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break through plateauing crop yields and to stop declining livestock numbers, and as we endeavour to become more self-sufficient and to increase food production to meet the ever-increasing global population. However, I realise that a balance has to be struck on the environmental impact of modern-day farming, which my hon. Friend mentioned. It is worth pointing out that the vast majority of farmers see themselves as custodians of our countryside, and want it to be preserved for future generations.
Julian Sturdy: I entirely agree. UK farmers have set the gold standard for many years, and will continue to do so, but the issue is now about giving them the tools of support for them to take that next step forward.
To go back to the environmental schemes, sadly, I fear that we are starting to tilt the balance of CAP reform too far from the primary aim of farmers, which is ultimately to produce food. For centuries, we have taken our peacetime food supply for granted, mainly because of how easy it was in the past to import food from abroad. Agricultural policy in both the UK and throughout the rest of the EU has moved away from maximising food production towards rewarding environmentally friendly practices.
As the National Farmers Union has pointed out, we have only 36 harvests in which to increase our global food production to a level at which it can feed 9 billion people, and just 11 harvests before another billion people need to be fed. It may surprise some hon. Members, but I will be in my late 70s when we reach the 36th harvest. What that shows is that we only get one chance a year to advance crop yields, and the number of years is counting down rapidly.
I want to turn to the greening elements of CAP reform. With the ecological focus areas and what farmers will have to do to meet the 5% requirement—buffer strips, laying land fallow, catch crops, nitrogen-fixing crops and hedges, the inclusion of which I join many hon. Members in welcoming—it is probably not as bad as the farming community first feared, but some more detail is still to come out. By “detail”, I mean that the most important thing is to get clarity as soon as possible.
Overall, the Government have definitely made the best of a bad job. We must have a practical approach to greening. Sadly, the three-crop rule is far from being an example of that practical approach. I am sure that it will prove to be a bureaucratic nightmare that serves no purpose and delivers no environmental benefit in the UK or across Europe.
The UK is currently 68% self-sufficient in terms of food that can be produced here. Sadly, there has been a steady decline in that level over the past 20 years. Nearly a quarter of the food that is eaten in the UK is imported, when it could be produced here. Yields have levelled off and cereal, potato, orchard fruit and fresh vegetable production are well below their 1991 levels. CAP should give more weight to sustainable intensification because we have to produce more food on a finite amount of land in a sustainable way.
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and back British farmers, especially in the wake of the horsemeat scandal. According to a recent NFU survey, 78% of shoppers believe that supermarkets should sell more British produce.
Ultimately, the best way to boost yields, increase production and ensure our future food security is to invest in cutting-edge technology. I am delighted by today’s announcement that the hard work of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding local enterprise partnership has paid off. Sadly, I was not called in the statement earlier, so I thought that I would take this opportunity to comment on it. My constituency will benefit from three new Government-backed projects to facilitate the provision of cutting-edge agricultural technology. The £11-million investment in the food science campus at Sand Hutton will create 800 new jobs in agri-food research and product testing. The £8-million investment in the BioVale initiative at the university of York will provide a biotechnology cluster that will host a range of high-tech industrial biotechnology companies, creating a further 500 highly skilled jobs. The £1-million investment in Askham Bryan college, where young farmers learn their craft, will enable a new state-of-the-art training centre and engineering centre of excellence to be constructed.
We have to be upfront about the fact that it will remain a challenge to feed the growing global population. However, such investment demonstrates the Government’s commitment to meeting that rising challenge. It will ensure that research is carried out in close collaboration with the farming community, so that it benefits the businesses on the ground and delivers a far-sighted, coherent, joined-up approach to the future challenges of food security. The investment will deliver growth and jobs across my region. Most importantly, it will help to give the UK the competitive edge that it needs to unlock the potential in the agriculture sector, to become a world leader in combating the growing threat to food security, and to set the gold standard.
In conclusion, like many other Members, I welcome the young farmers’ scheme. Sadly, I do not fall into that category any more. I also welcome the moving of the funding up the hill. That move is long overdue, but I welcome it. Like a number of Members, I still have concerns over the bureaucratic nature of the new scheme. My fear for the long term is that if we continue to pump taxpayers’ money into agri-environmental schemes that take land out of production when food insecurity is an ever-growing problem, and food prices rise on the back of that, there will come a point when there is a public backlash and the Government of the day could ultimately pay the price.
I thank the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) for providing a comprehensive analysis of her Committee’s report in relation to CAP. She took it a stage further with some detailed technical points to which I am sure the Minister will respond. She also raised issues relating to broadband access to the new IT system, which will in many ways be universally rolled
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out overnight. There are great concerns about that. The issue was picked up by other hon. Members, including former Ministers, was digital by default.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) also raised that issue and asked how people would be able to access the new IT system when it is the only game in town. She spoke with passion about the financial and IT challenges facing her hill farmers, pointing out that 40% of them have no access to rural broadband. She called for something that I think we can all agree on: a useable and farmer-friendly system of payments.
The right hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice), with his expertise in the Department, bemoaned, rightly, the lack of progress on real reform. He supported the idea of moving payments uphill—I think that that has universal support across the Chamber, with many hon. Members speaking to that point—and described the three-crop rule, another matter raised by many hon. Members, as pointless and bureaucratic. It has received universal condemnation not only from farmers but from environmentalists too.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) spoke up for direct payments to support hard-pressed farmers. I think that at one point he was talking against modulation of pillar two, but he then flipped it around and said that there could, and perhaps should, be common cause between environmental groups and farming organisations to argue for greater pillar two payments to support very hard-pressed farmers. That was an interesting twist at the end.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), in a very good contribution, said in response to an intervention that we are limited in how much we can decide. I will come on to that in a moment, but I think that even with this mish-mash, as it was described by the right hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire, there is scope for some decisions within England and in the other nations and regions.
The hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) opened his remarks by calling for a balance to be struck between the environment and farming and food security. That relates to the gist of what I want to talk about in a moment. It is fair to say that although there has been praise in various areas, there has also been a feeling of weary resignation among many of the contributions tonight. I think the phrase he used was “the best of a bad job”. I say to Members on all sides that in the next stage of reform we really have to do better, go further, take a lead and do a much better job.
This round of CAP reform has been criticised by all sides. Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers Union until February this year, complained last year that the Secretary of State had disadvantaged farmers with his stance on CAP negotiations. He complained that the Secretary of State had come back with
“less than he started with”
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“a CAP package which has huge practical hurdles for all concerned in agriculture. It’s not the promised simplification; policy measures distort farmers’ commercial decisions and do little to help us gear-up to the long-term food production and environmental challenges which we know are ahead.”
The criticisms from farming unions come from one perspective. Environmental organisations come from another viewpoint, but they have also derided CAP reform. In particular, they have derided the greening measures as so much “greenwash”. The greening proposals linked to direct payments are described as
“so vague as to be useless”
Mr Spencer: As the hon. Gentleman commented, I am an optimist and I was optimistic in my speech, but surely he must recognise the challenges of linking agricultural systems such as those in Greece, where it is so arid it is only possible to grow olives, and the large plains of East Anglia?
Huw Irranca-Davies: Yes, indeed. That is why it is essential that the framework works in respect of what CAP reform has always set out to do—to break the link between pure production subsidy and the targeting of the subsidy at public goods, increased innovation and productivity, and not just production. It cannot be a one-size-fits-all model. The framework has to be there at an EU level, but the implementation at the level of the nation state is critical. We should not be afraid to take the lead on that and to try to get our balance right as between the environment, farming and food security.
“failed to maximise the amount of money that it could have invested in wildlife-friendly farming and now it has made the greening measure meaningless.”
So we have “meaningless” and “useless” from the perspective of environmental organisations; and “deeply disappointed” and “a missed opportunity” from the perspective of farming unions. A change is needed in Europe and in the UK on how CAP is done. We need to show real leadership and real direction on both farm productivity and sustainability—it is not happening.
The key question is whether the more than £15 billion annual subsidy payment to farming in the UK—and £11.5 billion in England specifically—provides the best value for taxpayers’ money. A study last year suggested that sensitively adjusting the focus of the subsidy in the UK to enhance environmental and public goods, including things like flood alleviation, rather than purely units of production, could produce annual additional benefits of over £18 billion in the UK. The study did not take into account the additional benefits of cleaner air and cleaner water, which would further improve the net gains.
“I do believe there is a real role for taxpayer’s money in compensating farmers for the work they do in enhancing the environment and providing public goods for which there is no market mechanism.”
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“I believe that transferring the maximum 15% from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 would be the right thing to do where we can demonstrate it would deliver worthwhile and valuable outcomes for farming and society and contribute to rural economic growth and enhance the environment”.
He was quite specific on that. When the Secretary of State said that repeatedly, wildlife and environmental groups had every right to be optimistic at least on pillar two funding, even with their disappointment on the greening elements of direct payments. As the RSPB said in its response to the consultation earlier this year:
“We…welcome the Secretary of State’s assertion that Pillar II ‘unquestionably represents the better use of taxpayers money’”,
“follow through on their intention to maximise the benefits that Rural Development can deliver.”
The Secretary of State, then, was unequivocal, unyielding and unbowed all the way through—until he crumbled, U-turned and settled on 12%. I have to ask why he was outflanked and outgunned by other forces; what happened to his unequivocal stance?
The Government have signalled that they will review the situation in 2017, but I have to say that this looks like a smokescreen to cover the Secretary of State’s embarrassment at being forced to retreat from the repeatedly stated 15% modulation that he had repeatedly promised. That is not the only sign of weakness either, as the decisions on degression and capping of CAP are also spectacularly lacking in ambition and vision.
The Secretary of State’s minimalist position, choosing to go no further than the bare minimum prescribed by the European proposals, shows a worrying lack of leadership as well as a depressing lack of ambition for the best use of public money. Farming unions and landowning associations must understand—I hope they do—and have to engage with the growing public discontent of hard-pressed people and families who face a cost-of-living crisis at public money going to some of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in the country on the basis of the size of land that they farm.
Last year, more than 35 of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in the UK claimed over €1 million each a year in farm subsidies. A couple of hundred others claimed in excess of €300,000 a year. That is divorced from the reality of what we have heard about today—the reality of small-scale upland farmers struggling to get by; the reality of medium-sized mixed, traditional family farms that are vital to the fabric of our rural economy struggling to compete; or the reality of tenant farmers struggling to get their first foot on the rung of purchasing land against a backdrop of rising land prices fuelled by lucrative subsidies. It is certainly a world away from squeezed UK consumers facing rising food bills, and the exponential growth in food banks in every town and village in the country.
There might be some rationale if the biggest payments were tied to additional investment in agricultural innovation, to productivity improvements, to encouraging new entrants to farming, to pioneering environmental improvements in large-scale arable agri-businesses, or indeed to any marginal improvement. However, those payments are
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not for “additionality”; they are for scale and units of production, pure and simple. They are a reward for being big, and the bigger you are, the more European money—I am sorry; public money—you get.
As long as there is still subsidy flowing through the common agricultural policy to farmers across the EU, we must ensure that the right share of that funding comes to our farmers in the UK, but placing rigorous demands on the highest CAP payments is about demanding more—in productivity, environmental innovation and entry to farming—for the public money that is spent on the very biggest of the biggest subsidy recipients.
This is a value-for-money argument, and a fairness argument. I am talking about fairness for smaller and tenant farmers who lose out as the big money goes to the biggest landowners, fairness for the public who want real and transparent value for the money that they pay out each year, and fairness for this and future generations who are concerned about the environment, about the countryside that they love, and about sustainable agricultural production.
It is time to challenge the accepted wisdom, and to shake off any sense of the cosy complacency adopted by the Secretary of State. We must not assume that this is the way it must be. We can change things for the better for farmers, for the public, and for the good of the nation. If we do not do so, the voices of discontent over CAP payments will grow and grow. We need to do better than this.
Let me end by again thanking the Select Committee for the very good report that was introduced by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. I am sure that the Minister will respond to the detailed points that have been made.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): It is a pleasure to be in the Chamber with so many fellow farmers. I have heard many of them declare their interests this evening. I congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) on securing the debate, and thank members of the Select Committee for their report.
Let me begin by saying a little about the approach that the Government took during the negotiations. My right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) explained very clearly the difficulty that we experienced. We set out to secure a common agricultural policy that was simpler and greener, but despite the best endeavours of my predecessors and a very talented negotiating team, we have ended up with a CAP that is more complex because it was not possible to move the European Commission, or indeed sufficient numbers of other member states, to our position. Our view all along had been that we should keep pillar one—the single farm payments—as simple as possible, and that pillar two was the right option to deliver for the agri-environment.
There are two key issues about which farmers are expressing concern. One is the issue of the three-crop rule, which will affect at least 7% of farmers; the other is the issue of the environmental focus areas and some of the administrative burdens connected with them.
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It is important to note the successes that my predecessors achieved in the negotiations. My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) asked what had been my achievements. I have to say that I was not involved in the negotiations, so the credit for what we achieved should go to my predecessors. However, when it came to the three-crop rule, we did manage to increase the threshold to holdings with 30 hectares or more. We did manage to get the Commission to accept that there should be a distinction between spring barley and winter barley, or spring wheat and winter wheat. And we did manage to move the Commission away from its initial proposal for action that would have been very intrusive—looking at farmers’ incomes to see exactly how much they were earning from agriculture—and, instead. to establish a negative list to remove, for instance, airports, railways and golf courses. So there were successes in the negotiations.
On implementing the CAP, however, we have tried to stay true to that basic stance that we adopted during the negotiations: first, we should keep the implementation of pillar one as simple as possible so farmers can implement this in the most flexible way that works for their own individual holding; and, secondly, we should take the environment very seriously, and we want to deliver for the environment through pillar two—through the agri-environment schemes for which this country has built up an admirable track record.
Jesse Norman: Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that the shadow Minister should be so strong in his condemnation of the position the Government have ended up with through these negotiations, without in any way spelling out what the Labour party would do on any of the issues?
George Eustice: Well, I think there was quite a degree of consensus. I suppose we have to recognise that the last Government gave up a chunk of our rebate supposedly in order to get CAP reform, but that did not work either. I want to stay on the substance of the issue before us this evening, however.
In terms of applying this basic approach of keeping the pillar one payments as simple as possible, when it came to greening we were clear we wanted to have the flexibility to allow farmers, for instance, to use hedges to count towards their environmental focus areas.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: The inclusion of hedgerows as being eligible for pillar two payments is one of the Government’s successes. On that point, while many areas of the country have hedgerows as field boundaries, there are other areas, such as the Cotswolds, that have stone walls as field boundaries. May I ask him to press the Commission hard that those sorts of landscape features should also be included for payment?
There were serious administrative difficulties in terms of allowing hedgerows and all landscape features to count towards the environmental focus area, because each one has to be mapped, and we took the decision in the end that hedgerows were so important to many parts of the country that in the first year we should include those hedgerows and endeavour to get the mapping done, and where it could not be done in year one—we have three years to complete the mapping—
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farmers would self-declare the hedgerows. We do not rule out adding things like stone walls in years two or three, once we have got hedgerows in place. The task of mapping every single individual feature on every farm is an enormous one, however, and we therefore wanted to start first with hedges, before moving on to things such as dry stone walls.
On the agri-environment schemes, we have been clear that 87% of the pillar two budget will go on the new environmental land management scheme. At the higher end, the scheme will be broadly similar to the existing higher level stewardship scheme, but we will also have an additional rate that has more requirements and obligations than the existing entry level stewardship scheme, and which is more proactive and is almost a middle rate. These will be more targeted, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire raised concerns that this would effectively lead to white areas or deserts where there would be no such support. Alongside this scheme we intend to deal with the problem of so-called white areas by ensuring that there will be directed options right around the country so that whole areas of the country will not be excluded, and grants to support the planting of woodland, for instance, will be universally available.
Many Members touched on matters relating to the three-crop rule, which will cause difficulty for some farmers—up to around 7%, possibly more. We gave serious consideration to advancing what is called a national certification scheme—a nationally designed scheme that would achieve the same thing—because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire said, the three-crop rule does not in itself guarantee crop rotation. Indeed, there are all sorts of anomalies, not least that a cabbage and a cauliflower are regarded as the same crop botanically as far as the EU is concerned, and there will be lots of similar complications to work through. When we looked at the alternatives, however, we found that they were all more complicated and even more difficult to administer than what was already on the table.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned the uplift to the single farm payment, which is important. It recognises the value we place on upland and moorland farmers, not just as custodians of the countryside, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) mentioned, but as food producers. We are, therefore, equalising the basic payment for upland farmers and lowland farmers, and we will almost double the rate for moorland farmers to about €70 per hectare.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton raised a number of issues, the first of which related to commons. We understand the concerns about the commons register, which has always been the starting point for the mapping of commons. There are disallowance risks in departing too far from the system we have had in place to date, but I can confirm that in addition to starting with that existing commons register, the RPA will utilise other information available to it, such as aerial photography, to help ensure that those who are entitled to claim on common land can.
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My hon. Friend also mentioned the issue of disallowance, and I can confirm that we have set aside a figure of 2% to plan for that. It is our aspiration to get to zero disallowance, but the way in which the disallowance scheme works is incredibly complicated and convoluted. Frequently, the disallowance we get is through no fault of our own; it is often because the European Commission does not understand its own rules, and we can get into very protracted arguments. For instance, the fruit and veg scheme has been notorious as a cause of disallowance. The system is very complicated and I do not think we will ever be able to eliminate disallowance altogether.
A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, have highlighted the issue of the modulation rate—the inter-pillar transfer. We have made it clear that we will modulate at 12% initially and have a review in 2016. She asked what the criteria for that will be. There are two basic criteria, the first of which is whether there is sufficient demand for those agri-environment schemes to warrant an increase in that budget. That links to a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman). The second is an assessment of the impact on the competitiveness of British agriculture.
Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), have raised concerns about the new IT system. The existing RPA computer system is simply not fit for purpose and we need a new system. The new common agricultural policy is far more complicated, and there are coefficients attached to some environmental focus areas. Somebody growing peas or beans will find that that counts for only 0.7% towards their EFA—0.7% of the area declared—whereas for hedges there is a coefficient of up to 10 times the area of the hedge. The idea that we could do this by drawing things on maps with pencil, as we do under the existing system, and sending that in to the RPA is simply not credible. We therefore believe that to cope with the new system we have to have a digital by default approach and to have everyone adding their data by computer, because that will be simpler.
I completely understand the point that many hon. Members have made about broadband access. We are investing £500 million through BDUK—Broadband Delivery UK—and a further £250 million in phase 2. We have a third fund of £10 million to pilot creative ideas for those really hard-to-reach areas. In addition, we will have an assisted digital package. We will send paper guidance to every farmer in year 1, so although they will not have a paper application form, they will have paper guidance. That guidance will include detailed information on our digital offer. The crucial thing for those lacking the computer literacy to complete their form online or those who have no broadband access is that we will be setting up a number of digital service centres right around the country, particularly targeted at those areas where there is a problem. Farmers will, thus, be able physically to take their information into an office, which will have privacy and be discreet, and work with an RPA agent to enter that information on the system. That is the right thing for everyone. It is right for those farmers, because it removes the risk of them getting penalties and disallowance.
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George Eustice: I will finish now, because we are nearly out of time. My right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire highlighted the issues of appeals and a proportionate system. I can tell him that I am now the one who looks at those appeals, this issue is close to my heart, and we are examining it and reviewing it as I speak. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) talked about pillar two, and said that we still needed those single farm payments of pillar one. Part of the 2016 review will examine the competitiveness of agriculture.
In conclusion, we have introduced a CAP that is more complicated than we would have liked, but in the way that we are implementing it, we are staying true to the approach that we took in negotiations to make it as simple as possible
Department for Work and Pensions
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2015, for expenditure by the Department for Work and Pensions—
(1) further resources, not exceeding £45,438,318,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1233 of Session 2013-14,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £74,721,000 be authorised for use for capital
purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £44,850,071,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2015, for expenditure by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—
(1) further resources, not exceeding £968,601,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1233 of Session 2013-14,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £371,350,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £1,308,388,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2015:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £256,135,013,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1233, HC 1231, HC 1208, HC 1186 and HC 1234 of Session 2013-14, and HC 124 of this Session.
(2) further resources, not exceeding £32,926,583,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
7 July 2014 : Column 132
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £214,518,524,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament—(Mr Gauke.)
Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill
Mr David Gauke accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the year ending with 31 March 2015; to authorise both the issue of sums out of the Consolidated Fund and the application of income for that year; and to appropriate the supply authorised for that year by this Act and by the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2014.
Business without Debate
European Union Documents
Ukraine and Russia: Eu Restrictive Measures
That this House takes note of European Union Documents Council Decision 2014/145/CFSP of 17 March 2014 concerning restrictive measures in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, and Council Regulation (EU) No. 269/2014 of 17 March 2014 concerning restrictive measures in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine; and welcomes the Government’s support for the measures proposed by the European Commission to enable a swift response, if needed, to continuing efforts by the Russian Federation to threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.—(Anne Milton.)
That the draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 4 June, be approved.—(Anne Milton.)
That the draft Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 4 June, be approved.
That the draft European Parliamentary Elections (Anonymous Registration) (Northern Ireland) regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 4 June, be approved.
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That the draft Anonymous Registration (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 4 June, be approved.—(Anne Milton.)
Representation of the People
That the draft Donations to Candidates (Anonymous Registration) Regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 4 June, be approved.—(Anne Milton.)
That the draft Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Act 2010 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 14 May 2014, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.—(Anne Milton.)
Tribunals and Inquiries
That the draft Transfer of Tribunal Functions (Mobile Homes Act 2013 and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 14 May 2014, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved. .—(Anne Milton.)
That the draft African Development Fund (Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative) (Amendment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 12 June, be approved.
That the draft African Development Bank (Thirteenth Replenishment of the African Development Fund) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 12 June, be approved.
That the draft International Development Association (Seventeenth Replenishment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 12 June, be approved.
That the draft International Development Association (Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative) (Amendment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 12 June, be approved.—(Anne Milton.)
That Mr Nigel Evans be a member of the Backbench Business Committee.—(Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
That Robert Jenrick be a member of the Health Committee.—(Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
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Meningitis B Vaccinations
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to raise the important matter of meningococcal B—or MenB—vaccines in this short debate. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), for kindly responding on behalf of the Government. I appreciate that I have dragged her to these green Benches at a time when she might well be negotiating with the drugs companies and it might be difficult for her to respond to every one of my points. Nevertheless, she will understand that I must make them on behalf of my constituents and other members of the public.
There will be a number of hon. Members in this House with constituents whose lives have been affected by meningitis B. I have constituents who have had to deal with the suffering and loss caused by meningitis B, which is why I am here today further to raise the need for a national roll-out of the vaccination. My constituents, Dr and Mrs Turner, who are here today, tragically lost their 19-year-old granddaughter on new year’s day this year. As you are aware, Mr Speaker, their granddaughter, Emily, and her parents are constituents of yours. Emily’s uncle is a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray).
Meningitis B is a comparatively rare disease, with about 1,800 cases in the UK each year. According to the charity Meningitis UK, however, many thousands of people die as a result of contracting the illness. The infection progresses rapidly and can lead to permanent disability or death within 24 hours of the symptoms becoming evident. That is sadly what happened to Emily. One in 10 people who contract the infection will tragically die despite the treatment that is available today. Of those who survive, one in five will have devastating life-long disability such as brain damage, hearing loss or limb damage.
Infants under the age of one year are disproportionately affected by meningitis B, with the number of cases peaking at the age of about five to six months. However, there is unfortunately another peak during late adolescence when students mix at university. Those are the two age groups that are most likely to contract meningitis B and the fact that there is another peak later in life highlights the need for a vaccine during infancy to protect people from lifelong suffering from this potentially devastating disease.
Parents up and down the country were given a sense of hope when in January 2013 a vaccine was licensed in the UK as well as in Europe and the US. The Bexsero vaccine was developed by the drug company Novartis and protects against approximately 73% of the different strains of meningitis B with apparently limited side effects. That was obviously very welcome, but there have been extremely long and costly delays in implementing any vaccination programme. The vaccine was turned down by the NHS after being considered by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
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to do so. The charity Meningitis Now, which I heartily and sincerely congratulate on its constant campaigning, delivered a petition of 36,000 signatures to Downing street. My constituents organised a petition of around 5,000 signatures and I had great pleasure in presenting that petition to Parliament earlier this evening.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for bringing this matter forward for consideration. Meningitis B numbers have halved in the past 25 years, but there is no room for complacency. Some of my constituents have experienced devastating effects from meningitis, so, as the MP for Strangford, my issue is whether the hon. Gentleman feels that the vaccine, when it becomes available, should be available to the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As I shall discuss later, this is obviously a big and costly undertaking for the NHS. As I am sure the Minister will mention later, there are delicate negotiations to be had, but if we start with babies—preferably babies under the age of 12 months—and then roll it out to students, the whole population will eventually have been vaccinated. Perhaps that will take too long, and once we have vaccinated those cohorts of the population, we might be able to find the money later to vaccinate other cohorts, but let us start, for goodness’ sake. In particular, vaccinating young babies would be an important start.
In my view, and in the view of many others, the Bexsero vaccine should have been rolled out immediately. Doing so could have prevented around 600 cases of meningitis B, and the associated 200 deaths between January 2013 and now. Although there have been delays in rolling out this vaccine on a national scale in the UK, it has been available privately since December 2013 for parents able to pay the high price, and it has been used across several university campuses in the United States. I am sure the House would agree that it is unsatisfactory that where a vaccine has been licensed and is available for use, only those who can afford to pay can get it.
Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I congratulate the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) on achieving this debate on an extremely important subject that impacts on many of our constituents. I have been tabling questions to the Minister about this. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the most important issue is the time scale for the roll-out of this vaccine? I agree that the important age cohort is infants, and that vaccination should be rolled out to other age groups later.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. The key thing that we want to hear from the Minister tonight is an honest assessment of when the roll-out of the vaccine is likely to happen. That information will be particularly important to parents of young babies.
Within the announcement that there would be vaccine as part of childhood immunisation, the Department for Health stated that the Bexsero vaccine would be made available—I quote from a letter dated 25 April 2014 to me from the Minister—
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“subject to it being made available by the manufacturer at a cost-effective price”.
That is the crunch point, as that will be a very large cost to the national health service, and the Minister needs to negotiate a good low price so that immunisation does not become prohibitively expensive. If anyone would like to see a copy of that letter, they should email me at [email protected] and I will willingly send them a copy. I am told that I am not allowed to deposit it in the Library, otherwise I would do so.
There are three things that I would like to ask the Minister to do. First, what does her Department consider to be a “cost-effective price” for something that will save many lives in the future? Surely it is impossible to put a monetary value on young lives. I urge her not to base her decision solely on how much the vaccine will cost, but to look at the hugely positive effects that implementing a vaccine will have, especially when one considers the trauma that parents have to go through and the devastating pain of losing a young child suddenly within 24 hours. Indeed, there are large costs associated with not vaccinating, as it is estimated that every case of MenB which leads to a severe disability will cost the Government £2 million to £3 million during the life of that child.
Secondly, the announcement made in March confirmed that the vaccine would be introduced only for infants at two months old, with a limited catch-up period for babies up to four months. Given that, as I said earlier, cases peak at around five or six months and the illness remains most common in babies under one year, I urge the Minister to consider implementing the vaccine for all infants under one year old at the time of introduction, to ensure that we protect as many babies as possible. In her response tonight could the Minister inform me of the difference in cost between providing the vaccine for all two-month-old babies, with a catch-up for all four-month-old babies at the time of introducing the vaccine, and the cost of providing it for all 12-month-old infants? I appreciate that she might not have those figures this evening. If she does not know the figures, I would be grateful if she would undertake a cost-benefit analysis of vaccinating all 12-month-old babies and let me have the figures. That would be helpful.
Thirdly, as I said earlier, there is another peak of individuals contracting meningitis B during late adolescence, as my constituent’s granddaughter sadly did. At university, people’s lifestyle is totally different; they mix and get different germs, and unfortunately that seems to mean that they are more susceptible to this dreadful meningitis B. There is therefore a strong case for a roll-out of Bexsero to university students to prevent the spread among that age group. As I have said, some campuses in the US have already administered the vaccine to stop outbreaks of meningitis across the student body. When evaluating the costings, will the Minister please embark on a cost-benefit analysis of providing the vaccine to all 18-year-olds in full-time education?
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended a study to inform its decision on whether to recommend a vaccine for adolescents as the second most at-risk group of people. In her letter to me of 25 April, the Minister told me that the Department is
“considering how best to proceed with this”.
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as soon as possible, and once the results are available, they should be presented to the JCVI without delay, so that a recommendation can be made quickly. Only with speedy action and decisions can we prevent any more unnecessary deaths and suffering as a result of meningitis B in this group.
I would like to end where I started. Thousands of families suffer from the devastating effects of meningitis B, but we now have a preventive vaccine, which is fantastic news. The vaccine has been licensed for 18 months without being rolled out by the NHS. That delay has had a devastating effect on families of individuals who have contracted the infection and died or become seriously disabled. Now that the JCVI has given a positive recommendation for roll-out of the vaccine, that should happen swiftly. I urge the Minister to conclude rapid negotiations with Novartis. I ask the drug company to enter those negotiations with the Government in a spirit of good will, so that we can get this vaccine rolled out as quickly as possible. I also urge the Minister to consider expanding the current proposal of vaccination to include children up to one year old and adolescents, so that we cover all high-risk groups.
It is now possible to prevent further tragedies similar to that of Emily and thousands of others. We have experienced too many delays already. Let us end those delays, make quick progress, and find ourselves in a situation in which parents are confident that their child will be safe from the devastating effects of this dreadful infection. Every day’s delay is a potential life lost. Please will the Minister act as quickly as she can?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) on securing this debate on the meningococcal B—or MenB, as I think we will call it—vaccination. It is a hugely important topic to which he has done great justice. Obviously, this is a very topical public health issue. He is not alone in this House in having had constituents who have felt the devastating effects of MenB, and he put his case passionately; I certainly respect that. Of course, we recognise the devastating impact that MenB disease can have, and Members have described it. It is often known among clinicians and parents as a parent’s greatest fear.
Children aged less than five years are most affected by MenB. As my hon. Friend mentioned, the peak of the disease is in infants aged 6 to 12 months. MenB is fatal for about one in 10 of those who develop meningitis and/or septicaemia. With early diagnosis and treatment, most people can make a full recovery, but around a tenth of survivors have major physical or neurological disabilities, including amputation, deafness, epilepsy and learning difficulties, so it is truly devastating. It is, thankfully, relatively uncommon, with an average of about 1,000 cases per year in England and Wales over the last decade. Incidence has been decreasing in recent years, as was alluded to in an intervention, but it is unpredictable and it could rise again quickly. That is why the advent of a vaccine that could provide protection against MenB is so welcome.
If the House will indulge me, I will go over the history of the investigation into the vaccine and the work of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. It is worth noting for the record that the JCVI is an
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independent departmental expert committee that provides scientific advice to inform policy making. It is a statutory standing advisory committee for England and Wales under the National Health Service Act 1977. It has no statutory basis for providing advice to Ministers in Scotland or Northern Ireland, although Health Departments in those countries may choose to accept the committee’s advice or recommendations, and they generally do.
In anticipation of a MenB vaccine being developed and licensed, the JCVI began work to consider a possible MenB immunisation strategy in 2010. The MenB vaccine Bexsero, manufactured by Novartis, was licensed by the European Medicines Agency in January 2013. The JCVI’s work before that date enabled it to provide advice at the earliest opportunity, so it is not quite right to say that there has been a great delay. The work had begun in anticipation to try to get us ahead of the situation. The JCVI looked to base its recommendations on the best available evidence for efficacy and cost-effectiveness.
Following the licensing of the vaccine, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Health requested a recommendation from the JCVI on the use of a MenB vaccine under the provisions of the Health Protection (Vaccination) Regulations 2009, which provide the basis for the public’s right of access to national immunisation programmes in the NHS constitution. The Secretary of State has a statutory duty to implement a recommendation from the JCVI on a new immunisation programme, so far as reasonably practicable, where cost-effectiveness has been demonstrated.
The Secretary of State and my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), subsequently met to discuss the MenB vaccine with the national meningitis charities Meningitis Now and the Meningitis Research Foundation. Like my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds and other Members in previous debates, I pay tribute to those charities for their excellent work.
The JCVI published an interim position statement on the MenB vaccine for consultation in July 2013 to assist it in making a complete assessment of the available evidence. That interim statement did not recommend a national immunisation programme because of uncertainties about the vaccine’s effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. In response to its consultation, the JCVI received new and recently published evidence on the MenB vaccine. The JCVI also considered comments and queries received in response to its interim position statement. Many of those comments and queries followed similar lines to those raised by my hon. Friend and made the same points on the severity of the impact on children who survive MenB. All the evidence and submissions led to further detailed analysis of the cost-effectiveness of a MenB immunisation programme.
Having considered the outcome of the further analysis at its meeting in February 2014, the JCVI recommended on 21 March that there should be a carefully planned national MenB immunisation programme for infants, starting at the age of two months. The JCVI made it clear that that recommendation was subject to the vaccine being available at a cost-effective price lower than the list price of £75 a dose.
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JCVI to change from the position in its interim statement. The JCVI is an independent committee that greatly values its independence, so I remind Members that, in response to its consultation, the JCVI received new and recently published evidence and relevant comments that led to further analysis and the recommendation that the programme should be cost-effective subject to vaccine price. That is why the JCVI’s position shifted; there was no question of external interference.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I am grateful for the way in which my hon. Friend is presenting her reply. From what she has said so far, the only issue seems to be the cost-effectiveness of the vaccine. Will she give any indication of when the cost-effectiveness issue is likely to be resolved so that a roll-out can begin for two-month-old babies, with a catch up for four-month-old babies?
Jane Ellison: Rather frustratingly, for me and for my hon. Friend—he alluded to this in his speech—I am not in a position to answer that, because to do so would be to pre-empt the stage we have reached with the issue. What I can say is that this country has world-leading vaccination programmes and a great deal of experience in planning them and rolling them out very effectively. I can assure him that all our experience would be brought to bear in a positive way at that stage. I cannot pre-empt either the timing or the price, but he can be assured of the expertise that sits behind the UK’s vaccination programme.
The Government welcomed and accepted the JCVI’s recommendation and hope that the UK will be the first country in the world to launch a national immunisation programme for MenB. As I have just said, that would continue our successful track record in providing a world-leading national immunisation programme.
I acknowledge that some people might say—I would not blame them—that cost-effectiveness should not be an issue when talking about a vaccine to protect very young children from a potentially fatal disease. However, it is important to consider cost-effectiveness so that money spent on new immunisation programmes does not use finite NHS funds that would otherwise provide more overall benefit to the wider population if spent on other treatments or services. We all recognise that those decisions are not easy, which is why so much expert thought and careful consideration go into them.
My hon. Friend asked when immunisation would start, and I have explained that we are not in a position to comment on that, but we are in a position to draw on great expertise when we face that issue. As I have said, the JCVI recommended that a MenB vaccine be introduced but only at a cost-effective price, below the list price published by Novartis. Therefore, the first essential step is to agree a cost-effective price for the vaccine with the manufacturer. We want to agree that with Novartis as
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soon as possible so that children can benefit from the vaccine, but we need to ensure NHS funds are used effectively, as I have explained. We must also follow due process on spending approvals within the Government before launching any procurement. That is quite a complex process involving a detailed business case.
We see the onus as being on the manufacturer to respond positively to the JCVI’s recommendation so that we can purchase the vaccine at a price that represents good value for money for the NHS. If we can obtain the vaccine at a cost-effective price, the introduction of the new vaccination programme would need to be carefully planned with the manufacturer and the NHS so that parents can be confident of a sufficient and sustainable supply of vaccine, with arrangements in place in the NHS for it to be provided and for clear information to be given to parents to enable them to make an informed choice.
I hope that it will give my hon. Friend some reassurance to know that last year the NHS introduced three new vaccination programmes and another one was rescheduled, which demonstrates that that is something we can do. That large expansion in the national immunisation programme was unprecedented. We must ensure that the NHS is fully equipped to be able to deliver another programme safely before introducing it. We hope to be able to start the procurement process soon and to purchase the vaccine at a cost-effective price.
My hon. Friend asked about adolescents. The JCVI’s advice was that research was needed on the effectiveness in adolescents of preventing transmission of infection. I am aware of the cases on US campuses to which he alluded. The Department is considering how best to commission the necessary work. If I have any update on that situation, I will write to interested Members after the debate. In addition, I will give an update on where we are in the process as soon as I am in a position to do so. If the procurement is successful, we will be in a position to make firm plans for the introduction of the new MenB immunisation programme. At that point I will be able to say a lot more. I accept that it is frustrating that I cannot say as much as he would like.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this incredibly important subject. All of us, as constituency MPs, and certainly those of us who are Health Ministers, are extremely aware of the importance that many parents place on this subject and the fear that MenB raises for some many people. He was right to ask me to come to the House and address the subject, even if I cannot do so in quite as much detail as he would like. I look forward to updating the House in due course and will do my very best to ensure that I keep all interested Members fully up to date as we progress with this important process.