The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has already considered all aspects of UK food security in its reports and has highlighted that as a key issue. I understand that the Committee met yesterday with health officials to discuss this matter. If the Minister is in a position to do so, I would be keen for him to give us some idea of how those discussions went and what took place. The positive situation with regard to food

6 Jan 2016 : Column 117WH

security will not last unless the Government plan for the future and allow for future changes in UK weather and global demand for food.

“Buy British” is what the hon. Member for St Ives said. As a member of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I look upon myself very much as British. I want to be part of that “Buy British” campaign and I ask the Minister whether it is time, as I believe it is, to do joint initiatives for promoting the food that we produce in Northern Ireland collectively. In the past I have said the same thing to my Scottish colleagues on my right, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown). We can sometimes do this better if we do it together. I am of course a great believer in doing it better together—[Interruption.] I am not sure whether these two men would agree we should do everything together, but I think we should, because I am very much committed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The NFU and the Ulster Farmers’ Union have also stated that.

I want to put this point in Hansard for the record. I understand that there have been some discussions with the farmers union about the need for a market-led, not production-led, strategy. I would like to hear the opinions of the Minister and shadow Minister on that. I think we need to be market-led, when the contract and business is there and then the production comes in behind that. However, we need to know perhaps how that works. Some discussions may have taken place with the NFU and I hope that the Minister is in a position to respond to that point.

Although the UK does not have the growing conditions to produce all types of produce, or some produce, as cheaply as other nations, we need to take the opportunity to import less non-indigenous fruit and vegetables. That will be good for the economy, reducing our already huge fruit and vegetable trade deficit, which amounted to some £7.8 billion in 2014. Again, perhaps the Minister has some ideas about how that can be addressed. We could, we should and we must do more.

I understand that the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board has been helping UK farmers to extend their growing seasons for cherries, strawberries and asparagus, and I hope that we can see a similar approach to improving our self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables.

The UK food security assessment from 2010 noted that UK food security depended on being able to source food from a variety of countries, and that that diversity of supply enhanced security by spreading risks, widening options and keeping prices competitive. One production farmer in the agri-food industry in my area told me one day that it is actually cheaper—I find this impossible to comprehend—to import some vegetables from south America to use in his salads in Northern Ireland. I do not understand how that works economically, but he tells me it is cheaper. We need also to have the checks, because we are very conscious of “farm to fork”, and we need to be able to track the movement of food so that its history is traceable, from where it is produced to where it ends up. We need to know whether there are any problems; we need food security. Where does food security come in when it comes to importing food from other countries? Ensuring that in addition to backing

6 Jan 2016 : Column 118WH

local producers, we have an array of different producers in different countries will ensure that food security is not too adversely affected by any extreme or unusual weather in the UK.

Just last year, we saw throughout the UK mass protests by dairy farmers over milk prices. We had farmers across Northern Ireland and farmers in my constituency suffering because of abusive monopolies driving prices below the costs of production. Although it is not a topic for this debate, we also have the EU bureaucracy and red tape that choke and strangle the farmer and make it very difficult for them to produce. Of course, everyone wants to pay less for things and milk is no exception, but should a debate like this ever come up again, we need to make sure that we are on the side of the everyday, normal, hard-working people in our food sector who produce the food and continue to give our great nation a comfortable and secure level of food security.

What discussions has the Minister had with the devolved Administration, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and in particular with the Minister responsible, on how we can have that food security across the whole United Kingdom and how can we promote our food much better?

UK food is, on the whole, the cheapest in the world after the United States and there are some positives to take from that. Inflation is as low as it can go. Food prices, along with fuel prices, have played their part in that and it is making life easier for many of our citizens. We cannot ignore that; it is important that people do not pay too much. Too many are still dependent on food banks, but we are moving in the right direction.

In conclusion, with the right support and long-term strategic thinking, we can ensure that the United Kingdom enjoys food security for generations to come, regardless of what the climate or global economy may throw at us. Only by taking a proactive approach and addressing concerns head-on, rather than reacting to preventable problems, can we ensure that our citizens are secure when it comes to their access to food. Thanks again to the hon. Member for St Ives for giving us the chance to speak on this issue.

2.59 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this very important debate. When I was first elected 10 years ago, we set up the all-party group for dairy farmers, given the perilous conditions that they were facing in Shropshire—all the difficulties that they were facing with supermarkets and the prices that they were getting for their dairy products and milk. An extraordinary number of MPs—290—joined the all-party dairy group, which made it the largest all-party group in that Parliament, and we had a very good secretariat.

Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative at that time. Does he agree that we still need the good measures that were introduced in the last Parliament to help farmers to combat bovine TB with a roll-out of the badger cull, so that they do not face such hardship as in the past?

6 Jan 2016 : Column 119WH

Daniel Kawczynski: I agree with my hon. Friend and I will come to that.

It is worrying that, despite all the work that has taken place over the last 10 years, we are still receiving anecdotal evidence from farmers that they are under strain from prices. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives referred to the pressure on milk prices. I am keen to hear from the Minister—I have come here specially—how the Groceries Code Adjudicator is getting on. When we set up the all-party group, we spent a year preparing a report on the critical issues and the measures that needed to be implemented to help dairy farmers. We came up with two solutions. One was a groceries adjudicator to regulate and control the supermarkets and to make them realise they could not continue with their pernicious actions towards farmers and suppliers. We also called for a limited badger cull to control bovine tuberculosis.

When we took those proposals to the then Secretary of State, David Miliband, we were laughed out of his office, being told that both were ridiculous and not feasible. I am pleased that under the Conservative Administration we have seen progress on them, but I am keen to hear from the Minister what additional powers he will give to the Groceries Code Adjudicator, how the adjudicator is getting on and what further needs to be done to ensure that supermarkets comply with the important proposals that we set out.

On bovine tuberculosis, which my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) mentioned, in 1997 we slaughtered 47 cows in Shropshire as a result of bovine TB. Last year, that figure was over 2,000. I have been with some of my dairy farmers—I have referred to this in previous speeches—on their farms after their entire herd has been taken away. One farmer and I sat together at his kitchen table and cried unashamedly together, such is the raw emotion of what happens to farmers and their families when herds are taken away for slaughter and such is the extraordinary pressure they face with finance and devastation of their herds after all the work to create them. It is important to take action to deal with bovine TB.

Interestingly, what is the biggest organisation in Shropshire? It is the Shropshire Wildlife Trust with 5,000 members. What is the trust’s symbol? The badger. Some people in the trust would like me hanged from the nearest lamp post—they would have difficulty as I am so tall at over 2 metres—because they believe it is appalling that any Member of Parliament could advocate a badger cull. It is a polarising issue and they feel strongly about the need to protect badgers.

I have sat on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, taken hundreds of hours of evidence from scientists and professors from around the world and heard how bovine TB has been eradicated in France and many other countries with a cull of badgers being part of that process. It is extremely important that it is considered. I would like the Minister today to give an update on the badger cull trials and, if they have been successful, when they will be rolled out in other parts of the country and whether he will consider Shropshire as one of the next places for the cull to be implemented.

I am passionate about British exports and pay tribute to a colleague, Martin Oxley from UKTI. I have worked closely with him in exporting Shropshire dairy products to Poland. I want the Minister to be aware of the

6 Jan 2016 : Column 120WH

tremendous success of UKTI in exporting not just Shropshire dairy products, but many British dairy and agricultural products to Poland. It may be like selling coal to Newcastle because Poland is an agricultural country, but we must not forget how strong the British brand is. The international perception of animal husbandry and its excellent quality in this country, which is unsurpassed, and the quality of the British brand are why marketing attempts to sell British agricultural products abroad have been so successful.

I would like to hear from the Minister what is happening in UKTI to continue to prioritise British exports. I recently met Lord Maude, who has taken over the strategic management of UKTI. I would like it to have a dedicated team supporting the export of British agricultural products, and I would appreciate further updates from the Minister on collaboration between his office and UKTI.

I have asked the Secretary of State to visit Shropshire this year and she has promised to visit either the Shropshire show or the Minsterley show, which are our two main shows. The Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee came last year and went down extremely well. It is very important that farmers have the opportunity to meet politicians and the people at the head of DEFRA who make the decisions. I am still waiting to hear which show the Secretary of State will visit, but she has promised to visit Shropshire this year and I would be grateful if the Minister will pass that on to her and ensure that she—or indeed he himself—comes to one of the main agricultural shows in Shropshire this year.

Steve McCabe (in the Chair): If the remaining speakers take between six and seven minutes each, we will be able to accommodate everyone, including the Front Benchers, and give Mr Thomas a moment to reply.

3.7 pm

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): I commend the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on bringing forward this debate. I agree with most of his comments and particularly liked his suggestion of a fair trade logo for UK produce. The title of the debate, “Food Security”, allows a wide-ranging debate and I may have a scattergun approach—I will see what I can do.

The World Health Organisation has defined food security as existing,

“when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.

That definition means that food security will not exist until the wider world population has access to a sufficient and nutritious diet. That means an end to conflict, true implementation of the Paris COP 21 agreement, control of climate change, greater land reform, the ending of harmful deforestation, and more crops grown seasonally for domestic markets. I do not have any answers but we are a wee bit away from that utopia, so —like most of the previous speakers—I will concentrate on UK issues, including Scottish ones.

At present, just over half of the UK’s food is produced in the UK so greater consideration should be given to reliance on the wider EU single market against the benefits of greater self-sufficiency. The farmers’ unions would certainly like to see the latter, and it has come out in previous contributions. I agree with that philosophy.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 121WH

We all accept that the UK will always import some produce; indeed, some of our favourite meals rely on imported ingredients. Imports can also help to provide better balance in diets overall, particularly in the winter months. However, nearly 20% of the food eaten in the UK comes from just four EU countries, and the UK supplies only 23% of the fruit and vegetables eaten here. I suggest that the upcoming EU referendum could provide a further risk to food security, and the Minister needs to make contingency plans with regard to the risk of a leave vote.

As we have heard, it makes sense for the UK not to import such quantities of indigenous fruit and vegetables, and that was flagged up in the EFRA Committee’s 2014 report on food security. If we are to maximise the amount of indigenous fruit and vegetables produced here, farming in this country must, first and foremost, be more profitable. This year, I have met Scottish farmers and heard first hand that farmers across all farming sectors have suffered, even where they have diversified. Measures must be put in place to encourage continued diversification so that the wider industry can survive and, I hope, produce greater amounts of indigenous fruit and vegetables for the domestic market.

Growing more produce in the UK for UK consumption clearly reduces our carbon footprint, which is a must in terms of wider climate change issues. As I have suggested, those pose a risk to food security around the world.

The continued promotion of domestically grown produce in supermarkets will clearly help when done in conjunction with wider country of origin labelling. I therefore welcome the Farming Minister’s recent comments that the Government will continue to pressure the European Commission on country of origin labelling for dairy products. The high percentage of country of origin labelling that is already undertaken voluntarily shows that it can be done and that it should not be too cost-prohibitive to do it more widely, and I would certainly like to see it introduced on an EU basis.

For some customers, budget considerations will, of necessity, override considerations of origin. However, there is no doubt that proper, true labelling would encourage people in this country to buy British or, in some cases, regional. I would also like to see the Scottish brand promoted.

I echo the call for a Government commitment to take up the EFRA Committee’s recommendation to extend the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. We cannot have another dairy farming crisis, and it would be good to see what the Government are doing about the issue with regard to the long term.

On the wider issue of farming sustainability, there are two clear issues for farming in general, and these particularly affect Scottish farmers: common agricultural policy payments and continued membership of the EU. CAP payments account for an average of 70% of Scottish farming profits. The Scottish Government have rightly identified that farming needs to be more profitable and sustainable, but the hard fact is that those payments are literally the difference between survival or otherwise.

Also on CAP payments, Scottish farmers feel they have missed out on the pillar one convergence uplift that was given. That amounts to €230 million, which should have been allocated to Scottish farmers up to 2020. If we have an EU exit, and the UK

6 Jan 2016 : Column 122WH

Government maintain the equivalent of CAP support for farmers, it is vital that we have a clear policy position from them.

I would go on, Mr McCabe, but I realise that I have to draw to a conclusion. We all agree that more support needs to be given to farmers, and I again applaud the hon. Member for St Ives for bringing the issue forward.

3.14 pm

Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) for securing the debate. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am proud that we have quite strong Cornish representation here today, but we are also joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for Hendon (Dr Offord) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), so the debate is not entirely Cornish led.

I was part of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee when it did an in-depth study into food security. The report was published in June 2014, and I have a copy here—I would be happy to furnish my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives with one if he has not seen it. During the production of the report, we received 50 written submissions and undertook five oral sessions. We left the House to conduct visits, and I was pleased to welcome members of the Committee to the world cheese award-winning Cornish Cheese Company in my own constituency. The report was very timely, as is this debate. It is incredibly important that we have enough for the people of the UK to eat. We must look at the changing global demand for food as population increases, at the impact of weather changes on production and at the dangers of disease.

The world and UK populations are growing. With the world population likely to hit 8 billion in 20 years, even on the lower UN projection, and the UK population likely to hit 70 million over the same time span, we have to prepare for extra demand. It is simple: production must increase, or people will go hungry.

I do not need to say today that the weather in the UK is changing. As we have all seen on our television screens, many people have suffered over the festive season, and my thoughts are very much with them, given what they have had to endure. However, with flooded fields and destroyed crops, we need to take these issues into account in any future plans.

We do not have to go back to Ireland’s potato famine to see the dangers of disease. We can all remember the haddock—sorry, the havoc—that BSE caused and that TB is still causing today. We can also look abroad to new threats. Only this week, a 26-year-old woman died from a strain of bird flu, and another woman is reportedly in a serious condition, according to health authorities in southern China.

I am keen that we back our farmers and fishermen and assist them by coming forward with solutions. That includes backing British production and the important Red Tractor labelling scheme. It is important to know that the food we buy comes from a trusted source. All products that carry the Red Tractor mark meet responsible production standards and are traceable back to independently inspected farms. The mark is the easiest way for consumers to be sure of the provenance of the food they buy.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 123WH

We must do what we can to protect our producers. We must take steps to ensure that our route to production is disease-free, and we must take steps at our borders to help to limit the possibility of disease entering this country.

We must recognise the importance of food production when we look at flood defences—a priority that seems, possibly, to have been overlooked in the past. We must also look at the regulatory framework that our food producers operate under, much of which comes from Europe. I want to work to ensure the best deal for farmers under the CAP.

I want, however, to limit the rest of my remarks to supporting those other food producers—our fishermen. Speaking as an individual, and not as the chairman of the all-party group on fisheries, I would like to raise my strong concerns over the common fisheries policy and the disappointing result for my fishermen in south-east Cornwall of the latest round of quota negotiations.

If we are to have food security in terms of our fishermen, we must now vastly reform the common fisheries policy or pull out altogether. That is why I said at the start of my remarks that this is indeed a timely debate. I believe in the importance of food security; for our fishermen, that means fundamental change in the way that the rules under which they operate are put in place. It is vital that the Prime Minister recognises that in his negotiations with Europe. If that does not happen, we should vote to leave the European Union.

3.19 pm

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) for calling this important debate. As he said on his website,

“we take future food security seriously, given that we are an island nation”.

Food security is a subject that lends itself to a focus on agriculture, but—rather neatly, as I am following the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray)—I feel that as an island nation we should not forget in this debate the vital role played by our fisheries industry in providing food for Britain.

Fish is one of the healthiest sources of protein and a rare source of essential fatty acids, but fishing also sustains a significant industry, which employs thousands of people in coastal communities and at food processing sites across the country. To take perhaps a slightly different perspective from the hon. Member for South East Cornwall, people in the industry in my patch, Great Grimsby, tell me they are cautiously optimistic about the current state of the sector.

Not only does the fisheries industry feed people in Britain; fish exports are worth £1.6 billion a year to our economy. The industry has proved itself able to operate in a sustainable way. Fish stocks are up 400% in the last decade, allowing a welcome increase in quotas for 2016. This year fishermen will be able to catch 47% more haddock in the North sea, twice as much plaice from the channel and 20% more Celtic sea hake. While consumers have understandably been concerned about declining stocks in the past, people can now have their hake and

6 Jan 2016 : Column 124WH

eat it too. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] I know—but the hon. Member for South East Cornwall had a “havoc” and a “haddock”.

Many colleagues have rightly raised the challenges that agriculture and farmers face, but there are very few workers who have it tougher than fishermen. I would like us to regard them as the farmers of the sea. They can be out at work and away from their families for weeks at a time. The task itself is tough, dangerous and often not well paid. It is not surprising that it can be a tough sell to get young people to consider it for a career. The workforce are ageing, and there is a risk that the skills in the industry today will be lost. I have asked the Minister before, and I will ask him again, how the Government plan to address that. The industry needs a proper strategy to secure its long-term future.

Mrs Murray: Is the hon. Lady aware that the Seafish training authority does a lot of training for young fishermen, and in particular people who want to move into the industry? Perhaps she would like to contact Seafish to ensure that those courses are run in her constituency.

Melanie Onn: I believe that that was mentioned in the debate on fishing before the December break, and I feel that it needs to be expanded and heavily publicised, although the hon. Lady is certainly doing her part and assisting with that. I shall take her advice.

Daniel Kawczynski: I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s predecessor, Austin Mitchell, who I knew well over 10 years as a Member of Parliament. He was a great advocate for fishermen and I would like her to take our tribute to him, if she is in touch with him.

Melanie Onn: I thank the hon. Gentleman; I am sure that I will be able to tweet him. I believe he is in New Zealand, but he remains a strong advocate for the fishing industry and the fishermen of Grimsby and the surrounding areas. In particular, he played a strong role in ensuring that appropriate compensation was delivered to those fishermen when trawler owners were being given significant compensation but the people doing the work were not so lucky. I entirely concur with the comments of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski).

What discussions has the Minister had with his colleagues in the Department of Health, for instance, about promoting healthy British food such as seafood? As the Government look to tackle obesity and unhealthy eating, surely fish has a role to play as a nutritious, local and environmentally sustainable alternative to other foods. What are the Government doing to encourage supermarkets to act responsibly when sourcing and purchasing fish products? That should be a top priority in securing the sustainability of this major food source. Does the Minister believe that public procurement has a bigger role to play in supporting the industry, as the hon. Member for St Ives mentioned? Does he believe that the public sector, starting with Whitehall and the parliamentary estate, does enough to support the UK’s fishing industry?

3.24 pm

Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my Cornish colleague, my hon. Friend

6 Jan 2016 : Column 125WH

the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), on tabling this important debate. I agree wholeheartedly with everything that he and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) have said in the debate. In view of the time restraints, I will not repeat everything that has been said that I wholeheartedly agree with; I will pull out a few of the main points that I believe are worth reinforcing.

It is clear, and I am sure we all agree, that food security is increasingly becoming one of the most important issues that the country will face. As we have heard, the increasing population in our country and globally, the rapid growth of the middle classes in developing countries, and world security issues mean that food security for the UK will become very important. Climate change will also increasingly be a factor. I recently visited Kenya and saw for myself the impact that the changing climate is having on food production in that part of the world. When all those things are put together, it is clear that we will not be able to rely as certainly on food imported into the country as we have in recent decades.

That is why I believe it is important for us to do all we can as a country to become as self-sufficient as possible in food production. Various figures are bandied around, but I believe the most reliable is that we currently produce about 65% of the food we need. We need that figure to go up. It is unlikely ever to be 100%, and I am not sure we would ever want it to be, but we certainly need it to move nearer to that.

The food supply chain is a complex matter, but our farmers and, as other hon. Members have been saying, our fishermen are at its very foundation. We need to do all we can to support them. I should probably declare an interest at this point, by saying that I married a farmer’s daughter 30 years ago this year and that at the moment her father, my father-in-law, is still—in his mid-80s—to be found every day in the fields on his farm on the Isles of Scilly; and a great inspiration he is. Our farmers are facing some of the most challenging times that they have faced for many generations. We have already talked about the downward pressure on prices both from supermarkets in the UK and from global markets. The increasing costs and bureaucracy in farming are making it harder than ever for farms to remain viable and sustainable businesses. We need to understand those challenges and do everything we can to give support, and to address them.

Farming is viable in this country only because of the significant subsidies that farmers receive, but I think we need to be clear.

Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that there was nothing in the EU negotiation about reform of the common agricultural policy or the common fisheries policy?

Steve Double: Absolutely—I agree wholeheartedly. It is a point that I want to come on to. I am very disappointed that there is nothing in the renegotiation in our relationship with the EU on seeking to reform either the common agricultural policy or the common fisheries policy. I believe that they are things that need to be reformed, and that is one reason why I am quite likely to vote to leave the EU. We need to recover our own powers over those aspects for this country and not to be so reliant on the EU for them.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 126WH

We also need to be clear that the subsidies paid to our farmers are, in effect, subsidising not farmers but British households. They are there to keep food prices down. We need to kill the myth that somehow farmers are subsidy junkies. They receive those subsidies only because of the downward pressure on prices. Virtually every farmer I know and speak to would say that they would rather have a fair and sustainable price for the food they produce than to be so reliant on subsidies.

In the recent crisis involving milk prices, we saw that the British consumer is willing to pay a bit more when they know that a product is local and the farmer will receive a fairer price for that product. That is particularly true in Cornwall. The Cornish brand for locally produced food is incredibly strong; there is a very strong feeling in Cornwall that people are willing to pay a bit more if they know that something is Cornish and that local farmers are getting a fairer price for it. The Government would do well to push that further. We have already talked about better labelling for locally produced food. The Red Tractor scheme has been mentioned. That is a very good label, but we need to do more to promote such schemes so that the British consumer can know for certain that they are buying local food.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives did not intend the debate to become dominated by the issue of TB, but we cannot avoid the subject. When I go out and speak to local farmers in my constituency and ask them, “What is your No. 1 concern that you would like the Government to do something about?”, the most common response is, “Address the issue of bovine TB.” I congratulate the Government on the steps they have already taken to address the issue, despite strong opposition, but I firmly believe that we need to allow those who live off the land to manage the countryside. They know best, and I encourage my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government to press ahead and do everything they can to rid our farms of that awful disease. I can assure him of my full support in any steps he takes to do that. We need to make no bones about it. Again, as we have heard, this is not about just saving a few badgers. Hundreds of cattle are slaughtered every week as a direct or indirect result of TB. We must address the impact that that is having on the sustainability of locally produced food.

To sum up, we need to do everything we can to support British farmers. I know that I do not have to twist the Minister’s arm to do that, but I encourage him to take the clear message back to Government that we want to see a very strong positive message from the Government about supporting British farmers and getting behind them in every way we can.

3.32 pm

Calum Kerr (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (SNP): This feels like a visit to the Celtic Connections festival. We have the Irish, the Cornish and the Scots; we just need a few more Welsh. I do not know where—[Interruption.] Does Grimsby count? Not really!

Thank you, Mr McCabe, for giving me the opportunity to speak. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this important debate. He kicked it off superbly well by emphasising how important rural farmers are to the rural economy in many ways. It is not just about the food that they produce, but about

6 Jan 2016 : Column 127WH

the way they contribute to the land and the communities in which they live. The hon. Gentleman also outlined the severe pricing challenges, which has been a common theme throughout the debate.

I am acutely aware of the importance of labelling—not just the labelling of products but how they are sold in supermarkets. I wrote to the chief executive of Tesco about its selling of New Zealand products under a Scottish banner and received a fairly poor response, which I have had to follow up on. Supermarkets need to be clear in their practices when selling as well as in their labelling. There may well be salmon that have been to Scotland and Norway, but we need a lot more clarity than just lumping different geographical locations together.

I always enjoy having the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) here. I will not even try to compete with the number of products that he referenced from his constituency—he wins hands down.

We also heard from the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski). I will come on to the issue of the Groceries Code Adjudicator; I agree that it is important. Bovine TB is clearly a big issue down here, but less so north of the border. I agree that it should be at the forefront of our minds lest it spread and become an issue for other parts of the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) focused on the need for farming to be profitable. I will return to a couple of the themes that he raised.

It is always a pleasure to be in Westminster Hall with the hon. Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), who fly the flag or rather sail the ship for the many fishermen around the country.

It is also a delight to see the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). Taking part in this debate also serves the purpose of making me more familiar with my many wonderful fellow MPs. He can now visit his father-in-law safe in the knowledge that he has referenced him in a debate in Parliament, so I congratulate him on that.

Jim Shannon: Has it convinced you of the need for the Union?

Calum Kerr: There are many unions, so it depends on which one the hon. Gentleman is referring to. I personally would prefer to stay in the European Union and I look forward to the Westminster Hall debate on Cornish independence as well.

Food security is vital. That is why food supply is classed as a critical national infrastructure sector and DEFRA assesses it annually. Of course, large elements of this area are devolved to Scotland, and last June the Scottish Government drew up their own agricultural discussion document, setting out a vision for Scottish agriculture, which includes contributing to global food security, with a particular focus on Malawi, where the Scottish Government have an involvement.

International interdependence is critical. More than half the food in the UK is home-grown and on the whole, as we heard, our prices are the lowest in the world after those in the US, but we still need to maintain

6 Jan 2016 : Column 128WH

strong supply chain links to other countries. There will always have to be imports, as the UK does not have the growing conditions to supply all the types of produce for which there is demand, but that also offers an opportunity in terms of the capabilities for exports.

I am particularly interested in branding—national or regional branding—for both food and drink. That is particularly important in Scotland, where the sector has promoted itself to great effect with its reputation for high-quality, distinctive and environmentally sustainable produce. We have just finished promoting our Year of Food and Drink and it has been a great success story. Turnover has risen by more than 24% since 2008 to more than £14 billion, and the industry is on target to reach next year the figure of £16.5 billion.

Before raising a couple of specific points on agriculture, I would like to mention fishing. When we talk about food security, it is easy to forget about fishing, yet it is a fantastic contributor to food security and the Scottish economy, with exports worth £600 million. Fishing takes a lot of pressure off land production. Of course it has to be sustainably managed, which presents some challenges, as we heard from the hon. Member for South East Cornwall, but when done well, it is a very profitable and successful source of food.

Let me now talk from a farming perspective. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun has already raised a couple of the old chestnuts that the Minister is very used to. However, it is worth emphasising again that the CAP is critical. I think that as Members of Parliament we have to be very careful with our language in this area, and I welcome the comments about getting away from the idea of subsidy. Our farmers need support. Most farmers in Scotland would be underwater financially if it were not for the CAP payments. As we go into a debate on the EU referendum, which has been mentioned several times, we have to be very careful on and clear about what an EU exit would mean for this industry. For farming in Scotland, without a comparable payment system, it would be a disaster.

The supply chain is well established, but I totally agree with the comments about the importance of addressing the inequalities in the supply chain. That affects all areas of farming, but in particular the dairy industry. It is of course important that we have reasonable prices, because lower income households are hit disproportionately hard by higher costs, but farmers have the right to a fair price for their quality product. We need to do more in terms of regulation in this area. I appreciate that it may not be a DEFRA area of responsibility, but it is clearly an area in which the Minister takes a keen interest.

The office of the Groceries Code Adjudicator was set up in 2013 to oversee this area, but the powers do not go far enough and she cannot respond adequately to the failures in the supply chain. The adjudicator can deal only with retailers with a turnover of more than £1 billion and with direct suppliers, and can act only if a complaint has been received. Those are things that need to be visited and addressed so that we can reduce the inequalities in that area. When I raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, she told me that she seeks an adjudicator that will operate across the EU, and better transparency in the European

6 Jan 2016 : Column 129WH

supply chain. Regardless of that, I am keen for efforts to be made and clarity to be achieved in this area as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun raised the convergence uplift, and I appreciate that I am something of a broken record on that subject. Slowly, elements of progress have been made on the timescale, but we need to push the Minister harder on the matter, and I look forward to future discussions with him. We have a meeting coming up at which I will seek clarity on the process and some timescales for achieving a resolution in this area, where we feel that Scottish farmers have been badly let down.

Overall, we need longer term thinking, and strong, durable, fair, safe and secure supply chain relationships. As the NFU has pointed out, those are key to success. Farmers in Scotland and the UK are the primary source of our food security, as well as being major economic contributors, hugely important sources of rural employment and guardians of our landscape. They support us, and we need to support them in return. Let us ensure our food security and sustainability by doing so.

3.41 pm

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) for introducing the debate, and I thank the many colleagues who intervened and made contributions. The hon. Gentleman raised important concerns about the dairy sector and spoke with real energy about supporting British producers. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) showed his usual deep rural knowledge, and suggested three courses of home-produced food for us; his serious point was about reducing food imports. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) raised important questions about the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, and sought visitors to his great county’s shows this summer. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) talked about the importance of consumers buying more fruit and veg. He spoke in support of country of origin labelling and, unsurprisingly, Scottish branding.

The hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) reminded us about the impact of climate change and flooding in recent weeks on people around the country, and she expressed strong support, as we would expect, for Cornish fishermen. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) said that her fishing industry was optimistic, and she gave us the best pun of the afternoon when she suggested that we could have our hake and eat it. She was making an important point about public procurement and eating our great fish from this country.

The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) talked about the impact of climate change on food production in Kenya, and made a powerful point about how it is reducing the certainty of food imports from that country. He also spoke with real vigour in support of the red tractor label. The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) gave a great round-up of the debate, and warned everybody about the loss of EU funding for farming across the country.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 130WH

The Government’s chief scientific adviser said in 2013 that food security in the UK was dependent on two things: well-functioning markets and a vibrant farming and food industry. I celebrate every penny of the contribution that agriculture makes to this country, and the millions of jobs and the billions of pounds in exports that it creates. Against those factors, however, I see not a job well done, but a job that should be done better. I see farmers at the mercy of a supply chain where they hold none of the cards, gaps in research funding in areas that are vital to enable us to compete on a global scale, and a market where the food that we can and do grow is supplanted in the supermarket aisles and at the tills by billions of pounds worth of imports. All the while, the Government, who rejected a Labour plan that made food security a priority, have dragged their heels over an alternative.

The problem cannot be solved with quick fixes—although with the heavy cuts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I doubt that quick fixes will be possible anyway. Instead, we need to tackle the issue of food security properly. The difficulties that farmers have faced over farm-gate prices are one area in which real differences could be made. Despite the price boost to some producers, the average farm-gate price for milk is lower than it was in October 2014. Lamb prices are under pressure, and even wheat has fallen 9% since January last year.

Although organisations such as the NFU recognise that such problems are among the perils of farming, they put at massive risk the sort of investment that is needed for farmers to grow and thrive—that is, for the farmers and businesses that are lucky enough not to go under as a result of the price drops. Unfortunately, as has been said several times today, when policies have been suggested such as increasing the powers and scope of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to give producers more bargaining power, the Government have poured cold water on those ideas, because they would require legislation to achieve. Why is that too great a hurdle to clear, if such action would protect our food producers across the country?

I turn to the question of the food that fills our shelves. Like many colleagues, I have delighted in the range of foods from around the world that we can now buy in our supermarkets and shops. Of course, there always will be food imports, but why does the UK supply just 23% of its own fruit and vegetable needs? The £7.8 billion trade gap between exports and imports in that area is shocking. The Government will soon embark on their “Great British Food” campaign. Promoting our foods to be sold around the world is a good venture, and to be applauded, but can the Minister assure us that the campaign will include efforts to promote British fruit and veg on our shelves?

I note that the Department has made little headway with convincing Europe on country of origin labelling for the likes of dairy products. Instead, it has “encouraged” retailers in Britain to use the voluntary country-of-origin labelling scheme, even though 86% of shoppers want to buy more traceable food that has been produced on British farms—and in Scotland, too. Will the Minister ensure that the supermarkets play ball and give British producers a chance to stand out?

Although such measures can help to ensure well-functioning markets and a vibrant industry, food security is something that will play out over decades and centuries,

6 Jan 2016 : Column 131WH

not just over years. Climate change, which has come up a number of times this afternoon, and the rapidly increasing population of the UK and of the world may stretch, or even render obsolete, current farming methods.

We need a long-term strategy that ensures sustainable gains in economic growth while replenishing the natural environment over which we hold stewardship. Top agri-tech research will be required to meet that challenge, but both the Committee on Climate Change and our all-party group on science and technology in agriculture have noted Britain’s stagnation when it comes to research and development. In a global market in which other countries are surging ahead, the NFU predicts, as the hon. Member for St Ives has pointed out, that by 2080 we will be forced to import more than 50% of our food unless we do something now. We have finally had a commitment from the Government for a big investment in agri-tech support, but my question is simple: why, when organisations across the spectrum have called for it, has that taken so long? Valuable time has been wasted.

It would be remiss of me, in a debate on food security, to ignore the plight of the more than 1 million people who now use food banks in the UK. Food bank usage increased by 18% from 2013-14 to 2014-15. Any food security policy must be about not just producing more food but giving everyone in the UK access to safe, healthy and affordable food. The previous Labour Government knew how important food security was for the UK; in our “Food 2030” strategy, we reckoned that it was as important as energy security to the country’s wellbeing. That strategy would have been the start of a consumer-led, technological revolution, with the aim of producing more food in a sustainable manner with a smaller environmental footprint. Instead, 2010 saw this Government consign those plans to the scrapheap. I believe that they are playing catch-up to this day, and our food and farming industries have paid the price.

3.49 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): May I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing the debate? His constituency neighbours mine and I know that he champions the interests of farmers in his constituency. Indeed, we often jointly attend west Cornwall branch meetings of the National Farmers Union, and in the autumn I had the pleasure of speaking at a village called Madron in his constituency, which ran a series of events on the future of farming.

I worked in the farming industry for 10 years. I care deeply about the industry, and the Government value the role of agriculture and our food industry because it is the biggest industry in the country. Food manufacturing is our biggest manufacturing industry—bigger than the aerospace and automotive industries put together. It is worth about £100 billion a year throughout the supply chain and employs about one in eight people. That is why we made a manifesto commitment to put in place a 25-year food and farming plan, which is currently under development and will be published in the spring. It will look at how we attract new skills to the industry, how we use technology to improve productivity and use of

6 Jan 2016 : Column 132WH

resources, how we open new export markets, and how we develop risk management tools for the agricultural industry.

As my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) pointed out, there is growing consumer interest in food provenance. People want to know where their food comes from. There is a growing interest in local sourcing and local brands, particularly in Cornwall where we have some strong local food brands. We are keen to develop that, so 2016 will be the year of great British food. Our Great British Food unit will champion those artisan food producers throughout the course of the year.

We are also doing a huge amount on exports. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) asked about that. At the end of last year, the Secretary of State went to China and was successful in opening new markets for British barley and for pigs’ trotters. In fact, we have been opening about 100 new markets a year over the past two or three years. Our food exports are now rising to £19 billion a year.

We have made some very good progress on exports, but I do not deny for a moment that farming is going through an incredibly tough and difficult time at the moment, due to a number of factors. The exchange rate of the pound against the euro is not favourable to farmers; the weakness of the euro has put pressure on all commodity prices for British farmers. Set against that, there has been a global oversupply in many areas and some key markets have been disrupted. In Europe, milk production has risen by about 10% due to very good weather and favourable conditions for production. That has had a downward pressure on prices and, as many hon. Members have said, many farmers are experiencing prices that are well below the cost of production.

There has been difficulty in other sectors such as pig production, where the market in Russia has been disrupted, exacerbating the problems. There has also been difficulty with lamb. New Zealand lamb has been finding it more difficult to get access to the Chinese market, so there has been a surplus of New Zealand lamb on the world market. Despite those short-term pressures, my message is that the long-term prospects for our farming industry remain good. As my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) said, there is a growing world population. It is set to reach about 9 billion by 2050 and many projections suggest a rise in demand for food of about 60%. That brings me to the issue of food security.

As the shadow Minister said, we are clear that there are two key elements to delivering food security in the world. One is that we must have open markets and the second is that we must have a vibrant, profitable and successful food production and supply system. The reason that self-sufficiency and food production alone is not enough to guarantee food security is that farming is always at the mercy of the weather. If there is a severe weather event in one part of the country, we need to be able to move food around the world, so open markets are crucial to ensuring food security.

Although our self-sufficiency is lower now, at about 64%, than it was at its peak in the late 1980s, we should recognise that then there was an incredibly distorting common agricultural policy. It was an era of grain

6 Jan 2016 : Column 133WH

mountains, butter mountains, wine lakes and so on. That had a distorting effect. Against historical standards, we are still producing far more of our food than we have done in the past. Indeed, in the 1930s just before the second world war, our food self-sufficiency was only about 30% to 35%, so things are not as bad as some would suggest. However, if the Government do what we want to do—produce more, sell more, export more and import less—over time I hope that our current self-sufficiency will improve.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives posed a number of questions. He raised the plight of cauliflower growers in Cornwall, many of whom are in my constituency. That situation is wholly driven by weather. The autumn has been warm and many of the varieties have come in simultaneously, which has caused particular problems. I agree with him about country of origin. The UK has been at the fore of arguing in the EU for mandatory country of origin labelling—successfully when it comes to beef, pork, poultry and other fresh meats. We have been arguing tenaciously for country of origin labelling to be mandatory on some dairy products. I have to say that the Commission is pushing back on that at the moment, but we will redouble our efforts to improve the voluntary code in that regard.

My hon. Friend also asked what supermarkets are doing. It is important to recognise that and to give credit where credit is due. For instance, Morrisons has its “Milk for Farmers” brand. Many people scoffed at that when it came out, but it has actually been very successful. It pays an extra 10p a litre to farmers and its sales have well exceeded expectations, which shows a consumer interest in helping British agriculture. The other thing is that many of the main supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, M&S and the Co-op all have aligned contracts with virtually all of their liquid milk suppliers. The farmers supplying some of those supermarkets with liquid milk in particular are still quite often getting somewhere in the region of 29p to 32p a litre. There is a wide spread of fortunes in the dairy industry currently and we should recognise that some supermarkets are supporting farming through aligned contracts. Tesco is experimenting with the idea of an aligned contract on cheese, although that is more difficult because it is more exposed to commodity markets. M&S has also experimented with aligned contracts in other sectors, such as lamb.

On the other questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives, public sector procurement is an important issue. We set up the Bonfield report to set out a balanced scorecard so that more locally sourced food is bought by the public sector. He asked what we are doing to back British farming. We have our Great British Food campaign and we will be working with organisations such as the NFU. He is right to highlight the benefits of animal welfare that we have. In fact, World Animal Protection rates the UK as top in the whole world for farm animal welfare. When it comes to getting a fair price, we are doing things to try to improve risk management so that farmers can mitigate the price volatility that they experience.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 134WH

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned the issues in Northern Ireland. There has been a particularly difficult situation with dairy in Northern Ireland and we have recognised that by arguing for an increased share of the support fund from the EU in November. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham asked about the Groceries Code Adjudicator. That will be reviewed later this year by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. We have now put in place the ability for it to levy fines of up to 1% of turnover. In fact, looking at the survey data, the number of complaints about supermarkets has gone down slightly and Christine Tacon reports that more buyers and more suppliers to supermarkets are using the code in the way that they should.

The hon. Members from the Scottish National party mentioned convergence uplift. I am meeting NFU Scotland later this week. I have committed to reviewing that once everybody is on an area-based payment system, and we will continue to do that. Finally, a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) and for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, made a very important point about fisheries. I completely agree with that, although I do not share the analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall that it is all bad news. We have seen big uplifts for plaice, haddock and cod this year, which shows the benefit of sustainable fishing.

In conclusion, we have had a very good debate in which lots of interesting points were raised. I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives on securing the debate.

3.58 pm

Derek Thomas: Mr McCabe, thank you for chairing the debate so well. I thank all Members for contributing and I especially welcome the support of my Cornish colleagues. It has been good to hear such a wide range of issues covered and addressed. I thank the Minister, who is extraordinarily patient with me and my constant pestering regarding farmers and fishermen in west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. He probably gets tired of that.

I welcome the Minister’s words and look forward to the publication of the 25-year food and drink strategy, but I ask that we step up our efforts to back British producers in any way that we possibly can. I am genuinely concerned for the future of many farms because there is considerable pressure on farmers to look at alternative uses for their agricultural land. There are only so many green fields that can be lost to house building and solar farms before we seriously compromise our ability to feed ourselves in the future. I hope the debate has served to empower the British consumer to support British products further and I hope that it is something that we continue to look at closely throughout this Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered food security.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 135WH

Broadband Speeds: Northern Ireland

[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

4 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered broadband speeds in Northern Ireland.

I welcome this opportunity to raise an issue that is incredibly pertinent to the constituents of all Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland. I am pleased that the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), is present to hear our views. I have received correspondence from a number of individuals, families and companies who are frustrated by the slow progress on this issue and its economic impact. I have also been in touch with business owners and individuals from my constituency who have detailed the impact that “not spots” and poor internet connectivity have had on them, on their children’s education and on driving economic growth and productivity.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting the issue of broadband and superfast broadband in Northern Ireland. It is obvious to me as an elected representative, and to all elected representatives in Northern Ireland, that better superfast broadband is essential for creating jobs and employment and for helping the economy to grow even further. Does she feel that the Minister needs to endorse that and to support our Minister in Northern Ireland?

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Of course, I agree that faster broadband is critical to driving economic growth and fuelling productivity. I am anxious to hear the Minister’s response and how he is working with the Northern Ireland Executive and with BT and the other providers, because there is no doubt that the majority of people now expect reliable and accessible broadband as a matter of course, yet in rural constituencies such as mine and many others in Northern Ireland there are businesses, families and farmers who are denied the necessary internet access and speeds that are the norm in urban areas, which may be due to topographical reasons. The lack of adequate broadband in other rural communities across Northern Ireland and Britain has created a digital divide that will only be exacerbated without meaningful action from the Government.

Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) (UUP): Is the hon. Lady aware that Fermanagh and South Antrim have two schemes that are being pushed at the moment?

4.3 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.11 pm

On resuming

Ms Ritchie: On 6 October 2015, I received an email from the Minister indicating that Northern Ireland received £11.6 million for phase 1 and/or phase 2 of the superfast broadband programme, but that would allow for only two thirds of premises in my constituency of South Down to have access to superfast broadband by 2017.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 136WH

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way and for securing this debate. She may be aware that when I was on Belfast City Council we secured the second largest amount—£13.7 million—from the urban broadband super-connected cities scheme for Belfast. However, does she agree that there is still further work to be done by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to secure such a scheme for rural areas, which need it most?

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. While the concentration of that money was clearly in city areas of Belfast and Derry, there is still a need to concentrate funds within rural areas, working in particular with the alternative technologies that are currently being promoted, because we all want to avail ourselves of those.

Danny Kinahan: I will have another go. I just wonder whether the hon. Lady, who I thank for bringing this subject forward, is aware of the Avanti rural broadband schemes in Fermanagh and South Antrim, particularly in leisure centres. Would she support looking for private companies to come in, because there is a hint that Virgin might help us as well in the future?

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. At this stage I will perhaps argue slightly against my political ideology and say that there is a need for increasing competition between private investors—[Interruption.] As Virgin and others have said, incentivising take-up has been proven to be a more effective driver of improved coverage of superfast broadband speeds.

Let me say to the Minister that many of my constituents in rural areas who have direct access to broadband have speeds of only 2 megabits per second, but there are other parts of my constituency—in much higher drumlin country and also in the mountainous areas of the Mournes—that do not have any access at all. That leaves people at a distinct disadvantage, whether they are families, business people or farmers. That issue needs to be addressed by working in partnership with other bodies, but the Government need to pay particular attention to it.

There was the voucher scheme, which many businesses in Northern Ireland availed themselves of. Sadly, around 12 October 2015 that funding ceased—because, I suppose, demand exceeded supply of resources—and many businesses found themselves without that resource and lacking the capacity to develop their broadband expertise and their business, and to fuel productivity and economic growth.

I believe that speeds of over 100 megabits per second are technically possible, but many of my constituents and those of my colleagues who are here today would be happy with speeds that just meet the Government’s own definition of superfast broadband, which is 24 megabits per second, and the EU level is defined as 30 megabits per second. There are homes and businesses throughout Northern Ireland that struggle to access a meagre 2 megabits per second. Effective and reliable access to broadband should not be a luxury. We would rightly not accept such a speed on the parliamentary estate, and nor should it should be acceptable for any of our constituents.

The recent Ofcom report of June 2015 highlighted that although 83% of small and medium-sized enterprises

6 Jan 2016 : Column 137WH

felt that their businesses were well catered for by the communications market, a significant number expressed concerns about broadband speeds and availability, quality of service, and choosing between providers.

Today I want concentrate on possible solutions, which the Minister might also wish to concentrate on. All of us have experienced the frustration of a delayed or broken broadband connection, yet for people who experience that frustration on a permanent basis it is a lot more than just a minor frustration. It becomes a serious impediment to everyday life, to social inclusion and, of course, to economic development. Thousands of people across Northern Ireland are being denied that connectivity, so I want to concentrate on the solutions. I have talked to Virgin Media, I talked this morning to the internet broadband group, which has many members and looks after that level of connectivity for them, and yesterday I also talked to Vodafone. They all have a collective vision that there needs to be a greater level of partnership between Government, the devolved Administrations and the community.

Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP): The Scottish Government have invested in research as part of their world-class Digital 2020 vision. Two such projects are the free-space optics project at Edinburgh University and the white space project at Strathclyde University. Does the hon. Lady agree that the UK Government must invest in research if we are to have any chance of providing the level of service that our constituencies deserve?

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very helpful intervention. I agree that there needs to be more evidence-based research to highlight the areas that are not yet covered by good quality, high broadband speeds, particularly those areas that are so distant from the cabinets. There also needs to be an emphasis on bringing fibre to the premises. FTTP needs to be a part of digital infrastructure and needs to be investigated.

There is also a view that Openreach should be structurally separated from BT, as BT is the sole provider, to allow Openreach to invest in delivering an effective infrastructure for the whole telecommunications industry. Communication providers could then consider investing in an independent Openreach. Ofcom should look at that, and the Minister should also look at it, perhaps to refer it to the Competition and Markets Authority.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): When the hon. Lady and I enjoyed each other’s company—I certainly enjoyed her company—in Downpatrick just before Christmas, I was mightily impressed by the way that the local council was providing a vast range of services online. Is there any evidence that there is a failure of take-up in those essential council services because of the lack of connectivity, particularly in the Mournes region?

Ms Ritchie: I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention and for his good visit to South Down on 5 December. He is right: businesses that are not near the cabinet and premises that are not served need much better levels of technology. It is our local economy and local services that lose out.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 138WH

Another issue is that structural separation will take time, so there is a need to move quickly to open up BT Openreach and provide better access for competitors, including to the network infrastructure. For example, other countries in Europe have managed to do that through physical infrastructure access under the existing regulatory regime. Spain and Portugal are leading examples of that. There is also a need to investigate the research into the whole rural broadband scheme, which has not been terribly effective. Alternative technologies need to be investigated. I met the Internet Services Providers Association this morning. It has a broad umbrella membership, and people and companies within it are doing that work. We need to look at alternative technologies that are capable of delivering the superfast speeds that are already universally available elsewhere. Subsidising take-up would be a more efficient solution for remaining rural areas.

The Government should focus any intervention on stimulating demand by subsidising the up-front costs of satellite broadband take-up. I would like to see the re-introduction of the broadband voucher scheme, which businesses found useful. I thought it would have happened in the autumn statement, so perhaps the Minister can reflect on that issue. In a recent written answer, he stated that

“this Government is working closely with Ofcom to implement the broadband Universal Service Obligation by 2020, as recently announced by the Prime Minister.”

There is doubt and apprehension that that might not happen, because there is not that collaboration between the technologies. There is monopoly control by BT, and separation and structural reform needs to take place.

Jim Shannon: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Ritchie: No, I will conclude, because I think it is fair that the Minister has time to respond to the issues.

I hope that we do see that universal service obligation by 2020. To quote the Minister’s written answer:

“This will give people a legal right to request a broadband connection no matter where they live.”

It will enhance business and economic opportunities and drive the economic growth and job creation that we aspire to for all our citizens, as well as ensuring the social and economic development of all our peoples. I look forward to the consultation that the Minister will announce later this year, and I hope he can give us some information about that today.

There are two issues. In 2015, 77% of Northern Ireland premises had access to superfast broadband at speeds greater than 30 megabits, compared with the UK average of 83%. Suffice to say that my colleagues representing Northern Ireland constituencies are looking for a substantial improvement on that. Another interesting fact is that superfast coverage in Northern Ireland remained static from 2014 to 2015, while UK-wide it increased by 8%.

It is important that all the issues to do with technologies and increasing superfast broadband speeds are addressed. We need assurances that cable and fibre cable will be provided to premises and not solely to cabinets, because some find themselves at quite a distance, and speed reduces with distance from the cabinet. The bottom line is that we want to see our local economy and productivity

6 Jan 2016 : Column 139WH

grow. We want to see an enhancement of job creation. We do not want to see anyone left at a significant disadvantage. Obviously technologies—

Jim Shannon: Will the hon. Lady give way? She has until 16.42.

Ms Ritchie: Well—

Jim Shannon: Thank you very much.

Ms Ritchie: What is my response to that?

Jim Shannon: I remind the hon. Lady that we have an extra 12 minutes.

Stephen Pound: Not 1690.

Jim Shannon: No, but it will be 1690 again some time. In my constituency, Excel in Newtownards has increased its business online and has sales across the world. It could do even more and employ more people if superfast broadband was available. The incentive to getting it in is that it would create more jobs and more lift within the economy. That can happen in Northern Ireland if the right things are done.

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which relates to the points I have been making throughout this debate. We need superfast broadband, higher speeds and better connection. Working with all those in the industry and allowing that structural reform to take place will enhance our local industrial base and the availability of educational opportunities to many of our students. It will also ensure that our rural populations, particularly those in mountainous regions, will not feel disadvantaged in any way. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I will feel free to intervene on him.

4.26 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. This is the second debate I have replied to today. The first was at 2.15 this morning on the future of S4C. I was debating the issue with my colleagues and other Members from Wales. Yesterday, I was in this Chamber with my colleagues from England debating the importance of regional theatre. I know that that subject is close to your heart, Sir David, as a Member representing one of the cultural capitals of England in Southend. This afternoon, it is a pleasure to be with my colleagues from Northern Ireland, including the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who is an honorary Member for Northern Ireland, given his passion for the area. I am a frequent visitor to Northern Ireland. It was a pleasure to go to Derry/Londonderry when it was the first UK capital of culture. When it won that bid and took it forward, getting good broadband for Derry/Londonderry and the support of BT were important. It is a pleasure to visit Belfast and see the fantastic Titanic quarter, the home of “Game of Thrones” and the fantastic, burgeoning creative industries sector in that fair city.

Ms Ritchie: Will the Minister tell us what the Government are going to do about obtaining better superfast broadband speeds?

6 Jan 2016 : Column 140WH

Mr Vaizey: I certainly will. Like an ageing router, I am gearing up to move at speed towards the substance of the debate. The point I was trying to make was to praise my hon. Friends from Northern Ireland for bringing such passion and expertise to a subject that is important not only for their constituents, but for constituents across the United Kingdom.

To begin at the beginning, we work closely with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, which is in charge of the broadband roll-out. In the devolved nations, the devolved Governments take ownership of the broadband roll-out scheme, and we work closely with them to ensure that it is under way. Northern Ireland was ahead of the game at the beginning of the process, thanks to European funding, and had more fibre than most of the UK. It remains a very connected nation. Ofcom’s recent “Connected Nations” report said that overall coverage is around 77% and that the availability of superfast broadband to rural homes had increased, too.

The current Northern Ireland project will add 24,000 superfast premises by March this year, and by 2017, a total of 38,000 premises will have been connected, thanks to our programme. Thanks to the £11 million of Government funding, we expect that Northern Ireland should have 87% of premises receiving superfast coverage by the end of 2017, which compares favourably with elsewhere. Small and medium-sized enterprises in Northern Ireland, for example, have the highest coverage of all the four nations for superfast broadband, according to Ofcom, the independent regulator. Also, I was pleased that Ofcom showed that the average download speeds for broadband in Northern Ireland increased from 50 megabits—already pretty substantial—to 56 megabits a second from 2014 to 2015, so we are definitely on an upward curve.

The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), who clearly knows her subject extremely well, covered various other important issues to do with broadband in Northern Ireland. She mentioned, for example, the scheme that we put in place to support small and medium-sized enterprises: our broadband voucher scheme. I am pleased to say that almost 2,500 businesses in Northern Ireland took advantage of that scheme. There has been cross-party support for the scheme, which has been a success. We will keep an open mind about whether it was right to reintroduce the scheme at a later date, but at the time it was time-limited. We wanted to get businesses to sign up to the scheme within a certain period of time, and I am afraid we had a deadline. However, I was pleased that more than 50,000 businesses in the UK took advantage of the scheme.

Importantly, wi-fi in public buildings was part of the scheme. In Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, 163 public buildings now benefit from wi-fi, but we need to go further. I have never made any secret of the fact that I hope that by the end of this Parliament we will have achieved 100% broadband coverage for the UK, and we need to do this in a variety of ways. First, we have our universal service commitment: everyone should have access to speeds of at least 2 megabits. We are doing this by allowing people who have speeds below 2 megabits to connect to satellite, and we will pay for them to be connected. That scheme is managed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, so if any of the hon. Lady’s constituents do not have access to broadband

6 Jan 2016 : Column 141WH

speeds of at least 2 megabits, they can now apply for a voucher and be connected to satellite. That is our universal service commitment.

We have also put in place some trial pilots and a satellite scheme as part of the pilot in Northern Ireland and in Scotland, where some 300 premises have benefited from that trial scheme, which is designed to show us the costs of getting to the very hardest to reach premises—what we call the last 5%—and how we can get to them in the most cost-effective way. Northern Ireland has also benefited from the mobile infrastructure programme, and we are putting masts in “not spots” where there is no mobile coverage. Two of those masts are already live and another seven are being built.

Ms Ritchie: The Minister mentioned the mobile trialling project, which I understand was placed in South Antrim and in Fermanagh. Can he indicate whether that scheme is likely to be extended to other parts of Northern Ireland? He has indicated that there is a high level of speed in Belfast and in Derry, but I am concerned primarily about the rural areas that cannot access the speeds that are necessary for economic growth.

Mr Vaizey: If the hon. Lady is talking about mobile coverage, we have concluded the mobile infrastructure programme. At the moment there are no plans to build more masts, but, again, I will keep an open mind about that, because I am aware that some communities have not benefited from the scheme and would like to, and I will continue to keep that under review. It is worth reminding hon. Members that we have, in conjunction with the mobile operators, changed the terms of their licences, so that all four mobile operators are now committed to reaching 90% geographic coverage for 4G by the end of 2017. The distinction between premises coverage, which should be about 98%, and geographic coverage is important because there are many areas with very few premises, but are large geographic areas, and we hope that the 90% commitment will see far wider 4G coverage for people in rural areas, and also for those of us who as passengers might use our mobile phone while being driven. Of course, we would not dream of doing that while we were driving ourselves. That is a very important point.

Going further into the future, the hon. Lady mentioned two or three issues that are important when we look at digital broadband roll-out over the next few years. The first is the potential break-up of Openreach, about which there is a lively discussion in this House and outside. The hon. Lady may be aware that Ofcom is conducting a digital communications review, and it is due to report towards the end of February, when it will make clear what it regards as the appropriate way forward for Openreach. We will wait to see what the independent regulator concludes in that respect.

I have already mentioned our universal service commitment, but the hon. Lady also talked about the universal service obligation, which is a different thing.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 142WH

We will introduce legislation to ensure that anyone who does not have fast broadband can require a provider to provide them with speeds of at least 10 megabits, which is twice what the European directive requires. We intend to introduce that legislation over the next two years, so that by 2020 everyone should be able to apply for fast broadband, if they do not already have it, through our other various initiatives.

The hon. Lady rightly talked about fibre to the premises, which is, to a certain extent, the holy grail of superfast broadband. I was lucky enough to visit TalkTalk, which was conducting a trial in York, at the end of last year. It is delivering 1 gig to the premises. However, it is important to remember two things: first, it is very expensive to deliver fibre to the premises, and secondly, it is pointless to deliver fibre to the premises for people who do not necessarily want it. In the small tech world that I tend to inhabit, almost everyone I converse with thinks that everyone in the country wants 1 gig. Actually, most people want 10 or 20 megabits so that they can run a home office or a business from home, or take part in various consumer activities that they and perhaps the rest of their family want to take part in. Those are the sorts of speeds we want to give everyone in the country.

To reiterate, first of all, I welcome this debate. I think the hon. Lady is right to highlight the problems and issues faced in her constituency and in Northern Ireland as a whole, and I welcome the contribution of other hon. Members. As I have said, we have an £11 million roll-out of the broadband programme. We will get to 87% of Northern Ireland by the end of 2017.

Ms Ritchie: The Minister made reference, as I did, to fibre to the premises. He indicated that that was the Government’s holy grail: the top-level aspiration. Currently, less than 1% of the UK has fibre to the premises. Although I understand that it is costly, it could be one way of ensuring that those hard-to-reach rural communities could have access, so what plans do the Government have, working with the technological companies, to ensure that that is part of the pathway to a universal service obligation?

Mr Vaizey: As I was saying, fibre to the premises is very expensive and is not necessarily what the consumer wants at this moment in time, but we will certainly see individual companies over the next 10 years starting to introduce it more and more. It is worth reminding the hon. Lady that the technology that BT is already beginning to trial should see, for example, existing fibre to the cabinet solutions providing speeds 10 times faster than they currently do. So we could see people in her constituency, currently receiving 30 megabits, receiving speeds of some 300 megabits in a couple of years’ time and at very little cost. We intend to go forward with the universal service commitment, then the universal service obligation, as well as trialling alternative technologies. However, the hon. Lady is right to hold us to account. I would like to continue to work with her and her colleagues in improving broadband in Northern Ireland.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 143WH

Healthcare: Yarl’s Wood

4.39 pm

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That this House has considered healthcare in Yarl’s Wood.

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this issue today. Access to healthcare is a human right that is not adequately offered to the women of Yarl’s Wood. I formerly worked as a practice manager in the NHS, so I have seen for myself the importance of delivering good quality healthcare to communities, including providing access to consultation rooms where people are treated with respect and dignity. That is particularly important for detainees, who often have to undergo intimate examinations to document past torture.

Across immigration detention centres, there have been six High Court findings of inhumane and degrading treatment and nine deaths in custody in the past three years. According to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons, the situation in Yarl’s Wood has worsened since G4S took over the contract for providing healthcare in September 2014. I want first to highlight the poor standard of healthcare provided, and secondly, to draw attention to the limitations that have recently been placed on independent doctors who are trying to work in Yarl’s Wood.

My demands to the Minister are as follows. First, the Government must lift the restrictions on access to Yarl’s Wood for independent doctors. The restrictions were put in place in October 2015, in contravention of detention rules. Secondly, they must ensure that legal rooms are refurbished, as has been done in other detention centres, to make up the extra space that Yarl’s Wood management says is necessary to accommodate independent medical visits. Thirdly, they must ensure that rule 35 is properly used. Rule 35 processes are meant to protect people from detention when they have been tortured, traumatised or are extremely vulnerable in other ways. I share the British Medical Association’s view that rule 35 reports should be written only by clinicians with relevant medical experience or appropriate training in identifying, documenting and reporting the physical and psychological signs of torture. Lastly, the Government must end the detention of pregnant women and those who are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.

I want to start by highlighting the pervasive lack of confidence in the healthcare system. The detention services operating standards stipulate:

“All detainees must have available to them the same range and quality of services as the general public receives from the National Health Service.”

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this excellent debate to Westminster Hall. Will she comment briefly on the recent debate in the Commons about the lack of a proper sentence, for want of a better word, which makes the question of healthcare even more important? If an individual does not know how long they will be in Yarl’s Wood, their healthcare issues will be even more intense and difficult to cope with.

Kate Osamor: My hon. Friend highlights an important point. I know from first-hand experience that if women do not know how long they will be detained, it has an

6 Jan 2016 : Column 144WH

impact on their mental health. I want the Government to take that fact very seriously. I will discuss it later in my speech. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue.

In 2014, the report “Detained” by Women for Refugee Women found that 62% of those surveyed described healthcare in detention as “bad” or “very bad”. In its latest report, “I am Human”, 17 out of 38 interviewees raised the issue of healthcare without being prompted. The urgent need to review healthcare was also voiced by HMIP. In its most recent report on its unannounced inspection, which was published in May 2015, it stated that healthcare in detention centres has declined severely. One of the two concerns it identified is healthcare, which needs to be improved. The second is that staffing levels are too low to meet the needs of the population, which links to healthcare. The report shows that staff do not have the time to build meaningful connections with detainees, and no counselling is available. It states:

“Detainees’ perceptions of health care were overwhelmingly negative. Their main concerns included poor access to prescribed medication, a poor overall standard of care, a poor attitude from health care staff, a corrosive culture of disbelief, and a lack of support with emotional and mental health needs.”

The Care Quality Commission issued three requirement notices following the inspection.

In November last year, I went inside Yarl’s Wood to meet women who had been detained. The two women I met were victims of trafficking; one was pregnant. Pregnant women are a particularly vulnerable group in detention. I call on the Government to review urgently their policy of detaining pregnant women in exceptional circumstances. In 2014, just nine of the 99 pregnant women who were detained in Yarl’s Wood were removed from the UK. The removal of pregnant women is rarely medically safe, due to potential pregnancy complications and increased levels of severe malaria on arrival.

The human reality has never been so clear to me as when I went inside the detention centre. I know that the Minister has already visited Yarl’s Wood, but I encourage him to do so again, if possible, on a healthcare visit.

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): On the point about the unsuitability of detention for pregnant women and the statistic that the hon. Lady cited, there were 99 pregnant women in detention, but, as we understand it, there are now only two. I am sure she will join me in urging the Minister to ensure that no pregnant women are kept in detention, but the numbers have come down.

Kate Osamor: The right hon. Lady makes a valuable point. I agree that pregnant women should not be detained at all.

Meeting women in Yarl’s Wood allowed me to hear the concerns that they do not have the power to voice to the outside world by themselves. I am here today as their voice. This debate is for them. They told me, unprompted, that the worst thing about Yarl’s Wood is the healthcare. The women I met were depressed and exasperated by healthcare, but they were trying their best to stay positive about being released. They told me that the culture of disbelief in detention centres extends to healthcare staff as well, who are reluctant to take their illnesses seriously, and they assume that the staff are pretending to help with their asylum case. That feeling is compounded by the complaints process. Whereas

6 Jan 2016 : Column 145WH

the majority of complaints receive comprehensive replies, usually on time, healthcare complaints in the months prior to the HMIP inspection had either not been responded to or were extremely late.

I want to highlight how damaging such healthcare systems are for detainees who are victims of torture and those who have mental health issues. Unsurprisingly, those groups are often intertwined. They represent a significant proportion of those in detention. According to Medical Justice, 50% of those held in detention are asylum seekers or have sought asylum at some point in the immigration process. More than 80% of those surveyed by Women for Refugee Women for “I am Human” stated that they had experienced gender-related persecution, and 30% had been on suicide watch at some point during their detention. During the previous HMIP inspection, 49% said that they had problems of feeling depressed or suicidal on arrival, compared with 39% at the last inspection. Despite those needs, there is no counselling. Only 68% of staff said to HMIP that they received adequate training in safeguarding adults, and only one said that they were aware of the national referral mechanism for victims of trafficking.

Rule 35 is in place to protect the most vulnerable and ensure that they are not unsuitably detained, but it is failing in Yarl’s Wood. The most recent HMIP report states:

“Yarl’s Wood is failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women held. These are issues that need to be addressed at a policy and strategic management level.”

The report reiterates demands that rule 35 processes are appropriately followed. It states that Yarl’s Wood’s rule 35 reports were among the worst HMIP had seen. This included an exceptionally poorly handled rule 35 case in which a woman who had been raped was not considered to have met the criteria for torture even though she had clear symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Thanks to HMIP and independent organisations, the Government are aware of such concerns.

However, at the same time that the Government and Serco have announced reviews of operations at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, access to healthcare is limited. In October 2015, Yarl’s Wood informed Medical Justice that rooms in healthcare would be available only during a short lunch break on weekdays, severely restricting access for independent doctors, most of whom work in the NHS during the week and visit detainees on weekends. Such doctors therefore now have to visit detainees in inappropriate rooms with large windows and without examination facilities. That is wholly unsuitable. External medical assessments are most frequently carried out in order to assess whether someone has medical evidence of torture, which needs to be documented for their asylum case. If the doctor does not have a room where they can offer the woman the dignity of being able to undress and not feel threatened, how can that work?

Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con): Returning to the “I Am Human” report mentioned by the hon. Lady, these women are already feeling quite vulnerable. If they are pregnant, they will feel doubly vulnerable. If they have access to medical treatment, but with a male member of staff, that is another issue. Perhaps we need some information on the male to female staff ratio. These women are already vulnerable and they are being managed by male members of staff.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 146WH

Kate Osamor: The hon. Lady makes a valuable point. As she eloquently said, the woman may have experienced trauma at the hands of men and then may have to sit and talk to a man and undress in front of him, which could double or triple the impact of what they have been through. It would be wonderful if the Minister could provide some data on the ratio of male to female members of staff.

Furthermore, medical appointments often take several hours, much longer than the newly restricted one-hour lunch-break slot. Thorough medical assessments are vital in light of the poor quality of healthcare and are instrumental in helping to identify the most vulnerable detainees. Medical Justice wrote to Yarl’s Wood in October 2015 about the matter and was told it was down to the Home Office. It subsequently wrote to the Home Office and has received no reply. I hope this debate will bring forward a proactive response.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): I thank the hon. Lady for securing this important debate. Does she agree that comprehensive trauma assessments for women necessitate a lengthy process over several sessions over a period of time, because people generally find it difficult to open up and discuss intimate details in a one-off consultation?

Kate Osamor: The hon. Lady makes a valuable point, and she knows from experience how much time it takes to be able to extract information when someone has been tortured. A one-hour slot is inadequate.

I want the Government to think about the harmful nature of detention as a policy, so I reiterate my requests that the Government lift restrictions on visiting times for independent doctors and refurbish legal rooms so that they can accommodate medical consultations in a dignified and professional manner; that they ensure that rule 35 is properly used to fulfil its function as a safeguarding mechanism for the most vulnerable; and that they end the detention of pregnant women and those detained under the Mental Health Act.

I hope that the Government will respond to my specific demands. I will say pre-emptively that while I welcome their efforts to address the matter through the Shaw review, its scope is limited. By not addressing detention as a policy, particularly for asylum seekers, it fails to deal with the root of many of the healthcare issues at Yarl’s Wood: detention exacerbates existing mental health issues, particularly for vulnerable victims of torture, and has a lasting impact on their wellbeing. It is important that the Government consider the long-term impact of detention on the mental health of ex-detainees when reviewing their policy, especially given that the latest figures collected by HMIP show that the number of women released into the community is more than double the number of women deported. Women who had been previously detained in Yarl’s Wood have told me of the devastating impact it has had on their mental health.

The Government must act now to improve a healthcare situation that has been severely criticised by women inside Yarl’s Wood, ex-detainees, and independent organisations. I particularly hope that my first demand regarding independent visits can be accommodated as a matter of urgency.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 147WH

Sir David Amess (in the Chair): Order. The debate must finish at 5.39 pm and I will be calling Front-Bench spokespeople at 5.19 pm, so speeches will have to be brief.

4.56 pm

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) on securing this important debate. As a longer standing Member of the House, I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have tried so hard to shine a light on the difficulties. I want to mention in particular Sarah Teather, the former Member for Brent Central, who chaired a detention inquiry, on the panel of which I sat, to take evidence from those who had gone through the detention system in this country.

I think the public will be quite surprised by some of the facts that come out of this debate. Each year, some 2,000 asylum-seeking women are locked up in Yarl’s Wood. The majority of them are survivors of sexual violence and rape. Up to 93% of the women detained at Yarl’s Wood claim to have suffered sexual violence of some form, so these are the most vulnerable women that we can think of in circumstances that are far from ideal. Being locked up in detention exacerbates physical and mental health problems, so it is even more important that the health provision should be to a high standard.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should never forget that those who are detained have neither been accused nor convicted of any offence? It is therefore particularly important that they are afforded the high-quality healthcare to which those who have been convicted of no crime are entitled.

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I just do not think that the bulk of people in our society have any idea that the UK is the only country in Europe with no time limit on immigration detention and that one can be detained for an indeterminate period without charge. Most people in British society would think that impossible, but we are the only country in Europe that currently does it. My hon. Friend is right that people who are detained indefinitely without charge should not be denied the healthcare they need. That is one of the key reasons why securing this debate was so important.

The detention inquiry that took place in the last Parliament made six important recommendations to Government, one of which I want to reiterate:

“Decisions to detain should be very rare and detention should be for the shortest possible time and only to effect removal.”

Those recommendations were made to the coalition Government and I sincerely hope that the present Government’s Minister will be able to say in his response what the Home Office is doing about those recommendations and the ones being made today.

We have heard about the types of health problems that women suffer from, but I will highlight the high percentage of suffering associated with sexual violence and the plight of pregnant women. Women for Refugee Women, an organisation already referred to, collected evidence from detainees in Yarl’s Wood and, frankly, as a mother it makes my hair stand on end. For example, a woman recently detained while pregnant said that she had only one hospital appointment while in Yarl’s Wood, which was for a scan at 20 weeks—as hon. Members

6 Jan 2016 : Column 148WH

know, that is late for a first scan. Even then she was escorted by officers who brought the lady to her appointment 40 minutes late. How anxious and frustrated she must have felt—even when she was brought to the necessary scan, she was not presented in time and was not able to speak to the midwife after the scan because no time was left. As a woman who has been through pregnancy, I would expect such basic healthcare provisions for people.

Nusrat Ghani: On the issue of pregnant women, the contrast is between the treatment available to women in my constituency at an award-winning midwifery unit and what women in detention get. Pregnant women in detention cannot even request access to a midwife—surely that has to be discussed further.

Mrs Spelman: I could not agree more and that is why we are laying it on with a trowel today.

A further example from Women for Women Refugees distressed me greatly when I heard about it, just as the hon. Member for Edmonton was distressed by describing what women in detention have to go through. One woman had to wait three and a half hours for an ambulance while she was bleeding from a miscarriage. I suffered from multiple miscarriages and they can be a matter of life and death. If our constituents knew that a 999 call for someone suffering a miscarriage had taken three and a half hours to be responded to, they would soon be writing to the Secretary of State for Health.

We are at this debate to emphasise to the Government the urgency required to address the situation. What is it that deters the Home Office from taking a different approach to detention? In other countries, pregnant women or any of the people whom we would detain are detained in the community and kept at large there. Is the Home Office worried about the cost? I doubt it, because our system seems to be both expensive and unnecessary—holding someone in detention costs almost £40,000 a year and some of the detainees are held for a very long period. Community programmes are consistently found to be significantly cheaper. International evidence also demonstrates that such alternatives to detention support high levels of compliance. Perhaps the Home Office is worried about the risk of absconding? The Home Office is evaluating the UK’s new family returns process, which makes minimal use of detention, and the evidence is that there has been no rise in absconding since the introduction of the new community-orientated process.

I urge the Minister, when he responds to the debate, to address such urgent matters of basic rights. We should expect all UK citizens and guests in our country to be able to rely on such rights and on an emergency service and proper healthcare to a standard that we would all expect to be available when needed. As far as possible, we should move away from how so many women are being treated.

5.3 pm

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for securing the debate. For me, as for her and for the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), this is a powerfully emotive subject. It is a debate about pride and shame.

6 Jan 2016 : Column 149WH

I am proud to be the Member for Walthamstow. When I was elected, the then Member for Blackburn told me that there were two divides in the House: between left and right; and between those who have to deal with the UK Border Agency and those who do not. That was a pretty accurate description.

I am also proud to be a member of the Set Her Free campaign and to work with Women for Refugee Women—some of those women live in my community and I have been proud to campaign with them about Yarl’s Wood. Set Her Free is above all about giving voice, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton did so eloquently, to those women detained at Yarl’s Wood now and whose voices we cannot hear unless others speak out for them. We are here today to speak out for those 2,000 women, the majority of whom we know to be the victims of rape and sexual torture and of persecution in their own countries. Yet when they come to our shores, this is how we treat them.

The healthcare problems are only the pinnacle of the injustice that Yarl’s Wood represents in our community. Many of the detainees have mental as well as physical healthcare problems: one in five has tried to kill themselves and 40% of them self-harm. Those figures come from the valiant work done by Women for Refugee Women to hold us to account for the existence of Yarl’s Wood. That work was cruelly disbelieved by the Home Office, so the report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons showing a tripling in the number of women self-harming in Yarl’s Wood should be testament to the work done by Women for Refugee Women to uncover just what the truth is about such a place in our society here in Britain in 2016.

Catherine West: My hon. Friend is making a passionate and excellent speech. Will she join me in underlining that when there is no statutory limit on the period of detention those mental health issues such as the self-harming become worse?

Stella Creasy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that, because she brings me to exactly what shames me. I feel shame about what is happening today in our country. I am ashamed that the UK is the only European country with no limit on detention, which absolutely compounds the mental health distress felt by many of those in Yarl’s Wood. I am ashamed that the HMIP report also reveals that male members of staff are supervising women on suicide watch—as Women for Refugee Women warned us was happening. What does that mean in layman’s terms? Vulnerable women are being watched as they sleep or as they use the lavatory. How is that happening in our country, on our shores?

I am also ashamed that all of that is futile, because two thirds of the women whom we lock up in Yarl’s Wood are then set free and, as Members have talked about, 90% of the pregnant women are set free. What is the point of putting them through that torture? I am ashamed, because it is not even value for money. As the right hon. Member for Meriden pointed out, it costs us £40,000 a year to hold those women in detention. We could find much cheaper, much more humane and much more dignified ways in which to manage our asylum system.

Above all, I am ashamed that we do not hear the voices of those women. I therefore want to read directly from their testament. The right hon. Member for Meriden

6 Jan 2016 : Column 150WH

cited a case, but I will read from the account of a woman who was not pregnant. The best way in which to guarantee the healthcare of women in Yarl’s Wood is to close the place down altogether. Let me read this out:

“When I came to England I was destitute, I was homeless. I went to Croydon to the Home Office to explain my situation. Before I could say anything, the lady said to me, you are lying. I said, God knows if I am lying…Then they took me to a room. Nobody told me they were taking me to detention. A lady said to me, they are taking you to another immigration office. They put me in handcuffs. I did not know what was going on. Since I was born I had never left my country before. They put me in the van and took me to Yarl’s Wood. They searched me. I wasn’t able to ask what was going on, because I was too scared of them. Nobody told me what was going on. They said, you are in fast track, but I didn’t know what that was.

While I was in detention, I was seriously sick, I was dying. My body collapsed. There were times when I could not walk. They took me to healthcare, they said you must eat, but I couldn’t eat the food. I was skinny, I was dying.”

This is 2016. We have had such debates for a number of years. It is not cost-effective, moral or effective in the modern world to have somewhere such as Yarl’s Wood in Britain. It should shame us all that it is happening on our shores. I ask the Minister, please, set her free.

5.8 pm

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate hugely my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), because she has given those women a voice which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) said, is being denied them.

At the moment a great deal of attention is rightly being given to those who are crossing borders to seek safety. It is important that we focus our attention on those who reach the UK and seek our protection, and that we ensure they are treated with dignity and humanity. Every year, around 2,000 asylum-seeking women are locked up at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Most are survivors of rape, sexual violence or torture. Because of their experiences in their countries of origin, those women are clearly vulnerable and many have serious physical and mental health problems. However, in spite of that, when they come to the UK for sanctuary they are locked up in detention, where they are re-traumatised, and the physical and mental health care available to them is wholly inadequate.

The chief inspector of prisons has called Yarl’s Wood a “place of national concern”. He found in his most recent inspection report that, of all the areas in the centre,

“healthcare had declined most severely”.

His report also pointed to the lack of gender-sensitive health practices in Yarl’s Wood. For instance, women who had newly arrived at the centre were expected to speak to male nurses as part of the health screening process and women who were placed on constant supervision, deemed to be so mentally distressed that they might kill themselves, were being watched by male staff in spite of their previous experiences of abuse and victimisation.

When Maimuna Jawo, who was detained in Yarl’s Wood prison, gave evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into the use of immigration detention, she said:

6 Jan 2016 : Column 151WH

“Anybody who is on suicide watch has sexual harassment in Yarl’s Wood, because those male guards, they sit there watching you at night, sleeping and being naked.”

The Home Office has promised that a new policy will be put in place to ensure that women are watched only by female guards, but while the proportion of female staff at Yarl’s Wood remains under 50% there are serious questions about whether such a policy will ever become practice.

There are also real concerns about the treatment of pregnant women in detention, as hon. Members have said. Research by Medical Justice found that pregnant women miss antenatal appointments and some do not have any scans while detained. The poor care provided to those women is particularly troubling when we consider that, as has been said, for most of them detention serves absolutely no purpose.

Mrs Spelman: I want to highlight one important point: staff from Yarl’s Wood were actually prosecuted for offences against detainees. It is important to place that on the record.

Sarah Champion: I am grateful that the right hon. Lady placed that on the record. It turns my stomach that we are in this situation. Ninety of the 99 pregnant women detained in Yarl’s Wood in 2014 were released back into the community to continue with their cases, so they were locked up and re-traumatised for no reason at all. One of the pregnant women who the charity Women for Refugee Women is in touch with, a survivor of trafficking, was recently released back into the community after being detained for almost two months, even though Home Office guidance says that pregnant women should be detained only if their removal is imminent.

Alex Chalk: I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady’s excellent speech, but do we not have to be a tiny bit careful about making the point that people are sometimes released into the community and then continue normally? It happens in the criminal system that people who are remanded in custody subsequently have their trial and are acquitted, but that does not necessarily mean that, in all cases, there is not a public policy reason for such action. I understand her argument, but I wonder whether that is the strongest point.

Sarah Champion: I will come on to strengthen my point in a moment. It is welcome news that the Home Office has committed to consult on its policy of detaining pregnant women and I hope that it will engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including women who have been in detention while pregnant, to make sure that the process is meaningful. Standards of healthcare in Yarl’s Wood need to improve as a matter of real urgency, but we must not lose sight of the fact that locking up women who have come to the UK to seek our protection is harmful by its nature. However much healthcare services are improved, detention causes mental health trauma and exacerbates physical problems.

These women do not need to be in Yarl’s Wood in the first place. Their claims could be dealt with much more effectively in the community. In fact, two thirds of

6 Jan 2016 : Column 152WH

asylum-seeking women are released from Yarl’s Wood to do just that. The Home Office’s own evidence on the new family returns process found no rise in absconding among families seeking asylum since children stopped being detained at Yarl’s Wood. We can and should learn from that.

Minister, locking up women seeking asylum is expensive, unnecessary and unjust. It is time that the practice is swiftly brought to an end.

5.14 pm

Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) on her heartfelt, moving speech. I want to thank her for crying—I am not the only one who does that in this place. She said that she wanted to be the voice for women detained in Yarl’s Wood and she has been that incredibly well today. Her demonstration of how deeply she feels will matter to them when they watch the debate.

If the UK Government need more evidence of the desperate human consequences of unlimited incarceration of vulnerable people, the shameful reports of inadequate healthcare as well as the dire treatment of female detainees in Yarl’s Wood should be telling enough for them to abandon their inhumane policies. I appeal to the Minister, who I know has a humane side to him—sometimes a very humane side—to do something now. We are waiting on the outcome of reports, but we already have significant reports, so we should not wait for more of them before we do anything.

Yarl’s Wood is a prison for people who have committed no crime, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) pointed out, where diabolical health and safety standards threaten the lives of innocent people, many of whom have already been victims of torture and trauma. Evidence of the degrading, inhumane consequences of indefinite detention shows the vital need for time-limited detention as a matter of urgency. The Scottish National party has long supported that. The UK Government are fundamentally failing to protect some of the most vulnerable women seeking refuge.

Yarl’s Wood fails to meet the most basic standards of health and safety for detainees and is a “place of national concern”. Those are not my words, but those of the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick. I sincerely hope that the Government will listen to that and do something as a matter of urgency.

I want to return to something that the hon. Member for Edmonton talked about. Last year, 90 of the 99 pregnant women detained were later released and not deported. I think it was the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and the hon. Member for—[Interruption.] She and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy)—I do that in every debate—asked, if 90 of those women were later allowed to go to homes in the UK, what were they doing there in the first place? The hon. Member for Bishop’s Stortford—

Mrs Spelman: Good try—Meriden. [Laughter.]

Anne McLaughlin: The constituency names do not come up on the Annunciator in Westminster Hall. In an equally moving speech, the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) noted that in 2015 there were—I

6 Jan 2016 : Column 153WH

think she said—only two pregnant women in Yarl’s Wood. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether that is because the Government are now politically opposed to the detention of pregnant women and whether we can expect that number to go down rather than up.

I also pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for speaking movingly about how deeply she feels about the situation, and in particular for mentioning her experience of miscarriage. That is not an easy thing to do, but she recognised her duty to do that to highlight the problems faced by other women.

I share the shame that the hon. Member for Walthamstow mentioned she feels. She did something important: she spoke in this place the words of women currently in detention. The hon. Member for Rotherham—I know where she represents—has been a true champion of those seeking asylum. She rightly questioned why 90 pregnant women were at Yarl’s Wood in the first place if they were released.

The SNP has long called for an end to the unlimited detention—imprisonment, in fact—of migrants. It recently advocated that a 28-day maximum time limit be written into the Immigration Bill, based on evidence that being locked up for any longer would be catastrophic for the detainees’ health. An unlimited period of detention not only causes damage to health, but is a fundamentally unnecessary and expensive exercise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who is our immigration spokesperson, asked a parliamentary question in September about the cost per capita of detaining someone in one of these centres. The reply from the Home Office was that last year the average cost to hold an individual in detention was £91 per day. I would argue, as others have, that that money could be better spent elsewhere. The Home Office has also said that the UK detains immigrants only as a last resort, but in 2013 it detained just over 30,000. Germany detained just over 4,000, Belgium just over 6,000 and Sweden almost 3,000. During that time, Germany received four times as many asylum applications as the UK, and I do not think anyone would accuse Germany of being a soft touch. We are the only EU country to have no time limit on detention.

Many of the women detained at Yarl’s Wood have backgrounds that include trafficking and torture, as well as physical and mental abuse. A young woman who fled persecution in Uganda on account of her sexuality talked about the lack of support for those with mental health problems and how the lack of appropriate healthcare in the detention centre led to suicidal thoughts. I understand that some counselling services were withdrawn last year; will the Minister give us an update on that? Surely that was a mistake and those services will be reinstated, because if anywhere needs it, it is that place. We must address the failures not only in Yarl’s Wood but in the immigration system as a whole. We cannot put up with a prison-like system, not only because of the financial consequences, but because of the devastating human cost, which is simply not just.

I pay tribute to a choir that came to this place from Manchester at Christmas. In fact, they might have sung in this Chamber. They are called WAST—Women Asylum Seekers Together—and it was incredibly moving to witness them just before Christmas. All the women had been in detention and were now out, but the damage

6 Jan 2016 : Column 154WH

that had been done to them, by not only the detention but whatever had happened in their past, was visible.

I conclude by repeating something I have said on more than one occasion in this place. I know that we no longer detain children, but I am going to use the words of a 10-year-old boy who I knew extremely well. He was in Yarl’s Wood with his mother and could stand it no longer, and said to her, “Mummy, please can we just die? Please, dying would be better than this. Let us die.” That child was 10 years old. It does not matter what age someone is; if we are doing something to people that makes them feel like they want to die, we have to do something about it. We cannot keep waiting for report after report after report. Listen to the reports that have come out already and take action as soon as possible.

5.22 pm

Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for securing this debate and for her powerful and insightful comments. I am grateful for all the powerful and insightful comments that have been made this afternoon. It is a shame there are not more men in the room. This is a question not of women’s issues but of human rights, and it is notable that there are not as many male Members present as there should be—this is not a party political point—both to contribute and to hear the contributions that have been made.

Of course, immigration rules have to be enforced and, in exceptional circumstances, detention is necessary, but it must always be humane and done to the highest standards, and there must always be safeguards. The point has already been made that, in relation to this particular type of detention, where there has been no conviction—no wrongdoing—it is particularly important that the detention service’s operating standards are kept to, and that the same range and quality of healthcare services is provided in detention centres as is available on the NHS. That point was made early in the debate, and it is central to this issue, because it is manifestly not the case in Yarl’s Wood.

There is clear evidence of repeated failures in relation to the rule 35 reports, in relation to the treatment and detention of pregnant women and the mentally ill, and in the provision of adequate healthcare more generally. Such repeated failings, and the reports on them, bring into question whether Yarl’s Wood is still fit for purpose. That is the central question. But, instead of taking action, the Government repeatedly refer us back to reports that are due out, such as the Shaw review into the welfare of vulnerable people in detention. That review is important, but it has been with the Minister for some time now—I think it was completed in the autumn—so, in the light of the concerns that have been raised on many occasions and again in this debate, will he tell us when it will be published so that we can see its findings?

The rule 35 reports are central to the provision of care, welfare and healthcare in Yarl’s Wood. They are intended to be a report of any case where continued detention is likely to injure the detainee’s health, so they are central. They are sent, or are supposed to be sent, to the Home Secretary, who must consider and respond to

6 Jan 2016 : Column 155WH

them. As has already been mentioned, the quality of the rule 35 reports in Yarl’s Wood, these central reports that are supposed to flag up cases so that something can be done about them, is appalling.

Although part of it has already been read out, it is worth giving in full the quote from the 2015 report by the chief inspector of prisons, which said that the rule 35 reports

“were among the worst we have seen. All were handwritten and many were difficult to read, lacked detail and were perfunctory. Some responses were dismissive.”

That shows a manifest failing of a flagging system that is supposed to start the process and alert the Home Office to concerns so that something can be done. How can the rule 35 reports examined in the 2015 report be among the worst that have ever been seen?

It is clear that the Home Office’s response to these reports has also been inadequate on occasion. A recent example is the case of a Sudanese refugee that went to the High Court. In that case, the medical practitioner at Yarl’s Wood had filed a rule 35 report, which gave details of previous injuries caused by beatings with metal rods, knife wounds and even a gunshot. Despite the evidence of torture, the Home Secretary said that there were exceptional circumstances justifying detention. The High Court disagreed, finding that the woman had been wrongfully detained and calling the case “truly disgraceful”. What is the point of the rule 35 procedure if adequate responses are not made in every case?

A further problem that has already been touched on is the detention of pregnant women and the mentally ill. It may be that the number is coming down, but it is a very serious issue. There have been far too many in the past, and any detention of anyone who is pregnant requires exceptional justification. There is no evidence that those exceptional circumstances are made out in so many of these cases. As the director of midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, Louise Silverton, has said:

“Some pregnant women have reported receiving inadequate healthcare, which clearly puts their unborn baby at risk as well.”

The law is designed to protect pregnant women and those with other vulnerabilities from being detained. It is not being applied properly, it has not been applied properly in the past, and that now raises the question of whether, if it cannot be applied properly, it should be applied at all. There are other provisions in relation to vulnerable individuals.

I am aware of the time, but I want to mention one other issue, which I think has already been raised: the investigations into the deaths in custody that have occurred in the past few years. In particular, there have been reports of the death of a 40-year-old female detainee in March last year in which it has been said that the detainee was denied medical assistance. I know that there has been an investigation, so could the Minister give us an update on that and tell us when we can see its findings? That might tell us so much more about the provision of healthcare in Yarl’s Wood.

To conclude, it is not acceptable to wait for yet more evidence and yet more reports before something is done about the appalling situation in Yarl’s Wood. Now is the time for action. Frankly, if the rules cannot be applied properly in Yarl’s Wood and adequate medical

6 Jan 2016 : Column 156WH

provision cannot be made to safeguard the health and welfare of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, the question is whether Yarl’s Wood is fit for purpose.

5.29 pm

The Minister for Immigration (James Brokenshire): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. May I congratulate the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) at the outset on securing this debate and on her contribution? I know that she feels strongly about this subject and has been committed to it over a period of time and since she has been in the House. I know how deeply she feels about these issues, as her contribution showed. I am genuinely grateful for the manner in which she has approached this debate.

As the hon. Lady indicated, one of the first things I did following the general election and my reappointment as the Immigration Minister was to visit Yarl’s Wood, recognising a number of the issues raised about the centre, and I specifically visited the healthcare centre at that time. I can certainly assure her and other Members of our focus on this issue and, indeed, the importance that the Home Secretary and I attach to the dignity and welfare of those in detention. That is of the utmost importance, and we take those responsibilities extremely seriously. I hope to talk about some of the generalities of the policy, to focus on Yarl’s Wood specifically and to address rule 35 access to independent medical examinations, as well as some of the other points flagged up, in the time available to me.

Our policy is that vulnerable people should not normally be detained under immigration powers. Our processes are designed generally to prevent vulnerable individuals from being detained unless there are very exceptional circumstances and, when vulnerability emerges after the point of initial detention, we aim to act quickly and appropriately.

Reference has been made to the Shaw review. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) highlighted it in his contribution. The Home Secretary commissioned Stephen Shaw to carry out an independent review of welfare in detention—that is, in immigration removal centres, in short-term holding facilities and for detainees under escort. The review considered many of the issues discussed in today’s debate. Mr Shaw was asked to look at current systems and policies, including those in place for identifying vulnerability, managing both the mental and physical health of detainees, providing welfare support, preventing self-harm and self-inflicted death, assessing risk, managing food and fluid refusal, and safeguarding. We have received Mr Shaw’s report and, as I indicated on Report of the Immigration Bill, it is our intention to publish both the report and our response to it before Committee consideration of the Bill in the House of Lords. That remains our intention.

Stella Creasy: Will the Minister give way?

James Brokenshire: I was just about to address the detention issues raised by the hon. Lady, as well as those raised by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) referred to fast track in her contribution. I underline that I made the decision to suspend detained fast track—in other words, where an asylum case is

6 Jan 2016 : Column 157WH

being considered—because I was not satisfied with the safeguarding provisions around vulnerability. I will reintroduce it only when I am satisfied that appropriate processes and procedures are in place to ensure its safe reintroduction.

Stella Creasy: Will the Minister confirm whether, when the Government respond to the Shaw report, there will be clarity as to whether they consider women who are victims of rape and sexual torture—that is, two thirds of the residents of Yarl’s Wood—to be vulnerable in and of themselves, and therefore inappropriate for detention?

James Brokenshire: I will be careful not to pre-empt the Government’s response, but the hon. Lady will not have long to wait for the Shaw report. I recognise the importance attached to it. Indeed, the Home Secretary commissioned the report because of the importance we attach to it. My comments today will be based on the position as it stands, but the Government will have more to say on these issues shortly.

Dr Lisa Cameron: I speak as the MP for the constituency where Dungavel is based, and also as a psychologist. When I visited that centre, it struck me that another issue of vulnerability for individuals who have suffered abuse and trauma is being detained alongside foreign national offenders who may be violent or sexual offenders. Will the Minister comment on how such risks are assessed, particularly given that it was pointed out to me that prison records do not always follow foreign national offenders into the units?

James Brokenshire: I assure the hon. Lady that risk assessment takes place. There is sometimes a mix of different people within an immigration removal centre: some of them will be foreign national offenders, and others will be there as a consequence of the removal process. It is worth underlining that we are talking about immigration removal centres. The primary purpose is the removal of people from this country, but there will be public protection issues, and risk assessment is clearly a core part of the operation of any immigration removal centre.

I am conscious that I now have four minutes left to respond to the various points made, so I will try to make as much haste as I can. Several Members mentioned indefinite detention. It is not possible to detain under immigration powers indefinitely. There are significant, long-standing and, we believe, appropriate protections against the arbitrary use of administrative detention by the state in this country.