owners, rather than the dogs themselves. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on that?

Chris Evans: That is the main thrust of my debate. This is not a dog-only issue; often it is a social and anti-social issue. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to carry on with my speech, I will develop that point further.

A couple of months ago, I visited Battersea dogs home and as I wandered around and heard about the problems it faced re-housing stray dogs that have been abandoned and often abused by their owners, I realised that our legislation for dangerous dogs must change. It made me realise that one of the biggest failures of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is that it is breed-specific. Despite banning types of dogs such as the pit bull, the law has not reduced their numbers, which have exploded. The Act simply taught us that demonising certain breeds makes them more attractive to the wrong types of people, who will not think twice about flouting the law.

The previous Labour Government’s 2010 consultation revealed that 78% of people wanted new legislation to promote the responsible ownership of dogs. Shockingly, it has taken two years for the current Government to respond and publish their own plans. In that time, I was one of the 5,000 patients admitted to hospital for injuries caused by dog attacks in England and Wales.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He says that it has taken us two years to produce new measures to tackle this scourge, but, while it is true that the previous Government introduced a consultation right at the end of their time in office, nothing was done in the preceding 13 years, so it is ungenerous to suggest that we have taken too long.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con) rose

Chris Evans: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to respond to that point.

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Mr Gray: The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting point about the fact that the Act has not worked because irresponsible people have ignored it, and that those who continue to breed dangerous dogs are outside the law. Why would action by the Government have any effect whatever on those thugs and criminals who are ignoring the law?

Chris Evans: I welcome the Government’s guidelines to crack down on such people, who are completely outside the law. To respond to the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), yes, we had 13 years, but two years is too long and the Government have a responsibility. We are where we are.

On average, 12 postal workers are attacked by dogs every day. Many do not return to their job because of the physical and psychological effects of the attack. Even Members of this House have been victims of dog attacks. When I came in with a big bandage on my hand, a number of people told me that they knew of party workers who had been chased or bitten by dogs. Everybody I spoke to had some experience on the doorstep of being chased by dogs, although I do not know whether the dogs were Tory or Labour. A recent RSPCA survey underlined that fact and found that more than half of MPs had been bitten or chased by dogs while delivering leaflets over the past five years, while almost 80% of Members have seen one of their constituency team bitten or chased. Perhaps it is unsurprising that, according to the same survey, more than half of MPs believe that the current dog legislation is ineffective.

To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), we often talk about dangerous dogs in the context of being bitten or chased, but the cost of dangerous dogs cannot be underestimated. Last year, police forces in England and Wales spent £3 million kennelling dogs seized under the 1991 Act. My concern is that, after two years of waiting for worthwhile legislation, the Government’s proposals do not go far enough. Frankly, they are a missed opportunity and we must wonder how much of a priority tackling irresponsible dog ownership really is. However, we have to be careful—it is no good blaming the dogs. In many cases it is often not so much problem dogs, but problem owners. Although it is important that we enforce new, more effective legislation, it will only work if a number of steps are taken to influence owners and better educate the public.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I appreciate and support the hon. Gentleman’s comments on the need to control dogs and want to add another important reason for doing so. I have been a sheep farmer for most of my life and the impact of irresponsible dog owners has been terrifying. Thirty-five of my sheep were killed one night—they were turned over and torn apart. That is a common occurrence. The hon. Gentleman is listing some of the many reasons to control dogs, and the impact on the livestock industry is another one.

Chris Evans: I come from the south Wales valleys, where I am surrounded by farms. I know a local farmer, and the hon. Gentleman’s point is a massive issue. Dogs chasing sheep was always a feature of my life when I was growing up. The most important thing I was told when I first had a dog when I was very young was that I

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needed to keep him under control around livestock. That is very often overlooked. We often think of dangerous dogs as a city or urban problem, but it is also a serious problem in rural areas. I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

On my visit to Battersea dogs home, I learned that some 72% of the dogs that it looks after do not have a microchip, which makes it impossible to track down the owner. The Government have recently announced plans to combat that and have proposed the compulsory microchipping of puppies. However, in Battersea dogs home, I saw hundreds of dogs without a microchip who had been abandoned by their owners. It is no good the Government microchipping puppies when stray dogs are roaming the streets abandoned and neglected, with no hope of being reunited with their owners.

Battersea dogs home tells me that only 20% of the 6,000 dogs it homed in 2011 were microchipped and that one third even had the wrong details. Therefore, when the owner went along and asked for their dog, very often the dog had been rehomed. That demonstrates the scale of the problem. Microchipping is a start, which I welcome, but unfortunately that is all it is. It will take years to affect all dogs and will make little difference to the thousands of strays already wandering our streets.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I had an extraordinary case in my constituency that runs parallel to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I would like to highlight the case and am fascinated to hear what he has to say about it. A mother, father and small girl were asked to a tea party at a private residence next door. They went and the child, who was aged five, offered something to a Scottish terrier who jumped over the child’s hand, latched on to her face and tore half her face off. The eyeball had to be surgically put back and God knows what else, but because that happened in a private house, apparently the law cannot intervene. What does the hon. Gentleman feel can be done, if anything, in that sensitive area of the law?

Chris Evans: That is an absolutely harrowing case. I cannot think of anything worse happening. The hon. Gentleman says that the dog was a Scottish terrier. That is why we need to look again at the dangerous dogs legislation. We also need to ask a very important question in relation to the complicated issues surrounding dogs. We have a problem there. A number of people buy dogs for guarding purposes. When they take out a burglar, that is good; but when they are attacking a child, that is bad. We need to be very careful when framing such legislation.

I hope that we can have a debate on that matter because there is a grey area. On the one hand, if a person walks in and trespasses on someone’s property, the dog would be celebrated as a hero. On the other hand, the hon. Gentleman has mentioned an absolutely tragic and terrible situation. I hope that the family is returning to a semblance of order. I know that when I was bitten on the finger, I found it quite traumatic. I was a bit nervous around other dogs. I cannot think of anything worse.

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Order. Could you turn around and address your comments to the Chair and to Hansard please, Mr Evans?

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Chris Evans: I am very sorry, Ms Dorries—please forgive me. I was getting carried away in the moment there.

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): That is okay—it just makes it easier for Hansard .

Chris Evans: As I said, the owners of dogs that are abandoned and demonised need to be held accountable. In Wales, the Welsh Assembly has taken the lead on the microchipping of dogs and is currently consulting on the compulsory microchipping of puppies and on whether the ownership and information about a dog should be recorded on an approved database. The idea is that owners with microchipped dogs will be encouraged to put the welfare of their dog first, as well as to take more responsibility for the animal’s behaviour.

In Northern Ireland, the microchipping of dogs will become a compulsory condition of someone being issued a dog licence. What is more, the compulsory microchipping of all dogs has widespread public support. Not only do groups such as the Dogs Trust, Battersea dogs home and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health support the measure, but a recent Dogs Trust survey found that 83% of the UK population believe in compulsory microchipping. If the Government want to introduce worthwhile dog legislation, they have to extend microchipping beyond puppies.

Mr Gray: I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has to say. I quite understand that compulsory microchipping might help with stray dogs being rehomed and returned to their owners. However, I cannot imagine what possible connection there is between the compulsory microchipping of dogs and either the Scottie dog that very tragically attacked a child or, indeed, a perfectly normal dog that is microchipped and attacks a canvasser sticking leaflets through a door. What relationship is there between microchipping and controlling these dogs?

Chris Evans: To be honest, it is quite simple. We have no way of identifying these dogs. We do not know who owns them. If we have microchipping, we know who the owners are. At the end of the day, when I was bitten through a letterbox—

Mr Gray: My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) mentioned a dog that was in someone’s house.

Chris Evans: That is a different case. When I was bitten through a letterbox, I did not know who owned that dog. I could not track that person down. I knocked on the door and there was no answer. Somebody’s dog bit me and I do not know who owns it. If we are going to introduce major measures, we need to know who owns these dogs.

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having secured this important debate. I would like to highlight the information I was given by the Hampshire police dog unit to assist him with that point. One of the biggest problems it has after a dog attack has occurred is identifying which dog did it. As a very experienced dog handler of many years said to me, one brindle Staffie-type dog looks very much like another. He went

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as far as to say that if he looked at Hampshire police dog unit’s entire dog stock, he would struggle to identify anything other than his dog and that it is very difficult indeed to tell the other 11 apart.

Chris Evans: I absolutely agree. That is exactly what I have experienced. When I walked around Battersea dogs home, I felt that if I had seen one Staffie, I had seen a thousand. To be honest, I could not tell the difference between them.

Another element of responsible dog ownership not tackled in the Government’s proposals is the rise of what is known as status dogs among gangs and young people, contributing to antisocial behaviour and illegal activities. Sadly, the victims of those gangs tend to be Staffordshire bull terriers. In 1996, Battersea dogs home took in 380 Staffies. Last year, that figure rose to 1,869, which accounts for 37% of all dogs at the home. It tells me that, between 1996 and 2009, the number of Staffordshire bull terriers at the home increased by 850%.

Battersea dogs home is now seeing a trend towards different breeds, such as the Siberian husky. The number of Siberian huskies at the home has increased by 28% in the past year. Those dogs are often taught to be violent and as a consequence struggle to be rehomed. The problem is made even worse by the rise of backstreet breeding and the sale of dogs over the internet. Such dogs are often abandoned and become stray.

Some 40% of all the Staffordshire bull terriers taken into Battersea dogs home are two years old or younger. Many of those dogs are labelled as pit bulls when they are nothing of the sort. The thing I found most interesting when I finally came face to face with a pit bull terrier was that I realised I did not know what a pit bull looked like. When I thought about what a pit bull looked like, the dog I was thinking of was an American bull dog, which is a far bigger dog and a different breed.

The online quick sale of puppies often takes place, and many of those sold online are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Those negative aspects of dog ownership are not tackled in the Government’s proposals. It is highly unlikely that a puppy that is bred illegally and sold over the internet will end up in the hands of an owner who will make the effort to microchip them.

There has been success in recent years with the introduction of dog control orders, which prevent the movement of dogs on certain areas of land. Those orders are particularly helpful in safeguarding children’s play areas and parks from overly playful dogs that may scare or injure a child. However, dog control orders are at the discretion of the local authority, and there are playgrounds across the country where dogs are still allowed to roam.

When I spoke to Battersea dogs home about the issue of dog control orders, it told me that it was important for a balance to be struck. Of course, it is important that parents can take their children to parks without fear that they may be approached by a dog. However, at the same time, parks are obvious places for dog owners to walk their dogs.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): In Hackney, three new dog control orders were introduced as of 1 April. Does my hon. Friend agree that the challenge is having the resources to police those

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orders? Although they send out a signal, without the dog wardens on the ground, they do not have as much value as we may think.

Chris Evans: Absolutely. Unless dog control orders can be enforced and policed, they do not mean anything.

Therefore, instead of dog control orders, the Government could have followed the example of the Scottish Government who have introduced dog control notices. The Northern Ireland Assembly has also introduced control notices as a way of monitoring the behaviour of dog owners.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): The hon. Gentleman dismisses microchipping, but presumably if it were made compulsory with proper enforcement, there is also a case for dogs, particularly dangerous dogs, being confiscated from people who do not have them microchipped.

Chris Evans: That is it in a nutshell. If people had dangerous dogs that were not microchipped, they could be confiscated.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): Is the challenge not that, under the Government’s current proposals, microchipping will happen only to new puppies and, therefore, millions of dogs will not be microchipped? We will have to wait years until the entire British dog population has a microchip.

Chris Evans: That is why it is important that we follow the Northern Ireland example and have compulsory microchipping.

From speaking to groups such as Dogs Trust, it is clear that their favoured way of introducing legislation is as a preventive measure. They believe that improvement notices should be issued to dog owners rather than notices being linked to pieces of land. Such notices work preventively to ensure that owners take certain steps to control their dog in public, and allow local authorities to force owners to use a muzzle or lead if there is a risk to public safety. A breach of a dog control order is an offence that risks a fine of up to £1,000 and disqualification from owning a dog, but there was nothing about that in the Government’s recent proposals.

Stray dogs are an important issue in any discussion of dangerous dogs legislation, as they are linked directly with dog attacks. Despite that, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs considers the control of strays as a local authority matter. With local authority budgets feeling the strain and more local services being cut, the budget for animal welfare is not high on many councils’ list of priorities. Some have merged their animal welfare function with pest control, while others claim that they have no budget at all to deal with stray dogs. The issue has not been dealt with adequately by the Government.

All those major problems still exist despite the Government’s recent proposals. The charities concerned with dangerous dogs legislation that I speak to have been left frustrated by the reluctance of the Government to go further. This was a chance to reform the legislation on dangerous dogs and include preventive measures to stop dog attacks before they start. By introducing

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compulsory microchipping of all dogs, recorded on a single national database, owners will be encouraged to take responsibility for the behaviour of their dogs. Banning the sale of dogs in newspapers and on the internet and introducing a list of approved breeders would help to prevent the illegal breeding of dogs. With more than 5,000 people hospitalised due to dog attacks in the past two years, it is time the Government realised that the law must change. Sadly, the Government’s proposals look like a missed opportunity.

Several hon. Members rose—

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Owing to the large number of interventions, and as there are seven people on the list who wish to speak, speeches will have to be limited to five minutes.

2.51 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries.

As you know, Ms Dorries, the press can sometimes be very cruel. A few years ago, one of my dogs, a pug, won the Westminster dog of the year competition. The Times showed a photograph of the pug and me, and said that the pug was the one on the right. I thought that that was pretty cruel in the circumstances, but I was consequently invited to join the Kennel Club. I think I am one of the few Members of Parliament to be a member of the Kennel Club, so I feel an obligation to speak on this subject.

I agree almost entirely with the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), with one exception. Clearly, we need action to ensure that dogs do not attack people on private land. We need to ensure that it is an offence for dogs to attack other dogs, such as guide dogs. I think that everyone agrees about microchipping. Every organisation—the Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club and so on—is agreed on that. The only issue is whether microchipping will be compulsory for every dog, or whether to start with puppies and move up. All I ask of those right hon. and hon. Members who say that it should be compulsory to microchip every single dog immediately is that they reflect on the number of cases in each of our constituencies of elderly constituents who will say, “The trauma of taking my elderly dog to be microchipped will be too difficult.” Having every local newspaper carrying such stories about that will soon undermine confidence. I think I am one of the few hon. Members who was here during the progress of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. It fell apart like a two bob suit soon after it was implemented because of all its internal contradictions.

Chris Evans: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising an issue that I missed in my speech. I should have said that if we are to go ahead with compulsory microchipping we should consider some sort of scheme for the elderly, for whom dogs provide great companionship—access to free microchipping, or something similar to the Dogs Trust scheme, which charges £10. The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and I must apologise for not mentioning it in my speech.

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Tony Baldry: That is a good point, too. There are a number of issues in any legislation introduced by the Minister and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that will need to be teased out in due course on Second Reading.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate. Nobody has mentioned the legislation introduced by the Northern Ireland Assembly, which makes provision for elderly people who cannot afford to have their dogs microchipped. Perhaps the Northern Ireland example will be cited by the Minister, who is very knowledgeable on this issue, as a way to bring everybody on board and to not make people feel disadvantaged financially.

Tony Baldry: Of course. We will come on to a number of points on Second Reading or in Committee about exemptions and exceptions to compulsory microchipping of the entire dog population.

Universal, compulsory microchipping is not the immediate panacea that it appears to be. There are complexities that need to be teased out during the course of debate on any Bill. I hope that whatever legislation is introduced will be more enduring than the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991—I think everyone agrees on that. If we start microchipping puppies, because they are easy to identify and so on, there is nothing to stop local authorities and other organisations, such as the Dogs Trust, encouraging people to microchip their own dogs. Indeed, if strays are taken in, they might be given to owners on the understanding that they undertake to microchip them immediately.

I think the whole House agrees on the need to take action to prevent dogs attacking people on private property, and to stop them attacking guide dogs. I think that everyone agrees on the need for microchipping. However, having gone through all the difficulties of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, we need to ensure that we get the next piece of legislation right. That will require us to work hard on the detail of any Bill that is introduced.

2.56 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries.

I welcome the debate and come to it with a number of interests. As a criminal defence solicitor for more than 14 years, I have defended many a so-called dangerous dog and have seen for myself the failings of the legislation. The winners are either the lawyers or the animal experts who deal with the not so simple issue of whether a pit bull is a pit bull. I have employed the wisdom of many such an expert in many a long trial. The legislation often fails the victims of the attacks that we have heard so much about.

I have a more immediate interest in the debate, as two weeks ago my Labrador was attacked in our local park by a Staffordshire bull terrier. My Labrador ended up in the local animal hospital. My family were around at the time. Thankfully it was only the dog who was attacked, and no one else. I have great respect for Staffies, which are great family pets, and I do not wish to demonise them. Indeed, it is important not to demonise breeds—sadly, a result of previous legislation. The owner of the Staffy

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had said, “He may look ferocious, but he is a lovely family pet and no problem at all.” No sooner had he said that then his dog set upon our Labrador.

The owner was shocked that his dog was capable of the attack, which reminds us that the heart of the debate is responsible dog ownership. Any dog is capable—given the moment, time or provocation—of causing injury. There needs to be particular responsibility for some breeds, such as some terriers and Staffies. That is why this issue goes far beyond legislation into our culture and attitude towards dogs. We all know that in many cases we are dealing with a dangerous owner rather than a dangerous dog, and we need to find ways to tackle the issue.

I also speak on behalf of my constituents. Increasingly typical in the constituencies represented in the Chamber, particularly in London, are a growing number of so-called status dogs roaming around parks without proper responsible ownership. Many of our constituents, whether families with young children or responsible dog owners, will not go into parks because they are worried about being attacked. That is unacceptable and we need to do something about it.

Caroline Nokes: I want to draw my hon. Friend’s attention to some work done by the Dogs Trust over the past few years encouraging responsible dog ownership, improving education and particularly working with disadvantaged young men to encourage them to have their dogs neutered and microchipped, and to learn how to handle them. Better education has a massive role to play.

Mr Burrowes: I pay tribute to the work of the Dogs Trust, which works locally alongside owners, housing associations, police, schools and across the board to carry out projects, including pilots that need to be extended. In Enfield, in the Parkguard project, two dedicated parks officers make it their business to encounter intimidating-looking dogs—and intimidating owners, probably—and work with them to try to encourage them and teach them how to handle their dog properly. More of that needs to happen.

We need a change in legislation. As a lawyer, I welcome the extension to the definition of private places, having argued the case over whether a place is private or public. I heard recently from the council leader in Enfield that, during the London elections, a German shepherd opened a door into a yard and attacked a canvasser, seriously injuring their arm. That change is needed and makes sense, as does microchipping. The measures must be dealt with proportionately but carefully. Local discretion needs to be inbuilt to enable more dogs—not just puppies—to be chipped.

This is a good start. As a lawyer, I know that identity is a key issue. Many an argument has been had about who really owns a dog and we should not underestimate that issue. However, it is important to go beyond legislation, into prevention. That is why local projects are good. We can develop a general culture about how we handle our dogs carefully.