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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 12 December 2012

[Mr Andrew Turner in the Chair]

Commonwealth Trade

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

9.30 am

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to bring to the House this debate on Commonwealth trade. Hon. Members will know that I have always held a strong and passionate belief in the Commonwealth of Nations. If I may say so, I consider it a travesty that so little has been done by successive Governments to realise the full potential that the Commonwealth offers. Although I commend Her Majesty’s Government and particularly my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for putting the C back into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the capacity for building Commonwealth trade, which could stretch across every continent of the globe, is perhaps the area that has suffered most from the neglect of the past few decades.

Currently, 53 nations belong to the Commonwealth family. They range from the old dominions of Canada, New Zealand and Australia to countries from Mauritius to Jamaica, Cyprus to South Africa and Belize to Tuvalu. The newest member is Rwanda, which joined in 2009. The Commonwealth spans every time zone and yields a combined GDP of more than £5.2 trillion.

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on obtaining this important debate. Does he agree that increasing our trade with the Commonwealth can make us far less dependent on other areas?

Andrew Rosindell: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He makes a valid point. We trade and must trade with the whole world. We have focused on one area of the globe in recent decades. I believe that it is time to look to a wider trade relationship, and the Commonwealth is a natural group of countries, with which we have so much in common. That relationship must be developed for trade in the years to come.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the timeliness of the debate. He listed some—obviously not all—of the countries in the Commonwealth. Will he join me in saying that if countries that in the past were in the Commonwealth but had left, such as the Irish Republic, wanted to return, we would welcome them?

Andrew Rosindell: I wholeheartedly endorse the hon. Gentleman’s view. I also believe that we must expand the Commonwealth and look to countries with historical links to the Commonwealth that may not have considered joining or that we may not have approached. A more vigorous policy to attract more countries to join the Commonwealth would be very welcome. I would like to see the whole of Ireland in the Commonwealth and I very much look forward to that day.

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In addition to the Commonwealth nations, we of course have 21 British overseas territories—parts of the world that my hon. Friend the Minister is becoming more familiar with by the day—which stretch from Gibraltar to the Falkland Islands, Bermuda to the Pitcairn Islands and Montserrat to St Helena, along with five Crown dependencies: the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Australia also has external territories, such as Norfolk Island, and New Zealand has its realm states, such as the Cook Islands. All are part of our extended Commonwealth family. The English-speaking world is, I believe, the most powerful collection of nations on earth today. It is time to harness that power to extend opportunities for trade and to create the wealth that our people need.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s long-standing and very considerable interest in the British overseas territories. He mentioned the territories that are administered by Australia and by New Zealand, but what is the aggregate population of those territories if we are talking about trade and Britain’s trade balances?

Andrew Rosindell: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I commend him for his commitment to the Commonwealth and his deep understanding of countries around the world with which we have a lot in common, such as Australia. However, I have to say to him that this is not only about population size; it is also about geography. It is about the opportunities that some of the smaller territories around the world present. Some of them can contribute in all kinds of ways. Yes, some of them have small populations, but surely they too should be welcomed as part of the family of nations and territories. We do not exclude a small territory because it has a small population; otherwise, what would we do with places such as Pitcairn, Sark and other places that have very small populations but are loyal to Britain and want to feel part of the extended Commonwealth family?

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining the debate. Before he leaves the subject of the overseas territories, might he not address the Government and say that if we were serious about protecting their interests and ours, we would have done what the French have done for their overseas territories: first, got them access to the European Union and, secondly, given them representation in this place?

Andrew Rosindell: Once again, I admire the right hon. Gentleman’s stance on these issues. I have enormous sympathy with his remarks. The Minister will recall that only yesterday I raised with him the failure of the United Kingdom in this regard. It is the only post-colonial nation to deny its territories the right to vote in its own elections. The Government in London, our Parliament, can of course make laws affecting our territories. We can declare war on their behalf. We can sign treaties and decide foreign policy and currency issues—a whole range of things—yet no one from our territories has the right to vote in our elections or to have any direct say. We do not even have a Standing Committee of Parliament that deals exclusively with our territories and dependencies.

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In that regard, we are unlike Australia, which has an external territories committee. Therefore we have, I believe, let our territories down over many years.

It is only since the election of the current Government that I have seen a genuine change of attitude to our territories. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), who championed this cause as Minister for the overseas territories until only recently. Many of the representatives from those territories are truly grateful to him for everything that he did to change the relationship and to ensure that we have a much more positive attitude towards our overseas territories.

Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for those kind remarks. On the overseas territories, does he agree that one should look not at the size of population but at GDP and per capita income? We should look at some of the territories that have world-class financial services and world-class hydrocarbons and at ways of harnessing bilateral trade in both our interests. Does he agree that any reinvigorated approach to the territories must focus more on the trade agenda?

Andrew Rosindell: I wholeheartedly support what my hon. Friend said. This is not just about population. There is a whole range of factors, as he mentioned, and we must look at all those opportunities if we are to capitalise on parts of the world that we have neglected. We have missed opportunities. We know that if we want a sustainable future for all our people, we have to stretch beyond the European continent, and what more obvious opportunities are there than those offered by countries with which we have so much in common, not least the English language?

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining the debate. The hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) hit the nail on the head in terms of what we need to concentrate on. The hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) mentioned Australia, whose economy is growing dramatically because of the demand for its natural resources from China. We need to concentrate more on the 53 countries and put money into them, rather than putting tens of billions of pounds into a black hole in the European Union, which is losing us money every year.

Andrew Rosindell: The hon. Gentleman speaks for the majority of the British people in that. Those outside this place cannot understand what on earth Governments have been doing over the past 30-odd years narrowly focusing on a small part of the world, which might be geographically close, but with which we have huge differences, when in other parts of the world, with which we have so much in common, we have neglected such opportunities. We need to unshackle ourselves from this deadweight and forge something new and positive that will sustain us with trade and co-operation in a range of areas in the years to come.

Mr Frank Field: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Andrew Rosindell: I will have to make some progress, but I give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr Frank Field: The hon. Gentleman talks about the change in attitude of the Government already to the overseas territories. As we know, changes in attitude can be important, if they are followed by action. What would he like to see that change in attitude deliver for the overseas territories by the end of this Parliament?

Andrew Rosindell: This is of course not purely a debate about overseas territories. It is about Commonwealth trade. Only last week, I met chief ministers and premiers from many of the overseas territories, who were here for the joint ministerial council, and the one message that I received from all of them was that although they appreciate all the different, new initiatives our Government are introducing and the much warmer relationship, they still wonder: are they British or are they foreign? That is the question they put to me. Why are British territories under the Foreign Office? They are British, not foreign. They are not even Commonwealth; they are not allowed to join the Commonwealth. They do not even have territory status in the Commonwealth. They feel that they are treated almost as an anomaly.

It is high time that we addressed all the issues and treated overseas territories as an equal part of the British family, while upholding their right to self-determination and home rule. We do not want to govern them from London, but we want them to feel securely part of the British family. Giving them elected representation and secure places in our Parliament, particularly for territories that are under threat from aggressive neighbours, such as the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar, would signify that we intend to retain them permanently as British sovereign territory and that negotiations over their future will not take place. I appreciate the sentiments that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) expressed this morning.

The nations of the Commonwealth are dotted along the whole spectrum of the development index. Within it are some of the largest producers of raw materials, as well as a broad range of manufacturing and service industries. Combined with that rich diversity, we are all wonderfully tied together by a shared history, heritage and language. Many Commonwealth countries continue to share Her Majesty the Queen as their sovereign and Head of State, and of course Her Majesty remains head of the Commonwealth itself. The Commonwealth was not an accident; it was built on trade flows, the location of commodities, the availability of work forces and a mutual desire to develop and succeed.

Where have things gone wrong? Why has the United Kingdom sat back? Why has there been such a systematic failure to develop the debate over Commonwealth trade? I suggest that some of the fault may lie in our membership of a continental construction that has effectively tied Britain to a protectionist trade block. Although I welcome everything that the Foreign Secretary has said, perhaps blame lies with the low importance that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given in recent years to our relationship with the Commonwealth.

Could the Minister tell the House how many people in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office actually work on Commonwealth issues? I am informed that it may be as few as six, and only one may be full-time. Is that true

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and, if so, why do Her Majesty’s Government not make the Commonwealth a greater priority? In addition, can the Minister confirm which UK representative, if any, joined the Commonwealth Finance Ministers meeting delegation in Tokyo in October of this year? I have no doubt that he agrees that the UK should take a leading role at such meetings.

Mr Spellar: As I understand the arcane discussions going on inside the Conservative party at the moment, one school of thought says that we ought to return to a relationship with Europe as a trading block, rather than continue in the European Union, and that negotiations should take place and there should be a referendum. But that would still mean that we were in a major trading block that would be our major trading partner. The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that we ought to look for an alternative trading block, rather than a complementary or supplementary one. Will he clarify?

Andrew Rosindell: The shadow Minister misunderstands the point I am making. I value enormously our relationship with Europe. Co-operating and trading with Europe is very important, and I do not downplay it at all. I am sceptical over whether the EU, as constructed, is the right model for us to be part of. There are all sorts of ways to trade and co-operate with our neighbours on the continent, without necessarily being tied into a political union, which is, I am afraid, heading in the direction of an integrated united states of Europe. I do not think that many constituents of Members in the Hall today would support the idea of going further and deeper into that construction. If the Labour party intends to fight the next election wanting to sign up to an even closer relationship with Europe, I look forward to the election result.

What of the general UK presence in terms of trade with the Commonwealth? For example, how many UK trade delegations have been to Commonwealth nations since 2010? Maybe the Minister can answer that later. Sadly, it seems that Britain has delegated many such matters to Brussels. We appear to have lost our ability to conduct direct trade deals with countries outside the EU. The UK seems unable to carry out free trade agreements with a third party, due to our association with the EU customs union. Consequently, the UK can independently forge bilateral investment agreements only. In the light of that, could the Minister inform the House when the last bilateral investment agreement was signed by the UK and another Commonwealth country? Although we all recognise the importance of our trade relationship with our European neighbours as individual states, the idea that we must for ever have a Eurocentric focus is simply outdated and wrong. Commonwealth and European trade should not be seen as mutually exclusive; they should complement each other.

We run a trade deficit with the EU of £41 billion, but a trade surplus of more than £10.7 billion with the Commonwealth, so it makes sense to balance one with the other. More Commonwealth trade does not mean less trade with European nations. Germany, for example, had an extremely healthy surplus of £16.8 billion in 2011. Does anyone seriously believe that our German friends would stop that great deal with the British people if we forged a new agenda on Commonwealth trade? It would to be to no one’s advantage.

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Our neighbours across the English Channel would be the beneficiaries of any new arrangement for Commonwealth trade. They, too, could plug into opportunities that Britain is in a unique position to create. We are in a unique position to concentrate on developing the potential for trade that exists beyond the continent of Europe, and we should not be held back from doing so.

In October this year, a paper authored by Tim Hewish and James Styles, “Common-Trade, Common-Growth, Common-Wealth”, set out the possibilities for Commonwealth trade. It examined in detail how we can further mould the Commonwealth into a relevant and practical 21st-century organisation, based around a mutually beneficial trade relationship, as well as how we can lift developing Commonwealth nations out of poverty. I highly recommend the book to the Minister. I hope that he will read it, and take it back to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to develop ideas based on its excellent contents. The case is supremely compelling.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on the powerful case he is making for Commonwealth trade. To strengthen his argument and the report he just held up, yesterday the all-party group on the extractive industry was told by the International Council on Mining and Metals that the Commonwealth already plays an important role in capacity building in some developing countries, which ensures that they do not suffer from the resources curse and that they can deal with the classic issues of corruption and lack of transparency that have blighted so many economies. Does he therefore agree that Commonwealth trade can play an important role not only in increasing the UK’s trade, but in helping many developing countries to trade out of poverty?

Andrew Rosindell: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I will refer to this later, but we spend rather a lot of money on aid, through our Department for International Development budget. It is probably more beneficial in the long term to assist such countries to trade. We should help people to trade themselves out of poverty, which is a far better solution than continuously giving them handouts. Trade is the way out of poverty, and the Commonwealth is uniquely placed to form a foundation for that. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

Mr Bellingham: Does my hon. Friend agree that a vital part of the Commonwealth organisation is the Commonwealth Business Council? In the past, it focused largely on India, the far east and the antipodes—rightly so, in some ways—but seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are African, and many of them are in the Commonwealth. Does he therefore agree that the Commonwealth Business Council should concentrate more on Anglophone and, indeed, Lusophone Africa?

Andrew Rosindell: I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that his work in the Foreign Office laid the foundations for closer co-operation with our friends in Africa, which is an up and coming continent. Once again, Britain is uniquely placed to develop trade and co-operation with those countries, and the Commonwealth Business Council also has a role to play. But what were we thinking of, in the past few decades, when we completely forgot about countries all around the world, and focused purely on a model of Europe that, frankly, was alien to what most of us in this country believe? All those opportunities lie

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before us, and we now need the political courage to seize them and make the best of them, not only for our own people, but for those of all the Commonwealth nations. I believe that we have the chance to do so at this point in our history.

We all know that, in comparison with the combined Commonwealth annual growth rate of 3.7%, the European Union’s growth is shrinking. Under the so-called Commonwealth effect, the overhead costs of trading with the Commonwealth are reduced by about 15% in comparison with trade outside the Commonwealth. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge the Commonwealth factor in doing business.

We are the world’s sixth largest trading nation. Yet while we remain wedded to an outmoded customs union, emerging nations are at liberty to trade freely and openly in a healthy competitive environment. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing, despite that hindrance, to help UK small and medium-sized enterprises trade with other Commonwealth nations, and what platforms are open to UK SMEs to get information about Commonwealth trade?

I am left in absolutely no doubt that we are at a crossroads; not taking a practical outlook now on how the UK moves its trade relations forward will be viewed by future generations as utterly foolish. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, in my work with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and as chairman of all-party groups relating to Commonwealth countries and the overseas territories, I am fortunate to have met and had direct dealings with many high commissioners, prime ministers, premiers, chief ministers, diplomats, Government representatives and those engaged with trade and commerce. Let me tell the House that there is a strong and clear message that resonates: the Commonwealth nations are eager for our business, and they want to explore and develop a trading relationship. But what do we do? We talk. We talk about the valuable asset of the Commonwealth, how relevant it remains to Britain and the potential for business and trade, but we seem to do very little.

Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider making that a central theme for Her Majesty’s Government to pursue in the second half of this Parliament. Will a Business Minister join him in Colombo for next year’s Commonwealth business forum to promote what I hope will be a new British vision for trade across the Commonwealth? I, for one, recognise how important it is for the UK to take a lead in Commonwealth initiatives. What could be more important in these times than to build steadfast foundations for trade for the decades to come? To all those who think that adopting a different relationship with the EU would put us on the periphery of Europe, I say no—it would place us on the doorstep of the world. That point runs much deeper, because increased Commonwealth trade and co-operation would bring a whole host of other benefits. A Commonwealth investment bank might cultivate projects in emerging markets, and a Commonwealth business visa could promote a trans-regional investor environment.

On that note, a few simple changes at our border would also provide a friendlier reception for Commonwealth citizens entering the United Kingdom. As colleagues will be aware, I am promoting the United Kingdom

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Borders Bill, which would provide for recognition at our border of people from Commonwealth realms where Her Majesty the Queen remains the Head of State. It would give people from those 15 nations the right to enter UK passport control in the same channel as the British, which would generate a tremendous amount of good will.

The shadow Minister, who has links with Australia, will know how passionately such people feel let down when, on arriving at Heathrow, they are told to queue with those from the rest of the world. They fought shoulder to shoulder with us in every war, they share the Queen as their Head of State, they speak our language and their culture and heritage is ours, yet we treat them as aliens. Why do we not allow people from those realms and territories the right to enter through the same channel as the British, while those from countries with whom we have not always had that much in common can enter through that channel? It is a shameful indictment of the failure of all Governments to recognise our very special relationship with those countries. I hope the Government will address that by supporting my Bill, which is now before the House. The Bill would boost tourism and trade by making it easier to move between Her Majesty’s realms and territories.

There is a social justice element to the argument. The UK currently hands out £8.57 billion a year in international aid, which is a lot of money, almost all of which is distributed to Commonwealth countries. However, as we have discovered, handouts are futile for long-term sustainability: endless handouts are not the solution. If we really care—in other words, if we really mean it—we should offer such nations a way to trade their way up and out of poverty.

The cruel reality is that that cannot realistically be achieved by the UK at the moment, for we cannot give Commonwealth states the chance to trade with us on equal terms. While other countries such as Russia and China are able to invest in mutually beneficial relationships with the Commonwealth nations in the developing world, Britain is left simply throwing money at well-meaning projects, because we are not able to have trading relations directly with those nations without going through the European Union.

Mr Spellar: Will the hon. Gentleman give an example of where China has been able to develop those relationships differently with, say, Australia or Canada?

Andrew Rosindell: Goodness me. The shadow Minister surprises me. Wherever I go in the world, I see the Chinese investing money, establishing institutions, developing opportunities for trade and ensuring that their best interests are looked after. Sadly, we cannot do that because we are shackled to an institution that prevents us from doing so individually as Britain with our Commonwealth partners. Even the Labour party must be able to see that this is no way to create wealth either for Britain or for developing nations.

Mr Spellar: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Will he give an example of the sort of projects that he is thinking about that the Chinese are able to develop and that our membership of the EU prevents us from developing?

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Andrew Rosindell: Once again, the right hon. Gentleman surprises me. Like me, he must, on occasion, have the opportunity to travel to all parts of the world; over the past couple of years, for example, I have travelled to Africa and the Pacific. Everywhere one goes, the Chinese are there doing the business and ensuring that their interests are looked after. They can sign up to a trading arrangement with any of those countries, but we are not allowed to do so. The right hon. Gentleman should understand that the dead-weight around our ankles has to be taken away if we are to give those countries and ourselves the opportunity to trade in the years to come. Consequently, I ask the Minister to consider the example of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which exists primarily to promote trade. Perhaps he can look at the way it operates and report back to the House with his findings. We need to look at examples of how the Commonwealth can develop in a similar way.

We need to be more like the dynamic Asian economies and less like some of the high-taxed, over-regulated and welfare-bloated European states. It must be in the United Kingdom’s interests to be able to enter independently into negotiations with Commonwealth states to establish free trade agreements. Surely it must be in our interests and in the interests of all Commonwealth countries to have those opportunities, denied to us at the moment because of Brussels. Instead, we are left at the mercy of the European Union deciding what is best. What would be the thoughts of our pioneering forefathers who shaped what has become today’s Commonwealth? Oh, how we have let them down. But all is not lost. There are many things that Her Majesty’s Government can do immediately to turn it all around.

First, I propose the creation of the post of Minister for Commonwealth trade, with a joint role between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that the Commonwealth is better promoted and understood both abroad and within the United Kingdom. A team would also be established, based on UK Trade and Investment, dedicated to Commonwealth trade, which would act under the auspices of the suggested Commonwealth trade Minister to enhance the options of UK SMEs to trade with emerging and developing markets.

Secondly, I propose that the UK Government and others bring to the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting a resolution to study the viability of a Commonwealth investment and development bank to assist trade and business expansion. The current Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation is not enough, nor is it the best vehicle to deliver that demand. Thirdly, we should draw up a feasibility study into the creation of a Commonwealth business visa that will allow businessmen to move more freely between nations, have meetings, set up companies and invest.

Those three practical changes would make an immediate difference to our position on Commonwealth trade. I should appreciate it if the Minister could evaluate and address my recommendations.

In the longer term, I want to see the Government invest in the next generation of Commonwealth citizens by bringing the Commonwealth back to the classroom. As the author Stephen Luscombe observes:

“It is still surprising that an institution that lasted half a millennium, involved millions upon millions of people, that was responsible for some of the biggest population shifts and technology

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transfers in history and influencing nearly every corner of the globe should be largely ignored by the British political and educational establishments.”

Indeed the United Kingdom is in itself a microcosm of the Commonwealth. With an increasingly multi-ethnic population, it is paramount that children understand what it means to be British and what part the Commonwealth has played in that story. The United Kingdom is most fortunate to have a Commonwealth within, ready to be utilised, if only we ourselves appreciated it. Today is the day when people can hear this story. I say to the Chamber and to the Minister that we in these British Isles should open our eyes and lift our gaze further towards the potential that exists within our great family of Commonwealth nations and peoples.

10.6 am

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I am grateful to be able to contribute to this debate, Mr Turner. Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that my speech will not be quite as long as that of the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), who was so generous in his handling of our interventions. I am immensely grateful to him for the way in which he has tackled this debate and for his genuine wish to engage with other Members in the Chamber. Such engagement does not always happen in debates, even though we call this a debating Chamber.

I wish to touch on three themes. The first is how important and perilous our exporting position is; any debate on trade, Commonwealth or otherwise, is of crucial importance to the House and our constituents. My second theme is to follow what the hon. Gentleman has already said about the need for us to build on our advantages with the Commonwealth, which we still have despite our neglect. Lastly, I will make a few suggestions about what the Minister can do to begin to change the position.

As you have said in the past, Mr Turner, it is always a good starting point in debates such as this to take the theme of the two nations: Britain and Germany. We need to look at what is happening to Germany and what is not happening to us. I have been here long enough to know that the balance of trade used to be a key factor in general elections; Governments won and lost elections over it. It now seems impossible to lose an election because of negative growth in the balance of trade. One day a reckoning must come on that score; how it will come I will leave for others to develop.

If we look at Germany’s performance over the current decade, we see that whereas its share of exports has risen from 8.9% to 9.3% of the total, our share has fallen from 5.3% to 4.1%. We as an economy are more dependent on exports than Germany—almost more dependent than any other country in the world, which relates to the contribution of the hon. Member for Romford about where we might look to for new emerging and important markets.

Unlike us, Germany has not been content to dig ever deeper into the European Union for its trading partners. Its trade with Europe, over the same period, has fallen to 38% of its total trade whereas ours is at 44.5%. We see the great economy of Europe disengaging from its European base and looking elsewhere for its markets just as we are getting more clearly and firmly entrenched in that market.

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I share many of the doubts that the hon. Member for Romford expressed about whether it is sensible—by history, by inclination, by language and by culture—to try to develop in areas where there are barriers to us, in contrast with much, if not most, of the Commonwealth.

What should we be doing on trade, particularly on trade with the Commonwealth? That is my second theme. Clearly, we need to reorientate ourselves as an economy and a country to those areas where markets are growing and we should not remain content with dealing with areas where markets are shrinking. The truth is that we have been very poor on that score. A number of reports suggest that. For example, a CBI report recently suggested that if we can only reorientate ourselves to those growth markets, by the end of the next decade our trade will be £20 billion larger in real terms than it is today.

How do we achieve that reorientation? We can have debates until kingdom come, but I doubt whether they would make much difference in the outside world. However, we have been given this huge advantage by the hon. Gentleman today—not only did he locate our interests in the Commonwealth but he suggested some practical moves that we can make. I am sure that the Minister will not disappoint his hon. Friend; I am equally sure that he will not answer those points but he will join him in supporting many of the suggestions.

Before we look at the advantages of increasing Commonwealth trade, can we not look at the ease with which trade could grow with Commonwealth countries? We have the advantages of a common language, a common legal system and a common accounting system. All those are very significant advantages indeed; some experts estimate that capitalising on them—I call them natural advantages—reduces our costs in trade by 20%.

What might we do to strengthen Commonwealth trade? The hon. Gentleman has already said that we should make the Commonwealth Business Council more effective. That is putting it mildly, is it not? Sadly, most of us would not know that the CBC existed. If we are going to have some body that will drive this process, it needs at least to have a presence in this country as well as in other countries.

My second suggestion is that the Government ought to make much more use of Lord Howell; why he was dropped—shoved aside—in the reshuffle, goodness only knows. He was a jewel in the crown as far as Commonwealth interest went, and he did well during his stewardship at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; I emphasise the ‘C’ in ‘FCO’. I thought that the hon. Member for Romford was probably exaggerating when he said that there were six members of the FCO who actually had an interest in Commonwealth affairs and responsibilities, even if we include the part-timers in that total.

Lord Howell has made two important suggestions, and I put them to the Chamber today. First of all, we ought to be thinking about how we attract inward investment from the Commonwealth into this country. Some of the most important businessmen in this country are from India. They have brought huge investment and—to some of our constituents—very considerable prosperity. Why are we not developing on that success? The second suggestion of Lord Howell was that we use Commonwealth countries as a launching pad into

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neighbouring countries, which might provide us with easier access to those markets. Those two ideas are easy to implement.

Finally, I come to the issue that I thought the hon. Member for Romford only touched on: the budget of the Department for International Development. If we are truthful, we know that, for reasons known only to the Prime Minister, while we are cutting the budgets of other Departments and the living standards of our constituents, we are going hell for leather to increase our overseas aid through DFID. We also know that large amounts of that money end up in the wrong pockets. We are dealing with a very corrupt system.

I think we should go further than has already been suggested in this debate and persuade DFID that one of the most beneficial things it could do, to strengthen ties with the Commonwealth, including, in the longer term, trade ties, would be to get very serious about bringing Commonwealth students to this country. I am not saying that DFID should roll over and let vice-chancellors tickle its tummy; I think that vice-chancellors should go in and be very serious in negotiating what the terms should be. However, one very useful thing the Government could do, which would win them widespread support in the country as far as overseas aid was concerned, would be to say that from now on a growing share of that growing DFID budget should be given over to Commonwealth scholarships. One way of doing that, of course, would be to build on the beginnings of what Sir John Major is hoping to do with the Queen’s jubilee series of scholarships.

I hope that, by the end of this Parliament, we will have trebled—we could easily do it—the number of scholarships that we award to Commonwealth students to come here, to learn, to return to their countries, to be ambassadors for this country and to prepare for trade with this country. It would lead to more of our constituents being in employment, and to more of them seeing some sense in our having an overseas aid budget.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford on securing this debate. Nobody could accuse him of scaremongering. I thought that he was modest beyond belief in the gentle way that he approached the issue of how vulnerable this country—supposedly a great exporting country—is and how casual we are in our links and in developing our interests with countries with which we merely say we have a common language and culture.

Those Commonwealth countries fought with us in two wars. We are in the extraordinary position of thinking that we should be trading with those who were at our throats for those two wars—indeed, that they should have special access to our ports and airports. Meanwhile, those who fought with us in those wars are categorised as “foreign” and have to join the lot of people in that category when trying to come back to their mother country.

The Government could do much that would not cost a penny over the existing budgets. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says in trying to take this debate forward.

10.18 am

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I apologise, Mr Turner, for not giving advance notice that I wish to speak in this debate, but having heard two such excellent

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speeches from two Members whom I greatly respect and who talk a great deal of sense on this issue—my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field)—I was inspired to join in the debate and support some of the points that they have made.

Commonwealth trade is something about which we can both take lessons from the past and look to the future. Fundamentally, it is about Britain’s place in the 21st century and the opportunities and some of the risks, which the right hon. Member for Birkenhead pointed out, facing Britain’s place as a trading nation.

I have always believed that, because we are more externally facing and have greater links across the world than any other country in Europe, there are great risks in tying ourselves too closely into a European trading bloc to the exclusion of all else and that inevitably the process of closer union in Europe leads to compromises. Britain’s position as a trading nation with very strong external links throughout the Commonwealth and with other parts of the world, such as Latin America, can be compromised by compromising too far with our European neighbours, so I strongly support the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford has made.

Mr Spellar: Why does the hon. Gentleman think that membership of the EU constrains us in trading with the rest of the world, when Germany manages—dramatically successfully—to trade with the rest of the world? The last time that I looked, Germany was a member of the EU and even of the eurozone.

Mr Walker: It is absolutely true that it is possible to export to the rest of the world as a member of the EU—I do not deny that in the least. However, the EU puts up trade barriers, many of which have disadvantaged Commonwealth countries over the years. For example, in the famous banana wars, Commonwealth imports were seriously disadvantaged by European action, and that directly affected Britain’s relationships with some of its Commonwealth neighbours.

Mr Spellar: Surely, the banana wars were about regulations under the general agreement on tariffs and trade. Banana producers in former British and French territories were having problems with bananas produced by American companies on massive central American plantations; that had nothing to do with the EU—it was a general agreement on tariffs and trade issue.

Mr Walker: I am afraid I have to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. Furthermore, by bringing some of their overseas territories into the European network, the French have been able to benefit them in a way that we cannot benefit members of our Commonwealth. We therefore need the flexibility to trade more freely.

Interestingly, this is not a new debate. In fact, I looked the issue up in Hansard, and I hope Members will indulge me if I read part of a speech by a former Member for Worcester:

“I suggest that it is the urgent duty of Her Majesty’s Government to pay far more attention to the markets of the Commonwealth than they have done in the past. I certainly feel that there has been something of a negative attitude towards the Commonwealth markets. There has been a tendency”—

this was when Britain was outside the Common Market, but trying to join—

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“because we have been closed out of the Common Market, to call the Finance Ministers of the Commonwealth to this country not to discuss and formulate a vigorous policy for expanding our trade with the Commonwealth but to discuss the concessions which they may be willing to make to get into the Common Market countries. This is a matter which, I believe, has contributed to this large fall in the proportion of Commonwealth trade enjoyed by this country. In fact, it would appear that we are beginning to give away the substance of Commonwealth trade for the potage of possibilities elsewhere.”—[Official Report, 20 April 1961; Vol. 638, c. 1434-35.]

That Member happened to be my father, and that was his maiden speech in 1961. If we had taken a different route, as my hon. Friend said, we might be trading far more successfully with the Commonwealth today.

We need to look at the 21st-century world and at the rising powers in it, and we need recognise that the opportunities and challenges that we face are profoundly different from those in 1961. Europe is no longer such a large part of the world economy, and one of the rising world powers is India, which is a member of the Commonwealth. Britain therefore has an extra interest in trading with the Commonwealth and in breaking down some of the barriers to Commonwealth trade. We must recognise, however, that we no longer rule the roost when setting the Commonwealth’s rules. As we set out to increase Commonwealth trade and to work more closely with other Commonwealth countries, we must recognise that many of them have as much right to have a say in the process as we do. We should encourage and support other Commonwealth countries—particularly India, which stands out as one of the world’s emerging superpowers—to play a more active role in promoting the opportunities that would benefit us all.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of education. In his speech in 1961, my late father talked about the importance of creating a Harvard business school for Commonwealth business executives, so that we could have more Commonwealth-minded business people carrying out trade. There is a real opportunity in that regard. I recently visited China, which is not of course a member of the Commonwealth, and saw the work a university in my constituency is doing to bring rising people in the local civil service over from China, train them and send them back. That created enormous good will, and when I took a business delegation there—I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—there were huge trade opportunities. We should look to do such things throughout the Commonwealth, especially given the enormous advantages offered by a common language and a common legal system. I therefore strongly endorse the point about the jubilee scholarships, which I should like to be taken even further to open up such opportunities.

We have an exciting opportunity to position Britain better in the 21st century and to work with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and rising powers. We should not turn our back on Europe, but we should recognise that we are stronger if we have multilateral relationships in many different directions, and if we complement our trade with our European partners with trade throughout a world that is rapidly changing and in which the centres of economic power are shifting.

10.25 am

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on securing the debate. I had hoped that it would focus on increasing

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trade around the world and especially on ensuring a fair share for manufacturing; I say that having, in a previous incarnation, been a national officer for the electricians’ union and represented two west midlands constituencies during my parliamentary career. I have a huge interest in manufacturing, and I would certainly agree that its interests and importance have not had sufficient attention, particularly among the ranks of the British civil service. I will touch on that later.

It is unfortunate that almost no debate in the House can now be conducted without focusing to an unhealthy extent on Europe, often in areas where Europe is not a relevant consideration. The hon. Gentleman talked about high-tax, welfare-bloated states; some would characterise Sweden as one of those—it is an archetypal Scandinavian welfare state—but it has a very effective exporting machine. Similarly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) will know, Germany laid the foundation for many social welfare provisions in the Bismarck era, as one of the early representations of a welfare state, and it is hugely successful at exporting.

Let me take another, very real example. Following the manufacturing downturn that resulted from the global financial crisis, civil service and Treasury officials here were hugely resistant—there was a considerable battle within the Government about this—to paying companies to keep their manufacturing workers on the books. We should compare and contrast that with what happened in Germany, which kept workers on and then had a work force who were ready to go when the upturn came.

Take a company such as JCB, whose owners are well known for their donations to, and involvement with, the Conservative party—although I will not complain about that on this occasion. We should compare and contrast its operation in Germany, which is a smaller part of the overall business, with its operation in Uttoxeter, in the midlands. When the upturn came in Germany, its operation there was able to take on work straightaway, but its operation in Uttoxeter had to go and find the workers that it had had to lay off to maintain financial viability. That is very much about using welfare provisions to maintain industrial capability, so it is not as though there is an inconsistency in having a proper welfare state and industrial efficiency.

That is the nub of my argument with the hon. Member for Romford. He put forward many interesting ideas, and I fully agree with him about the importance of stressing the need to develop, maintain and expand our relations with our Commonwealth partners. However, he focused on our relationship with the EU, when the fault, in Shakespeare’s words,

“is not in our stars, But in ourselves”.

The problems are in the UK, and constantly blaming people somewhere in Brussels means that we do not examine what we need to do in this country to improve and, in many areas, to build trading relationships, particularly—I was pleased the hon. Gentleman touched on this—through education.

We also need to look at how we have been reacting to Government purchasing, for example. It is hard to go to a foreign country and say “Buy British trains” when the Department for Transport deliberately turns its back, because of some complications in the bidding, on

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buying from Bombardier in Derby and buys from Siemens instead. It appears that yet again, as happens so often, it is allowing Siemens some variation to the contract. Why do I cite Bombardier in particular? Precisely because it is an extremely successful Canadian company, investing in UK train manufacture. It is also investing—I am sorry that our colleagues from Northern Ireland are no longer present—in what used to be Shorts in Northern Ireland; that is an extremely successful project, which is now securing an increasing share of the world market.

In that context, the hon. Member for Romford slightly underestimated the degree of engagement between us and many of our significant Commonwealth partners. Australia and the UK are either No. 1 or No. 2 as major investors in each other and, interestingly enough, the position of Australia has been rising in the past two or three years. There is significant investment between our countries.

There was enormous publicity during the year about the success of Tata, a major Indian company that has made a huge success of its ownership of Jaguar Land Rover. Now it is not only expanding production but moving down the supply chain. An investment in a substantial engine plant for Jaguar Land Rover in the Wolverhampton and south Staffordshire area is very welcome.

Andrew Rosindell: I accept a lot of what the right hon. Gentleman says. Will he therefore agree that Britain is in a unique position to be a bridge between trade with the European continent and trade with the English-speaking world, and that we could have a unique and positive role to play if we were to harness the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world while retaining a trading relationship with our neighbours on the continent? Can we combine the two to the mutual benefit of all?

Mr Spellar: I am pleased that my eloquence has persuaded the hon. Gentleman that those objectives are not inconsistent but compatible and that, for a variety of reasons, many of which he enunciated effectively, we can act as a springboard into the European market. That is an attraction not just for Commonwealth countries, but, as the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) will know extremely well, for Japanese companies coming to the UK.

Why are so many Japanese car companies based in the UK and expanding their investment and production? It is because we have offered a welcome mat to them, and they are now also expanding component manufacture here as well. It is enormously important for us to be able to tell those companies, “You have come to a country where you will be welcome, and where you have the advantage of the English language, the time zone and a developed commercial community that can service a variety of needs.” That is enormously important. I only wish we could also say, “And you will have easy access through airports,” but that is a matter that—regrettably and, I think, to the detriment of our business—seems to have been slipped slightly to the right.

The situation has come about precisely because we are an engaged member of the European trading bloc. There is a lot of talk—one can read about it in the excellent note produced by the Library—about the fact that so much of our trade now is intra-European, but that is not surprising. In all economies, especially as

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borders break down, geography is destiny. The United States has a huge cross-border trade with Canada. Up on the Detroit-Windsor border, trucks run back and forth every day between the major car and component plants in the United States and Canada.

It is the view of Australian politicians of all parties that it was inevitable, especially as China opened up and Japan developed economically, that trading relationships would grow between Australia, and Japan and China. That was inherent in their geographical position. The same goes for us. We do not count as a trade flow the fact that Toyota builds engines in Deeside in Wales and builds its cars in Burnaston. If, however, we considered that process happening between plants in Germany or France, it would count as trade flows, but that is the nature of modern industry and the interdependency of plants. We should welcome it, but it should not detract from our efforts also to build markets around the world.

Andrew Rosindell: The right hon. Gentleman surely realises that the concept of free trading around the world in some of the countries that he mentions is very different from the model of trading that we are presented with via the European Union. The harmonisation, standardisation, centralised control and single currency that are being introduced in the European Union are not being brought in anywhere else in the world. The model of trade that the right hon. Gentleman articulates so well is one I would accept, but that is not the model of trade prescribed by Brussels. He is talking about two different visions of what trade is all about.

Mr Spellar: There are always standards. Whether the European Union is involved or not, there are international standards. When the hon. Gentleman uses a DIN plug on some audio equipment, that is the Deutsche whatever-it-is; when he has a SCART lead that is the Syndicat—it is a French standard. Countries adopt international standards. It is the same in the oil industry. People work to standards normally set by the United States. Why is so much of that business still undertaken in feet and inches? Precisely because of where the main activity takes place. None of that, to get back to the point I made earlier, prevents Germany from being a major industrial powerhouse, which sells goods all round the world—and it does not prevent Sweden or French industry from doing that, either.

I agree with the hon. Member for Romford that we need to look at what we are doing throughout the world because there are several countries that are hugely important markets for us. Australia and Canada are both in the G20. By the way, we should also consider the huge growth happening in another G20 country, Indonesia, although it is not a Commonwealth country.

The EU has also recently signed a free trade agreement with Korea, which opens huge new markets to us. I hope that there will also be developments in the Japan trade agreement. The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the importance of studying expanding markets, and ensuring that we produce the right sorts of goods and services and that Government purchasing encourages their manufacture in the UK. We should sell such goods and services and not underestimate our ability to sell services around the world—not just in the financial and legal sectors, but in the cultural field, where we have a unique selling proposition, which we should develop

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further. We should be thinking about building on our commonalities with the countries in question, as well as ensuring that we do not ignore other growing countries.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) has left the Chamber. It was a pleasure to work with him at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, not only because of the work we all did, as the hon. Member for Romford will know, on returning the Turks and Caicos Islands to functioning democracy but because of his interest in Africa. I engaged with him on the issue of Somali pirates and my shadow ministerial colleagues engaged with him on Africa.

The hon. Member for North West Norfolk was right to stress that many of the world’s fastest-growing countries are in Africa, and in the Commonwealth, and he is absolutely right that we therefore need to put in more diplomatic and commercial effort. I hasten to add that I would like the banks to be a bit more helpful to and co-operative with companies trying to expand and inevitably dealing with cash-flow issues. In manufacturing in particular, the banks are not as helpful as they should be—certainly not in the west midlands. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to stress those issues because they are areas that we ought to develop, but the matter is not exclusive to our relationships with Europe; it is part of an expanding international trading community, in which we ought to be involved.

I slightly query the hon. Gentleman’s stress on trade delegations, although I do not in any way underestimate their impact. When I was in Indonesia in July, it was clear that the Government trade delegation that had been there had been helpful and significant. We really need to follow up on that, and I am not sure whether we are doing enough.

Trade delegations are important, but we do not need one to Australia. Businessmen, politicians, academics and others are backwards and forwards to Australia and Canada. We should treat trade with such countries as part of our normal trading pattern. It seems to me that trade delegations are to open up markets and relationships. As things proceed positively—we hope—in Burma, we will undoubtedly need to be developing more there. That is the role of trade delegations, but we should be considering how we, our embassies and our high commissions around the world, facilitate the operation of businesses. We should also be moving towards doing normal business, as though going from Birmingham to Brisbane was like going from London to Edinburgh, rather than treating such business as separate, and just part of foreign policy.

To ensure that the Minister has time to reply, I shall make just one final point. I return to the question of the British independent overseas territories. As I said earlier, I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford on his work in raising the prominence of the overseas territories here in Parliament. There is no taxation without representation, but also no representation without taxation, so I am not entirely sure exactly how their having direct representation would work out.

The hon. Member for Romford is right to stress the strategic importance of some of the territories, but it worries me that we sometimes focus on countries that have, for one reason or another, political or media prominence but do not represent the real markets that we ought to be considering—the ones from which we

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get the volume and the ones that will be the hugely growing economies of the future. I conclude by saying that the hon. Gentleman has opened up a number of issues, and one day we might be able to have a debate without Europe dominating so much.

10.43 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): It is a pleasure to serve under your guidance, Mr Turner. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), the Minister of State, sends his apologies for not being able to be here this morning; it is he who has responsibility for the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth. He is abroad on business, but I know that he will read avidly the transcript of the debate. If I do not have time to reply to all the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), I will ensure that he is written to in a detailed way that sets out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s response.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and on his knowledge and detailed understanding of the importance of the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth—and with the overseas territories, which we explored in some detail at the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. His speech today was typically passionate, articulate and lucid, and it showed a detailed grasp of the complexity of some of the issues that we are wrestling with this morning.

My hon. Friend was absolutely right in the central thrust of his argument: the necessity and importance of driving economic and trade ties with the Commonwealth, to stimulate economic development, wealth and sustainable job creation, as a significant contribution to alleviating poverty in some Commonwealth countries and to helping with our UK economic recovery. I would, however, like to address one or two issues up front, because my hon. Friend seemed to imply that nothing was being done at the moment to improve relations, economic trade and other ties with the Commonwealth.

Of course, I accept that more needs to be done. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) rightly mentioned Lord Howell’s significant contribution; I know from discussions with my noble Friend that he is still very interested in and engaged with driving forward the relationship with the Commonwealth. The issue is not, of course, just about economic and trade ties; it is also about building governmental capacity and strengthening ties in other areas, including through education. There is a keenness and enthusiasm to create links with UK educational establishments, to build capacity and to facilitate the work of the British Council where appropriate.

It is important that Members understand the overseas territories’ relationship with the Commonwealth. In our view, the territories should have either associate or observer membership of the Commonwealth, and we have been lobbying for that for some time. However, that is not in the UK’s gift; it has to be agreed by all Commonwealth member states.

At the joint ministerial council that I chaired last week, when all the overseas territory leaders came to London, one of the most significant sessions was

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when the Commonwealth secretary-general addressed the leaders and responded to questions. One of the most forceful points that was put across from a selection of overseas territory premiers and chief ministers was their desire to be a more integral part of the Commonwealth family, in their own right. It needs to be said, however, that they have benefited from and participated in some of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s functions and have attended some of the conferences that have taken place, particularly those relating to small island states.

At the moment, overseas territories cannot be observer members because, back in 2007, a Commonwealth sub-committee made a recommendation, which was accepted by the Commonwealth, that only sovereign states, and no subsets, were allowed to be full members. We continue to lobby the Commonwealth about changing that, and I hope that we will make progress.

In response to a point made by one of the hon. Members who has left already, I should say that we welcome applications to join the Commonwealth from countries that can demonstrate that they meet the requirements and are dedicated to the Commonwealth’s core values, particularly those of human rights, good governance and the rule of law.

I also want to pick up on a point made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, about overseas territory direct representation in the UK Parliament. The right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) was absolutely right. There is no aspiration or ambition in the overseas territories to be represented in the UK Parliament, and that would be the prerequisite for the commencement of any discussion in that direction. I gather that impression from my discussions, here and elsewhere, with senior overseas territory politicians and with many members of the broadest civil society. As the right hon. Member for Warley rightly set out, the territories would be extremely nervous about the potential impact, given what they would see as the removal of their responsibility to set taxation rights, drive their economies and deliver public services.

We are building a positive partnership relationship with the overseas territories. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) needs enormous credit and thanks for the significant work that he put in to ensure that the White Paper was formulated, that the consultation process was detailed and that, across the three significant areas of trade and economic ties, building capacity of public services and the all-important environment, we are growing the relationship in a positive direction.

I thank the right hon. Member for Warley for his significant and important work in the Turks and Caicos Islands to ensure that they returned to the democratic family.

I also want to bust the myth that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead talked about: it is not true that significant proportions of international development money disappear through corruption. The money has a significant impact on many people’s lives, both in the Commonwealth and elsewhere. Of course it is right that the money should be used for the purposes for which it is intended, and of course it is right to focus on outcomes to get the maximum bang for the British taxpayer’s

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buck. Where that does not happen, such as recently in the Ugandan Prime Minister’s office, swift action is taken to ensure that the aid is suspended.

I was going to comment on industrial capability, as raised by the right hon. Member for Warley, but time is ticking along. I suspect a little bit of rewriting history is going on there, but the coalition Government are determined to ensure that we rebalance the economy away from the prevalence of financial services and the public sector and that we reverse the decline in the manufacturing sector that happened in the 13 years under the Labour Administration. The right hon. Gentleman probably wants to intervene, but I will not give way because I have to plough on.

The context of what I want to say in the remaining minutes is that we came to office determined to reinvigorate the Commonwealth as an international organisation, and to reinvigorate our relationship with the Commonwealth and its integral member states, in the belief that we can use and capitalise on those networks and relationships in a globalising world to drive our agenda, and the Commonwealth’s agenda, of prosperity, stability and security. The Commonwealth is a long-standing network of old friends that lends itself perfectly to that ambition. One of the big challenges that we have faced in taking forward that agenda is ensuring that the Commonwealth as an organisation remains relevant in today’s changing world.

An important part of our work to reinvigorate the Commonwealth has been the modernisation agenda to achieve many of the recommendations set out by the eminent persons group, as it is rather grandly called. The relevant Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon, is working extremely hard in an extremely focused way, alongside the Foreign Secretary, to ensure that we drive forward that modernisation agenda. I will not go into great detail, although if Members are interested, I am happy to provide it, because I want to focus on the prosperity side of the agenda.

I mention the modernisation agenda—the importance of democracy, the rule of law and the respect of core values—because it is a prerequisite that creates the conditions under which business can flourish; it gives business the confidence to invest and to trade, which inevitably leads to sustainable prosperity.

What are we doing to enhance our links—particularly trade links—with the Commonwealth? Since May 2010, we have put significant effort into refocusing and realigning all the FCO’s efforts on the prosperity agenda, creating firmer and greater co-operation across relevant Departments, particularly as that relates to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, many of which are members of the Commonwealth—India, Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia and Singapore. We are opening new missions, including a new deputy high commission in Hyderabad, and strengthening commercial teams in Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon, Papua New Guinea and Guyana. That is why there has been such focus not only from officials at the FCO but from Ministers visiting Commonwealth countries. Again, I could provide an endless list, but I will not take up time by doing that. We understand that prosperity, trade and investment are a central plank in the relationship between the UK and the Commonwealth.

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The capacity of UK Trade and Investment has been significantly expanded since May 2010, with a focus on the Commonwealth countries. Twenty UKTI teams are in Commonwealth markets, and Ministers are looking to double the number of UK companies reporting, with a particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, which my hon. Friend the Member for Romford rightly raised. Again, there is an extensive list of Commonwealth countries where UKTI is playing a significant role in helping to drive the all-important trade and economic agenda. A key part of that is openness and transparency, particularly on procurement, to ensure that British business has the confidence to invest for a substantial period.

One of the key points that my hon. Friend raised was on trade delegations to the Commonwealth. I take the point made by the right hon. Member for Warley that trade delegations need to be focused and outcome-based, which has been a significant thrust. Ministers have been engaged in significant trade delegations to many Commonwealth countries at a senior level: the Prime Minister led a trade delegation to Nigeria last year; the Business Secretary has led trade delegations; and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk led trade delegations to members of the Commonwealth when he was a Minister, too. I do not have a full list with me, but I am happy to provide the right hon. Member for Warley and other hon. Members with a comprehensive list of trade delegations. The most recent example that I can think of is when the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), took a renewable energy delegation to east Africa with significant results.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford mentioned access for Commonwealth nationals coming through Heathrow and other UK airports. I am happy to ask the UK Border Agency to study the card that is used, as a comparison with Asia, to determine whether a similar scheme would be practicable for the Commonwealth, too. Obviously, I will keep him informed.

The UK Government give significant support to SMEs trading with the Commonwealth. Ministers have made such support an export priority, and we are committed to doubling UK exports with the help of UKTI. My hon. Friend and other Members will be delighted to acknowledge that the Chancellor in his autumn statement announced significant additional resources for UKTI to drive that particularly important agenda.

Of course, this is not just about UK businesses exporting to Commonwealth countries; it is also about persuading Commonwealth countries, and businesses based in the Commonwealth, to invest here in the UK. There are significant examples of that from Malaysia, India and Australia. The right hon. Member for Warley rightly mentioned Bombardier, which is a significant Canadian business with significant investments here in the UK and is an example of the value of intra-Commonwealth co-operation and trade.

In the few seconds remaining, I reiterate the point that we do not see the Commonwealth and the EU as mutually exclusive trading partners. We must trade with everyone who we think can generate additional business and job creation for us. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford needs to recall that the EU is the biggest

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marketplace in the world. There are examples of advantages, such as the EU-wide free-trade agreement with Canada, that have significant positive benefits for the UK.

In conclusion, the Commonwealth is not only a fascinatingly rich part of Britain’s history; it is a dynamic and integral part of Britain’s future. The Commonwealth is an important part of the jigsaw of international organisations that we can, and do, use to pursue and achieve Britain’s objectives of prosperity, security and stability in the world.

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Hospital Food (Animal Welfare Standards)

11 am

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this important issue, and I thank you, Mr Turner, for allowing me to open the debate, in which I will call for the introduction of mandatory animal welfare standards for hospital food in England. It is a pleasure to do so under your chairmanship. As many hon. Members know, I am passionate about animal welfare, and I am both a proud member of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the chair of the associate parliamentary group for animal welfare.

It may come as a surprise to many that the food served to patients in NHS hospitals in England need not meet mandatory animal welfare standards. Currently, Government buying standards are mandatory only for central Government buying departments, the Ministry of Defence and prisons. Schools and hospitals, which are excluded from the buying standards, account for 70% of public sector spending on food, meaning that prisoners currently have a guaranteed minimum standard but patients do not.

The welfare standard provided for animals reared for food is undoubtedly important, especially for animals reared for food bought by the taxpayer and served in public institutions such as hospitals. The animal welfare quality of food bought by hospitals in England varies widely, yet patients throughout the country deserve to eat food produced to the same high standards. We need a consistent approach to tackle the situation.

Animal welfare standards for hospital meat, dairy and eggs are subject to a postcode lottery. The programme for Government stated that the coalition Government would promote high standards of farm animal welfare, and it is important that public bodies set an appropriate example by ensuring that their purchasing policies are in line with that objective. Unfortunately, research published by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reveals big regional differences in animal welfare standards for hospital food in England.

The research discovered a number of shocking findings: 71% of eggs bought by hospitals in England are laid by caged hens, and only 39% of eggs bought by hospitals in the south of England are cage-free. Only one in four eggs in the north of England, and only one in every six in the midlands and east of England, are cage-free. We can see how much it varies in the postcode lottery. The report also revealed that 86% of chicken and 80% of pork bought by hospitals is not certified to meet RSPCA welfare standards. The figures paint a sad and regrettable picture of the welfare standards for animals reared to provide food for our hospitals. Chicken, pork and eggs that have not been produced to RSPCA welfare standards are likely to come from animals that have not had a good quality of life. Government attempts to set animal welfare standards using voluntary measures have failed, which is why I am calling for a statutory solution.

Concerns about the quality of hospital food, including its animal welfare standard, are not new. A report by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, estimates that in the last 20 years, the Government have spent

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more than £54 million of taxpayers’ money on issuing guidance to hospitals encouraging them to improve the quality of the food that they serve, including the animal welfare standard of its production, yet the research by the RSPCA and the Campaign for Better Hospital Food shows that the guidance has had a disappointingly weak effect.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing the issue to the House. Although it is important to improve animal welfare standards not only in England and Wales but in Northern Ireland and Scotland, he will be aware of the oft-stated comments about hospital food by patients and people who visit hospitals. Does he feel that improving animal welfare standards will also improve the quality of hospital food? That must be a good step.

Neil Parish: The reason why I talk about England is that the food served in hospitals is a devolved matter. However, it is still important for Northern Ireland. I am keen to get good animal welfare standards, and I believe that that will help with the quality of meat and eggs served to patients. The two are linked. I believe that most production in the UK and Northern Ireland meets high standards, and I want to ensure as far as is practical that that is the sort of food served in hospitals not only in Northern Ireland but across England as well.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate, and I agree with the thrust of his argument. Does he agree that there are lessons to be learned from good practice in the NHS? My mum recently had quite a long stay in West Berkshire community hospital, and no praise is high enough for both the standard of care and the standard of food there. Knowing that this debate would be taking place, I asked the hospital about its sourcing, and it said:

“The food supplied to our restaurant is mainly from national suppliers that have been through a rigorous supplier accreditation process, using British-produced meat. Our Chef Manager on site, however, is very skilled in ensuring only the best but most cost-effective ingredients are used in his menus and, where possible, uses free-range meat in the restaurant.”

Does that not show that high standards of supply, value for money and good hospital food can go hand in hand?

Neil Parish: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. In a minute, I will comment on various hospitals. He shows that hospitals can deliver high welfare standards, source a lot of their meat and egg products nationally and serve up good-quality meals, and that it can be done on a reasonable budget. The other argument is that the hospitals will turn around and say, “We only have a limited budget, and we have got to make it go a long way.” However, some hospitals manage to get a good deal and good welfare standards, and then produce good food.

I emphasise that I am not here to knock hospitals and the NHS. I only want to improve the welfare standards for the meat and eggs served in our hospitals. Our health service does a very good job, but sometimes—dare I say it—patients might like slightly tastier meals when in hospital. It would certainly improve our view of life, even if it does not cure us instantly. It can have a positive effect.

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During the same period, in stark contrast, setting mandatory standards for food served in other public institutions has proved highly successful. For example, the introduction of mandatory school food standards by the Government in 2005 led to a dramatic improvement in the quality of school meals, ensuring that children who opt for them get healthy, tasty and varied options. The introduction of mandatory nutritional standards for food served in Scottish hospitals in 2008 and Welsh hospitals in 2011 resulted in a significant improvement in the healthiness of patient meals, and it has been at the forefront of the Scottish and Welsh Governments’ efforts to tackle the effects of poor diets on health, particularly in relation to heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Although the introduction of mandatory food standards worked in those settings, the use of voluntary guidance for hospital food has not succeeded to the same degree. Hospitals in England spend a third of their food budget and £167 million of taxpayers’ money every year on meat, dairy products and eggs. Approximately £1 in every £4 spent on hospital food in England is spent on meat, and approximately £1 in every £10 is spent on dairy. That represents a vast amount of public expenditure, which the Government can use to ensure that taxpayers’ money is invested in rewarding farmers who have adopted ethical farming practices rather than those rearing animals in unacceptable conditions.

It also helps to ensure that most of the meat, eggs and dairy produce that feeds patients in hospitals is sourced from Britain, and locally, I hope. Some hospitals are proving that it can be done on budget. A handful of NHS hospitals in England already only serve food that meets the animal welfare standards I am advocating, proving that doing so is both practical and affordable. For example, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, and Braintree community hospital and St Margaret’s hospital in Essex, have all been—

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Neil Parish: I certainly will. I knew it was a mistake to pause.

Bill Wiggin: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I hope that my intervention gives him an opportunity to find his place in his speech.

My hon. Friend will have read the excellent speech about care made by the Secretary of State for Health. Does he not agree that this is the perfect opportunity to increase the quality of food for patients while delivering top-quality care for them? It is a win-win situation for the Government, if they follow my hon. Friend’s argument.

Neil Parish: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which gave me the chance to find my place in my speech. I agree with him. Before he arrived in the Chamber, we were making the point that food produced under high welfare standards has the benefit, in many cases, of being that bit tastier for patients. We are also asking for a slightly more varied menu—dare I say it—in some hospitals, because that will be the key.

I re-emphasise that I am not criticising hospitals and the NHS in any way. I am asking them to use the good practice that many hospitals are providing throughout the country. We need many more hospitals to do that.

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All eggs served by the hospitals I mentioned before my hon. Friend’s intervention are cage-free, and those hospitals will be working to improve the animal welfare of their food, including serving chicken and pork that is either organic or meets RSPCA welfare standards. Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust spends less on its higher welfare food than other hospitals spend on food reared to low or no standards of animal welfare.

Hospitals that have been given a Good Egg and a Good Chicken award by Compassion in World Farming for buying RSPCA welfare chicken, pork and cage-free eggs include the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust in London, York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, North Bristol NHS Trust and Scarborough and North East Yorkshire Healthcare NHS Trust. I should probably have included West Berkshire community hospital, and I shall ensure that I do so next time. Although those hospitals show what can be achieved on an NHS budget, the standards they have achieved have not been replicated throughout the country, despite one in every 10 patient meals being thrown in the bin. Mandatory standards are needed.

Hospital food should reflect the ethical concerns of the British taxpayer. The introduction of mandatory RSPCA welfare standards for hospital chicken, pork and cage-free eggs is an affordable way to ensure that chickens, pigs and hens that have been reared for patients’ meals are given a good quality of life. It would also ensure that hospital food reflects the ethical concerns of British shoppers who, in a report by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last year, specified that the welfare of chicken, pigs and hens was an increasingly important influence on their purchasing habits. The report found that 75% of UK households said that the animal welfare standards of egg and chicken meat production is an “important issue”, 65% of households “actively seek” higher welfare eggs, and 50% seek higher welfare chicken when shopping. The increase in sales of RSPCA Freedom Food pork by a staggering 116% in 2010-11 also shows that a growing number of consumers consider pig welfare to be an important issue.

RSPCA welfare standards ensure that animals reared for food have been cared for and live a good quality life. It sends the right signal to the farming community, which is keen to have high animal welfare standards and wants to encourage people to pay that little bit extra for production, because there are extra costs for extra welfare. Again, this needs to be brought to people’s attention.

RSPCA accreditation ensures that food has been produced from animals that are reared to welfare standards exceeding legal minimum requirements and guarantees that they are cared for and enjoy a good quality of life. Farm animals reared to RSPCA welfare standards are provided with space to move around, comfortable places to rest, an interesting enriched environment that allows them to express natural behaviours, good health care and ready access to appropriate feed and water. The standards cover large and small farms and animals that are reared outside and indoors. The standards exclude some of the worst farming practices that are still allowed even here under UK law, including the use of so-called

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enriched poultry cages for egg-laying hens—these are quite controversial—which provide each hen with less usable space than an A4 sheet of paper. The standards also prevent producers from rearing chickens that are genetically selected to grow quicker, and forced to live in crowded and dark conditions.

To protect pigs, the standards prohibit farmers from keeping them on slatted or concrete floors and putting pregnant pigs in restrictive farrowing crates both before and after they give birth. Sometimes there can be an argument for putting a pig in a crate during birth, just to save the piglets, but certainly not afterwards.

As hon. Members may have seen in the supermarket, all meat, dairy products and eggs produced to RSPCA welfare standards are approved by the RSPCA’s Freedom Food assurance scheme, as shown by the logo on the packaging. Hospital food that meets RSPCA welfare standards is good value and affordable for caterers. Although RSPCA Freedom Food-certified chicken, pig meat and cage-free eggs may cost more than alternatives produced from animals reared to no welfare standards, they remain affordable for hospitals. In fact, figures from the retail sector show that RSPCA Freedom Food chicken, pork and cage-free eggs can sometimes be cheaper. For example, RSPCA Freedom Food barn eggs from Sainsbury’s cost the same as cage eggs from Tesco and Asda. I am not promoting different supermarkets. Sainsbury’s RSPCA Freedom Food chicken thighs and drumsticks are 22% cheaper than Sainsbury’s chicken and thighs that meet farm-assured standards.

The overall picture shows that hospitals can expect to pay more for food that meets RSPCA Freedom Food standards, but not by as much as we might think. Paying more money for a higher standard of welfare is a price worth paying.

To recap, substantial benefits would be achieved by introducing mandatory RSCPA welfare standards for hospital chicken, pork and eggs. Those standards would end the postcode lottery in the animal welfare standard of hospital meat, dairy and eggs, in which some hospitals serve much higher quality products than others, and would ensure that patients can be confident that good animal welfare production processes are used in all hospitals, in whatever part of the country. Taxpayers’ money would be invested in rewarding British farmers who are producing great food to high standards of animal welfare, and there would be a guarantee that hospital food meets the standards that many Britain consumers actively seek when shopping for themselves. Hospital chicken, pork and eggs would be served with clear information about the animals used to produce the food and where it is reared.

We can work together now, providing good food for patients in hospitals and ensuring that it is produced to high welfare standards. I am keen that farmers who produce high-quality food to high welfare standards have a market for their food, so that we encourage the right kind of production. There is a win-win situation for the Government in ensuring that they target taxpayers’ money on buying higher welfare standard food, making sure that patients in hospitals have good quality food to eat, and ensuring that farm production in this country carries on to meet the high welfare standards that the public at large expect of farmers. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

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11.19 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) for securing the debate and for his ongoing keen interest in ensuring the highest standards of animal welfare in farming and food production. We know how important that is because we both represent rural parts of the country, although I have a slightly more mixed constituency than he does, with a strong urban component. It is always in consumers’ interests for the quality of production to be high, and we do what we can to protect and support our food producers and farmers. We know that to be true, and it is something the Government take seriously.

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that, earlier this week, I met and discussed this matter with James Martin, a fairly well known—I recognised him—television chef. I am encouraged by the fantastic work that he is doing to raise the quality of food in hospitals throughout the United Kingdom, but particularly in parts of the north of our country. As a doctor as well as a Minister, I know how important it is that we always provide patients with high-quality nutritious food; it is especially important when looking after older patients, who need to receive high-quality nutrition as part of their recovery. That is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has been so keen, early in his tenure, to support both high quality and dignity in care for older people, and to make sure that as a Government we actively promote greater consistency among hospitals in the provision of high-quality nutritious food and good buying standards.

It is worth outlining what the improving hospital food project is about. Good food is an essential part of hospital care, improving both patients’ health and their overall experience of their stay. Clinicians have a duty to ensure that patients get the right treatment for their condition, but it is also important that patients receive the right supportive care to enable a good recovery, and nutritious food is essential. Catering to everyone’s taste can be a challenge, and there are many ways to produce good food in hospital. It is right that local hospitals have the flexibility to decide which method is best for them in the context of the needs and preferences of their local population. People in Bradford or Liverpool will obviously have different preferences from people in more rural areas—demographic mixes and tastes differ. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees.

Our improving hospital food project highlights eight fundamental principles that patients should expect hospital food to meet. One is that Government buying standards for food and catering services should be adopted where practical and supported by procurement practices. The standards cover nutrition, sustainability and animal welfare—the issue my hon. Friend rightly raised in today’s debate. They apply to all food procured by Departments and their agencies and came into force for all new catering contracts from September 2011. They are not mandatory for the NHS, as he said, but via the improving hospital food project, we are strongly encouraging hospitals to adopt them.

Neil Parish: I can understand that the Government are slightly reticent to bring in mandatory controls, but are they going to monitor the provision of good food

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in hospitals? Will they keep an active eye on whether the situation is improving with contracts and whether the higher welfare standards for meat and eggs are being used? They need to monitor the situation, not just bring in a system.

Dr Poulter: Indeed. We are looking into that at the moment, with a committee and working party looking at how to roll out good practice.

If we have a mandatory system, we may stifle the potential of what we are seeing locally under the current system. My hon. Friend has highlighted many examples of good practice, and I could add to them: in Sussex, there is a good programme, from plough to plate, which is managed by the head of catering there, William McCartney; and there are other good examples in Nottingham and Scarborough. Local innovation is driving up standards, and that happens in different ways in different parts of the NHS. One of the fundamental principles in which we believe, and it has always been thus, is that hospitals are able to determine how they respond to local conditions. Only this Government have taken seriously the need to support and encourage local innovation better. Through the approach that we have adopted and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s interest in promoting good food in hospitals, we are now seeing many examples of local innovation driving up standards in local hospitals, and through such innovation we can identify and spread across the NHS better and good practice. The problem with a rigid framework or set of criteria is that it might stifle local innovation that can improve standards, as we have seen elsewhere in the NHS.

Our approach is for central Government to take an active interest in good hospital food for the benefit of patients, working through commissioning for quality and innovation payments. To promote good practice, the project is developing an exemplar pay framework within the CQUIN scheme, which enables health care commissioners to reward excellence by linking a proportion of providers’ income to the achievement of local quality improvement gains. We are developing two new CQUIN exemplars related directly to hospital food, one linked to the adoption of Government buying standards for food and one to excellence in food service. I hope that my hon. Friend is reassured by the fact that animal welfare is part of those standards. We are looking at linking CQUIN payments in the NHS to good, ethical Government procurement. We recognise and value the local innovation of various hospital food schemes, which have benefited patients from Scarborough to Sussex. That is better than a rigid framework and enables the NHS to learn from examples of good practice.

Mr Andrew Smith: The Minister referred to the more general application of Government buying standards. What is his response to the argument from the National Farmers Union that the standards would operate better if the red tractor standard of production was generally adopted as part of them?

Dr Poulter: Many of us are great fans of the NFU work to support the red tractor standard. Many great benefits can be obtained from British farmers, who often operate to higher standards of animal welfare and traceability. That is something that we are proud of, and

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there are great benefits for consumers in supporting such farmers. The Government therefore have an ethical framework for how food should be procured.

We are looking, through the CQUIN payments, at how to support and reward good practice in hospitals, taking into account the Government framework for welfare. When the NFU and other organisations highlight good local practice and support British farmers to lead the way in animal welfare through the red tractor standard, we want to ensure that we do not set up rigid frameworks that might prevent local hospitals from supporting such good ethical standards. Through local flexibilities that hospitals currently have, we are enabling the bar to be raised for animal welfare and the quality of hospital food.

Time forbids my going into greater detail, but we are encouraging friends-and-family testing in the NHS, putting patients and their relatives in charge of inspecting the quality of care and health care. That can be no more important than for hospital food. Recently, I visited Darlington hospital, which had had a patient-led inspection of hospital care, a key part of which was to look at hospital food, to ensure that every patient was served with nutritious food, cooked locally and on site.

A number of the issues raised in the debate cut across the responsibilities of Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so I will write to them and highlight the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton today. In my Department, however, we encourage hospitals to use and maintain ethical standards in the buying of their food, but we also enjoy and support local flexibilities that benefit patients and raise standards throughout the NHS.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Food Poverty

[Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure, Sir Alan, to serve under your chairmanship for the second time. I thank the Speaker’s office for the opportunity to raise this serious issue. It is less than two weeks until Christmas, which should be a time for people and their families to celebrate and relax. I want to speak on behalf of the thousands of households throughout the United Kingdom that will be worrying about whether they can feed themselves and their children.

We have seen the longest double-dip recession since records began in 1955, and we are in the midst of a cost of living crisis. We have seen an explosion in food poverty as households struggle with higher living costs, frozen wages, reduced working hours, and changes in welfare. The rising food poverty scandal is a national disgrace. I shall refer to two headline figures that I will talk about in more detail in a moment. Last year, the food redistributed by FareShare contributed to more than 8.6 million meals, and fed 36,500 people every day. The Trussell Trust, which operates a network of food banks throughout the country—I will speak about it in more detail in a moment—estimates that it will have fed 230,000 people in 2012-13. That is nearly double the number of people it fed in 2011-12, and the trust warns that Christmas is looking even bleaker for families on the breadline.

I want to speak about the extent of the problem, having given two headline statistics. What is the problem? FareShare states:

“Food poverty is suffered by people with low or no income with poor access to affordable nutritious food and who lack the knowledge, skills or equipment to ensure food is safe and prepared properly.”

We know from the latest Joseph Rowntree Foundation figures that 13.2 million people in the country live in poverty. A recent shocking report by Save the Children, which was released in September, just a few months ago, found that well over half of parents in poverty—61%—say that they have cut back on food. More than a quarter—26%—say that they have skipped meals in the past year.

Another serious issue that I will come to in more detail is that four in five parents in poverty say that they had to borrow money to pay for essentials, including food and clothes, in the past year.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. She referred to the Save the Children report, which states that one parent said:

“A year or so ago, we literally relied on any money we raised at car boot sales to pay for food for the week. Some weeks weren’t too bad, others were dire. The British weather decided how we lived that week (when it rained, the turnout at car boot sales fell).”

Is it not a tragedy in 21st century Britain that people must go to car boot sales to raise money for food to feed their family?

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which I am sure is the first of many that will share personal stories about people’s experiences. I called for the debate because it is a national scandal that

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in the 21st century, in one of the world’s most industrialised nations, there is an explosion in food poverty and the creation of food banks. That is why I and many other hon. Members have raised the matter in Parliament, and will continue to do so.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. It was a great pleasure to join her on a visit to a food bank that serves both our communities. Aintree fire station in my constituency has asked local people for donations because, despite there being several food banks covering our area and the amount of food coming in, it is going out just as quickly. Does she think that it is an indictment of the Government’s policies that people must rely on handouts for healthy living?

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. We went to that food bank together, and we have been to many others. I will speak in more detail about my concerns for the future, but I have a snapshot of where we are at the moment. We have just had the autumn statement, and reports show that the poorest 10% in our communities will be hit even harder. I worry about the future, and that the figures will become even worse.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, and on the excellent work she has done over several months. She is right to look to worsening times. Last week, I was told about a constituent who currently has £12 a week left with which to buy food after paying his bills. That is less than £2 a day, which is about to be wiped out by the bedroom tax, and means that he will lose £12 a week in housing benefit.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. There is so much I could have included in my speech that I did not even reflect on the bedroom tax. It is a good point. I know many constituents who are affected. The problem on Merseyside, which is replicated throughout the country, is that the Government want people to move into smaller properties, and if those properties do not exist, our constituents will be hammered every week and will struggle to put food on the table.

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate, and on her work. On welfare reform, I draw her attention to the impending localisation of the social fund, and the impact on the very people we are talking about who, in times of crisis, have nowhere else to turn. Many of the changes facing us with the localisation of the social fund will make it more difficult for those people because the money is not ring-fenced, and a postcode lottery will develop throughout the country with different standards and approaches.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for raising another point that I could have included, but did not have space. The issue will disproportionately affect the councils that have the least to spend. My council in Liverpool has been hit hardest of any council in the country. We have a 52% cut in controllable spend by 2015. When there is no ring fence, the council will have less money coming in and will have to make difficult

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decisions, essentially doing the Government’s dirty work. The social fund will fall by the wayside, particularly in areas where it is most needed.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way to many hon. Members who are rightly identifying the causes of the problem, and it is right that she will address some of those causes. I hope that she will also talk about some of the great work by local community and voluntary organisations, such as the brilliant food bank in Corby. I was pleased to welcome her when she visited it recently. Co-operatives do great work, and have a fine tradition of trying to reduce travel miles, improve sustainability, and help to drive down food costs. For example, 30% of their healthy products are on promotion at the moment, which is brilliant. We should welcome such initiatives, and perhaps my hon. Friend will comment on that.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and for raising the vital work done by many organisations in our communities. However, I do not think we should have food banks. The country has 270 under the Trussell Trust umbrella, and we know that there are many more independent initiatives, such as that at the fire station in Aintree, because food banks cannot deal with the pressure they are facing. What has happened in 2012 that we need them? I hope that the Minister will address that.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Hackney has a food bank under the aegis of the Trussell Trust, as have many constituencies, and Magic Breakfast works in many of our schools. A primary and a secondary school have spoken to me recently about the problem of young people being able to afford lunch. At the secondary school, the head dips into her own pocket to help fund lunches in some cases, and in the primary school, when parents come in to say, “We cannot afford £9 a week per child for the school meals,” which are nutritiously cooked, good-quality food, often grown on site in that particular school, the head tries to find a way of funding at least one or two of the children, so that they do not lose out on those hot meals. Along with that cost, the bedroom tax is a big issue that will hit hundreds of families in my constituency. They are not all aware of that, so the case will get much harder.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for that example of the vital work done by Magic Breakfast. The fact that schoolchildren in our country are coming to school having not eaten any food, and are therefore less able to concentrate, is a very worrying and difficult state of affairs. I hope that the Minister will respond to that point.

Before the fantastic contributions of my hon. Friends, I was talking about the extent of the problem. It is worth expanding on that, because it is important that the Minister hears about many of the different studies that have been made. A recent report by Netmums found that one in five mums is regularly skipping meals to feed her children. Tesco did research recently, finding that 10% of people interviewed have suffered from some form of food poverty in the last 12 months. Tesco had some interesting and startling figures:

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“Almost one in ten people in the UK have skipped meals, gone without food to feed their family or relied on family or friends for food in the last year.”

Nearly half of those who said they had skipped meals—48%—said they had done so

“for the first time this year.”

I would like the Minister to reflect on that in his response. More than 51% of people who had skipped meals said that they

“were forced to go without food for two days or more.”

I remind Members that we are in 21st-century Britain.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Alan, and I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate on a crucial subject. She was speaking about the impact of missing meals, but I am sure that she is also aware of the effect of families downgrading what they are eating. She may be familiar with the statistic that low-income families are eating 30% less fresh fruit and veg than they were in 2006. In his comments, I am sure that the Minister will want to address the hidden health costs to the whole population and to individual families.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention about the quality of food that people are able to purchase. One reason for that is food inflation, which I will talk about in a moment. We need to acknowledge that it is a contributing factor. It is restrictive, particularly when the cost of fruit and veg has gone up significantly, and it means that people have less access to healthier food.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that although it is wonderful that we are able to stand up and give examples of what is happening in individual constituencies, it is sad that organisations have to undertake those roles. In my constituency, the Moses Project has two food banks, one of which targets hungry, homeless young men who have no hope for the future at all. Another organisation, A Way Out, is working to open several more food banks in the constituency. Charities and Churches seem to understand the problem. Can my hon. Friend explain why the Government do not seem to?

Luciana Berger: I hope that we will hear from the Minister in his response that he understands the extent of the problem. I will refer later to a debate that we held in January, when it is fair to say that the responses were pretty weak. I was able to ask the Chancellor about it yesterday and his response, which I will come to in a moment, was not very strong either. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge the responsibility of the Government to deal with this growing and exploding problem.

I want to extract one more point from the work done by Tesco. It looked at why people said they were skipping meals. The main reasons given—they are replicated by other organisations—were the rising cost of living or low income; 56% of people said that. Twenty per cent of people said it was because of an “unexpected bill or expense.” People just do not have the cushion if something

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comes up, perhaps damage to their property or if a landlord does not make some urgently needed repair; they have to fill in and they do not have the funds to pay for food. I am sure Members have anecdotal evidence from their visits to food banks, when they encounter people who have to access emergency food aid.

Other reasons were “paying off debts.” That was 15% of people. One thing that struck me was that 12% of people were skipping meals because of

“a reduction in working hours.”

What conversations has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about the changing profile of work in this country? We know that people are increasingly moving to part-time work or they are on zero-hour contracts. From week to week, they cannot budget or plan. People are really struggling. From speaking to a trade union representative, I know that in one Tesco store alone, there have been 30 requests for an increase in hours, specifically as a result of the change in working tax credits. Those extra hours do not exist, so people are really struggling to get by.

Stephen Doughty: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Trussell Trust said that less than 5% of its clients are homeless—on the absolute breadline; in fact the vast majority are working families who are struggling to make ends meet.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, as I was about to make the same point. It is not the profile of people that we would expect; as he said, only 5% of the people accessing emergency food aid are homeless. It is the 95% that people just do not know about, and the Government need seriously to address that problem, as well as those who are homeless.

The problem has grown and exploded; I use the word “exploded” because the Trussell Trust’s figures show that the problem has increased tenfold since 2008-09. As I mentioned, close to a quarter of a million people are expected to have accessed food aid through a Trussell Trust food bank by the end of this financial year. FareShare, which is an organisation that I will explain more about in a moment, distributes food to what they call community food members, which are not only food banks, but hostels, old people’s homes, and breakfast clubs. It reports an average increase of 59% in demand for its services this year alone. At some of its depots, the increase in demand was as much as 90% or 100%, which builds on a 40% increase in the previous year. The Salvation Army has doubled the number of food parcels that it is giving out from food centres over the last two years, and Magic Breakfast, which I will talk about in more detail, has delivered more than 1 million free breakfasts. It reports a sharp rise in pupil hunger, and that working families are running out of food.

A number of Opposition Members have come to contribute to the debate, and I acknowledge that there are two Government Members. The issue does not just affect “poor areas.” It is a national scandal, as we have seen from the number of food banks across the country. It is a national problem. An article in The Guardian said:

“Foodbanks are thriving not just in Britain’s most deprived areas but in some of its wealthiest areas, like Poole in Dorset. The seaside town boasts some of Britain’s most expensive property but in April its local foodbank supplied food parcels to nearly 300 people—more than twice as many as in April 2010.”

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We know that there are many food banks in counties such as Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, where people would never normally expect food banks. I hope we shall hear contributions from Members on both sides.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The food banks around the country were initially set up in 2002, because the issue arose at that time. According to stats provided by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, food prices have risen in real terms by 12% over the last five years. This is not simply about now; it was going on under the previous Government as well.

Luciana Berger: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I use the word “explosion” again to reinforce the point. If we look at the figures, which I have in front of me too, there is an explosion in the numbers that have been created. I am not proud of the fact that 26,000 people accessed emergency food aid under a Labour Government—don’t get me wrong—but if we look at the figures now, it is 10 times as many in two and a half years. The Government need to take some responsibility for that and acknowledge that this is an explosion of the problem, and it is only set to get worse.

Stephen Doughty: I endorse what my hon. Friend is saying. There has certainly been an explosion in the use of the provision in my constituency. We would not expect there to be a 100% increase in the use of food banks month on month in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales.

In Penarth, the more affluent part of my constituency, I visited a food bank collection point in the local Tesco and asked whether the parcels were going to other, more deprived areas of Cardiff; in fact they were for the Penarth area. That is deeply shocking. I am concerned that the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) appears to be muddying the picture somewhat.

Luciana Berger: I will take an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch.

Meg Hillier: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. One of my largest local landlords has 250 families who will be hit by the bedroom tax. People are doing their best to help such people to get jobs and so on, but there will be a number of families with a shortfall. That is just one landlord in one constituency. Would my hon. Friend like to comment on any analysis that she has done, or thinks should be done, to assess the impact of that Government policy, which will have a direct effect on people’s ability to pay for food?

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I share her concerns—concerns that have been raised since the start of the debate—about the bedroom tax. I reiterate that the Government want people to move into smaller properties, but in many places across the country such properties do not exist and people will be penalised as a result.

I am very concerned about the cumulative impact of people having to pay the bedroom tax and everything else. I will talk in more detail about the impact of the autumn statement—the cumulative impact of everything. Many hon. Members have called on the Government

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to make a proper assessment of the impacts that their changes to taxes and benefits will have on the poorest in our society and on child poverty. It is very disappointing that the Government have refused to do that.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the debate and on the fantastic YouTube video that she made—it is a must-watch, particularly for those on the Government Benches.

To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), in my constituency there was a clothing bank that did some food provision. The circumstances of people using that provision before 2010 were incredibly different from those in which people are now using it. Yes, food banks, clothing banks and other provisions were in place before 2010, but through the recession, people did not need to access it. It is as a direct result of this Government’s policies on things such as cuts to local authorities that 260,000-plus people need these food banks.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for making that intervention. I concur with all the points that he made.

I have talked in depth about the scale of the problem; now it is important to examine the causes. Many hon. Members have intervened to allude to the relevant points. I will reflect on a number of the causes. As I mentioned, rising food prices are a contributory factor. In the past five years, food prices have gone up by 12% in real terms, with the cost of essentials such as fruit, milk, cheese and eggs rising by as much as 30%. Last year, food inflation in the UK was the highest in the EU outside Hungary, putting an average of £233 a year on the average household food bill.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I, too, pay tribute to the hon. Lady for securing the debate. Does she agree that food price fluctuation is almost as difficult and dangerous to deal with as a steady rise in food prices? We have been subject to great fluctuations in food prices—certainly over the past five years, if not longer.

Luciana Berger: I acknowledge that food prices are a problem. I have given the figures: they have gone up by 12% in real terms. That obviously has an impact on household budgets and on the choices that people can make about the food that they eat.

Meg Hillier: The issue of food prices is important. Sometimes in government, especially from this privileged seat in Westminster, it is possible to forget what the real choices are for families on the ground. In my constituency, four pints of milk cost £1.35 in the Co-op, because it gives farmers a fair deal, £1.08 in Tesco and £1 in Iceland. There are people who will step across the road to save 8p on four pints of milk, because that is the margin that they are working on.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I can also share a story with the House; this may be something that other hon. Members have experienced. A number of us travel back to our constituencies on a Thursday, and I often do my shopping in my local Asda on a Thursday night. I am sometimes

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there at 10 or 11 o’clock at night if I have been to an evening engagement and I see people waiting for the knock-down-price milk. They wait there for the price of the milk to go down to 11p. People know what times to come in for the different items, and I have seen people fighting over items in the knock-down-price section. That breaks my heart, and there are other such examples. More Ministers need to see what that is like and why people have to make those choices.

Kate Green: I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but I have one final point. The issue is not just the financial hardship, but the humiliation—the degradation. People feel demeaned by the fact that they are forced either to accept handouts or to buy low-priced, cut-price, poorer-quality food. They do not have the dignity of participating in the way the rest of us can.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The knock-down-price items are not necessarily things that I would like to eat, but for some people that is the only choice that they have.

When a food bank voucher is issued, people have to tick a box to explain why they are going to that food bank. I will talk more in a moment about the vouchers, but there were two main reasons why people were referred to food banks in 2011-12. The biggest reason was benefit delay: 30% of people nationally gave that reason when the Trussell Trust aggregated the reasons why people were going to food banks. It is higher in my own constituency; I will come to those figures in a moment. Low income was the second main reason, at 20%.

I will say a little about DWP figures. I know that this matter is not directly under the Minister’s control, but it is particularly relevant to this debate. The DWP has something called the AACT—average actual clearance time—target. It says that it aims to ensure that people get income support within nine days, jobseeker’s allowance within 11 days and employment and support allowance within 14 days.

If someone has no money and suddenly finds themselves in a desperate situation, those waiting times are difficult enough, but we know that 45% of professionals referring families and adults for food packages cited troubles and delays with benefits, that that figure was up from about 40% the year before and that it had more than doubled since the recession began.

The DWP has issued a response to the figures; this was in The Guardian on 16 October 2012. It stated:

“In response to the figures, a DWP spokesperson cited the fact that 80% of benefit claims were turned around in 16 days,”

so it is not even meeting its targets.

Alex Cunningham: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Luciana Berger: Could I finish? Forgive me.

I asked the question: what about the 20% of people who do not get their benefits within the 16 days? Those are the very people having to access emergency food aid. I know from speaking to many of the volunteers who run the food banks, not just in my own constituency but in other places, that their anecdotal evidence is that

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when the food banks opened a few years ago, people had to wait two weeks for their benefits, but now it is up to six to eight weeks. I reiterate the point that if someone has no money for six to eight weeks, they have no money. How on earth are they expected to live?

Alex Cunningham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me again—and feel chastised as well. To be serious, that tremendous delay in people receiving their money is a tragedy, and of course it drives people into the arms of the loan sharks, both legal and illegal, which sucks even more money out of their purses and wallets when they want to be feeding their children. Does my hon. Friend agree that the work done by our hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is essential as we go forward to protect people who are hungry?

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for making that intervention. I will come to the point about the amounts that people have to spend on emergency finance. I mentioned before that four out of five people who were struggling to eat also took out a short-term loan. That is adding to their costs, which means that they cannot spend money on food.

Robert Flello: My hon. Friend is being most generous with her time. I am thoroughly enjoying her speech. Before she moves on from the delays in getting benefits, I want to mention the growing problem of people who have been on employment support allowance and are told, “Sorry, you no longer qualify.” Their higher level of benefit suddenly drops and they can be waiting not months, but a year or more for the decision to be reversed, which most of the time it is.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point. A number of hon. Members here will have had constituents come to see them in clear need of employment support allowance. They have to go through the whole tribunal process to get the result they were expecting in the first place. While all that is happening, months go by and they have literally nothing. If they have no support structures, family or friends, they will struggle to eat.

I reinforce the point about delays in benefit payments because people say that it is the main reason why they struggle to eat, but the issue is also about income. The incomes of low and middle-income families declined by 4.2% between 2010 and 2011 and, according to the autumn statement, people are expected to face a 1.2% reduction in their post-tax income in 2015-16. There is a cumulative effect and a negative impact on people’s income, the choices they can make and the food they can buy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) mentioned payday loans and their cost. The number of payday loans has grown by 300% in the past two years, according to figures from the debt counselling charity, StepChange Debt Charity. About 5 million people now have to rely on legal loan sharks to make ends meet. I find that staggering. Legal loan sharks make huge profits off the back of lending to people at excessive interest rates of up to 16,000%. We

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have all heard of Wonga. This year, it made £45 million in pure profit and its main director took home a salary of £1.6 million.

I shall give just one story: a constituent got themselves into trouble trying to make ends meet and their repayments are now more than their take-home salary. That is a tragic state of affairs. Research last month from R3, the insolvency organisation, found that 8% of consumers said that they expected to take on a short-term loan to meet their costs over the coming weeks, which is particularly significant in the run-up to Christmas. Its research also shows that over the past six months, one in 10 had prioritised paying back a payday loan over paying for food.

I spoke a little about the extent of the problem and why people are affected, and other Members have mentioned it too. I return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth made about the kinds of people who have to access food banks; it is not only the homeless or the out-of-work, as we might expect. I am sure we all have stories about when we went to food banks and heard first hand from those who have to access emergency food aid—there are as many in work as out of work. For many, food poverty is the product of a toxic combination of low wages, austerity economics, spiralling food prices, lengthy delays to benefit payments and cuts to working tax credit.

Government figures show that lower-income households are being hit hardest by price rises. They now spend about 15.8% of their income on food, which is nearly 3% more than the average household. Jobseeker’s allowance for a single adult is currently no more than £71 a week, leaving little over £1.50 a day for food. What happens if there is an emergency and someone has to pay for something? It leaves them with little or nothing to pay for food.

The picture is not much better for those in work. Apply the same calculation to a full-time worker on the minimum wage, and, after tax, they are left with just £4.66 a day for food. It is very difficult to eat healthily and properly on such small amounts.

Hon. Members have mentioned Magic Breakfast. I want to labour this point because food poverty is hitting children at school—children are going to school without food in their stomachs. Magic Breakfast is the largest provider of free healthy breakfasts in England. Last year alone, it provided more than 1 million healthy breakfasts, in 205 schools, to children who would otherwise have started the school day hungry.

With The Guardian, Magic Breakfast surveyed 600 teachers in June on their experience of pupil hunger. The figures are so distressing: 83% of teachers said that they saw evidence of pupil hunger in their classes in the mornings and 55% of them said that they had seen an increase in hungry children in their classes. When asked why more children were arriving at school hungry, they said that they believed that the biggest factors were general poverty, pressure from the cost of living and a lack of cookery skills and nutritional knowledge.

I shall reflect a little on my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) made some points about the food bank we went to in north Liverpool. I shall look at the scale of the problem in my locality; other hon. Members will talk about

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areas and communities that they represent. North Liverpool food bank serves my constituency and the constituency of my hon. Friend. Until 11 December—not even the whole year—it had issued 1,644 vouchers and fed 3,470 people, 1,272 of whom were children. The most common reasons for going to the centre were delays in benefits, 32.1%, and the refusal of a crisis loan.

I have not talked about the refusal of crisis loans yet, and other hon. Members may have stories of their constituents trying to access a crisis loan because they found themselves in crisis. I have heard stories from constituents who have spent all day on the phone trying to get through to the crisis loan number—they can no longer apply at the job centre—but they could not get through, so they had no money and could not eat.

Central Liverpool food bank, in my constituency, issued 2,051 vouchers and fed 3,900 people, 1,307 of whom were children. Comparing November 2011 with November 2012, the bank has seen a 114% increase in the number of vouchers given out a month. It is striking.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): This has proven to be an excellent debate so far. In Bristol, the police are giving out vouchers to people caught shoplifting. Some might criticise that as being soft on crime, but I think it is an excellent initiative. They realise that people are shoplifting because they simply cannot afford to feed their families any other way. It is terribly sad that we are in a country and a society where such things have to happen, but does my hon. Friend agree that the police should be commended for that scheme?

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. We all have stories about the increase in shoplifting for food. The police in Bristol are running that initiative and I wonder whether other hon. Friends have examples of the police doing that in other cities. I do not know whether they are doing it in Merseyside. I will ask my chief constable.

I reflected on food banks in my area; I have used a lot of statistics and I will talk in a moment about the stories. I am conscious of the time. My speech is taking quite a while. No one walks into a food bank with their head held high. If anyone has heard their stories, they will know that people go to food banks feeling ashamed. We must acknowledge and recognise that.

I have been to the Merseyside depot of FareShare, which I mentioned. FareShare is a fantastic organisation that collects food at the point of production if it is a bit damaged or there is surplus. It distributes it to a network of not only food banks but other organisations, such as Churches, community groups and homeless shelters. FareShare Merseyside alone is redistributing 18.5 tonnes of food every month. It has seen a 50% increase in demand for food since July. I have seen it for myself. I have seen the board; it has a very long list of groups waiting to sign up, but it does not have the food to provide them with.

Kerry McCarthy: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, because I know she is under time pressure. One initiative, piloted in Bristol, worked with organisations such as FareShare and FoodCycle, to develop a database of exactly where food waste was, so that it could be linked with the outlets and donated to people in need. It was initiated after a Department for Environment, Food

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and Rural Affairs summit. The supermarkets agreed to take part, because they were worried about legislative action—my Food Waste Bill—compelling them to give such food to charity. Now that the threat of legislative action is receding, it seems that supermarkets are less willing to participate in the pilot. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a great shame and that we need to make sure that food that is going to waste is linked up with people in need?

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was going to raise the point in my conclusion, but I will reflect on it now. A good trial is going on in her area, and we hope it will be replicated across the country when the results are complete. Yes, all supermarkets have a responsibility to do everything not only to minimise the food they waste but to ensure they waste none whatever so that people can benefit. That is a separate issue, which needs to be dealt with by itself, and it will not necessarily address all the issues of food poverty. However, I wholeheartedly support what my hon. Friend said, and I hope the Minister can respond.

I want to take a moment to share some stories about constituents who are in this predicament, because it is important that we personalise the issue, rather than just using figures. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) for referring to my film about food poverty, which I made because I was so distraught after January’s debate; indeed, now is perhaps a good time to reflect on what happened during that debate. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who has responsibility for the natural environment and fisheries, singled out myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy)—I do not know whether my hon. Friend recalls this—saying