Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): A great number of my constituents in place such as Kings Worthy, Twyford and Winchester have had a truly miserable weekend. I met people with very young children and very elderly people who have been in tears this weekend, and it brings home the real human cost of this, not the petty

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politics that we are sometimes seeing today. The Secretary of State will understand the sheer helplessness that many of my constituents feel right now. What advice does he have for those who are rightly concerned about the public health threats that will arise if flood waters around their homes persist for a long period?

Mr Pickles: We are, of course, not only constantly monitoring the rise of the flood waters, but analysing what is within them, with a view to public health. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being out and about with his constituents, as I am sure everybody here will be. One thing that has become very clear through this is that people in public office, be it Members of Parliament or councillors, have taken a considerable lead, not just in pressing for resources or offering help, but in rolling their sleeves up and getting involved—they should be commended.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): First, I wish to thank all the people in my constituency in the agencies and services who have done so much on prevention and risk-management. In order effectively to sharpen the focus on flood defence perhaps there should be a strategic review, so does the Secretary of State agree that it needs to be reinforced and informed by strong local input?

Mr Pickles: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that strong local input is immensely important. Although authorities from nearby cities or from London can have a grand strategic view, local people know how the rivers and culverts flow, and are in a position to offer good advice.

Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): The Environment Agency is spending £18 million on waterlogging some of the best farmland in the country in my constituency to create a habitat for birds, in a scheme due to start in a couple of months. Will my right hon. Friend examine the resource allocation within the Environment Agency, because it is not just dredging, but wider river maintenance that matters in areas such as the Cambridgeshire fens?

Mr Pickles: I am somewhat conflicted on this, as when I am not here I am somewhat of a twitcher and I was very much looking forward to the particular habitat my hon. Friend was talking about. He makes a reasonable point: we now need to look at priorities. We need to consider things not only in terms of where people live, but in terms of ensuring that we are able to produce sustainably the products from agriculture that this nation so desperately needs, and so reduce our imports and dependency on elsewhere. He makes a very good point.

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): The residents of Fleetwood are extremely grateful to the Government for the £60 million-plus they agreed in the summer to provide much-needed new sea defences. But the residents of Thurnham, just along the coast, are being told by the Environment Agency that it will not maintain their sea defences beyond 30 years because of Treasury rules about the valuation of farming land. As part of the Secretary of State’s long-term plan on flooding, can he get the Treasury to re-examine these rules?

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Mr Pickles: The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) is going to be very busy, because he would like to speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) on precisely this issue. I would not be flippant and say that 30 years is a long time and things can change, but this set of storms has been a big wake-up call, not just for government and the Environment Agency, but for the nation as a whole, and we need to make some valuable judgments about where it is appropriate to have defences.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will join me in thanking the volunteers from Halesworth who proactively filled sandbags and put them out along the thoroughfare and outside houses on Friday night. More importantly, although a tragedy is happening in the Thames valley and the south-west, there is a silver lining, as we once again have an opportunity to reflect on the strategy on making space for water and the principles on which the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 was founded. Will he assure me that a review will involve a consideration of the flood, water and habitat directives, and that there will be a recognition that some of the things we have to do are, frankly, bonkers, while common-sense stuff is being left aside?

Mr Pickles: I assure my hon. Friend that we will consider all matters relating to flooding and the storms, whether that is the habitat directive or questions of global warming, but I hope she will forgive us that, right now, we need to get on with the process of making communities feel safe.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): We had a wake-up call in 2000, when the then Prime Minister made promises to MPs in No. 10 Downing street. That happened again in 2007 and it is happening now, so the one question remaining for the House is

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how we put in place a long-term framework that will mean that, when the political spotlight moves on, flooding does not drop down the list of priorities, as has been the case under successive Governments.

Mr Pickles: My hon. Friend makes a firm point, but these storms have been so dramatic, widespread and all-encompassing that the coalition Government’s resolve is that we are determined not to flunk the decisions and make the mistakes of the past.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): The River Mease in my constituency has regularly flooded near Elford, Haunton and Harlaston, partly because the Environment Agency, with other agencies, has refused to allow farmers to clear and manage their watercourses. May I echo others by asking my right hon. Friend to encourage the practitioners of conventional orthodoxy to pay close attention to the concerns and advice of farmers, who are as expert at managing their fields and watercourses as anyone in the EA?

Mr Pickles: We have looked to farmers and those in similar professions to help us out during this whole process and their local knowledge has often made the difference. As I have said from the Dispatch Box, my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary believes in that principle passionately, and I believe that good management is operated, if only by acting as an agency for the agency.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Environment Agency were subject to a duty to take account of economic growth such as that proposed in the Deregulation Bill, it would have a welcome opportunity to redefine, refocus and improve its long-term policies and direction?

Mr Pickles: I am sure that many in the Environment Agency, which is made up of excellent people, will have listened with great interest to my hon. Friend and may well be taking those wise words into account.

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Afghanistan

4.43 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Afghanistan. At the end of this year we will have completed our combat mission in Afghanistan, so today is an opportunity not just to pay tribute to the courage and sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces, but to reflect on why the mission matters and what we have achieved so far and to look forward to the completion of Operation Herrick.

It is well over a decade since September 11, but the events of that day still have the power to shock. The operation that began later in 2001, and continues to this day, has been hard fought and has cost us dear, but the cost of doing nothing and abandoning Afghanistan to the terrorists and insurgents would have been much greater. Thankfully, in today’s Afghanistan al-Qaeda is a shadow of its former self, and we are all safer as a consequence.

Since the start of operations in 2001, 447 members of our armed forces have made the ultimate sacrifice, two of them since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development made the last quarterly statement on Afghanistan to the House on 17 October. I know that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to the extraordinary courage and commitment of those individuals, and of their families, who have to live daily with the loss of their loved ones, and of the many hundreds more who have suffered life-changing injuries. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten. They have protected our national security by helping the Afghans take control of theirs. Working with our international security assistance force partners and the Afghans themselves, they have ensured that Afghanistan is neither a safe haven, nor a launch pad for terrorists who despise everything we stand for and seek to destroy our way of life.

The security situation in Afghanistan today represents very real progress since 2003. When the campaign started, the Afghan national security forces did not exist. Today they are leading operations, protecting the population and taking on the Taliban. For example, as part of the security operation for the Loya Jirga in November, the ANSF established a layered security zone a week before the event. It was a complex, large-scale operation in which all elements of the ANSF co-operated. The results were impressive: 6 tonnes of home-made explosives were interdicted and the event ran safely and smoothly.

A major operation in December spanning Kandahar, Zabul and Daykundi provinces, and involving over 4,000 ANSF personnel, had a similarly successful outcome. More than 250 villages were cleared of insurgents and more than 600 improvised explosive devices were destroyed, with few casualties sustained. The Afghan air force flew resupply missions and evacuated casualties during the operation, with ISAF support limited to advice, intelligence and a small number of air support operations.

The ANSF have almost reached their surge strength target of 352,000 army, police and air force personnel, and between them they are leading 97% of all security operations and carrying out over 90% of their own training. While work continues on professionalising the forces and addressing high attrition levels, their ability

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to provide security for the Afghan people and maintain the momentum generated by a coalition of 50 nations remains a significant achievement—a source of pride to the Afghan forces themselves and a source of confidence to the civilian population.

As the ANSF have grown in stature, so our role in Afghanistan has evolved from leading combat operations to training, advising and assisting the ANSF. Today, UK forces are primarily engaged in mentoring their Afghan counterparts, providing world-class training and support and undertaking our own draw-down and redeployment activity. The progress of the ANSF is helping to drive the pace of transition, enabling us to meet our target of reducing our military footprint in Afghanistan to 5,200, down by nearly half from this time last year, when there were around 9,000 UK personnel in theatre.

As the nature of the mission has changed and the Afghans have taken the lead responsibility for security across central Helmand’s three districts, we have significantly reduced the number of British bases, from 137 at the height of our engagement to 13 last January and just four plus Camp Bastion today. Our draw-down trajectory will reduce our footprint to one forward observation post and the main operating base at Camp Bastion following the elections. Subsequently, as we enter the final phase of the Herrick campaign, the UK will combine its headquarters at Camp Bastion with those of the US Marine Corps.

Our efforts have not just focused on building the necessary security apparatus. The UK-led provincial reconstruction team, currently operating from Camp Bastion ahead of the completion of its mission next month, has helped deliver real progress in Helmand. Today, 80% of the local population can access health care within 10 km of their home, improved security and infrastructure conditions have meant the reopening of local bazaars and the reinvigoration of the local economy, 260 km of roads have been added to the existing network since 2012, and we have seen the completion of the paving of the strategically important Route 611 in Helmand, a project funded jointly by the UK and the United Arab Emirates.

Ordinary Afghans have seen the quality of their life improve significantly, and we can be proud of the role we have played in making this possible. Nationwide, there has been a 20% rise in household incomes since 2010, and tax revenues increased eightfold between 2004 and 2012. About 6 million children are in school, compared with fewer than 1 million a decade ago under the Taliban. About a third of those are girls, who were previously denied this basic right altogether.

The presidential elections in April will be an important step on Afghanistan’s path to normalisation. The insurgency will almost certainly target these elections in an attempt to derail the process and prevent the Afghan people from casting their votes as is their democratic right. Ultimately, it will be for the ANSF to safeguard the elections, but the UK is committing £20 million to help the Afghan electoral authorities improve their management of the process. Ultimately, a political settlement between the Afghan Government and the Taliban offers the best prospect of a sustainable peace in Afghanistan. As we know from our own experience, securing peace and achieving reconciliation is a long, complex and difficult

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process. We will continue to support the efforts of the Afghan Government and the High Peace Council to achieve this crucial objective.

The combat operation might be ending, but our commitment to Afghanistan will endure. A small contingent of UK military will remain to provide the coalition lead at the Afghan national army officer academy, supported by mentors from Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and Norway. The academy is currently training over 250 male officer cadets. We expect to train an additional 30 female officers alongside each male intake, with the first female cohort starting in June this year. Together, they will form the next generation of military leaders, and this will be our lasting legacy to the Afghan army.

We want to continue this support, but that requires a NATO status-of-forces agreement which, in turn, requires the Afghans to sign the US-Afghan bilateral security agreement. The BSA was painstakingly negotiated over many months. The Loya Jirga has spoken for the clear majority of Afghans in endorsing it and welcoming international support after 2014. It is now imperative to the future of Afghanistan that this agreement is signed.

Afghanistan today is a very different place from the one we entered in 2001. The Afghans are taking charge of their security and their democracy. It is changing fast, with a growing economy, a young population, and a revolution in access to the outside world through mobile communications and satellite TV. The 2013 Asia Foundation survey of Afghanistan paints a picture of a people who, despite the country’s difficulties, can dare to hope. This is particularly true in Helmand, where 84% of the population believe their country is heading in the right direction. They are a people who are at last seeing an opportunity to move away from the conflicts of the past and towards a brighter future of reconciliation, investment and lasting security.

We have played a key part in making that happen. We should be proud of what our armed forces have achieved over the past 13 years in helping Afghanistan to stand once again on its own two feet. Our focus now is on helping the Afghans to secure the gains of the last decade, using these as a platform for further steady progress in the years to come. I commend this statement to the House.

4.54 pm

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it.

Nothing unites this House more than the admiration we have for our armed forces and their service and sacrifice. Nowhere is this more evident than in Afghanistan. As the Defence Secretary said, 447 members of our armed forces have died in operations there since 2001, with many more injured. Their commitment to the United Kingdom and Afghanistan, and to our respective peoples, should never, and will never, be forgotten.

Many British civilians are also working to build peace and progress in Afghanistan, and that will become ever more important as the combat missions wind down. Does the Secretary of State share the shock and sadness at the attack in Kabul just a few weeks ago that cost the lives of 21 people, including two British citizens? Many

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colleagues from across the political spectrum knew Del Singh, who died in that explosion. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said:

“He dedicated his life to working with people across the world who needed his support.”

Ultimately, he gave his life, too, and we in the Labour party remember him and his work with pride and a sense of determination to continue it.

Will the Defence Secretary outline what steps the Government are taking to ensure the protection of British forces and civilians and give reassurance to them and their families as to what is being done to provide it, both now and after the military draw-down? Does he share the concern that civilian deaths in Afghanistan rose by 14% in 2013, and to what does he attribute that significant rise?

There has been undoubted, but not irreversible, progress in Afghanistan. In terms of finding a political settlement, it is clear that elections scheduled for April are an indication of both the advances and the challenges that remain. Will the Defence Secretary outline what steps are being taken by international forces to ensure that insurgents do not succeed in disrupting the elections and, by extension, the democratic right of the Afghan people? What is his assessment of the risk of increased insurgent activity in the run-up to the Afghanistan national elections this year, particularly in urban areas?

The role of external actors will, as the Defence Secretary knows, also be key. What is the Government’s assessment of the most recent peace talks between the Pakistani Government and the Taliban? How is this impacting on the Taliban’s behaviour in Afghanistan? Has he read reports that they are patrolling jointly with the Afghan national security forces, and what is his assessment of the implications of that?

May I also ask the Secretary of State some specific questions about security and the role of the ANSF and ISAF as the international combat mission ends? Will he provide specific details of what he expects the UK military footprint to be in Afghanistan beyond 2014? As the number of deployed troops falls, the level of danger for ISAF units increases, so will the Defence Secretary tell the House what is being done to maintain vigilance on force protection as UK forces wind down through the course of this year?

Will the Defence Secretary update the House on the progress of the Afghan national army officer academy and the work being done there, particularly on core anti-insurgency capabilities such as air cover, air support, medical evacuation, intelligence gathering and indirect fire support? What percentage of that training is now provided by ANSF forces themselves?

The Defence Secretary will have seen media reports today about the RAF utilising United States air force assets—namely, unmanned aircraft—when UK aircraft are unavailable. Will he confirm that those aircraft always operate on UK tasks, with RAF aircrew in control, using our rules of engagement?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that no soldier currently serving in Afghanistan will face compulsory redundancy, and will he clarify whether serving personnel who apply for redundancy will have their application accepted? What will the total cost of equipment repatriation be to the Ministry of Defence?

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It is clear that, as we approach the withdrawal of British and international combat forces, the more necessary it will be for us to adopt a comprehensive approach to engagement with and in Afghanistan. The shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Secretary of State for International Development—my right hon. Friends the Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) and for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) respectively—and I work together closely on that and I know the Defence Secretary does, too. What action is he taking to ensure proper treatment and, if necessary, safe haven for those who have supported our forces as interpreters over the past years?

Today the US Government announced three new development initiatives worth almost $300 million. What assessment have the Government made of how UK aid will work alongside those plans?

One area of shared concern is that of the rights of women and girls after the international forces depart. Will the Secretary of State update us on what discussions the Government are having with counterparts in Afghanistan on the issues? Does he share our deep concern—I am sure he does—about the new law that will, in effect, silence female victims of domestic violence and forced or child marriage?

There can be no room for complacency about such complicated and continuing issues. There is still much work to be done before the end of our combat mission, with British troops remaining in danger, and there will be a great deal of work, albeit of a different kind, to do afterwards. Our commitment is to build peace, progress and the lasting stability that our armed services have fought so bravely to secure.

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support on this matter, on which—to the great credit of this Parliament—there has been and remains a bipartisan approach.

I of course share the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments on the Kabul attack, the purpose of which is to undermine the international support on which Afghanistan will depend for many years to come if it is to continue to make progress. I am sure that all Government Members will wish to be associated with his expression of sympathy to the families and friends of the British victims of the attack.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the future security of British civilians in Kabul. Obviously, we are monitoring the situation closely, and we will make appropriate arrangements to support British civilians in Kabul, particularly those on Crown service. He would not expect me to go into the detail of those arrangements at the Dispatch Box, but there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that Kabul will remain a dangerous place for foreigners for the foreseeable future. We will rely primarily on the ANSF to maintain security in that city.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the recent rise in the civilian death rate. That is of course deeply regrettable, but I am sure that he would want to focus attention on the fact that more than 74% of all civilian deaths are directly attributable to the insurgency. In fact, the number of civilian deaths attributable to ISAF action has gone down over time, and the number of those attributable

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to ISAF air strikes—they were once the cause of considerable concern—has gone down by 80%. That is something that we will continue to pursue.

The hon. Gentleman asked about election security and what action ISAF will take. Clearly, ISAF will support the ANSF in every way it can, particularly in the provision of intelligence and surveillance capabilities, but the ANSF must take the lead. The message around this election is that the Afghans have taken lead responsibility for their security. The ANSF is capable, and it is very determined to be seen to lead this operation and to deliver the security that Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy requires.

There will be threats to the elections. We have already seen a concerted campaign of targeted assassinations. I am afraid that the realists among us expect that to continue and probably to accelerate as we move towards the election date. It is greatly to the credit of the leaders of Afghanistan’s democracy that it has not yet in any way undermined their enthusiasm for the democratic process.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the talks going on between the Pakistan Government and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan in relation to the situation in North Waziristan. We of course hope that there is the possibility of a solution between the two sides, but it remains the case that the Pakistan Government have to be willing to take firm action against the TTP in North Waziristan if a settlement is not possible.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the reports of joint patrolling in Sangin. It is very difficult to get to the bottom of these reports, but I have personally been able to establish at the very highest levels that there is no mandate from the higher levels of the Afghan system for any such activity. Indeed, action has been taken to ensure that nothing that could be interpreted as joint patrolling or any kind of compromise with the insurgency can happen again.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the UK footprint. As he knows, our position is that we expect to have a continuing footprint at the Afghan national army officer academy at Qargha, just outside Kabul. That footprint will be within a much larger complex, which will have a US and ANSF-controlled perimeter. I cannot give him the precise number of UK personnel at the moment, but it will probably be between 150 and 250, depending on our precise assessment of the force protection needs at the time. He asked what percentage of training at the ANAOA is being done by Afghans. I cannot give a precise figure. If I can get a useful figure, I will write to him. It uses a “train the trainer” model, so we expect the Afghans increasingly to take responsibility for direct training.

The hon. Gentleman asked about media reports on remotely piloted air systems and about US aircraft backfilling for the unavailability of UK remotely piloted aircraft. We operate a combined fleet with the US and there is ISAF tasking. UK and US aircraft therefore fly ISAF mission tasks and they may be piloted by UK or US pilots. However, UK pilots always operate to UK rules of engagement. The rules of engagement for remotely piloted aircraft are exactly the same as those for our Tornado aircraft and those that will apply to our Apache rotary-wing aircraft when they are in action.

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The hon. Gentleman asked for an assurance—with tongue in cheek, I hope—that any volunteers for redundancy who are currently serving in Afghanistan will be accepted. I cannot give him that assurance. They will certainly be considered. The criteria for voluntary redundancy relate to the future shape of the force and whether the skills that individuals hold are needed for its sustainment.

The repatriation of equipment is slightly ahead of plan. We have repatriated about half the equipment that we have to repatriate. Originally, we estimated that the cost would be up to £300 million. We are confident that the repatriation will be completed within that cost envelope.

The hon. Gentleman asked about locally employed civilians. He will know that we have two offers for locally employed civilians. The first is a redundancy scheme for eligible individuals who have served on the front line as interpreters, which allows them to accept a financial and resettlement package in Afghanistan or to come to the UK. So far, most of those who are eligible have opted to come to the UK. The second is an intimidation package for those who are not eligible for resettlement in the UK under the redundancy scheme, but who have experienced intimidation in Afghanistan.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman talked about our future aid budget. We are committed to providing £170 million per annum of ongoing Department for International Development support to Afghanistan until at least 2017. Some of that aid is targeted at projects that seek to protect the legacy of our achievement in the crucial area of the rights of women and girls. The Afghans made specific commitments on that area in Tokyo, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development addressed President Karzai on the subject personally during her most recent visit to Kabul.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): May I welcome and agree with what the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State have said on this important subject? Does my right hon. Friend agree that one cannot sensibly discuss Afghanistan without also discussing Pakistan? That region is and will continue to be of supreme importance to this country. Does he agree that as we draw down in Afghanistan, we should consider increasing our attention on and assistance to Pakistan in order to preserve that importance?

Mr Hammond: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Pakistan is crucial to the security of the United Kingdom. A significant proportion of the potential terrorist threats to the United Kingdom comes from the tribal areas of Pakistan, and we target a commensurate proportion of our aid effort into Pakistan. That includes a programme of military support for counter-IED training, which is greatly appreciated by the Pakistanis because it addresses a very real threat to their civilian population.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): Further to the question from the Chairman of the Defence Committee, much of the logistic support and leadership of the Afghan insurgency remains across the border in Pakistan. Does the Secretary of State agree

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that the opportunity for a real settlement would be vastly improved if the Pakistanis were prepared to engage properly and take effective action against those individuals? Has he seen positive signs of an increased preparedness to do so that he can report to the House?

Mr Hammond: Yes. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that that area on the border is difficult to access. The border is very porous: action on one side tends to drive people across to safe havens on the other side, and the reverse happens when action starts on the other side of the border. It needs collaboration. There has been modest progress at tactical operational level on Afghanistan/Pakistan co-operation along the border, and we have seen a considerable de-escalation of tension along the border since the events of November 2012, which led to a serious stand-off and the closure of the reverse lines of supply through Pakistan. This will be a long haul, but I believe that the relatively new Government in Pakistan are committed to working with regional partners to secure stability in Afghanistan, and that they have realised that stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s long-term interest.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): We can all be extremely proud of the achievements not only of Her Majesty’s armed forces but of the provisional reconstruction team that my right hon. Friend mentioned in his statement. Does he agree that the future for Afghanistan after we leave still presents immense challenges? At the risk of being rather boring about this, may I press my right hon. Friend that, subject to an agreement on the status of forces after the end of this year, we should retain a sizeable interest in the country? If it all goes pear-shaped, very soon there will be 447 grieving families who say, “What did our sons die for in vain?” We have soldiers, sailors and airmen present, and it is better that they should be doing that than kicking their heels in Aldershot.

Mr Hammond: I can assure my hon. Friend that those people did not die in vain. They have delivered stability in Afghanistan that it could only have dreamed of a decade ago; they have made substantial progress in delivering the infrastructure of a functioning state; and they have protected us from terrorist attacks that could otherwise have originated from that territory. All I can say to my hon. Friend is that the footprint post-2014 will be, as I have set out, based around the Afghan national officer academy, but even that will be at risk if we do not get the bilateral security agreement signed and a NATO status of forces agreement in place.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): German Foreign Minister Steinmeier has said that Germany will not agree to Bundeswehr training missions unless that agreement is signed. Have we been as explicit, saying that unless it is signed ASAP we will simply not enter into further agreements?

Mr Hammond: I think Mr Steinmeier was merely articulating a view that is shared by all NATO partners. We cannot operate without a status of forces agreement that will protect our own forces from exposure to Afghan judicial processes. We must be able to deal with forces’ discipline issues ourselves, and to assure any forces we put into theatre that they will not be subject to local jurisdiction; without that, we will not be able to operate.

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I think the Afghans understand clearly that no bilateral security agreement and no status of forces agreement means that there will be no foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): May I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the extraordinary achievements of all three services, of all ranks and of all arms, for their exceptional services in Afghanistan? Will he also congratulate the Ministry of Defence and all those responsible for the extraordinary logistical operation of bringing back so much kit, which will be useful to us in the future? Would he consider doing more at the Ministry of Defence to make clearer to the population at large the extent of the British achievement in Afghanistan, and the fact that we are leaving in good order but will take steps to ensure the protection of those troops that are left there? As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said, we will do our best to protect our heritage and legacy there.

Mr Hammond: As I have made clear, we are very committed to protecting that heritage, but we can do so only with the co-operation of the Afghans in the form of a status of forces agreement, which will allow us to have a continuing presence and to make the continued financial contribution we have agreed to support the Afghan state in future.

I am happy to join my right hon. Friend in his tribute to all three services, and in his welcome tribute to those who labour behind the scenes in the incredibly complex logistics operation. Many Members of the House will, in one guise or another, have had the opportunity to see the scale of the operation at Camp Bastion. Anyone who has seen it will understand how integral the ability to take tens of thousands of tonnes of matériel that far away and sustain it in a war theatre is to our military capability.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): It is worrying that, as the Secretary of State has made clear, senior commanders did not have the situation under control in Sangin to such an extent that joint patrols took place with the Taliban. Are the Taliban and/or the insurgency network pushing out or defeating the Afghan security forces in any other parts of Afghanistan?

Mr Hammond: I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that I am not sure whether it has been established that there was anything that could be called a joint patrol. The reality in Afghanistan is that some areas are not controlled by the Government and are under the control of the Taliban. Where there is such an interface, either it can be dynamic, with continuous fighting, or there can be some kind of understanding that allows it to be stable and for the boundary to be recognised. My interaction with senior Afghan commanders and political leaders reassures me that they do not recognise any arrangements such as those he describes, and that they have taken steps to ensure that nothing that could be misinterpreted as a joint arrangement on the ground will happen in future.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Does the Secretary of State see any connection between the reluctance of the Afghan Government to sign the very important future security agreement and the sort of negotiations that they may be having with the Taliban?

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Mr Hammond: It is possible that the considerations in play in the Afghan President’s calculations on the bilateral security agreement involve negotiations that may or may not be happening, and that may or may not be visible to us, with elements of the insurgency. It is also possible that the situation is influenced by the impending presidential election and the politics of that.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): The Secretary of State has said that 30 women are being trained at the academy along with the group of men. I am not sure what the time scale is for the training, but I recall that there was a target to train 150 women a year. Was that target too ambitious or is it still in place?

Mr Hammond: There are 30 women per training cohort. I will need to check whether there are five cohorts in a year—if there are, the target is still in place. I will do so and write to the hon. Lady.

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Last Saturday, I went to the squadron of the Leicestershire and Derbyshire Yeomanry, part of the Royal Yeomanry based in my constituency in South Wigston, where I presented campaign medals to three members of the reserve forces, two of whom had recently come back from Afghanistan where they had been serving in active roles. One of them, Trooper Edwards, was a driver of a Warthog vehicle stationed with the Royal Tank Regiment. The Secretary of State mentioned repatriated equipment. Will some of it be repatriated for use by the reserve forces, who have demonstrated their ability to take their role alongside the regular forces, but who need the equipment to train so that they can be more effectively deployed with it?

Mr Hammond: There are two separate points here. First, the equipment that was bought for Afghanistan through urgent operational requirements, especially armoured vehicles, represents a significant investment and we are repatriating it into core. All armoured vehicles except those that are damaged beyond economic repair will be returned to the UK and brought back into the core equipment fleet.

On the question of reserves, we have made a commitment that the reserves will increasingly in the future train on and use the same equipment as the regular forces. We have already started to deliver on that commitment by rolling out new deliveries of equipment to reserve units across the country. The pool of equipment will be joint, for the use of the integrated force—regulars and reserves.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): Our fundamental mission in Afghanistan was of course to improve the security of the British people, rather than any improvement in the living conditions of Afghans. Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that the two go hand in hand? If we leave behind a more progressive country, it is more likely to remain an enduring ally of the United Kingdom in the decades ahead. Will he agree to look again at our principles for future intervention to ensure that making countries more progressive and upholding our values remain a fundamental part of what we are about as a country?

Mr Hammond: Let me answer that question this way: it is clear that our immediate mission was to deny Afghanistan to terrorists who would have used it as a

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base to strike at us and our allies and interests. But in the long term, it was never going to be a credible proposition that foreign forces could hold this territory. We had to build a stable and capable state in Afghanistan with a security force of its own that could do that job. My judgment is that a country that has a basic rule of law and recognises human rights will be a more stable and sustainable place in the future. A country that has education, health care and infrastructure will engage the loyalty of its citizens in a way that Afghan Governments have not always done in the past. We have to be very careful about the tone of this debate, however. It is not about exporting our perfect model of society and imposing it on others who in many fundamental respects will not accept some of the tenets that we regard as basic to our everyday existence.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I welcome and support the Secretary of State’s statement, especially his praise for our armed forces. As well the need to bring them safely home, he has touched on the fact that we have to return or dispose of considerable amounts of military matériel. Will he comment—either today or in a fuller statement in due course—on the matériel that we will dispose of and exactly where it will go?

Mr Hammond: I can give my hon. Friend some indication. As at the end of January, we had redeployed 1,694 vehicles and other major equipment, and 2,374 20-foot equivalent containers of matériel. We have also destroyed or disposed of some equipment in theatre, but I can assure him that no military equipment is disposed of in any way that would allow anything of military use to fall into the hands of the enemy. I can assure the House from my personal experience that this obligation is taken very seriously. I saw a container full of dead Duracell batteries and I was told that they had to be brought back to the UK because they might be of use to the enemy if they were left in theatre. The military are not taking any chances.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The Secretary of State has advised the House that our remotely piloted air systems capability is utilised across ISAF, not just by our own RAF forces. Is he also able to assure the House that at no point have other members of ISAF been able to use any of our RPAS for intelligence gathering or for armed attacks in Pakistan?

Mr Hammond: Our RPAS vehicles in our fleet operate only in Afghanistan, so I am able to reassure the hon. Lady on that point.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): In welcoming my right hon. Friend’s statement and commending the professionalism and courage of our armed forces, may I nevertheless urge him, when we look back on lessons learned for future conflicts, to continue to ask the hard questions not on the intervention in 2002 after 9/11, but on the decision to move south into Helmand in 2006, both per se and on the question mark over the split between the different Government agencies, which took such a very long time to heal, and the split command structure in Afghanistan at the time?

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Mr Hammond: I have no doubt that in the fullness of time all these things will be examined in great detail. I know that my hon. Friend would not want his comments to detract in any way from the fantastic job that British forces have done in three of the most kinetic and dangerous districts in the whole of Afghanistan. In fact, the three districts of central Helmand are Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in terms of enemy activity. The job we took on was very challenging and the work done by our armed forces has been very successful in addressing that challenge.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Last month, three Afghan interpreters commenced legal proceedings against the Government, highlighting the difference between their treatment and the treatment of former Iraqi interpreters. Since June last year, 116 claims have been made relating to threats made against those former Afghan interpreters. Why are we treating the Afghan interpreters differently from the Iraqi interpreters? Both supported our Government’s troops and put their lives at risk.

Mr Hammond: First, just to put the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks in context, all those claims, I think, have been brought by a single law firm that has not stumbled on these claimants by accident. The reason we are treating them differently is because the circumstances are different. After careful consideration of the differences between the situation in Afghanistan and the situation that existed in Iraq, we took the decision to make the redundancy package proposal that we have made. We also have in place in Afghanistan an intimidation policy that is able to deal with any cases of intimidation that fall outside the scope of the redundancy package. We did not have such a policy in place in Iraq.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): May I, too, welcome the statement, which shows that Afghanistan is increasingly taking control and responsibility for its own affairs? May I also offer a tribute to our armed forces? I am a frequent visitor to Afghanistan and it was positive to see how the capability of the Afghan armed forces has improved. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while there are many challenges in the areas of economic development and governance, NATO should be commended for its specific role in improving security and in training the local Afghan forces in a very difficult environment?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. NATO should be very proud of what has been an incredibly complex operation integrated across the 50 partner nations. On the capability of the ANSF, I think it is fair to say that at every stage of the process our UK commanders have been pleased and surprised at the rate and quality of progress made by the Afghan forces. They have become a credible and sustainable military force in far quicker time than we ever really expected would be possible.

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): As the Secretary of State knows, the Hazaras are an ethnically distinct, predominantly Shi’a minority in Afghanistan. They suffered terribly under the Taliban, but also under previous Governments. At a meeting in this House in January of the Hazara all-party group, a lot of concerns were expressed about the vulnerability of this minority,

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come the withdrawal. Will he say what specific discussions have taken place on the vulnerability and protection of minority groups such as the Hazaras as the year progresses?

Mr Hammond: The Afghan constitution makes it clear that all ethnic minorities are protected and enjoy the same rights. Furthermore, some of the key players in Afghan society and political circles are Hazara. Of course, however, we should be mindful of the risks to ethnic minorities and the risk of ethnic fragmentation, which, after all, is at the root of many of Afghanistan’s historical problems. The right hon. Gentleman’s point is, therefore, well made, and it is very much on the radar screen.

Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): In echoing the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), I think we should reflect on the fact that two and a half times as many British servicemen have died in Afghanistan as died in Iraq and that the proportion of injuries among us and the Americans is about five times that suffered in Iraq. It is, therefore, inconceivable that there should not be a full and proper inquiry into the entire campaign. Now that the end date for active UK operations is well in sight, I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend took back to the Prime Minister the need to establish such an inquiry.

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend has made his position clear. There are different views about the wisdom of embarking on these large-scale inquiries, but I certainly undertake to pass his suggestion to the Prime Minister.

While I am on my feet, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I take the opportunity to confirm that we expect 150 female cadets to be trained per year? The course is indeed 10 weeks, so there will be five cohorts of 30 in each year.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Heroin production is at a record high, the number of civilian deaths is at a record high, the Taliban control large parts of the country and the hard-won women’s rights are being degraded by the ingrate Karzai, who described our brave soldiers and their work as a failure, especially in Helmand, where most of them died. Can this be described as “mission accomplished”?

Mr Hammond: And the hon. Gentleman forgot to say that the glass was half empty. No one has ever suggested that Afghanistan is emerging as a perfect society. This is a war-torn country with deep ethnic and tribal divisions and a young and fragile Government seeking to hold it together, and we are trying to assist them in maintaining something better than what has been there in the past—decades of internecine warfare resulting in desperate standards of living, many tens of thousands of people dead and many more displaced.

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific points, there has been an uptick in civilian deaths, but given the historical levels of civilian deaths, I believe we are making progress. I am disappointed by the recent opium harvest figures—he is right that we are not making as much progress there as we would like—but on women’s rights I think he is being unduly negative. Rights do not just operate around statutes and laws; they are about societal norms, and the norms in Afghan society are changing. The genie of women’s rights is out of the bottle, as even the Taliban

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now acknowledge in recognising the rights of girls to an education. That is progress, albeit slow and painful progress.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the work of 3 Mercian, the Staffords, as it carries out its final operational tour? It has given unstinting and costly service over many years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Hammond: I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in praising the unstinting work that 3 Mercian has done. I can remember, long before I came into this job, listening to those reports on our televisions every night and thinking that the Mercian Regiment seemed to suffer a disproportionate number of casualties. It has given a great deal to this campaign, and the nation will remain profoundly grateful to it.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State referred to the porous nature of the border with Pakistan. Is there any prospect that a newly elected leadership in Afghanistan—perhaps disputedly elected, as last time—will be any more likely to recognise the Durand line as an international border, or will we have this continuing problem of the open, free movement of terrorists from either side to the other?

Mr Hammond: I do not claim to be an expert on the complexities of Afghan politics, but it would probably be suicidal for any elected Afghan politician to recognise the Durand line, which the Afghan people do not recognise as a fair definition of the boundary of their country. Having said that, it is not disputes over the Durand line that make the border porous; it is the nature of the terrain, which is just about the most inhospitable it is possible to imagine. Flying over it, the only thought in one’s mind is: “How on earth could anybody possibly live, let alone move around, in this kind of territory?”, but those who wish to, manage to.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Ind): The Secretary of State has wisely and correctly made reference to the national officer academy. Can he confirm that places will be offered to officers and officer cadets of neighbouring allied countries?

Mr Hammond: No; the purpose of the Afghan national army officer academy is to train officers for the Afghan national army. We have a number of nations contributing trainers and mentors to that process, but as far as I am aware, there are no plans at the moment to offer cadet places to the armies of any other country.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), may I press the Secretary of State on what he is doing to ensure that the position of women and girls does not deteriorate as ISAF leaves? We are very concerned about the new law and its implications for preventing family members from prosecuting other family members in cases of domestic violence.

Mr Hammond: I hear the hon. Lady’s concern. All I can do is repeat to her that my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary, who visited

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Afghanistan recently, met President Karzai and presented to him her concerns about this and other matters, and the implications of pursuing that route for Afghanistan’s future support from the international community, upon which that country will be dependent. There was a clear bargain set out at Tokyo. Afghanistan has agreed to address issues around human rights, the rights of women and the ingrained nature of corruption in Afghan society, and the international community in exchange has offered to provide ongoing financial support. The Afghan Government have to deliver on their side of the bargain.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. In relation to the peace talks in Pakistan between the Government of Pakistan and the Taliban, he will know that the previous talks were scuppered on 2 November, when Mr Mehsud was taken out by a United States drone strike, and on 30 May 2013, when Mr Waliur Rehman, a Taliban leader, was also taken out by a United States drone strike. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that discussions will be had with our international allies about not using drone strikes in Pakistan, as they may scupper talks again and undermine the authority of the Government of Pakistan and our relationship with that country when we need to be strengthening it?

Mr Hammond: I think our allies are aware of the importance of at least exploring the possibility of some kind of negotiated settlement with the Pakistan Taliban in North Waziristan. I observe that there appears to be a space being allowed for these negotiations to progress, but that space will not remain open for ever, and I hope the parties will do everything in their power to reach a conclusion rapidly.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): I welcome the statement. The Secretary of State was right to refer to the importance of the forthcoming presidential election in Afghanistan, and the importance of the Afghan security forces’ taking responsibility for the security arrangements. Can he say a little more about the £20 million of UK money that he mentioned, and about what it will be used for as part of that security operation?

Mr Hammond: It is not directly designed to support the security operation; it is designed to support the good administration of the elections. We have also

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allocated funds to increasing the participation of female candidates, and providing the training and capacity building that will enable more of them to take part in the election.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Given the unfortunate gap between our hopes and aspirations and the time taken to achieve our goals in Afghanistan, can my right hon. Friend tell us why he is so sure that Afghan forces possess enough resilience to handle the expected intensification of violence at the end of 2014? In what circumstances would the supporting role of British troops intensify after that date to ensure that this country’s sacrifices were not wasted?

Mr Hammond: As the House would expect, I make my judgments about military matters—in particular, the resilience and capability or otherwise of any particular forces—on the basis of military advice, and that is the military advice that I am receiving. However, I am not sure that my hon. Friend is necessarily right in seeing nothing but a reinforcement of the insurgency after the end of 2014. On the one hand, ISAF will not be present in the same numbers or in the same role, but on the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that the presence of foreign forces has been one of the great recruiting sergeants of the insurgency, and that the removal of foreign forces changes the dynamics. There are definitely Afghans who would have signed up to the insurgency to fight foreign soldiers but do not wish to join up and kill their Afghan brothers in the ANSF.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Finally, I call the very patient Mr Stephen Mosley.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The smooth transition of power after the election is crucial to the long-term future of the country. Is my right hon. Friend convinced that all the main candidates broadly support the policy directions followed by President Karzai, and, in principle at least, support the bilateral security agreement?

Mr Hammond: President Karzai is not currently indicating a willingness to sign the agreement. I think our assessment is that all the candidates appear to support it, and that all of them—as would be expected in a democratic election—are committed to the constitutional settlement in Afghanistan.

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Points of Order

5.43 pm

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My constituent Margaret McNiffe has been denied her disability living allowance because her claim was considered 24 hours late, although the Department for Work and Pensions had sent the paperwork to the wrong address. She is now losing the car on which she relies to get to work, and is forced to use taxis, at great expense, in order to get around. Do you know whether the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has any plans to come to the House to announce a review of the callous and unfair way in which his Department is doing business, causing much distress to people such as my constituent, and costing the country more than it should? Alternatively, can you offer me some advice on how I can right this injustice?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I think the hon. Gentleman and the House are well aware that that is not a point of order to be dealt with by the Chair at this time. However, I am sure that the House has every sympathy for the lady in question. I have not at this point received an intimation that any Secretary of State plans to come to the House to deal with the matter, but there are many occasions on which such matters are dealt with by Ministers, and I am certain that the point raised by the hon. Gentleman will be noted by those who ought to note it. He may wish to seek advice on pursuing the case via parliamentary questions or, perhaps, an Adjournment debate.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the earlier urgent question on floods I mentioned the River Kennet. As I have interests that adjoin the River Kennet, I should have referred hon. Members to my entry in the register. I apologise for not having done so, and I am advised that this is a good opportunity to make up for my earlier omission.

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): The hon. Gentleman has indeed now made that point and it is now noted.

Children and Families Bill (Programme No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83(A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Children and Families Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 25 February 2013 in the last Session of Parliament (Children and Families Bill (Programme)), as varied by the Order of 15 April 2013 in that Session (Children and Families Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.

(2) The proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

(3) The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

Table

Lords Amendments

Time for conclusion of proceedings

Nos. 125, 121 to 124 and 150

Ninety minutes after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments

Nos. 1 to 120, 126 to 149 and 151 to 176

Four hours after the commencement of those proceedings

Subsequent Stages

(4) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(5) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Mr Gyimah.)

Question agreed to.


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Children and Families Bill

Consideration of Lords amendments

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is involved in a large number of Lords amendments, which are listed in the notes on the Order Paper. If the House agrees to any of them, I will cause an appropriate entry to be made in the Journal.

New Clause

Protection of Children’s Health: Offence of Smoking in a Private Vehicle

5.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 125.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Lords amendments 121 to 123.

Lords amendment 124 and amendments (a), (b) and (c) thereto.

Lords amendment 150.

Jane Ellison: I am very pleased to speak to this package of Government amendments aimed at protecting young people from tobacco and nicotine addiction. I will also speak to the amendment on smoking in cars carrying children, which was agreed in another place.

I am sure that I need not remind hon. Members that tobacco use is a leading preventable cause of death, accounting for nearly 80,000 premature deaths per year in England alone and being a contributory factor in many other aspects of poor health. Taking action to prevent young people from taking up smoking in the first place is vital in our efforts to reduce rates of smoking.

When I first became the Minister responsible for public health I was made very aware of just how critical the teenage years are in smoking addiction, and that came up repeatedly in a Backbench Business Committee debate at the time. Almost two-thirds of smokers take up smoking regularly before they are 18—that is, they were addicted before becoming adults. That is a shocking reality, which many hon. Members have spoken about in this Chamber.

Stopping smoking can be extremely difficult because the addiction is so powerful. While two-thirds of smokers say that they want to quit, only a small fraction succeed in doing so. That is why we must stop young people from taking up smoking in the first place. We want to see our young people enter an adulthood that is healthy and long-lived, but half of all long-term smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.

The amendments we have introduced seek to do the following: introduce regulation-making powers to enable the Government to bring in standardised tobacco packaging, if such a decision is made; introduce regulation-making powers to prohibit the sale of nicotine products to people under the age of 18; and to create a new offence of the proxy purchasing of tobacco. Also returning

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to this House from another place is an amendment which would provide the Government with regulation-making powers on smoking in cars carrying children, which is for hon. Members to consider.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Will the Minister clarify the Government’s position? Is she saying that the Government are agreeing with the Lords amendment to ban smoking in vehicles because that is what she wants to see achieved, or is she saying that the Government are agreeing with the Lords amendment because it is a passive one and even if passed by this House she intends to ignore it?

Jane Ellison: Actually it is neither of those two things. Technical amendments are needed to the wording of what was passed in another place and the Government’s view was that the House needed the chance to consider something that was legally workable. I will cover that in a bit more detail later.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Does the Minister not agree that this is actually premature and that we should await the outcome of the Sir Cyril Chantler review? That is an independent review and we should not try to shape his opinion in advance of it. In a famous statement in this House on 12 July last year—a date I will always remember—it was made clear that this was about gathering evidence. Surely we should await the gathering of evidence before we put legislation in place that will allow the implementation of something for which there may not be sufficient evidence.

Jane Ellison: I will discuss that point in more detail in a moment. We have had these discussions before. The Government are seeking regulation-making powers, but we will await the outcome of the independent Chantler review. Ministers will take all other factors into consideration at that time before making a decision.

I want to set out the key elements of the Government amendments. Let me start with standardised tobacco packaging. As I told the House on 28 November last year, we have asked Sir Cyril Chantler for an independent view of the public health evidence on standardised packaging of tobacco products. Sir Cyril’s report is due in March. During debates in the House, many hon. Members have told me that the evidence base for standardised packaging continues to grow. The Government will introduce standardised tobacco packaging if, following the review and consideration of the wider issues raised by this policy, we are satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to do so, including public health benefit.

We have therefore introduced provisions that would give Ministers the power to make regulations to standardise the packaging of tobacco products, should a decision be taken by the Government to do so. Ministers would be able to regulate internal and external packaging and any other associated materials included with a tobacco product, including the cellophane or other outer wrapper of a cigarette pack. The powers will extend to other forms of tobacco such as hand-rolling tobacco.

Ian Paisley: The Minister has touched on two important points. One involves the packaging rights of companies. Is there anything in the legislation that would enable compensation to be granted to those companies if the

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Government chose to remove their trademarks and branding rights? I understand that, under European law, billions of pounds of compensation could be payable in those circumstances. Secondly, will the Minister clarify whether the Chantler review—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Gentleman is making an important point, but I am sure that he will wish to be brief, as many people wish to speak in the debate.

Ian Paisley: I apologise for the longevity of my intervention, Madam Deputy Speaker, but these important issues affect many jobs in my constituency. My second point involves the illicit trade in tobacco products. Will the Minister tell us whether that will be covered by the Chantler review?

Jane Ellison: As I said in my earlier statement to the House, the Chantler review is looking specifically at the public health aspects of these matters. Sir Cyril is perfectly free to look at whatever he wants, but those are his terms of reference. Other issues will be considered in the round when Ministers come to make their decisions. Those issues were of course fully explored during the consultation that took place before the review.

The amendment sets out the elements of tobacco packaging that could be regulated—for example, the use of colour, branding or logos, the materials used and the texture, size and shape of the packaging. It also sets out the aspects of the tobacco product itself that could be regulated.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): My hon. Friend will know that one of the main scourges for young people is alcohol. Why are the Government not proposing standardised packaging for alcohol?

Jane Ellison: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but that is probably a debate for another time.

The Government would not necessarily use all the powers I have just described, and if we proceed, we will need to decide which aspects would be included in any regulations. However, it is prudent to take a comprehensive approach now, so that we are prepared for the future.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): My hon. Friend will know that every packet of cigarettes carries the bold message “Smoking kills”. However, that does not influence the purchasing habits of smokers. There is also no evidence yet that the appearance of a cigarette packet will deter anyone from smoking.

Jane Ellison: This is a matter for the Chantler review; it is one of the things we have asked Sir Cyril to look at. I am not going to second guess the outcome of his review.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Will the Minister clarify a point that she has just made? I understood, perhaps wrongly, that she said that the Government were getting these powers into their armoury in case they needed to be used. Are the Government putting

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these measures into legislation for potential future use, rather than because there is evidence of a need for them now?

Jane Ellison: This question came up in the other place, and we have always made it clear that we are seeking the power to make regulations in the event that the Government should decide to proceed with standardised packaging, having received the Chantler review and considered everything in the round. Making the decision on those powers now would enable us to proceed apace at that point. I hope that that clarifies the matter for my hon. Friend.

As I was saying, the Government would not necessarily use all the powers I have just described, and if we proceed, we will need to decide which aspects would be included in any regulations. The House would have the chance to comment further on the matter, through the affirmative resolution procedure, were the Government to decide to go ahead. It is prudent to take a comprehensive approach now, however, so that we can be prepared for the future.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Having had a background in multinational brand management, I know why multinationals invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in brand graphics and mnemonics to exaggerate sales. Does the Minister not agree that that proves that blank or standardised packaging would have an impact on sales?

Jane Ellison: That is for the review to comment on. I hope that hon. Members will understand that I am not trying to be unhelpful in not responding in detail to their interventions. We have put in place a process that we think will be the most robust way of making policy in this area, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not commenting in detail on his point. I am sure that the review is looking in detail at all these aspects; they were certainly explored during the consultation.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Just to finish this point off, will the Minister make it clear that she and her colleagues will consider a wider range of factors alongside the outcome of the review before deciding how to proceed?

Jane Ellison: That is something we have put on record a number of times, and I can confirm it again tonight. We have always said that Ministers would proceed having received the review and given consideration to all the wider aspects of the policy. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.

The requirements would apply only to the retail packaging of tobacco products, which means the packaging that will be, or is intended to be, used when the product is sold to the public. Manufacturers, distributors and retailers would still be able to use branding such as logos and colours on packaging, provided that they were used only within the tobacco trade—for example, on boxes used for stock management in a warehouse that are not seen by the public.

These provisions would apply on a UK-wide basis, as the necessary legislative consent motions have been secured. As I have already said, I will not pre-empt the outcome of Sir Cyril’s review or of the decision-making

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process, but these provisions mean that we would be able to act without delay if we were to decide to go ahead. I want to emphasise that Sir Cyril will not be making the decision for Ministers on whether to proceed with standardised packaging. That decision will be made by Ministers in the light of the wide range of relevant considerations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has tabled three amendments on standardised packaging. The first five clauses of the packaging provisions set out the test that Ministers will need to consider before bringing forward regulations. The regulation-making powers in the Bill will allow Ministers to take a reasonable and balanced view of the available evidence regarding the affect that regulations as a whole would have on the health and welfare of children. This approach to ministerial decision making is absolutely appropriate and these clauses are in keeping with the approach that Minsters would ordinarily take in decision-making processes of this kind.

My hon. Friend’s three amendments seek to remove the ability of Ministers to take a reasonable and balanced view of the evidence, and we feel that they would put unnecessary and unwarranted constraints on Ministers’ consideration of how any proposed regulations would impact on children’s health or welfare. Constraining Ministers’ decision making in that way would probably have the effect of stopping the use of the powers altogether. For that reason, I do not support my hon. Friend’s amendments. I also remind the House that the regulations would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

I should like to move on to the age of sale for nicotine products. We have introduced provisions for a regulation-making power to prohibit the sale of nicotine products such as e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18. Public health experts, many retailers—particularly small retailers—and the electronic cigarette industry support the introduction of an age of sale restriction for e-cigarettes. At present, no such general legal restriction is in place, and we want to correct this situation.

As e-cigarettes are novel products, we have very little evidence on the impact of children using them. For example, we do not know what impact their use might have on the developing lungs of young people. Public health experts have expressed concern to me that nicotine products could act as a gateway into smoking tobacco, as well as undermining efforts to reshape social norms around tobacco use. Young people can rapidly develop nicotine dependence, and nicotine products deliver nicotine and cause addiction. Attempts were made last year to include an age-of-sale provision applicable throughout the EU in the revised European tobacco products directive, but that was not achieved. We therefore want to take this opportunity to put such a provision in place domestically through this Bill.

6 pm

The penalty for committing the offence of selling a nicotine product to a person under 18 would be a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale—that is currently £2,500, the same penalty as applies in respect of tobacco. The Government believe it is wrong as a matter of principle to sell nicotine products to children. We have a responsibility to protect children from addiction,

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which is why this provision is important. I welcome the support that the e-cigarette industry and retailers have expressed for it.

Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): I fully understand and accept what my hon. Friend has said. Do these proposals in any way affect adults who may buy e-cigarettes for people under the age of 18?

Jane Ellison: That is a good point, to which I will return, if my right hon. Friend will allow me. I will consider that and we will have an answer for him.

Mrs Main: How does this affect 17-year-olds who have already taken up smoking and wish to try to stop through using e-cigarettes? How would they manage to buy this product?

Jane Ellison: My understanding is that if a nicotine-containing product is licensed for medicinal use—licensed as a quit-smoking tool—it can already be prescribed by doctors. Some e-cigarette manufacturers have already indicated that in order to make a medicinal claim about their product’s ability to help people quit, they will seek to use the medicines regulations. If such a product becomes licensed as a medicine, it will be able to be prescribed as a smoking cessation aid in the same way that other nicotine-containing products can be. I hope that answer is helpful.

On proxy purchasing, we believe we must take action to address both the supply of and demand for tobacco products among young people if we are to reduce the uptake of smoking. Many retailers over the years have felt a little left alone to bear the burden of enforcement in this area, so I welcome both the work of responsible retailers to ensure that tobacco is not sold to people under the age of 18, and the support provided to them by retailer bodies such as the Association of Convenience Stores. There is support in both Houses for creating a proxy purchase offence for tobacco, and the Government have carefully reflected on the arguments that have been made. Retailers feel it is unfair that it is an offence for retailers to sell cigarettes to children and young people, yet there is no offence of proxy purchasing on behalf of children and young people. Retailers also feel it is inconsistent to have a proxy purchase offence for alcohol but not for tobacco. The Government want to continue to tackle the access that young people have to tobacco, which is why we have proposed this amendment.

The provisions would make it an offence for an adult to buy, or attempt to buy, tobacco for someone under the age of 18. That will be enforced by local authority trading standards officers, who will be able to issue a fixed penalty notice if they believe an offence has been committed, rather than taking prosecution action in the first instance. Local authorities will not be required to carry out regular programmes of enforcement in the way they have to on age of sale of tobacco, so we do not believe that this offence will bring into place any significant new regulatory burdens. Local authorities know their communities better than anyone and will know how best to address their public health priorities. We have devolved wide public health responsibilities and ring-fenced budgets to local authorities, and this amendment allows them to take targeted enforcement action on proxy purchasing where they consider it is needed.

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The arguments relating to effective enforcement have been well rehearsed in previous debates. Experience in Scotland suggests that we should not to expect a vast number of convictions, and we should not measure the success of this new offence by the number of prosecutions or fixed penalties issued. I expect, however, that the new offence will generate worthwhile deterrent effects. As I said, in a new public health landscape where more powers are devolved to directors of public health there may be opportunities to explore work where there is a particular local problem.

Finally, I will address the issue of smoking in private vehicles carrying children. In another place an amendment was agreed to enable the Government to make regulations to make it

“an offence for any person who drives a private vehicle to fail to prevent smoking in the vehicle when a child or children are present”.

The amendment we are debating today was drawn up by the Government, with the support of the peers who tabled the initial amendment, to deliver the intention of the amendment in a legally workable way. We have a responsibility to be sure that any amendment that could make its way on to the statute book should work in practice. The technical amendment was agreed on Third Reading in another place.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): My hon. Friend says that she wants this to be workable. If a 17-year-old was driving a car and smoking at the same time, but nobody else was in the car, would they be guilty of an offence?

Jane Ellison: We have been discussing the issue earlier today, but we will look in more detail at that sort of detail when the House has voted on the principle of this and we have the view of both Houses. Today, the House is examining the principle, not detailed regulations, which would need to be brought forward and which would be subject to the affirmative resolution.

Ian Paisley: I appreciate the Minister helping us to get to the bottom of this. I understand that under rule 148 of The Highway Code a driver is prohibited from smoking, eating, drinking, doing a crossword or listening to a loud radio at the wheel, for very obvious reasons. If that is the case—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I think we have got the message. The hon. Gentleman has had two interventions. We are going very well, so let us not challenge the Minister too much so early on.

Jane Ellison: Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. Clearly there will be a lively debate about this provision, and I wish to draw my remarks to a conclusion soon—

Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Jane Ellison: I am just responding to another intervention. Let me deal with that one before I take another. Clearly there will be a debate about this provision. The Government have sought to reflect the views expressed in another place by introducing an amendment that is technically

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workable. There will be a debate on it, we will see what the view of the House is and we will take our steer on the principle of the issue having heard the views of both Houses.

Simon Kirby: Will the Minister assure me that if this amendment is passed, it will be only part of the solution and that we should continue to educate people of the dangers of passive smoking?

Jane Ellison: My hon. Friend anticipates some of my next remarks, and I agree wholeheartedly with what he says.

The amendment would amend existing smoke-free legislation in the Health Act 2006 to make it clear that the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers have the powers to make regulations to provide for a private vehicle to be smoke-free when a person under the age of 18 is present. During the passage of the 2006 Act, Ministers at the time said they did not want to use the powers in that legislation to make private vehicles smoke-free. This amendment, if enacted by Parliament, would make it clear that regulations could be made, if the Government so decided, to prohibit smoking in private vehicles carrying children.

Dame Angela Watkinson: My hon. Friend described this measure as “workable”, but I wonder how she envisages it being enforced. Are we going to have smoking police weaving in and out of the traffic, looking in car windows? There must be a serious answer—how could this be enforced?

Jane Ellison: Enforcement has been the subject of much of the debate in both Houses over a number of years, and clearly the detail of that would be looked at in regulation, if the House is minded to give the Government a steer on the principle of this. So that is not a matter for today’s debate, but I am sure it will be—[Interruption.] It is not for me to comment on the detail of it, but I am sure it will be explored during the debate that follows my speech.

Several hon. Members rose

Jane Ellison: I am going to give way to someone I have not given way to yet.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): As with legislation on the use of seatbelts and mobile phones in cars, we will want everyone to abide, but if the vast majority of people abide, it will have a positive impact on the health of children who would otherwise be affected by passive smoking.

Jane Ellison: The hon. Gentleman anticipates the debate to come, during which the Government will listen carefully to the range of views expressed by Members on both sides of the House.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): When the House decided to ban smoking in pubs and clubs, we were told exactly the same thing—that that would not be enforceable—but it has proved to be perfectly enforceable.

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Jane Ellison: I thank my hon. Friend for putting his view on record. I am sure that we will hear further views in the debate that follows.

Mr Charles Walker: Will the Minister give way?

Jane Ellison: I want to make a bit of progress because I sense that a lively debate will follow my speech, so I want to leave time for that.

The Government—and all Members—are clear that children should not be exposed to second-hand smoke, which can be particularly harmful to young children, and we know that young people often have little choice about being in places where they are exposed to smoke. Nevertheless, there are obviously many ways of trying to achieve that aim, which takes me on to the point about education raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby).

We need smokers to protect children not only in the family car, but in any enclosed environment, including the home. Many argue that legislation is the answer, and we will debate that today, but social marketing campaigns to help smokers and parents to understand the risks of second-hand smoke and strongly to encourage voluntary behaviour change are also vital. We would all like to think that the vast majority of parents would not knowingly risk the health of their children. In the event that legislation is introduced to stop smoking in cars carrying children, we should measure its success by not the number of enforcement actions, but by the reduction in exposure to second-hand smoke.

As I have said, the Government will listen carefully to what Parliament has to say about the important principle of whether we should have the power to legislate to prevent smoking in cars when children are present. We will then consider what needs to happen next, which is why, if hon. Members will forgive me, I am not able to talk in great detail about some of the points that they have raised—they are questions for the next stage, once the will of Parliament has been expressed. However, in any event, I have asked Public Health England to continue its work on behaviour change in this area, including through social marketing campaigns. I have asked it to carry out targeted work with local authorities and public health directors in places where we know that there are problems. When Parliament’s will is known and we can assess the maximum impact that can be achieved through education, we will consider putting in place wider public information campaigns.

Arguments about effective enforcement were well rehearsed during the passage of this Bill and the consideration of private Member’s Bills on this matter, including that promoted by the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). I look forward to hearing the debate on smoking in cars with children present and to finding out the will of the House on the principle of the Lords amendment. I also hope that the House will support our proposals on other aspects of tobacco control: the regulation-making powers on standardised packaging; and measures on the age of sale for electronic cigarettes and the proxy purchasing of tobacco.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): Today the House has the opportunity to vote for a number of measures that will protect children, help to transform attitudes and improve our nation’s public

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health. I am proud to speak in favour of all the amendments in the group, with the exception of amendments (a) to (c) to Lords amendment 124, and I hope that hon. Members from all parties will support the Lords amendments in the Lobby.

It is worth remembering that when the Bill left the House, it did not contain any of the tobacco measures before us today. Those provisions are a credit to those in the other place who successfully argued for them, for which I commend them. The package of measures was passed with a great deal of agreement in the other place, so I hope that we can preserve that consensus in this House.

While I shall focus my remarks chiefly on smoking in cars carrying children, let me first speak to the other measures in the group. I welcome Lords amendment 124, which deals with the standardised packaging of tobacco products. It must be said that the Government have taken a rather long and winding route to get to here, with a few sharp turns along the way. As we heard from the Minister, the Lords amendment is only an enabling provision, because while it gives Ministers the power to introduce standardised packaging, we have no 100% assurance that that will happen. It is no secret that the Opposition would prefer more immediate action, but it is good that we finally see legislation in black and white. Labour Members sincerely hope that, once Sir Cyril has reported, Ministers will do the right thing and use the power. Will the Minister update us on when Sir Cyril will report? Will she guarantee that if he does recommend standardised packaging for tobacco products, secondary legislation will be brought forward before the general election?

6.15 pm

Mrs Main: I shall keep my intervention brief because many hon. Members wish to speak and we do not have much time. The Minister and the hon. Lady have talked about smoking in cars, but Lords amendment 125 refers to smoking in a “private vehicle”, which means that it will cover any vehicle, including motorised homes. We need to be absolutely clear that any vehicle will be affected, not just cars.

Luciana Berger: I shall come on to talk about measures on vehicles which were introduced in the 2006 Act. Lords amendment 125 refers specifically to private vehicles.

I also welcome Lords amendments 122 and 123, which deal with nicotine-containing products. I agree with the Minister that it is sensible to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s. E-cigarettes can help smokers who are trying to quit, but they should not be available to children, especially when there are so many question marks about the long-term health effects of nicotine and when concern has been expressed that e-cigs might act as gateway products that could lead some young people to take up tobacco smoking.

I am especially pleased to support Lords amendment 121, on proxy purchasing, which will prevent adults from buying cigarettes on behalf of children. Labour proposed that policy by tabling amendments in the other place last year. It is already illegal to buy alcohol on behalf of under-age children, so it does not make sense that the same offence does not apply to tobacco products given that, if they are used as directed, they

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kill half of all lifetime smokers. I am glad that the Government now agree with us, but I hope that the Minister will be able to share with hon. Members the Government’s rationale for introducing a maximum fine of £2,500, given that the equivalent penalty for the alcohol offence is £5,000.

Let me turn to Lords amendment 125 and the question of protecting children from adults smoking in cars. I pay tribute to everyone who has campaigned for such a measure, especially the British Lung Foundation and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). I also applaud my noble Friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who tabled the original amendment. Since that amendment was successfully passed, the Government have laid out how that Labour proposal could be written into law. In the final analysis, the decision before the House comes down to a simple question: if we know beyond doubt that passive smoking in an enclosed space can do serious harm to a person’s health and that hundreds of thousands of children are being subjected to passive smoking in a car every single week, and if we know from our experience of similar laws passed in this country and others that legislation can have a major impact by changing behaviour and improving public health, should we act and do something, or stand by and do nothing? We say that we cannot afford not to act.

Tim Loughton: By that same token, does the hon. Lady concede that we should criminalise pregnant women who smoke, on the basis that their child is in an even more confined space than a car?

Luciana Berger: We are considering a specific provision, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to bring forward further measures, I am sure that the House would wish to debate them. We are talking about children who do not have a choice when travelling in a car.

We all know the dangers of passive smoking, but the reality is that its worst consequences are inflicted predominantly on the very youngest in our society. Children are especially vulnerable to the dangers because they have smaller lungs and faster breathing rates than adults.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): While it is easy for opponents to make a mockery of the suggestion —no doubt we will hear a great deal more of that this evening—has not the House of Commons a responsibility to do everything possible to protect children from the effects of smoking? If the proposal can work, it is at least worth a try.

Luciana Berger rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are up against time and a lot of Members want to speak, so I would be grateful if we could move on as quickly as possible.

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He raises a point that I am seeking to make in my contribution: we have an opportunity to do something, so I hope that Members will support the Lords amendment in the Lobby tonight.

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Bronchitis, asthma, meningitis, glue ear, the common cold and reduced lung function are just some of the many respiratory illnesses that can be suffered by children as a result of passive smoking.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): If smoking is so damaging to children’s health, surely the logic of the hon. Lady’s argument is that we should ban smoking in people’s homes.

Luciana Berger: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will talk later about the toxicity of smoke in an enclosed vehicle, because many studies have shown that children are susceptible to passive smoke in the back of a car in a way that they are not in a building or in the home.

Each year around 300,000 GP appointments are attended as a direct result of children suffering from illnesses linked to passive smoking, 10,000 have to be admitted to hospital and, according to a 2010 report by the Royal College of Physicians, roughly 40 families lose infants to sudden cot deaths. If the health and tragic human costs were not justification enough, it is estimated that treating children for the effects of passive smoking costs our NHS some £23 million every single year.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Luciana Berger: I will give way one more time.

Mark Tami: I am old enough to remember when it used to be okay to smoke on underground trains and on planes. Does my hon. Friend agree that society has moved on and that this proposal is just part of that?

Luciana Berger: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. I will mention some of the comments that children have made about that and outline why young people feel so strongly about this important measure.

A significant proportion of the effects of passive smoking felt by children are linked to passive smoking in a car, not least because—this relates to the intervention made by the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main)—tobacco smoke in a small, enclosed car can create levels of pollution that are up to 35 times greater than the level deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. A single cigarette in a car can create concentrations of smoke up to 11 times greater than those in a smoky pub of old.

We are not talking about a small number of cases. Many people have contacted me in recent days, some of them suffering from many of the conditions I have mentioned, including asthma, to say that they wish a ban had been introduced when they were children. Other people have said in recent weeks, “Surely no adult smokes in a car with children.” Unfortunately, according to the British Lung Foundation, nearly half a million children are exposed to potentially toxic levels of smoke in cars every single week. That number is based on children aged between 11 and 15. If we take babies, infants and primary school children into account as well, the number is likely to be even higher. According to a study by SmokeFree Sports in Liverpool, the area I represent, around a quarter of nine and 10-year-olds reported being exposed to smoking in cars.

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That brings to the crux of my argument about why the proposal is justified. This is about children, who often do not have a choice about how they travel and cannot speak out. In 2010, a third of children surveyed said that they were too frightened or embarrassed to ask an adult not to smoke with them in the car. If we want to protect future generations from the dangers of smoking, we need a comprehensive approach.

I agree with the Minister when she says that we need better education and that we have to improve public awareness. Adults and parents have a duty to act responsibly, but we know from experience that when education is accompanied by legislation, it can help bring about profound changes in behaviour. That is why we already have laws on what people can and cannot do in cars, from not using mobile phones at the wheel to compulsory use of car seats for children under the age of five. It is why our existing smoke-free legislation already makes it illegal to smoke in the workplace or in public vehicles. The proposal to protect children from smoking in cars would build on that precedent.

Several hon. Members rose

Luciana Berger: I am not going to take any more interventions, because many Members have prepared speeches and wish to contribute to the debate.

The proposal has the overwhelming support of royal colleges, health experts and leading authorities on public health from across our country. In the past week alone, 700 doctors have written to the British Medical Journal in support of a ban on smoking in cars with children. YouGov polls have shown that the measure enjoys the support of up to 80% of the public. It also has the support of the Liverpool Schools’ Parliament, which voted for such a ban unanimously. Many colleagues who have visited schools in recent days have encountered similar enthusiasm from young people.

To those who say that this law would be unenforceable, unworkable or a dreadful infringement of civil liberty, let me offer this thought: 38 years ago this month this House debated a law that would make a certain behaviour in a car illegal, and Government Members were granted a free vote. There was general agreement about health and safety, but Members raised concerns about whether it would be enforceable or a step too far. One Member said that it was a mark of the fact that

“as a society we are becoming over-governed and over-regulated.”—[Official Report, 1 March 1976; Vol. 906, c. 1006.]

Despite that, the proposal passed that night with a convincing majority and eventually became law. More than 30 years on, no one is arguing that we should repeal the law that made it compulsory to wear a seat belt. In the same way, few people would argue that we should bring back smoking in enclosed public spaces or on the London underground. In the meantime, the proportion of motorists wearing a seat belt has risen from around 25% to over 90%. It shows just how powerful the effect can be when Parliament unites and sends a signal. We have such an opportunity before us today. This is a matter of child protection, not adult choice.

Members across the House will be familiar with the words of the great liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill. He prized liberty above all else, but even he accepted that a civilized society should exert influence over an

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individual in order to prevent harm to others. This is a simple and straightforward measure that would make a world of difference to hundreds of thousands of children across our country, reducing the misery inflicted by passive smoking, saving millions of pounds for our NHS and protecting children who do not have a choice and do not have a voice, and who in 20 years’ time, I am sure, will wonder how it was ever allowed in the first place. I sincerely hope that Members on both sides of the House will support the measure today.


Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I have no quibble at all with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who represents the smug, patronising excesses of new Labour. They think that the only reason they came into Parliament was to ban everybody else from doing all the things that they happen not to like. What perturbs me is that Conservative Ministers appear not to have grasped the concept, even though they claim to be Conservatives, that we can disapprove of something without banning it. This is just another in the long line of triumphs for the nanny state.

I will not give way because I want to rattle through what I have to say in order to give other Members an opportunity to speak. I believe that parents are much better placed to decide what is best for their children than the state is. If we want to encourage parents to take responsibility for their children, we have to give them that responsibility. We will never get parents to do that if the Government say, “Don’t worry about taking responsibility for your children, because we will make all the relevant decisions for you. You don’t have to worry about anything.” That is not something we should be encouraging.

The Conservative party used to believe in the rights of private property, and that people could do as they pleased in their own private property. Their private vehicle is their own private property. If people wish to smoke in a car with children, that is a decision for them to take. As Conservatives, we should not interfere with that.

Members have talked about small and confined places and about restricting the proposal to private vehicles, so why not caravans? I know that Labour Members are not going to ask their friends in the Gypsy community to stop smoking in caravans, so we will never have the prospect of that happening. What is the difference between a caravan and a small car? What is the difference between a small, confined flat and an open-top car? Why is it worse for people to smoke in an open-top car than in a confined flat or a caravan? Why is one much more of a danger to health than the other? This in no way reflects the fact that most car journeys are very short. Why do Labour Members think it is an absolute outrage and terribly dangerous for somebody’s child if they smoke in a two-minute car journey but absolutely fine for them to smoke for hour after hour in a caravan that is, in many cases, just as much of a confined space? The whole thing is absolute nonsense.

6.30 pm

We all know where this is going to end up. The people at Action on Smoking and Health, who appear to be the only people the Department of Health listens to, are not going to hand over their company car keys when this measure gets passed tonight—they will be campaigning

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for the next one, which is of course to get smoking banned in everybody’s homes as well. Once we have agreed to the principle of banning smoking in people’s private cars, how on earth can we logically say that there is a great difference regarding people’s homes? Of course, we cannot. We all know that this will end up in people’s homes and caravans, and all the rest of it.

Mr Winnick rose

Philip Davies: I have said I am not going to give way. The hon. Gentleman can listen for once.

Moreover, this is totally and utterly unenforceable. What on earth are we doing saying to the police, whose resources are already stretched, that all of a sudden this should be a new priority for them to undertake? Have they got nothing better to do than go up as close as they can to a moving car to see whether there happens to be a small child in the back seat? Of course, this is not just about small children but all children. How on earth does the driver prove that the person in the back of the car is over 18 rather than under 18? What happens when the driver throws the cigarette away and the police have to try to prove whether they were smoking when they were pulled over? The whole thing is completely unenforceable. It is gesture politics of the worst kind, with Ministers and shadow Ministers trying to flex their health zealotry at all these health organisations and saying, “We’re tougher on these matters than the others.”

Standardised packaging—it is not plain packaging, as some people say—is also nonsense. In many cases, the standardised packaging is more colourful than the existing packaging, so this measure will not do anything for the people who say that all the colourful packaging encourages people to smoke. It is already the case that cigarettes cannot be displayed in large shops. What on earth is the point of having plain packaging for products that are already behind a counter and cannot even be seen? Again, the whole thing is complete nonsense.

All these arguments are arguments for banning smoking altogether. If people had the courage of their convictions and said, “We should ban smoking altogether”, I would at least have some respect for them, but they dare not say that that is what they want to do, even though we know it is their real agenda. While cigarettes are a legal product, brands should be free to use their own branding on the packs. Standardised packaging would simply be a triumph of the nanny state that would presumably soon be followed by plain packaging for alcohol, sweets, crisps, and all the foods that supposedly lead to obesity. Once we have gone down this road for one thing, why would we not have plain packaging for everything? We know, particularly given the current Ministers and shadow Ministers, that that is what it would quickly lead to.

I have tabled three amendments to Lords amendment 124 to try to make it more sensible. The Lords amendment states that the Secretary of State can make regulations if he believes that they

“may contribute at any time to reducing the risk of harm to…the health or welfare of”

children—I repeat, “may” contribute. This gives the Secretary of State the authority to make a decision on a whim just because he happens to think that it might make a difference. My first amendment would change “may” to “will” so that he would need to have some evidence for making a change rather than just doing it on a whim.

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The second amendment relates to regulations. Under Lords amendment 124, the Government are saying that they can make lots of provisions and as long as some of them are capable of having a positive effect, that is fine. They can propose 10 ridiculous things and two sensible ones, and the regulations allow them to do it as long as some of them are sensible. My amendment says that “each” provision that they want to bring in should be capable of making a difference, not just the odd one or two in a whole series.

The Minister said that it would be a constraint on the Minister’s power to accept my amendments. Well, I make no apology for trying to constrain the Minister’s power. That is what the House of Commons is all about—trying to make sure that sensible decisions are taken based on evidence, not just on the latest whim of the nanny state brigade whom she has listened to. We are supposedly here to try to defend the freedoms of people in this country. This Government want to trample over every single one of those freedoms. It makes me wonder what is the difference between having Labour or this Government in charge. I expect no better from Labour, but I did expect an awful lot better from a supposedly Conservative-led Government.

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Listening to this debate, I could have heard the same things said in 2006 when the House came to a decision on smoking in public places. That is public health legislation which the Prime Minister says is good legislation, although he did not vote for it at the time. I hope that Members will bear that in mind.

I hope that Members will also bear in mind, as we always must when considering such legislation, that currently in the UK over 100,000 people a year die prematurely from smoking tobacco. I support the amendment, which will, I hope, further restrict the use of tobacco not just by young people but, in turn, by adults. As the Minister said, two thirds of people who start smoking are young when they do so, and it is addictive.

One of my points relates to what the Minister said about e-cigarettes not being sold to people under the age of 18. Some people argue that e-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco use, but the organisation that I have worked with on this over many years—Action on Smoking and Health, which the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) clearly admires—says that there is no firm evidence for that at this stage; it is doing another survey this year. The important thing is that over 2 million people are using e-cigarettes, some of them so that they smoke less tobacco and some so that they smoke no tobacco. I agree with the Minister that we should view them as a medicinal product—as part of the family of nicotine replacement therapies. That should be our approach in stopping these awful deaths from smoking. VAT on nicotine replacement therapy products is currently 5%. If e-cigarettes were also licensed and charged at the same rate, that would benefit everybody.

I support what the Minister said about proxy purchasing. This has not yet been addressed and it should have been. Alcohol and tobacco are harmful, depending on how they are used, although alcohol is not as bad as tobacco.

We have debated standardised packaging many times in the House and heard the arguments about printers being affected, and so on. The hon. Member for Shipley

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said that standardised packages are very complicated, and of course they are. I hope that we will have better safeguards to stop people engaging in contraband activities. There is no way that this measure will do anything other than stop people advertising on cigarette packets the products that cause all these premature deaths.

I support the Government and the Opposition on banning smoking in cars with children. Enforcement is always an issue, and we accept that. When I first started driving, people had to have seat belts in cars but did not have to wear them, and only one person in four did so. When the law was changed, 90% of people started wearing them practically overnight. This is about changing habits. We could not have a worse situation than somebody in a confined space like a car smoking cigarettes when children are there.

Everybody said that the ban on smoking in public places would never be enforced. I was on the Health Committee when we had that debate and we went to Dublin to look at what had happened in Ireland. A guy there tried to get publicity by saying, “I’m going to be smoking in this pub tonight. Will you come down and get me?” However, there were very few problems with enforcement and the same is true of us now. We have not seen all the details, but, as far as I am concerned, the provision is a further step towards protecting young people and future generations from premature death as a result of ill health, and we should support that.

Mr Charles Walker: My concern about the Lords amendment is that we are in danger of criminalising otherwise very loving parents. We should guard against that. It would be appalling if people who have been good parents in every other way found themselves being criminalised as a result of smoking in a car when their children were present.

I hear the argument about seat belts and it is perfectly and entirely reasonable for the Government to set the terms of their use on the road. If the Government decide that someone who wants to drive on a road has to wear a seat belt, that is highly reasonable. I suggest that, if the Government really are determined to press ahead with banning smoking in cars, that is exactly what they should do: they should ban the consumption of alcohol in cars by any person of any age and ban smoking in cars by any person of any age. That would be a much more honest approach, because, as I have said, if we go down this road we will be criminalising hundreds of thousands of parents. Will a repeat offender—someone who has been penalised three or four times—have their children taken into care because they are deemed to be an abusive parent?

There is an enormous degree of hypocrisy in this House. I am pleased to say that I am a teetotal non-smoker. There are many people in this place who want to ban smoking because they think it is not done by very nice people, but they are much more relaxed about alcohol because of their own habits. If Members are genuinely concerned about the welfare of children, they need to realise that alcohol is the problem, not tobacco. Hundreds of thousands of children have their lives blighted by alcoholic parents and the problems associated with alcohol, yet we never talk about that in this House,

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because some Members think, “We, as nice people, drink.” I am extremely concerned about the direction of travel.

My final point—I know that others want to speak—is that we will drive another wedge between the police and those they are policing if we implement this provision. It is nonsense. We will expect the police to intervene and that will further widen the gap between them and those they are policing. That should be avoided and we should be very careful about widening that gap.

Ian Paisley: Like a number of Members, I am deeply concerned that this provision means that Parliament will slowly but surely become a farce. If Parliament wants to start legislating on issues for reasons of good public relations, this provision is a good idea. However, if we peel it back and look at the evidence, we will see that it is not essential.

We should take time to reflect on the evidence in favour of the Lords amendments. On legislating to prevent people from smoking in cars when children are present, let us be clear that the law, under rule 148 of The Highway Code, currently prevents a driver from smoking in any vehicle. He or she should not smoke in any vehicle when driving, so Lords amendment 125 is about the behaviour of passengers and not necessarily that of the driver. That will make it even more difficult for the enforcer—the police officer—to determine the actions and age of those smoking in a vehicle. We should be in the business of making good, sound and solid legislation, and I do not believe that this provision has been properly thought out. It should be taken back to the drawing board and we should consider who the passenger is and who the provision will affect.

The issue of enforcement is utterly critical, because the police are already not properly resourced to do the job they are currently asked to do in combating real criminals. If we set up another criminal class in the community, we will have to ask the police to go after them. Some police officers will take great joy in going after a soft-touch conviction, but that is missing the point and we have to recognise that the police would not have sufficient resources to tackle the issue.

The crux of the matter is: how many people actually engage in smoking in a vehicle when there is a child present? All we have heard from Members on both Front Benches is a guesstimate, not facts. When New Zealand carried out a similar action, it found that 0.13% of people smoked in a vehicle with a child present. We are asking this nation to legislate on something that is an incredibly minor problem.

6.45 pm

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s point about rule 148 of The Highway Code. It is, in fact, only advisory with regard to avoiding distractions such as smoking and playing loud music in vehicles. It is not mandatory in the sense the hon. Gentleman might have been suggesting.

Ian Paisley: I was not suggesting that it was mandatory, but it does say that people should not do it. Rule 148 is very clear that people should not do a crossword, read a map, eat a sandwich or smoke while driving.

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That takes us back to the crux of the matter. A person who lights up and smokes in front of a child—I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept this—is a prat, in my view, and we as a House should not be legislating on that, but educating. What we should really be engaging in is educating people. We do not require legislation to educate people not to be prats and to be sensible.

The number of people involved is miniscule, so is it right that this House is taking time, money and effort to legislate on such a minor problem? I do not believe it is.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The hon. Gentleman says that the number of people smoking in cars with children present is miniscule, but he has produced no evidence to back that up in relation to the UK. If the number is so miniscule, why is the provision so disproportionate and excessive and how would it make enforcement impossible in the way he suggests?

Ian Paisley: Let me take one of the facts raised by Labour tonight. According to tobacco consumption rates in the United Kingdom, 22% of people smoke in the Liverpool district, but according to the statistic put in front of us tonight, 25% of all children are subject to being in front of smokers. The number of people smoking is, therefore, higher than the Government statistics show. We need more clarity on the stats being put about by Members on both sides of the House. Labour and Government Front Benchers should wait, as they said they would in November, for the outcome of the Cyril Chantler independent review. If we wait for the gathering of evidence that we can all accept, we will be in a much stronger position to make the decision we are making tonight.

I am also concerned about the plain packaging measures, which will decimate an industry. There is not sufficient evidence to show that they will do what everyone wants them to do, which is to stop people smoking. A pound store I visited sells boxes for people to put their fags in. It is even possible to get ones that say “Vote Labour” or “Vote Conservative” on them. Believe you me, Mr Deputy Speaker: whenever cigarettes are sold in the future under this provision, these boxes will be given out freely by certain companies because they will take away the one warning that we do know is important, which is that smoking kills. Tonight we are putting in place an opportunity for people to cover cigarettes with no warning whatsoever.

The biggest problem that this country faces on tobacco is the illicit trade: 25% of all cigarettes smoked in the United Kingdom tonight will have been smuggled by criminals. We as a House should do something, on a united basis, to wipe out such criminal empires, instead of making it easy for them by giving them plain cigarette packages that are simpler to print, smuggle and get into the hands of children. That should be our real cause and health concern.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I rise to support Lords amendment 125 for the very simple reason that children have no choice about getting into a car. Every day, up and down this country, children are told to get into a car by their parents or guardians; they have no choice. I think that we should operate on the basis of the “Do no harm” principle. The facts are clear: 165,000 incidents of childhood disease are caused

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every year by passive smoking. Not all car journeys are short: a close family member of mine was made to get into a car and to travel many hours to go on holiday while a pipe was smoked in the car. Despite protests, that pipe continued to be smoked.

On enforcement, many laws are not properly enforced—like all hon. Members, I want full enforcement—but is anyone saying that we should abandon the law against driving while holding a mobile to one’s ear because it is not always properly enforced? I have written to my police force to ask how many convictions they have had for people holding a phone to their ear.

Yes, in a perfect world we would change this situation through education, and of course we should refrain from banning things unless we have to, but the fact is that too many children—an estimated 185,000 every day—have to put up with it. Against their will—they have no choice—they are told to get into a small metal unit. We are here to speak up for those who have no voice, which is why I am proud to support the measure tonight.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I quote:

“I would ban smoking in cars where children are present. I would do that for the protection of children. I believe in protecting children. I would see it as a child welfare issue.”

Those were precisely my feelings when I introduced the Smoking in Private Vehicles Bill under the ten-minute rule exactly 964 days ago. I did so after a briefing from the British Lung Foundation, with which I have been proud to work ever since. My thoughts have not changed in the two and a half years since, and I am delighted that the day has come when hon. Members have the opportunity for a decisive vote to make life healthier for half a million children. Although I share the sentiment and could hardly have put it better myself, the words I started with are not mine; they date from February this year and are those of the then public health Minister, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).

In Committee in the other place, an amendment was tabled and supported by all political parties, with eight peers speaking in favour of the ban. Such is the cross-party nature of the measure. This will be the fourth time that Members of this House have asked for a definitive vote on the issue. After my ten-minute rule Bill failed to get a Second Reading, the noble Lord Ribeiro’s private Member’s Bill won support in the other place but failed to make progress in the Commons. In this Chamber, we tried to amend this Bill, but we failed again. Now, after sustained pressure from a cross-party group of Back Benchers and Lords, four measures are proposed in the Bill—including powers to bring in standardised packaging of cigarettes and to prevent smoking in cars with children present—and I welcome them all.

It is not just parliamentarians who support such a ban—quite the opposite. The changes are backed by many professional bodies and research groups. I have been delighted to work closely with other organisations, as well as the British Lung Foundation. The list is too long to name every person and organisation, but it includes Cancer Research UK, Action on Smoking and Health, the British Medical Association, the British Heart Foundation and Fresh, our own campaigning organisation that has done so much in north-east England. We must not forget the royal colleges and the 700 health professionals, who have already been mentioned.

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Facts, figures and statistics in abundance have highlighted the appalling dangers of passive smoking, particularly to children and young people, and specifically in relation to smoking in vehicles. A plethora of studies have returned the same results: smoking in a vehicle significantly increases children’s exposure to harmful toxins and particulates. Numerous surveys and opinion polls have consistently shown that the public support such recommendations. I have no doubt that my fellow Members will draw attention to them as the debate progresses.

I want to focus on the arguments about enforcement and intrusion. It is important to remember that the police already have a number of duties with regard to private vehicles, and to recognise that the additional enforcement costs of a measure to outlaw smoking when children are present are minimal.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Alex Cunningham: I will not.

Other hon. Members have mentioned the non-wearing of seatbelts, which is a tricky misdemeanour to spot if ever there was one. It needs an eagle eye, but the police routinely monitor drivers and passengers alike to ensure compliance with the law. The introduction of legislation in 2006 to make the use of appropriate child restraints mandatory for children under the age of 12 were also considered very complex, and similar concerns were raised at the time. However, implementation went ahead and has been successfully enforced.

To argue that it would be too difficult and burdensome for officers to spot the act of smoking in a car, or to identify whether a child is being carried at the same time, is therefore no excuse. Indeed, I argue that such actions are markedly easier to recognise than gauging the height of a seated child to ascertain whether correct restraints are used. To suggest that officers would be unable to identify such instances is to underestimate their competence. I take much comfort from knowing that when educational campaigns on seatbelts accompanied the legislation, seatbelt use shot up from 25% to 91%, and from knowing that Department of Health figures indicate that there was 98% compliance from the moment the smoke-free legislation was introduced. I hope that the instances of such rules being flouted would be few and far between as a result of Britons’ law-abiding nature. I remain confident that, as with compliance on seatbelts, such regulations would become largely self-enforcing. Let us not forget that it is the role of the police to enforce the law.

Unlike most adults, children lack the freedom to decide when and how they travel, and do not know how harmful second-hand smoke is. Other hon. Members have already covered that point, so I will not repeat it.