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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 20 January 2015

[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair]

Holocaust Memorial Day

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

9.30 am

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): It is a privilege to have this opportunity to mark Holocaust memorial day. As colleagues will know, Holocaust memorial day falls exactly one week from today, on 27 January. I thank colleagues who supported the application for this debate, many of whom are here today: my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford North (Mr Scott), for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), for Watford (Richard Harrington), for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) and for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans). I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and the hon. Members for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), for Dudley North (Ian Austin), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I am grateful to them for their support.

I pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust—I declare an interest as a member of the council of the trust—and I pay tribute to all that it does to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust to ensure that its lessons are never forgotten, and that we also keep in mind other holocausts that have taken place since 1945. It does very important work in giving young people the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. It does other good work as well, but that is very good work indeed. I know that many Members will have participated in those visits, as I have done. It is something that one needs to see for oneself.

This year is an important anniversary, because it is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet forces. When they arrived there 70 years ago, they found the remnants of the unique horror that had taken place there and in other death camps throughout occupied Europe. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, they found 348,820 men’s suits; 836,500 women’s dresses, all neatly folded together; pyramids of dentures and eyeglasses; and seven tonnes of women’s hair. As colleagues will know, some of the physical evidence can still be seen at Auschwitz-Birkenau and at some of the other camps.

I want to draw particular attention to the living evidence of the Holocaust in the form of testimony of survivors of the camps, many of whom were young children at the time, but who now spend their time telling groups of young people of their experiences. I pay a special heartfelt tribute to them for the work that they do.

This 70th anniversary is in some ways a special milestone in keeping such events in living memory, because the survivors are all getting older. I am always struck by their vigour, but they are getting older. It is important

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to keep their testimony alive for future generations to listen to and to understand what took place. I have listened to the survivors both in my constituency and elsewhere. It is a remarkable experience and a privilege to hear them. I pay special tribute to the survivors of the Holocaust in my constituency who visit schools, meet young people and tell them of their experience.

Take Alec Ward from Borehamwood. After a happy childhood in Poland, he found himself put in the ghetto at a very young age and was selected for work. His younger brother did not pass the selection and was taken away to be shot. Alec was then put to very hard work on the most meagre of rations. When studying and reading his accounts, one wonders how he survived. He received one slice of black bread, some black coffee and half a litre of watery cabbage soup, and had very little protection from the minus 30° cold of the winter in central Europe. He was put to work on building roads and doing other slave labour. He summarises his experience of the Holocaust and remembers:

“The hangings of prisoners, the selections, the dead bodies lying at the barbed wire fences early in the morning of Jewish prisoners who tried desperately to escape...and were shot. The painful hunger and malnutrition. The beatings. The man who cried every time he saw me as I reminded him of his young son who perished at the hands of the Nazis.”

It was remarkable that Mr Ward survived, but he was eventually liberated from Mauthausen camp by the allies in May 1945.

Another remarkable man is Mr Josef Perl, who lives in Bushey, but was born in Czechoslovakia. In the spring of 1940, at the age of 10, he was crammed on to a railway wagon to be taken to Poland. On arrival there he witnessed his mother and four of his sisters being shot and falling into a pit only a short distance ahead of him. He also saw other members of his family suffer the same fate. It seems he survived only because of an air raid when it was his turn to be dealt with. He somehow survived amidst all this and he was put to work and passed from camp to camp, including Auschwitz-Birkenau. He describes his arrival at Auschwitz in memorable terms:

“There was screaming and shouting, guards were lashing out and beating anyone who could not get out of the way. Dogs on the end of short leads were barking and jumping up at new arrivals, viciously biting many of them. I saw old people, ill people, people so weak they were almost dead, come tumbling out of the wagons when the doors were opened.”

He saw a baby being thrown away by a guard “like so much rubbish”.

Mr Perl was eventually put to work as well. Remarkably, he survived and was liberated from Buchenwald camp on 11 April 1945.

Listening to such remarkable men and women, it is hard for us to comprehend the scale of human loss in respect of those who perished and the severity of suffering of those who survived the unique horror of the Holocaust. It is important that we continue to hear their views. We know that there have been subsequent genocides since 1945 in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. Holocaust memorial day reflects such tragic events, which stand as a rebuke to the post-1945 world and remind us that genocide can still occur.

Recently, we have seen evidence of hatred and extremism closer at hand in Europe—as well as anti-Semitism—and extremism has entered the body politic in several places.

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It is not on the same scale as genocide, but we know from history that hatred and extremism were the precursors to what took place in 1939 to 1945. We have seen a very extreme party—the Jobbik party—capture votes in Hungary, and, in the European elections last year, Golden Dawn captured nearly 10% of the vote in Greece. There are disturbing echoes when the deputy leader of a party such as Jobbik can stand up and call for the state to draw up a list of Jews who constitute a national security risk.

I welcome the robust statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minster that he has a policy of zero tolerance in respect of anti-Semitism. As he says, although the situation in this country is better than in many other countries, it is unacceptable that we have seen evidence of anti-Semitism here, including boycotts and attacks on Jewish charity shops and the disturbing survey of attitudes published by the Campaign Against Antisemitism recently.

I also welcome the work that is being done by the Holocaust Commission, which was launched by the Prime Minister last year and is due to report later this month. I look forward to the fruits of its work being brought forward, and I hope that the living testimony of survivors of the Holocaust will be preserved for future generations. We need to ensure that this country has a permanent and fitting memorial to the Holocaust and educational resources for future generations to learn about it.

Seventy years ago this year, the gates of the death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau opened and the world saw the full extent of the horrors perpetrated under the auspices of an extreme ideology. I hope—I am sure—that colleagues agree that we should never allow those experiences to be forgotten.

9.40 am

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) on securing this important debate and on his comprehensive, graphic and informative speech. As we mark Holocaust memorial day 2015, it is important not only to remember what the Holocaust was and what happened during it, but to relate it to the ills of today in this country and elsewhere. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he did that.

This year’s Holocaust memorial day is special, marking as it does the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is important, too, to remember that we mark the day in Parliament because of a decision we took, and that we did so on an all-party basis. The first Holocaust memorial day commemoration in the UK took place in 2001 because of a decision taken following a private Member’s Bill promoted by the then Member of Parliament for Hendon, Andrew Dismore. The House of Commons decided to commemorate Holocaust memorial day and has done so ever since. When the Bill was being debated in Parliament, some Members were, perhaps not opposed, but doubtful, and they questioned whether it was right to mark out one genocide. What has happened since has shown the value of having Holocaust memorial day, because we ensure that new generations know about the Holocaust while relating it to genocides that have taken place since.

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The strength of the commemoration of Holocaust memorial day is that it is not an isolated event. It brings people together and provides a focus for commemorating the Holocaust and learning the lessons of it, but is not something that takes place once a year; it is part of a series of events taking place throughout the year. I too commend the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, of which I am a council member, in particular its educational work through the year with educators and students, including “Lessons from Auschwitz” and other programmes. We are talking not about one day a year, but about all the year.

I want to reflect on a recent event in which I took part, which has significance for Holocaust memorial day and for Holocaust remembrance. Last Sunday, I took part in a meeting of the Board of Deputies of British Jews—I am indeed a deputy—which was dominated by horrendous recent events: the murder of journalists at Charlie Hebdo, of a policewoman, and of Jews at a kosher supermarket, who were murdered simply because they were Jews. The anti-Semitic murders of French Jews did not take place in isolation—it was not one isolated event, but one of a series of anti-Semitic murders and attacks on Jews that have taken place in France in recent times, including the murder of three pupils and a teacher at a Jewish school in Paris. The cumulative effect of the murders and the series of attacks on French Jews has been for many of them to decide to leave France. We should all reflect on that.

At the meeting on Sunday, I heard excellent addresses from the Home Secretary and from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. They both pledged their support for British Jews and promised to increase security for British Jews in view of what was happening. I also watched the inspiring Ben Helfgott light the first of 70 memorial candles that are to be lit throughout the country to commemorate this year’s Holocaust memorial day and listened to his wise words. As I sat in the meeting, listening to what was being said and watching what was happening, I reflected on what it all meant.

I am shocked and outraged that we still have to concentrate on and be concerned about anti-Semitism in Europe. French Jews have felt the need to flee their homes because of their fear of anti-Semitism and their experience of killings and a series of attacks, and their sense that they were not getting support from the wider community—at least until last week, perhaps. In the United Kingdom, the situation is different: Jews are not being murdered because they are Jews, but disturbing trends must not be ignored. The Community Security Trust has monitored the numbers of anti-Semitic incidents, which are up sharply, as well as the increasing intensity of anti-Semitic discourse. Anti-Semitic comments that at one time would have been seen as unacceptable now seem to be accepted almost as the norm. Not so long ago, during a demonstration, managers at a major supermarket in London felt that a Jewish kosher counter had to be closed because of the pressure of demonstrators outside. Such things are deeply disturbing.

British Jews do not feel that they are in the same position as French Jews, and they are not. British Jews feel very firmly part of British society and themselves to be strong members of the British as well as Jewish communities. Nevertheless, a sense of unease is growing among the Jewish community here in the United Kingdom.

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That should be registered, not only by other Jews but by the community as a whole. When the Home Secretary and the Communities and Local Government Secretary spoke to the Board of Deputies of British Jews on Sunday, they spoke about anti-Semitism and what had happened, as well as about how Jews and other minorities form part of the fabric of British society. We are all part of British society. As we approach Holocaust memorial day, we should all reflect on that.

The Holocaust was a horrendous event. The fact that anti-Semitism remains, that the virus of anti-Semitism has not gone, is something that should concern us all and give us all reason to reflect not only on Jews and other minorities, but on the nature of our society. An attack on minorities in the United Kingdom, whether on the Jewish community or other communities, is an attack on all of us. When we reflect on Holocaust memorial day and on the Holocaust, we should register what is happening and be determined as a society to recognise that minorities are part of our community and that anti-Semitism is not to be tolerated.

9.48 am

Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) on way he introduced the debate. I am not Jewish; I am Catholic, but I would have been proud to be born a Jew. As I look around the Chamber, I can see that many of us are post-war babies. We cannot imagine the horrors that took place all those years ago. For that very reason, we must never forget what happened.

The 27th of January this year marks 15 years since representatives from 46 Governments met in Stockholm to sign a declaration committing to educate, remember and research the dreadful events of the Holocaust. As my hon. Friend said, the date commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp —a place that was witness to perhaps the greatest failure of humanity ever. Holocaust memorial day also commemorates other genocides that took place in the decades after the second world war, including the genocide that took place between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia under the radical leader Pol Pot, the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, the genocide in Bosnia in 1995, and the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

It is pitiful to see that the world has not learnt enough from the Holocaust. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) just said, we once again find ourselves watching such events without making a sufficiently decisive response. But the genocide in which the Nazis killed 6 million Jews still remains the most appalling failure of humanity: millions of human beings were tortured, used for forced labour and killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kulmhof, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and other places across Europe. Many of the victims underwent inhumane pseudo-medical experiments carried out by Nazi doctors in concentration camps before being sent to gas chambers.

It is now our duty to remember and to learn lessons from the terrible events of 1941-45 and make sure that we prevent genocide from happening again. Professor Gregory Stanton, who is famous for his work in genocide studies and prevention, has identified eight stages leading to genocide. The classification stage is when differences between people are not respected and a simple division

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between “us” and “them” is created—German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. That leads to the stage of symbolisation, when various symbols are applied to members of groups: as part of the symbolisation process, the yellow star was forced upon Jews under Nazi rule, as was the blue scarf upon people from the eastern zone in Khmer Rouge Cambodia. That leads to dehumanisation, where victims are refused any human rights, liberties, or dignity. During the following stages of genocide—organisation, polarisation and preparation—the destruction of a people is planned by the regime. That leads to extermination. What follows is the last stage, denial, where perpetrators or later generations deny the existence of the crime.

The Holocaust was more than a war crime or a genocide. It undermined the foundation of our civilisation, as it was carefully planned and executed by the authorities of Nazi Germany. That is why it is so important for us today to understand the mechanisms leading up to genocide—to ensure that we are ready to prevent it in the future by promptly punishing any hate crimes or atrocities.

As I said, the Holocaust was the greatest failure of humanity, but it was also a display of humanity at its finest. The Talmud teaches:

“He who saves a single life, saves the world entire.”

It is important that we remember those who, in the dreadful circumstances of Nazi propaganda and callousness, put their own lives at risk to save others. Irena Sendler, a Polish nurse and social worker, smuggled some 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto, providing them with false identity documents and safe housing. Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and member of the Nazi party, is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunition factories. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat, and humanitarian, is recognised for saving tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the second world war through his Schutz-Pass device. That hero is especially close to my heart, as I campaigned for many years to have a statue erected in his honour. I am pleased that the statue was eventually installed at Great Cumberland place in London, where it was unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen and the President of Israel. More than 25,000 non-Jews were recognised as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, which speaks volumes about the good side of human nature.

Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): I need to be somewhere else at 10 o’clock, so I hope my hon. Friend will forgive my intervening. Before he leaves the topic of the triumph of the human spirit, will he also reflect on one of the memories that all of us who have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau carry with us, of the number of young people from Israel carrying the Israeli flag who go round singing songs, whose spirit has not been dampened by what has happened and whose existence is a demonstration of the triumph of the human spirit over the evil that they are confronting?

Sir David Amess: I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. What he describes gives us hope for the future.

I am happy to see many wonderful initiatives taking place in my constituency to mark Holocaust memorial day, including a tree planting in Cockethurst park in

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Eastwood organised by the wonderful Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation. As the Nobel peace prize laureate Elie Wiesel warned some years ago:

“To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice.”

I am therefore pleased to see that Holocaust memorial day has gained such momentum in the past 15 years, reaching out to thousands of people across generations and inspiring them to learn lessons from the past and keep the memory alive.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order. I intend to call the Front-Bench speakers at about 10.40 am, leaving us just over 40 minutes for Back-Bench speakers. Five or six Members are trying to catch my eye and although I will not put a time limit on speeches at the moment I encourage Members to bear that in mind when speaking.

9.56 am

Dame Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I will keep my remarks brief, as I appreciate that other Members want to speak. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess). Like others, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison). I also wish to pay a special tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), who has shown significant bravery over many years in standing up against anti-Semitism in this country and others.

I will give a few personal reflections about visits to Auschwitz and to Terezin in the Czech Republic, which I have visited a couple of times. That site is not as well known as some other camps associated with the Holocaust but a visit there can have an equally profound effect, because of the sheer cynicism that was shown there in what was, effectively, an industrial process of slaughtering people of all ages.

My first visit to Auschwitz, which I made thanks to the Holocaust Educational Trust, was an emotional experience for myself and the other Scottish MPs and Scottish schoolchildren on the trip. One thing from that trip that has stayed with me is that at the end of our visit, a young woman said, “I don’t believe this happened.” Once I had got over the initial shock, I realised that perhaps she could not understand what had happened because it was beyond her experience as a modern young person who uses electronic equipment and sees lives in colour. It was inexplicable to her. Despite seeing the evidence that the hon. Member for Hertsmere mentioned—the clothes, shoes, glasses and cases—she still could not get her mind around the Holocaust and what had happened in Auschwitz. If ever we needed evidence why the Holocaust Educational Trust needs to continue, she gave it to me that day—it came as such a shock.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz with the right hon. Lady last year. Is she concerned that the Campaign Against Antisemitism has found that one in eight people believe that Jewish people talk about the Holocaust to get sympathy?

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Dame Anne McGuire: Everyone will find that shocking. Although we were not born when these things happened, we lived with the aftermath, and those of us who, like the hon. Member for Southend West, grew up in the post-war period, saw the images of the Holocaust on BBC television in black and white and had a broadening knowledge of it. That is why such debates, as well as the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and other organisations, need to be kept alive and to be re-energised.

My second thought is about going to Terezin. On the second occasion, we took two young people with us. For those who do not know much about Terezin, I should say that it was, effectively, a show camp—it had been disguised by the Nazis. They even brought the Danish Red Cross in. They dusted everything off, they painted the walls and they made it look as though this was quite a nice place to be held, but it was, in fact, a transit camp to Auschwitz. For me, that epitomises the fact that we are not talking about some random act of genocide or something that happened because of a few Nazis at the top: this was the industrialised extermination of people. That is very difficult for us to get our heads around.

None the less, some hope came out of Terezin. Despite the lives that people had to lead, the children still had art and music classes. Some of the beautiful pictures by the children, who led a horrible life, can still be seen in, for example, the Jewish museum in Prague and at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Anybody who goes to Terezin, or Theresienstadt, which is the German name for it, will see a small town that carries the weight of history on its shoulders. It is a town of sadness, even though people still live there today. The people in the town appear to carry that burden with them.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I have also visited a number of the places the right hon. Lady has been to, including the museum outside Jerusalem where tributes are paid to a lot of the people whose names have been mentioned today for the work they did. Will she join me in congratulating the Friends of Israel on the work it does, especially in Northern Ireland, where it has started going to schools to teach young people about the Holocaust and its aftermath?

Dame Anne McGuire: As the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, I like to think that, although we are not there to be apologists for any Israeli Government or any politician in Israel, the existence of the state of Israel is an important element not only in post-Holocaust history, because of the Holocaust, but in the future of the Jewish people.

I want now to talk about the visit to Auschwitz to commemorate the 69th anniversary of its liberation. It seemed a bit unusual to go on the 69th anniversary, not the 70th, but that was because of concerns about the survivors making the arduous journey—many, but not all, came from Israel. We joined politicians, clergy, rabbis, local government officials and others from across Europe, who came together under the sponsorship, and at the invitation, of the Polish President.

What struck me—I hope the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) will have an opportunity to say more about this—was that we were sitting in a marquee, fully clothed in warm garments, in temperatures of minus 10 or 13° C, and listening to the words of survivors who had

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not had the luxury of having such clothes or the shelter of a marquee. We then went to say prayers with Christian clergy and rabbis for those who died in that awful camp. For me, that was the voice of Auschwitz—those survivors being there and saying to the world, “Auschwitz happened. We have to recognise that. It is not a figment of anyone’s imagination.” Given that it happened, democrats and people of good will across the world have to keep that flame alive and to make sure that these things never happen again.

10.4 am

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir, and to follow the right hon. Member for Stirling (Dame Anne McGuire). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) on securing the debate. These debates are almost becoming a ritual, and I say that as someone who comes from a faith where ritual counts.

As usual, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) put the emotional finger on it. When we woke up this morning—in England, in 2015—we heard accounts on the radio of children at a Jewish school lying on the floor practising for a possible terrorist attack, so there is no question but that we should be doing what we are doing today.

I want to say one or two personal things. First, when I was elected in 2010, a previous holder of the seat and honourable Member of this House, Stanley Henig, was just about keeping Holocaust memorial day going there. In 2011, it was held in a small room in the chaplaincy in Lancaster university—the actual constituency has a minute Jewish population, so this was perhaps more of an issue in terms of the campus. Then, however, the National Coalition Building Institute, to which I pay tribute, and particularly a lady called Liz Neat, got hold of things. With the support, to be fair, of Lancaster city council, we then began to hold a much bigger event on 27 January around the war memorial next to Lancaster town hall, and we have done so ever since. My job is to read the dedication to the righteous gentiles, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) talked about. Next week, I am proud to say, we will be in the centre of the town, outside Lancaster castle, which has now opened for the first time—it was a prison, but that closed.

Hon. Members have paid tribute to survivors who can deal with the emotion. I pay tribute to Stephen Breuer, who turns up every time to read the dedication. This year, we are quite proud, because we are going to host one of the 70 candles mentioned by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, which were designed by the artist Sir Anish Kapoor for the 70th anniversary.

It is perhaps more important that those things are happening, and recognised, in the small town of Lancaster—officially, it is a city—with its minute Jewish population, than it would be in other areas. Hon. Members have talked about the post-war period, and I grew up in the 1950s, after the second world war, but I do not remember any mention of the Holocaust. If we read the history—I taught history—there was some mention of the Nuremberg trials when they were going on, but there was little mention of the Holocaust when I was growing up in that part of Lancashire, certainly not in

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school. That remained the case until—this was another anniversary—Adolf Eichmann was put on trial, having been taken from Argentina, when these issues were suddenly mentioned again.

Quite rightly, survivors who had escaped the Holocaust and come to Britain—I think of people I met when I was a councillor in Hackney, representing Stamford Hill, which has a significant, visible Jewish population; I have talked about that before—wanted to get on with their lives, and many were able to do that. I am extremely proud about that, and I know they are proud about it too.

As I say, these things perhaps only got talked about after Eichmann. Of course, we were also involved in the cold war, so that raised other big issues. When I was a teacher in the 1980s—I have mentioned this before, but it still needs to be underlined—the Government brought in the national curriculum, and the Holocaust was to be taught at key stage 3 of the history curriculum. As I have mentioned in previous debates, we should not underestimate the arguments that went on in the teaching profession about whether the subject, which is taught particularly in year 9, was suitable and whether children of that age would be able to deal with it.

Having been a teacher for 38 years, I can tell the House that children can deal with almost anything, and they were able to deal with being taught about the Holocaust. It was quite eye-opening. I have mentioned before that when I was teaching the subject, children—sixth- formers or 14-year-olds, so hardly children, really—said that they knew nothing about it until they got to the classroom. That is another reason for continuing the ritual, if we call it that, of Holocaust memorial day. The day must be recognised.

I pay tribute, as other hon. Members have done, to the Holocaust Educational Trust, and Karen Pollock particularly—she is sitting just behind me. I am thinking particularly of the trips to Auschwitz, and the school ambassadors. At Holocaust memorial events, it is incredible the way those children can describe their visits and articulate their experience, as hon. Members have done this morning.

When I was a teacher, I avoided going to Auschwitz-Birkenau; I had mixed feelings about whether it would be just a museum, and how I would deal with it, having taught it over and over. In fact, it was because of Karen nagging me that I finally went a few years ago. The emotional experience is difficult for me to articulate, as it is for everyone else. It is powerful in many ways that we might not consider. The thing that still stands out for me is the sheer scale and size of Birkenau.

Having seen school visits by Holocaust survivors—I remember one such visit to Cardinal Allen school in Fleetwood a couple of years ago—I do not think that there is anything that the children, pupils or young adults, or whatever we want to call them, cannot take in this context. Hearing someone’s experience produces an impact, and leads to questions, and I pay tribute to that work and to the survivors. I do not know how they relive those experiences again and again; I suppose it is through their determination that those things should not be forgotten. They are right about that.

We hold town commemorations, but it occurred to me that a new Holocaust Educational Trust project might be to consider individual school commemorations.

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When I was teaching, it was a struggle for us, given that schools are now multi-faith, to create assemblies that covered everything, but there may well be a way to take that further, particularly as everyone is concerned about what will happen when there are no survivors to provide their testimony. Perhaps we can think about doing something as part of the curriculum within schools; the Holocaust is rightly still part of the history curriculum.

As I have said, waking up in the morning and hearing what now has to happen in Jewish schools in England gives us clarity about why we feel we must continue with Holocaust memorial day. We must take pride in the country that gave a home to so many. There is worry among my Jewish friends, but I hope that small things such as today’s debate will reassure the Jewish population of this country—those who came across to make a home here before the war and those who survived the war years and came here afterwards—and that they will still feel part of this country. Today is significant as the 750th anniversary of the first Parliament. Its duty was and still is to protect the people who live in this country.

10.13 am

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): It is a pleasure to take part in the debate under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Weir. I commend the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) for ensuring that we have the opportunity to mark Holocaust memorial day in Parliament.

Holocaust memorial day was first formally marked in Northern Ireland in 2002. I was then Deputy First Minister and I spoke at that event in the Waterfront hall. I believe it is important, for me and every other representative, to continue to mark the day every year; it was not just because of the office I held at the time that I felt the burden of remembrance. Like other hon. Members, I have benefited from one of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s visits to Auschwitz, as part of the “Lessons from Auschwitz” project. The only trip from Northern Ireland happened in 2007. I was struck by the number of young people from all over Northern Ireland who did not have a full sense or appreciation of what the Holocaust entailed.

We began our trip with a visit to a Jewish cemetery, and many of the children thought that we were going to see the graves of victims of the Holocaust. The children from Northern Ireland were particularly struck by the explanation that they were being brought there so they could understand that there were real, full, thriving Jewish communities living even in a town such as Auschwitz, which were wiped out—and that there were attempts to destroy and desecrate the cemetery and use its very headstones as paving stones around the town. They were struck more by the sense of Jewish communities and families being systematically destroyed—with little trace left, to this day, other than a small synagogue—than they were by the big statistics and the figure of the slaughter of 6 million.

Hon. Members have described their visits and how they looked at the suitcases and glasses, but it was the pigtails that really stuck with me—perhaps because I had a two-year-old daughter. Those things make us realise what was involved and what was destroyed, and how many were lost, including the complete families

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that were destroyed so that there is no one left to remember them. That is why there is a burden on the rest of us to ensure that they are not forgotten to this day.

Reference has been made to what went into achieving the Holocaust. It was not just slaughter on an industrial scale; an infrastructure was created and organised to achieve that. That all stemmed, of course, from idle prejudices that were easily and evilly exploited and manipulated. That is part of what we must remember to this day: how easy it is for anyone, even in a supposedly democratic context, to start to mobilise prejudices in that vicious, pernicious way, so that people go against the expected judgments of their system of values and ethics. We must be vigilant because of that.

Prejudice is voiced in many forms, with many excuses. It uses events to construct constant criticism, to denigrate a faith or outlook, and to generalise in a vicious and nasty way. We must be conscious of the dangers and recognise anti-Semitism’s new guises in our age, when it tries to recruit particular events and circumstances and turn what might be valid criticism of events into a sweeping attempt to dehumanise and caricature everyone of a particular faith outlook. That is why this year we must, as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust says, reflect, respect and remember, and continue to learn the lessons and show vigilance.

In my constituency, on 28 January, we in Derry will mark Holocaust memorial day in the garden of reflection, which recently hosted a month-long Anne Frank Trust exhibition. People in my city will join in the same spirit that is reflected in the debate by hon. Members.

10.19 am

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): It is a privilege to speak in this debate and to follow such thoughtful and heartfelt speeches. So much has already been said, and I am conscious of time, so let me make a modest contribution through two stories—one personal to my family and one pertinent to my constituency—that converged at the end of last year.

A few days before Christmas, I took my parents-in-law, who were visiting us for the holidays, to a museum in my constituency; hon. Members may be aware of it. The National Holocaust Centre, a few miles north of Newark, is, remarkably, the only museum dedicated to the Holocaust in this country.

My parents-in-law are the children of Holocaust survivors. My wife’s grandfather and grandmother were Jews who lived in what was then Belarussia at the outbreak of world war two. The Nazis came to their village near Minsk, rounded up the able-bodied young men and took them to labour camps, where, as one can imagine, they experienced enormous hardship. The young men were told that if they tried to escape, their families back in the village would be killed. That threat held the line for some time until, through various back-channels, word came to the camp that every member of the village had been shot. Many had been burned to death and their bodies had been dumped in an open grave. The village had been razed to the ground; young and old alike were slaughtered. Furnished with that reality, which had been long-feared, my grandfather-in-law narrowly succeeded in escaping from the camp and spent the

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remainder of the war fighting the Nazis as a partisan, predominantly in the vast forests on the Polish-Russian border and in Ukraine.

At the close of the war, my grandfather-in-law returned to the smouldering, blood-stained ruins of his former village and, amid the ruins of the world he had lost and on discovering that every member of his family, including his six brothers and sisters, had been killed, found my wife’s grandmother—herself a survivor with a story equally remarkable. They fell in love, and the rest is history. My mother-in-law, my wife and my two beautiful daughters are the result.

On that wintry morning prior to Christmas, I drove my mother-in-law to visit the National Holocaust Centre outside Newark. It gave me great pride not only that the only museum in our country dedicated to that cause should be in my constituency, of all places, but that I could take the daughter of a Holocaust survivor to it. I suspect that she was proud to visit it with her son-in-law, a Member of Parliament.

Let me briefly tell hon. Members who are not familiar with it the extraordinary story behind the museum and its founders. It is worth retelling on this day. Twenty years ago, two brothers from Nottinghamshire, who were not Jewish and did not have any intimate family connection with the Holocaust but whose parents possessed a deep social conscience, visited Israel and were captivated, if that is the right word, by Yad Vashem, the great Holocaust museum that was being developed outside Jerusalem. On returning to their parents’ farmhouse in an idyllic but remote village north of Newark—the worst place, one might think, to build a museum—they conceived a remarkable vision to turn their home into a Holocaust museum. That is exactly what they achieved.

James and Stephen Smith are remarkable individuals from a remarkable family, and they are well known to those who follow this subject. They are now world leaders in their field, but they deserve further recognition. I cannot speak for their motivations—they are humble people who do not tell their story—but I suspect that they felt a moral duty to give dignity to the victims of the Holocaust, to acknowledge the crimes, to contribute to justice and healing and to preserve memory, through education, as a warning. That seems a fair summary of the ideals behind Holocaust memorial day.

I recommend to everybody a visit to that museum. It has two profound missions for Holocaust memorial day, for the commission, whose report will be published next week, and for all who do its work and preach its message. The first is the journey of the Smith brothers to ensure, as the direct memories fade away and the children of survivors, such as my mother-in-law, grow old, that the records, pictures and stories do not die and that people are always able to visit the museum and meet on this day. There are many museums in this country—many, even, in my constituency—but that museum is our conscience. If it is here for future generations, our conscience will be here forever.

Secondly, the museum reminds us of our common humanity by showing that whatever motivated the attacks on the Jews was a virus—the idea that all that matters in life is our differences. That virus takes different forms all over the world, but it is alive and well today. We see it in ISIS, in Boko Haram, in anti-Semitism in Paris and, I am afraid, in anti-Semitism and extremism in this country. It is still the major cause of suffering in the world, and it

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is the greatest threat to my children and the children of others, who have reaped the extraordinary benefits of an interdependent world.

I drove home from that visit to our museum to my two beautiful children—the great-grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, who were not meant to be here. I looked into their eyes as I tucked them into bed, and I thought of the Smith brothers of Laxton. I felt that in those four lives, brought together by my election to this place, there is a source of optimism. We have decisively triumphed over the evil that tried to devour our lives and those of my ancestors. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing undaunted, undamaged optimism in human beings, which the Smith brothers displayed.

The Holocaust Centre in Laxton needs our support. I hope that the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission, which is due to report next week, will recommend an endowment fund to recognise explicitly that extraordinary outlier in this cause and make a commitment to it and other projects out in the British regions, not just those in London. The Smith brothers were motivated to act. The message of Holocaust memorial day, which is not simply about remembrance or fine words, to which we are all accustomed, is that there are no bystanders in history. History flows through us; we are of it and we cannot look away. The Smith brothers acted, and I applaud them for it. That is the message that I send out today.

10.27 am

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) on securing this debate. Like many others in this Chamber and beyond, I pay particular tribute to Karen Pollock and all the staff at the Holocaust Educational Trust for the vital work that they do—not only for all of us, but for the whole country. If we do not educate young people, I fear history could repeat itself.

Let me speak briefly about a few personal issues. Since becoming a great Member of the House of Commons—[Interruption.] I mean a Member of this great House of Commons—that was a Freudian slip. Over the years, I have received death threats and anti-Semitic abuse. Most recently, just before the end of last year, I was called a “dirty Jew” and told I should die.

I saw something on TV this weekend that saddened me greatly; I do not know whether other hon. Members saw it. A French lady said on one of the news channels that she told her young child that if a man or a woman came to school with a weapon, they should not say they were Jewish. It saddened me greatly and made me reflect on some of the things I saw when I visited Auschwitz and Terezin.

What I saw also made me think of something else—I say this not only for myself; I implore other people to say it. I am proud to be British, I am honoured to be a Member of Parliament and I am proud to say that I am a Jew. That will never change. No matter how many people tell me that I should be killed for being a Jew, while I have the honour of being a Member of Parliament, I will continue to fight for all communities and all religions because prejudice against anybody is unacceptable. If we have not learned anything from history, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

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This goes completely beyond party politics. I express my gratitude to the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) and the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who came and offered their support to me when I was going through these problems recently, as did the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. I am not going to name everyone who did this, but the most encouraging thing was that I had hundreds and hundreds of e-mails from people around the whole country deploring anti-Semitism.

We live in a great country where everyone can feel safe. We have a great police force, a great protection unit, and no one should fear living in our country. These vile people who persecute others—whoever that is, whether it be Jews, Muslims or Christians—want us to live in fear. They want us to be scared of them, and they want us to get out, but they are not going to achieve it. We are not going anywhere. We are part of Britain. We have been part of Britain for hundreds of years and we will continue to be part of Britain.

In the few minutes I have left, I want to reflect briefly on my visit to Auschwitz. I am not somebody who cries easily—I have cried a few times—but I did cry when I visited Auschwitz. I have been to other camps and I have seen what happened, but it did not impact on me in the same way as it did standing there in the freezing cold—I am sure that did have something to do it. The hon. Member is perfectly right, and please forgive me for not knowing her constituency—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow North—

Dame Anne McGuire: Actually, it is Stirling.

Mr Scott: We are having a great day, Mr Weir—Southend has become Basildon, Stirling has become Glasgow North. The right hon. Member for Stirling (Dame Anne McGuire) is right. I was wearing a thick jacket, a scarf, a thick shirt and thick trousers, and I knew that I was going home in the evening, but the people who perished there did not have that. They were persecuted because of nothing more than hatred and misunderstanding.

Whenever things are tough, everyone needs someone to blame—so, “Let’s blame the people who are the easiest to blame.” That is the importance of Holocaust remembrance day and of the work done by the Holocaust Educational Trust: to remind people and keep reminding them. When, sadly, no survivors are still alive, we have to keep on reminding people, because if we do not, I fear history will repeat itself. The onus is on us to stop that from happening.

10.32 am

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is an honour to follow my friend and Jewish brother, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott), who made the most moving comments, and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), who spoke about the moving life story of his own family.

I know that Holocaust memorial day is next Tuesday, but it is appropriate that this Parliament should be talking about this issue today. On 20 January 1275, on

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the other side of the street, in the Westminster chapter house—one can see it through the windows—our first Parliament was founded. That is what the British people are about. Where does the word “Parliament” come from? It comes from the French word “parler”—to talk together and understand each other, and to understand our differences and try to sort them out. It is important that we have this debate to try to recognise what in human nature creates these appalling events. It is still here; there is some of it in all of us. Unless we recognise that, we are doomed to repeat history.

Solzhenitsyn said in “The Gulag Archipelago”:

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

That sort of hatred, somehow and inexplicably, rests in human beings.

After the war, a German officer, who had had a normal war and done nothing very remarkable, was being interrogated. He was in the pen with thousands of other people. He had not been the commandant of a camp or anything like that—he had fought in Germany and Russia and all the rest of it; there was nothing remarkable about him. However, when he was being interviewed, there was a gap in his war, so the American officer interviewing him asked, “What were you doing in that gap?” The German officer could have given any answer; he was being interviewed with thousands of other people. He said, “I was just working for the Einsatzgruppen.” The interviewing officer knew what they were doing. He said, “What were you doing for those nine months working for the Einsatzgruppen in Poland?”, and he replied, “I was killing Jews.” The officer said, “Well, how many did you kill?” He said, “Oh, about 90,000.”

This was just a normal person, a German officer, and somehow he had been infected with this appalling evil. It is there. Germany was the most advanced nation in Europe, with an extraordinarily successful economy, and we still do not understand why Jewish people—who were largely integrated, were a tiny proportion of the population, were making a wonderful contribution to Germany and had fought patriotically in exactly the same proportion as everybody else in Germany for their nation in the first world war—were treated like that. It is something in human nature, and it is here now.

Only last year, we had a debate on Srebrenica, which happened not 70 years ago, but in our time. Boys and men—hundreds of them—were carried out of a village and shot simply because they were Muslim. It is here now, and we have to recognise it in all of us and root it out; that is why this debate is so important. It is also important for us to proclaim that because this great and appalling act of murder was committed against the Jewish people, they have the absolute right to live in peace, freedom and security wherever they are in the world. Because they, almost uniquely, were subjected to this appalling act of genocide and torture, they deserve our special protection.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North spoke most movingly about the Jewish people who have settled in this country. We should proclaim loudly in this Parliament, on the day of our 750th anniversary, how much we value the contribution of Jewish people to our nation. This is a people who came here and sought

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shelter, often from pogroms at the end of the 19th century —although, as my hon. Friend said, some have been here for centuries—and they have given so much to our country. They have integrated so well, and they are an object lesson to all immigrant communities.

Although my hon. Friend has talked about a particularly horrible incident, I do not personally believe there is much anti-Semitism in this country; there certainly should not be. We are a tolerant nation and we welcome our Jewish brothers and sisters; we welcome them for the contribution that they make. However, this debate is an opportunity to say that we shall never forget what happened to them in the past, and in never forgetting, we hope that we can stop it from happening again.

10.38 am

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): It is an absolute privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. Members on both sides of the House have made very moving and powerful contributions, sharing stories, memories and facts that should never be forgotten. As has been said, it is a matter of deep shame that despite the proclamation of “Never again” after the Holocaust, from the killing fields of Cambodia to the desert sands of Darfur, to the mountains and savannahs of Rwanda, we—the international community—have failed to prevent genocides from taking place.

The theme for Holocaust memorial day this year is keeping the memory alive, which is particularly appropriate, as we have heard, given that a week from now marks 70 years to the day that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the red army. The SS knew they were coming and attempted to destroy the evidence of their heinous crimes. They built bonfires of documents detailing their atrocities. They blew up crematoriums II and III and set fire to Kanada II, the barracks that held property plundered from the victims. The Nazis did not want us to know about the systematic, state-organised murder of Jews, Roma Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, communists and socialists. However, by keeping the memory alive, we reaffirm that they are not forgotten. The voices of the 11 million echo still across this Chamber and, indeed, the world. Those voices will be heard.

About 1.5 million children were murdered during the Holocaust, and the young suffered the most brutal treatments, tortures and punishments, often for the smallest offences. A 16-year-old boy, Czeslaw Kempisty, was hanged from a post for several hours with his hands twisted behind his back. What was the reason? He had thrown some turnips to famished Soviet prisoners of war. Thirteen-year-old Halina Grynstein was shot for approaching the camp fence to exchange words with another prisoner. Seventeen-year-old Benkel Faivel was shot in the head by an SS guard for trying to pass a piece of bread to a woman prisoner. Those were small but very real rebellions. They shout against the idea that the victims of the Nazi Holocaust were passive.

Everyone in this Chamber will have heard the stories of the Warsaw ghetto uprising—the Jewish community held out longer in Warsaw than the entire Polish army did to protect their borders against the Nazi army—the Bielski partisans and the Sobibor uprising, but I want to talk also about the small acts of resistance, which are not as well known. In that way, when we think of Auschwitz and remember the emaciated bodies, the

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piles of corpses or, indeed, the shoes, suitcases, artificial limbs and human hair plundered from victims, we also remember the vital acts of resistance: a prohibited conversation, the passing of some bread or the throwing of a few turnips to starving prisoners. Those acts showed a real determination on the part of the prisoners, including children—and they knew full well the price that they could pay for their actions—to retain their basic humanity.

Some of the most unforgivable actions in Auschwitz were the experiments by the so-called camp doctors, including the notorious Josef Mengele, who inflicted inconceivable levels of suffering on children with his quasi-medical experiments. Eva Mozes Kor describes her arrival at Auschwitz with her identical twin, Miriam:

“Everything was moving very fast...I noticed my father and my two older sisters were gone. As I clutched my mother’s hand, an SS man hurried by shouting, ‘Twins! Twins!’…Once the SS guard knew we were twins, Miriam and I were taken away from our mother, without any warning or explanation. Our screams fell on deaf ears. I remember looking back and seeing my mother’s arms stretched out in despair as we were led away by a soldier. That was the last time I saw her…”

Eva remembers her introduction to life at Auschwitz:

“The first time I went to use the latrine located at the end of the children’s barrack, I was greeted by the scattered corpses of several children lying on the ground. I think that image will stay with me forever.”

During their time at Auschwitz, Eva and Miriam were put through many brutal surgeries and experiments. Their survival was a miracle in itself; only a few twins were left when the camp was finally liberated. Eva is still with us. She founded the Holocaust museum and education centre in Indiana and CANDLES. That is the acronym for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors, an organisation whose dedicated aim is

“to heal the pain; to teach the truth; to prevent prejudice.”

What a remarkable woman! I pay tribute to her.

In many ways, simply refusing to give up and die in spite of it all was the ultimate act of resistance—living on, like Eva. However, resistance came in many different forms and shapes: active and passive, violent and non-violent, and written and spoken. I shall now tell another story. In the spring of 1943, 19-year-old Ester Wajcblum arrived at Auschwitz and was assigned to work in the munitions factory, where she met Regina Safir and Ala Gertner—women who were engaged in resistance activities. Together with Roza Robota, they began smuggling out gunpowder.

The Sonderkommandos were Jewish prisoners who worked in the death camps. Their duties included guiding new arrivals into the gas chambers, removing the bodies afterwards, shaving the victims’ hair, removing their teeth, cremating their bodies and disposing of the ashes. Due to their knowledge of the camp’s inner workings, the Sonderkommandos were marked for certain death—it was a choice of die on arrival or die in four months’ time. As the time of the Sonderkommandos’ execution approached, they planned their revolt. They fashioned crude grenades by using sardine tins filled with the smuggled gunpowder and, on 7 October 1944, the workers of crematorium I began the revolt. That was followed by uprisings in crematoriums II and III. Crematorium IV was victoriously blown up. However, the SS guards counter-attacked and brutally suppressed the uprising. About 200 of the Sonderkommandos were rounded up and executed with a single shot to the head.

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The gunpowder was traced to Ester’s munitions factory—Ester, Regina, Ala and Roza were betrayed. They were tortured: they were beaten and raped and electric shocks were applied to their genitals. But they never gave up the names of people who were not already dead. On 5 January 1945—so close to liberation—the four women were hanged in front of the women’s camp. Their last words were:

“Be strong and be brave.”

As we reflect on the Holocaust and consider the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, we all have a duty to use these memories as a catalyst to rid us of the cancers of racial hatred, intolerance and discrimination. We should be immensely grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which do vital work in keeping alive and accessible the stories and lessons of the Holocaust as the number of survivors, sadly, dwindles over time. I join others in commending their work and that of Karen Pollock and Olivia Marks-Woldman in particular.

However, each of us has a responsibility to keep the memories alive and to challenge and defeat the politics of racism and hate at every turn. Evil must be resisted, and if the people of whom I have spoken could resist the evil that they faced, despite their apparent powerlessness, that tells us that we all, as individuals, have a part to play in combating evil. It also tells us how much more responsibility there is on the state to fight all forms of racism and the politics of hate, whether at home or abroad. We must hear the voices of the past and keep their memories alive.

10.48 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): I am glad to join other hon. Members in thanking the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) for initiating our discussion. I also thank all hon. Members for drawing on their understanding of the past and their personal experiences, conversations and visits in order to give such thoughtful speeches.

While listening to all the individual stories told by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), I noted that we often think about those times in terms of victims and perpetrators, but it is important to remember that among the group of people who were meant to be victims were those who refused to be victims, those who resisted, those who escaped and those who survived through it all and gave us the individual testimonies, which have been handed down the generations to today, and among the group of people who were the perpetrators were those who dissented and those who protected their fellow citizens, either through diplomatic channels, as the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) mentioned, or simply by protecting their neighbours. I have heard a story from one of my Hungarian friends of how her mother protected their piano teacher during the Holocaust. From such stories, we remember the hatred and we can despair of it, but we can also draw hope.

Many hon. Members have reflected on their visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau through the agency of the Holocaust Educational Trust and other bodies. I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau as a young man while I was inter-railing in the

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autumn of 1992, and there was hardly anyone there. I, too, was shocked by the paraphernalia and the remains of death, which the hon. Member for Hertsmere mentioned—the piles of glasses, the suitcases and the discarded passes—and by the sheer scale of the machinery of death, as the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) has said. One can appreciate it only by walking up to the now-familiar brick railway arch at the entrance to the death camp itself at Birkenau, as I did 23 years ago, and standing there, looking at the vast expanse of land and asking, “How could people do this?” People have to see it for themselves, but once they have seen it, it is not something that they want to see again.

The array of commemoration plans proves that the passage of time does nothing to impair our collective memory. It is our duty to recall the horrors and lessons of the Holocaust and to keep the stories of the survivors alive. It should not, and will not, fall to the survivors and their relatives to keep the memory and lessons of the Holocaust alive, especially as the voices that offer such significant witness to the Holocaust’s atrocities are gradually fading. If we do not encourage everyone to remember, it will be no wonder if many start to forget.

Today is also about remembering genocides since 1945, as well as remembering the persecution of the Jews and other minorities by the Nazis and their collaborators. As has been mentioned, Holocaust memorial day, which this year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, is also the 20th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica. I recall, as will many hon. Members, the dreadful events of 20 years ago when the full horror of the Bosnian civil war was beamed into our living rooms every night for three years, and the ghastly phrase “ethnic cleansing” became part of the language of war-zone reporting. Such things took place in modern Europe during our lifetime, half a century after the continent had last been convulsed in a war in which civilians were the main casualties.

Following our debate on the subject last year, when I mentioned Bosnia, I went, in April, to Srebrenica with a delegation of British youth leaders. I was shocked by what I saw there, including photographs in various exhibitions and the cemetery at Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 obelisks mark Muslim graves. I met some of the survivors, including the mayor of Srebrenica, a man in his 30s who is the only male survivor of his class. I ask my male colleagues to imagine being the only male survivor among the people with whom they went to school. I met Hassan, whose twin brother was killed. Imagine the horror of that. I met a remarkable group of people, the Mothers of Srebrenica, who are keeping alive the memory of what happened to their husbands, fathers, sons and uncles. Women spoke to me of the other side of genocide, which has not been mentioned today. We have spoken about the death that is caused by genocide, but those women told me of the acts that were perpetrated against the survivors, particularly the women, many of whom were raped, humiliated and robbed of their dignity. We must not forget that aspect of genocide.

We will always remember the innocent lives that have been lost, no matter where that happened, whether it was in the killing fields of Cambodia or the churches of Rwanda. An understanding of history is important to ensure that we learn from the past in education, policy

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and how we, as individuals, treat others. The Holocaust Educational Trust, which most hon. Members have mentioned, is now in its 27th year of educating children through “Lessons from Auschwitz”, which is surely the most poignant way to help children understand what happened. We revisit painful memories and shocking scenes not merely for the sake of doing so, but to ensure that history is never repeated.

This year, the theme of Holocaust memorial day will be “Keep the memory alive”. Pledging to keep the memory alive is a way in which we can pay tribute to those who have lost their lives and those who have lived a life beyond those terrible experiences. As we utter those immortal words, other words associated with holocaust remembrance come to the fore. “Never again” is a phrase often uttered in such debates, but night after night our television screens are filled with images that show man’s inhumanity to man. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) mentioned the terrible events that have occurred in Paris during the past month. Just as it was appropriate for people to say, and to hold up signs that read, “Je suis Charlie”, it is appropriate for those of all denominations and none to hold up signs that read, “Je suis Juif”.

We need, more than ever, to ensure that never again means never again. That is why the Holocaust Commission, which was announced by the Prime Minister, will report on its recommendations on Holocaust memorial day a week from now. The importance of the commission cannot be over-emphasised at a time when the link to those who survived the Holocaust is becoming ever weaker. The current generation of young people will be the last to have the opportunity to hear at first hand the testimony of holocaust survivors. That was brought home to me only yesterday when my Department hosted its annual Holocaust memorial day, and our special guest, Auschwitz survivor Susan Pollack, was unable to attend because her husband and fellow survivor Abraham had sadly just died. That is why I ask all who are present to pay tribute to Holocaust survivors who bear testimony in schools and colleges across the country. It is because of people such as Susan that the commission is tasked

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with ensuring that future generations never forget the Holocaust, and that the stories of survivors are not lost when they can no longer bear testimony.

I join many colleagues in paying tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, and in particular its chief executive, Karen Pollock, who has been key in ensuring that Holocaust education has been at the forefront of our efforts to ensure that we reflect on and, we hope, learn the lessons from the past. Holocaust education brings to life the names, the memories and the identities of those who suffered; not only the 6 million Jews and many other minorities who were persecuted between 1933 and 1945, but the more than 1 million Cambodians who were murdered by Pol Pot, the 1 million who died in Rwanda, the hundreds of thousands who died in Darfur and the thousands who were killed in Bosnia.

Holocaust education reminds us that behind the statistics were real people, who lived, loved and laughed, and who might have gone on to be mothers, fathers or even Nobel laureates. That is why we continue to support the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. I thank its chief executive, Olivia Marks-Woldman, and her team for their work to ensure that we all remember. This year, the trust has commissioned the artist Anish Kapoor to design candles that have been placed in 70 locations around the country. My colleague the Secretary of State will take one of those candles to Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of the 70th anniversary commemorations next week. I pay tribute to the Anne Frank Trust and to Sir Andrew Burns for their work on making sure that people remember the lessons from the past.

As has been said, such events repeat themselves, and the UK is experiencing a reported increase in anti-Semitism. We must say clearly that that is completely unacceptable in modern Britain. It is important never to stand aside when we encounter prejudice and hatred of any kind. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said,

“I swore never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.”

Today, reflecting on our democracy, as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) has said, our duty is to remember the past, and never to be silent about prejudice, bigotry and hatred in our own time.

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Drugs (Ultra-rare Diseases)

10.59 am

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise this hugely important issue, which affects a number of children across the country represented here today by a good number of right hon. and hon. Members. Although the debate is scheduled for only half an hour, I will take interventions from Members who wish to raise constituency cases. I am happy to do so because this is an important issue that affects families across the country. At the moment, 88 children in the United Kingdom have Morquio. There are 2,500 people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, but 50 have a nonsense mutation, which falls into the category of an ultra-rare disease. We are talking about 138 people, 111 of whom are currently on treatment trials with the two drugs that are relevant to this debate.

I am delighted that there was a powerful lobby last week on behalf of the group with the nonsense mutation of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Families from across the country gathered in Portcullis House and then presented a 24,000-strong petition calling for Translarna. I was with the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), who chairs the all-party group on muscular dystrophy, and the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who was there with her constituent Archie Hill. We were joined by Liam and Saul, two other boys with the condition. We were all delighted that the hon. Member for Blaydon managed to ask a question at Prime Minister’s Question Time, and the answer gave hope to all those children because the Prime Minister gave a very personal answer comparing his own son to Archie—he had a picture of Archie playing football. The Prime Minister came to speak to us, and he said that he would personally do what he could, which echoes the Minister’s work. I thank the Minister for his personal assistance, which has been extremely helpful. I have met him twice, and I know he is very engaged on this matter, which I appreciate.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I pay tribute to him for his work on this subject, which is second to none. I also thank him for mentioning my constituent Archie Hill and his parents, who have campaigned tirelessly for Translarna for their son. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that NHS England takes on board what the Prime Minister said to us, and to the families whom we represented, at Downing street last week by introducing a plan that enables Translarna to be available to those children who could benefit now, rather than waiting for the bureaucracy that is tying the drug up in knots? It could be available for those children now.

Greg Mulholland: Absolutely. It is a pleasure to be working on this issue with the right hon. Lady and other right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House. This is a personal issue for me, too. My attention was drawn to the issue when Simon and Katy Brown came to see me with their son, Sam, in 2012. Sam was then four, and he is now six. Sam is receiving Vimizim, which is the only drug that clinically works for Morquio. Both drugs have been shown to have a very

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significant impact on the health of these individuals, changing what they are able to do with their lives, which is crucial.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I congratulate him on securing this debate. Is the supply of drugs purely down to finances, or is it totally bureaucracy? What is it? Why is there a hold-up on such an important issue?

Greg Mulholland: That is a good question, and it is the nub of the issue. It is not finances. Finances are clearly an issue, but it is important to get the message out that they are not the cause of the hold-up. There is an element of bureaucracy in the process, which I will address. I know that the Minister is seeking to ensure that we have a proper process, but ultimately we have to make decisions based on the effectiveness of the drugs. In this case, both drugs have been shown to work and are licensed and used by health systems in other countries.

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I congratulate him on securing this debate. On effectiveness, would he agree—I hope the Minister also concurs—that it is about timing, particularly with Translarna? The drug will extend the ability of young boys to maintain their mobility and to keep out of a wheelchair, which is why it is so critical that the bureaucracy is speeded up for individuals such as my constituent Jagger Curtis and his dad, James. They need the drug now, not in six, 12 or 18 months’ time. It comes down to ensuring that the drug is available when it will be effective.

Greg Mulholland: Absolutely. That is very much the case with Morquio, too. Simon and Katy Brown have told me that the drug is having a huge impact now. I met Sam and saw him running around when he visited my surgery. When there is deterioration in such conditions, the clock can never be turned back, which is why we are urging the Minister to address the situation. I am delighted that we had meetings with him. All the organisations involved, the MPS Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, Action Duchenne and Joining Jack, are urging the Minister and NHS England to find a way to ensure that all these children, not only the 111 who are currently on the trials—some of whom are, of course, receiving placebos—but all 138 children with these conditions, are able to access the drugs now. We have asked for a decision on that by the end of January.

We are in this situation because a decision was supposed to have been taken by NHS England on 15 December 2014, but a letter was sent by the MPS Society and a young man with Morquio syndrome, Kamal—I am delighted that his family are visiting Parliament today—and on receipt of that letter NHS England, realising that its process was potentially discriminating against people with ultra-rare conditions, pulled the entire process, leaving all these families in limbo. NHS England has a responsibility to put another proper, robust process in place.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I will be meeting my constituent Angela Paton on Friday afternoon. She was part of the trial, which helped her immensely,

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but she is worried that the drug may now be withdrawn. Would my hon. Friend like me to report to him after that meeting on Friday?

Greg Mulholland: Absolutely. It is critical that we all work together on this issue. Indeed, I would like to hear from the MPs for all these families across the country so that we can have one voice to say to NHS England and the Minister, who has been very helpful, that we need a solution and that we need to hear some news by the end of January.

NHS England is now consulting on a new process, and it has said that it will take 90 days. That may seem a reasonable time to come up with a process, but considering that the old process was flawed, there needs to be something to fill the gap that enables all these children to access the drugs now. At the moment, the drugs in this case are being supplied through the good will of the drug companies: BioMarin in the case of Vimizim and PTC in the case of Translarna. Both companies are engaged in the process, both have a part to play and both are involved in dialogue with the Minister and NHS England.

I will briefly explain the two conditions so that people understand. Morquio is caused by the lack of an enzyme needed to break down certain chains of sugar molecules used in building bones, cartilage, tendons and other bodily tissues. Those unbroken molecules are stored in parts of cells called lysosomes, which become swollen, disrupt cell functions and cause progressive damage. Babies with the syndrome grow normally, but growth slows significantly after 18 months. Those severely affected stop growing at about age eight, and their final height may be three or four feet, which has many effects on their quality of life. There is no cure for Morquio, but the enzyme replacement therapy Vimizim, for which clinical trials are ongoing at the moment, has been shown to be effective. As we have said, any delay with the drug will cause damage that cannot then be reversed.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Before I came in, I was speaking to my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), who would have liked to be here but who has a meeting and sends his apologies. When reading the testimonies from the MPS Society UK, I was struck by how significant a difference the drug makes to children’s energy levels. Obviously, clinical trials and other formal assessments are important, but the personal testimonies from the families about the changes that they have seen in the children and how much energy the drug gives them are far more compelling than any scientific assessment could be. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that listening to the families is important?

Greg Mulholland: It is crucial, but that also tallies with the medical evidence. It has been shown that that particular treatment stabilises symptoms, slows deterioration and has a hugely positive impact on quality of life. Children can do more and lead more normal lives; they have more energy and stamina. People with Morquio can live full lives and go on to education and employment, but childhood is their only opportunity to take a drug to slow the effects of the disease.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy, also caused by a mutation, affects young boys specifically. It also has no cure and gets worse over time. It begins by affecting a

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particular group of muscles and then muscles more widely, leading to difficulty walking, running, jumping, standing up and climbing stairs. Children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy may end up in a wheelchair fairly young, and are certainly predicted to become wheelchair-bound between the ages of eight and 14 as their muscles weaken and they lose their ability to walk.

Mrs Gillan: The thing that came home to me was that those children need to access such drugs quickly, while they are still walking. Is that not why the time scale is so urgent? As soon as the child is no longer ambulatory, the drug will not have an effect. That is why we must have a speeded-up timetable and access to personal budgets for such drugs.

Greg Mulholland: The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. Without such drugs, boys with Duchenne and children with Morquio are deteriorating now while waiting. They were expecting a decision on 15 December about whether they would be able to access those two drugs.

Translarna changes the natural course of the mutation in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, slows the decline in physical functioning and can therefore also play an important role in reducing the burden that the condition places not only on the boys who have it but on their families. They can do more, lead normal lives and see their boys do normal things with their siblings.

The number of people affected by the nonsense mutation in Duchenne is very small: there are only 50, 34 of whom are currently in the Translarna trial. The number expected to be eligible for Translarna is about 80 to 90 people, so we are not talking about huge numbers. Some of those people, incidentally, are not yet diagnosed; it is believed that that is the largest potential figure. Vimizim is already licensed in various countries: more than 20 European countries have access to it outside clinical trials, including France, Germany, Italy, Denmark and the Czech Republic. Translarna has been given conditional approval by the European Medicines Agency to treat boys with the nonsense mutation. Data gathered from clinical trials of Translarna indicates that the drug, as well as being effective, is safe. Results of the phase 2B trial were encouraging. Boys who received a low dose of Translarna could walk an average of 31 metres farther than boys receiving the placebo. Translarna is already available in Italy, Germany, Spain and France.

The clear message from all the families and organisations representing people with both those conditions is that we cannot wait for the drugs. NHS England has a responsibility, but so does the Department of Health, because the abolition of the previous highly specialised commissioning service led to an unfit-for-purpose process that had to be scrapped in the face of the pre-action. There is a moral and potentially a legal responsibility to find a way to make that decision. We are now already more than a month past the day when those families were expecting a decision that could literally be life-changing for them.

We understand, of course, that NHS England must put in place a proper process, but I urge the Minister to carry on doing what he is doing and the Prime Minister, who has taken a personal interest in the issue, to find a way to allow all those children to access these two drugs, which have been shown to be effective and to

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have a hugely transformative effect on their lives and those of their families. I will carry on working with the Minister and the two drug companies, but I urge him to listen to this message. We cannot wait 90 days. We need an interim solution, and I hope that we can have that by the end of January, soon as that is. I will carry on working with him and colleagues throughout the House until we get that news.

11.16 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (George Freeman): I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) on his tireless work on this issue, and colleagues across the House, including the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and others here today.

I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North West for his kind words about the work that I have been trying to do for him, and about the Prime Minister’s signal of support. The issues are incredibly complex and do not lend themselves to an easy waving of a ministerial wand, but we are committed to finding a solution.

The hon. Gentleman has been tireless in his support of one of his constituents, six-year-old Sam Brown from Otley, who has the very rare Morquio syndrome. A new treatment is now available called Vimizim, from which Sam has already benefited as part of a clinical trial. I wish to state my support for Sam and his family, and for all those who suffer from the disease, including those in the trial who have access to the drug when others currently do not. I also pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s support for the family of another young boy, Archie, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a very rare form of muscular dystrophy that affects only boys. Archie’s family want him to be treated with a new medicine, Translarna.

I will say a little about the background to the diseases and what we are trying to do about them. Both conditions are very rare—there are about 80 children living with Morquio syndrome in England, and about 140 boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy—so we are talking about a very small number of children with those life-limiting conditions. However, rare diseases are not rare: there are between 5,000 and 10,000 known types of rare disease, and an estimated one in 17 people will be affected by a rare disease in their lifetime, amounting to some 3 million suffers in the UK alone.

The truth is that the more we know about the human genome and the behaviour of genes in disease development, the more we understand its complexity. In cancer particularly, we know that the tumour itself mutates at different stages of the disease. The more we know about genetics, the more we discover that diseases that we thought yesterday were one disease in fact break down into different bundles of rare disease. New knowledge, technology and advances in biomedicine are a wonderful thing, but that does not detract from the fact that the NHS operates with finite resources and that difficult funding decisions must be made daily.

I was delighted to meet Sam’s mother and Archie’s family early in December, along with the hon. Gentleman and representatives of the Society for Mucopolysaccharide

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Diseases, to whose work I pay tribute, and of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we had a number of meetings over the Christmas period. I was delighted to meet patient groups and the manufacturers of Vimizim and ataluren just before Christmas. In that meeting, I asked the patient groups and companies to set out their proposals, which they have now done. I am grateful to them, and I have passed on that information to NHS England.

This morning, I met NHS England’s clinical director of specialised services, James Palmer, and its director of specialised commissioning, Richard Jeavons, and I will convene a further meeting shortly to pursue the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised this morning. Since he first made me aware of this issue, I have been absolutely determined to bring as much ministerial focus to it as I can. I am also grateful for his acknowledgement of the Prime Minister’s support. The Prime Minister and I are both determined to ensure, without compromising due process, that the case for these children and their families is properly heard, and that the system works as it is supposed to.

I am acutely aware of the urgency behind the hon. Gentleman’s comments today and that is why I have taken the unusual step of trying to broker an agreement on what we might do to help children affected by these diseases, but I must stress that it is for NHS England, which in the end is the responsible commissioner, to make any decisions about making funding available so that the treatments are available on the NHS. It will act on the best clinical advice from the UK’s specialist body, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

I will say a little more about the options for accelerating that process in a moment, but first I will talk about our approach to improving access to treatments for rare diseases generally, because I know that this debate is being watched closely by others who have an interest in a number of other drugs and conditions, in the commissioning process, and in NHS England’s prioritisation and decision-making framework. In setting the scene, I remind right hon. and hon. Members of the pressures that the NHS faces, particularly on budgets for rare diseases. The emergence of new treatments, the increasing personalisation of medicines, the end of the one-size-fits-all model and the possibilities offered by the rapid advances that we are making in genomic medicine and diagnosis are all putting immense pressure on NHS England’s resources for the commissioning of services for rare conditions.

Ideally, of course, we would want to fund all the treatments that are shown to benefit patients in any way, but we have to make difficult decisions about how we spend the money that we have available. That is why we have put clinicians in charge of the process, so that they can make decisions based on patient benefit and on the best health economic assessments that we can make. The painful truth is that with finite resources, when we make a decision in one case to accept a drug, we will make a decision elsewhere to reject, and we have a duty to all to ensure that we make those decisions fairly.

For people with rare conditions, their families, carers and clinicians, having access to the latest and most effective treatments is obviously critical, and I am absolutely committed to ensuring that patients with rare diseases have access to the latest and most effective treatments

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that represent value to the NHS and the taxpayer, as well as delivering benefits to patients. That is why we recently introduced the early access to medicines scheme, which aims to give patients with life-threatening or seriously debilitating conditions access to medicines that do not yet have a marketing authorisation or licence where there is clear unmet medical need. I am delighted that initial products have been brought forward in the last six months under that scheme.

More generally, our strategy for life sciences sets out an ambitious longer-term plan to improve the wider environment for health and life sciences companies in this country. Recently, I launched a major review of the landscape in the UK for bringing innovative medicines and medical technologies to patients much more quickly, and I will soon announce the chair, the terms of reference, the scope and the timetable of that review.

We are not in any way complacent. The truth is that the challenges in this sector, which are being driven by the pace of technological change, demand that in our policy-making framework, in the Department of Health and in NHS England, we adapt the way in which we handle these processes. Because of their rarity and the low patient populations, services for rare conditions are directly commissioned nationally by NHS England as specialised services. They account for approximately 14% of the total NHS budget and represent spending of about £14 billion a year. Both Morquio syndrome and Duchenne muscular dystrophy fall within these national specialist commissioning arrangements.

As right hon. and hon. Members are aware, NHS England is considering draft clinical commissioning policies for both Vimizim and ataluren. I understand that they are being considered as part of NHS England’s wider prioritisation process for funding in 2015-16. NHS England’s clinical priorities advisory group formulates recommendations on the commissioning of new treatments for rare diseases in England. It is made up of clinicians, patient representatives and commissioners of health services.

In summer 2014, a decision-making aid for the prioritisation of new interventions and treatments was developed by a partnership of stakeholders, including more than 250 patient representatives. It was due to be used for the first time in early December 2014, but on 28 November 2014 NHS England decided to postpone its introduction, in response to concerns that some patients affected by rare diseases might be disadvantaged by its application. The legal process about that must now run its course. I understand that NHS England is, rightly, reviewing the appropriate approach to prioritising new treatments and interventions within specialised commissioning in response to those concerns. A 90-day consultation on the prioritisation framework and decision-making process for commissioning decisions on new treatments will be launched by NHS England shortly. This morning, I again raised the importance and urgency of that consultation process.

I know that patients and their families are understandably concerned that it may take a long time for a decision to be made by NHS England on whether it will fund the drugs, and that in the interim the children affected will not receive them. However, I am delighted to say that NHS England has assured me that the consultation will have no impact on the decision-making timetable for commissioning NHS services from April 2015 onwards. In addition, it has assured me that existing treatments

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will continue to be commissioned, ensuring that support for patients is maintained. NHS England understands that the manufacturer, Bio Marin, is providing Vimizim under an expanded access arrangement to those patients who are on the clinical trial until an NHS England policy decision has been made.

Since April 2013, NICE, which is responsible for the evaluation of selected high-cost low-volume drugs under its highly specialised technologies programme, has been playing an important role in ensuring that commissioning decisions are based on a robust and thorough assessment of the available evidence. NICE has recently been asked to evaluate Vimazim under this programme, and it is also considering whether to develop guidance on Translarna. That is a very positive step, and I look forward to receiving NICE’s proposals on future topics that will be considered. I know that NICE will also be keen to learn lessons from its recent experiences with the new highly specialised technologies process, to make that process as efficient and effective as possible.

For my part, I am absolutely determined to continue playing the active role that I have taken on in the last few months, to drive this process and give it the focus that it requires. I am delighted to have confirmed with NHS England that it will continue to meet the treatment costs. I have signalled, and will continue to signal, to NICE, without compromising its processes, the strength of the case that has been made by Members and patient groups to put Translarna on the list, and to consider whether it can expedite its process in any way, but I do not want to compromise that process in any way. I will also ask NICE to ensure that it uses its review of the experience of the HST programme to explore how we can speed up both this process and others in due course.

Finally, I am committed to continuing to work with the companies to see whether I might be able to help broker some kind of planning arrangement that might encourage NICE to make the decision that I know everyone in Westminster Hall today would like to hear.

Mrs Gillan: I am grateful to the Minister and I congratulate him on taking up the cudgels on this issue and trying to move it forward. The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign has asked whether the individual funding requests from patients would be a route to secure access to Translarna while the Minister is waiting for due process to take its course, because I am afraid that muscular dystrophy waits for no man and no process.

George Freeman: I understand; my right hon. Friend makes an important point. In fact, I raised it this morning in my meeting with NHS England. My understanding is that NHS England will continue to consider individual applications for Translarna through its individual funding request process from patients who may be exceptional. However, my understanding is that such cases really do have to be exceptional. In reality, the members of the whole group that we are considering are more or less suffering from the same condition and therefore they may not qualify under those criteria. I merely share that with my right hon. Friend because I myself raised that point this morning with NHS England.

Greg Mulholland: I stress to my hon. Friend the Minister that we are discussing two conditions and two drugs, Translarna and Vimazim. I also have to say to

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him again that we understand that NHS England has to put a process in place; of course it does, because the process it had put in place was not fit for purpose. Does he accept that NHS England has a legal, as well as a moral, responsibility in this regard? It certainly has a moral responsibility. Having said that the decision will be made on 15 December, NHS England cannot now hide behind saying, “There needs to be a new process,” when this situation is its fault in the first place. We are now a month on from that initial deadline, and there needs to be an interim solution to somehow allow these 138 children to access the two drugs in the meantime, and before that process is complete.

George Freeman: I certainly accept the moral case; I think that everyone would accept that there is a moral duty to get this matter right and to try to make these decisions on the right basis and on the basis of the right evidence. The legal position, given the legal challenge, is more complicated, and it has triggered a formal process of reappraisal. As I have said, I will meet NHS England officials to urge them to try to expedite that process as best they can. However, I must stress that I do not want to get into a situation where we compromise due process and inadvertently undermine a case. What I want to see is a NICE decision being made as quickly as possible, and I will urge NICE to expedite that process in every way it can, so that we get the right decision that we all want.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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North Sea Oil and Gas (Employment)

[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mr Frank Doran (Aberdeen North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to operate under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. We are here to discuss United Kingdom oil and gas, which is in severe difficulties, partly because of a substantial drop in the world oil price. In these debates, it is always important to get the facts right. One key thing about the industry is just how important a part it plays in the UK economy. According to Oil & Gas UK, the industry body, the industry supplies 73% of the UK’s primary energy: oil for transport and gas for heating. The UK balance of payments benefited from oil and gas to the tune of £30 billion last year. The oil and gas supply chain achieved sales of £20 billion outside the UK. The total expenditure in services and infrastructure investment from oil and gas companies in 2013 was £20 billion. Since 1970, the industry has invested £500 billion.

In recent years, the expenditure has been particularly high. In 2014, the industry invested around £14 billion of capital investment in UK oil infrastructure, following on from investment of £11.4 billion in 2012 and £13.5 billion in 2013. Across the industry there is a total committed expenditure—that is, projected future expenditure—on projects in production or under development totalling £44 billion. Figures like these have not been seen since the 1980s. They are massive figures: there is no question about that.

The industry claims to support 450,000 jobs in the UK. These break down as follows: 36,000 employed directly by offshore operators; 200,000 in the supply chain, providing goods and services to the industry; 112,000 jobs in services such as hospitality, taxis, and so on; and 100,000 jobs in the export of goods and services. It is difficult to visit any foreign oil base or complex without hearing a Scottish or English accent. We are operating throughout the world.

Many of these jobs are now under threat because of the collapse of the oil price. Major companies—Shell, Chevron and, last week, BP—have announced redundancies. Some of these have been expected for some time and were part of company restructuring as well as the downturn in the oil price. More announcements are inevitable.

I can find no reliable figures showing the numbers so far made unemployed, but I know from union sources, for example, that roughly 600 people have been made redundant in companies where there are recognition agreements. However, most cuts are likely to be made to the self-employed, who comprise a large number of offshore and onshore employees; they are the easiest and cheapest to remove. At the moment it is estimated that there will be around 2,000 job losses in total. I think that is a fairly realistic projection.

How things will proceed from here on is difficult to judge at the moment. Many jobs lost so far have been lost onshore and it may take time before large numbers of offshore jobs are put at risk. Everyone will be mindful of the need to retain skills for when the upturn arrives, whenever that might be.

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In the history of the North sea oil and gas industry there have been at least three serious downturns. The worst and most damaging was the downturn in the mid-1980s, when 20,000 jobs were lost in Scotland, most of them in Aberdeen and the north-east. Some 50,000 jobs were lost in the whole country. The fact that the job losses were higher in the rest of the UK than in Scotland reflects the fact that, although the industry is centred in Aberdeen, the supply chain and the work force is spread throughout the UK.

There is a risk that this year’s downturn could be as serious as the one in the 1980s, but I think it is possible to take steps to mitigate that. In the first place, the industry has changed substantially from the industry we had in the 1980s. For example, it is much more widely spread with fewer of the majors involved. I believe that with the right sort of focused support from Government and the industry, this very difficult time will not develop into the tragedy that we saw in the 1980s. Of course, there is very little we can do about the global price of oil, but we can look at the other issues that have faced the industry for some time now and consider how we can soften the blow and minimise damage.

Exploitable oil and gas are proving harder to find, and discoveries that are made are often in places that are difficult and expensive to exploit, particularly if there are issues around access to infrastructure. Some of these problems will be addressed when the recommendations of the Wood report are fully implemented, but that is likely to be some time away, although there are moves to accelerate the process.

Then there is the skills shortage. Until relatively recently, few companies offered apprenticeships in technical skills. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the industry attracted engineers, welders, boilermakers and others from the collapsing smokestack industries: mining and shipbuilding, and so on. That supply has been exhausted and the work force are ageing. Trainee and apprenticeship programmes have been introduced in recent years, but those take time to make an impact. In the meantime, labour costs have risen enormously and companies have poached skilled staff from each other, driving wages to high levels. With my trade union background, I am the last person to complain about that, but it has a serious impact on costs offshore.

Oil & Gas UK says that contracting prices have doubled since 2010. One executive from a major company told me recently that the cost of scaffolding alone—there are 6,500 workers working on scaffolding in the North sea—has tripled in the last two years. It is obvious that a slice of the money that previously would have been spent on research and development, exploration and appraisal, which are all things to take the industry forward into the future, has been diverted into meeting these wage costs.

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this timely debate. He is making some important points. Does he agree that if we—the industry and the Government—get this right, and indeed make the industry more efficient, as and when the recovery happens we will be much more competitive than we have been? The point he is making is that we have been in danger of pricing ourselves out of the business.

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Mr Doran: That is the sole point that I planned to make in this speech. [Interruption.] No, the right hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue. It is important that Government and industry work together to try to tackle the problems that we have all identified.

In addition to labour costs, there are real issues about the way in which equipment is purchased by companies operating in the North sea. In Norway, for example, there is standardisation of equipment. The state is a more engaged regulator and Statoil, the state-owned company, has by far the largest stake in the industry, with a share of around 60% of production. Its purchasing powers are enormous and most companies will buy the standardised equipment developed or ordered by Statoil at much cheaper prices than bespoke equipment. Our largest operator in the UK has only 10% of production. There is no company that can lead standardisation in the way that Statoil can in Norway, so everyone purchases to their own requirements.

One example I heard about recently was the purchase of light switches. That may be an odd place to start, but it is relevant. In Norway, the norm is standardised plain light switches. In the UK, company insignia or another unique requirement is demanded by many operators, usually at double or more of the cost. Scale that up through the requirements of offshore operators, from light switches to drilling rigs, and you have very expensive processes that I think are holding the industry back. Of course, this has an impact on Government, too. Every bespoke item has a higher cost than a standardised one, which reduces profits, which reduces taxes paid.

The sooner the Wood review recommendations are fully implemented, the better. I do not think that that will affect the price of light switches, but I hope it sends a clear message. I know that the industry is developing a strategy at the moment, but it will take time to put that in place. Cutting costs that are incurred at present is a must if any progress is to be made.

Probably the major issue for the industry is the tax system. Every Government since oil was first discovered in the North sea have treated the industry as a cash cow. Tax increases, occasionally unannounced, are the norm. The tax system is complex and expensive. The Government are anxious to protect their income from the industry, but that will become more and more difficult if current problems persist. Profits have to be made for taxes to be paid. I understand that in the last financial year the overall performance of the industry was negative—this year might be even worse.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing today’s debate, which is on an issue of deep concern to all of us from the north-east of Scotland, where so many jobs are dependent on the oil and gas sector. I want to add to his point about taxation. Does he agree that we need those tax changes now? I have no doubt that we will see more announcements of job losses in the coming weeks. We need changes to the fiscal regime now, not a couple of months down the line.

Mr Doran: I think there is a case for what the hon. Lady says, but I disagree with her. We will have a Budget in two months’ time, and announcements will be made then. In the meantime, we know that the Treasury is working on the position. As she will see

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from the rest of my contribution, I am more concerned about how the tax cuts are made, rather than that tax cuts are made. I want focused and targeted tax cuts, not just a chop off the supplementary charge that was introduced in 2011.

It is important to look at the responses that should be made to the current situation. In the 1980s, there was virtually no Government response. There may have been one behind the scenes, but it was not visible to those of us who were involved at that time and were concerned about what was happening in the industry. We have the opportunity to mitigate substantially the impact of the collapse in the oil price. Members would expect me to say this, but I was pleased when Councillor Jenny Laing, the leader of Aberdeen city council, announced in December her plan to host a summit in Aberdeen to consider the challenges facing the industry. That summit will be held on 2 February. It is supported by Oil & Gas UK and will be attended by the UK and Scottish Governments, as well as by industry experts. That announcement caused the various other bodies with an interest to consider their reaction. Since then, Government Ministers and MPs have been queuing up to visit Aberdeen. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran) has made her trip there. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change was there last week. The issue is being taken much more seriously than it was in the 1980s.

To go back to the question from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), tax reliefs are back on the table. The Chancellor has made it clear that they are being considered, which suits the oil industry, because it has been asking for them. Since the collapse in the oil price, industry representatives and others have insisted that there needs to be a tax cut. Oil companies are still angry about the increase in the supplementary charge made in the 2011 Budget, and they would like to see it removed completely. The Chancellor has met them a small part of the way by introducing tax reliefs for brownfield sites and for high-temperature and high-pressure fields, and after his much hailed tax review last year the mouse of a 2% reduction in supplementary charge was announced.

Regardless of the 2011 increases, both field reliefs are important and have resulted in extra activity from the industry, even in these difficult times. The lesson from that is that it is in the interest of the industry and the taxpayer that any tax reliefs that are given should be focused and not random. There are many areas where more targeted and focused tax reliefs would create a win-win situation for all sides. For example, an investment allowance would encourage more activity and create more income and thus more tax revenues. Investment in research and development has slowed significantly in the industry, yet that is crucial in the search to find and produce oil and gas, whether by enhanced recovery techniques, better infrastructure to improve recovery or whatever other area that could improve the industry. The Government should also consider targeted reliefs to protect jobs and skills. Health and safety is a major issue for me. For many years, I have been heavily involved in that issue offshore. It must remain a priority. The Government should consider a specific targeted

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relief to support the continuing maintenance of infrastructure and the improvement of health and safety systems and equipment.

The consequences of the 1980s downturn were not only job losses. All projects that were in progress were stopped. The platforms that were producing oil and gas carried on producing, but many costs were cut to the bone. In particular, areas vital to safety, such as fire safety equipment, deluge systems and others, received little or no maintenance. The consequences of that approach were not immediately apparent, but on the night of 6 July 1988 they were there for the whole world to see. The Piper Alpha platform exploded with 167 deaths. It is still the most serious loss of life from any incident anywhere in the offshore oil and gas industry. If there is slippage in maintenance through the downturn, the dangers for offshore workers will increase significantly.

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. On safety, is he as alarmed as I was to hear from a constituent who runs a business in my area and who came to my surgery on Friday—he offers safety courses to oil firms operating in the North sea—that he has seen a significant reduction in the number of people that firms are placing on those courses and on refresher courses for safety?

Mr Doran: I think my hon. Friend is talking about the sort of work on offshore that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. Those who are self-employed—probably with their own companies where they are often the sole employee—are the first to be removed. I am concerned to hear that people operating in safety are part of that process, and we should all be concerned by that.

For offshore oil workers, working on offshore platforms is dangerous, but the dangers do not stop on the platform. The only realistic form of transport offshore, because of the distances involved, the difficulty of access to platforms and the hostile weather conditions, is by helicopter. In the UK sector of the North sea, there have been 13 helicopter-related incidents, in which 118 people have died. The most recent one, just 17 months ago, saw four deaths. For most of the history of the North sea oil and gas industry, helicopter transport companies have been treated in exactly the same way as other contractors and subjected to often severe cuts in contract costs. That might suit the oil industry accountants, but it makes no sense to companies that have to keep helicopters flying safely. I hope that the oil industry is taking a much more cautious and sensible approach this time round, and that the Government and the regulators will strictly monitor how health and safety standards are maintained on both sides of the industry.

There are difficult times ahead, but they need not be as damaging as the downturn in the 1980s. The industry has allowed costs to spiral out of control and needs to address the problems it has created. Everyone—the industry and the UK and Scottish Governments—should be focused on maintaining employment, jobs and skills. The economic climate will change, and it is important that the oil and gas industry is capable of getting into gear as quickly and safely as possible when that happens. A key player will be the Chancellor, and I urge him to consider seriously further tax reliefs, which, in the interests of the taxpayer and the industry, should be focused on

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maintaining employment, training in skills, research and development and investment that will ensure the future success of the industry.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Colleagues, the winding-up speeches will begin at 3.40 pm. Six colleagues are seeking to catch my eye, and we have 50 minutes. By my calculations, about eight and a half minutes each should do the trick.

2.49 pm

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take part in this debate, Mr Streeter.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) on bringing this timely and important debate to the House. He has set out how important the industry is to the north-east of Scotland and the whole of the UK. I declare an interest recorded in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests to do with the oil and gas industry—a shareholding in Shell—but I am participating in the debate because mine is one of those north-east constituencies and many of my constituents are affected by what is happening out in the North sea, and because of how important the industry is to the country.

It is not only the specialist jobs that are at risk; in fact, some of those jobs might well not be so much at risk in the long run, because of the skills shortage and the need for people globally to sustain oil and gas production. I worry about the cascade effect on jobs: as companies reduce their use of catering facilities, for example, those who work in catering will lose their jobs locally, and they will not be able to go to Angola or Azerbaijan to find other employment. I have written to the Department for Work and Pensions to find out what it is doing to gear up its facilities and resources to tackle that challenge in the local economy. Perhaps the Minister will chase up the Department for a reply.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North mentioned 1986, and some people have said, “We’ve been through this before. We’ve had downturns. We had one in 1986 and we bounced back.” He was right to say that there was a difference going into this downturn, but even without the cut in oil price, a restructuring was needed in the industry and there were concerns about the cost base and the profitability of the North sea, as it was becoming more challenging. In 1986 the platforms were younger; the neglect of maintenance showed through only later on in their life. Also, in 1986 the finds and the reserves were bigger, so the temptation was to hang on, see through the trough and still be there when the upturn came.

Now we have much smaller finds, but we still need the larger hubs to be sustained and maintained throughout the downturn. It is not only a matter of price; there is still a future. BP is coming forward with investments that will last for 40 years, and that is before they get an extension of life—almost every field seems to last longer than originally planned. It is the scale of the future that we need to be worried about, as well as the size of the tail and how it is to be sustained.

As the hon. Gentleman said, it is very important to deal with tax incentives and the implementation of the Wood review. That review should result in swifter and more independent regulation, and bring the industry

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together to co-operate in maximising production from the North sea. The crucial message to the Treasury is that it does not have the skills to produce oil and gas from the North sea; with the Treasury acting alone, there would be no oil and gas production. It needs to incentivise skills so that tax can be taken off the profits that come out of the North sea, and we need a cross-party consensus.

The hon. Gentleman highlighted some of investment incentives needed. We need to build on the work that the Treasury has already done. The 2% cut was small, but it was symbolic of the fact that the Treasury is beginning to understand how important the long-term signals are to the industry. The wider investment allowance will be helpful and investment in more seismic will encourage greater exploration, but the current negotiations to see what else can be done to encourage exploration are extremely important. We still need to look at the message that a cut across the board in the supplemental tax would send to investors. If they can see that more of the profit will be retained by them after an investment, they will see that this country wants to see us through this trough and come out the other side.

An important message to the Treasury is that a smaller percentage of a real cake is better than a bigger percentage of no cake. It is crucial to optimise those signals to the industry, not just for the benefit of getting more of our energy out of the ground rather than importing it, or for the jobs in the north-east of Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom, but to sustain that jewel in the crown of the industry: the export potential of the skills that we have developed in the North sea, particularly in subsea engineering, where we are world leaders. By keeping the North sea as vibrant and as active as possible, we maintain the anchor that keeps those industries here in the United Kingdom, exporting and earning us considerable amounts of revenue and keeping many people in employment.

We have a Budget coming up that can be used, following the negotiations, to produce the best signal and incentive to see us through this trough and through to a brighter future, when we can maximise the jobs, the energy production and the tax take for future generations.

2.55 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) on securing this debate. It is perhaps a sign of the times that we have decent turnouts in debates only when a disaster or something bad has happened. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he is doing in his constituency, along with his fellow Members of Parliament in the area, and I thank the shadow Chancellor, who, along with the new leader of the Scottish Labour party, is in Aberdeen today to help to fight for jobs. I do not want to make a political point about it, but it would be a lot better if the Secretary of State for Scotland and the First Minister and various others were with them, putting up a political united front to help the industry and jobs.

According to Oil & Gas UK, about 450,000 jobs are associated with the oil and gas industry. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) asked about jobs and the number of people who have been hit

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in the north-east, but only 202,000 of the jobs are actually in Scotland; the rest are outside Scotland. With 130,000 jobs in the Aberdeen area and all these other jobs, the whole country is suffering. It is not just one small area.

Dr Whiteford: I fully accept that many jobs throughout the UK depend on the oil and gas sector. The difference in the north-east of Scotland is the concentration of jobs. It is not just the direct oil jobs that depend on the oil and gas sector; it is not even just the jobs in the wider supply chain. It is the small shops, our retailers, our service providers, our construction companies—our whole economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas, so the ramifications of this go far further than simply just jobs in the oil and gas sector.

John Robertson: The hon. Lady is absolutely right, but a small company in my constituency that makes goods that are used up in Aberdeen also uses local shops and local people. If the jobs of 450,000 people in the United Kingdom are in danger, we can multiply that by goodness knows how many, but it would probably be millions of people who could be affected.

We know from previous times in the North sea that there will be losses. It has happened before and, sad to say, it will probably happen again, but the fact of the matter is that the North sea is in a particularly unusual position now. It is not what it was back in the ’80s, when we were getting oil and gas into the country. We are still getting oil and gas, but we are getting it from other places. We are not self-sufficient any more in these commodities; we now rely on other areas, so we have to fight to keep these jobs.

At a time when America has been diversifying into shale and is now the biggest seller of oil in the world, rather than the middle east, we have to look at where we are going in the future, but as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North said, we also have to look at skill shortages and how to increase our knowledge of how to work in these areas. Some of the experts I have talked to tell me that this depression in oil and gas will go on for at least two years. If it lasts that long, that might be fair enough and we could recover, but I have a horrible feeling it may last a lot longer than that. The price of oil is now down to less than $50 a barrel and the middle east countries are talking about continuing to supply oil and gas at the same rate, to ensure that the price remains low. That will have a knock-on effect for the North sea.

As my hon. Friend—we are on the same Select Committee—the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine said, oil and gas jobs have a knock-on effect for everyone. The rigs and everything else out in the North sea grow old and rust; they have to be maintained, but there will be no point in maintaining them if they do not get used. We have to find something like £40 billion over the next 30 or 40 years to clean up the North sea. That is not so bad if it is still in operation, but if the North sea is not in operation, we have to find that money from somewhere else.

My point is that we are talking about only the North sea at the moment. Some jobs in various companies have been lost already, but if we, the politicians of this

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nation, do not get our act together and do not work together to preserve jobs, not only will Aberdeen and the areas where the other 200,000-odd people are working suffer, but the whole nation will suffer. All the parties should get together and we should all fight for those jobs.

3.1 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) for securing the debate. As has already been remarked, his timing is appropriate. Although the fall in crude oil prices is good for the UK generally, it has serious implications for this important industry, which provides highly skilled jobs and forms an important part of the UK economy. Much of the sector is concentrated in Scotland around Aberdeen, but the industry is important in East Anglia as well, employing approximately 105,000 people directly and in the wider supply chain.

The immediate problem was caused by the dramatic slump in the price of crude oil, but that served to highlight the challenges facing the North sea oil and gas sector, which Sir Ian Wood considered in his excellent report. They include the growing difficulty and escalating associated costs of finding and extracting oil and gas from what is now a mature basin. In a sector that is globally footloose, most investors have no particular allegiance to the UK—they will do business wherever in the world conditions are most favourable. Our fiscal and regulatory framework is now not fit for purpose and does not encourage them to come here. It is in need of a major overhaul.

We have a regulatory regime that Sir Ian Wood noted was appropriate for the industry in the early days, but it is no longer suitable for a basin that now has more than 300 fields, much smaller new discoveries, many marginal fields and much greater interdependence in exploration, development and production. That model needs to be updated for the 21st century. In addition, a complex, unfriendly and outdated tax structure makes today’s smaller fields a riskier bet.

From my perspective, I am interested in the specific problems of the southern North sea. A significant number of potentially attractive gas prospects could generate much economic activity, create jobs and improve the country’s energy security, but their exploration is not viable, due not only to rising costs and the falling wholesale price of oil but to the relatively low price of gas in relation to oil. That is having a negative knock-on effect on East Anglian businesses, resulting in investment in new facilities and assets being deferred or postponed; a reduction in business investment in advance of the anticipated growth in the offshore wind sector; and a reduction in the ability to attract investment into an area in which many of the larger businesses are owned by overseas companies.

It is necessary to reflect for a moment on the vital importance of the industry to the UK economy. Sir Ian Wood himself drew attention to the industry’s substantial contribution to energy security, the economy and employment. In 2012, production on the UK continental shelf met 67% of the UK’s demand and 53% of the gas demand, and the sector directly supported the employment of 450,000 people throughout the UK. Moreover, in 2012-13, the industry paid £6.5 billion in corporate

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taxes on production. Despite the challenges and the downturn in production in recent years, Sir Ian points to significant momentum from current production and major investments in capital expenditure over the past two or three years enabling the industry to continue to play the key role that it has been playing over the past 50 years. In that time, many skills and considerable expertise have been developed in the industry and its supply chain, resulting in thousands of well paid jobs and the generation of significant export earnings.

Another advantage is that those skills are largely complementary to the ones needed in the emerging offshore renewables sector. If the potential jobs in that industry, whether in the construction of wind turbines or their subsequent operation and maintenance, are to be fully realised for the benefit of the UK and not exported to foreign yards and ports, it is vital that we retain the skills and develop them further. As a country, we have built up considerable expertise and experience that we must now build upon and not lose or squander.

The Government’s announcements in the autumn statement show that they recognise the importance of the industry and its challenges. The industry must reduce costs and improve efficiency so as to ensure its long-term sustainability, but the further reductions in crude oil prices since the autumn statement in early December mean that more action by Government is now required. There is a pressing need to change the tax regime and to address the industry’s regulatory shortcomings, and the recommendations of the Wood review must be implemented as quickly as possible.

Looking at the industry in East Anglia, an early priority action for the new regulator should be the development of a regional plan for the southern North sea. As Sir Ian Wood himself pointed out, the southern North sea is the most mature region on the UKCS, with first production from the West Sole field in 1967. It is a gas-producing region, now vulnerable to rapid decline, but still with great potential, which has been illustrated by the recent Cygnus development and the Tolmount discovery. Wood commented that the southern North sea is especially vulnerable to premature contraction and decommissioning. He emphasises the pressing need to prepare a regional plan to address all the challenges that the area faces.

In conclusion, the North sea has produced significant benefits for the UK economy over the past 50 years—we must all wonder where on earth we would be without it. With the right stewardship, it can continue to play a similar role for the next two decades and, in doing so, increase GDP, sustain jobs and facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy. Time is very much of the essence. There is now a need for immediate action.

3.8 pm

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) on securing this timely debate.

Despite current difficulties, the North sea oil and gas industry remains vital for Scotland—north-east Scotland, in particular. The industry makes a huge contribution not only to the Scottish economy, but to the economy of the whole UK: since its inception, it has contributed more than £300 billion in taxation to the Treasury.

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We have built a world-class industrial cluster in the North sea, and we now export the skills and services required to support it around the world.

In my constituency, for example, many people work in the oil and gas industry, increasingly not only in the North sea, but in various parts of central Asia, Africa and the far east. Many companies in Angus are also part of the supply chain for the North sea industry. The low level of oil and gas prices and the difficulties that that is causing are obviously of great concern. Clearly, we have experienced such falls in prices before; the previous time it happened was as recently as 2009, when the price plunged from $144 to $40 a barrel. Nevertheless, the current low price is of concern, and action must be taken to ensure that the industry is assisted through such a turbulent period.

Despite the rather dramatic headlines in some newspapers and other media reports, the North sea oil and gas sector continues to have a bright future. Indeed, when I spoke to BP about the job losses that it announced last week, it emphasised that it remained committed to the North sea, with the Kinnoull field coming on stream and the Clair field due to continue operations well into the 2050s. We should not, therefore, get too downhearted about what is going on. Immediate action is needed, however, to ensure that employment and exploration continue.

Sir Robert Smith: We need to realise that we face quite a large challenge. There is an undercurrent of jobs going, and that is not necessarily being reported. Contracts are being lost, especially by subcontractors, but that does not necessarily show up straight away in unemployment figures.

Mr Weir: I accept that. This is going on throughout the industry—in direct employment and among subcontractors.

Within their limited powers in this area, the Scottish Government have taken action. The First Minister has announced a new taskforce to focus on supporting jobs across the energy sector, with an initial emphasis on the oil and gas sector, and to secure an employer apprentice guarantee, under which firms would commit to taking on apprentices facing redundancy to ensure that they completed their training. That commitment would be supported by the Adopt an Apprentice recruitment incentive—currently, there is a one-off grant of £2,000, which is to be increased to £5,000—and by Skills Development Scotland staff.

If we are to protect Scotland’s vital oil and gas sector, however, the UK Government, specifically the Treasury, need to step up to the plate and to make immediate tax changes. We have already called on them to take urgent action to support investment and exploration. The Scottish Government have consistently called for measures to be implemented without delay, including an investment allowance to provide support for the development of fields that incur higher costs. That would support technically challenging, high-cost fields and sustain future investment. Professor Alex Kemp, a respected oil economist at Aberdeen university, estimates that an investment allowance could increase investment by £20 billion to £36 billion to 2050 and boost production by 1.2 billion to 2.2 billion barrels. Scottish Government estimates suggest that it could support between 14,000 and 26,000 jobs per year across the UK.

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The Scottish Government have also called for a reversal of the increase in the supplementary charge implemented by the UK Government in 2011. The high overall tax burden faced by the sector is damaging its international competitiveness. The supplementary charge was increased by 12% in 2011, and the 2% cut announced so far does not go far enough in the current context of falling prices. Professor Kemp estimates that a reversal would increase production to 2050 by 500 million barrels and boost investment by £7 billion. Scottish Government analysis suggests that such a move could support up to 5,600 jobs per year across the UK.

In addition, the Scottish Government have called for the introduction of an exploration tax credit to help increase levels of exploration and sustain future production. As most of us are aware, levels of exploration in the North sea are low, which will inevitably reduce future discoveries. An exploration tax credit would help to increase exploration and, in turn, sustain future production. A similar approach was adopted in Norway in 2005. In the three years following its introduction, the number of exploration and appraisal wells drilled in the Norwegian North sea increased fourfold.

We have previously highlighted and backed industry concerns about the speed with which the new Oil and Gas Authority is being established, and we have called for appropriate resourcing of the new OGA to be put in place swiftly. The industry is concerned that the investment allowance the Chancellor is expected to announce in the March Budget will not be nearly enough at current oil prices, and we share that concern.

It has also become evident that an early commitment to reduce the supplementary charge rate would have the benefit of instilling confidence in operators and the sector, while discouraging premature decommissioning, which is obviously important for future work in the North sea. To significantly enhance the industry’s long-term competitiveness, we have recommended that, at the very least, the industry requires a reversal of the supplementary charge increase implemented by the Government in 2011.

That substantial package of measures should be announced without delay to safeguard investment, jobs and the long-term sustainability of the North sea. If it is not forthcoming, UK Government policy on the industry will be found seriously wanting once again. Despite what other Members say, reform of the fiscal regime must not wait until the Budget, but must be implemented now, and that should include a commitment from the UK Government to a substantial reduction in the supplementary charge rate.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I have a genuine question on a point of interest. Is Scottish Enterprise putting together a taskforce at this time? I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about the fiscal measures that may be needed, but what is Scottish Enterprise doing right now in terms of practical help on the ground?

Mr Weir: I have already referred to that; the hon. Gentleman should listen a bit more carefully. I did mention the First Minister’s announcement about what the Scottish Government were doing.