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Jane Ellison: My hon. Friend does not surprise me with his response. Ministers will make the final decision following the process I have outlined, having had regard not only to Sir Cyril’s excellent report but to the other matters I have said we will consider. On this, I cannot agree with him. No one is bringing forward measures to ban smoking; rather, we are all now able to show our support for measures that might have the potential to stop children taking up smoking. I cannot believe that he cannot agree with that. The vast majority of the public are with us, and I fear that in this case he is in danger, very rarely, of being an unpopular populist.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): The Minister is very passionate about these issues, but she needs to recognise that tobacco smuggling costs the taxpayer £2.2 billion every year. It is clear from evidence given by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to the Home Affairs Committee, which is looking at tobacco smuggling, that the data do not exist to support the view that plain packaging will make that much difference. Will she work with the tobacco companies, within her time frame, to make sure that we can track those who use legitimate production for illicit and illegal means? We have to stop illicit smuggling.

Jane Ellison: I welcome those comments by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I know that his Committee is undertaking work on illicit tobacco, and it would be very welcome and helpful if it put its draft report or final evidence into the consultation. If he has not already had the opportunity to do so, I urge him to look at the chapter of the report that Sir Cyril devotes to this matter, which I think he will find of great interest. This is one of the wider issues on which the final short consultation will enable people to put their concerns on record so that they can be weighed in the balance.

Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I listened very carefully to my hon. Friend’s statement. I am slightly surprised by Labour Members’ response, given that when in government they said that they needed

“strong and convincing evidence of the benefits to health, as well as…workability”.––[Official Report, Health Bill [Lords] Public Bill Committee, 25 June 2009; c. 305.]

Their response was therefore a little churlish. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) made some sensible points on the risks of smuggling. I will look at Sir Cyril’s report carefully, including the section on that subject, before I study the regulations when the decision is put to the House. I thank the Minister for her careful and thorough statement.

Jane Ellison: I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. The issue is looked at in some detail, and as I said, Sir Cyril said that he was not convinced by the arguments in this respect.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I came to the House prepared to attack the Minister because I thought she was going to kick this into the long grass. I am absolutely delighted that she has assured the House that she is not going to do that. In the light of the reception from her own Back Benchers, which I am afraid has not been friendly, she can at least be assured of the friendliness from those on the Labour Benches. She is doing exactly

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the right thing. My father died of lung cancer when I was eight, so I never took up smoking, but many of my friends did. They are now dead and I am still going. What the Minister is doing today will mean that more children will not take up smoking in the first place.

Jane Ellison: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those generous comments. I think that many people in the House will have had their personal family situation touched in the way that he mentions. I never knew my grandparents, so I recognise the power of what he says. We are proceeding, as I hope the House can see, in a sensible but robust way. I have signalled my view that I am minded, as a Health Minister, to accept Sir Cyril’s report and the evidence therein, but there are other considerations, and we will take those into account and bring a final decision to the House as soon as possible.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Is the Minister aware of the anti-counterfeiting measures that are taken in relation to the current packaging of cigarettes? Is she worried, as I am, that the introduction of plain-paper packaging would remove those measures and thus increase the possibility of counterfeiting and misrepresentation of—let us say—illicit tobacco?

Jane Ellison: The report is not about plain packaging but standardised packaging, which is quite different. Sir Cyril’s report helpfully pulls apart the differences and makes them clear for the reader. The issue that my hon. Friend raises is addressed in the report, and it was given a lot of consideration in the 2012 consultation. I can pay testament to the fact that that was an exhaustive and very thorough consultation, because I have spent much of the past few days, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, reviewing the evidence and submissions to it. These points have therefore been put on the record, but there will be a final opportunity in the forthcoming consultation to make them again, and they will be considered.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): I am a non-smoker and I do not want to see young people smoking, but I have concerns about standardised packaging, for two reasons. One is illicit trade, and I will give evidence on that and perhaps meet the Minister and her colleagues about that illicit trade and its impact on our constituencies. Also, I represent a number of print workers. There is an issue about jobs and the effects on the packaging industry. I hope she will take that into consideration.

Jane Ellison: The hon. Gentleman mentions illicit trade. As I have said a number of times, it is addressed in the report, but there will be other opportunities to discuss that. I also draw the House’s attention to the fact that stopping illicit tobacco coming into the country is the job of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It has had great success in that regard over recent years. With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s point about jobs, we will publish a full impact assessment alongside draft regulations at the same time as the final consultation. Jobs will be one of the issues in that impact assessment.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I strongly support the Minister’s statement and proposals. Does she agree that if 4,000 children a year can be discouraged from

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taking up smoking there will be a double public health win—not only better health outcomes for those 4,000, but the release of funds for the health treatment of others in their generation for illnesses and disease? Those funds would otherwise have to be used, in time, to treat many of those 4,000 for smoking-related diseases.

Jane Ellison: I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. She is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the extent to which we can bear down on smoking and stop people taking it up the first place has a major impact on the sustainability of our health services and will, as she says, free up more resources to be spent on other things. It is a very important health priority. She is also right to allude to the impact of, for example, 4,000 children not taking up smoking. Even a modest impact on a major killer is really important.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): If the Minister is able to get the regulations past her own Back Benchers—and I note that the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) failed to declare an interest, as she registered hospitality from Japan Tobacco International on 12 June 2013—when will we see standardised packaging on the shelves? When will that be, should she get the regulations through in the last Session of this Parliament?

Jane Ellison: Once the Government have made a final decision—and in the event that that decision is to proceed and it is approved in this Parliament—there will be a transition period, as there always is with any tobacco regulations. Because we have not yet made a final decision, we have not decided what that period will be, but there would always be a sell-through period—that has been the precedent set in the past. We are not able to be absolutely definite at this point because of that sell-through period, but I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady about previous sell-through periods for similar legislation.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I thank the Minister for making it possible for Back-Bench MPs to go to the Ministry to read the report this morning. That was a great courtesy and was helpful to parliamentary scrutiny. I bring to her attention two points from that report. First, Sir Cyril Chantler notes that it is

“too early to draw definitive conclusions”

from what has happened in Australia. Secondly, in paragraph 4.21, he says that the research that has been done has been based on “stated intentions” and that those are known to be ones that have to be used with care. He says:

“This caution is justified, and to that extent the findings are essentially indirect and ‘speculative’.”

As the Government may be taking away a freedom from the British people, ought they not to be more certain of their ground than they can be of the ground they currently have from Sir Cyril Chantler?

Jane Ellison: The Government are not proposing to take away anyone’s freedom. Our tobacco control measures aim to prevent children from taking up smoking in the first place, which is quite a different thing. On my hon. Friend’s detailed point, Members of Parliament will,

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like anyone else, be able to make submissions to the final consultation. Once Members have had the chance to read the report thoroughly, any submissions they may wish to make will, of course, be most welcome and they will be considered.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I welcome the hon. Lady’s statement and although she is right to take into account factors other than the health of the nation that have been raised by hon. Members, will she confirm that her primary consideration in handling this policy will be the health of the nation and that she will drive it through as quickly as possible?

Jane Ellison: I am the Minister for public health and as I said in my statement we are currently minded, based on the compelling evidence to which Sir Cyril alludes in his report, to proceed, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that policy is made in the round.

Andrew Miller: Health is what is most important.

Jane Ellison: Health is, of course, very important, particularly the health of our nation’s children, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support.

Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): Given that eight out of 10 people start smoking under the age of 19—in their teens—does the Minister agree that one of the most effective child protection measures we can take is to help them not to start smoking in the first place?

Jane Ellison: My hon. Friend is exactly right and I believe that all Members want to see fewer children taking up smoking. I also draw the House’s attention to the fact that the places where children take up smoking are very unevenly distributed. On maintaining the Government’s duty on health inequality, which we have put in statute, measures to prevent young people and children from taking up smoking directly address some key health inequality issues.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Of course, this is not a Conservative statement, because it is evidence-based, prejudice-free and intelligent. Will the Minister add further lustre to her reputation by starting an investigation into the potential danger of electronic cigarettes normalising smoking?

Jane Ellison: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Sir Cyril’s report makes a brief reference to the normalisation issue and I think the hon. Gentleman will be interested to read that. Of course, the Government have moved to ban the selling of e-cigarettes to under-18s—a move that was supported by the e-cigarette industry for the most part.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. What evidence is there that young people do not access illegal drugs as much because they are sold in plain packages?

Jane Ellison: I refer my hon. Friend to Sir Cyril’s report, where he will find 30-odd pages of extremely well-argued, authoritative comment by someone who has looked very deeply and widely at the issues over the past few months.

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Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): May I also place on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for making available an early copy of the report so that we could study it? The Minister said that there is compelling evidence, but Sir Cyril Chantler’s report says that he has

“not seen evidence that allows me to quantify the size of the likely impact of standardised packaging”,

other than a “modest” reduction.

Will the Minister now commit to awaiting the outcome of the Home Affairs Committee report on illicit trade, which will be important in determining the impact of the policy? Will she also consider the outcome of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report on illicit trade, which showed that illicit trade is on the increase and is costing this Government billions of pounds a year? Finally, will the Minister have a word with and say something to 1,000 of my constituents who have been put on notice by today’s decision that they are not valued and that their jobs are over because of this Government?

Jane Ellison: I have already said quite a lot about illicit trade. It is mentioned in the report, which the hon. Gentleman has obviously had a chance to look at. He quoted the word “modest” but, as I said just a moment ago, even a modest impact on a major killer is very important. As a Health Minister, I regularly answer parliamentary questions and letters from colleagues throughout the House on issues that affect far fewer children than 4,000 a year. We have spoken privately and exchanged correspondence on the issue of jobs. The impact assessment will reflect on it and the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make a submission to the final consultation.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Human nature being what it is, does my hon. Friend not agree that one unintended consequence of hiding cigarettes behind shutters and putting them in standardised packages is that it may only increase the desire of inquisitive children to take up smoking?

Jane Ellison: I urge my hon. Friend to look at the report and to reflect on the fact that anything we can do to discourage children from taking up smoking is likely to have a lifelong effect not only on them, but on their families. I urge him to look at the detail of Sir Cyril Chantler’s report.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I urge the Minister not to be swayed by those lobbying on counterfeiting and packaging, because this is a deadly, addictive drug. Coffin nails are coffin nails whatever packaging they come in. Given the interest in this subject, does she intend to introduce regulations on the Floor of the House to be debated and voted on?

Jane Ellison: It is indeed our intention to put the regulations through the affirmative procedure, so the House will have the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman mentions. He is right to draw the House’s attention to the issue of children and addiction. There are some extremely interesting points about that in Sir Cyril’s report, reflecting academic studies on children and addiction, including the fact that children become addicted at a faster speed than adults.

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Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I obviously have an interest in this particular area. May I say to those hon. Members who are protesting that if I could arrange for them to come into an operating theatre and see the damage that oral cancer does to people, they might actually change their mind?

Philip Davies: Ban it then. Ban smoking.

Sir Paul Beresford: I am ignoring the interruptions. I am particularly pleased by what the Minister has said and I thank her for it. I encourage her to move this nation ahead first, as I hope she will, rather than to wait for the Australians.

Jane Ellison: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and support. He speaks from a position of knowledge, which is always a good position from which to speak. Sir Cyril and his team visited Australia, and hon. Members can find reflections on the Australian experience to date in the report. We are proceeding on our own timetable, not waiting for the end of Australian litigation on this subject.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): My hon. Friend has made many references to Sir Cyril’s conclusions on illicit tobacco, but what conversations did she have with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the UK Border Force before making this statement? At the port of Tilbury in my constituency, we are waging a war against tobacco smuggling, and my fear is that standardised packaging will make beating it in that war even more difficult.

Jane Ellison: In the course of policy making, HMRC’s views have very much been sought and taken into account, and it will certainly be part of the final consultation. It is fair to put on the record the fact that HMRC has had considerable success in fighting smuggling over recent years. I of course acknowledge my hon. Friend’s concerns, but I urge her to read the report and to understand the connections between price and illicit tobacco, and to read what Sir Cyril says about the information gleaned from Australia and from our own experience.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Since Richard Doll and Bradford Hill’s report in 1950 and the 50-year study of British doctors from 1951 to 2001 by Richard Doll and Richard Peto, we have known that an over-£50-a-week habit, after tax, does no good to anybody at all. As well as talking about standardisation, which may or may not make a difference, will my hon. Friend make plain to those who smoke that they should not smoke in front of someone younger and that they should not be the first person in a group to light up? That way, we can reduce the incidence of smoking, which will also reduce the number of smokers.

Jane Ellison: My hon. Friend is right to emphasise again the importance that we all place on children not taking up smoking in the first place. Children who start smoking when they are young find it especially difficult to quit. We know that that particularly affects children in more deprived communities, and it often adds to the burden of disease that they carry through their lives.

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Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the House should always pay careful attention to advice from knights like Sir Cyril? Will she confirm that this is a forensic report that is based on the best evidence, and that the Government are approaching the matter entirely on the basis of the best science? Is not the answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) that if the Government did not consult properly on the regulations, far from speeding up matters, it would delay them? I assure the hon. Lady that my colleagues in the Temple would be over the road with an application for judicial review before one could say ban on anything.

Jane Ellison: I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments. He is in danger of becoming my second favourite knight of the day. I know that he speaks from personal experience. He is right to draw the House’s attention to the need to make policy carefully in this area. That is what we are proceeding to do. He illustrated the point better than I could have done.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): I stand in support of the statement. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the action that she has taken. Has she had an opportunity to look at the Australian experience to see how we might reduce the illicit trade in cigarettes and cigarette smuggling?

Jane Ellison: I thank my hon. Friend for his support. There is a significant chapter about illicit trade in the report and there are reflections on the Australian experience throughout it. If the Government’s final decision is to move ahead, we will look to glean everything we can from the Australian experience.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): In November 2009, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) wrote in a letter to the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) that

“no studies have shown that introducing plain packaging of tobacco would cut the number of young people smoking or enable people who want to quit, to do so.”

I would be grateful to hear, because not all of us have had a chance to read the report, what additional studies have led Sir Cyril and my hon. Friend to reach the conclusion that she has set out today?

Jane Ellison: When my hon. Friend has a chance to look at the report, she will see that there have been a number of new reports in recent years. Sir Cyril commissioned an independent academic review that considered not just the Stirling review, which looked at more than 37 academic reviews on the subject, but the supplement to that, which was published in 2013. He concluded that the reviews were very robust. Much of his report is devoted to a scientific and forensic examination of the methodology used in those reviews. I commend it to her.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that 15,000 people die from alcohol-related diseases every year in Britain? The logical extension of what she is proposing is that we put brown paper bags over all alcohol. Does she not agree that Conservatives believe in freedom and that the best way to stop smoking is through education, not by banning things? This measure

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will have a significant impact not just on smuggling, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) said, but on small shops and small businesses.

Jane Ellison: First, I must correct my hon. Friend on one thing. The Government are not proposing to ban anything. I made that quite clear. Secondly, alcohol that is enjoyed in moderation does not do people great harm, but there is no way of enjoying tobacco in moderation that does not harm people’s health. Smoking is a completely different subject from all the others that Members seek to link it to. My hon. Friend wrote to me recently to ask what Health Ministers were doing about cancer in Essex. The more we do to bear down on tobacco use among children, the greater our chances of tackling cancer in Essex and elsewhere.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): The Minister must know that she will never satisfy the health lobby on this issue. It has moved on to the idea of banning smoking for anyone born after the year 2000. Will she confirm that that is not part of her strategy?

Jane Ellison: The Government have a tobacco strategy that has been published. Today, I am presenting a statement about standardised tobacco packaging and nothing else.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): In my constituency the printer Amcor prints more than 5 billion cigarette packets a year and is one of the largest manufacturing companies of its kind in the country. The factory employs 150 local people and there is a manufacturing train of more than 1,000 local people. I support any measures that will reduce smoking among impressionable young people, but when the Minister talks of standardised packaging, is there any chance that after the review is conducted she can talk of “standardised and complex” packaging, to secure those local jobs at Amcor and other printing companies across the country?

Jane Ellison: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that standardised packaging is complex and far from the plain brown paper packs sometimes portrayed. Sir Cyril mentions that issue and draws a clear distinction in his report. I would welcome my hon. Friend making a submission to the consultation about the impact of this measure on employment in his constituency. That will of course be weighed in the balance, but it is important constantly to remind the House of the enormous economic impact of the burden of disease on our population.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I welcome and support the statement, but what about the 196,000 children a year who take up smoking and who will not desist as a result of this measure? Can my hon. Friend give any feedback on the success of the measures the Government have already introduced in education and other areas to stop children starting to smoke?

Jane Ellison: I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for the statement and thank him for it. In April next year, tobacco displays will be behind closed doors, and tobacco vending machines have been banned. He will know that a great deal of money and effort has been put into education, and we are starting to see the fruits of that as

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the number of smokers in our country has dipped below 20% for the first time. The Government are always open to ideas about effective measures that will stop children taking up smoking in the first place, and I am always extremely happy to hear from my hon. Friend about that.

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the all-party small shops group has been following this issue with a great deal of interest for some time. Will she ensure that the impact on small shops will not be overlooked in the process she has outlined today, and will she acknowledge the work of independent retailers who already do a tremendous job in preventing the sale of tobacco to young children?

Jane Ellison: As a former retailer, I know only too well that a responsible retailer can play an important role in stopping children who should not be buying cigarettes doing so. Indeed, I alluded to that and gave credit for it when we introduced regulations on proxy purchasing, which I know were welcomed by many small retailers. Retailers gave extensive evidence to the 2012 consultation, and they will be able to give any updated evidence on anything that is new to the final consultation.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I commend the Minister for her statement. Will she clarify for the House whether the regulations will be applicable to Wales, and whether she has had the opportunity to raise them with the Welsh Government?

Jane Ellison: We have sought at all times to keep the devolved Administrations aware of progress in this area, and our officials have spoken to officials in those Administrations about the matter. I hope to have the chance to speak to fellow Health Ministers in the next 24 hours, and if we proceed to bring forward the draft regulations, those are the points we will clarify.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): The Minister will be aware that it is already an offence to smoke in public under the age of 16 and to purchase tobacco under the age of 18. Would it be a good start to ensure that the current laws work before we start imposing new ones?

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Jane Ellison: The Government are seeking to consider all measures that have an impact on children taking up smoking in the first place, and many of our laws and measures are beginning to bear fruit as smoking is at its lowest ever level in this country. Every child who takes up smoking is one child too many, and I urge Members to read Sir Cyril’s report and examine the evidence and what he says about the pressures on children. When Members have reflected on that, I hope they will join me in supporting any measure that can make an impact in this area.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I welcome today’s statement and I support sensible evidence-based measures to curb smoking among the very young. However, I seek reassurance from the Minister about mission creep. Does she agree that chocolate, alcohol and sugary drinks are considerably less addictive and do not kill when consumed in moderation, and that the Government should not be looking to extend their remit into areas where we do not need more regulation?

Jane Ellison: Some of the issues to which my hon. Friend alludes have been debated on many occasions in the House. Today’s statement is about standardised tobacco packaging, not about banning anything. It is to consider the potential of this policy to stop children taking up smoking, and I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for that.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Minister keeps saying that this is not about banning anything, but she is proposing the banning of promotional packaging—that is what she is doing today. Before she does that, will she consider bringing the law in England into line with that in Scotland, where the sale to, purchase by, or possession in public of cigarettes by anyone under the age of 18 is illegal? That is not the case at the moment in England.

Jane Ellison: My hon. Friend draws attention to the Scottish regime, which has regulatory differences to our regime. It is a matter that I consider and that we keep under review. Indeed, where measures have proved to be effective in any jurisdiction, we take great interest in that.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Minister and to colleagues.

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Personal Statement

12.16 pm

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Maria Miller): With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal statement in relation to today’s report. The report resulted from an allegation made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), and the Committee on Standards has dismissed his allegation. The Committee has recommended that I apologise to the House for my attitude to the Commissioner’s inquiries, and I, of course, unreservedly apologise. I fully accept the recommendations of the Committee, and thank it for bringing this matter to an end.

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Bovine TB

12.16 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on bovine tuberculosis.

Today I am publishing the Government’s strategy for achieving officially TB-free status for England. This disease is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK, and the crisis facing our cattle farmers, their families and communities cannot be overstated. It is a devastating zoonosis that threatens our cattle industry and presents risks to other livestock and wildlife species such as badgers, domestic pets and humans.

In 1979 only 0.01% of British cattle tested as infected. The disease has now spread extensively from infected pockets in the south-west, and the number of new herd breakdowns has doubled every nine years. In the last decade we have slaughtered 314,000 otherwise healthy cattle across Great Britain in our attempt to control the disease. In 2013 more than 6.2 million TB tests were performed in England leading to the slaughter of 26,603 cattle. One quarter of herds in the south-west and the west midlands were placed under movement restrictions at some point, and in the last decade the issue has cost the taxpayer £500 million.

If we do not control TB, the bill will rise to £1 billion over the next decade. It is vital that farmers, vets, non-governmental organisations and politicians work together to free England of TB. The value of this industry is £6.6 billion, and we want to ensure a thriving cattle sector that maintains our countryside, trades internationally and delivers economic growth.

The current surveillance and control scheme is based on the traditional approach applied across Europe: routine skin testing of cattle, removal and slaughter of test reactors combined with post-mortem surveillance at slaughter, and movement controls placed on infected herds. In the absence of a major wildlife reservoir, that approach has been successful in allowing many EU countries and regions to achieve officially TB-free status. The same approach has reduced the spread of the disease in areas where TB is established, but on its own that is not enough.

Where there is a reservoir of disease in wildlife, tackling TB will require long-term solutions and considerable national resolve. We are clear that culling needs to be part of the answer as there is no other satisfactory solution available at the moment. I intend to pursue policies that will reverse the trend well before the end of this decade, so we need a control and eradication strategy with these clear aims at its heart. It must be dynamic, tailored to the sources of disease and the potential for eliminating it. It must adapt as new tools become available.

We must learn the lessons from countries that have succeeded in tackling TB where there has been a reservoir of the disease in wildlife. I have visited Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the USA. The vital lesson I have taken from these countries is the importance of stringent cattle control measures in combination with tackling the primary wildlife reservoir. Their programmes are either led by industry, or delivered by industry and Government working in partnership,

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with both parties contributing to the cost. We will need to adapt and apply the key elements of others’ eradication strategies to our countryside. However, the common thread is the sustained application of a control programme that addresses infection in cattle and wildlife.

We already have a robust package of cattle measures, which we have steadily strengthened since 2011. Herds in high-risk areas, and on the edges of those areas, must be tested annually; herds in low-risk areas must be tested every four years. We also have slaughterhouse surveillance. Cattle moving from annual testing herds must be tested before they are moved. Where we find TB, we shut down the herd, slaughter the reactor cattle and carry out intensive testing in the herd and the surrounding herds. We continue to tighten our cattle measures. This year, we have reduced subsidy payments for farmers with overdue TB tests, enhanced measures for dealing with persistent breakdowns, and we recently announced a further tightening of pre-movement testing rules as well as new powers to slaughter cattle that cannot be tested.

For the first time our strategy brings together all the tools we need to tackle the disease, including those currently available and those in development, such as a cattle vaccine. It sets targets by which we can measure progress towards achieving officially TB-free status. The strategy will simply not work without addressing the reservoir of TB infection in badgers. The option of using injectable badger vaccine has been available since 2010. However, the evidence shows that about a third of badgers in TB hot-spot areas are infected. The vaccine does not cure them and they continue to spread the disease. We have some evidence that the vaccine provides protection to a proportion of uninfected badgers, but the vaccination needs to be repeated annually, and this presents many practical problems. However, while the injectable vaccine is far from perfect, it may help protect uninfected badgers away from the TB hot spots. That is why I am proposing a scheme for vaccination projects around the edge of the most badly affected parts of the country, in an attempt to create a buffer zone of TB immunity to stop the disease spreading further.

The first year of two four-year culls took place in Gloucestershire and Somerset last autumn. These were pilots designed to test whether the controlled shooting of free-ranging badgers is safe, humane and effective. An independent panel of experts was appointed to assess the pilots. I am extremely grateful for their work. I have today placed the panel’s report, our response to it and our broader strategy in the Library of the House. We have always been clear that there would be lessons to be learned from the first year of these four-year culls. Having read and considered the report, we shall now work to implement the panel’s recommendations.

The panel is confident that controlled shooting, when carried out in accordance with best practice guidance, poses no threat to public safety, even in the presence of local protest. This is an appropriate point to put on record my thanks to the cull companies and contractors who put so much effort into the culls. They went out night after night to battle TB, often in dreadful conditions, and often facing disgraceful intimidation from some of the more extreme protesters.

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The pilots showed that, in the majority of cases, shooting was accurate and can be a humane control method with minimal times to death. The panel made a number of key recommendations for improving the overall standards of accuracy and field craft of contractors, including training and assessment. I accept these recommendations and we are working to implement them with Natural England and the cull companies.

On effectiveness, we already know from the figures we made public last year that the culls did not make as much progress as we hoped. This is confirmed by the independent expert panel, which has given its views on why this might have happened. Three of the 10 areas in the badger culling trials between 1998 and 2005 also got off to a slow start, but by the end of the trial they had contributed to a reduction in TB. That is what we expect to happen here, especially after the panel’s recommendations for improving the effectiveness of culling are put into action.

The second year of culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset will start with the panel’s recommended improvements in place. We will work with Natural England and the industry to implement the changes. The cull companies will adapt their operational plans to ensure better consistency of coverage in the cull areas. They will incorporate more extensive training and real-time monitoring of cull effectiveness and humaneness by Natural England. We know that there are many farming communities in other parts of England that want badger culls to help combat TB. I hope they will understand that we need to put these changes into practice before we roll out the culling programme to other areas. I am also announcing a trial of a comprehensive farm-level risk management programme throughout the cull areas over the next three years. This will be available to all farmers, providing bespoke assessments and advice on how to protect their cattle.

I am keen to develop new techniques to support the strategy. Over this Parliament, we are investing £24.6 million in the development of effective TB vaccines for cattle and badgers. Our scientists are leading the world in the development of a deployable cattle vaccine. In 2013, I agreed with the European Commissioner the work that was needed to develop a viable cattle vaccine. We are designing the large-scale field trials necessary to take this forward. I am committed to meeting the earliest deadline for its implementation, but the need for the field trials and required legislative changes means that a usable cattle vaccine is still many years away. In the future, an oral badger vaccine might address some of the problems of injectable vaccine deployment and serve as a targeted control measure. Some progress has been made, but we do not yet have an oral badger vaccine that is effective. We are also stepping up investment in the development of improved diagnostic tests such as DNA-based technologies, so that we can deploy a targeted approach to identify and remove TB-infected badgers only.

The strategy recognises that achieving officially TB-free status for England will be a long haul. I am confident, however, that it is not beyond industry and Government working in partnership to achieve it for England in the time scales we envisage. My aim is for England to be free of TB by 2038, with healthy cattle living alongside healthy badgers.

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The four-year culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset are pilots, and we always said we would learn lessons from them. It is crucial we get this right. That is why we are taking a responsible approach, accepting recommendations from experts to make the pilots better. Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease that is devastating our cattle and dairy industries, and causing misery for many people in rural communities. We need to do everything we can, as set out in our strategy, to make England TB-free. I commend this statement to the House.

12.28 pm

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for early sight of his statement.

I agree with the Secretary of State on one thing: there is no doubt that bovine TB is one of the most important issues facing farmers today. It is a scourge and a threat to their livelihoods, and to those of the communities they serve. The ultimate solution to the problem will take time, a carefully considered use of the resources available and an understanding of the best scientific advice. Sadly, none of these things featured prominently in the announcement the Secretary of State has just made. Consistent with his inept handling of this shambles, he has put prejudice before science, secrecy before transparency, conflict before consensus and posturing before good policy.

Furthermore, he has completely ignored the will of the House, which only three weeks ago voted overwhelmingly to oppose his plans, to cancel the culls, and to seek alternative ways of dealing with the problem. Let me remind him that the result of the vote was 219 to 1, which by anyone’s estimate constituted a huge rejection of his policy and of the way in which he has handled the issue. He talks of a strategy, but there is no strategy here. This is an unscientific fudge with which he is trying to save his face.

The Secretary of State announced that the failed culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset would continue, although the IEP report said that they were ineffective and inhumane. He had planned to extend the cull to 10 further areas this year, and to 40 in due course. Does he still plan to do that, and if so, when? He said that

“culling needs to be part of the answer as there is no other satisfactory solution available at the moment.”

That is nonsense. Will he acknowledge that in Wales, where there has been no culling but there has been a vaccination programme, there has been a 48% decrease in the number of cattle slaughtered because of TB since 2009?

The Secretary of State said that

“the pilots showed that, in the majority of cases, shooting was accurate and can be a humane control method with minimal times to death.”

The fact is that the IEP report said that it was not accurate in up to 22.8% of cases, enough for the panel to conclude that it was inhumane. How can the Secretary of State possibly justify the continuing use of a method of killing—free shooting—which has been found to be inhumane by independent scientific advisers?

There seems to me to be no plan for independent oversight of the culls. If that is so—and perhaps the Secretary of State will clarify his intentions—I believe it to be a grave mistake. How can he justify it, given that the culls are very likely to increase TB risks to cattle

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unless they can kill more badgers more rapidly than in the pilots? What confidence can there be that that is being achieved if there is no independent oversight?

When I wrote to the Secretary of State on 17 March offering to work with him on the development of an evidence-based cross-party programme, he wrote back that he would publish his TB strategy shortly, and would then ensure that his officials briefed me on its contents. I should be grateful for such a briefing, but I am afraid that that attitude is symptomatic of the approach taken by the Secretary of State throughout this sorry episode. Rather than engaging meaningfully in a search for a proper, long-term solution, he ignores scientific evidence, makes a decision based on his own prejudice, and then offers retrospectively to tell me and other Members what the policy is, and expects us to agree with him.

These are the facts. The IEP report shows that the Secretary of State’s disastrous culls are neither effective nor humane. It says that his plans will make the problem worse, not better. The two pilot culls failed to achieve their own success criterion of culling 70% of badgers in the six weeks. Against sound scientific evidence, they were extended, and then spectacularly failed again to cull the target number of badgers. The culls should be ended, not extended. They have not worked.

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a scientific consensus that the risk posed by ending these failed culls is lower than the risk that continuing them will spread the disease through perturbation? Given that consensus, why is he proceeding with them? What assessment has he made of the total cost to the taxpayer, and to hard-pressed farmers, of continuing the culls with any semblance of humaneness? If he proceeds as described, his culls can no longer be called evidence-based policy, if they ever were. What he has announced today is simply an open season on badgers in the culling areas. Will he confirm that the Government will agree to hold a full debate on the Floor of the House and a binding vote, in Government time, on the future of the cull programme and the report of the independent expert panel?

I believe that today’s statement falls far short of what farmers and the broader community deserve. Labour has made a series of reasonable, rational cross-party requests of the Government, none of which has been met so far, although the Government continually state that they want to deal with the issue on a cross-party basis. Labour will continue to work with farmers, wildlife groups and leading scientists to develop an alternative strategy to eradicate bovine TB. It would include tackling TB in badgers, focusing on vaccination; enhanced cattle measures, including compulsory pre and post-movement testing; a comprehensive risk-based trading system; and more robust biosecurity. We have said consistently that the culls are bad for farmers, bad for the taxpayer, and bad for our wildlife. The Secretary of State’s humiliating climbdown on the roll-out of his disastrous badger cull programme means that Labour’s proposals are the only way out of this mess.

Mr Paterson: I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and congratulate her on her use of alliteration.

I remind the hon. Lady that between 1998 and 2010, under the Government she supported, the total number of herd breakdowns tripled from 1,226 to 3,634 and the

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number of cattle slaughtered rose sixfold, from 4,102 to 24,000. I also remind her that when we adopted a bipartisan approach back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, we all but had this disease beat, with a prevalence of 0.01%. All that I ask is for her to work with us and follow the example of other nations with a severe reservoir of—


Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. We do not need this constant shouting from Members on both sides of the House, including Opposition Front Benchers. I do not want to hear it from the Government Whips, and I do not want to hear it from the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr Paterson: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The position is very simple. The pilots were set up last year. The hon. Lady asked about the roll-out of our programme. We made clear that we would learn lessons: the IEP report contained some very helpful advice, and we will adopt it. We are acting responsibly by maintaining the two existing cull areas. The hon. Lady mentioned the risk of increasing disease. My chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, has stated emphatically that ending culling in the two existing areas would greatly increase the risk of the disease, and his very strong scientific advice is that it should continue.

As for Wales, I am delighted that there has been a reduction in the disease there. According to the farmers in Wales to whom I have spoken, it may be due to the spike that occurred when annual testing was introduced recently. Given that the vaccination trial has only been taking place for two years in 1.5% of the land in Wales, to attribute it to vaccination is laughable.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of humaneness. The IEP report shows that 68 out of 69 badgers died virtually instantly. However, there are clear lessons to be learned on how we can improve humaneness, which we are happy to adopt.

The hon. Lady mentioned the number culled last year. I remind her that during the first year of the randomised badger culling trial that took place under the Government she supported, only 32%, 37% and 39% respectively were culled in three of the trial areas, but in those areas the culls did contribute to disease reduction later on.

The hon. Lady also mentioned cost. We are heading for a bill of £1 billion. We simply must address the disease in cattle and in wildlife, as has happened in every other country to which I referred in my statement. [Interruption.] I have already touched on the subject of Wales and vaccination, but I repeat for the benefit of Opposition Front Benchers who are chuntering from a sedentary position that it is not credible to attribute the reduction in Wales to a two-year vaccination programme that took place in 1.5% of the geographical area of Wales.

The hon. Lady came up with a few ideas, and I am delighted to say that we are in agreement on all of them. On badger vaccination, I have announced that we want to establish a buffer zone at the edges of the worst affected areas, because treating healthy badgers with the current badger vaccine—however difficult it is to

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deploy, given that a third of badgers are trap-shy—may help to build up a buffer zone, and that is worth doing. Sadly, injecting diseased badgers in the hot-spot areas with cattle vaccine will not reduce the incidence of the disease. I think that we agree on that.

The hon. Lady mentioned risk-based trading in connection with for cattle measures. We have already introduced that. I was very clear about this in my statement. If she looks at the strategy, she will see there are considerable new measures there, which are much stricter on cattle risk-based trading. It would be good if the hon. Lady went through our response to the independent panel so she sees that we are adopting its proposals, and went through our strategy, which shows that we are looking to bring in a whole range of tools. She should not just focus on culling of diseased badgers, although that is an important part, as we are bringing in a whole range of other measures, and down the road, as I made clear in the statement, I really do want to get to the position where we are leading the world on developing a cattle vaccine and where, above all, we can get better diagnostic techniques—possibly DNA systems—which can diagnose disease in cattle and in badgers.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I welcome the strategy and the fact that the Government are going to implement the panel recommendations. The public will be very alarmed that TB is now spreading through pets, and I hope the Secretary of State can address that. I urge him to give the House an assurance on the date when the field trials will take place and the timetable for the legislative changes, and will he also look favourably on the sterilisation programme which is being developed in my constituency?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for her questions. On the development of cattle vaccine, which I think she was asking about, we do not have an immediate timetable when we can start. These are complex, difficult trials and we need to work out, working closely with the European Commission, how we bring them in in practical terms. A major issue is what we do with the animals that may have been treated, because we have to decide whether they can go for human consumption or not.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Like the Secretary of State, I think it is important that the House tries to work together, because whatever happens next spring I suspect the coalition will not exist. [Interruption.] I am certain about it. Will he agree, in keeping with the code of practice for scientific advisory committees, to publish all the scientific advice he has received? I remind him that the code of practice says that only in the exceptional circumstances of matters of national security should it be withheld. It needs to be published, including, for example, the advice the Secretary of State has received on the tiny risks related to pets.

Mr Paterson: We are very clear in the document. The hon. Gentleman should read the strategy, as there is a significant amount of information in it, including references to where we have got advice from.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the register of interests. Ever since I have been a Member of Parliament,

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I have been following the development of vaccines for badgers and cattle and I commend the Secretary of State on continuing that work, but he knows that a test that could identify diseased badgers so we could eliminate them and vaccinate the healthy badgers would really take us forward. Can he tell the House what progress is being made on those matters?

Mr Paterson: I think my hon. Friend and I will be in total agreement that it would be a huge change in the whole debate if we could establish some form of polymerase chain reaction technology using DNA where we could identify and differentiate diseased and healthy cattle and, above all, diseased and healthy badgers. We are pressing on with that—we have done a lot of work with Warwick university—because I do think this would change the whole debate, and if we could target culling, it would be so much better and so much quicker and make it more effective.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): For the sake of the record of the House, can the Secretary of State be clear about the decision relating to the roll-out of the culls? Is the roll-out cancelled or is it scheduled for a further date, and if so, when will the culls be rolled out?

Mr Paterson: I am very happy to clarify that, but I thought I made it clear in the statement. What we are saying is that there are clear lessons to be learned from the panel report, and clear lessons in practical terms that we learned from the cull companies, so sensibly we are continuing with the existing two pilots so we can perfect this system of removing diseased wildlife. Once we are happy we have got that system perfected, we will look to a further roll-out. The original intention was to have 10 areas, and we have over 30 expressions of interest from around the country. [Interruption.] Those chuntering on the Opposition Front Bench should not underestimate the desperation in cattle areas and the frustration that we cannot go faster. It is clear from the panel report that we need to perfect this particular method of removing diseased badgers before rolling out further. However, it is emphatically our decision to roll out further once the technique is perfected.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): I welcome the vaccination programme around infection hot spots, but the skin test is clearly failing as the number of carcases rejected post-slaughter more than doubled between 2012 and 2013 and is increasing again this year. My constituents, such as Simon Cotton, are having cattle which have passed the skin test condemned without compensation at slaughter. The Government are consulting on a risk-based trading strategy which is completely flawed because it is based on the skin test, and the electronic device that Nottingham Trent university is working on is supposed to be three years away. What can the Secretary of State do to save my constituents from the total loss of condemned carcases and having their time wasted on futile consultations and their cats infected, all because we do not have a proper skin test?

Mr Paterson: Our proposal is for badger vaccination on the edge of the hot-spot areas. There is no point in vaccinating in the hot spots as, sadly, the animals are already diseased and infected. The idea is to get a buffer zone around the edge.

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I do not entirely agree with all my hon. Friend’s comments on what we are doing elsewhere. We are all, sadly, very aware of the ineffectiveness of some of our technology. We know that BCG is not a perfect vaccine, and we are fully aware that the skin test is not a perfect individual animal test, but it is currently the method used in every other country with a major problem of TB in cattle and it does give a broad result, within which other countries have managed to bring this disease down.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. May I remind the House that we have a Select Committee report and two Back-Bench debates this afternoon? The convention for statements is that Members ask one question of the Secretary of State—not make statements, but ask one question. We will get everybody in if that convention is followed by Members, so I hope from now on we can move at a slightly faster pace.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I think people around the country will be really shocked by this statement, not just because it represents a complete disregard of the science and the evidence, but because it is also likely to make bovine TB worse, not better. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that he will bring this issue back to the House so we can have a vote before it goes any further?

Mr Paterson: I am sorry that the hon. Lady reacts in such a way. I would stress very clearly that this strategy has been prepared over recent months, after exhaustive consultation.

Caroline Lucas indicated dissent.

Mr Paterson: The hon. Lady shakes her head. I am sorry, but I have to repeat this: we have consulted very widely across the country, and a very wide number of senior scientists have been involved, and this is endorsed by our chief veterinary officer. We had a vote back last year which endorsed our strategy with a majority of 61 on a substantive motion. This is a broad strategy that was endorsed then, and we are delivering what we promised to the House then.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): On behalf of farmers in Burton and Uttoxeter who have seen decades of work destroyed by this disease, may I thank the Secretary of State for his commitment to tackling and eradicating TB? I have had a number of e-mails from worried constituents recently, who are concerned about the reports in the newspapers of TB spreading to cats and domestic animals. Can the Secretary of State tell us what analysis he has done of that and the risks incurred from it?

Mr Paterson: I thank my hon. Friend for his supportive comments. As we have seen graphically from the experience in Newbury, this is a disease that does transfer to other species; it is a zoonosis that can be caught by human beings. The Newbury example, where it looks as if the cats had the same spoligotype as cattle—there is not yet a direct link with badgers but it may be that the badgers in that area also have the same type of TB—is a real wake-up call to us all, as it shows this is a deadly serious

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disease and, as in every other country where they have addressed it, we have to address it not just in cattle but also in wildlife, because we want to have healthy cattle, healthy wildlife and healthy humans.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): In responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), the Secretary of State said he thought that the independent expert panel’s report contained some “helpful advice”. How does he respond to the panel’s finding that

“culling badgers over a 6-week period by shooting, or by shooting and cage trapping, fails to meet the criteria of effectiveness set out by Defra”?

Mr Paterson: We agree with the IEP report that there are lessons to be learned. These were pilots, and we are looking to perfect the techniques for removing diseased animals by controlled shooting and by trapping. There is some very helpful advice in the IEP report, which we intend to take on so that the pilots can be proved to be effective, safe and humane and so that we can roll them out to other parts of the country that are desperate to get on top of TB.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Secretary of State is absolutely right to emphasise the comprehensive eradication strategy, of which the removal of infection in the wildlife in a highly infected area is but a part, albeit a vital one. Will he continue to consider alternatives to free shooting, which has been shown to be vulnerable to disruption? Will he also extend the competition to find a successful diagnostic tool to identify infected setts?

Mr Paterson: I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend says, just as I endorsed the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams). It would be a huge help if we could develop a polymerase chain reaction testing system that could instantly diagnose the disease in cattle and in badgers. It would be tremendous if we could run such tests on milk samples daily, for example, rather than having to use the skin tests, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) has pointed out, are inadequate and not all that accurate. It would be a huge help if PCR tests could determine which setts had diseased badgers, so that we could focus on them. We are really pressing on with this; it is a top priority for me.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): If the Secretary of State is so confident that his strategy will be successful—with respect, he knows that many of us have great doubts about that—why are the Government not paying for it? Why do they expect farmers to contribute towards the £100 million a year costs? The Secretary of State wants the strategy to be successful, and there is more than enough money to pay for it, as well as money for the Treasury to pocket afterwards. Why are farmers being expected to contribute?

Mr Paterson: I am looking at examples from across the world. I was in New Zealand last year, where there is a huge cost to the Government from TB, as there is

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here. Here, we are looking at a bill of £1 billion for the taxpayer. It is clear from examples such as New Zealand that the state working in partnership with farmers has delivered results. It is perfectly obvious that farmers and farmers’ organisations have a huge personal vested interest in getting on top of this disease, and our working with them is the sensible way forward.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his commitment to eradicating TB. In Devon, a quarter of the herds are affected by TB, and a third of the badgers are infected with the disease. It has been scientifically proven that half the cases of TB in the endemic areas have been transferred by badgers to cattle. When will more culls take place? Can we put the relevant areas together so that when the lessons have been learned from the two pilot culls, we will be ready to roll out the culls across Devon? Our farmers in Devon are absolutely desperate.

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. He has been stalwart in defending his constituents and bringing to my personal attention the horrific problem of bovine tuberculosis, particularly in Devon. When I was at the North Devon show, I asked the farming organisations there to start organising. There are 30 areas that have shown an interest in having culls, once we have got the pilots behind us, so my advice to those in Devon is: start organising. Once we have perfected the technique in Somerset and Gloucestershire, I am keen to roll it out because I understand the desperation in areas such as that of my hon. Friend that have such an intensity of disease.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I, too, refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a member of the British Veterinary Association. I commend the Secretary of State’s statement and look forward to his rolling out the exercise across the rest of the United Kingdom, and especially in Northern Ireland. We have seen an increase in bovine TB in my constituency and in County Armagh, which represents a worrying change in the trend. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the scheme involving catching and testing, followed by either culling or injecting, is very expensive? Will he tell us how much money has been set aside for it?

Mr Paterson: The hon. Gentleman will know that this is a devolved issue, so it is up to him to discuss elsewhere whether the catch, trap, test and eliminate policy is introduced in Northern Ireland. We are not proposing to do that in England. He makes the valid point, however, that trapping badgers is not easy. We estimate that about a third of badgers are trap-shy, which presents real practical problems for those who are enthusiastic about vaccination.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): In my area, we also have TB in dairy goats, but the farmers involved are not covered by the compensation scheme. Will the Secretary of State consider changing that rule, because it is causing desperation among those farmers?

Mr Paterson: I was talking to farming representatives who had come over the border into my own patch last Friday, and I am aware that there is a bad case in

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Staffordshire involving goats. We need to look at this issue. We have made it clear that we are going to consult on bringing alpacas into the regime, and we should look at goats as well.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): We fully agree on the range of measures needed, such as vaccination and pre-movement testing. However, given the failure of the culls to meet effective percentages, even after an extension, and given the risk of perturbation, which has not been addressed today, why will the Secretary of State not transfer the resources that are being wasted on a second round of culling into the vital research that needs to be done on finding the right kinds of testing and vaccination?

Mr Paterson: The hon. Lady might have misunderstood my earlier comments. The chief veterinary officer is absolutely clear that we have to carry on within the two pilots, because of perturbation. We have absolutely taken that on board. I am pleased that the hon. Lady is happy with our proposals to accelerate our diagnostic work, the work on DNA that we have talked about and the improvements to vaccinations, but she has to respect the fact that every other country that has a reservoir of TB in its wildlife has removed the diseased wildlife. She might regret that, but it is a fundamental part of those other countries’ success.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Will the Secretary of State and his Department be working in the immediate future with voluntary organisations such as the Dorset Wildlife Trust and the Dorset Badger Vaccination Project, to ensure that we do something about this now?

Mr Paterson: That is a helpful question. We are making major changes to create a buffer zone, injecting, we hope, healthy badgers. We will need volunteers, and I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend might have contacts in her constituency who would like to help us in the buffer zone. Sadly, however, I have to remind her that in the core zone, where there is intensity of disease, vaccination will not work. It is in the buffer zone that we will really need help.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What does the Secretary of State expect the policing costs of rolling out the culls to be?

Mr Paterson: That rather depends on what the protesters do. If the countryside were inhabited only by responsible country people, who are very concerned about TB, the policing costs would be very low. I totally respect democracy. We all have different views, and I totally respect people’s right to protest, but if we have an invasion of protesters who try to stop the democratic Government’s disease control policy by using measures that cross the border from legitimate democratic protest into active disruption, the policing costs will become significant.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): When did the Secretary of State last discuss the timetable for establishing a legal, validated cattle vaccine with the European Commission?

Mr Paterson: I saw the commissioner on the Monday a fortnight ago—the first day I came back.

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Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The lesson is clear: without culling, Wales has reduced the number of bovine TB cases by 50%. It has done that not just by vaccination but by other methods. The Secretary of State’s experiment has failed in many, many respects: in its duration; in the number of animals killed; and, especially, in the suffering caused, as up to a quarter of the badgers took five minutes to die. Does he think that this example of gratuitous cruelty is likely to increase or decrease the number of protesters against this continuing tomfoolery?

Mr Paterson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but he must look at the longer term in Wales. According to my sources in Wales, there was a spike because annual testing was introduced, and that accounts for the reduction. It is simply not possible to attribute this dramatic reduction, which is very welcome, to the 1.5% of Wales that has had a badger vaccination trial for two years. On humaneness, I repeat that 68 out of 69 badgers died almost instantly. The panel report contains clear recommendations on how we can improve our techniques. Seven badgers are completely unaccounted for—they may have been missed entirely. The panel decided to put them in the category of having taken more than five minutes to die, but if they were missed entirely—they may be out there now, hale and healthy—the figure comes down dramatically, and 95% of the badgers would have died within the five-minute limit.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that it is a bit disingenuous to imply that vaccination is the solution in Wales, given that the reduction in TB is the same outside the vaccination area as it is inside that area? Furthermore, it is a bit rich for opponents of the cull to condemn a method of controlling badgers that they promote for the control of foxes.

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend makes two very pertinent comments. We wish the regime in Wales well, but it simply is not credible to attribute this reduction to the brief period of vaccination in 1.5% of the land area.

Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): The IEP report said that the cull trial was ineffective, that it did not reach its target and that it was inhumane. What would the Secretary of State’s definition of failure be?

Mr Paterson: That is a pessimistic interpretation of the IEP report. We are perfectly aware of the difficulty of achieving the numbers in the cull last year, but it was the first year. I remind the hon. Gentleman again that in the RBCT three areas achieved figures of 32%, 37% and 39%. They also got off to a slow start, but in later years they contributed to disease reduction. He wants a definition of success—it is reducing TB, and getting healthy cattle and healthy badgers.

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): On behalf of my local farmers in Devon, may I commend my right hon. Friend for pressing on with what is right? It is right for our farmers, for rural communities, for the taxpayer and for cattle, and although this is often overlooked, it is also distinctly right for those badgers that will otherwise die a long and lingering death from this dreadful disease. Will he confirm that there is not a single country in the world where TB has been effectively addressed in cattle without it first being addressed in the wildlife population?

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Mr Paterson: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He rightly draws attention to foreign comparisons, and the most obvious is the Republic of Ireland. In 1999, 44,903 cattle were culled there, but by following the same techniques that we have—strict cattle movement controls, slaughter of reactors, and by removing diseased badgers—the number decreased last year to 15,612. That is a dramatic reduction of two thirds, and I am happy to report that scientists tell me that the average Irish badger is 1 kg heavier than before the cull, because the badgers are healthier and they are eating better.

Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): As my constituency contains one of the cull pilot areas, I know how difficult this process has been. May I congratulate the Secretary of State on the thoughtful way in which he has presented his statement about the comprehensive strategy, which will be welcomed by my local farmers? May I ask him to repeat for the benefit of my constituents who are perhaps not as supportive of the cull the important comments he made about accepting the IEP’s recommendations to deal with the concerns that people might have about the humaneness of the pilot cull as it is rolled out further in Gloucestershire?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s broad support for the policy and for sticking up for his constituents. We are absolutely clear that the panel report shows that 68 out of 69 badgers died almost instantly, but a number did not. The report makes some clear, practical recommendations on how we can improve humaneness. We emphatically want to do that, which is why we are not rolling things out further for the moment. We are holding to the existing two pilots to see whether we can perfect the techniques to make sure that they are humane, effective and safe.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his determination to tackle bovine TB and, in particular, to stop its movement and create buffer zones. The shadow Minister spoke of inept handling, but when Labour was in power it was well known that bovine TB was moving towards Cheshire at a rate of 4 miles a year—tragically, it arrived. Does the Secretary of State agree that the inept handling of the former Labour Government in not tackling that movement put so many Cheshire farmers in the distressed position they are in today?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the 13 wasted years that let this disease rip. Her local farmers are very close to mine, and they are getting desperate, as this disease costs such a lot. It is not just about the cattle; we must consider the human cost of farmers being devastated and of lifetimes’ of work being destroyed, while they know perfectly well

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that in Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland, where the disease is addressed in cattle and in wildlife, the disease can be got rid of.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s innovative idea of the vaccination buffer zones. How wide are they? How many cattle were slaughtered as a result of bovine TB last year? What is the total number of badgers killed in the pilot culls?

Mr Paterson: The idea is to establish a buffer zone on the edge, and I am delighted by the positive response from Members in the House. We will look to consult on how we bring in various groups. I am delighted that there might be volunteers, as the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) mentioned. The extent of this will be the number of people we can actually get involved. The number of cattle slaughtered in Britain last year was 32,620 perfectly healthy cattle, which is more than 90 a day. The numbers for badgers killed in the culls was 955 in west Somerset and 924 in Gloucestershire.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I wish to challenge my right hon. Friend’s assertion in his statement that there is no point in undertaking any vaccination in the hot-spot areas, not least because the Department’s own trial in Stroud, a hot-spot area, has demonstrated significant improvement. In addition, we have a significant programme ready to roll with the Zoological Society of London in the Penwith area of my constituency. Will he and his scientists meet me and my scientists so that we can explore this issue?

Mr Paterson: I am perfectly happy for my experts to meet my hon. Friend’s, but the categorical advice I am getting is that, sadly, once a badger is infected with bovine TB, the current injectable vaccination does not make them healthy. The vaccine is difficult to deliver—as I have said, a third of badgers are trap-shy. So even if we catch the remaining two thirds and inject them with a vaccine, they will not become healthy, and that is sad.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s emphasis on improving the system of diagnosis for this disease, because that is how we can effectively bring together the three components—vaccination, cattle movement restriction and culling—so that they can work. Does he agree?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support and for sticking up for his constituents. I have been there and seen the real problems we have in Gloucestershire. He rightly identifies the fact that the strategy encompasses a range of activities—there is no one golden key to this. The lesson is that we must use all the tools. If we decide arbitrarily on misguided grounds to miss out one tool, which has been used in other countries, we will not succeed. We must use all the tools as outlined in the strategy.

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Points of Order

1.9 pm

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During the earlier ministerial statement on standardised packaging of tobacco products, I omitted to draw to the attention of the House my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I do so now.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I thank the hon. Lady for adding that to the record.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Yesterday, the Government chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, spoke to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in which he referred to the principles of scientific advice to Government, which applies to Ministers and Government Departments, all members of scientific advisory committees and councils and so on. The advice specifically says:

“Scientific advice to Government should be made publicly available unless there are overriding reasons, such as national security or the facilitation of a crime, for not doing so.”

In light of the earlier comments, Madam Deputy Speaker, would you use your good offices to bring this to the attention of the Treasury Benches?

Madam Deputy Speaker: May I say to the hon. Gentleman that he has been very effective himself in drawing the matter to the notice of the Treasury Benches? It is not a point of order for the Chair, but possibly a matter for a fascinating discussion on the Floor of the House on how to implement the advice, which is also not in the gift of the Chair. We should therefore now move on.

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Housing Costs

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): We now come to the Select Committee statement. Dame Anne Begg will speak to her subject for up to 10 minutes, during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of her statement, I will call Members to put questions on the subject of the statement, and then call Dame Anne Begg to respond to them in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. I remind them that interventions should be questions and should be brief. Members on the Front Bench may take part in the questioning if they wish.

1.11 pm

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab) (Select Committee Statement): Yesterday, the Work and Pensions Committee published our report on support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system. Our inquiry explored recent reforms to housing support, including the effects of the individual household benefit cap, the changes to council tax relief, the effects on supported accommodation and reforms to local housing allowance, which is housing benefit for those who are renting in the private sector. We considered the changes that might need to come into force once universal credit is rolled out. Not least, we also looked at the operation of what we call the social sector size criteria, the Government call the spare room subsidy or the under-occupancy penalty, and everyone else calls the bedroom tax.

It is timely that we are launching this report now. It is one year since the bedroom tax was implemented and since the benefit cap began to be rolled out. The Government have reformed the housing costs support system with the aim of reducing benefit expenditure and incentivising people to enter work. We concluded that some vulnerable people, who were not the intended targets of the reforms and who are not able to respond by moving house or finding a job, are suffering as a result of these reforms, which are causing them financial hardship.

The Government’s aims in introducing the bedroom tax were to tackle overcrowding in the social housing sector and to reduce housing benefit expenditure. However, we believe that it has so far been a blunt instrument for achieving that. That is due at least in part to the fact that there are not enough smaller social housing units in the areas where benefit claimants are deemed to be over-occupying. The Government should carry out a detailed assessment of the available social housing stock in each local authority area. If the evidence shows that there are insufficient smaller homes for people to move to, the Government should give people more time to find ways to adjust to the bedroom tax before it is imposed. In areas where the household is under-occupying but there is no suitable, reasonable alternative housing available—we found that some people wanted to move but simply could not—we believe the bedroom tax should not be applied.

The bedroom tax is having a particularly adverse impact on disabled people. We highlighted that between 60% and 70% of the affected households in England contain somebody with a disability, and many of those people will not be able to move home easily due to their disability. They therefore must remain in their home,

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with no option but to face a reduction in their housing benefit. Many disabled people cannot move because they live in homes that have been specially adapted to help them to cope with their disabilities. Even if they could find another accessible home, which is highly unlikely, there would be additional costs for the local council in adapting the new home before they can move into it.

Many people with disabilities also have legitimate reasons for requiring what is inaccurately deemed to be a spare room. It might be needed to accommodate a carer or medical equipment, or because they cannot share a room with their partner because of their condition. We recommend that disabled people living in a home that has been significantly adapted for them should be exempt. We also urge the Government to go further and exempt all households that contain a person in receipt of higher rate disability living allowance or the equivalent in personal independence payment.

There is also evidence that, rather than saving public money, which was one of its key aims, the so-called bedroom tax is often just shifting costs to local authorities and housing providers. We therefore call on the Government to carry out a full cost-effectiveness analysis of the policy by this time next year, so that the overall impact of the policy on the public purse can be properly evaluated.

We found that the benefit cap was having a particularly adverse impact on two groups of claimants: carers and people in temporary accommodation. People on disability benefits are excluded from the cap but not people who claim carer’s allowance. Even some carers who live in the same household as the disabled person are not exempt from the cap; that is because, if the disabled person they care for is a parent or adult child, the carer is not considered to be part of the same benefit unit. We recommend that the Government should exempt all recipients of carer’s allowance in that situation from the benefit cap.

Local authorities often have no option but to place homeless households in temporary accommodation, which is usually more expensive than permanent accommodation. Those claimants can then fall within the scope of the individual household benefit cap, even though homeless people have no choice in where they are housed and few options for reducing their housing costs. It seems particularly unjust, therefore, for them to be affected by the individual household benefit cap. As local authorities often have to pay the shortfall between rent levels and housing benefit for those affected by the cap, no overall saving is made. Again, we have also recommended that the Government exempt all households in temporary accommodation from the household benefit cap.

One area in which we had some success is supported accommodation, which is used to house vulnerable people, particularly homeless people and women fleeing domestic violence. Exemptions from the benefit cap apply to claimants who live in exempt supported accommodation. However, we received evidence that only some supported accommodation was exempt from the cap, because of the way it is defined. Two claimants housed in supported accommodation units that appeared to be identical might find that one was subject to the

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cap and the other was exempt. I raised that anomaly with the Prime Minister in a Liaison Committee evidence session in January. Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform, told us in evidence in February that amending regulations would be laid to remove the anomaly. We very much welcome the fact that those regulations were laid last week. We also welcome the Minister’s confirmation that “virtually all” supported accommodation will be exempted from the cap when they are implemented.

The Government believe that the best way to help people facing hardship as a result of the reforms is through the discretionary housing payments system. We recognise that the Government have provided extra funding for this transitional protection, but those payments are intended to be “transitional”, being allocated inconsistently and only for a short time. Whether or not a claimant is awarded DHP is heavily dependent on where they live, because different local authorities apply different eligibility rules. Access to DHPs should depend on need and not on somebody’s postcode.

DHPs are also intended to offer a temporary, not a permanent, solution to people being unable to meet the full costs of their rent from their housing benefit, but many people are likely to need long-term help because they cannot move house to avoid paying the so-called bedroom tax and because they are often unable to find a job or to work extra hours to make up the shortfall. We believe that the Government should make it much clearer to local authorities that they can make long-term DHP awards, so that claimants who are disabled or vulnerable in other ways do not have to worry about the uncertainty of having to make a repeat claim every three or six months.

Some local authorities take disability benefits into account in the means test they apply for DHP, so some disabled people do not qualify for such help. However, disability benefits are intended to cover the extra costs that people incur because they are disabled or long-term sick; they are not disposable income. It is not appropriate for them to be included in the means test for DHPs and we believe that the Government should issue clear guidance to local authorities that disability benefits should be disregarded in any means test for DHPs.

Finally, we considered the local housing allowance. Private sector rents are becoming increasingly less affordable for housing benefit claimants because of the growing discrepancy between average rents and the amount of local housing allowance that households can claim. As a result, private sector landlords are increasingly reluctant to rent to LHA recipients, evictions and non-renewals of tenancies are increasing, and the properties that remain available to claimants are increasingly of poor quality. The Government’s figures show that homelessness acceptances are down overall, but increases are occurring in high-demand areas, and homelessness among people who are classified as “not in priority need” increased by 9% between 2012 and 2013. We believe that the Government need to monitor the impact of the local housing allowance reforms carefully and look at further ways of supporting claimants if the reforms are found to be exacerbating homelessness.

I commend our report to the House.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): Does the hon. Lady concede that of the 60% to 70% of claimants referred to in her statement as claiming

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to be disabled, only 27% are in receipt of disability living allowance and only 18% are in receipt of the higher rate? It is those people with the highest need who are most likely to have adapted homes and it is that group of people for whom discretionary housing payments are intended. In the current financial year, £165 million has been made available to support them.

Dame Anne Begg: Indeed. That is why the Committee did not go so far as to say that all people with a disability should be exempt and suggested that perhaps a proxy, such as those in the higher rate DLA category, might be acceptable. We are very clear that we think that the groups that the hon. Lady mentions should be exempt. I know that many Government Back Benchers often think that those people are exempt, but they are not, for the reasons I gave in my statement. We think that it should be very clear that someone in an adapted house, for instance, should not have even to apply for DHP. Surely they should be automatically exempt.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I welcome the report, which clearly identifies a hardship faced by many disabled people and their carers. Is my hon. Friend confident that the Government will exempt the individuals whose circumstances are outlined in the report from the bedroom tax?

Dame Anne Begg: I would hope so, simply because I know that Ministers have often repeated that the groups we describe really should not be subject to the spare room subsidy, or the bedroom tax, as everybody else calls it. I keep forgetting what we call it—that is it: the social sector size criteria. Ministers have often said that those people are exempt, but of course they are not. They are only generally not asked to pay because they qualify for DHP. As I pointed out, in the council areas where disability living allowance is counted as income in the means test, the very people that everybody in this House would hope are exempt from the policy are not exempt.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I commend the hon. Lady and her Committee for the report. Recommendation 18, which is highlighted in more detail on page 43 and is about discretionary housing payments and people in receipt of disability benefits, is perhaps one of the most powerful recommendations in her report. As the excellent Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), who is very sensitive to these important issues, is on the Front Bench today, may I reinforce her extremely powerful recommendation that the Government should issue revised guidance to local authorities to clear up the point about whether disability benefits should or should not be included in means-testing for eligibility for DHP awards? Clearly, local authorities are not doing the same thing and it is important to get standard practice across the country where possible. These issues are difficult enough, but they are magnified for those who are disabled.

Dame Anne Begg: The whole thrust of our report was to emphasise that we think people have ended up being affected by the policy who were never its intended targets. That is the hon. Gentleman’s point and I hope that the Minister is listening.

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Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I, too, commend the hon. Lady and the Committee for this valuable report. Does she agree that the cross-party efforts to mitigate fully the impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland would be greatly aided if the UK Government were to allow the Scottish Government to raise the threshold for discretionary housing payments? Can she suggest how Government intransigence on this issue might be tackled?

Dame Anne Begg: We mentioned that in the report, because obviously the situation is different in Scotland and needs a solution there. Anything that will help to ensure that the Scottish Government are in a position to implement their policies is welcome, but I also know that there are discussions going on in Scotland about how else the situation can be mitigated for the people who live there.

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): I was just reflecting, in the context of the report, on the question of the evidence we have, if we have any, about people who suffer from disabilities and live in crowded accommodation who now have the opportunity to move to less crowded accommodation as a consequence of the Government’s policy. Would the hon. Lady like to comment on that?

Dame Anne Begg: Part of the problem, as we mention in the report, is that there are not enough houses for the people in houses that are deemed to be under-occupied to move into to release the larger houses, which is the Government’s policy intention. Unfortunately, the report was already agreed and printed by the time the BBC published the results of its investigation last week into the number of people who had moved, which discovered that the figure was only 6%. Although the intention of the policy was to free up larger houses, it seems that that has not really happened simply because there are not the smaller houses for people to move to. We found evidence that people who were desperate to move could not do so because there was no house for them, and they had no option but to absorb the extra costs. They were having to find what would have been paid in housing benefit from a very limited budget.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend and her Committee on this excellent report. Of course, there are recommendations about benefit sanctions and we are about to have a detailed debate on that issue. In my constituency, benefit sanctions have more than doubled, increasing by 123%, and we understand that one in five of the people being sanctioned has a disability. Did the Committee hear evidence on that or does it have a view about the types of groups that are being affected by that policy?

Dame Anne Begg: Not specifically, because a lot of that will have been covered elsewhere, although there is some confusion about people who might be sanctioned in one part of the benefits system whose housing benefit should not be affected but sometimes is. However, we did not consider that specific issue in this report.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I am sure that the Chair of the Committee would agree that the topic was not the easiest one for the Committee to reach agreement on, as the record shows. Does she agree that one issue is

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that the reforms are still in their early days and it is hard to find the data to work out whether they are being as successful as we would perhaps all like? Further efforts are needed from local authorities, local housing associations and others to ensure we are making the best and most efficient use of the housing stock we have.

Dame Anne Begg: That is why we say in more than one of our recommendations that the Government need to encourage local authorities to collect data on how their housing stock is being used. We call for an analysis across councils of the availability of houses for people affected by the policy to move into.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I join in the congratulations to the hon. Lady and her Committee on this report. Did the Committee consider the definition of under-occupancy—for example, the expectation that a toddler should share with a teenager or the size of a box room that would be adequate to house two grown children?

Dame Anne Begg: We did look at that. We suggested that the use of the term “bedroom” was misleading and that the Government should use the term “bed space” instead, for exactly the reason that my hon. Friend mentions. Two older children may be expected to share a room that has been deemed to be a bedroom, but the room may be so small that only a cot would fit in it. That is also relevant to whether disabled people are properly housed and whether they are deemed to have a spare bedroom. The Government need to be much clearer in their definition of what is acceptable, the size of room that is acceptable and the area that two beds take up in determining whether there is under-occupancy.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Thank you for that report.

bill presented

football governance (No. 2) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No.57)

Damian Collins, supported by Mr Clive Betts, Tracey Crouch, Mr Jim Cunningham, Philip Davies, Paul Farrelly, Penny Mordaunt, Steve Rotheram, Mr Adrian Sanders, Mr Gerry Sutcliffe, Justin Tomlinson and Mr John Whittingdale, presented a Bill to require professional and semi-professional football clubs in England to disclose the identity of their owners; to give the Football Association powers to block the ownership of a club by anyone whom they consider is not a fit and proper person; to require all creditors of a football club to be compensated equally should the club go into administration; to facilitate the raising by supporters’ organisations of the finance required to acquire a controlling stake in a football club; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed (Bill 198).

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Backbench Business

Sanctioning of Benefit Recipients

[Relevant documents: Second report from the Work and Pensions Committee, The role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system, HC479, and the Government response, HC 1210.]

1.32 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House notes that there have been many cases of sanctions being wrongfully applied to benefit recipients; and call on the Government to review the targeting, severity and impact of such sanctions.

I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting me this debate. The process of sanctioning benefit recipients is now being used on an enormous scale—almost 1 million sanctions a year. Even the right-wing Policy Exchange think-tank acknowledged in a report published last month that about 68,000 benefit claimants each year are having their welfare payments stopped unfairly. Given that the penalty for the first infringement is the loss of benefit for four weeks, for the second the loss of benefits for three months and for the third the loss of benefits for three years, the number of people being driven into destitution by administrative diktat is enormous. Even the Policy Exchange admits that 8% of that number should never have been sanctioned.

I presume that everyone accepts that fall-back sanctions have to be applied in extreme cases where there is deliberate and real non co-operation with the obligation to try to find work and where no good reasons have been found for such behaviour. Those sanctions should be proportionate and reasonable and not exercised punitively or with a view to achieving targets or objectives—whatever we call them—for removing people from the unemployment list.

From the evidence that I have collected from my constituency surgery, Citizens Advice, YMCA, the excellent Work and Pensions Committee report on this issue and the Library, it is abundantly clear that the standards that the DWP likes to claim always apply in sanctioning cases far too often certainly do not. I wish to cite a number of cases drawn directly from those sources.

A security guard at a jobcentre turned away a man with learning disabilities who had arrived 20 minutes early to sign on. The man then returned two minutes late to sign on and had his JSA sanctioned for 4 weeks.

A man was sanctioned for four weeks because he had not known about an appointment as the letter had been sent to an address that he had left a year ago, even though Jobcentre Plus was aware of his current address.

A woman claiming employment and support allowance had been diagnosed with cervical cancer and had given the back-to-work scheme provider a list of her hospital appointments. She was sanctioned for failing to attend an appointment on the middle day of her three-day hospital stay. The woman had two daughters but her ESA was reduced to £28 a week. She asked for reconsideration, but had heard nothing five weeks later.

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A woman was sanctioned for failing to attend provider-led training when the receptionist had rung to tell her not to come in because the trainer was ill. She was subsequently told that she should have attended to sign the attendance register.

A woman whose ESA was sanctioned had her benefit reduced from £195 to less than £50 per fortnight because she missed a back-to-work scheme appointment owing to illness. Her sister had rung two days beforehand to say that she could not attend and arranged another date, when she did attend.

An epileptic man had his JSA sanctioned for four weeks because he did not attend a back-to-work scheme meeting as his two-year old daughter was taken ill and he was her sole carer that day. He rang the provider in advance, but was told this would still have to be noted as “did not attend”. During the four-week sanction he suffered hunger, hardship, stress and an increase in epileptic attacks, but he was not told about hardship payments or food banks or how to appeal the sanction decision.

Lastly, a man in Yorkshire and Humber was sanctioned for allegedly failing to attend back-to-work scheme events. He had in fact attended, and the provider had no record of any failures. His hardship request was not processed, his housing benefit was stopped, and he fell into rent arrears and had no money for food, gas or electricity.

These are not isolated or exceptional cases.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me?

Mr Meacher: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman because I respect his concern about these matters, but I will not give way again because we are short of time, with the Government having put on two statements before this debate.

Sir Peter Bottomley: Is there any rational reason why in any of those cases the Jobcentre or others should not have reversed the decision if it was clear that the wrong decision had been taken? Why is it necessary to go through a full appeals system when clearly human inspection can say this is wrong?

Mr Meacher: I very much agree with that. Jobcentres Plus have the right to “reconsider”, which is a euphemistic term, and they sometimes do, but I agree that appeals often take three or more months, and are extremely bureaucratic, long-winded and difficult. Far more effort should be put in before the decision is taken to sanction, so that we get sensible decisions and long appeal procedures are not required.

Before I turn to what should be done to change policies and procedures that are patently not working properly, I want to make two wider points. First, everyone who can do so should seek work. The overwhelming majority of the jobless are desperate to find work. However, when 2.4 million people are on the dole queues today and there are only 558,000 vacancies, three out of every four simply cannot find a job whatever they do. A report in the Financial Times this week says that there are 3 million under-employed people who would be keen to work full time if only the jobs were available. The real problem in Britain today is not

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people failing to try to get work, but the Chancellor’s obsessional austerity policies that contract the economy and fail to provide the job opportunities that people are desperately looking for.

I do not object to the use of sanctions in the tiny number of cases in which they might be needed as long as they are proportionate and reasonable. However, I do object to the hounding of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, often for trivial, ill-considered or utterly unjustified reasons, and driving them into destitution when those who caused the financial crash and the longest recession in this country for 140 years get no sanction at all. It is a classic case of one law for the rich and another for the poor.

What should be done? Plenty. Sanctioning is being used on far too large a scale. The practice is not only unduly harsh and, obviously, causes severe hardship, but is often counter-productive. The YMCA cites three people’s comments about its effects. One says:

“I was unable to look for work as much as I could before”.

Another says:

“It stopped me from searching for work as I had no money to get to different employers”.

A third person says:

“My focus turned to survival rather than gaining employment”.

Citizens Advice makes the crucial observation—I think this was the point that the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) was making—that front-line advisers do not have sufficient time to get to know a claimant and understand their needs. That explains why there are so many reports of cases such as that of a person with no computer skills being required to apply for work online, a person with no driving licence who is required to apply for a job for which driving is essential, and a wheelchair user who is required to apply for a job that is physically demanding.

Benefit off-flow—a horrible bureaucratic phrase that treats human beings like counters—is, perversely, the key performance measure used by Jobcentre Plus. Disallowances—that is the euphemism used by the Department for Work and Pensions—are included in the off-flow data for people coming off the unemployment list, so staff have an in-built incentive to use them to achieve what they perceive their management expect of them.

Much more could be done to prevent situations that cause sanctioning from arising in the first place because it is clear that in a great many cases people simply do not understand what is required of them. Regrettably, there is a toxic yet pervasive culture in Jobcentre Plus of “Sanction first; think later”, as is shown by the shockingly large number of sanctions against young people—there were 39,000 last year—that are subsequently overturned or, to use that wonderfully euphemistic word, “reconsidered”. Serious, thoughtful effort is needed to do everything possible to secure compliance, with which we all agree, without a sanction being necessary. There should be more common-sense discretion and much less of a rush to action: action should be taken only as a last resort.

Much more attention should be paid to the impact of sanctioning on claimants. An Oxfam report published last May estimated that 500,000 people were reliant on food aid—I suspect that that figure has now nearly doubled—and that more than half of people who turned

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to food banks did so as a direct result of having their benefit payments delayed, reduced or withdrawn altogether. In 21st-century Britain, can forcing hundreds of thousands of people onto food aid, which is usually associated with third-world countries, conceivably be justified when the root cause of the problem is the Chancellor’s failure to grow the economy and create jobs because of his obsession with prolonged austerity? I think not, which is why I submit to the House that there is an urgent need, as my motion demands,

“to review the targeting, severity and impact”

of sanctioning as it is currently applied.

1.45 pm

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I am pleased that the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) has managed to secure the debate, although sadly it was scheduled at short notice, so I do not think that all hon. Members who might wish to be present are in the Chamber.

I support the Government’s general financial strategy, so I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman about austerity. Clearly we have to bring the deficit under control, so we have to be aware of the costs of the welfare system. I support a number of the changes to the system that the Government have introduced, but some have caused complications. I am worried about the impact of the changes to council tax benefit, which need to be reviewed because they have created odd results. My Labour opponent has taken to encouraging people to move from West Bromwich to Birmingham because that allows them to get more benefits from the council tax payer. I think that that is wrong, because it puts pressure on our local taxpayers, but it arises because Sandwell, which is where West Bromwich is, has a different rule from Birmingham on qualifying for council tax benefit.

Like all hon. Members, I have an office that deals with casework, and we learn a lot from the people who come to see us. I worry, however, that people who are sanctioned do not come to see me because only four sanctions cases have come through. We are a reference agency for the local food bank. We have made four references to it, although, oddly enough, they did not involve the people who were sanctioned, because we have generally found that we can deal with such cases. I worry about what is happening that we do not see because, although we can read the statistics, we do not see the people affected, and I like to understand individual cases so that I can find out what is going on. I have been involved in welfare rights casework for coming up to 25 years, so I have seen the system’s various changes and got used to concepts such as non-dependent deductions. Those things are complicated and difficult for people to understand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) would love to be able to participate in the debate, but she has to be at another meeting, so she has asked me to quote her comments about a case from her constituency. She says:

“I have had many constituents who have been sanctioned completely inappropriately over the last 18 months. In all cases the removal of benefits has caused intense distress and suffering

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to people who are very vulnerable. This is a typical case—I shall call her Jenny. Jenny has profound mental health problems, learning difficulties and physical health problems. Her health problems and disabilities make it very difficult for her to organise herself and her own life. This is the reason that she finds it so difficult to hold down a job and the reason why she is on benefits. Jenny needs a great deal of support to function. Instead of which, when she missed appointments, her benefits were sanctioned, leaving her without any money whatsoever for more than 4 months. During this period Jenny was destitute and reliant on the food bank. The safety net of the welfare state that should support a woman who is too vulnerable to support herself entirely let her down.”

Those comments highlight the sort of cases that we should be especially worried about: those involving people who get confused by everything and are not quite sure what is going on, and all they find is that they do not have any money. Such people have visited my advice bureau. They know that they do not have any money but they do not know why. However, we have been able to deal with such situations.

Although the Opposition might think that the Government are out to get people, I do not think that that is true. The Government are trying to encourage people into work and to give support to those who need it, but we need to consider how we can review the sanctions process so that we do not trap people in destitution. If someone has no money, it is difficult to get a bus fare. A day’s bus fare in Birmingham is £3.60, which does not sound much to someone in work who is earning a lot of money, but it creates a bit of problem for someone who is on £71.70 a week and suddenly finds that they have no money at all.

That has a knock-on effect for housing benefit. We have marvellous computer systems that minimise the amount of paperwork that people need to do because benefits can be passported. If somebody gets JSA or some form of means-tested benefit, they automatically qualify for housing benefit as well. The problem is that when they come off JSA because they are sanctioned, the computer says no and suddenly they are taken off housing benefit as well. In fact, because they have got money, they qualify for housing benefit, but they have to put in another claim. This is the problem for people who have difficulty understanding how the system works. They know they have no money, but they do not understand why the council is asking them to pay rent. The danger with that is that they come for advice too late, and we end up trying to backdate housing benefit some months in a situation where people always qualified for it but had not claimed it.

The Government say that targets for sanctioning have been stopped, but there needs to be a review of how some of the agencies are operating. They seem to be referring too many people for sanctions, which creates problems. Then there is the question of delays on appeals. Obviously, a reconsideration is far better than an appeal, and there are mechanisms for that. We need to make sure that the advice agencies such as Citizens Advice get good co-operation from agencies such as Jobcentre Plus so that the process does not end up being over-bureaucratic.

I happened to ask a question about cases on appeal being stayed, because I discovered that the Department has had a tendency to stay cases. A thousand cases were stayed for more then six months. If there is a massive commercial dispute between two wealthy companies about an issue of copyright or patent, the fact that the

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court has not yet made up its mind does not affect either of them, but if somebody is destitute and depends on a food bank, it is a big issue if their case is stayed.

The Department needs to look at the cost-effectiveness of fighting some of these cases, and consider whether it might be better to cave in if a reasonable case is being made by the appellant. The amount of money being provided is not that great and the administrative cost of dealing with the case is quite high. One of the reasons that the Department does not turn up at tribunals from time to time is the administrative cost of doing that. I understand that the Department cannot give in all the time—there is no question about that—but there needs to be a cost-effectiveness calculation of fighting claims too hard, accepting that at the other end is not a large company that can wait, but somebody who is destitute and desperate for cash. Even though they may have family support and the like, I see people with very serious problems.

A further question that should be considered is whether the sanctioning system is designed the wrong way. I agree with the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton—we need a system to support compliance—but we should look at the way the universal credit sanctioning system has been designed, rather than the way the JSA sanctioning scheme works. The JSA sanctioning scheme is to a great extent punitive. It gives people a kick for doing something that the system deems to be wrong, whereas the universal credit system is designed to enforce compliance, so as soon as compliance starts, money starts again. That is what the system should be doing. We are waiting for the rest of universal credit and want to see that as soon as possible, but if the Government could bring in at an earlier stage the universal credit sanctioning system, we would have a system that is seen to be doing what it says on the tin and encouraging people to work with the system.

If, under that system, the easiest way of getting paid is for people to do what they are asked to do, rather than to fight it through an appeal process that can potentially take years to be settled, there would be a far better result for people. These are people without any other source of revenue, apart perhaps from support from families. Some people do not even have family support. We need to think about how the system is seen from those people’s point of view.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton on asking for this debate, and on his persistence and his willingness to stand in at the last minute. Many hon. Members are concerned about the issue as they see it in their constituency surgeries, and the Government need to review some aspects of the process.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): May I suggest that Members take up to 10 minutes, because of the number of speakers in the next debate as well?

1.54 pm

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): This is obviously a day for my Select Committee’s reports. My right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) referred to the report that we

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published a few months ago called “The role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system”, in which we had a whole section on sanctions. Very helpfully, the Government published their response to that report today, so the debate is timely.

Sanctions as we know them today have probably existed from the 1980s, although there has always been conditionality as part of the rules for getting unemployment allowance. I suppose the question today is to what extent the use of sanctions has increased in recent years. Certainly there has been a huge increase since the Welfare Reform Act 2012 was passed. Dr David Webster of the University of Glasgow, the leading academic authority on benefit sanctions, told my Committee that

“the severity of the regime has increased drastically under the Coalition Government and is increasing further.”

He also highlighted the common misconception that benefit sanctions affect only a small minority of benefit claimants. In the period 2008 to 2012 around one fifth of JSA claimants were sanctioned, approximately 1.4 million people. Official data show that, since the introduction of the new rules which have already been referred to, the proportion of JSA claimants sanctioned every month is around 5%, which is approximately 60,000 people. In the period from the introduction of the new JSA rules to June 2013 there were 553,000 sanctions, an increase of 11% on the same period a year earlier. There were 860,000 JSA sanctions in the year to June 2013, the highest number in any 12-month period since records began in their current form, and probably the highest number ever. The number of employment and support allowance sanctions—it is a new development that people on a disability benefit can be sanctioned—in the period December 2012 to June 2013 was double that in the same period a year earlier.

Despite all this, by May 2013 the report to the Secretary of State found

“no evidence of a secret national regime”

to set targets for the number of sanctions imposed. However, the Public and Commercial Services Union told my Committee that the expectations placed on Jobcentre Plus staff to sanction claimants were “targets by another name”. The argument about whether such targets exist continues to this day.

Both Members who have already spoken talked about inappropriate sanction referrals. We received evidence of quite a number of those, but in the light of Mr Deputy Speaker’s strictures, I will not detail them. Suffice to say that many were silly and inappropriate. With the application of common sense—that was the phrase that we used in our report—they could have been avoided or should have been picked up at review stage. About 50% of sanctions are overturned on review by a decision maker.

Many hon. Members will have received postcards from constituents that were probably sent to them by Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam, which asked my Select Committee to hold an inquiry into the use of food banks. Those postcards arrived in my office when we had already embarked on our inquiry into Jobcentre Plus. We had already decided that that would form part of the inquiry. Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam, in their report, “Walking the breadline”, found that sanctions were a significant factor in the recent substantial rise in referrals to food banks. They estimated that some

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half a million people in the UK were “reliant on food aid”, and that “up to half” of people who are referred to food banks need help

“as a direct result of having benefit payments delayed, reduced, or withdrawn”.

DWP was unable to provide information on the number or proportion of JSA claimants who chose to sign off benefit during a sanction period, or for longer, which is the reason that they would come off the claimant count. That might explain why there is some disparity between the figures for the number of people looking for work and the official unemployment figures.

The Committee recommended that Jobcentre Plus should look at the impact of sanctions on the use of food banks, but the Government have effectively rejected that in their response.

The Committee was also keen to see a second independent review of the sanctions regime, in addition to the one already being conducted by Matthew Oakley. Indeed, we thought that we had got the Employment Minister, the right hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), to agree to that when she gave oral evidence. Matthew Oakley is considering the clarity of DWP’s communications with claimants, the whole issue of sanctions, the appeals process and the availability of hardship payments.

We had wanted that second independent review to examine: whether sanction referrals were made appropriately, proportionately and fairly across the jobcentre network; whether there is a the link between sanctioning and the claimant count that could explain some of the disparities in the figures; and whether the regime was achieving its aim of encouraging claimants to engage more effectively with employment support. There is no point having sanctions if we do not know whether they work. Are they making people look for work more thoroughly than they otherwise would? That is our question. We do not think that Matthew Oakley’s inquiry will answer that, because it is not in its remit.

The Committee thought that the Employment Minister had promised that second review, which is why our report states that we welcome that commitment. Unfortunately, that is not what she meant, because the Government’s response states that there will be no second review along the lines we were asking for, and which we thought the Government had agreed to.

I appeal again to the Government to consider setting up a second independent review, and not just of the administration of sanctions, but of their effectiveness. Do they actually work? Do they change the behaviour of the people affected? If they are not changing people’s behaviour and so are purely punitive, the Government should be honest about that, because they must be saving money as a result. I do not think that most people would accept the application of sanctions that are purely punitive. If they are changing people’s behaviour, that is a different matter.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend share my puzzlement about the Government’s about-turn, given that the Minister wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton

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and referred to the second review’s terms of reference? It is therefore very surprising now to be told that it will not happen at all.

Dame Anne Begg: I share my right hon. Friend’s disappointment, because we honestly thought, even before we published the report, that we had got the Minister to agree to such a review. I hope that the Government will think again, because they need to be satisfied, just as everybody else does, that the regime is not intended simply to save money in the welfare system through punitive sanctions, but has a real purpose in ensuring that people who are not fulfilling their obligations under the agreements they signed and who are trying to play the system should be sanctioned in certain circumstances. Sanctions should certainly not be applied if there is no reason other than to punish the individuals concerned.

I know that my time is up, Mr Deputy Speaker. I hope that the Minister, who is listening patiently, will take that back to the Department and that we can get a second independent review of the workings of the sanctions regime.

2.3 pm

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): I want to make one or two brief comments. I will start with an anecdote that seems typical of what other Members have alluded to this afternoon. It does not relate to my local Jobcentre Plus, but comes from the son of a friend. He attended his local Jobcentre Plus to apologise for the fact that he could not attend his routine interview because he had a job interview at the same time. He was told that he would lose his benefits, which seems absolutely inexplicable. There was also someone on the door, almost a bouncer, who stopped him getting past to explain the situation to someone who might have been a bit more reasonable. I do not know how often that happens, but clearly there are occasions when unwise decisions are made.

The other side of the coin is that I have heard evidence, also anecdotal, that some claimants are unco-operative and that, despite repeated requests for documents, attendance or information, still do not comply, and sanctions are only brought in at that stage when nothing else has worked. Perhaps the Minister will refer to that when he responds to the debate.

The right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) referred to food banks. From a few cases in which I have met individuals who use food banks and discussed their circumstances with them, I know that they often have debt repayments to make. Their benefits are certainly insufficient for that, because they were never intended for debt repayments. The underlying problem is that people are getting into debt that they cannot manage or cope with, and that is what is leading to the increased use of food banks.

The whole benefits system is, after all, a contract with the taxpayer. We must be fair both to the taxpayer and to claimants. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) referred to the compliance system under universal credit, which sounds to me like a great improvement. I support his suggestion, if it is at all possible to implement it, to improve the situation for claimants and the taxpayer.