“incorrect, excessive, contrary to law and a disproportionate reflection on the change in rental values in the locality”.

The VOA has sat on its hands for three years and done nothing. This is yet another example of bureaucracy not understanding how businesses operate in the real world, as a result of which I understand about 250,000 further appeals in similar instances are outstanding. I urge Ministers to take action to end this bureaucratic shambles and to press the VOA to get its act together.

Last week’s Budget has been positively welcomed by business, which is why I urge Ministers and the Government to press local councils to unleash local businesses from business rates and to tell local authorities to use their new powers to reduce rates and take a more flexible approach to local business taxation. My constituent, Duncan Clark, is an outstanding local entrepreneur who converted a redundant out-house building into a cookery school, creating two full-time jobs. He has taken a risk to set up that business and has a great “can do” attitude—the type of attitude that this country needs to grow into a more prosperous future. He should be congratulated on what he is doing; instead, of course, he faces a £6,000 bill for his rates. I hope that the Government will urge local councils to use their powers over business rates to foster a competitive spirit of business enterprise in this environment. That would help start-ups and help business men such as Mr Clark.

Many of the problems that I have highlighted demonstrate that the public sector needs to have a greater understanding and appreciation of the private sector. If those public bodies engaged more constructively with the private sector, they would enhance their own understanding. A great example of that happened in Witham town, when Essex county council listened to a body called Witham Industrial Watch, whose business members monitor criminal activity on our industrial sites. The county council was on the verge of taking away the street lighting on the industrial estate, but Witham Industrial Watch made a persuasive case to the council. I pay tribute to the council and to the cabinet member for highways for realising that it made business sense to work with Witham Industrial Watch to get the right outcome.

I look forward to hearing the Government’s response. Let me take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all the staff of the House a very pleasant Easter recess.

6.15 pm

George Galloway (Bradford West) (Respect): The world is still divided, as we know. The plight of poor children in that divided world preoccupies tens of thousands of the finest of our citizens. The proximate cause of my

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applying to speak in this debate, for which I am grateful, was a visit that I had from campaigners from religious organisations and others from Bradford university. The campaign is based around the organisation Enough Food For Everyone If, which will have lobbied most hon. Members in the run-up to the Budget, seeking an important relief for poor children in poor countries. Sadly, the Government, on that occasion at least, failed to rise to that challenge. It is my hope that that campaign can continue and that the Government will take on board its demand to introduce some requirement on British companies operating in poor countries.

In parenthesis, every 45 seconds—the length of time I have been speaking—a child in Africa dies of malaria, let alone all the other ailments that kill so many children in poor countries. In the world as a whole, 110 million children under 10 go to work instead of school. For those children, there is no Easter, Christmas or holiday. There are none of the basic comforts that we wish for our own children. Yet in the midst of that, we discover, contemporaneously, that many British corporations and companies, some of them well known, are not only operating in those poor countries to take advantage of the very low wages that workers labour for, but doing their best in those poor countries to avoid, even evade, the minimal rates of taxation that those countries require from them. Therefore, that campaign is asking for something like the disclosure of tax-avoidance scheme that will be applied to British companies under the Finance Bill to force them to disclose the tax-avoidance schemes in which they are involved in poor countries.

Of course, child poverty is on the march in our own country, too. Yesterday, I had a brief moment with you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to allude to some of the child poverty in my constituency, which has the second highest child poverty and the second highest child mortality in the entire country. I know that I will not melt the hearts of the Government on that point, so I want to raise a practical point with them that, even in their own terms, is an anomaly. More than 10,000 children in Bradford are not receiving free school meals but are officially under the poverty line. The reason is that their parents are working and receiving working families tax credit. They are officially poor, officially below the poverty line, but cannot get free school meals. However, if their parents gave up their jobs, they would immediately be eligible for free school meals.

How can that conceivably fit with the Government’s oft-claimed intention to try to encourage the unemployed into work and to help the working poor? According to the Children’s Society, in one city alone—Bradford—more than 10,000 children are living under the poverty line but are not receiving free school meals. Therefore, they are likely to go an entire day without proper nutrition.

I would like the Deputy Leader of the House to explain to me, in writing, at least, how this anomaly can be tolerated. Why not give the working poor at least the same break that we give the unemployed, by giving their poor children something to eat at lunchtime?

6.20 pm

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Easter is one of the most important Christian festivals and as we speak, across the world, particularly in the Punjab in Pakistan, Christians are being systematically traduced,

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attacked, tortured, imprisoned and even killed. The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement said in a recent letter to me:

“The ongoing abuse of blasphemy laws against Christians in Pakistan is a violation of their human rights and the laws themselves are in direct contravention of various human rights charters. Pakistani Christians are accused of blasphemy to settle personal scores and without being given the chance to prove their innocence are locked up in jails.”

If the UK’s soft power means anything, it means exercising influence and withdrawing funds if necessary, to make sure the Pakistani Government know that this is completely unacceptable.

The House will know that in October 2011, I led a debate in Westminster Hall on Tourette’s syndrome, an inherited neurological condition that affects children from the age of six or seven. Many of those children are not well educated because they struggle to keep their tics under control and end up being excluded and in the criminal justice system. I remain unconvinced that the new NHS and education reforms take account of children who desperately need to have their issues addressed. I hope the NHS Commissioning Board looks at that.

The House will also remember that during a recent Prime Minister’s Question Time, I raised the issue of the fortification of basic foodstuffs with folic acid, particularly for women of child-bearing age. Many countries across the world have done so, and although they have not eliminated the dreadful, tragic conditions of hydrocephalus and spina bifida, they have reduced their incidence. It is my great good fortune to represent the city of Peterborough, in which the Shine charity, formerly the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, is based. It gives help, support and guidance to children affected by spina bifida and their parents. I remain hopeful that the Government will work with the Food Standards Agency—the Department of Health will work with others—to do the right thing and fortify foodstuffs such as bread and flour with folic acid to prevent these terrible conditions.

Turning to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), I will not dwell too much on the Budget, other than to say that I was disappointed that, although we could find time for something was not in the manifesto and the coalition agreement, such as same-sex marriage, we could not do so for something that was, such as a marriage tax break. Senior members of my party, including the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, have said that that will happen under this Government, and I sincerely hope they are as good as their word.

Representing as I do the city of Peterborough, in which the headquarters of Thomas Cook is located, I was disappointed that the Chancellor also avoided the issue of air passenger duty, but I remain ever hopeful that that will change.

On a more positive note, philanthropy and the voluntary and community sector in my wonderful constituency, which I have had the good fortune to represent for eight years, is thriving. The Peterborough cathedral “900” appeal, which is seeking to raise millions of pounds from business and others for a heritage and education centre and a centre of excellence for English choral music to celebrate 900 years of a Christian settlement on the banks of the River Nene—an abbey, and then a cathedral—is doing well. Of course, something very

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dear to my heart is the Sue Ryder hospice at Thorpe Hall. A grade I listed building which was the home of Oliver St John—Oliver Cromwell’s money man—it is no longer fit for purpose as a hospice. The fundraising committee, of which I was a member for five years, is raising money for a purpose-built £6 million 22-bedroom hospice on the site. We desperately need the funds for that and good work is being done. So my city is generous and it is raising money for good causes.

May I end by wishing all hon. Members, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means and all staff a happy, peaceful and restful Easter recess?

6.24 pm

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): May I begin by apologising to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the House and the Deputy Leader of the House for that fact that I will not be able to stay for the duration of the debate? I congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) on his contribution, as he took the opportunity to raise a kaleidoscope of issues. I also congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Backbench Business Committee on this excellent initiative that I am taking advantage of for the first time. Although I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on tax breaks for married couples, I hope that he would extend them to same-sex couples who choose to marry.

Such great issues of human rights have been raised by the hon. Gentleman and by the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway), who discussed child poverty, a shameful and deepening scar on this country. However, I wish to be a little more parochial and concentrate on issues closer to home. This may feel like groundhog day to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I spoke about the future of Cockenzie power station in yesterday’s Budget debate, but it is an issue of real importance to my constituency.

Cockenzie’s coal-fired power station closed on Friday 15 March, after 45 years of electricity generation which powered approximately 1 million homes every year during the station’s lifetime. Some 10,000 people have been employed there during its lifetime, through construction and generation. In some cases, three generations of families have been involved in the plant. It was a sad and emotional day when we saw those grown men in their hard hats having soft hearts about the closure of such an important part of East Lothian’s history, which has made such a great contribution to its economy. For many, including me, as I frequently fly into Edinburgh airport, its twin chimney stacks are the place that marks home.

I wish to praise ScottishPower, which has a good record in managing such closures. I praise the way in which it has worked with the trade unions in the workplace and with individual employees to ensure that there have been no compulsory redundancies. Many employees are moving to other stations, while others have opted for retirement or severance voluntarily. Having said that, this was still a tough day for East Lothian, as Cockenzie now lies like a sleeping giant, waiting for a decision from this Government.

There has been uncertainty about the future of Cockenzie for some time, and I do not lay this all at the door of this Government; the previous administration in East

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Lothian council, a Scottish National party-Lib Dem coalition, opposed planning permission for the plant’s conversion to gas. Fortunately, that decision was overturned by Scottish Ministers, who are also from the SNP—indecision is not limited to those on the Government Benches. Thankfully, we have a new administration in East Lothian council, a Labour-Conservative coalition—that is how democracy can be at times. It results from the single transferable vote, and I do not think it is a coalition we will ever see replicated in this place.

ScottishPower is calling for clarity on a capacity mechanism for thermal generation in the Energy Bill. Speaking at the annual meeting of the shareholders of Iberdrola—the Spanish owner of ScottishPower—its chief executive officer, Mr Galan, said that ScottishPower would increase its planned UK spend of £10 billion by £3 billion to build new gas-fired power stations, but uncertainty caused by market conditions and a lack of clarity from the UK Government was holding back that further investment. Some of that money could be used to refurbish the station at Cockenzie, creating 1,000 construction jobs in my constituency in the process and with further knock-on benefits to the local economy. When completed, it would be a welcome source of skilled jobs and apprenticeships for young people in my constituency. I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to take that message back to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. This is an opportunity for investment in the UK and in my constituency to create jobs and to keep the lights on.

6.29 pm

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Not long ago, a Slovak national, Mr Peter Pavlisin, badly beat up his pregnant Gloucester girlfriend, Natasha Motala, threatened her with death and had to be subdued by several policemen. He was sentenced to four years in prison in the Gloucester Crown court and the judge revealed during sentencing that during Mr Pavlisin’s four years in the UK he had been convicted of 14 offences from 21 charges. When I read that in our local paper, The Citizen, my immediate reaction was relief for my constituent Natasha, who had given birth safely, and for my other constituents, as the criminal would be off the streets of Gloucester. There was something missing, however. Where was the instruction to the courts to deport the prisoner at the end of his sentence?

I rang the judge and he explained that judges have the authority to deport non-EU nationals but not EU nationals. That can only be decided by the Home Secretary. I did more research, and I discovered that if an EU national is sentenced to more than two years, or 12 months for certain crimes, the National Offender Management Service is supposed to make recommendations to the Home Secretary on deportation some months before that sentence is over. That system is unsatisfactory in several ways. First, the victims, the court, the media and the community are unaware of it. No one in Gloucester knows that Mr Pavlisin should be deported in due course. As the judge is silent on the issue—indeed, judges have to be—the implication is that he will not be deported and will emerge with a strong likelihood of extending his frequent appearances in our courts.

Secondly, there is no clear responsibility for action, no audit trail and no measurement of the Ministry of Justice’s ability to ensure that dangerous EU nationals

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are deported at the end of their sentences. Thirdly, as the law allows for deportation but the process does not highlight it, my constituents and everyone else’s are unlikely to have confidence in the system.

That gap in the process could, I believe, be fixed relatively simply through an amendment to the UK Borders Act 2007 and a memorandum of conviction that would require judges to say when the sentence for any EU national is of a length or severity that obliges NOMS to consider recommending deportation to the Home Secretary well ahead of the completion of the sentence. That would spell out to everyone, including EU nationals, an important likely consequence of serious crime in our country. It would remind everyone that we decide who is deported and who is not, wherever they come from, and give us all more confidence in the process of law.

Let me be clear: this is not about bashing the EU or stoking xenophobic paranoia. Immigrants to Gloucester, from Roman legionaries to Norman monks, Jamaican nurses, Asian engineers, Polish makers of shirts and many others besides, including some great European rugby players, have contributed hugely to our city. We have thrived on immigration but not on foreign criminals. This is about the safety of my constituents and justice for all our constituents and it is a plea for more certainty and rigour in the process of justice. I am sure that Ministers in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Department share my concerns and I hope that they will act to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done and that all foreign criminals will be deported when they deserve to be.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and everyone in this House a happy Easter.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): On her birthday, I call Barbara Keeley.

6.33 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about sport and fitness for women and girls. I spoke about it during the debate on international women’s day last year and from that debate we managed to get cross-party agreement to support the development of a new all-party group on women’s sport and fitness. We launched it, it is supported by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation and we have had some great meetings. Our first meeting was with the presenter and sports commentator Clare Balding and the Olympic rowing gold medallist Kath Grainger, and most recently we have had a meeting with the Paralympian Martine Wright, who survived the 7/7 bombings and went on to compete in the Paralympics, and Claire Lomas, who was the first paraplegic to complete the London marathon, doing so in 17 days walking in a robotic suit.

It was great to listen to those inspirational women from those different sports. It is needed, because women’s sport faces a crisis in media coverage and lack of sponsorship. Outside Olympic years, women’s sport receives less than 5% of the total sport print coverage, and even then, unsurprisingly, women’s sport receives only 0.5%

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of the total sponsorship income. There was the recent case of the England women’s football team being offered a salary increase from £16,000 to £18,000 a year. They eventually settled on a contract of £20,000 a year. In the same week, the Arsenal football player Theo Walcott signed for £100,000 a week. I know that we have some talented girls and young women playing football now, and the difference in reward levels for women’s football must be offputting for those talented enough to seek a professional career.

Appropriately enough for a debate at this time of year, it is a case of the chicken and the egg. More media coverage is needed to provide girls and young women with positive role models in sport, and that would encourage participation and future achievement, but media coverage is elusive and without it we do not get the sponsorship and salaries remain low.

Let me turn quickly to school sport, because we currently have a crisis of activity levels among children, especially girls, with just 16% of girls and young women reaching the recommended levels of activity by the time they leave primary school, compared with 29% of boys, and only 12% of 14-year-olds are active enough to benefit their health. In fact, girls leave school only half as likely to meet the recommended activity levels of boys, and nearly a third of 16-year-olds do no physical activity at all.

In that context, the Government’s announcement of £150 million for primary school sport is welcome, but I have some questions about the funding. How will Ministers ensure that the investment helps to close the gender gap in activity levels in primary schools? Do they have any plans to provide similar, much needed support in secondary schools, where sport among girls really drops away? How do Ministers plan to measure the success of the investment, given that there is no comprehensive annual measurement of children’s activity levels in sport? The status quo is that 51% of girls say that school sport and physical education actually puts them off being active, and they are only half as likely as boys to meet the recommended activity levels.

I commend the Rugby Football Union for its All Schools programme. At a recent event in the House, I met three young women who had taken up playing rugby at school and at a local club. The RFU has done a great job in enthusing teachers and coaches, who in turn enthuse and inspire young women, such as the three I met. I also congratulate FC United of Manchester on commemorating international women’s day by holding events to celebrate women in football, including an event called “A woman’s place is at the match”. Its women’s team was awarded Manchester Football Association’s “Team of the Month” award. They also won a recent semi-final to win through to the league cup final against Manchester City’s women’s team. I commend them and all women and girls working to break down barriers in women’s sport.

Finally, I would like to give the customary thanks to all staff of the House. I particularly want to thank Noeleen and the staff of the Tea Room, who I think do a wonderful job, the Hansard reporters, to whom I think we should all be very grateful, and you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish all a happy Easter. I will end by wishing a happy birthday to my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and my right hon. Friend the

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Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden). I do not know whether any Government Members have birthdays today, but if they do I wish then a happy birthday, too.

6.38 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): In fact, today is also my birthday. I am grateful for the opportunity, on this jolly occasion, to draw the House’s attention to proposals for a Congleton link road that would run from Sandbach road to the west of the town, past the north of the town centre and on to Macclesfield road to the east. The potential benefits have been excellently summed up in an appropriately titled document, “The key to unlocking Cheshire East: Securing jobs and a future for the local economy”, which has been compiled by a forward thinking partnership of Congleton business people and the East Cheshire chamber of commerce, collectively called the Link2Prosperity group—L2P.

The road would improve connectivity right across east Cheshire by improving links to Manchester airport, the M60 and the M6, the latter being just 10 minutes away at Sandbach, junction 17, in my constituency. It would also improve connectivity to the rail network, particularly the inter-city connection at Crewe, and would help alleviate heavy traffic problems that the people of Holmes Chapel have endured for 40 years.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): On my hon. Friend’s birthday, she is making a characteristically powerful speech. I agree wholeheartedly that the Congleton link road will be vital in improving connectivity in east Cheshire and to stimulate economic growth. Does she agree that it is also important to have a similar road—the Poynton-Woodford relief road—to help to improve connectivity in the north of our borough?

Fiona Bruce: I absolutely do agree. It is interesting to note that both these roads are priorities in Cheshire East council’s draft development strategy.

The Congleton link road would reduce the daily traffic congestion in the centre of Congleton that impedes businesses, residents and school pupils and has been described by Siemens, the town’s biggest employer, as “chronic”. It would also reduce the consequential high levels of nitrous oxide at pollution hot spots in the town.

The benefits of this road involve far more than traffic improvements alone. Its route north of the town would open up much-improved access to industrial and business park sites that are small, land-locked, in poor condition and under-occupied, which means that existing businesses looking to expand are being forced to relocate. Moreover, the sites offer minimal opportunities for inward investment by new businesses. All this could radically change with the investment in these sites that improved connectivity both locally and regionally would justify. The benefits of opening them up are cited not only in the L2P document but in Cheshire East council’s draft development strategy, which states in its foreword that the council has

“a jobs-led development strategy, supported by improved connectivity through sustainable infrastructure such as the…Congleton Link Road”.

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It goes on to say that the strategy

“seeks to promote the right conditions for jobs growth—by boosting the delivery of existing major employment sites, improving connectivity and identifying new areas for future investment and expansion.”

The Congleton link road will do just that.

Let me give a case study. The L2P document talks about Senior Aerospace Bird Bellows, which is based at Radnor Park estate, one of the business sites to the north of Congleton. SABB manufactures key aircraft components, and it is Congleton’s second largest employer. Key visitors to SABB include Boeing, Airbus and Rolls-Royce. Sadly, as the L2P document states, the condition of Radnor Park estate does not reflect its status as the home of a high-tech, world-class manufacturer. SABB is set to grow; indeed, 100 jobs are about to be attracted to the company very soon. However, if it is to remain in Congleton, it is crucial that Radnor Park estate is improved. Improvements to the Radnor Park site, and indeed to other business sites in the area, could provide knock-on benefits in terms of attracting additional new businesses and much-needed employment opportunities, particularly for young people, that cannot be overestimated. That is why over 60 local companies listed in the L2P document support the link road proposal, including the town’s biggest employer, Siemens, which says that

“this new artery has the potential to pump new levels of economic activity into this town.”

The proposals are also supported by Congleton town council, Congleton Partnership and the retail arm of Congleton Business Association, which say that there is a need to focus on contemporaneous support for the town centre’s public realm and retail sector to ensure that that part of the town flourishes, in conjunction with this redevelopment, just as much as the business parks. I believe that with appropriate creative thinking and investment, the town centre will indeed benefit, not only as a result of the improved traffic flow and access to the town centre, but because it will provide a more pleasant shopping and leisure experience, and, one hopes, increased footfall as a result. Other key supporters include Congleton high school, Eaton Bank school and Congleton Town football club, all of which have ambitious aspirations to develop their facilities—something that could be facilitated by the link road development, with its improved connectivity and release of land.

In association with the link road, there would be additional housing developments. These must be sensitively planned, taking into account the existing communities’ views. That is a very important consideration that we must continually be aware of.

I ask the Minister to raise this important local proposal with his colleagues in the Department for Transport in the hope that I, and others, will be able to meet Ministers there in the near future to discuss this project in greater detail.

6.44 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): May I join the House in wishing my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) a very happy birthday? I will keep my remarks brief because I know that other Members are seeking to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker.

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I am sure that the House has seen the sad news today that Dunfermline Athletic has gone into administration after owing Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs about £130,000. I hope that the Minister can say whether the Government, through HMRC and the Treasury, will be sympathetic to that problem.

My remarks will concentrate on the Royal Navy’s presence in Scotland. At this time of year, when we are all thinking about spending time with our families, loved ones and friends, we should remember the armed forces personnel of all services who are serving overseas and are apart from their families.

There have been recent announcements about the British Army lay-down in Scotland and there was a written statement yesterday about the RAF lay-down. Obviously, the Royal Navy plays an important role as well. Not only is Faslane the home of the deterrent; over the coming decade, it will become the home of the Astute class submarines. The hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) and I were up at Faslane just two weeks ago to see the fantastic work that goes on there. About 8,500 personnel will be based there and bring their experience to it. That base is an important source of employment. The Royal Marine base outside Arbroath at Condor is also an important presence in Scotland and it, too, provides jobs.

The other major site for the Royal Navy is Rosyth dockyard in my constituency, where the Queen Elizabeth class carriers are being assembled. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will recognise what fantastic pieces of engineering those carriers are. They are 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers that will form the centrepiece of the Royal Navy.

As the construction of the carriers progresses, the Royal Navy will have to increase its presence at Rosyth. Although there was understandable disappointment in west Fife that the Army would not be coming to Caledonia, I hope that the Minister will confirm that there was an important reason for that, which was that the Royal Navy has an important requirement for Caledonia and the wider west Fife area. I hope that the Minister will elaborate on the number of personnel who may be based there. I understand that at its peak, there may be somewhere north of 500 extra personnel.

I hope that the Ministry of Defence will meet me and others over the coming weeks to discuss how best we can accommodate those personnel and whether they should all be based inside Caledonia or whether work needs to be done with the council. Fife council has said that it is happy to talk to the MOD about what support it can offer to make them feel welcome.

I am sure that the Minister will want to confirm that were Scotland to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, not only would 8,500 jobs be lost at Faslane and the Royal Marines leave Condor, but there would be no future for the Rosyth dockyard. Not only would hundreds of jobs be lost at Caledonia, but the next 50 years of work that are coming to the dockyard would be lost. I would be grateful if the Minister outlined the view of the Royal Navy on the future requirements.

Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, may I wish you and the whole House a happy Easter? You are a benevolent boss and have no doubt bought your staff an Easter egg. I am quite sure that the Deputy Leader of the House has bought an Easter egg for Mr Mike Winter, the head of

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office, Ben Sneddon and everybody else who works for him in his office. I am sure that every colleague will ensure that all their staff are looked after at this important time of year.

6.49 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): Before the House adjourns for the Easter recess, there are a number of points that I wish to raise.

A constituent of mine, Katrine Kuzminas, recently sent me a DVD called “Earthlings”. I share her concern about the proposed badger cull.

Planet Leasing is a car leasing firm in my constituency that does a wonderful job in taking on school leavers to serve internships. In October 2012, it won the employer of the year award and celebrated its sixth birthday on 14 March. I am proud to have it in my constituency.

Honeywell, which makes switches and lights, is a Fortune 100 company that created many of the sockets that we use, including those at the Olympic games. During my visit to its factory, the topic of carbon monoxide detectors came up. Its particular concern is that, when a house is draught-proofed, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases. Under the green deal, we have been promised that carbon monoxide detectors will be fitted as a legal requirement. I hope that that will happen.

Hospitals do a marvellous job, but do not seem to work at the weekends. Recently, my 92-year-old aunt was in hospital for a day. She returned home, but no one was there to look after her. She was standing on the side of the road, fell down and broke her hip. It was a disaster.

Jill Allen-King, a blind constituent of mine, has raised an important issue—the eligibility criteria for the higher rate of the mobility component part of disability allowance. Those who reach 65 lose that benefit, which seems extraordinary.

Essex county bowling club is currently £26,000 worse off, because it has been refused re-admittance to the community amateur sports club. As a result, it has not received the tax relief that it was previously given. I think the Inland Revenue needs to be more helpful.

The East of England ambulance service is struggling with several difficulties. I have heard first-hand accounts of how one addict called an ambulance nine times in one day. As of 2010, ambulance calls have been increasing at a rate of 6.5% each year. Considering that each call costs £200, it is an absolute disgrace that the service is being abused.

Gas prices are far too high. I was proud to introduce the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. I hope that the Energy Bill will deal with current high gas prices.

Small claims courts give our constituents a wonderful opportunity of getting redress relatively cheaply, but we need to consider carefully how they are financed and how they operate.

Whistleblowers seem to be the flavour of the month. In 1998, I publicly defended in the House a lady called Sharon Tattoo, but the NHS establishment of the day won, and the chairman of the health trust who defended her was forced to resign. It was an absolute disgrace. I hope that Health Ministers will look at that case again.

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Spinnaker, led by Phil Parry, is a wonderful company in my constituency specialising in shipping, maritime and marine world recruitment. It has an exemplary customer relations record and should be congratulated on all the work that it does at home and abroad.

A constituent of mine has written to me. He is 38 and his wife has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unbelievably, bereavement allowance only operates from the age of 45. That needs to be changed. Another constituent of mine has a brother, Abid, who is a British national sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in Pakistan for supposedly murdering his father. The case details are an absolute disgrace, and I call on the Foreign Secretary to do something very quickly.

I end with Southend. It is clear to me that everyone is getting behind Southend’s bid to be city of culture in 2017. Southend United are playing in the cup final on 7 April. I hope they win. I wish everyone a very happy Easter, including you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and particularly José and Fedel, who work in the gift shop down below and who are retiring after a combined period of 60 years’ service. If anyone wants a destination this year, I can only say that the only way is Essex.

6.53 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is a pleasure to make a few comments about Ulster Scots culture, on which I am very keen. Last week, I took some of my staff round the House. It was a privilege to show them the history of the place. It reminded me of the pride that we all take in the Chamber. We are a small part of this great place and of the great nation that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am proud to hail from the unparalleled shores of Strangford. I am proud of our rich history and culture. I am proud to be an Ulster Scot.

I want to highlight the rich cultural links between Northern Ireland and the nations that make up the United Kingdom. Some Members might be unsure about what I mean by “Ulster Scots”. For nearly 400 years, the term has referred to a people, not a place—to the people who migrated from the lowlands of Scotland to Ulster and to the Ulster Scots communities they established across the nine counties.

The first large wave of permanent migrants were not soldiers or mercenaries but ordinary Scottish families seeking a new life. They were mainly Presbyterian in faith and outlook, and overwhelmingly spoke the Scots language. I understand that they were descended from the Stewarts of the lowlands of Scotland, and there are many people down the Ards peninsula, where I make my home, who can—and have—traced their ancestry back to Scotland and who hold their history very dear.

Ulster Scots refers not only to those people and their descendents, but also to their heritage and cultural traditions. The lowland Scots brought industry, language, music, sport, religion and myriad traditions to Ulster. Many of those have now become mainstream—not narrow cultural markers, but broad themes in our society. The Ulster Scots folk and the Scots alike have much to gain by strengthening our deep historic ties and understanding the Ulster Scots story.

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Throughout schools in Northern Ireland, the Ulster-Scots Agency is working to instil in our children a pride in their heritage, safe in the knowledge that when we have a good foundation, we can build a sturdy home. One school in my constituency, Derryboy primary school, has an Ulster Scots dance in its PE class—that is something to behold—as well as having after-school clubs in Ulster Scots. We have children who can recite poetry and dance a jig and who understand that to enjoy their history and heritage is not being offensive or bigoted but simply being who they are.

In Strangford, we have strong links with Ulster Scots. We run programmes in the summer with the Lougheries Historical Society in Newtownards, with individuals reciting poetry at events and children being taught Ulster Scots in schools down the Ards peninsula, at Castle Gardens primary school and Movilla high school in Newtownards. The interest shown by those young people is second to none, and poetry is one of the things that they enjoy.

I am going to recite one verse—I have spoken to Mr Deputy Speaker about this—from one of those poems: Leevin in Drumlister:

“I’m leevin in Drumlister

An’ I’m gettin very oul

I hae tae wear an Indian bag

To save mae frae the coul

Theires naw a man in this toonlan

Wus claner raired than me,

But I’m leevin in Drumlister

In clabber tae the knee.”

I would love to read all three verses, but I was told I could not, so I will not.

Hon. Members who may be questioning what links they have with the Ulster Scots all enjoy the benefits of Ulster Scots ingenuity. Hans Sloane from Killyleagh in my Strangford constituency invented milk chocolate. Ladies love chocolate; men love chocolate. I used to love chocolate before I became a diabetic and I can no longer have it. Nevertheless, we have chocolate in our society because of Hans Sloane and Killyleagh.

More than 7,000 lives have been saved by the Martin-Baker ejection seat, which is now used by more than 90 air forces and navies. The number of lives saved increases by an average of more than three a week—again, ingenuity of the Ulster Scots. James Martin was a famous Ulster Scot who invented that ejection seat, and Frank Pantridge—also an Ulster Scot—developed the world’s mobile defibrillator and became known as the father of emergency medicine. We are doing our bit for society when it comes to inventions.

Perhaps some hon. Members have a Massey-Ferguson tractor, but if they do not, it was the first tractor and was perfected and built by an Ulster Scot. Twelve American Presidents have been of Ulster Scots heritage. We are a small nation, but we punch well above our weight producing 12 Ulster Scots Presidents with our heritage, history and our nation as best ally.

Some of the greatest inventions in the world and the funniest poetry is by Ulster Scots, as well as the most beautiful turns of phrase and dance. It is little wonder that I am proud to be an Ulster Scot. I cannot wait to

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see more people from the Chamber today and from outside the House travelling to my constituency to enjoy a rich culture and beautiful scenery.

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s contribution, but on a serious note, the 100th anniversary of the first world war will soon be coming up. Will he acknowledge that, during the great war, Ulster Scots played a role with great heroism as part of the wider British Army? One thinks particularly of the battle of the Somme.

Jim Shannon: I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. Yes, our heritage is not just cultural but historical. We fought alongside and within the British Army at the battle of the Somme, and we commemorate that contribution of our soldiers every 1 July. The history stories that I was taught as a boy are so important to me and to us as a nation because of our contribution and our heroism and courage. Young boys of 16 and 17 told lies about their age to join the Army and contribute at the battle of the Somme—I was going to say the battle of the Boyne, but that would be going too far back.

We Ulster Scots are very proud to have beautiful scenery, a rich culture and the warmest of people, who are anxious to welcome others to our heart and heritage. I invite all Members to Strangford to discover our Ulster Scots heritage, and I look forward to seeing them.

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business of the house

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 15),

That, at this day’s sitting, the matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment may be proceeded with, though opposed, until 8.00 pm.—(Mr Evennett.)

Question agreed to.

7 pm

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I want to address the issue of the mis-selling of interest rate swaps by commercial banks and to ask in particular why tailored business loans—or fixed-rate loans with embedded or hidden swaps—are not included in the Financial Services Authority’s review. This issue took up a whole Back-Bench debate last June and I know that we will return to it.

The pilots of the FSA’s review into interest rate swaps revealed evidence that up to 90% of products had been mis-sold by commercial banks, but the question is: why is the review not looking at TBLs? Many businesses in my constituency and, I would hazard a guess, across the whole country are affected by them. We need a review of those products if our constituents and business people are to have any chance of redress.

TBLs are remarkably similar to other interest rate swap products: they involve exorbitant exit fees for the businesses concerned, profits are booked immediately to the banks and there are huge incentives to sell them to customers. When the all-party group on interest rate swap mis-selling, ably chaired by the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), met last December, Clive Adamson of the FSA told us:

“If there is no understanding of break costs given to the customer and if there was a poor disclosure of exit cost, then it was highly likely that there was a mis-sale”.

Yet on the grounds of a mere technicality, TBLs, which are fixed-rate loans, will not be included in the FSA review. That is unjust nonsense.

I can best illustrate that point by referring to two businesses in Aberystwyth in my Ceredigion constituency. First, Huw and Jackie Roberts of Minhafan Estates Property Development took out a £750,000 quaintly named vanilla swap over 10 years, which Barclays bank referred to as a “simple swap”. The breakage clause to get out of that agreement is £155,000 and their business is included in the FSA review. Secondly, the Beechey family who run the Black Lion pub in Aberystwyth took out a £750,000 fixed-rate loan—a TBL with embedded swap—over 15 years with Clydesdale and Yorkshire bank. Their breakage fees are £200,000, but the business is not included in the review. Both of those businesses are in the same constituency and suffering severe financial distress, yet one is in the review and the other is not. Both were involved in a trade call with an FSA-regulated derivatives expert when the hedging product was sold.

For 12 years the FSA has worked on the assumption of a principle-based system of regulation. The results of January’s pilots found that poor disclosure of break costs was one of the most significant issues in assessing compliance. However, banks such as Clydesdale and Yorkshire are telling customers that they have no legal or regulatory obligation to inform customers who have been sold a fixed-rate and that they have no redress

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whatsoever. If a feature is worthy of regulation when it is contained in one product, why is it not worthy of regulation when contained and concealed in another?

In Ceredigion there are well over 30 types of the Clydesdale and Yorkshire fixed-rate loan with hidden swap, and that is in one community alone. Hotels, pubs, lucrative shops and farms are being targeted by the banks. The stories are heartbreaking. These toxic loans mean that hitherto successful businesses are burdened with unmanageable interest rates. Owners are unable to exit the arrangements because of extortionate breakage penalties of between 20% and 40%.

What about the consequences? Job losses resulting from trading for four years in a severe economic situation while locked into an inappropriate product—a product that has sucked out every surplus the business has generated, preventing development and the engagement of staff and precipitating redundancies—are forcing people in my constituency on to benefits.

The challenge for the Government is to put all pressure imaginable on the FSA and the successor organisation to ensure that such embedded products are considered part of the review, so that the growing number of businesses affected have the redress and justice I believe they deserve. I hope my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House answers favourably.

7.5 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), with whom I shared a trip to Nigeria last year, and to participate in the David Amess Adjournment debate. We heard my hon. Friend’s tour de force earlier, but I will concentrate on one subject.

I am always pleased to reassure my constituents that Harrow has one of the lowest crime rates in London. In fact, we are the second-safest borough in London for crime. For the past three years, crime has come down overall. However, I first got involved in dealing with knife crime when two savage incidents occurred in my constituency. To my horror, knife crime in Harrow has increased by 16% in the past two years. The overall crime figures show a reduction, and we see ourselves as a low-level borough for crime, including knife crime, but that increase prompted me to look at the wider figures in the country as well as in London.

Nationally, the knife crime figures are going in the right direction—they show that knife crime fell by 15% in the past three years, with the number of crimes coming down to around 30,000. However, in London in the comparable period, knife crime has increased by 15%. London accounts for nearly half of all knife crime committed in England and Wales, which is a serious concern.

The Government have seen fit to address that trend in the new tougher sentencing regime introduced as part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which created the offence of aggravated knife possession—it is now an offence to threaten or endanger others with a knife or offensive weapon. The offence carries an automatic custodial sentence of six months for over 18s. I was one of a number of MPs who supported my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield

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North (Nick de Bois), who tabled an amendment to insist on an automatic custodial sentence of four months for 16 and 17-year-olds.

The offence came into operation only on 3 December 2012, so we are unable fully to judge its effectiveness yet. However, we can say that this is not the end of the fight against knife crime, but only the beginning. We need to look at the recently released figures to know the trend, particularly the figures on knife possession—if people do not carry knives in the first place, they will not commit knife crime. In 2012, nearly a quarter of the offensive weapon possession offences were committed by repeat offenders—I would add that they repeated the same offence. Of 4,000 individuals, 43% escaped a custodial sentence. Forty-four per cent. of those offenders had three or more previous convictions, but also escaped a custodial sentence. Even more gallingly, 5% of repeat offenders escaped with nothing more than a caution. Both the rates of reoffending and the sentences show that something is going wrong.

Across London, 62% of knife crime is accounted for by personal robberies involving a knife. Knives are used primarily as a weapon of threat, and in only a small number of cases is someone injured, but 40% of homicides in England and Wales involve a knife. That leads to the utterly wrong view that possession is the least dangerous aspect of knife crime, and therefore unimportant. We must address that. An attitude needs to be introduced in this country by which knife possession is completely and utterly unacceptable. If we allow repeat offenders to escape with nothing but a caution, that attitude will not come about. If we had such an attitude, we would not allow nearly half of all repeat offenders to escape prison.

I believe that possession of a knife or offensive weapon needs to be taken much more seriously, which is why I call on Ministers to assess whether it would be appropriate to introduce a two-strikes policy, by which anyone found in possession of a knife who has a previous conviction for a knife-related offence should receive an automatic custodial sentence. That would make it clear, in the strongest terms, that the Government stand against knife crime and are prepared to challenge its root causes.

This is holy week, when Christians celebrate Easter, Jews commemorate the Passover and the deliverance from Egypt, and Hindus celebrate Holi. I wish people of all religions a very happy holy week.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I call Sir Bob Russell, on his birthday.

7.10 pm

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): My birthday is on Sunday.

I draw the House’s attention to what I said in the pre-Christmas recess debate on 20 December at columns 1082 to 1085, with reference to the scandalous financial transactions made by the then leader of Essex county council, courtesy of the public purse. It is estimated that, from 2002 to January 2010, he spent nearly £450,000, an average of £1,000 a week, through credit card payments. It is ludicrous for anyone to say that those payments

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were for the benefit of the council taxpayers of Essex, who were paying for his life of Riley, including 62 overseas visits in five years.

Official documents detail every item of his expenditure, totalling £287,000, from March 2005 to January 2010. Records for the previous three years, according to Essex county council, are not available. I would be surprised if the council did not have bank statements which would reveal the total expenditure claimed by the leader of the council via the credit card the council issued to him even if the details are not on file. I ended my speech by saying:

“Only a full independent inquiry into the stewardship of the council from 2002 to 2010 will serve to draw a line under this most disgraceful period since Essex county council was established in 1889.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2012; Vol. 555, c. 1085.]

I regret to inform the House that Essex county council has refused to implement an independent public inquiry.

The Tory leadership is in denial. No amount of whitewash of county hall will prevent the stains of financial chicanery from remaining visible for all to see. Sadly, the situation can now be revealed to be even worse than I told the House three months ago. Last week it was revealed that council employees working directly to the leader of the council were also milking the system. County council staff, working in what it is now obvious was a party political manner for the leader of the council, had their own council-issued credit card and ran up bills of their own totalling £70,000, which would appear in every respect to have been for the benefit of the political career and aspirations of the council leader rather than for the people of Essex. Let me give one example.

The leader of the council was accompanied to the 2009 Conservative party conference by council staff. That in itself is in breach of the local government code of conduct: council staff should not be engaged in party political activities. They certainly should not be attending party conferences, and they should most certainly not expect the council taxpayers of Essex to pick up the bill. In this case, it came to £5,080.98. A breakdown includes not just accommodation and meals but £248 for wine at a reception. This has so outraged the distinguished political commentator Mr Simon Heffer that in his column in the Daily Mail last Saturday he wrote:

“Tory-controlled Essex County Council let its former Leader off the hook by failing to pursue him over a £286,000 credit card bill he racked up while flying around the world with cronies and dining in style.”

That was outrageous enough, considering that the former council leader was jailed for fiddling his expenses, but it turns out that the council also paid this crook’s £4,600 Westminster bar bills, and its audit committee has learnt that his staff claimed £70,000 for trips abroad, hotels, restaurants and hiring clothes to attend Ascot. I am an Essex ratepayer and I want to know who sanctioned this wicked waste of money and what steps will be taken to reclaim it.

Mr Heffer concluded his article by saying:

“Meanwhile, no-one in Essex should vote Conservative in the Council elections on May 2.”

As Essex county council refuses to hand over this financial scandal to an independent investigation, I call on the Government to do so; otherwise, trust in Essex county council will remain at a very low level. To my mind, it is inconceivable that the leader of the council

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acted in the way he did—and for so long—without it being known at the highest level of the council: chief officers and those councillors closest to the leader must, surely, have suspected something was not right. Was he really the only rotten apple in the barrel?

What of the financial line management? Were suspicions not aroused when details of the credit card were listed? Where was the council’s internal audit? Did they not notice, or were they too afraid to raise concerns? I gather that there was a culture of bullying and intimidation at county hall, but that, surely, would not have applied to the external auditors.

The total sum involved tops £500,000. The Government must step in and order a full independent inquiry into the financial scandal at Essex county council.

7.14 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): The excellent statement this morning by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health on the Government’s response to the Francis report on the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust shows just how important that inquiry has been and how the findings will help to change the NHS for the better for patients. I particularly welcome the emphasis on zero harm and quality of care, including the proposals for the training of nurses and for a chief inspector of hospitals.

The recent Care Quality Commission report on Stafford hospital was encouraging too—a hospital that failed so badly has now met the standards expected—and I thank the retiring chief executive Lynn Hill-Tout, staff, governors and board for all that they have done. Yet, just at the moment when the people of Stafford should be emerging from a decade or more of pain and uncertainty, we are faced with another huge challenge. The report to Monitor by the contingency planning team, published at the beginning of this month, recommended the removal of most emergency, acute, maternity and possibly even elective services from the Mid Staffordshire Trust which runs Stafford and Cannock hospitals.

This puzzles me. Emergency and acute admissions to hospitals in the west midlands are rising sharply and departments are at full stretch. Just last month—February—West Midlands ambulance service reported delays to its vehicles of more than 30 minutes on more than 1,000 occasions at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire. That is not a criticism of that hospital, just a reflection of demand. The proposal, however, is to remove a substantial amount of that capacity, which is already stretched: 300 acute beds at Stafford, in addition to the 250 that have already been lost at UHNS as a result of the new, smaller PFI hospital. In fact, at least 60 have had to be reopened at the old site, as demand is so great.

The reason given for this is, as always, that if we move care out of hospitals and into the community, the demand for emergency and acute admissions will fall. That is only half the truth. It will fall, but only from the much higher levels it would have reached. Moving care into the community will stop the need to provide much more extra emergency and acute capacity, but it will not allow for substantial reductions in that capacity. This is the flawed assumption under which NHS leaders seem to be working.

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There is a squeeze on emergency and acute tariffs that started under the previous Government. I have raised this issue before and I will continue to do so, because unless it is addressed it will eventually result in dangerously low levels of emergency and acute cover in parts of the UK. It cannot be sensible for trusts that deal in elective work to pile up surpluses while many acute trusts, on which we all depend, struggle to cope with mounting deficits.

It would be nice to believe that all hospital admissions could be elective—that all work could be programmed to fit into an ordered day—but life is not like that, especially when we have large numbers of people living longer, which I welcome, and then becoming ill suddenly with acute, complex conditions. That is why I firmly believe, as do most of my constituents, that acute district general hospitals have an important role to play. Indeed, if they did not exist, we would probably decide to create them, precisely because they are the best place for the initial treatment of the elderly with complex, acute conditions, who could be close to home and to their loved ones.

We do of course need to learn the lesson of Mid Staffordshire and other places. Such district general hospitals are usually too small to sustain many of the specialist rotas that are needed, but the solution is not, as is proposed for Stafford, to cram all serious emergency and acute cases into already overstretched neighbours; it is to work closely with those neighbouring trusts—even become part of them—and thus enable clinicians to work across neighbouring sites. This solution has the merit of combining the benefits of scale with providing care close to patients.

I met Monitor two weeks ago, and I welcome the assurance I was given by the chief executive, Dr David Bennett, that the trust special administrator, shortly to be appointed, will consider options other than those recommended, which are wholly inadequate. Monitor has the chance to show how smaller, acute general hospitals can not only survive but prosper under the wing of a larger trust. If it does that, it will have done the NHS and our country a great service.

7.19 pm

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who speaks with such authority on health matters in his constituency.

Having set up and run a business for 25 years before entering this place, I am always keen to meet businesses in my constituency. Some 18 months ago I arranged to meet a retailer with a new business called Smoke No Smoke, run by the very entrepreneurial Jim Lacey. The business sells e-cigarettes. On my visit I learnt about the product. Its customers are often people seeking to give up smoking, who have come to include a member of my staff. It was through his contacts and visits to the shop that I became aware of a potential EU directive that is a particular concern to the sector. The directive could bring the business to an end and affect many people who are trying to stop smoking.

Most smokers know that smoking is bad for their health. Many have wanted to quit, but quit rates are extremely low, with only 3% to 5% of people trying to

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quit managing to do so. Many have turned to e-cigarettes as a substitute. E-cigarettes consist of an electronic inhaler that vaporises a liquid into an aerosol mist, simulating the act of tobacco smoking. E-cigarettes are the same size and shape as cigarettes. They are held in the same way and treated as cigarettes. The difference is that while cigarette smokers smoke for the nicotine but die from the tars and gases released by the burning of tobacco, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in an aerosol form but, crucially, without the hazards that accompany tobacco smoking. There are, of course, other ways of getting nicotine, such as patches, gum and lozenges, and nicotine is not harmless. However, Action on Smoking and Health states that there is little real-world evidence of harm from e-cigarettes. There are some trace toxicants present, but at a much lower level than in cigarettes.

A recent article in The Economist sums up the position very well:

“People smoke because they value the pleasure they get from nicotine in tobacco over the long-term certainty that their health will be damaged. So it seems rational to welcome a device that separates the dangerous part of smoking (the tar, carbon monoxide and smoke…) from the nicotine. And that is what an e-cigarette does.”

The article finishes by asking rhetorically, “Who could object?” It seems the EU can object, because it is introducing a draft tobacco products directive, which proposes to regulate non-tobacco nicotine-containing products, including e-cigarettes, by classifying the vast majority of these products as medicines. Every product with more than 4 mg of nicotine per millilitre would have to be reclassified. E-cigarettes come in a range of concentrations, from zero—that is, nicotine-free—up to 48 mg per ml, with the average user choosing about 18 mg per ml. Choosing 4 mg per ml would mean a de facto ban on such products. E-cigarettes are not medicines; they are recreational nicotine products.

However, I do not want Members present or the Government to take my word for it about the benefits of this product. Let us take my constituent, Mr Preston. He and his wife started using e-cigarettes 12 months ago. Previously he smoked 30 a day and his wife smoked 20 a day. They had tried all cessation methods available on the market, none of which worked. Since starting to use e-cigarettes, neither has smoked a conventional cigarette. Mr Preston estimates they have saved up to £400 a month alone. He is 65 years old and tells me that he now wakes up each morning without a heavy chest and an immediate cough. He describes it as

“no longer waking up with that ‘bottom of the birdcage’ feeling”.

Another user said:

“After 32 years of being a smoker I love my e-cigarette and never want to try having a cigarette again! Am on day 50 now, the longest I’ve ever managed”.

Although I am not proclaiming that e-cigarettes are a positively healthy alternative to conventional smoking, I believe that the removal of the hazardous tar from cigarettes, while still providing the nicotine that smokers look for, means the product should be studied closely and be saved from the forthcoming EU directive.

7.23 pm

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I refer the House to my declaration of interest as the chairman of the Justice for Families campaign.

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I remain concerned about cases in all the secret courts in the UK. The more secret the court, the more the system acts against the rule of law. Narrow freedoms of speech are at least as important as broad access to publicity—reporting wrongdoing to regulators and asking for advice are important narrow freedoms. Without academic scrutiny, nonsense can be spouted and experts can lie for money with impunity.

Care proceedings are an area of difficulty. I remain of the view that around 1,000 children a year are wrongly forcibly adopted in the UK. Gradually, I am getting more Government support in this area—sadly, still not from the UK Government. Last week I spoke at the Polish embassy, at a conference about care proceedings. Concerns have now also been raised by Nigeria, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Latvia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Spain and Turkey.

For the avoidance of doubt, my concern is that a material proportion of care proceedings go way beyond being plainly wrong and hit the threshold of “totally nuts”. I must stress, however, that I see the appointment of Sir James Mumby as president of the family division as a positive step. I also welcome judgments such as [2013] EWHC 521 (Fam) of Mostyn J.

When the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) apologised to the children who were forcibly sent to the Commonwealth, I asked what confidence he had that such an apology would not be issued in the future for what we are doing today. His response was to ask me to send details of individual cases. I have, of course, sent many individual cases to UK Ministers. The standard response is, “It’s nothing to do with us, guv.” The fact is that, according to our constitution, the UK Government must publicly accept judicial decisions, although in practice they often criticise them—except in the family division.

More recently, Australia has apologised for forced adoption. The question was put by Florence Bellone to Professor Eileen Munro about whether in the future we may see an apology in the UK. Her response was:

“I would not be surprised if a future generation looks back and thinks how horrific the quality of our work was and the damage that we did to families.”

What we have developed—this is mainly through a mathematical error in the use of the number of children in care for the denominator of the adoption target—is a care system that is obsessed with adoption. It is so obsessed with adoption that it does things that objectively have to be seen to be irrational. I will not go into the details of Angela Wileman’s case, as I have referred to it before and I do not have time. I was pleased to hear that the arrest warrant was removed from Susan McCabe, the daughter of Councillor Janet Mockridge, who has been living in France with her two children for over five years. The attempts to remove her son for adoption in England, while leaving her daughter, gave the message of a system more concerned about winning than about the best interests of the child.

In another recent case, I read a note about the effect of the proposal for a child to be adopted out of her family. The report said:

“Since being told about the adoption, A’s mood has changed, she is clearly concerned and upset by this move, which perhaps is to be expected. However, she has nightmares most nights and is not getting adequate sleep, two weekends ago she vomited 5 times in one night.”

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This case is not unique. There are even international cases where the system has taken children from people visiting the UK and refused to give them back, even though the system clearly does not have jurisdiction. That is damaging to the children, and I am prevented by the sub judice rule from giving more information here.

The international cases are particularly interesting as the assessments in England can be compared against assessments from professionals in other countries. Professionals in other countries wonder why such strange things are done—things that cause serious psychological damage to children in the UK. Working with Slovak politicians, I have managed to establish an inquiry by the Human Rights Commissioner in the Council of Europe. However, it remains the case that a problem that arises basically in secret courts is constitutionally difficult to fix, because it needs scrutiny to fix it. There is an additional challenge in that the people affected who are UK citizens are generally poorer people and less articulate. Hence, although stories about people who are foreign citizens maltreated in the UK get substantial coverage in the foreign media, there are only a few journalists such as Sue Reid, Christopher Booker and Ted Jeory who are willing to report on these cases. The speech of Denise Robertson, “This Morning’s” agony aunt, at the justice for families conference in Birmingham last December should be broadcast on TV to explain the truth.

What we actually have is a failure of democracy. In the same way as we had the cover-up over Hillsborough and the failures at the Mid Staffordshire hospital, we have a system that is going wrong in a large number of cases and maltreating families. In maltreating families, it is maltreating the children and the adults. It is reasonably well known that this is going on. However, the Government deny it. The inquiries that occur in Parliament do not look at the individual cases. Without looking at the individual cases, we cannot see the things that are going wrong. Inquiries such as the family justice review are dominated by the people who run the system, and hence are unlikely to recognise the failures of the system.

I put forward proposals in my private Member’s Bill, but it was squeezed out by the Government, who have still not explained why in detail. I have had a conversation with the Minister with responsibility for children, but I have no hopes from that. I have very little time left. I would like to give a much fuller speech, as a lot more needs to be said, but I will end by saying Happy Easter.

7.28 pm

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): I rise to talk about the work I have been doing to try to encourage more people to take up being young entrepreneurs. When I went to university, I was one of 350 students at Oxford Brookes university studying business, but I was the only one who went on to set up my own business. With entrepreneurial flair, risk-taking and perhaps a touch of madness being drummed out of everybody else as they went on to their very successful corporate careers, I went off to set up my own business.

When I visit local schools and colleges and talk predominantly to business students asking whether they would consider setting up their own business, all their hands go up, probably inspired by TV programmes such as “The Apprentice” and “Dragons’ Den”,

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which generate lots of excitement. I then ask, “How many of you will actually set up your own business?” Suddenly the hands go down and tumbleweed floats past. I ask them why. I would normally expect them to say that the reason is access to finance, but it is not that—it is simply that they do not know how to do it. They are looking for mentors, opportunities and a set career path. If someone is applying to go to university, they fill in the UCAS forms and secure their grades. If they are applying for an apprenticeship or a job in the local economy, they send in their CV, yet there is not such clear guidance on setting up one’s own business.

To deal with that issue, I, one of the chief fundraisers at Prospect hospice, Amy Falconer, and Andrew Paterson, a lecturer at one of my local colleges, Swindon college, allocated £10 to seven teams and set them the task of trading at Blunsdon market. It is a challenging trading environment; an indoor market that is not at capacity and has limited footfall. I secured mentors from Smiths News, Nouble Furniture, Asda and Barclays to come along to support those teams to formulate ideas and to choose the products and services that they would offer.

We made sure that the teams understood that their stall would be simply a wooden trestle table that would need dressing up, but that, if they spent too much money dressing it up, they would not make any money. They needed to promote themselves. They competed against existing traders and the other teams. They also looked at promotion to ensure that they did not rely just on the footfall, on what turned out to be an exceptionally cold and wet Wednesday in the market, and got friends and family along. They also were told that they would have to stand on their feet all day, that being in retail is a real challenge, that customers would haggle and that they would have to do mental arithmetic and ensure that they had sufficient change.

When we got to the market, the seven teams set up. All seven managed to trade extremely well and to make a profit. In fact, the teams managed to raise £838.70 for the hospice. On a very quiet and cold day, that was an incredibly impressive performance. At last Friday’s presentation event, I saw how much they had changed from when they first decided to take up the challenge.

I want to highlight two of the teams. Art Creations focused on providing henna tattoos. My mother, who is a 72-year-old councillor, and my wife were covered with henna tattoos after visiting that stand. Art Creations managed to make over £100. The Double Trouble team was run by Jessica and Kay, who set up a 1950s cake stall. They were dressed in 1950s clothing. They sold hand-made bags and all the cakes were home-made. There was 1950s music playing. They gave incredible customer service. That team got over £100 as well.

The key point for those two teams is that they have been invited to return to Blunsdon market in the summer holidays. Those students are all sixth formers considering their career options. They can come back for six weeks to see whether their ideas can work beyond a day and whether they can work for themselves. They will be working with Forward Swindon and In Swindon, two of the organisations charged with re-energising our town centre using Government money to boost the high street. Those teams have both been offered opportunities to take advantage of the provision for pop-up shops;

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they will probably be the first teams to benefit from that. All things being equal and working in the real commercial world, they will have the opportunity to consider that as a career. That career path has been laid out for them.

With all these students, if they step up, volunteer and succeed, I will do all I can to get the mentors in place to support them. We all have the opportunity to support keen, young and enthusiastic people. They will be the next generation of wealth creators providing employment. We MPs will, I am sure, be queuing up to cut the ribbon and taste the fantastic cakes that they will have at their opening ceremony.

7.33 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of accident and emergency provision at Milton Keynes hospital, which serves my constituents and indeed some of your constituents, Mr Speaker. The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), and I have joined forces with one of our excellent local newspapers, the Milton Keynes Citizen, to campaign for a new A and E centre.

The issue is simply one of space. Our hospital was built in the early 1980s and the A and E department was designed for approximately 20,000 patients a year. With population growth and other increases in A and E usage, it is now dealing with well over three times that number each year, and very soon it will reach four times that number.

At this point, I would like to put on the record my deep appreciation of and admiration for the many dedicated staff at the hospital. Although there are certainly long-standing problems in parts of the NHS that have rightly been highlighted and addressed, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), it is too easy to overlook the fact that the vast majority of NHS staff do an excellent job and deeply care for their patients. That is certainly what I have found on visiting Milton Keynes hospital.

However, given an existing population of some 250,000, the accident and emergency centre is already too small. With more than 20,000 housing permissions in place locally over the next 10 years or so and in the light of demographic changes, we will have a larger elderly population and there will be a constant upward demand on A and E services.

It is also pertinent to mention that the hospital site includes an urgent care centre, opened as part of the Darzi plans a few years ago. Although it was set up with the very best of intentions, far from reducing demand on the A and E department, it has led to an increase because, understandably, people can become confused about where best to go for treatment.

The emergency care intensive support team recently reviewed the A and E centre and recommended that the NHS trust should seek capital support for what it calls a “common front door” provision. I am happy to report that all the relevant local stakeholders have developed plans for a single-point-of-access system in which those who need the full A and E treatment get it and those with less serious ailments get proper and timely treatment without being pushed from pillar to post.

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The campaign that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North and I have launched has received strong local backing. Milton Keynes council recently unanimously backed it, and there is a large and growing number of signatories to the petition that has been launched.

I fully appreciate that it is not within the gift of the Deputy Leader of the House to write out a cheque for the new centre, but I hope he will relay the points that I have made to his colleagues in the Department of Health and that my contribution today has underlined the importance of this bid. It is now for the hospital to submit its detailed bid in the usual way, and I hope it receives a favourable and timely response.

7.37 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Thirty years ago this month, I made my maiden speech. I want to make two brief introductory points, and then spend a couple of minutes on the subject on the Order Paper.

First, I want to say thank you to all the people who, for all the time that we have all been here, have looked after us so well in this place: not only the staff employed by the Palace, but the staff who work for us, without whom we could not do our job. If that is not enough and if Members have nothing better to do when the debate finishes, we are celebrating my having been here 30 years, and everyone is very welcome to come to the Attlee Suite for a drink. We are there until 9 o’clock. I want to couple with that a thanks to my head of office, George Turner, who is retiring and going to other things, having seen through the last general election and the first half of this Parliament. I am very grateful to him for his work.

Secondly, I was prompted to say something on a subject that has nothing to do with the main one: the Revenue and Customs consultation on whether tax offices should be closed or a face-to-face service should continue. I just want to make a very simple point. Many of us can use the internet and e-mail, but many constituents—not just the elderly—sometimes need to talk to somebody. I make a plea that the Government understand that, whether with careers, benefits or tax advice, doing it on the phone or via the internet is not always the answer. We must make sure that we keep face-to-face provision.

The substantive issue I want to address is the Thames tunnel proposed by Thames Water to deal with London’s sewage. I have been campaigning to clean up the Thames all my political life. Our sewers are overflowing. The wonderful Victorian sewer system cannot cope with the vast size of London and the now increasingly intermittent and heavy rain. As colleagues will know, every time it rains, water pours through the drains and gutters and floods the sewers, which overflow into the Thames. Some 83 million cubic metres of storm water, mixed with raw sewage—a horrible figure—went into the Thames last year. That hardly bears thinking about. The European Community has taken action. It is prosecuting the UK for failing to meet the terms of our waste water directive. I, like all other colleagues with riverside constituencies or in the Thames Water catchment area, have therefore questioned what the solution is.

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The current solution is to pour millions of tonnes of concrete into building a super-sewer through the Thames to intercept the outflows from the sewerage system. That will be very expensive, costing an average of £80 a year for all of Thames Water’s household customers, and it will be hugely disruptive. In my constituency, for example, one site might be worked on for up to seven years. In addition, this solution deals with only one problem. It will efficiently keep sewage out of the Thames, but it will do nothing else.

Other countries across the world are doing things differently now. Places such as Detroit and Philadelphia and places in Europe started to think about building tunnels but have realised that greener alternatives may be better. Instead of building a big tunnel, Philadelphia now has small interventions: much more porous surfaces on roads, drives and car parks; and smaller sewage collection tanks across the city, rather than in a central place. People in those places believe that what they call a blue-green solution is a better solution and it allows parks to flourish, with the transformation of the city into a wholly greener environment. Such a solution also produces many more jobs at the lower skill levels more quickly than one big tunnel project does. Philadelphia and London may not be the same, but Greater Philadelphia has a huge population, just as London does.

I have had helpful engagement with colleagues from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Treasury and with the Minister for Government Policy. My plea to the Government is that we look at the blue-green experiences elsewhere. We should look at what has happened in Philadelphia and other cities. It is not too late to have an alternative to a super-sewer down the middle of the Thames. I hope that we can pursue an alternative. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will relay back to Ministers that that is very much supported by the community and that the Thames tunnel can be replaced by a greener, more sustainable and more cost-effective solution. Happy Easter to you, Mr Speaker, and do not forget the drink later, if you are thirsty.

Mr Speaker: We will not, and your good wishes are reciprocated, Mr Hughes. Thank you.

7.41 pm

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): This year we have an early Easter, though not so early, perhaps, that we needed to provision ourselves with chocolate eggs as soon as the Christmas decorations were down at Epiphany. As some supermarkets seem to have substituted Easter eggs, fluffy chicks and chocolate bunnies for tinsel and crackers at cock crow on 7 January, the animals of spring have been a common sight in our supermarkets for some time. But even though the weather continues to be distinctly wintery, there is no reason to give the real egg layers the cold shoulder.

The cause of hen and cock welfare is one raised with me by many constituents, particularly with regard to beak trimming and battery cages. Although inhumane battery cages were banned at the start of last year, and even though we are assured by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers that beak trimming will be banned in 2016, hen welfare is not a done deal, and we on the green Benches should take a keen interest, both for the sake of animal welfare

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and because our constituents increasingly expect to eat food that either was or is from an animal that was treated well.

At one time, consumers would not deign to notice what, if anything, was said about welfare on food packaging. Now, thanks in no small part to the efforts of well-known TV chefs, we want to know from where our food has come. Indeed, the term “higher welfare” has even found its way into the ingredients list of the king of school dinners, Jamie Oliver, and there is undoubtedly a culture in which it is considered poor form to offer for sale food that is lower welfare. In a January 2010 survey, twice as many people as in 2006 said that animal welfare informed their shopping choices—that made 19%, and I am sure that the figure would be higher today.

The previous Prime Minister’s GOAT—his Government of all the talents—might have been a tur laid to rest by the British people, but that was either the exception that proves the rule on our love of animals or an act of mercy that confirms it. It should be the proud boast of British farmers that no land does more to ensure the welfare of its animals, and the success of the ban on inhumane cages in this country is a case in point. There was concern that increased prices would lead to a drop in demand for eggs, but the reverse was true and the British consumer bought 5% more eggs in 2012 than in 2011.

Concern for welfare does not stop at the good treatment of hens during their working lives, and the British Hen Welfare Trust should be cock-a-hoop about its successful record since 2005 of re-homing 360,000 laying hens of pensionable age that were otherwise destined for slaughter. The British public should be applauded for their adoption of so many of those creatures, and those acts of mercy will, I am sure, continue.

Keeping hens is somewhat in vogue at the moment, despite the prospect of heartache. Many a hen keeper will be prepared for the early morning discovery of scattered feathers and an empty coup, but how many are ready for the emotional business of dispatching unwanted chicks? In “The Good Life” idyll one imagines several hens and a single proud cockerel, but one strutting coxcomb will lead to many chicks and what is to become of the male contingent with not a layer among them? I encourage people to consider homes for hens, but to think carefully about a coop for a cockerel.

Despite the positive step of banning battery cages, many British consumers might be surprised that 17 million hens are still housed in cages, albeit of an enriched variety. These birds provide the eggs that are sold as a constituent part of another product and then, despite the efforts of the British Hen Welfare Trust, sold for the table. The Government should consider the value of labels that would show the origins of eggs when used as an ingredient and when a chicken is an end-of-lay bird as a means of promoting high welfare standards. I also entreat the Government to stick to their plan to hold a thorough investigation into beak trimming in 2015. When we eventually head into spring, let us have no cock-ups on hen welfare.

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7.45 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): Given the time I have left, I shall have to set out some rules at the beginning of my speech. One will be that I will not take any interventions and the other will be that I will have to do my delivery in the style of the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) if I am to refer to all the contributions made this evening.

I congratulate those Members who are still in the Chamber on their dedication and commitment to today’s penultimate debate and I hope that they will not be punished by not being able to get home again if the weather is inclement. I also understand that some Members, for obvious reasons, have had to depart early and I shall still try to refer to their speeches. I am particularly grateful for the attendance of the hon. Members for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on their birthdays.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) rightly laid into the doom-mongers with some relish. Times are tough, but he set out some of the success stories in his constituency, particularly on apprenticeships, where there has been dramatic growth. I am pleased to say that in the past couple of weeks I have hired my own first apprentice in my office and he is already making a very positive contribution.

The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) referred to the case of a constituent, Mrs Brenda Pressdee, and I commend the hon. Lady for her assiduous research on that case. I am sure that the relevant Ministers will have heard her request for a meeting on the matter and that they will want to respond positively. She also referred to a national issue, marine conservation zones. She expressed concerns about the cost of a further consultation and I am sure that the Government will want to manage those costs effectively.

The hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) underlined one of the strengths of such debates and this Parliament, which is our ability to raise issues of an international nature. He wanted to generate publicity about the trial of former President Nasheed and I can confirm for his benefit—although I am sure that he is aware of it—that our Government have been consistent in saying that the international community will not find it tenable if the former president is excluded from the elections in the Maldives.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) mentioned the Srebrenica genocide, which all Members will remember. It was the biggest war crime in Europe since the second world war. The Government recognise that genocide through events such as Holocaust memorial day and we are working with the Srebrenica genocide memorial and educational project to see other ways in which we can mark that anniversary.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) referred to the controversy surrounding an incinerator or energy recovery facility. I can confirm that I am aware of the controversies surrounding such plants, because there is a proposal for one in Beddington in my constituency. He stressed the importance of ensuring that it provides decent value for money, which is the last issue he wants to pursue, because all the planning processes have been completed.

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The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) talked about his desire to see work proceed on rebuilding Marlborough and Vaughan primary schools. He will be pleased to hear that there is no delay. He asked me to ensure that Ministers chase up the Education Funding Agency, and I am happy to pass that on so that he gets a prompt response. He also referred to problems relating to London Welsh, and I am sure that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will have listened carefully to what he said. He highlighted some inconsistencies in the penalties issued by the Rugby Football Union, but I do not think that is something I can pursue as Deputy Leader of the House. I am sure that is something he will want to do, and he has put that on the record.

We then heard a contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who stated that Essex is the county of entrepreneurs—I am sure that is also true of many other counties—and made a couple of specific points about Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customers and a constituent, Mr Wright. I am sure that HMRC has public relations people who follow these debates closely and that they will want to pick up on that point and, I hope, respond positively to her concerns. She also referred to some unhappiness about the way in which the Valuation Office Agency works and the need for more flexibility on business rates, particularly how high levels of business rates affect strong and emerging businesses in her constituency.

The hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) talked about the If campaign, which I am sure many Members on both sides of the House will want to support. That gives me an opportunity to underline the fact that the Government are delivering on the commitment to devoting 0.7% of gross national income on aid, which I think we should all be proud of. It was started by the previous Government and finished by this one. He also expressed concern about the difference in the way children from families with parents who are in work and those from families with parents who are not in work are dealt with in respect of free school meals. I am sure that is something the Department for Education, which has responsibility for free school meals, might want to respond to.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) raised a variety of issues—another Member referred to it as a “kaleidoscope of issues”—and it would be difficult to respond to them all. He referred to the plight of Christians, particularly in countries such as Pakistan; the importance of recognising the need to support Tourette’s sufferers, through the Department for Education, and in schools and in health care; and the importance of fortifying foods with folic acid, and the charity in his constituency, Shine, which works on that issue. I have noted his concerns about equal marriage, but I am pleased that the Government are pursuing it. He talked about the important role the voluntary sector is playing in relation to the Peterborough cathedral appeal. He also mentioned the Sue Ryder hospice and the generosity of his city. I am sure that his city and its people are very generous and that we all want to recognise that.

We then heard a contribution from the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) on the Cockenzie power station. She said that today might feel like groundhog dog. She will no doubt know that the groundhog is being sued at the moment. In fact, they are seeking the

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death penalty for the groundhog in America because he has failed to predict the beginning of spring accurately. She focused on the need for investment. Clearly, the decision on whether to invest in a new combined cycle gas turbine at Cockenzie is very much a commercial matter for ScottishPower, but I am sure that the Government would welcome that investment and the jobs and energy that would be created if and when the development goes ahead.

The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) said that the UK has thrived on immigration but not on foreign criminals, and I certainly agree with that sentiment. He made a concrete suggestion—I am sure that the Ministry of Justice will want to respond to it—about an amendment to the UK Borders Act 2007 that he thinks could address the issue of the deportation of foreign nationals who have served a prison sentence. I am sure that he will secure a response as a result of his speech.

The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), whose birthday I mentioned earlier, talked about sport and fitness for women and girls. She is right to raise that issue, and I commend her for doing so. We need more women and girls in sport, and the well-being that can be derived from that is considerable. She asked for responses to some specific questions, and I will follow those up. The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) talked about her local bypass and its importance in bringing industrial regeneration, particularly around Radnor Park business park in Congleton, and the possibility of investment in the aerospace industry.

We then heard from the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty). I am sorry to hear about Dunfermline Athletic football club. I am sure that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Her Majesty’s Treasury will want to look on that situation favourably and assist as much as they can. He also talked about Royal Navy personnel in Scotland. I can confirm that there will be a rise in the number of Navy personnel in Fife supporting the Queen Elizabeth-class build, peaking at about 750 personnel. I hope that he welcomes that.

The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) raised a very large number of issues, which are all noted. I am sure that the 20 Departments he mentioned will want to respond promptly.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) discussed Ulster Scots culture. I am pleased that he did, because one always learns something in these debates, and that was something new. I think he claimed that no fewer than 12 US Presidents had Ulster Scots heritage, and I am sure that that is entirely accurate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) spoke about interest rate swaps, which I am sure many Members are concerned about. He made a specific request about tailored business loans that I will follow up. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) raised the issue of knife crime, which the Government are clearly committed to addressing. He made a specific proposal on a two-strikes policy that the MOJ may want to follow up.

The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) was again a bit like groundhog day as regards Essex county council. He raised the expenses scandal, which he likes to mention in this place and I know he will pursue again and again.

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We then heard about Mid Staffs, and I am pleased that we had had a detailed statement on that earlier. I have much sympathy with the concerns expressed about the future of the specialist accident and emergency services. That issue affects my local hospital, St Helier hospital, which is at risk in the same way.

The hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) talked about electronic cigarettes. He will be pleased to know that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has conducted research into this that will feed into the Government’s position on the European Commission’s proposals, to which he referred. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) pursued, as he does—I am sure that he will do so relentlessly—the issue of secret courts in relation to family justice.

The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) spoke about the apprentice scheme in his constituency. I commend him for that and hope that the young people he is working with will go on to make very successful business people in future. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) referred to concerns about his local A and E department.

I am afraid that I am running out of time and will not be able to complete my speech, but I commend the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who managed to talk seriously about hen welfare, but managed to make many references to eggs.

I conclude by wishing a happy Easter to you, Mr Speaker, and the staff of the House, including the Serjeant at Arms and his officers, Hansard, and José and Fedel in the gift shop. It is not eggs that I will be sharing this evening with staff in the Office of the Leader of the House, but liquid refreshment—

8 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 15(5)(a) and Order this day).

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance

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in your role as custodian of good debate. Is there a way in which the House could congratulate Richard and Jane Quirk, who are leaving the House service after approaching 30 years of public service?

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman does not really need my guidance. He is too self-effacing. He has found his own salvation and a very proper means by which to pay tribute to two long-serving, distinguished and greatly appreciated servants of the House, who are indeed retiring today. That retirement has already been marked by a reception in Speaker’s House and has now been marked by the hon. Gentleman’s pithy and apposite point of order. I think that the whole House will thank them and wish them long and happy retirements.

Business without Debate

E-Tabling of Written Questions


That this House approves the recommendations relating to written parliamentary questions contained in paragraphs 19 and 20 of the Third Report of the Procedure Committee, on E-tabling of parliamentary questions for written answer, HC 775.—(Nicky Morgan.)


Cemetery at Aldridge Road, Walsall

8.1 pm

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): The petition is from Residents Against Cemetery. A petition in similar terms has been signed by 943 people. The petition states:

The Petition of Residents Against Cemetery,

Declares that the Petitioners are against the granting of planning for a cemetery at Aldridge Road, Walsall.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to encourage Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council to consider the objections of local residents.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. [P001171]

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Energy Infrastructure (UK Supply Chain)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Nicky Morgan.)

8.2 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I am pleased to have secured this debate. Its purpose is to highlight the job-creating opportunities associated with renewing the UK’s energy infrastructure, the considerable potential that that offers to generate economic growth, the concern that we may not be making the most of the opportunity, and what can be done to ensure that we do.

At the outset, I should draw attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests because I have an interest in family farms where renewable energy projects are being pursued. However, this evening I shall largely concentrate not on land but on the offshore oil and gas and wind sectors, with some references to nuclear.

At times during this debate, I might be accused of being parochial and focusing on the opportunities in East Anglia and my Waveney constituency. However, I should emphasise that there are opportunities not only for areas that adjoin the North sea but for areas across the UK. That is because the energy supply chain stretches right across the country and is not confined to Lowestoft and Yarmouth, Humberside or Tyneside. If we get the supply chain working to its full potential, the whole of Britain will benefit. That will have a significant positive impact on GDP, help to rebalance the economy, and provide significant exporting opportunities.

Not only has Lady Luck looked favourably on me in securing this debate, but the timing is particularly opportune, coming just before the Energy Bill returns to this House on Report after the Easter recess and just before the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills publishes its industrial strategy for oil and gas and offshore wind. At present, there is much focus on the energy sector.

The country faces a significant challenge: to replace its ageing capacity, provide power to the nation’s homes and businesses and ensure that the nation’s lights do not go out. In rising to that challenge, three criteria need to be addressed: energy must be affordable, secure in supply and low carbon in content. There is a fourth goal, however, that we should strive to achieve. I refer to the opportunity to create economic growth, to rebalance the economy towards the regions and in favour of engineering and manufacturing and to attract inward investment. Nowhere is there a greater opportunity to do that than in East Anglia, which is already a significant player in the energy sector, with 35% to 45% of the nation’s gas supply coming through the Bacton terminal, where the Sizewell C nuclear power station will be built and with Lowestoft, in my constituency, lying closest to the East Anglia Array, potentially the world’s largest wind farm.

The region will see significant investment in the energy sector over the next 20 years, with an estimated £80 billion to £85 billion in the oil and gas, decommissioning, gas storage, nuclear and offshore wind sectors. The challenge is to ensure that this investment provides the maximum benefit, not only to East Anglians but to people and businesses across the UK

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Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me permission before the debate to intervene and for bringing this important subject to the Floor of the House. He referred to the benefit to the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He will be aware that the Belfast shipyard builds wind turbines for land and sea. Will that shipyard be able to get some of this work?

Peter Aldous: Although I am concentrating on the North sea, the supply chain for the offshore work extends right the way around the country, both in the oil and gas sector and the offshore wind sector. I am also extremely conscious of the work that DONG Energy and ScottishPower have done and the investment they have made in Belfast.

In short, we need to strive to maximise the British content of UK energy infrastructure projects. At present, there are concerns that we are not meeting this challenge. Some two years ago, the Thanet wind farm was completed, with less than 20% of the £900 million of investment going to UK firms. Although companies such as ScottishPower and DONG Energy are aware of the need to maximise the UK content of contracts, we are some distance from achieving the Offshore Wind Developers Forum’s target of 50% UK content for UK offshore wind farms.

The problem is more serious in the oil and gas sector. In last year’s Budget, the Chancellor announced significant incentives for opening up marginal North sea fields and decommissioning. These initiatives are to be applauded, and North sea investment this year is now at its highest and most extensive for 30 years, but the problem is that contracts worth more than £10 billion are being placed overseas, while in the past two years only 7% of North sea platforms have been made in the UK. In other words, British taxpayers’ money is being used to create jobs in other countries.

The Nexen Golden Eagle project was awarded to Lamprell of Dubai, the BP Clair Ridge project to Hyundai Heavy Industries of Korea, and Statoil’s Mariner project to Daewoo of Korea and Dragados of Spain. I name just three contracts, but there are more. If some of these contracts had been awarded to British yards, they would have helped secure thousands of jobs and strengthened the UK’s supply chain, which as I have said extends across much of the UK. In the past two years, contracts for a total of 200,000 tonnes of fabrication structures have been awarded outside the UK, representing a loss to the country of 18,600 direct man years of jobs.

Some people may say, “Tough luck. Why should we pursue protectionist policies propping up uncompetitive UK firms?” But that is not the case: these businesses are competitive and innovative and have highly skilled and dedicated work forces. If we do not allow them to compete on a level playing field with companies from other countries, there is a danger that the yards will simply disappear. That will not only hit hard those areas of the country with above average levels of unemployment, but it will have a serious knock-on effect on the offshore wind sector, as those businesses are well placed to help build offshore wind farms.

There is, therefore, a need for the UK to have a local content policy when granting such contracts. The reason given for not having such a policy is that it would contravene EU competition regulations, but if that is

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the case, why is the UK the only oil and gas province in the world that does not have a local content policy? Why should licences granted on the UK continental shelf not contain a clause requiring free and fair provision for British companies in the procurement process?

The UK Government should apply pressure at national and EU level to ensure that UK companies are not disadvantaged when competing for overseas contracts. Sembmarine SLP, based in Lowestoft in my constituency, advises that in its experience, when it competes for projects in Norwegian, Dutch, German and French waters it has practically no chance of winning owing to blatant protectionism. In the offshore wind sector, Seajacks, based in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), points out that the French Government have explicitly stated that they intend to award licences for offshore wind sites to bidders favouring the French supply chain. British companies are not looking for favouritism or trade barriers; they are seeking a level playing field. I urge the Minister, together with his colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Treasury, to do all he can to help achieve that.

The Government could take other long-term measures to strengthen the UK supply chain. Indeed, they have put in place a number of initiatives, for which I thank and commend them. In the time left I shall briefly run through what else needs to be done to ensure that UK-based businesses are in the best possible place to secure contracts.

First is electricity market reform. At present, the Energy Bill is the most important game in town, and if we get it right it will provide the stable long-term policy environment that is required to attract supply chain investment. I believe that we are moving in the right direction. A £7.6 billion package has been provided for investment in renewable energy, and although the Bill’s provisions are complicated, it should provide the certainty, confidence and credibility that investors are looking for in UK energy policy. Timeliness is vital. It is important to investors that draft strike prices are published in the second quarter of this year and that the Bill receives Royal Assent by the end of the year.

I commend the Minister on being receptive to amendments to improve the Bill, and I am grateful to him for considering my proposals, which are designed to strengthen the supply chain. The elephant in the room is, of course, the 2030 decarbonisation target. I shall not dwell on that as I know it will be debated in the Chamber in much detail and with much passion in the coming weeks; indeed, it could be the subject of an Adjournment debate. I will say, however, that it is unfortunate that the issue has become a bit of a political football, and when the matter is considered I ask the Government to look behind any political positioning and decide what is best for Britain, and particularly the development of the UK energy supply chain. My views on the matter are determined by what industry and investors tell me, and it is important that we listen to them.

Secondly, the Government have put in place a number of measures to strengthen the supply chain. In Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth there is an enterprise zone, and the two ports have centre of renewable engineering—CORE—status. Those measures are proving helpful in

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promoting the area, but as the Minister heard from the Norfolk and Suffolk delegation he met last month, more could be done to ensure that we fully realise the potential of the great opportunity in front of us.

The problem that Yarmouth and Lowestoft face as a CORE is that of six COREs in England, only it and Sheerness do not have assisted area status. I believe that if all six COREs enjoyed the benefit of assisted area status, it would be particularly advantageous, both nationally and internationally, in seeking to promote the UK. It would help Lowestoft and Yarmouth to compete against our fiercest competitors from the low countries on the other side of the North sea.

I am also mindful that the UK ports fund, which is designed to help the establishment of offshore wind manufacturing, is only available in assisted areas. I am advised that at present this fund is largely unspent. If Lowestoft and Yarmouth were given assisted area status, the two ports could access the fund to carry out work that would stimulate jobs and investment in renewable offshore engineering.

The advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative is proving beneficial in stimulating investment in manufacturing-related jobs and growth. However, the current minimum threshold of £1 million for investment from the fund appears to be holding businesses back from making applications. It would thus be helpful if the Department of Energy and Climate Change could liaise with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to see whether the threshold could be lowered either for individual businesses or for smaller scale projects. This would be helpful to businesses from across the manufacturing sector and to those looking to support energy projects.

I apologise if it appears that I have a shopping list, as I am mindful that the Minister may tell me that the shelves are bare. I would emphasise, however, that a thriving supply chain can be a key driver in reducing costs in the offshore wind sector, which is vital to establishing the industry on a sustainable, long-term footing.

Thirdly, investing in skills and people is of paramount importance. The UK needs to improve its skills base to serve the large demand that will come from the North sea in the next few years with regard to the oil and gas and wind sectors. If we do not do that, businesses will source that expertise from other countries.

I commend the Government for promoting apprenticeships. Indeed, the Minister himself played an important role in that work in a previous life. I also pay special tribute to Lowestoft college which, although not a large further education college, has realised the huge potential in the energy sector and invested a considerable amount of resources in providing facilities and putting on courses with the energy industry’s needs in mind.

There are a number of different ways and proposals as to how best to invest in skills for the offshore industry. I do not propose to go through these or, indeed, to pick a winner. Suffice to say that it is important that the necessary skills centres should be located near offshore engineering ports. This way we can create the world’s leading pool of offshore engineering skills here in the UK.

The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult centre proposed by the Technology Strategy Board will be located in Glasgow, and the north-east and will have an

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important role to play. I was concerned that it would not be a truly national centre of excellence, but those worries have been allayed and I know that organisations in Lowestoft such as OrbisEnergy and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science look forward to working with the centre in the coming months.

Fourthly, improving our outdated infrastructure is important if we are to make the most of these opportunities. The Government’s broadband initiative is welcome, though it is vital that the procurement process proceed smoothly and quickly.

In Lowestoft, conscious of the opportunities that will arise for funding through the single pot, which will be administered by the New Anglia local enterprise partnership, a prospectus of the transport infrastructure we need, both in the town and serving it, was published last week. Working together with the LEP, the councils and businesses, the town will strive to put in place the infrastructure needed to attract businesses to the area.

In conclusion, renewing the country’s energy infrastructure over the next 20 years provides a great opportunity to create a world-class industry that will provide the growth for which the country is so desperately searching. Much good work has been done, but I am concerned that as matters stand we are in danger of not making the best of the opportunity and we could, in effect, be exporting its benefits to other countries.

There is a need to provide businesses with both long-term certainty and a level playing field. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and, in the words of Lord Heseltine, we must

“leave no stone unturned in pursuit of growth.”

8.19 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr John Hayes): It was T. S. Eliot who said that we know too much and are convinced of too little, but that cannot be said of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who is gaining a reputation as both a powerful and an elegant orator—if I may say so—in the interest of his constituents. Few Members of this House are more determined to advance the employment opportunities, the skills opportunities and the wider economic opportunities of the people they serve than my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to him for bringing this matter to the consideration of the House. He served with some distinction on the Energy Bill Committee, which he mentioned in his speech. I enjoyed working with him, and look forward to working with him further in future on that and other matters.

My hon. Friend rightly emphasised that the investment in our energy infrastructure is vital. The UK must be able to compete to stay ahead of others in what is increasingly a competitive world order. This is, to the use the Prime Minister’s phrase, a global race. We must ensure not just that we keep up, but that we win that race.

It is estimated that replacing and upgrading our electricity infrastructure and closing power stations over the next decade will require no less than £110 billion of capital investment. The Government’s electricity market reform programme, which my hon. Friend mentioned in his remarks, is designed to drive investment that will support as many as 250,000 jobs in the energy sector.

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As part of the Energy Bill, we will of course engage in the process of enjoying with the people who will bring about that investment a full and proper debate on jobs and skills in the UK. We are working with communities to maximise benefits and working with the industry to ensure that this is an opportunity to drive growth.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I assume the Minister understands that, with such huge spending, he needs to take the people of Britain on that journey with him. Will he tell the House something about the call for evidence on community engagement on the benefits—supposed benefits—of onshore wind, which his Department finished in the middle of November 2012? We eagerly anticipate the results.

Mr Hayes: Some say I am the people’s voice. I would not want to claim that myself, but it is certainly true that the people’s interests are always close to my heart. I can tell my hon. Friend that we will respond to that call for evidence. Perhaps I should say more about it. I have asked my officials to look at pre-application consultation, benchmarking good practice, and ensuring that communities have the resources to evaluate and consider wind applications. Many representations have been made on cumulative impact and topography. It is vital—to use not my words, but those of the Secretary of State—that no community feels bullied into having wind turbines in the wrong places, and that the Department of Energy and Climate Change and indeed Government policy should not be used as an excuse for putting them in the wrong places. I cannot be clearer than that, but my hon. Friend will look forward to that publication with excitement and enthusiasm. He knows where I stand on these matters: I stand on the people’s side.

To return to the main thrust of my argument, the scale of the investment that I described a moment or two ago is big even compared with some of the other major infrastructure investment that the economy is likely to enjoy. It makes up nearly half the total investment in the pipeline—it is up to six times the investment expected in water or communications, and more than 30% greater than expected investment in transport. Perhaps sometimes in energy, we punch below our weight in making the case on infrastructure investment and the effect it can have on the wider economy, and on skills and jobs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney has made clear.

As I have said, it is critical in that process that we work with businesses, not only to attract greater levels of investment to rebuild our energy infrastructure, stimulate our economy and bolster the jobs market, but to do so in a way that builds a sustainable supply chain.

In September last year, the Government launched an industrial strategy that will drive forward our approach to creating a new partnership with the business sectors that will give us the greatest potential for development and exports. My Department and my former Department, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which my hon. Friend also mentioned, are working closely together and in partnership with UK industry to produce three energy sector strategies as part of the industrial strategy, identifying ways that we can build up the UK supply chain in order to maximise the economic benefits of the investment we have attracted to communities and constituencies across the country.

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These strategies cover oil and gas, nuclear and offshore wind, all of which my hon. Friend mentioned in his speech, and are among the first to be launched as part of the Government’s industrial strategy. Indeed, the nuclear strategy was launched today. It sets out how we can achieve our ambitions in nuclear power, bringing a new generation of nuclear power to deliver light and heat to lives across the nation. It also sets out how we can achieve a massive increase in opportunities for those who work in that industry. It is fair to say that some of those skills have been eroded over time as the last nuclear power station we built was in 1985. There will be jobs in building those stations, in running them and in the regulatory system—the context in which they sit, because of course all we do will be safe and secure.

The oil and gas strategy will be launched in Aberdeen on Thursday. The offshore wind strategy will be published later this spring. An abundance of virtues is emanating from the partnership between my Department and BIS. The strategies set out where we are now, where we want to get to, and how we will get there. This work will bring forward important analysis of supply chains, focusing on barriers, skills and technology.

There is good news. For example, Hitachi, which is a partner organisation that wants to develop a new generation of nuclear power in this country, has suggested that 60% of the jobs created will be local. The Hinkley Point development, which has been debated in the House several times and is of critical importance, estimates that potentially 57% of the jobs will be from the UK. These are real and tangible benefits to our nation as the result of a policy that is not protectionist—although Joseph Chamberlain is one of my heroes—but planned, on the basis that if we get the economic effect for which my hon. Friend calls, we will build unparalleled resilience, flexibility and responsiveness. It is right that all should benefit from the plans that I have outlined today.

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I make no apologies for being a patriot—no one in this House should—so of course the measure has to be quality. I know that, by and large, British is best. As we move forward with our nuclear supply chain action plan, which was delivered in December 2012, and work on the community benefits for sites that host new nuclear power stations and new technology in other areas—mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)—we must put the people’s interests first. That is also true in the oil and gas sector.

As I said, the oil and gas sector strategy will be published on Thursday in Aberdeen. It will focus on how we can develop further opportunities in the North sea to the benefit of communities and of the supply chain. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney will know that our gas generation strategy, published last December and of course on everyone’s bedside table, is designed to provide certainty for investors about the Government’s view of gas generation to ensure that sufficient investment comes forward within the context of the Government’s wider energy policies. Gas currently forms an integral part of the UK’s energy generation mix because it is reliable and flexible. It provides around 40% of our electricity. Shale gas is another exciting opportunity and our new office of unconventional gas and oil will be the pivot of our thinking and developments in that area.

We have enjoyed an exciting Easter Adjournment debate, and, at the end of that, another exciting debate thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney. It remains for me to wish you personally, Mr Speaker, a joyous Easter, and to do so in the knowledge that this Minister and this Government are determined to do right by the British supply chain.

Question put and agreed to.

8.29 pm

House adjourned.