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Let me pay tribute to the work that the English pig industry is doing to promote the sustainable and seasonable sourcing of products, cut the use of imported soya in animal feed and encourage the development of sustainable soya production in Brazil through FEMAS, the feed materials assurance scheme that the hon. Member for
Bury North (Mr Nuttall) referred to, and other initiatives. The Bill provides an excellent opportunity to assess how agriculture can further maximise its role in the vital function of reducing greenhouse gas.
The market for meat is increasing in other continents. In 1985, the average Chinese consumer ate 20 kg of meat a year; now he or she eats more than 50 kg a year. In developing countries as a whole, the demand for meat has doubled since 1980. As the 2009 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report on the state of food and agriculture says, between 1980 and 2007, China increased its production of meat more than sixfold. Today it accounts for nearly 50% of meat production in developing countries and 31% of world production.
Brazil expanded meat production by a factor of almost four, and now contributes 11% of developing country meat production and 7% of global production. But agriculture also has a central role in driving an increase in global economic growth, food security and poverty reduction. According to the FAO report, agricultural productivity growth has positive effects for the poor in three areas: lower prices for consumers; higher incomes for producers; and growth multiplier effects through the rest of the economy, as demand for other goods and services increases. The 2009 FAO report also establishes that agricultural growth reduces poverty more strongly than growth in other sectors.
Recent research by Julian Alston, published by the OECD, has found that the world has benefited greatly from productivity growth in agriculture, a substantial amount of which has been enabled by technological change resulting from public and private investments in agricultural research and development, although he encourages countries to increase their levels of investment in such R and D. But that poses a clear question: what policy changes must be made to ensure sustainable growth? The FAO's agriculture and commodity prices report of last year found that in June 2008, the prices of basic foods on international markets reached their highest levels for 30 years, threatening the food security of the poor worldwide. In 2007 and 2008, mainly because of high food prices, an additional 115 million people were pushed into chronic hunger. Since then, although prices have declined, they are still high by recent historical standards.
Last December, to enhance the role that agriculture plays in reducing climate change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, sought to increase international co-operation, collaboration and investment in public and private research by confirming our participation in the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases at the climate change summit in Copenhagen.
How does the Bill meet the challenges of increasing food production sustainably but in ways that protect our environment? Clause 1 sets down a statutory duty for the Secretary of State to ensure the sustainability of the livestock industry with reference to factors including public procurement, appropriate public information and labelling, the support of research into sustainable practices, and a reduction in the amount of food waste, as well as finding suitable means for disposing of it. The Secretary of State would also have a duty to consult appropriate stakeholders on livestock farming, technologies, production and processing, environmental impacts, consumer attitudes
and animal health and welfare. Clause 1 appears to strike a balance between enhancing growth and protecting our environment, and it would allow the Secretary of State, in devising policy, to create such a balance.
Clause 2 would create a further duty for the Secretary of State to publish the indicators against which progress on sustainability can be measured, with the use of two-yearly reviews. Such an approach, with the Secretary of State accountable for that report in this House, would increase the accountability that she will have in relation to food security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Nuttall: In fact, subsection (1) requires the publication of the review of progress to be much more frequent than every two years. We can only assume that that is the case because the review of progress referred to in subsection (4) is the overall analysis and review. Would the shadow Minister like to comment on that?
Mr Bain: The key point for the hon. Gentleman to consider is that the Bill would not introduce any order-making power that affected the agriculture industry. It would create a duty for the Secretary of State to have a balanced strategy that took on the points made by the National Farmers Union and Friends of the Earth, and it would allow the Secretary of State to calibrate a balanced policy for which she will be accountable to this House.
Clause 1(3) would ensure that the UK, in its discussions at international level, promoted sustainable food production. At the moment, EU policies promote a reduction in two forms of greenhouse gas emissions: methane emissions from livestock digestion processes, which are stored in animal manure, and nitrous oxide emissions, which originate from organic and mineral nitrogen-based fertilisers. Currently, about 9% of total EU greenhouse emissions stem from agriculture. That represents a 2% reduction from comparable statistics from 1990. The Commission's 2009 White Paper indicates that agricultural emissions in the 27 EU member states reduced by 20% between 1990 and 2007 owing to the marked decline in livestock numbers, more efficient application of fertilisers and better manure management. This 20% fall in emissions from agriculture is significantly higher than the 11% reduction in emissions in all EU sectors, and contrasts with the 17% increase in global emissions stemming from agriculture.
The cross-compliance and rural development measures of the EU's common agricultural policy are assisting in the further reduction of agricultural climate change emissions, through the modernising farms programme, extending the use of energy-efficient equipment and buildings, expanding the available support to generate biogas through anaerobic digestion, and the compensatory measures for farmers who assist in environmental protection through agri-environment schemes. These measures should form key elements of a reformed CAP, which members on both sides of the House will wish to see emerging by 2013. They are measures which, under clause 1(3), the Secretary of State would be able to promote at EU level.
Mr Bain: It would be more effective if the Secretary of State could bat for Britain in the EU Council and demonstrate to this House the progress that she is making towards effective CAP reform, which all of us will want to see by 2013.
I wish to highlight another point that the 2009 European Commission report stressed, which is the scope for improvement in livestock management, such as changes in diet, the use of additives that can mitigate methane emissions, the increased use of anaerobic digestion, and better nitrogen-based fertiliser management in order to cut nitrous oxide emissions. If the Bill commits the Government to negotiating the expansion of those or similar policies, it will make a substantial contribution to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and be worthy of the House's support.
The Opposition support the principles behind the Bill. Should it receive a Second Reading today, several clauses will undoubtedly require detailed scrutiny in Committee, but its commendable purpose is to bring about a step change in food security, promote the greater efficiency of food supply chains in the UK and the EU, and ensure that alongside other industries in this country, agriculture makes its contribution to the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets established by the previous Government and accepted by the current one. It is a bold and ambitious Bill in pursuit of a noble cause, and I hope that Members throughout the House will provide us with the opportunity to give it detailed examination in Committee and a fair chance of the further progress that it merits.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on drawing second place, I believe, in the ballot. Many of us have been in the House far longer and have never got on the list at all, and there is always an element of envy when people manage to get a high place on it in their very first Parliament.
As the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) said, the Bill provides the opportunity for a hugely important debate. I hope the House will forgive me if I spend some time going through a number of related matters and explaining what the Government are already undertaking. Before doing so, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what I believe is his first speech at the Dispatch Box? He will forgive me if I am mistaken, but it is certainly the first one opposite me. He made a very good speech, and I agreed with virtually everything he said, which will probably finish his political career completely. The exception was his brave effort to say that the Bill would help. I could see an element of fence-sitting there-I hope it was not too painful.
The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the importance of agriculture as an industry and to the increasing world demand for food. He clearly agreed with a number of my hon. Friends, who have said that simply pushing for less meat-eating is not the way forward, given the
increased demand elsewhere. He rightly said that agricultural growth was the best form of economic growth in poorer countries, and mentioned the 20% fall in agricultural emissions, which is considerably better than in many other sectors. Those were all good points on which I support him entirely. I hope he will forgive me if I chide him slightly by asking why, if the Opposition are so supportive of the Bill, the Labour Government opposed it when it was presented by my then hon. Friend Peter Ainsworth. No doubt they are learning by their mistakes, for which we must all be grateful.
This has been a good debate, and none of us could argue that the sustainability of the UK livestock system is of anything but prime importance to everybody. It has, however, given rise to a number of what I can only call myths and misunderstandings about today's livestock industry. For a start, there has been a lot of talk about large-scale dairy enterprises. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) referred to my remarks at a previous Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Question Time. I am grateful that she remembers them five weeks after I made them-that does not happen very often, so I will bask in the reflected glory. When we discuss the matter, we need to know certain facts. It is not for the Government to be for or against large-scale dairies, and the particular case in question is subject to a planning application, but I hope that the debate can be held on the basis of facts.
The reality is that the animals at the proposed 8,000-unit diary will still be fed largely on roughage, as are all ruminants. The fact is that ruminants-cattle and sheep-cannot survive on all-cereal diets, because their digestive systems cannot cope. They must have silage, grass, hay or something similar as a substantial part of their diet. The difference with the proposition at Nocton is that the grass or silage will be brought to the animals; they will not go out to it, although they will still be on it.
Someone referred to the NFU briefing, and the reality is that ruminant diets contain on average only about 3% soya bean. The fact that a dairy unit is large does not mean that it will use any more soya per cow than a small dairy unit. As I said in my intervention, the vast bulk of soya feeding, and indeed grain feeding, goes on in the pig and poultry sectors, where the livestock cannot live on anything else. Pigs will eat a bit of grass, but they cannot extract the nutrients from it, and poultry, of course, feed on seeds-hence their diet of grain, nuts and things like that, certainly in the wild. If we try to curtail the use of soya or grain, it is the intensive white-meat sector-the pig and poultry sectors-that will be most affected.
As a number of colleagues have said, the livestock sector accounts for more than half the £20 billion gross output of UK agriculture as a whole. That primary production is part of the biggest manufacturing industry in this country. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) is no longer in the Chamber, but he made a pertinent point about the importance of domestic food production. He referred to high-quality, traceable and nutritious food. The word "traceable" is one we must spend a moment on, because the more food that comes from abroad, the harder the challenge of ensuring traceability becomes. As we all know, traceability is critical to food safety and production standards.
The food manufacturing industry employs almost 400,000 people and contributes £20 billon in gross value
added. Unless our farming industry produces the raw materials for that industry, we will lose that manufacturing sector as well as our farming sector.
As several hon. Members on both sides of the debate have said, the contribution made by farming is about much more than simply food; it is about creating and maintaining our landscapes and our biodiversity, as well as about our food security. Indeed, it is also about the viability of many of our rural communities, because more remote communities tend to be in areas where livestock is the only form of production possible.
I want to re-emphasise a point that I made earlier, because there is a belief on both sides of the House that if we stopped importing soya, all the stock would somehow go out on to grass and we could return to the chocolate-box days when there were cows in every field. That is not the reality. Cattle is not the sector where the majority of grain and soya is used.
Like everybody in the Chamber, the Government wholly accept and share the objectives and aspiration in the Bill, which is about ensuring the sustainability of our livestock industry, but it is not right to try to do that through a regulatory framework, as the Bill does.
Mr Chope: As my hon. Friend said, there is a public misconception about the link between soya imports and large-scale dairy units. What is his Department doing to put the public right on that and to remove that public misconception? Obviously, his speech today is helping, but what else can his Department do?
Mr Paice: It is not for the Government, directly, to say that one form of production is right and that another is wrong. What matters most-I will come to this in a minute-is that consumers are properly informed about how and where their food is produced. They can then make the right judgment according to their own views and beliefs.
Mr Nuttall: The best way of keeping consumers informed is, of course, through honesty in food labelling. I understand that the Government propose to move the responsibility for that from the Food Standards Agency to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Perhaps the Minister will comment on how that will play a part.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South slightly chided the Government when he said that our structural reform business plan contained no reference to the use of soya, yet there is no reference to it in the Bill. However, the Government's business plan has a priority of supporting a competitive and sustainable British food and farming industry. That is our No. 1 objective. Alongside it go issues such as enhancing the environment and biodiversity to improve quality of life and support a strong and sustainable green economy that is resilient to climate change. It cannot be made any more obvious that a sustainable livestock industry sits clearly in that framework of ambition.
We support a sustainable future for livestock farming and food production in which the whole chain-the farmers and their representative organisations, food chain businesses, consumers and the Government-plays
its part by operating efficiently, sharing information and learning, and, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North East said, eliminating waste. However, I emphasise that we do not believe that the best way of going about that is through the regulatory approach in the Bill, or even, as some have suggested, through a soundbite approach of giving the Secretary of State a duty to ensure the sustainability of the industry. Clearly, that is impossible for any Secretary of State; it flies in the face of common sense.
There has been some debate about the scope of the Bill. Hon. Members have referred to the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland are excluded, yet clause 5 implies that Wales is included. That is simply another fundamentally flawed aspect of the Bill, because agriculture and sustainability are devolved to the Welsh Assembly.
Taking the matter forward requires clear resolve and determination from the Government. It requires a resolution that we will work with industry in partnership as it delivers its commitments and, when necessary, take steps to ensure that those commitments are fulfilled.
We also need the ambition to realise that Government do not have all the answers. The Government have never pretended-and will never pretend-to know all the answers to everything. It is for those with the best knowledge of their businesses and activities to devise solutions. That is why I am happy today to offer a different approach from the detailed prescription in the Bill, which sets out how and when the Secretary of State should consult and so on. I want to make the Bill's promoter and sponsors a genuine offer from the Government. I invite them to participate in a broad conference of all those concerned with the sustainability of the livestock industry, to be held early next year, and convened and run by stakeholders in the industry. It will reflect on and debate the activities that are already under way in the livestock sectors, and consider what has been achieved and what remains to be done. I will expand on that shortly.
I shall outline some of the activity that is already taking place and the Government's approach. Like the previous Government, we believe that a partnership approach is right. First and foremost, I want to show that we can trust farmers to do the right thing. If we trust people, they must accept responsibility. The UK livestock industry is showing its leadership and commitment to operating sustainably. The dairy supply chain forum's milk road map is a good example of what can be achieved through bringing producers, processors and retailers together to commit themselves publicly to milestones for more sustainable operation on, for example, dairy farm land, and in environmental stewardship, nutrient planning, recycled plastic milk bottles and so on. I look forward to seeing the new targets for sustainability in the updated road map when it is published next spring.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North East referred to the pig sector and the work it has done in producing its own product road maps. The beef and sheep sectors are also working to produce road maps to provide frameworks for measuring the sustainability of their operations. I am genuinely encouraged by their commitment to developing supply-chain approaches to sustainability. The Government will work closely with each of those sectors to encourage the agricultural industry in partnership in England to implement the reductions in on-farm greenhouse gas emissions, which were set out in the frameworks for action earlier this year.
There are other areas where the Government can and do help in respect of the subject matter of the Bill. On public procurement, which was mentioned in the debate, we are developing Government buying standards for food. They will be mandatory for central Government and our agencies, and we will promote them to the wider public sector. The standards will set a clear definition of healthy and sustainable food procurement and will allow us to lead by example in influencing procurement practice.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) said, labelling is also a key priority for the Government. Ensuring the integrity of the information that labels provide to consumers is crucial to a sustainable livestock industry. That is why the Secretary of State and I want to ensure that unprocessed meat is clearly labelled with the country of origin and information on where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. We also want to ensure that processed foods that are labelled as made in the UK show the origin of their main ingredients if they come from outside the UK. Again, that is to avoid any confusion for the consumer. I am very encouraged by the response that I have had from the food supply chain businesses in developing the principles in that voluntary code, but more work remains to be done to ensure clarity for consumers, and the Government have always made it clear that we reserve the right to legislate if we cannot achieve what we want voluntarily.
Tackling food waste is a Government priority. The Secretary of State has already announced a thorough review of all aspects of waste policy and delivery in England, including household and business waste and arrangements for recycling collection. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East referred to anaerobic digestion. We want to see a big increase in renewable energy from anaerobic digestion of both agricultural and human waste. We are working on the steps to achieve that through the rural development programme, which will knit in with the feed-in tariff system. DEFRA's support for a sustainable livestock industry is, I believe, shown through its commitment of significant resources to research to improve our knowledge base of what works.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, among others, mentioned soya, but we need to be clear what we are talking about. We import something like 2.2 million tonnes of soya bean meal, and 0.8 million tonnes of soya beans-a total of 3 million tonnes. Of course, not all of that is for animal feed. Virtually all our processed food-soya is a major ingredient of vegetarian food-contains soya. Not all soya is fed to stock. In fact, about two thirds of all our manufactured food products contain derivatives of, or ingredients made from, soya. Nevertheless, the debate has focused on the livestock use of soya.
The 3 million tonnes should be seen in the context of current UK cropping and we must look at the implications of the ultimate objective of the Bill, which is to produce all our protein within the UK. A yield of 5 tonnes per hectare of the equivalent of soya-the nearest we have are dried peas and beans, which we already grow-is quite high, but with that assumption, the 3 million tonnes of soya imports equate to 600,000 hectares of British farmland. We currently grow about 1.8 million hectares of wheat, just over 1.1 million hectares of barley, 581,000 thousand hectares of rape and only
233,000 hectares of peas and beans. It does not take much working out to see that if we were to replace that soya import, our cropping practices would need to undergo a massive change, with the consequential increase in imports of whatever crop is displaced to grow some form of protein to replace soya.
What we are doing as a Government is to co-fund research with the livestock industry on the environmental consequences of replacing soya with home-grown legumes in diets-for pigs particularly-and on the life-cycle analysis of poultry production systems, on an analysis of nutrition regimes for ruminants to reduce greenhouse gases, and on work to improve the welfare and health of dairy cows, including in the large-scale units that we have debated at other times.
Mr Chope: Has my hon. Friend seen the report "Pastures New-A Sustainable Future for Meat and Dairy Farming", produced by Friends of the Earth? In it, quoting research by the Royal Agricultural College, Friends of the Earth says that we could use 2.25 million hectares of land to provide crops as an alternative to soya imports, rather than the lower figure to which my hon. Friend referred.
Mr Paice: I do not think I have actually seen that figure, but if it is to be taken as the correct figure, that is half our arable land. So the increase in imports of all the crops that would be displaced by that crop would obviously be dramatic and would have other implications; we would probably have another Bill trying to stop that.
On top of the research that I referred to, we are committed to tackling the deforestation that the Bill rightly aims to reduce, and which has accompanied some soya production. But we must recognise that soya consumption is not all about livestock. DEFRA is leading a programme of work, with businesses and non-governmental organisations, on another major food ingredient that has not been debated this morning-palm oil. We want to support production without the forest footprint of replacing rain forest with palm oil production.
We are also working closely with our European and other international partners. Much has been made of Brazil; in particular we are working with that country to tackle the drivers of deforestation. We are also working with EU partners to tackle illegal logging, which destroys forests and biodiversity and contributes, as we know, to CO2 emissions.
Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): I have attended this morning's debate with a genuinely open mind, in accordance with the commitment that I gave to my constituents-we are very interested in the Bill. I suspect that what drives much of the sense of urgency of the Members who spoke in favour of the Bill, is a sense that we are hearing merely warm words and promises, and among working people everyone is a little concerned that those timelines will slip. The Minister has conceded that he agrees with a great deal of the sentiment behind the Bill. What reassurance can the people who support the sentiment behind the Bill have that progress will be made in a reasonably rapid time frame?
I am grateful for that question, part of which I will come to in a few moments. First, let me say that the issue is not about the principle of ensuring that
our livestock sector is more sustainable; the debate is about how we go about it-whether to adopt the highly regulatory approach proposed by the Bill, or to continue with the approach that, as has been said in all fairness, was begun under the previous Government-and continued and emphasised by the present Government-to achieve the aim with partnership working throughout the sector. A lot of progress is being made, and in a few moments I shall outline how I think the Bill could be counter-productive in achieving that.
I was saying that we are working closely with the EU, Brazil and others. In particular, bringing us right up to date, we made great strides forward at the recent conference in Nagoya, not only in agreeing targets for reducing the loss of habitats including forests, and for tackling forest degradation, but in making real progress on the links between climate change and biodiversity. The Government announced as part of the spending review that we will provide £2.9 billion towards tackling international climate change. A significant proportion of that will be used to address forestry issues, and that meets and goes beyond the commitments made at Copenhagen by the previous Government.
Kerry McCarthy: Could the Minister tell the House what conversations have taken place on this issue between DEFRA Ministers and Ministers in the Department of Energy and Climate Change? I was a bit concerned that when I raised this issue at yesterday's DECC questions, the Minister who was answering did not seem to have the slightest idea that the Bill even existed. This is important in terms of putting the issue on the agenda at the international climate change talks.
Mr Paice: Obviously, I cannot comment on what may have taken place in the Chamber yesterday, but I assure the hon. Lady that those discussions do take place. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has engaged in a number of conversations with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change about our stance, and did so before going to Nagoya, so we had an agreed Government position. Further discussions are taking place-some have taken place-prior to the meeting at Cancun in two or three weeks' time. I can assure the hon. Lady that those discussions most definitely are taking place.
The £2.9 billion going towards tackling international climate change that I mentioned is obviously very significant, but the key international mechanism for tackling deforestation and ensuring that forestry contributes to our action on climate change is the REDD+ programme-reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation-in developing countries. Part of making that programme work will be an examination of all the drivers of deforestation, including forest conversion to agriculture. The progress that we made at Nagoya on ensuring that a successful REDD+ programme delivers benefits for biodiversity was a major breakthrough, in which the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs played a key role. As I have just said, we need to build on that at Cancun in a few weeks' time.
In addition, I can tell the House that the Technology Strategy Board, in conjunction with DEFRA and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is planning a call of up to £15 million for business-led
applied research projects that will help to deliver a sustainable future supply of protein for the UK. As I announced last week, DEFRA and the devolved Administrations are committing £12.6 million to research to improve our understanding of greenhouse gas emissions from farms across the UK. At the same time, we are working with our partners in the Global Research Alliance of 30 countries to collaborate on research into agricultural greenhouse gas emission reductions, including from livestock.
It is important to emphasise that a range of different views about agricultural emissions still exist and that this is an extremely complicated field, because it involves many interacting purposes. For example, grassland, which has been the subject of a lot of discussion today, is itself a huge reservoir of carbon and so it is arguable that the more grass we have, the better. However, if ruminants graze that grass, they emit methane and so a balance needs to be worked out. We must also consider an issue that is very relevant to some of the conversations that have taken place in the Chamber this morning: intensive versus extensive. I am not advocating this necessarily, but it is part of the dilemma faced by the industry that if we keep stock in an enclosed building, we can then deal with the emissions. By contrast, if the stock are kept free range, the emissions are emitted into the atmosphere and we can do nothing about them. That is just part of the conundrum that we need to try to resolve, hence that further investment of £12.6 million that I announced last week.
The Government's commitment to a sustainable future for UK farming is, as I have said, right at the top of our business programme. So it is very clear, particularly at a time of fiscal restraint. However, I suggest-this comes back to the point made in an intervention a few minutes ago-that if we were to adopt the Bill as it stands, we would find that much of it is completely undeliverable and unachievable. Expecting the Secretary of State "to ensure" certain things is an impossibility, because all these things fall way outside the Secretary of State's real powers. The Bills states that it is the Secretary of State's duty
"to ensure the sustainability of the livestock industry"
"must ensure that policies in relation to negotiations and other activities...including at the European Union, are consistent with sections 1(1) and 1(2).
"to ensure that the steps taken in accordance with this Act do not lead to an increase in the proportion of meat consumed in the United Kingdom which is imported"
is clearly impossible. We live in an open market economy, thank goodness-I believe that the Opposition share that perception these days-and we could not, because of European and World Trade Organisation laws, simply put up the siege barriers and say, "We are not importing any meat." That might be what Mr Putin has done about wheat, but it is not realistic to expect us to do it for meat.
I am afraid that some aspects of the Bill are clearly outwith what would be sensible legislation, which is one major reason why we oppose it. Another is that if the
Secretary of State were to divert considerable DEFRA resources to do everything required by the Bill, that would slow down our progress. As I have tried to illustrate, we are making considerable progress in a range of ways and I want to drive that forward because I believe strongly in that agenda.
Mr Paice: The honest answer is no, but the costs would be considerable. In this time of major economic constraint, DEFRA clearly does not have the resources for this; a reduction in its overall budget has already been announced. Also, as my hon. Friend said in his excellent speech, the cost of the measures and of regulating them would have a considerable impact on the industry.
There are a number of reasons why the Bill is not the right way forward. I believe in the partnership approach of working with the industry that I have outlined. We are ready to show the necessary leadership and resolve to challenge the industry to act sustainably. That is the best way of producing the results to which we and the Bill aspire. Most of our farming leaders and the farming and food businesses they represent understand the Government's resolve to ensure a sustainable future for livestock, farming and food.
We hope and expect the agricultural industry's climate change task force to deliver its commitments to a greenhouse gas action plan with tangible measures for on-farm abatement. I hope that the plan will be published in the next few weeks. We will review it in 2012 and be ready to take the necessary steps should it seem unlikely to deliver the progress on farm-level abatement that we need.
We want to encourage all parts of the livestock industry to challenge themselves in thinking about the sustainability of their sectors and to set challenging goals for pro-environmental behaviours. In this time of restraint, and with the Government's overriding priority of reducing the deficit, we need to focus resources on where they can make the most difference rather than on the statutory reporting and monitoring envisaged in the Bill.
Unsurprisingly, I repeat that the Government cannot support the Bill. Although its general sentiment is admirable, its terms are too broad, the duties it would impose on the Secretary of State are too ill defined and, indeed, undeliverable, and it is not consistent with the partnership approach that we want to engender. Let me return, therefore, to my earlier offer. Rather than impose additional layers of reporting, we would like to offer something substantive: our participation in a conference of interested parties in the first half of next year to take stock of the progress made by the UK livestock sectors in delivering sustainability objectives. I look to interested parties to set up and host the conference, but I give a commitment that either the Secretary of State or I will attend it. A year after the conference, DEFRA would report on the role of all parties with an interest in the sustainability of our livestock industry.
Mr Paice: As I said just now, I would hope that the interested parties would organise the conference; I do not particularly want to have to write the guest list, not least because I would no doubt be accused of fiddling it by those who-
Mr Paice: Just let me finish this point. I am sure that those who read this debate will take that on board, and I certainly hope that all the devolved Governments will be part of the conference. It really ought to be a UK enterprise.
Mr Nuttall: On the point about the guest list, bearing in mind the confusion that arose this morning about the extent and scope of the Bill in the United Kingdom, will the Minister confirm that he will invite interested parties from not just England, but Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?
Before I conclude, I want to refer to one or two comments made by hon. Friends. We have heard some good, solid speeches; my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North made a very solid speech. He was interrupted a couple of times for very relevant purposes. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) was, as we have very quickly come to learn, exceedingly perceptive, particularly about some of the shortcomings and illegalities of the Bill, to which I, too, referred. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) referred, quite rightly, to the importance of biodiversity, but we need to look at what the Bill actually says, rather than at what we might imagine it could do, say or achieve. In this House, we are responsible for the detail of legislation. In my time here, far too many Bills have gone through without adequate scrutiny that would enable us to understand what they truly say. I stand second to nobody in recognising the importance of recognising biodiversity in our agricultural policies, but passing the Bill would not be of much assistance.
We heard a superb speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), the last surviving Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister in the House. He brought to the debate his tremendous knowledge of the developing world. To be fair, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East referred to agricultural growth as the main driver of economic growth there. My hon. Friends the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), and for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), referred to the importance of agriculture to rural Britain, and to local food production.
I will conclude with one or two comments on the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, who introduced the Bill. I mentioned that the bulk of soya and grain goes to pigs and poultry, a fact that I think had eluded him, judging by the way that he spoke. I want to make sure that a couple of statistics that he quoted are corrected; I am afraid that they were fundamentally wrong, and it would be irresponsible of me to leave them on the record unchallenged. He said that agriculture now uses 20 million tonnes more animal feed than it did 20 years ago. In fact, the figure is
2 million tonnes. He also said that it takes 20 kg of cereals to produce 1 kg of beef, but in fact it takes about 6 to 7 kg of cereal, or concentrate food, to produce 1 kg of beef; that is the real conversion rate. In any case, as I said earlier, no ruminants are fed entirely on grain and soya, because their digestive systems could not cope with that. Clearly, if one takes out the roughage-the long material that they are eating-the consumption of cereals goes down.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the situation in Paraguay. I do not in any way want to diminish the importance of deforestation in Paraguay, but we do not import any soya from there, so the Bill would not have an impact on Paraguay. I think that I heard him say that we should not be feeding cereals to livestock at all, all of which would mean, as I said, that we would have no pigmeat or poultry meat in this country.
We have had a lot of debate, and this is an important issue. I repeat my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on bringing the issue to the House. I do not in any way decry his having done that; it has been a valuable morning. I hope that I have been able to persuade hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Government are totally committed to ensuring, developing and improving the sustainability of our livestock industry, but the Bill is not the way to go about doing that. We are determined to proceed in the way that I described, working with our partners to make livestock production sustainable, without the need for the regulatory process suggested in the Bill.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman and others will accept, participate in, and welcome the constructive alternative way forward that I have already offered him. I am the first to admit that the proposals have been a matter of great debate in Government, because we share the fundamental objectives of what the Bill is trying to do. We would have liked to support it if we could, but after careful analysis, some of which I have shared with the House, I am afraid that we cannot do that. Nevertheless, the debate is worth while, and the Government remain determined to proceed with the overall issue.
Mr Chope: I do not know whether the promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), in the light of the very generous offer made by my hon. Friend the Minister, will seek leave to withdraw his Bill. That is open to him at any stage, and he might need time to reflect on the content of my hon. Friend's helpful speech. I hope that hon. Members recognise that it is far better to have a proper conference and debate with a response from the Department than to put this half-baked Bill into Committee and try to have that conference in Committee time, which is effectively what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South was asking us to accept in his opening remarks. He said that he realised there were a lot of contentious things in the Bill that should be discussed and so on, and that we could discuss them all in Committee.
We might be able to do so, if we were going to serve on that Committee, but I suggest that that would take a very long time. As the discussion would inevitably be constrained by the fact that each debate would have to take place in the context of an amendment or a new clause, there would be unnecessary constraint of what could be achieved.
The chance of a discussion or proper conference before the middle of next year, followed by a response from the Department, is a very good offer that, if accepted by the hon. Gentleman, will show that he has not used his slot, coming second in the private Members' ballot, in vain. He will have achieved something and it is always important, for the promoter of such a Bill, to be able to tell his supporters that he has achieved something. Whatever else happens, particularly if he accepts the offer from my hon. Friend the Minister, he will be able to say that he has achieved something. Another thing that he achieved was to bring a number of people together yesterday evening, with support from Friends of the Earth, to listen to MP4 and share sustainable food and beverages in the Attlee suite. That will be welcomed by many Members of this House and others from outside.
As the Minister said, the Bill should be about how to achieve sustainability, not whether sustainability is a good idea. I do not think that anybody who has spoken, including me, is suggesting that sustainability is not a good idea. The question is whether the Bill is the right way to try to achieve that. My hon. Friend referred to the myths around the Bill. Unfortunately, many of the myths have been propagated among our constituents, who have engaged in a letter-writing and postcard campaign. I am not sure whether Royal Mail, in its desperate situation, put them up to that or not, but those postcards and letters have been arriving in significant numbers. Most of them are based on a misconception of the Bill's provisions and what they could achieve. I suspect that many organisations said that they supported the Bill before it was published. It was published only a few days ago, and it is apparent that much of the campaign in support of it was based on a Bill-an earlier draft, perhaps-that contained provisions very different from those in the present Bill.
My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the 8,000-head dairy unit at Nocton and made the point that ruminants are fed largely on silage, grass and hay, and that ruminant diets contain only about 3% soya, yet the soya debate is the main avowed rationale for the Bill. The explanatory notes helpfully provided by the promoter state at paragraph 4, under the heading "Summary and background":
"The driver for the Bill is the fact that much of the environmental impact of consumption of livestock produce in the United Kingdom takes place in other countries. For example, the growing of feed crops such as soy is leading to the conversion of rainforest and other wild areas to plantations. Such deforestation causes biodiversity loss and results in large emissions of climate change gases."
This is not a Bill about the destruction of the rain forest. Nobody in the House supports the destruction of the rain forest. It is an extremely emotive means of trying to get support for a proposition to say, "Vote for this, and we will save the rain forest." The sponsors have unashamedly used that method to try to exploit public opinion for their own ends. That is perfectly legitimate, but it should be recognised for what it is and exposed to public debate so that the public can see what has been happening.
My hon. Friend went on to talk about traceability and how much the Government are already doing to try to achieve that, without their needing to rely on the contents of the Bill. Going through this list, it seems to me that I might be in danger of making the first speech
in this Parliament that is fully supportive of the Government's position on any proposition. My hon. Friend's persuasive powers have encouraged me to do so.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the Bill is far too prescriptive. We should be looking for a much less prescriptive alternative. He made the alternative offer of a joint conference, coupled with the partnership approach. He referred to what is already happening with product road maps, as they are called, in the dairy, pig and livestock sectors.
I refer the House to what has been happening in relation to soya, as a result of a scheme to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) referred in his magnificent contribution to today's proceedings. He said that much work was already being done on responsible soya production. One organisation that has been set up for that purpose is called the Round Table on Responsible Soy-
Mr Chope: My information says responsible soy, but perhaps there is more than one round table. I downloaded it from www.responsiblesoy.org, which sets out many sensible measures being undertaken across the globe so that people engaged in the soy value chain-so-called soy value chain stakeholders-will be able to ensure that soy can be produced in countries across the world to a high environmental standard, and that there is some assurance for buyers.
I am sure that farmers who use soy in this country would much prefer to use soy that had not been produced at the expense of cutting down the rain forest, and, because of the work that organisations such as the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association are doing, developing a chain of custody model, that will be possible. At the beginning of 2011, the global market will be able to buy RTRS certified soy. The approval of the principles and criteria for responsible soy by the General Assembly took place in June 2010, and that will be implemented at the beginning of next year. Even now, in the second half of 2010, the new standard is available in the form of a certification system. I do not need to go into the full details of all that, but anybody who is concerned about the fact that the rain forest is being chopped down in order to produce soy should be able to take quite a lot of comfort from that, because it shows that the producers themselves realise that if they cut down the rain forest to produce soy, they will not be able to export that soy to markets such as the UK because people will not want to buy it.
Mr Nuttall: Those are interesting statistics. If we carry on at that rate of progress, it will not be too many years before the entire use of soy products in this country is sourced from responsible producers.
I drew the Minister's attention to the statistics contained in "Pastures New", a Friends of the Earth briefing on a sustainable future for meat and dairy farming. At page 10
of that document, which I obtained last night at the gathering of people interested in the Bill, under the heading "Strength in Numbers: How much soy could be replaced?" it says:
"The RAC's research for Friends of the Earth estimates the proportion of soy bean meal that could be replaced by UK protein crops...show that: Field beans could substitute 14 per cent of soy bean, requiring 221,000 hectares...Peas could substitute 17 per cent, requiring 323,000 hectares...Lupins could substitute 15 per cent, requiring 263,000 hectares...Oilseed rape could replace 14 per cent, requiring 214,000 hectares...Sunflower could replace 17 per cent, requiring 512,000 hectares...Linseed could replace 14 per cent, requiring 425,000 hectares. In addition, lucerne silage from some 438,000 hectares of pasture or leys could replace 42 per cent of soy bean for ruminants."
As my hon. Friend pointed out, if such a replacement occurred, over half of our agricultural land would be taken over with soy replacement, and that would squeeze out the production of wheat, barley and other agricultural products, and we would no doubt have to import those as a substitute.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I know that one of the most important aspects of agriculture policy is to ensure food security, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend is in fact saying that this Bill would fundamentally undermine food security in this country because so much of our land would be going to soya production, rather than to providing the food that we actually need.
Mr Chope: My hon. Friend, as so often, puts his finger on a really good point, and it highlights the Bill's inherent contradictions. On the one hand, the Minister will be asked to have regard to food security through compliance with clause 1; on the other, one of the main measures that the promoter intends to introduce would undermine and damage food security. I do not think that that is intentional on the part of the promoter, but when one looks at the Bill in detail one finds that it, like many good intentions that are brought before the House and converted into draft legislation, will achieve quite the reverse of what its promoter thought.
Replacing all that soya with those alternative crops is the wrong thing to do. Lupins, sunflowers and, arguably, linseed can look quite attractive in the countryside at particular times of year, but I am not sure whether many people would say that field upon field and hectare upon hectare of such crops, which are not native to the United Kingdom, would enhance our landscape.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): On Fridays the tradition is that, when a speaker lacks the confidence to test their argument in the Lobby, they start reading out lists of the Latin names of hermaphrodite invertebrates, or gleanings from the libertarian internet. Does the hon. Gentleman have sufficient confidence in the force of his argument to see it tested, now, in the Lobby?
Mr Chope: The hon. Gentleman is usurping the position that should be occupied by his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South. I hope that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South will have a chance to respond to the debate and to explain to Members who are interested in the subject whether the Minister's offer is a good one, and whether, on the basis of it, he wishes to seek leave to withdraw the Bill.
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to tell me that he wants to withdraw the Bill, because we can then move on to the next business, but I cannot force him to intervene. I am giving him the opportunity to do so, but he is declining. The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) knows very well the procedures of the House and exactly what the Bill's promoter and sponsors can and, perhaps, will do between now and half-past 2 if they do not want to accept the Minister's offer.
Considering that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North spoke for an hour and a quarter, I am just getting into the beginnings of my contribution. I thought that it would be helpful not to make a speech de novo, but to make a speech that built on what my hon. Friend the Minister said. We are meant to be having a debate rather than a dialogue of the deaf, and it is a pity that at the moment there is no indication that any more Opposition Members want to engage in it.
My hon. Friend the Minister went on to say that he was keen to ensure that the Government introduce mandatory standards for the public procurement of food, but I am not sure that I am. I can understand the desire in relation to Departments, but not in relation to going further and trying to impose such a demand on the whole public sector.
Mr Paice: If I did not make it clear at the time to my hon. Friend, I should like to clarify the Government's proposal. The guidelines would be mandatory on central Government and their agencies; local government and other aspects of the public sector would be encouraged to adopt them, but they would not be mandated.
My hon. Friend went on to talk about labelling. I agree wholeheartedly that we should try to get better labelling, but I fear that unless we can renegotiate our position in relation to the European Union, we will not be able to do that as easily or quickly as my hon. Friend would like.
I still do not understand why we are not able to feed food waste to pigs, as we always used to. There was an unnecessary health scare about all that, and it would surely be much better if we fed our food waste to pigs, rather than putting it into landfill or disposing of it in some other way. I hope that in due course the Government will readdress that issue.
Pigs will eat almost anything. As you may recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, it was not that long ago that a citizen was murdered in Wimbledon and it was discovered that his body had been fed to pigs. I am sure that you will be advised that that point is far outside the remit of the Bill, and, funnily enough, dealing with such issues will not be one of the burdens put on the Minister if the Bill passes into law. That is fair enough. I am illustrating the point that pigs are omnivores. It is a pity that we do not allow pigs to devour food waste and thereby the reduce the amount of soya that they consume.
The point about food waste needs to be looked into very thoroughly. I seem to remember that the last outbreak of foot and mouth was caused by
diseased waste. Before putting food waste into the food chain, it has to be treated enormously carefully. The Bill may not be doing that in the right way.
Mr Chope: My hon. Friend rightly brings a cautionary tale to bear on this. My parents used to keep two pigs-one was called Humpty, and the other Dumpty. We used to feed them all the food waste, and there was never an outbreak of foot and mouth disease as a result. Those pigs were very healthy, and, because it was a time of rationing, when they were slaughtered we did not keep all the meat ourselves, but shared it among the people in a sort of collectivist action.
Mr Chope: I was pausing to take breath, so I failed to hear what the hon. Gentleman said. However, I am sure that it was very witty and pertinent, and I look forward to reading it in the Official Report in due course.
My next point is one that my hon. Friend the Minister made. It is about the need to concentrate on putting resources where they can really deliver some good. Effectively, what he was saying was that if the Bill was to pass into law and these onerous duties were imposed on him, his Department would have to transfer resources from where they are being deployed at the moment to other areas. That would be a mistake. I have every confidence that my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State have a grip on the best allocation of resources within their Department to meet the Government's policy objectives. If they were diverted from doing that by what is contained in the Bill, that would be a matter of regret.
My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the £2.9 billion that the Government are giving to deal with global climate change. That is a far more focused approach than that adopted by the Bill's promoter, and it is regrettable that he did not refer to it in his opening speech. He might have said, "I respect and applaud the fact that the Government are doing so much in these areas, and this Bill is, in many respects, designed to encourage them to go further." However, the Government do not need to be encouraged to go any further-they are doing more than sufficient with that £2.9 billion, which is, in anybody's language, a significant sum of money.
My hon. Friend made an important point that is perhaps sometimes forgotten by those of us who mow our grass too regularly during the growing season-that grassland is itself a reservoir of potential carbon emissions. That introduces yet another set of conundrums and dilemmas in relation to promoting healthy livestock production while ensuring that we do not increase CO2 or CO2-equivalent emissions.
"The Secretary of State must ensure that policies in relation to negotiations and other activities at international level, including at the European Union, are consistent with sections 1(1) and 1(2)"
of the Bill as enacted. If my hon. Friend had been perfectly frank with the House, he would have said that there is no way that that is ever going to happen unless we withdraw from the European Community.
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab):
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Most hon. Members will not have had a chance to see the written statement that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice,
the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) slipped out this lunch time. I understand that he found the time to be in the Chamber earlier. The written statement says that the Government have abandoned their plans to introduce defence anonymity in rape cases. Can you clarify whether the Under-Secretary sought an opportunity this morning to make an oral statement so that hon. Members could have a chance to question him? If not, what are my options as a new Member, if I want the Minister to come to the House next week and give hon. Members a proper chance to scrutinise the announcement?
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Thank you for that point of order. No Minister has approached the Speaker to ask to make a statement today. However, as the hon. Member knows, it is for the Government to decide how they wish to make the announcement, whether through an oral or a written statement. Clearly, in this case, they have decided to make a written statement. Members on the Treasury Bench will have heard the hon. Member's remarks and I am sure that, if the Under-Secretary wants to make an oral statement next week, the hon. Member will see on the Annunciator screens that that is what the Government wish to do.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Surely the issue does not rest entirely with the Ministry of Justice. The Home Office has also been heavily engaged in the dispute, which has been running for a long time. At one point, the Government announced that the idea would be dropped, but then they reinstituted it. Given the amount of genuine fear and concern that has been expressed to me in my constituency-I know that I am not alone in that experience-surely the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Justice should make a statement, and then hon. Members can justifiably put questions to them.
Mr Deputy Speaker: I do not have much to add to my response to Thomas Docherty. As the hon. Lady knows, there are other avenues whereby she can raise the issue-in Adjournment debates, Westminster Hall and in questions to the Department, when they arise.
"The Secretary of State must ensure that policies in relation to negotiations and other activities at international level, including at the European Union, are consistent with sections 1(1) and 1(2)."
As the Minister said, he would not be in a position to ensure that. I submit that it is not open to anybody in the Government or the House to ensure that various policies are consistent with what is going on in the European Union on matters about which we do not have the final say and are subject to qualified majority voting. As I understand it, there is a discussion at this very time on whether the EU budget should increase by 2.9% or more next year, but the House has no final control of that. Clause 1(3) is rather like saying, "The Prime Minister shall ensure that the UK contribution to the EU budget does not increase." We do not have the power to do that, just as my hon. Friend the Minister has no power to ensure that EU agriculture policy is as we would wish it to be.
It is relevant in that context to mention a very helpful report by Friends of the Earth that shows how EU subsidies currently encourage unsustainable practices, which is obviously at odds with the Bill. Friends of the Earth has calculated that some £700 million of English taxpayers' money was spent on propping up factory farming through the common agricultural policy in 2008. Its report states:
"Small farms are losing out to factory farms-the most damaging link in a chain that connects the food on our plates to forest destruction...UK factory farms also contribute significantly to the UK greenhouse gas emissions and undermine rural livelihoods."
"based on the best available information and calculated on the basis of subsidies"-
"for cereal production...Export subsidies which largely go to companies and processing industries...Untargeted direct payments which are increasing money being received by the intensive pig and poultry sectors...Historical payments that award the biggest payments to the farms that produced intensively in the past...Dairy payments that are based on historical production quotas"
"Lowland grazing livestock untargeted subsidies that do not support extensive models adequately and therefore continue to support the increasing tendency to intensify or exit the farming sector".
The CAP was last reformed in 2003. We hope that a more substantial reform is about to take place, but I will believe it when I see it. The reform is the one we were promised when Mr Blair gave away a large part of our rebate on the basis that the CAP would be reformed. The next few months will be decisive in determining whether we will get anything significant in return for giving up that rebate, but the early suggestions are that we will not get anything like what we are looking for in that revision of the CAP.
I predict that because the word "sustainable" is rather trendy at the moment, there will be a lot of guff about sustainable this and sustainable that in the CAP reforms, but economic sustainability, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North and others mentioned, will probably be omitted. A proper recognition of, and reference to, economic sustainability has been missing in this debate. I take the view that the CAP is not only environmentally unsustainable-indeed, it undermines environmental sustainability-but economically unsustainable. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will make those points in his typically tough and uncompromising fashion when he goes to negotiate CAP reform. I am sure he will tell the French that although we agree on certain aspects of defence, we need to go a lot further before we agree on support for the agricultural sector.
Interestingly, the Bill contains quite a lot of material that is relevant, or could be relevant, to the second Bill on the Order Paper-the Public Bodies (Sustainable Food) Bill, promoted by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), who has a long-standing interest in improving the quality of food available in this country. Last night she introduced me to somebody from "The Food Programme," and we were talking about that Bill. I am sure that if the hon. Lady were to seek to participate in this debate, there would be sufficient scope for her to make some of the points relevant to her Bill under the umbrella of-
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Mr Chope, could you restrict your comments to the Bill that we are discussing now? Let us not move on to the second Bill. Clearly, if you are keen for the hon. Lady to speak to her Bill, you would resume your seat and we could move on.
Mr Chope: Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether I am in a position to be able to say that the hon. Lady can introduce her Bill. All I am saying is that there is quite a lot of common ground between what is in her Bill and what is in the Bill before us, and that because she has not participated in this debate so far-
On the issue of the further duties being placed on the Secretary of State to ensure that there is no increase in the proportion of meat consumed in the United Kingdom that is imported, as my hon. Friend the Minister said that is prima facie contrary to World Trade Organisation rules, and it is probably against EU rules as well, and yet somehow it has found its way into the Bill.
The final point that I want to make is that there is a real muddle in the Bill about its extent and application. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the Bill purports to relate to England and Wales, despite the fact that Wales has devolved responsibility, but the body of the Bill contains all sorts of references to applicability to the United Kingdom, and indeed to countries overseas. I think it shows that the Bill was cobbled together at the last minute-but that is not to suggest that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South put the Bill together at the last minute.
I have a suspicion about what happened-I do not know whether I am correct, but it has often happened in the past. Hon. Members bring forward a private Member's Bill. They get it drafted, but they are not quite ready to have it printed because they are waiting for the Government to provide an answer on various points. Then when they get the Government's answer they realise that the Government are rather against a lot of the Bill's provisions, so they redraft the Bill, perhaps on an iterative basis. That means that the Bill is redrafted very close to the time when it should be presented. The consequence is that it contains inconsistencies.
Robert Flello: The hon. Gentleman has a tremendous reputation in the House, both for the ability to talk and for his concern for the democratic process in this place. Just to clarify the point for him, the Bill in its original form was subjected to severe and detailed amendment following a discussion with the Minister, and the new version of the Bill was put together following consultation with a range of organisations, not least the National Farmers Union. It has had a lot of discussion and a lot of planning in its current form; it was not rushed through. It took a little bit of time to prepare and went through a few iterations to ensure that it would have credibility and meet with understanding in the House.
Mr Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, but it makes it all the more disappointing that the Bill, notwithstanding all that careful work that has been done on it, contains such fundamental flaws as it is presented to this House. If we are to ask hon. Members to take up time examining Bills in detail in Committee, those Bills should be in a much better state before they go to Committee than this Bill is in. For that reason, were this matter to come to a vote, I would vote against giving the Bill a Second Reading.
"Let the wealthy and great
Roll in splendour and state.
I envy them not, I declare it,
For I eat my own lamb,
My own chickens and ham;
I shear my own fleece and I wear it.
I have lawns; I have bowers.
I have fruits; I have flowers,
The lark is my morning alarmer.
So jolly boys now,
Here's God speed the plough.
Long life and success to the farmer."
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Evans. I have come here today to support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) and to introduce the Second Reading of my Public Bodies (Sustainable Food) Bill, on behalf of many thousands of people in the UK who care about food, who do not want poetry recited in the House of Commons and who, in the run-up to the 800th anniversary celebrations of the Magna Carta, want this place to be dealing with real issues about sustainable food. Is it not time that the business leaders of the House of Commons, with Mr Speaker and you, Mr Deputy Speaker, find a way to deal with Bills such as mine, which are not mischievous, which deserve to go into Committee to be properly discussed, in the interest of public health, and which are supported by organisations such as Sustain? People expect the House of Commons to give a proper hearing to the real debate, so what can be done?
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans):
I will bring the hon. Lady's comments to the attention of Mr Speaker on Monday morning. I know how frustrating a private
Members' day can be when you have the second, third or fourth Bill to be presented; I am a veteran of Friday mornings and I have been fortunate enough to have had several private Members' Bills, one of which had fair wind from the Government and sailed through. The others did not, so I know how frustrated she might be. The procedures we are following are set down in Standing Orders and, as I say, I will bring her comments to the attention of Mr Speaker on Monday morning. Before Mr Rees-Mogg resumes his speech, may I say that I hope he will confine his comments to the Bill and there will be no further repetitions of the poetry, as interesting as it was?
Jacob Rees-Mogg: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would not, of course, wish to repeat the poem, but I think it reminds us of the importance of supporting farmers. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who made a quite brilliant speech, our countryside was made by God and the farmer; it was not made by bureaucrats in Westminster or in Whitehall. It would be sad to see in this Bill the final triumph of bureaucracy-of the view that the man in Whitehall really knows best-with a range of things covering farming and agriculture to be decided by one person in Whitehall, rather than by the multifarious decisions of farmers across the world and, in particular, in our own country.
Let us examine every detail, clause and part of this Bill to see what it really means. When we do that, we find that it divides neatly into two parts; there are two clear options for us to examine. The Bill could be re-titled "Sustainable Livestock (Motherhood and Apple Pie) Bill", a Bill that everybody agrees with and thinks is wonderful. However, that raises a question of parliamentary procedure. Is it right for us to pass laws that do not actually do anything specific, but just talk vaguely about how nice the world could and should be, if only we all clubbed together, rallied round and jollied along?
I have great doubts about the seriousness of the Bill as a proposition. We could go back to motherhood and apple pie: I imagine that apple pie would be the responsibility of DEFRA, because it is food, and that motherhood would be covered by the Secretary of State with responsibility for welfare, but this is not how laws ought to be made. They should deal with specifics and detail and should have causes and consequences; otherwise we get the vagueness, vagary and randomness of our laws being decided in the courts. If the Bill is merely aspirational, we should not be debating it at all and the issue should come before the House not in this format but in a general debate.
Of course, I want the rainforests to flourish, of course I want farming to be sustainable and of course I want people to eat British meat. If they have any sense they will buy their meat from Somerset, which is well-known for providing the best and most glorious cuts of meat in the world. Some people like Kobe beef, but I think it rather fatty and that one can get better beef from Somerset. That is the answer to most of our food problems. I want my eggs from Somerset too. There is an egg factory, or poultry plant, near Keynsham in Burnett-a wonderful place that I have visited. It is a small family operation that is committed to the highest standards of food production, but does that mean there
should be a law that my friend from Ulster, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), should eat only Somerset eggs? He might think that a great imposition on him and his fellow Ulstermen, and we know what Ulster says when it does not want to do something-usually, no.
We do not want this kind of legislation. We are talking about public procurement of livestock produce. Is that just an aspiration? If so, it is probably one that the Government have anyway. If clause 1(2)(a) is aspirational, it is pointless because that is already the Government's hope and aim. Clause 1(2) would place a duty on the Secretary of State in relation to sustainable livestock and
"providing appropriate public information and food labelling".
I do not see a connection between the sustainability of livestock and the suitability of labelling, as they are different things. We are all in favour of honest labelling. We have heard terrible scare stories about chickens being injected with water and salt, which sounds a pretty ghastly combination. I can tell hon. Members that that does not happen to Somerset chickens. Of course, such food should be labelled as chicken, salt and water rather than just as chicken, but that is a matter for the Government to deal with through other means and regulations, not through a vague responsibility for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Clause 1(2) also addresses "sustainable livestock practices" research, but where will the money come from? We have sat in the House and listened to erudite speeches on both sides about how we should cut expenditure and raise taxes and how to afford the enormous Budget deficit that we have been left by our socialist friends. The deficit will not be magicked away, abracadabra-style, by passing more costs on to Secretaries of State. We must be responsible about what we wish for, how we go about getting it and the costs we wish to impose.
Food waste has been addressed in a wonderful discussion about pigs and what they might decide to eat. I had hoped that someone might mention the Empress of Blandings, the only pig in history to win the silver medal at the Shropshire show for three successive years. It ate a vast quantity of potatoes every day and was more than happy to eat waste food. If we are not careful, however, we will risk reintroducing problems such as foot and mouth disease, which cost the country, the taxpayer and Her Majesty's Government billions of pounds to put right. There has to be a sensible balance when it comes to dealing with food waste.
"finding sustainable methods for use or disposal of...food waste"?
Sustainable methods of dealing with food waste conjures up all sorts of nasty thoughts. In the 19th century, there were people who went round collecting what was politely described as night soil. It was then taken to farms and used as a fertiliser. Night soil was replaced by guano, which is the same thing, really, but from seagulls. It made a great deal of money for one particular family, who live in North Somerset, rather than North East Somerset. My hon. Friend is right to conjure up thoughts and horrors about what
might be done in the recycling of food. We do not want to go back to the days of people collecting night soil. Mr Bazalgette and the sewage system that was installed in the 19th century are more capable of dealing with some waste products than the means perhaps suggested in the Bill are.
"changing the subsidies available to and support for farmers",
I come back to my question: is the Bill a sort of parliamentary wallpaper-a wish-list of what we want-or serious business? I doubt that there is an hon. Member, an hon. Friend, a right hon. Member, a right hon. Friend or an hon. and gallant Member who does not want some reform of the common agricultural policy and a change to the subsidy system that seems to make it cheap for the French to produce food but comes down on our farmers like a ton of bricks. There is a uniform view that that should happen, but there is one grand obstacle. There is entente cordiale, as long as it is not about agriculture. As soon as it is about agriculture, we are back to Agincourt and Crécy. I will not go on about Agincourt and Crécy because, although I know that those two battles are particular favourites of yours, Mr Deputy Speaker, I feel that they are not immediately pertinent to the Bill, but the behaviour of the French in matters of agriculture is. If we think of the French, we need only think of the riots that we had the other day; French students do that day in, day out.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I was talking about subsidies and how we cannot do what the Bill says because the French will not let us. They will take to the streets if we try to attack subsidies across the European spectrum. People in this country-Ministers and even Prime Ministers, with all the authority that Prime Ministers have-have not been able to wean the French off their subsidies. We may share a Navy with them, but we find it difficult to share subsidies so easily.
"the effectiveness of existing programmes".
If he is not already looking at their effectiveness, he is an idler and should not be in his job. I know that the Minister is far from being an idler; he is well known for being one of the most assiduous Ministers in Her Majesty's Government, and he is the friend of the farmers. He will, therefore, be doing that already, so we are back to a grand and jolly wish-list of nice-to-do things.
Let us review subsections (1) and (2) of clause 1, headed "Duties of the Secretary of State", as if they were not a wish list, because that is the frightening alternative. If we are talking about measures that are grand and good and fine and dandy, this should not be a Bill, but if it is real and costed and expensive and a burden on farmers, we should oppose it as a Bill, because it would be ruinous for our agriculture.
Our farmers have had a terribly difficult time in recent years. The subsidy system has changed, and they have been hit by various disasters-none of them the fault of Governments, particularly, but disasters none the less. Tuberculosis in cattle has devastated dairy
farming in North East Somerset. Where there used to be field after field of cattle, they have gone. The farmers have gone out of business. Where there were 10 dairy farmers, there is now one, or, if we are lucky, two. That is partly TB, partly foot and mouth, partly milk quotas and partly regulation.
Are we now to say to the few farmers who have continued-who have striven and worked hard-that all their effort is in vain because though they were scourged with whips before, now they will be scourged with scorpions? Perhaps the Bill should be renamed the Scorpions Bill for that purpose. If it is serious in its purpose and purport, it would be very bad for our farmers. It would place extra rules on them, and would make their practices subject to a higher standard of rules than applies to others.
I have already mentioned the chicken farmer in North East Somerset, in Burnett, and that fine family who attend to their chickens there. They are out-competed, day in, day out, by Thai production. Hon. Members may think that Thai eggs are not really what they want. They may feel that Thai chicken is not their cup of tea. It is not mine, certainly; it tends to be a bit spicy. We do not want to place further regulations on farmers in North East Somerset, Ulster, Scotland, Wales or the whole of the rest of England, or even Gloucestershire. We do not want to attach regulations to our farmers that will put them out of business. That would do nothing but help foreign farmers, particularly our European friends and sometimes allies.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I appreciate that sedentary comment of outrage from my hon. Friend. That is one of the issues, if the Bill is real. It applies also to increasingly onerous tests on food labelling. We already have bonkers food labelling regulations from the European Union. For example, if one buys a Parma ham and chops it up in Westminster, one cannot then sell it as Parma ham. The EU is so protective about food labelling for its friends that there are very limited things one can do. We do not have a system that is very onerous for our farmers, and nor should it be. We need to have a sensible balance that keeps farmers in business, and does not over-regulate them and destroy their livelihood.
If we are really going to change the subsidies, we must do so fairly. I was once a candidate for the seat of The Wrekin in Shropshire, where there was a sugar processing plant. The French decided, when they held the presidency of the European Union, that they would change the subsidies for sugar beet production. They abandoned that as soon as their presidency ended, perhaps not surprisingly. People made long-term investment decisions on the basis of that subsidy. It is therefore very unfair if the Government turn around and say that the subsidy we give you today and promise will be there for ever is gone tomorrow, because businesses cannot then invest.
I am against subsidies in principle. We want get to free trade in agriculture. That is a tremendously important ambition, but we have to do it in a staged process. Like alcoholics whom one cannot necessarily wean off the bottle straight away, one cannot wean industry off
subsidies overnight. Industry expects those subsidies for the investment decisions that they make, reasonably and rationally, and it is tremendously important that long-term decisions are made.
"they would need to be incentivised by at least £100-£200 per hectare"?
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I thank my hon. Friend for another invaluable contribution to the debate. I have indeed seen the NFU's briefing and the expensive process that would come about if some of this was done. We cannot afford that extra £100 to £200 per hectare to subsidise farming. We need to come down on all forms of public expenditure, and Bills that propose more expenditure are rotten Bills-if they are indeed real Bills. On the second half of this point-the first half was about whether the Bill was just wallpaper-if the measure is real, we cannot afford it, and neither can the British people.
I want to stand up for the British consumer, who never seems to get a look in. We never talk about the fact that having cheap meat is great. It improves people's standard of living. They can afford to buy food that used to be the preserve of the wealthy. The fact that more people eat meat today than ever before is good. That has come about because people are more prosperous, but also because meat is cheaper.
"The Secretary of State has a duty to ensure that the steps taken in accordance with this Act do not lead to an increase in the proportion of meat consumed in the United Kingdom which is imported."
If that is, in fact, rank protectionism, we should treat it with the deepest suspicion. The House was much divided over the corn laws, the argument for which was cheap bread. The argument against the Bill may well be cheap meat. I want the shoppers of North East Somerset to be able to get access to affordable, good-quality meat and not to have the wealthy and great telling them that they cannot afford that meat and that they must only have vegetables, or something terrible like that.
Most people do not really like vegetables, particularly people who are meat-eaters. Those of us who are meat-eaters could do with a few chips on the side, but we do not want to be forced by Opposition Members to eat our greens, whether they be cauliflower or cabbages, spinach or marrows, turnips or carrots. I particularly dislike carrots, and I remember that George Bush Senior got into terrible trouble-
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The number of the objections that there have been to valid private Members' Bills once again brings into debate the business of the House, the way it is run and its fitness for purpose. The matter urgently needs to be discussed with the Leader of the House.
Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): May I say in passing that I agree totally with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley)? The private Member's Bill process in this place is chaotic and we need to overhaul it.
I am grateful to Mr Speaker for giving me the opportunity to raise an important local issue. This is the first time, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I have spoken in the Chamber under your wise and sagacious chairing of our proceedings. I welcome you to the Chair.
I welcome the Minister to his place. We shared a number of experiences-I found them entertaining; I am not sure whether he did-a few years ago on the Health Committee. I suspect that if most members of the Committee had been asked whether they thought he would be occupying his current position, the view might have been that he would not. However, he has got there, and regardless of the Government arrangements, he got there completely on merit. I wish him well in the post that he holds and in his efforts to discharge his duties.
May I point out a mistake on the Order Paper which is entirely of my making? I tabled the title that appears on the Order Paper for the debate, but I have not been keeping up with developments. Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust is now Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust. It assumed responsibility for primary care functions some 100 days ago and has now expanded to the health care trust. There was supposed to be a celebration yesterday of those first 100 days of responsibility for primary care, but that was cancelled. I am sure there were a number of reasons, but the disruption caused by the events that I am about to describe may well have played a part in that.
University hospital Lewisham has made remarkable progress over the past dozen years or so, the last eight of which have been under the stewardship of the current chair of the trust. For many years previously it was the poor relation in inner south-east London, without the kudos or connections of its much more illustrious neighbouring cathedrals of medicine in the shape of Guy's, St Thomas' and King's College hospitals. In 1990, under the previous Tory Government, it was used as a pawn and a make-weight in the ill-fated attempt to set up the Guy's and Lewisham self-governing trust. When that ploy failed, it was separated as Guy's was linked to St Thomas', and it has prospered ever since as an independent trust.
The notable achievements in recent times and the improvements in services over recent years have included the more than £70 million private finance initiative project at the Riverside block and improved maternity services, including one of the best birthing centres in London and therefore in the country. There have been improvements in paediatrics in the primary care centre. It has achieved some of the lowest hospital acquired infection rates in the country. During a recent stay in King's College hospital I acquired MRSA, so that has a certain resonance with me. Just 10 days ago, work commenced on the latest stage of building there, which will run through until autumn 2011, including a new
urgent care centre, upgraded and refurbished A and E facilities, new and refurbished children's and adults' out-patient suites, and a new main entrance and reception.
The financial management of the trust has been outstanding in recent years. Earlier in the year, as part of the Challenge Trust Board funding scheme, KPMG was asked to review the trust and measure its performance against nine domains: good business strategy, financial viability, well governed, capable board to deliver, good service performance, clinical leadership, local health economy, clinical strategy and performance. On a traffic light rating, they were all well into the green, as a net result of which the Challenge Trust Board awarded Lewisham £4 million to pay off historical cash deficits, and KPMG concluded that the
"Trust has rectified the problems that caused the trust to fall into deficit and has a platform for a medium term sustainable position".
This organisation has not only done well; it continues to do well. It has set its ambition to become a foundation trust within two or three years. It has demonstrated the benefits of strong executive and non-executive leadership. Why then has the chair not been reappointed, or, to put it in plain language, why has he been sacked? He has been a personal acquaintance of mine, colleague and good friend for more than 30 years, and we have served variously on a number of organisations, including Lewisham borough council and Lewisham and North Southwark district health authority before it was abolished by the previous Conservative Government in 1990.
I raise this matter not at the chair's request-he is a man of such natural modesty and charm that if it was left to him, I am sure that I would not be allowed to raise it at all-but because I want to express my outrage at the way in which he, and by extension, Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust and the people of Lewisham have been so badly treated by the travesty of a process that has resulted in his not being reappointed. I also have to raise it because although the Appointments Commission has a complaints procedure, under item 8 on remedial action, it says that what shape such remedial action may take will vary from case to case, but in general one of the principles that will apply is that
"where an appointment has been made, this cannot be overturned."
The chair was appointed in 2002, and he was re-appointed, uncontested, in 2006, with the term ending on 31 October this year, just a few weeks ago. The process to find a new chair was implemented in August, and, under the regulations, he could serve a maximum of only two more years in the post before reaching the 10 prescribed. That was well understood by everybody involved in the health care community in Lewisham, by the chair, and by those who encouraged him to stand. Such is his reputation among the stakeholders, partners and others with knowledge of health care provision in Lewisham that many of them encouraged him to stand for those extra couple of years, including Ann Lloyd, the appointments commissioner for London, and Sir Richard Sykes, the then chair of NHS London, to get Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust to the verge of foundation trust status.
"At the end of an individual's second term of office the post will automatically be the subject of an open competition. The office holder will be free to apply provided they have served less than 10 years in the same post and will be considered alongside other candidates."
Everybody knew that to be case. However, such is the support for the current chair of the trust that, to my certain knowledge, many other candidates-including a former Member of Parliament-who would have applied had the competition been completely open, did not do so out of respect for, and trust in, the work that the existing chair of the trust had done. Either knowingly or unknowingly, the Appointments Commission and the strategic health authority have between them served to reduce the pool from which a suitable candidate to chair the trust might be found.
Most people understood that the current chair would serve for another two years, and that during that period a completely open competition would be held, in which all those who had any suitability or intention to become the chair could have stood. By skewing the process, as they have, those organisations have denied the people of Lewisham the opportunity to look at the best possible candidates.
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): My hon. Friend is certainly not alone in his concern about such issues. The west midlands regional health authority has decided not to appoint the chairman of the University hospital of North Staffordshire, Mike Brereton. Today, indeed, is Mike's last day, yet the authority has not given any reasons either to the public or MPs. It has failed to draw up a shortlist for a successor, and I now learn that it has made a temporary appointment for one year. May I put on the record our appreciation of Mike Brereton's long record of public service in north Staffordshire, and our deep concerns, like that of my hon. Friend in his area, about the west midlands regional health authority's secret and unaccountable way of going about the process?
Jim Dowd: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Incidentally, I gave way because, if I had not, he might have punched me and I did not want to tempt providence. I accept his point, however. The Appointments Commission will of course be abolished in a couple of years, but unreasonable, undue and improper influence has been exerted over the appointment of people to such positions, and the losers will ultimately be the local communities that they attempt to serve.
I recognise readily that there is no automaticity to reappointments, and nobody should expect there to be. That point was equally well understood by all those involved in the process, and I offer no comment on the ability or personal qualities of the chosen successor. I have met her just the once and formed a mildly favourable impression. The only reason why I met her is that my constituency boundary changed at the last election to include parts of the borough of Bromley, and she is chair of Bromley primary care trust. I have no reason to believe that she is complicit in any of the mishandling and misconduct that I believe has taken place.
At best, there has been incompetence and, at worst, improper interference. A couple of weeks ago, Professor Mike Spyer, the interim chair of NHS London, contacted
the existing chair of the Lewisham Healthcare NHS trust to inform him that the Appointments Commission would not be reappointing him as he could be appointed for only two years, which was insufficient time to see the organisation through to foundation trust status. That is complete and utter nonsense. That fact was known before NHS London and the London commissioner, among others, encouraged him to stand for re-adoption as the chair of the trust.
"was based on the advice of the interview panel and recommendation of the appointments commissioner and represented the overall best 'skill mix' for the board."
That is complete and utter baloney. It is nothing more than an unconvincing collection of cliché and waffle to hide the fact that the board had clearly made up its mind. Why has the board not had the correct skill mix previously, I wonder? Why has it asked the existing chair to stay on until the end of the year? Because of its incompetence, the new chair cannot take up the post because of her position with Bromley PCT until the end of the year. The board has asked the existing chair to stay on for an extra couple of months, but clearly the skill mix on the board during that time will not be optimum, by definition. It speaks volumes about the character, dignity and integrity of the existing chair-and his dedication to Lewisham hospital and to health care in Lewisham-that he has said that he will stay on to facilitate the changeover to the new chair.
"I am sorry that you have concerns about the manner in which this campaign was conducted and hope to reassure you that it was carried out in line with best practice and in accordance with the Code of Practice issued by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments."
Well, Ms Anne Watts CBE, chair of the Appointments Commission, you have not reassured me at all. Incidentally, the letter plumbs new depths of disingenuousness by telling me that for "reasons of confidentiality" Ms Watts cannot confirm whether the existing chair was a candidate for the post-how very unco-operative. I had to make my own inquiries into the matter. She went on:
"Seven candidates applied, 3 of whom subsequently progressed to the interview stage...An excellent and experienced candidate with a sound background in NHS leadership locally was identified from among those interviewed, and an announcement regarding an appointment will be made in due course."
"Thanks to the generosity of the outgoing chair...I am able to stay in Bromley until 31 December, which gives me time to ensure that appropriate transition measures are in place. However, I shall start my induction in parallel with working my notice at Bromley."
That is fine. However, that letter is dated 5 November, and I know for a fact that until 10 November-five days after the letter was written-the existing chair in Lewisham had not made the decision to stay on until 31 December. I do not know who is trying to convince whom of what,
but I suspect that there has been a degree of duplicity; as I say, I do not expect the successor chair to have been part of that, but there has been.
The whole process has been chronically mishandled. The strategic health authority, London NHS and the Appointments Commission have completely let down the institution of Lewisham hospital and the people of Lewisham by their abject failure to ensure that the best available candidate was appointed to the post. The new chair might well survive a totally open process in future, but because there has not been one, we shall never know.
Clearly, I will need to establish a working relationship with the trust and its executive and non-executive members-previously, that has been very good-and I will need to establish such a relationship with the new chair as we work for the common purpose of promoting the interests of the people of Lewisham. But that has been made extremely difficult by this astonishing catalogue of failure.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) on securing this debate and thanking him for his kind words of introduction. I, too, have fond memories of those days in the Health Committee, on which we served together, inquiring into a variety of issues.
May I take this opportunity to record the Government's clear recognition of the hard work and dedication shown by NHS staff in Lewisham and beyond? The hon. Gentleman documented the many successes of the trust over a number of years, and clearly set out his concerns, analysis and interpretation of the events that led him to make these points in the House today.
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not appropriate for me, as a Minister, to comment on the appointment of the chair of Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust-or, for that matter, any trust. The process for appointing NHS chairs is very clear and has not changed since May this year. The Secretary of State for Health, whoever they may be, currently delegates powers of appointment to the Appointments Commission. First, all vacancies are advertised publicly through appropriate channels. Selection panels then assess each application, with representations from the organisation and an independent public appointments assessor. The final decision is made by the Health and Social Care Appointments Committee. The Appointments Commission has responsibility for making sure that the process is fair, open and impartial, and that appointments are based on merit alone. It is not a process that politicians, on either side of this House, should seek to influence.
I checked with the trust and the Appointments Commission-I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would expect no less-and they both told me that they have clearly followed the processes laid down. If there are ever any concerns that due process has not been followed, this should be reported to the Commissioner for Public Appointments, who regulates and audits the process. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman needs to look again at the response he has received and consider the matter further. It is not, I am afraid, something for Ministers to intervene in or comment on. However, this debate is on the
record, and I will ensure that all parties to the process are aware of the points that he has made. It is an important part of these debates that such matters are drawn to the attention of the relevant authorities.
By way of clarification, I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is, as he said, exceptional for chairs to be appointed beyond two terms. This is not a sacking. As he says, there is no right to automaticity in succession from one term to another when it comes to the end of the second term. In the year ending March 2010, only three chairs across the whole NHS were reappointed for a third term. That is equivalent to only 0.36% of all appointments made that year-fewer than one in 2,500 appointments. Securing a third term as chair is extremely rare, and the decision should not be seen as any judgment on the incumbent's performance. As the hon. Gentleman rightly observed, the performance of the trust is exemplary.
I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Mr Gnanapragasm for his work and his public service in his role as chair, and for the fact that he is maintaining that role during the ongoing transition. He has served Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust well for eight years-the hon. Gentleman set out that record very clearly-and I wish him the very best with what he does next.
In the new year, as the hon. Gentleman said, the current chair of Bromley PCT, Ms Butler, will take up the position. I believe that she has an excellent reputation, and I know that she is looking forward to the opportunity that this new role presents. As the hon. Gentleman
knows, it is an interesting time in Lewisham in respect of health care. On 1 August this year, the trust merged with Lewisham Community Health Services to create Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust. This is one of the first integrations of its kind in the country, bringing into the trust 700 people working in the community. That will afford the people of Lewisham a seamless link between primary, community and hospital care. It will therefore be a busy time for the senior managers in building on this and continuing to improve health care for the hon. Gentleman's constituents. A strong and well-supported chair is a key element in delivering that transformation.
I should like to put on record my best wishes to Ms Butler for every success in this new role. I am encouraged that the hon. Gentleman has been favourably impressed on the occasions he has met her. I am sure that on future occasions he will have the opportunity to develop the important good working relationships that hon. Members in all parts of the House need to have with those charged with managing NHS organisations.
In a debate such as this it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the detailed process. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I have set out the position as it stands. I undertake to ensure that his concerns are passed to those responsible for the process, and I thank him for raising these matters today.