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Mr. Ingram: There is a long answer and a short answer, and I shall try to give the short one. The hon. Gentleman has asked for investment in St. Athan, but what was Red Dragon? It was an investment, which I was criticised for making, so I hope that he welcomed it, because it is an opportunity. Does the VC10 facility provide a good platform for future growth? Yes, potentially, and we will work with all partnersthe Welsh Assembly and the private sectorto try and ensure that growth occurs. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises and welcomes the fact that the money saved by all those efficiency measures goes to the front line.
Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that in his response to the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), he said that he had not reduced ABRO's capability, but had increased its efficiency? If, as I believe, he said that, will he explain the efficiency measures that he has taken to allow the sizable reduction of 944 jobs while retaining the same capability, or is the truth that he kept those people employed until after the election, even though there was no economic case for doing so?
That is absolute rubbish. A new chief executive was appointed; he was charged with examining ABRO's structure; and, as a professional manager, he then developed a plan. He concluded that reconfiguration is the only way to survive given the layers of overheads, inefficiencies and uncompetitiveness and the new, extremely competitive, aggressive marketplace. He brought his plan, which we studied and examined, to me, and we have introduced the proposals, so jobs were not protected because of the election. If the hon. Gentleman had followed the process, he would know about the dramatic announcements that I made in the run-up to the election. Earlier, one of my hon. Friends asked me to press on, which we have done regardless of electoral considerations. In defence, we do what is right for defence.
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Secretary Ruth Kelly, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Mr. Secretary Hain, Secretary Alan Johnson, Beverley Hughes and Margaret Hodge, presented a Bill to make provision about the powers and duties of local authorities and other bodies in England in relation to the improvement of the well-being of young children; to make provision about the powers and duties of local authorities in England and Wales in relation to the provision of childcare and the provision of information to parents and other persons; to make provision about the regulation and inspection of childcare provision in England; and for connected purposes. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 80].
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it an offence to prevent or stop a person in charge of a child who is otherwise permitted to be in a public place or licensed premises from feeding milk to that child in that place or on those premises; to make provision in relation to the promotion of breastfeeding; and for connected purposes.
The Bill proposes to address some deep weaknesses in our society's attitude to breastfeeding. Those weaknesses are shown in England and Wales in a lower rate of mothers starting to breastfeed and a higher rate of mothers giving up breastfeeding than in countries of a comparable size and wealth to ours. The Bill would broaden the role of the Department of Health in supporting families in the decisions that they make about breastfeeding. It would also stop a form of discrimination that deters parents from feeding their young children in public places.
The promotion of breastfeeding is necessary. Breast milk is best. Research findings are piling up showing that milk is the ideal first food for most babies, providing complete nutrition to meet the unique requirements of infants. That research tells us that breast milk leads to fewer infections in babiesfor example, gastro-intestinal tract infectionsleads to healthy hearts in the long term, improves cognitive development, brings lower risks of allergies from environmental factors, offers protection against insulin-dependent diabetes, and potentially brings improved bone development. Breastfeeding is also good for the health of mums. Women who breastfeed may benefit from a reduced risk of pre-menopausal ovarian and breast cancer, greater weight loss if they breastfeed for at least six months, and a reduced risk of osteoporosis in later life.
Because of the certainty of those benefits, the World Health Organisation and our own Department of Health recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives. Yet despite that recommendation, in England and Wales about one third of mothers do not breastfeed from the outset, and by four months of age only about a quarter of babies are still receiving breast milk. It is true that breastfeeding is not possible for a small number of mothers, but for most who do not start or give up too soon there are practical and cultural obstacles that we should sweep away.
The Scandinavian countries top the league table of breastfeeding. In Norway, 97 per cent. of new mothers start to breastfeed, with 80 per cent. still doing so at six months. The compelling health benefits mean that we should try harder in this country to match those more successful societies. The Bill would require the Department of Health to make arrangements to support and encourage families to ensure greater rates of breastfeeding in our country. The Government are committed to the promotion of breastfeedingthey already fund projects on best breastfeeding practicebut all parents of newborn babies should have access to education, supervision and support. I know from my contacts that many midwives, health visitors, National Childbirth Trust and La Leche League breastfeeding counsellors and others want to help to deliver a more comprehensive support service for all parents, especially
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mothers wishing to breastfeed. The Government can do more. For example, the NCT calls for a breastfeeding action plan covering training, baby-friendly facilities and peer support.
It is also important to involve employers. It is clear from the work that I have done in my constituency that many employers need help to understand the needs of employees who come back to work after maternity leave and still wish to breastfeed.
The Bill is partly about the health benefits of breastfeeding and ensuring that parents know about those benefits and have support in taking them up, but it is also intended to stamp out discrimination against parents. They want to live normal lives after the birth of their children but can be deterred from venturing out to places where other members of the public have no problem in going because they find a prejudice against feeding babies there. I have heard parents complain about a lack of family-friendly places to feed babies, whether it is breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. Some places try to stop it; others try to suggest that baby-feeding is best done in the toilets.
It beats me that so many people can ogle pictures of women's breasts in newspapers and magazines on open public display, yet complain about that most natural of sightsa mother breastfeeding her baby. Nevertheless, that is what happens. In 2003, a survey for midwives, nurses and health visitors found that nearly four out of 10 breastfeeding mothers and two out of 10 bottle-feeding mothers experienced problems in finding convenient places to feed their babies when out and about.
I am grateful to the NCT for some examples from its casebook. In a Birmingham restaurant, a GP who was discreetly feeding her baby at a table was asked to stop or go to the toilet. A patient in a GP's surgery was asked to leave the waiting room even though another mother was feeding a baby with a bottle. A woman at an ideal homes exhibition was reduced to tears when a man released a volley of abuse, picked up and threw away her pushchair and snatched the cushion against which she was leaning, all because she was breastfeeding at the exhibition. A newspaper recently reported that a doctor was told not to breastfeed in a Derby store because it was a gentleman's outfitters. Stevenage citizens advice bureau reports a case of a nursing mother threatened with homelessness who was told that she could not bring her child with her to the court hearing at Hitchin.
In aiming to outlaw such discrimination, the Bill does not discriminate between breastfeeding and bottle-feedingit applies to and gives the same protection in each case. It applies to all children under the age of two.
The proposals are not new. For years, UNICEF has called for legislation to protect breastfeeding mothers who want to feed their babies in public areas. UNICEF does not simply wait for Parliament to actit has developed a United Kingdom baby-friendly initiative as part of a global programme with the World Health Organisation. The initiative works with health services to improve practice in supporting breastfeeding. We should give such steps legal backing to encourage breastfeeding. The Bill would do that.
I have said that the idea is not new. Elaine Smith, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, successfully steered a similar law on to the statute book north of the border
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last year. Earlier this year, I was present at a meeting of the all-party group on maternity services when a Health Minister was asked to introduce a similar law in England and Wales. A similar request was made of another Health Minister at a meeting in my constituency in Stafford, again, earlier this year. The NCT supports the proposal. I therefore have support from UNICEF, the all-party group and the NCT. Scotland has already enacted such a law and the policy is fully in line with the policies of the World Health Organisation and our Government.
"In my 10 years of being a breastfeeding counsellor for NCT, the issue of breastfeeding in public places has come up in every single ante-natal session that I have facilitatedboth for NCT and the NHS. Mothers-to-be say things like, 'I'd like to breastfeed but what about when I go out in public?' There is a great amount of fear and anxiety around this. Legal protection would be hugely empowering."
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Kidney, Annette Brooke, Mrs. Janet Dean, Paul Farrelly, Sandra Gidley, Dr. Evan Harris, Dr. Brian Iddon, Laura Moffatt, Julie Morgan and Mrs. Betty Williams.
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