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Lorely Burt: With the leave of the House, I shall make a few brief points, so that we can move on to another important Bill that is worthy of discussion.
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Before I go through some of the comments that Members have made, I want to say a big thank you to every Member who has taken the time and trouble to be in the Chamber on a Friday to discuss this important Bill. I am very grateful for all the constructive remarks made on both sides of the House.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) described the Bill as flawed but amendable in Committee. I took great heart from that. He raised important points, which should be taken into consideration, about the land covered by the measure and about public sector land. He also drew attention to the fact that trees outside urban and suburban areas but in non-rural areas were not covered by the Bill. We should consider including a provision on that point.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) was enormously helpful and made many good points, especially about referendums. His suggestion that a referendum should be triggered by a specific number of signatures is worth thinking about and could be developed. Like other Members, he made some helpful comments about costs. His proposal to minimise costs by holding the referendum, whenever possible, while another election was taking place was well received.

The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) also mentioned costs and said that there should be a pre-regulation cost assessment. I entirely agree, but I did not want to tie up civil servants’ time by producing a lot of costings before the Bill went into Committee, because of the costs involved in doing so. The hon. Gentleman asked why clause 5 specified a change from two to three years and suggested that it would be better for the Secretary of State to have the power to vary the time. On reflection, I think it probably would be better. He mentioned the short time period within which the measure would come into force. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley helpfully pointed out that the Secretary of State could have the power to vary the timescale, which would be helpful.

The hon. Member for Hendon accused me of facing two ways—a criticism rarely levelled at a Liberal Democrat. He said that I seek both to empower and to impose. I probably have to plead guilty, because the Bill would empower and impose, where necessary, at different stages of the process.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), who is no longer in the Chamber, felt that the scope of the Bill was too wide. On reflection, I agree. He thought that the garden-grabbing Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) was better and more thought-out than my Bill. It is indeed more thought-out and has more detail, and I am happy to commend that, but it was introduced almost a year before my Bill.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East wanted more detail about the oak tree that I was talking about, and asked whether people would have to travel 30 miles to shop at a supermarket. In fact, there are already six supermarkets on the high street, so that is no reason to fell the oak trees. Like the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, he referred to “friends of parks” and said that there were many such groups. I agree that friends of parks do excellent work; the Bill would merely strengthen their hand.

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The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) felt that the measure was a non-issue and that we do not particularly need such legislation, but tens of thousands of people in England, and especially in Wales, would disagree. He seems to think that local wishes will prevail and that it will all turn out right in the end, but the examples that I have outlined would tend to contradict that optimistic view.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and others accused me of wanting central Government to impose more on local people and on local authorities. I shall go back and scrutinise the Bill and see where I am seeking to do that, because that was not my intention at all. As Liberal Democrats, our view is that all decision making should be as close as possible to the people who will be affected by it.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) wanted to know whether any alternative space had been provided by the local authority. I have to inform her that, sadly, as far as I am aware, no other space is being offered to replace the 3 acres of parkland. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady shouts from a sedentary position.

Mrs. Lait: If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I understand that 34 extra acres in Solihull have been made new open spaces.

Lorely Burt: I wonder whether the hon. Lady is referring to the constituency of Meriden, which has a regeneration area—

Mrs. Lait: No; it is in the borough.

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Lorely Burt: I must inform the hon. Lady that that particular area is probably 12 to 14 miles away and it has no bearing on the quality of life of local people.

I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification, specifically with regard to the Human Rights Act, as well as on many other very important matters. He talked about localism, particularly in relation to the comments by the hon. Member for Shipley. All hon. Members would agree that we must have a balance. Of course it is appropriate at times for central Government to impose a view, but I agree that decisions should be taken locally wherever possible. I also note the Minister’s comments on the new regulatory structure for parks. I am absolutely thrilled to hear about community management and ownership; apparently my Bill has already had an influence, and I am delighted to hear it.

In summary, I imagine that every flaw that the Bill could possibly have has been pointed out this morning. However, I have been truly heartened by the sentiments expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House who recognised that the Bill, flawed though it may be, has generated great sympathy for its aims and has identified a really important issue that deserves further consideration by the House.

I think that it would be better for the Government not to oppose my Bill, and for it to have a short Committee stage. However, I notify hon. Members that if the Government oppose it, I do not intend to press the matter to a Division today, in order to provide an opportunity for another important Bill, which I support, to be discussed. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and negatived.

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Breastfeeding etc. Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

2.9 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I thank all the hon. Members who took part in the previous debate for their restraint, allowing this Bill to be reached. The Bill aims to make it an offence

The policy objectives of the Bill are, first, the promotion of public health and, secondly, the tackling of discrimination.

On public health, detailed research over many years has confirmed the entirely intuitive proposition that breastfeeding is healthy for babies, mothers, families and society. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to develop many illnesses in infancy, childhood and adulthood. That is why the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and our Department of Health all recommend that babies should be fed only breast milk for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of babies developing gastroenteritis, for example. The authority for this is a publication in the name of Howie, P. W. et al. in 1990, published under the title, “Protective effect of breastfeeding against infection” in the British Medical Journal, vol. 300, pages 11 to 16.

Women who breastfeed can significantly reduce their chances of developing breast cancer. This link was shown conclusively in a collaborative re-analysis of data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries published in The Lancet, vol. 360, in July 2002. The study included more than 50,000 women with breast cancer and more than 96,000 women without the disease. The authors found that the relative risk of breast cancer decreased by 4.3 per cent. for every 12 months of breastfeeding. The study’s stated interpretation in The Lancet is:

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I am sure the all hon. Members would support breastfeeding and would encourage women to breastfeed. Can the hon. Gentleman say how many more women he would expect to breastfeed, should his Bill become law?

Mr. Kidney: I shall come to statistics for the United Kingdom. About seven out of 10 women start breastfeeding, but by six months—the recommendation that is widely promoted—only three in 10 are breastfeeding, or as few as one in 10 are breastfeeding exclusively. So the figures are poor in the UK, even in comparison with other developed countries. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his interest.

Wider benefits for families and society include an association between longer duration of breastfeeding
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and low risk of a child becoming overweight in later life. A study in the name of Harder, T. et al. states that one month of breastfeeding is associated with a 4 per cent. decrease in the risk of becoming overweight in later life. That was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in September 2005. A second benefit is cost savings for the national health service. An old NHS estimate updated by UNICEF shows that for every 1 per cent. increase in breastfeeding, more than £500,000 a year would be saved in the treatment of gastroenteritis alone. So promoting breastfeeding makes sense as a public health objective.

How well are we doing in the UK? That is the question that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) asked. That brings me to the second policy objective—tackling discrimination. In the league table of breastfeeding rates, the Scandinavian countries are top. In Norway a starting rate of 97 per cent. of all mothers has been achieved, with 80 per cent. still breastfeeding at six months. The latest survey evidence for England discloses that about seven out of 10 women start breastfeeding their babies but fewer than one in 10 are still breastfeeding at six months, yet most mothers want to breastfeed their babies for longer.

National surveys find that three quarters of mothers who give up breastfeeding before six months say that they wanted to continue longer. Why do so many mothers stop breastfeeding earlier than they say they would wish? NICE—the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence—looked for the possible answers to the question and published some conclusions in a draft “Effective action briefing on the initiation and duration of breastfeeding” in November 2005. Under the heading, “What factors influence participation in breastfeeding?”, NICE stated:

It specifically refers to

Since November 2005, NICE has worked on and, in July 2006, published new guidelines for post-natal care of women. “Routine postnatal care of women and their babies” is NICE clinical guidance 37, and it contains an excellent section on support for breastfeeding in all health settings. It recommends, for example, that all maternity care providers should implement an externally evaluated, structured programme that encourages breastfeeding, using UNICEF’s baby friendly initiative as the minimum standard. The baby friendly initiative has a proven effectiveness in increasing breastfeeding rates where it is already in place.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): In general, I support the hon. Gentleman’s drift, but I have a question to which I genuinely do not know the answer. The Minister may be able to help, if she has time to make a few comments. Given the technical ability for women past the menopause to bear children with the aid of a lot of hormones, has any work been done of the effect on the breastfed child of those hormones?

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Mr. Kidney: I do not know whether there has been any research on that point. Although the thrust of the Bill is to promote breastfeeding, it is about feeding milk to babies in public places, so it can include bottle feeding. This is not an attempt to enforce breastfeeding if at all possible: some women, for medical or physical reasons, cannot breastfeed at all, and I do not wish to criticise them. Some women choose, for legitimate reasons, not to breastfeed, and I do not wish to criticise them either. I am trying to tackle a problem that stops women who want to breastfeed doing so in public places.

Let us assume for a moment that the NICE guidelines will deal with the reasons stopping women feeding that are health-care related. How do we combat the influence of society, cultural norms and the embarrassment about breastfeeding in public, referred to in the NICE reasons? That is where the Bill comes in.

The purpose of clause 1 is to safeguard the right of a child under the age of two years to be fed milk in a public place or licensed premises where the child is otherwise lawfully permitted to be. The Bill does not change licensing law nor does it prevent a business from excluding breastfeeding on its premises where the lawful custom or practice is to exclude children generally. Where a child is lawfully permitted to be in a public place or on licensed premises, that child may be fed bottled milk and the child’s mother will be entitled to breastfeed him or her if she so chooses. Any person who deliberately prevents or stops, or attempts to prevent or stop a person bottle feeding or breastfeeding a child in such circumstances will be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, currently £2,500.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I agree very much with the thrust of my hon. Friend’s Bill in terms of promoting breastfeeding, but I am a little concerned by clause 1, because it contains no provision for the defence of reasonable excuse. It is an absolute offence that applies across the board, but I can envisage circumstances—for example, in a theatre or cinema—in which one patron may be distracted from watching the performance or film if the woman sat next to them is breastfeeding. In those circumstances, the other customer’s rights are being offended. Does my hon. Friend agree that clause 1 should include some provision for a defence of reasonable excuse to take account of the impact on other people?

Mr. Kidney: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising a serious and genuine point. I do not think that there should be such a defence, although clause 2, which relates to employers, contains a specific defence if employers have taken reasonable steps to ensure that obstruction or prevention would not occur. There is no intention that the Bill should be some sort of Amazons’ charter that enables women to bare their breasts in public places to offend people. Most breastfeeding mothers are especially careful to be discreet when they breastfeed in public places and that is the attitude that I seek to encourage through the Bill.

Mr. Dismore: Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Mr. Kidney: If I may, I would like to move on, as there is now little time left.

Our Parliament will by no means be alone if we legislate to give support for breastfeeding. A law exactly like this Bill was skilfully and successfully steered through the Scottish Parliament by Elaine Smith, MSP, and it came into force in March 2005. Many state legislatures in the USA have introduced similar legislation. The Minnesota state legislature passed a law in April 1998, which provides that:

Other legislatures have promoted breastfeeding as part of a wider anti-discrimination strategy. In Australia, the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 prohibits discrimination against women on the ground of gender, and specifically breastfeeding. The World Health Organisation “global strategy for infant and young child feeding”, published in 2003, states that

I say that this Bill offers an imaginative approach. I hope that Members accept that the problem that clause 1 would address truly is serious, and that it is sufficiently prevalent to justify legislation.

When I published the Bill, I was inundated with individual tales of outrageous behaviour endured by women who were simply trying to breastfeed in everyday locations such as shops, eating places and leisure facilities. I gave a number of examples of that in my 10-minute speech when I sought leave to introduce the Bill on 8 November last year—I refer Members to column 181 of the relevant volume of Hansard.

More toe-curlingly embarrassing stories have kept on coming since then. Margaret Boyle-White was discreetly breastfeeding on a street in a Norfolk town in 2005, when a man complained to the police; they sent a uniformed officer in a marked car to stop her breastfeeding. A woman was asked to stop breastfeeding in the waiting room of a GP practice, of all places. A woman in a supermarket cafeteria had to go to the toilets if she wanted to carry on breastfeeding. A woman in a health and fitness club was escorted from the family area—of all areas—because she was breastfeeding. A woman was asked to leave a restaurant for discreetly feeding her seven-month-old baby at the table, although that did not prevent the restaurant from charging for the full meals, even though it sent her out when she had had only the first course.

Clauses 2 and 3 are consequential measures. Clause 2 effectively prevents a person or organisation from avoiding a conviction by getting an employee to do the outlawed act. Clause 3 makes provision in respect of whom to prosecute if the offence is committed by a body-corporate or a partnership.

Clause 4 would help Health Ministers achieve uniformity in the support and promotion of breastfeeding. As I have mentioned, the Scottish Parliament has already introduced such legislation, as health is a devolved matter. Therefore, the Bill would apply in England and Wales.

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