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As Paddy Ashdown’s report mentions, there is a learning curve, and the international humanitarian community must work together to ensure that an international community agenda is followed, not the agenda of individual countries. That was what went wrong in Afghanistan and has kept us there so long. There has not been a single agenda for everybody to follow.

I stress that the window of opportunity is small. If we are not there right at the start, not to tell people what to do but to provide ideas that will assist in sowing the seeds of a developing democracy, a vacuum will be created. It will be filled, because that is only human nature. For the sake of survival, gangs form, and they become militias, which eventually start fighting each other. We must ensure that we do not repeat that mistake.

Libya, of course, presents its own challenges, but also opportunities. It is effectively a 3 mile-wide country, but a very long one, which in some ways makes resupplying and so on a lot easier. In historical terms it is a very new country, having come together only when the Italians were in charge—I shall not say under their leadership. The sense of nationhood is therefore fragile.

Historically, Benghazi has always looked east. It is part of the Cyrenaica region, one of the country’s three regions. Libya is a relatively wealthy country, with the largest oil reserves in Africa, but wealth is not evenly distributed. It is given to the few people who are close to Gaddafi. It is not surprising, therefore, that the so-called Arab spring started in the relatively independent city of Benghazi, which has not looked towards Tripoli for leadership. That provides an opportunity that we can start taking advantage of now. We do not need to wait for the entire country to be liberated to start sowing the seeds of governance.

Let us consider Benghazi as it is now. On the positive side, the no-fly zone has prevented the genocide that we feared. We are seeing relative peace break out there. The national transitional council has been established, created by the educated and the great and the good—lawyers, dentists, architects and so on—who have come together and effectively represent every corner of Libya. Even exiles have been welcomed back; they have not been treated as deserters as in some of the other nations that are seeking to get rid of their dictators. Professionals are taking on those roles.

Reports are sparse, but, on the negative side, there seems to be no police presence, and law and order is a question mark. Daniel Korski’s report, which I recommend to colleagues, summarises the position. It states that there is no law and order in Benghazi and that many youths are going around armed with AK47s, creating a sense of lawlessness. They are all jubilant and elated because they are now liberated from Gaddafi, but there is no sense of law and order. Heavily armed men are regularly firing thousands of rounds of live ammunition in celebration, but also in frustration and in mourning. Nobody is in full control of the city. In the fog of war and under the blanket of chaos, there are tribal clashes within the city walls. Old scores are being settled. Crime, including kidnapping and disappearances, is being committed.

Even more worryingly, supplies are running short. Shops are closed, cash is running out and infrastructure is coming to a standstill. Of course, 90% of that city’s

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population were employed by the state and those pay cheques have dried up. Across the country, 1.5 million workers were foreigners who have departed. Help is therefore required in getting governance and structures moving again.

The role of the young people is also concerning. Yes, they are taking part on the front line, but a distance is growing between their actions and thoughts, and those of the lawyers and the elderly, who are making the decisions in the national transition council. There is a disconnect between the two. The direction of travel is worryingly insular. People are not used to working with a larger network of organisations or as a co-ordinating body. Consequently, unless some outside help is gained, there will be a disconnect between the elderly and the young and their aspirations. They are not following the same agenda.

We need to be careful about the outcome and tolerant of the fact that there may be a stalemate for several years. We must be able to assist with sorting out the mess, and that will take many years. Complex laws need to be overturned. There is an absence of transparency in the structures of governance and in employment practices, as well as a lack of infrastructure and trade. A new generation needs to be trained to take on the work that the foreigners have left behind them.

The international community is not out of the woods. It is a critical time, and public opinion will swing against us if the seeds of democracy are not sown soon. The effort is international and I commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s work. I urge him to continue to encourage other international operators to work with us. We must be prepared to tolerate a stalemate for the time being. I believe that we must also learn lessons from the past and ensure that all the work of international agencies and the national non-governmental organisations can be co-ordinated.

The Arab spring is spreading far beyond the Arab world, from Yemen to Saudi Arabia and the Ivory Coast. Even Gabon is unsettled. I think that 2011 will be the year of turmoil, that worse is to come, and that we need to be prepared for it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are now in more difficulty. That speech took nearly 12 minutes and we are down to seven minutes for the last three speakers.

4.27 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the seven UN personnel who died in Mazar-e-Sharif. We are all citizens of the United Nations, and they died in our service, too. I also pay tribute to the British armed forces who are taking part in the action in Libya and to the intelligence services, including those in my constituency. I suspect that they are also playing a part, although, as ever, they cannot tell me.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) raised the moral imperative behind the action in Libya.

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I worked for Oxfam at the time of the Rwanda genocide and I remember people’s rage and incomprehension at the way in which the international community stood by as nearly 20% of the Rwandan population were massacred. That led directly to the development of the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, and I believe that the moral imperative is equally clear in Libya. As my right hon. Friend said, we had a moral duty to intervene.

I commend the Secretary of State on the Government’s joined-up approach. There is clear evidence of co-ordination between not only the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, but with the Department for International Development. The discrete but important work of the stabilisation unit deserves particular credit. I was also pleased that the Secretary of State said that we were learning some of the lessons of Iraq, particularly the need for a single, UN-led operation geared to humanitarian relief, and the determination to preserve state capacity in Libya. Both those elements were missing from the Iraq operation, with disastrous consequences.

I commend the Secretary of State on our generous contribution to the UN flash appeal, which I believe he did not mention. There are two major donors—the US and the EU—and Australia has given slightly more, but the UK is the next highest ranked, along with Canada and the Scandinavian countries. Germany, Italy and France have made substantial contributions on top of their EU contributions, Turkey is on the list, and Japan is quite highly ranked, which is commendable given the other demands on its resources at the moment. However, what about the countries obviously missing from that list? The Russian Federation, which is still a former superpower, has committed barely $500,000, which is slightly more than Malta committed, and the second biggest economy in the world, China, does not appear to be on the list at all, nor does the largest economy in the region, Saudi Arabia. I would not mind if the Secretary of State told me now or in writing later whether we are taking the matter of contributions to that fund up with those Governments.

I repeat my warning that we should try to minimise the permanence of the refugee camps that are developing—tens of thousands of people are in such camps in Liberia and in the countries surrounding Libya—because all experience shows that they become dangerous. Not only can disease spread easily, but they become violent. It is impossible for children and adults, and particularly women, as the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) pointed out, to lead a normal life there. In time, they can become politicised, which I would have thought is a particular risk in this case. We should do everything we can to facilitate the safe return of Libyans to their homes, and the safe return of those who are not Libyan citizens to their home countries. I would be interested to hear what the Department has managed to achieve so far in repatriating people to third countries. We must also encourage safe conditions within Libya. I hope we are working with the interim national council in the areas that it controls, and which we can now regard as relatively safe, to facilitate the return of displaced people and refugees.

Several hon. Members mentioned vulnerable groups, including women and children. I was pleased that the Secretary of State mentioned close collaboration with UNICEF on that front. However, I want to highlight one other group: elderly people. I also used to work for

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Help the Aged—now called Age UK—which has enormous experience in emergency situations in ensuring that the relief provided reaches elderly people, who are sometimes too frail and weak to leave the tents and join the queues for food and resources. They can easily be forgotten and left out.

One last point specific to Iraq is on the need to protect infrastructure. The Secretary of State briefly mentioned that—I think—but there is an important dimension to the responsibility to protect civilian life, which I hope extends to the protection of water and energy supplies and other vital infrastructure.

More broadly, I am very proud to be a member of a party that supports a Government who are aiming finally to fulfil the pledge to commit 0.7% of gross national income to development aid by 2013. Some of us have been campaigning for that for nearly 30 years, which shows our age. It is certainly a matter of pride that we will finally achieve that.

Various hon. Members referred to the Ashdown report, which emphasises the importance of resilience, preparation and leadership in emergency situations, but there are also lessons to be learned on longer-term development. I commend to the Secretary of State the Liberal Democrat policy paper, “Accountability to the poor”, which was published last year. The paper is relevant to the situations in both Libya and Ivory Coast, including on the importance of the rule of law, transparency and good governance in ensuring that aid is delivered properly, and on the importance of Britain setting a good example through its companies and anti-bribery work. Perhaps we will ratify the UN convention against bribery.

The paper also highlights the importance of arms control. I cannot imagine what we were doing granting licences for ammunition, crowd-control equipment and tear gas to the Gaddafi regime in the first place, but I am pleased that this Government have begun to revoke some of those licences, among many other arms licences across the middle east for some dubious regimes. I am also pleased that they are fundamentally reviewing our arms sales licence regime, and I hope that that too will be a drastic review.

Environmental issues are also important, as is development education in building the support of the population for development aid, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) pointed out.

In the limited sense of providing immediate protection under resolution 1973, it is clear that we are already enjoying considerable success in Libya. An enforced ceasefire would represent further success. We could then move on to the next stage, which must be to form some judgment as to whether Colonel Gaddafi is still the legitimate Government of Libya, and on whether the interim national council could have more legitimacy in time.

4.35 pm

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the contribution from the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). It was one of several thoughtful and impactful speeches in this debate. Among the others were those of my hon. Friends the Members for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), and for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) and the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis).

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All three interrelated strands of efforts in Libya are concerned with humanitarian ends—the military operation, relief aid and preparation for the future. On the military operation, UN Security Council resolution 1973 specifically authorises the measures necessary to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack, while excluding a foreign occupation force. Clearly, embarking on any military campaign is the heaviest responsibility of a Government and should be undertaken only after all possible alternatives have been explored within the time available. In this context, of course, that time period was dictated by the immediate, real and chilling threat of the Gaddafi regime to go from house to house, room to room, showing no mercy and no pity.

So far the no-fly zone has been largely successful, and there are many people alive today in Benghazi who would not otherwise be so. I sincerely hope that these events mark a maturing of international law and institutions. As explained in detail by the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), it is the first time that the responsibility to protect has been properly carried out, and in many ways it might mark—I hope it does—a key milestone along the long road first embarked upon by Woodrow Wilson in 1919 for the role that international law and international institutions can play in a peaceful world.

There are two points of impact. Obviously, the first is about Libya itself, but the second is about everywhere else and the deterrents that could be given to despots everywhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) used the term “nervous dictators”. I am delighted that they are nervous, and I hope that more of them become more nervous. Like hon. Members on both sides of the House, I was affected by my experience on one of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s volunteering projects in Rwanda. Of course the situation in Rwanda was very different from that in Libya, but there are some links, and it is important to learn from them. I was particularly affected by one conversation I had with a genocide survivor at the Murambi camp, which my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds mentioned. I was told, “Back in 1994, while you were all arguing about the finer points of national sovereignty, international law, regional politics, balance and all the rest of it, but basically doing nothing, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of our friends and neighbours were dying. Please never let this happen again.” As the right hon. Member for Gordon said, that was the genesis of the responsibility or duty to protect. It also had a big impact on Bill Clinton, the then US President, and then, through his counsel, on President Obama.

The second area concerns direct aid relief. I am proud once again of the leadership that this country has shown in providing aid. Inevitably, in these situations, there will be damaged infrastructure, food supply lines down, families and communities broken apart and tens of thousands of displaced people—with the hunger, injuries and sickness that come with it. Libya is, of course, an oil-rich country, so I welcome Qatar’s offer to consider facilitating the sale of Libyan oil in order to fund some of the immediate aid and improvements needed.

We also have to look further into the future. We know that the surest way to ensure a safe future for the people of pretty much any country is to have economic

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development within a liberal democratic framework and the rule of law. However, a key lesson from recent conflicts—if, indeed, it were needed—is that we cannot simply impose a western-style democracy in short order. It is therefore absolutely right that a key theme of the London conference was that Libya and the Libyans must choose their own future. Multinational bodies, and especially the nearby regional bodies, have a key part to play. They include the UN, the EU, the African Union, the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. The Libya contact group, which was initially convened by Qatar, is obviously very much to be welcomed.

We do not know what the circumstances in Libya will be in a few months’ time, or in one or two years’ time, but we do know the key building blocks for a more successful and safer future: infrastructure; social, medical and educational services; security; property rights; the rule of law and a functioning justice system; and, ultimately, civic society, the media and political parties. This country has much experience in those areas and much to share. I welcome what the Secretary of State said about the stabilisation unit. On that point, I join the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) in asking the Secretary of State to clarify how he sees that body evolving and to say which institutions will be key to that process in the medium term. Britain has a long history and a lot of responsibility in this area, and I am sure that it will continue to play its full part.

4.41 pm

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): Today’s debate has inevitably focused on the military action in Libya. I want to focus on humanitarian relief, which is important, but there are also a couple of points that I want to make about the military action.

We have often been asked, “Why are we doing it?”, and so on. Britain has a strong history in helping the oppressed, including the Jewish refugees who came to Britain from Germany and elsewhere in Europe in the 1930s—not to mention the security that we need for our own borders. I very much enjoyed the speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). I am sure that, had it been in his speech, he would have said that when he was taking part in military patrols in other countries, he felt that he was doing humanitarian aid work, rather than serving as a soldier in an aggressive force. I am sure that many in the armed forces would feel that way too.

We did indeed learn the lessons of Srebrenica. When I was a young man watching what was going on in the Balkans, I completely lost faith in the UN. I wondered what the point of it was, if it was going to stand by and let innocent people be murdered. We learnt those lessons; we have approached the current situation properly. We went to the UN and we have a mandate. However, having secured that mandate and protected countless lives in Benghazi, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) has just said, we have to move forward. I believe that we have strengthened this Parliament by taking the action that we have and by saying to the British public, “We’ve done this wholly legally—we’ve gone to the UN and we’re backing it up.” However, we will lose that faith in this Parliament if we

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let a humanitarian crisis develop. I therefore praise the Secretary of State for his work in helping the humanitarian effort.

There has been a lot of comment about the previous Government’s work with Gaddafi and whether that was right. Again, we can learn from history. Perhaps the previous Government were looking at what happened in Northern Ireland with the Good Friday agreement and how, when we spoke directly to the terrorist organisations, we were able to bring about a peace that is now so strong that all sides in Northern Ireland jointly condemned the murder of the police officer this week. However, the difference was that we were not dealing with a lunatic. In the 1930s we tried to deal with Hitler with appeasement, but we were dealing with a lunatic, and Gaddafi is also a lunatic—a man who has murdered our citizens in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and who would quite happily murder his own civilians for his own need.

We have brought about that faith in this Parliament and we have realised that, as history has shown us, we cannot go down the road of appeasement. However, just because the leadership may not be civilised, that does not mean that the people of Libya are not civilised. Overall, it is a civilised society, with highly developed cities. It is our duty to protect the innocent people from what is happening there. There are families on the borders, with young women, children and elderly people in the cold and not knowing where to go. Some are ill; some are sick; some are wounded. It is our responsibility to ensure that we can work to supply aid on and around the borders of those countries.

We have rightly focused on Libya, but I congratulate the Secretary of State on his earlier comments about the aid that we are putting into the areas around Côte d’Ivoire as refugees pour across the borders. We have the means and the ability to help people in those areas, and we can rightly stand up and be proud of that. It is all very well trying to intervene in world crises, although we are right to do so, especially when asked to do it in a totally legal way, but we must take that further step. It is not good enough simply to drop the bombs. Tragically, sometimes, people who are not involved in the conflict are killed, but in dictatorships such as Libya, the regime will draw into itself, and to hell with the people it is supposed to represent. That is when a responsible country such as ours has to step in.

I am very proud that we will be giving 0.7% of our gross domestic product in international aid by 2013. That is something that we can all be proud of, and that unites Members on both sides of the House. When people say to us on the street, “Why should things be cut when we are giving money to foreign people?”, we can tell them that it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do in the world, and for our country. It also benefits our country. If we can create the proper security and meet the humanitarian needs of the refugees pouring out of those countries, or keep them within their area, it will be easier to repatriate them when times become more stable. We will not then see masses of immigrants flooding into our country. We would rightly offer them asylum here, as we have done in the past, but if we can solve the problem in their own country, that is the right thing to do. That is the message that we must send out from this place. This is not only the right thing to do; it also has a direct impact on the people of this country.

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I commend the Secretary of State and his Department for their efforts. He has shown Britain to be a beacon of hope to the oppressed people of the world. We are following the right path in taking legal military action, but let us not underestimate the importance of ensuring that the humanitarian relief that we put in place in all those zones is seen to be effective by the people it is helping, and that it is actually helping the people in those countries.

4.47 pm

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): I should like to thank the Secretary of State for arranging this debate. I also pay tribute to the staff at the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the humanitarian agencies for their work in this incredibly testing period. We also owe our gratitude to our brave servicemen and women who are engaged in protecting civilians in Libya under UN resolution 1973, and let us again pay our respects to the seven UN staff who were killed in Afghanistan at the weekend. We are grateful to the Secretary of State for updating us on the situation in Ivory Coast, as well as for his extensive update on Libya. We welcome the humanitarian and emergency response review, chaired by Lord Ashdown, which builds on the work of the last Labour Government, and the positive international reputation of the Department for International Development.

The contribution to the debate today from Members with so much expertise has highlighted the deep concern and commitment felt towards those who are suffering around the world, whether due to natural disasters, repression, human rights violations or conflict in countries such as Libya and Ivory Coast. The hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) spoke of the generosity of the people in neighbouring Tunisia, the importance of the Arab League’s involvement and the co-ordination between the international aid agencies. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) spoke with immense expertise about the need for a political solution and the dangers of arming the insurgents in Libya. Other hon. Members shared that concern.

The right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) spoke of the background to the duty to protect, and the struggle by many hon. Members to establish that duty, which underpins the present action. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) spoke powerfully from experience, and talked about Britain’s history of intervening in the pursuit of justice and standing up for those who suffer in conflicts such as the one in Libya. He also spoke of the need to look again at the strategic defence and security review.

The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) spoke powerfully about the protection of women and children, and the need for protection from sexual violence. Other hon. Members spoke about the need to support civil society organisations. I do not have time to sum up the wonderful and expert contributions of many other Members, but I want to say that it has been heartening to listen to them in the House today. The conviction and passion expressed by Members of all parties and the general support, albeit with some exceptions, for the intervention in Libya have been notable.

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The events of recent months have tested the world’s resilience and ability to respond to humanitarian crises. Natural disasters and political uprisings have become increasingly frequent. Even though New Zealand and Japan are advanced countries, the situation in those two countries makes it clear that the international community is being increasingly tested. If those countries find it challenging to cope with such disasters, countries such as Haiti and Pakistan, which faced floods and earthquakes last year, are clearly going to require ever-increasing support.

As Lord Ashdown’s review highlighted, we need to be better prepared, better equipped, better co-ordinated, better focused and better organised and resourced in tackling these conflicts and challenges, which are likely to become more frequent. That is why we welcome the humanitarian review and look forward to the debate on the subject after the recess.

I have a few brief questions about Libya, some of which have been raised by hon. Members. Time is limited, so I shall highlight three points. First, the regional inter-agency flash appeal for the Libyan crisis was revised on 1 April, with $310 million requested for the period from March to June. As mentioned earlier, only 36% of that sum is funded, yet it is estimated that 1.5 million people are now affected. What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to secure further financial support, not only from our own Government but from the international community?

Secondly, we must ensure that all sides of the conflict are allowed unfettered humanitarian access to the civilian population. Will the Secretary of State tell us what steps are being taken to ensure that aid can reach Libya by sea and that, if necessary, civilian casualties can be evacuated?

Thirdly, it is clear that a lasting political solution is vital, as many Members have highlighted, and that given the neglect over the last four decades, civil society needs to be strengthened and built up. Economic reconstruction is also required. Will the Secretary of State press the international community to ensure that those issues are made priorities?

In my last couple of minutes, I would like to raise a couple of key questions about Ivory Coast. The situation is clearly critical and, as we heard in reports last night, is changing by the hour. Baroness Amos spoke about mass graves being discovered, although that needs to be verified. We call on the British Government to pay even closer attention to the emergency in Ivory Coast. Given the challenges that that country faces, equal effort and attention should be paid to that. We must recognise that conflict in Ivory Coast risks destabilising west Africa, and that countries such as Liberia need our assistance to cope with the movement of refugees. I call on the Secretary of State to encourage our European counterparts to ensure that Ivory Coast and neighbouring countries receive the support that they require, and that the British Government step up their efforts to secure a political settlement in that country.

4.55 pm

Mr Andrew Mitchell: This has been a highly informed and extremely interesting debate. I am grateful for the warm support expressed throughout the House for the work of my officials, which I shall certainly pass on to them. I shall try to respond to a number of the points that have been made, and I shall of course write to Members to whose points I fail to respond.

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As I listened to the opening remarks of the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), I struggled to identify any points of difference between us and failed to do so. I am grateful for her support. She referred particularly to the issue of Ivory Coast, with which I dealt in my own opening remarks. Obviously, this is a chapter VII rather than a chapter VI United Nations assignment. In a recent United Nations resolution we called for more effective use of that mandate, which I think we have seen in recent days. I can also tell the House that during the debate the position has changed in Ivory Coast. We believe that Gbagbo and his forces are currently negotiating surrender, but time will show whether that is indeed the case.

I can give the right hon. and learned Lady the assurance for which she asked: we will indeed focus very directly on the crisis in Ivory Coast which has spilt over the border into Liberia. That is why the Under-Secretary of State for International Development is there today. In terms of British taxpayer support, we have delivered more humanitarian relief to Liberia and Ivory Coast than the total spent so far in Libya. The right hon. and learned Lady was right to say that that emergency should not be forgotten, and it will not be. As the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) pointed out, it is essential that we do not forget the allegations and atrocities, and I can give her the assurance she seeks that the British Government will strongly support their full investigation.

The right hon. and learned Lady referred to the responsibility to protect, as did others, notably the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce). Important work was led by Gareth Evans, who was a Labor Foreign Secretary in the Australian Government. The whole world should be grateful to him for what he did, but it remains, in my view, a bumper sticker rather than a policy. It is up to us to try to ensure that we put far more flesh on the bones of R2P.

The right hon. and learned Lady asked me about the European Union’s contribution. In Libya, it has contributed €30 million so far. I have had discussions with Cathy Ashton, and we are sure that the EU will be part of the support for stabilisation, about which I shall say more in a moment. The right hon. and learned Lady also asked me who was in charge. In terms of the humanitarian work, Valerie Amos leads for the United Nations, and it is incumbent on us all to work extremely closely with her.

As for the work on stabilisation, which is of course different from the work on humanitarian relief, the United Nations—in the form of the Secretary-General—has agreed to lead that work. He has put Lynn Pascoe in charge of it, under him, and we will work extremely closely with all the agencies involved in the United Nations. I will shortly be going to New York to ensure that Britain plays a full role in that.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), who knows a great deal about this matter, spoke up forcefully for British international development policy. Like many other Members on both sides of the House, he emphasised the importance of humanitarian intervention. He asked whether there had

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been a change in the policy on regime change. My answer is no, there has not, but we do believe that Gaddafi has no legitimacy and should go.

In a typically sensible speech, the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley)—who I think can be described more accurately as the York citizen in Parliament—referred to the importance of resilience. He asked about the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, but we have focused on the question of which agency delivers to best effect in terms of both value for money and results, and other agencies we will be using do the same work as the UNISDR. I should make it clear to him that we seek to deliver on specific outcomes, which is why we have contributed to the UN central emergency response fund, and indeed to UNICEF, so strongly.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon gave a typically thoughtful and wise speech, in which he sought to nail the canard that we have intervened because of some interest in oil. Of course he is right to say, as the Prime Minister has said, that we have no national or selfish strategic interest. Instead, we are intervening in support of UN resolution 1973. He and many other Members talked eloquently about Lord Ashdown’s report, and I will report to the House in the middle of May on the Government’s conclusions on that, after having studied and reflected on—and, indeed, consulted further on—Lord Ashdown’s report. I note, too, that my right hon. Friend’s Committee will be producing work on the role of the European Union in development, which will be extremely welcome.

The hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) spoke up eloquently, ventilating the dilemmas we face. He talked of the balance we need to achieve. He also praised the reporting of Daniel Korski, a former head of the provincial reconstruction team in Iraq, and a distinguished past adviser on conflict to my Department. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government’s approach to stabilisation was properly joined up. The stabilisation unit has been involved from the beginning on these issues, and is, of course, a tri-departmental unit. It is producing extremely helpful work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) spoke about the importance of stabilisation. She also spoke about the critical importance of looking after, and defending, the interests of women and children. I should say to her that those in the camps on the border with Tunisia, and to a lesser extent with Egypt, are, thank goodness, predominantly fit, young men, so we have not seen what has happened in Ivory Coast on the Liberian border, where women and children are highly vulnerable. That is why we have given very specific support to UNICEF; we want to make sure the interests particularly of children are defended.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) asked whether we are arming the rebels. We have not done so, and we have no plans to do so. All the action we take is in accordance with UN resolution 1973. He also asked about the situation on the borders. Some 400,000 people have left, and there are only some 10,000 to 12,000 people on the border now, so the work of seeking, through the international community, to get people back to their homes and families has been pretty effectively carried out. He asked about supplies to Misrata. Medical supplies have got through from the International Committee of the Red Cross in small boats through the Libyan Red Crescent. We are actively looking at ways of

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supplying food and medicine to Misrata, and I believe that a boat from the ICRC itself will be arriving there today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) made an important speech, in which he raised the dilemmas and difficulties that we face. I should just say that he has clearly not addressed the Sevenoaks Conservative association, and he should take an early opportunity to do so. I hope to be able to discuss with him the important matters that he raised in his speech at another time.

I have failed to comment on the very good speeches by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) and my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert)—

5.4 pm

Motion lapsed (Order, 29 March).

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Backbench Business

[1st Allotted Day—Second Half]

Easter Adjournment

5.4 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment.

It may help if I tell the House that we are using a modified Hollobone formula today, whereby the first group of speakers will have a Department for Work and Pensions Minister replying to them, but for the rest of the debate the fount of all knowledge, the Deputy Leader of the House, will respond. If he cannot respond substantively, a Minister from the relevant Department will provide a written response to Members.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I remind hon. Members that we have a time limit of six minutes.

Work and Pensions

5.5 pm

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): I suppose that I should be delighted to be the first part of this Hollobone experiment. I am delighted that the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb) is in his place, although I shall not be discussing his immediate subject brief. I wish, instead, to talk about the very important subject of health and safety and the Government’s recently published document “Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone”.

In my working life, my political opponents have never tried to kill me but when I worked in some dirty industries as a younger man one or two of my employers did. Health and safety is not a bolt-on extra, and I can see that the Minister agrees with that sentiment. The document’s introduction states:

“No business benefits from having a bad safety record.”

We would all agree with that, but it is a bit worrying to see it go on to say:

“But the burden of health and safety red tape has become too great”.

I do not regard health and safety as being a burden on industry; it is a necessary part of a good and proper working culture, and it involves both the employer and employee in a contract. That contract is not of the normal financial nature; it is about preventing injury and illness, and, in some cases, preventing risk to life.

In that context, I wish to put a number of points across, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to them. Health and Safety Executive funding is being cut by some 35% over the comprehensive spending review period, and that is a significant decrease. The worry is that the new health and safety framework is rather more concerned with cutting down what the HSE does than with ensuring that health and safety working practices are in place.

Some of the health and safety statistics are worth recalling. Although the number of accidents in Britain has declined in recent years—that is a very welcome

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trend—there is nothing inevitable about that decline, and health and safety has to be worked at all the time. It is worth while recording the fact that even companies that have been inspected by the HSE do not regard this as a burden of red tape; 89% of them found that exchange with the HSE helpful. So I applaud the work of those in the HSE. We should be very concerned about the idea of withdrawing from proactive inspections of places of work.

Agriculture is one of the industries that the Government tell us will not be routinely inspected—or are not likely to be inspected very often—yet its health and safety risk is 16 times that of industry in general. Agriculture will be lightly inspected and I am not sure that that is the right way to make progress, given that health and safety inspections are not a penal structure. What I want to get across is the fact that proactive engagement is worth while, not because it penalises, but because it encourages. Some 65% of firms reckoned that they had improved their health and safety operations because of the potential for inspection by the HSE.

Something else that I wish to concentrate on is the HSE’s inability and seeming reluctance to prosecute. If we are to have a lighter-touch approach to the inspection of working places, there must be at least a commensurate disincentive to those who breach the health and safety rules. We know, as a matter of practical fact, that the number of prosecutions has declined dramatically over the past 10 years. In 2000-01, there were about 1,900 prosecutions, but that number declined to a little over 1,000 in 2009-10. The number halved in that period.

I had a recent experience in my constituency with the Grafton hotel in Manchester. Its operators had been told that it was not fit for use, but they were still allowing students to stay in it despite the health and safety risk. In the end, that was prevented by the actions of Manchester city council and the local fire service, and the students who had moved in were, at the expense of the operator, moved out and housed somewhere else. That was right and proper, but I found it difficult to understand why the Health and Safety Executive refused to prosecute in that case even though that company had manifestly put those students’ lives and well-being at risk. In my exchanges with the HSE, its chief executive wrote me a very evasive answer about why it had not prosecuted and an even more evasive answer when I asked about its policy on prosecution. If we are to have a lighter-touch approach, and I am not sure that is the right direction of travel, the worst offenders have to be brought before the courts. We would do that with someone who had been warned about road traffic offences. They would then be prosecuted and we must do the same when people’s lives and health have been put at risk.

5.11 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of advice for professionals, managers and those in skilled senior roles who face redundancy and seek re-employment. A number of letters and surgery attendances from constituents in that position have highlighted common themes about how we support those who approach jobcentres for help, and they have led me to raise this issue. I recognise

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that jobcentre staff undertake an extremely challenging role in helping disappointed and sometimes embarrassed individuals to be restored to the dignity of working life and I do not criticise any individual in a jobcentre or any particular jobcentre. Indeed, I have visited my local jobcentre where the staff are hard-working and committed. Rather, I want to highlight some systemic issues.

Common themes highlighted by my constituents include the need for training at an appropriate level, the need for a more tailored client approach and the need to signpost appropriate executive-level job opportunities or agencies. Constituents have also requested that opportunities within voluntary organisations should be identified and promoted to help them to broaden and update their skills and CVs. There is a need to point in the right direction those who want to use their experience to set up their own business and it is important to provide the managers of companies in which redundancies are planned with constructive support in assisting staff with finding new jobs at the earliest possible stage—ideally before redundancy hits.

May I illustrate those issues through the experiences of some of my constituents? A senior project manager who had overseen a number of complex building projects such as a forensic lab, a theatre and a sports centre and who had managed many skilled staff asked for help and was sent on a training course to learn how to look for jobs online. It was so basic that he learned nothing and ended up helping the person running the training programme to teach others. He was sent on an interview training course, which was again so basic that he was told to shine his shoes and what to wear—wholly inappropriate for a man who had selected and recruited hundreds of staff himself. That was a waste of time and public resources, but for the training he really wanted, to update his senior construction skills certification scheme card, no help was available.

Another constituent of mine, a lady who had worked for a leading bank for more than two decades, wrote:

“Signing on was a completely humiliating experience. Professional people are just not catered for…I was less motivated coming out of”

the jobcentre than on going in. She also said that the box-ticking procedures could have been done by computer terminals.

When I raised these issues with Jobcentre Plus, I was told that in 2009 it had

“introduced a new range of support for customers with a professional or executive background”,

including job search techniques, signposting advice and coaching seminars. However, a constituent of mine who had been seeking work for several months told me that none of that had been offered to him in an appropriate manner.

Another constituent wrote to me about his experience of trying to set up his own business, saying:

“I have received absolutely no help whatsoever”.

One might argue that it is not the role of jobcentres to advise on setting up a business, but at least better signposting to organisations that can provide such advice would be a good start, particularly if we are serious about encouraging enterprise.

From a separate but very serious perspective, this week I received an e-mail from a manager at Ideal Standard, the bathroom manufacturer that is closing a

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factory in Middlewich in my constituency. More than 250 people will lose their jobs there by June. He highlighted how difficult Ideal Standard has found it to obtain the right support for its workers who are facing redundancy and want re-employment. Although in other parts of the country there might be individual support and funding for retraining, he says:

“For those of us who live in the CW post codes, i.e. the Cheshire East area and your Congleton constituency there appears to be nothing; no support for retraining redundant employees. Employees are going through and coping with huge and major stress factors during this emotional change and site closure. To date, they have handled themselves extremely well, with professionalism, respect, pride and dignity, and I can only say how proud I am of them all. However this situation only aggravates and upsets people and contributes to pushing some beyond their limit. We have no control of this and cannot influence any outcomes. It is most unfair”.

Will the Minister please look into this specific issue raised by Ideal Standard as a matter of urgency?

Finally, another constituent has told me that in looking for work she was willing to work voluntarily to improve her CV and job chances, but she was told by the jobcentre that it was not its role to signpost her in that respect. She wrote to me and said that there is an

“evident lack of suitable advice/provision for claimants from a professional background…There does seem to be a gross failure and it is affecting a great many people’s lives.”

She wants to work. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

5.16 pm

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on welfare reform and how it will change the lives of my constituents. Like me, the residents of Blaenau Gwent believe that people should always work if they can. Work is good for people. It helps to give pride and a sense of purpose in life. It improves economic well-being and health.

The world of work has been transformed in Blaenau Gwent. Our economy, which was once dependent on coal and steel, has been diversified into manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and the public sector, including health and local government. Many local people now take the train to work in Cardiff. Local people also know that sometimes they need to follow the work. For example, when the Ebbw Vale steel works closed, some employees, including members of my family, transferred to the Tata steel works at Trostre near Llanelli. Having said that, it is a tough ask for many people to up sticks, particularly if they are in their 50s, and especially when house prices are low, child care is in short supply and they have to support their working children and their grandchildren.

In an area were people are still suffering from the illnesses inflicted by former heavy industries—it is the top hot spot for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder in Wales—our valleys communities know that some people, through no fault of their own, are not fit to work. Crucially, they know from hard experience that people will work only if there is work to be had. The unemployment rate in Blaenau Gwent is 10.6%, and the working-age benefit claimant rate is a staggering 26.7%. There are 9.2 applicants for every Jobcentre Plus vacancy. That is a snapshot of my constituency. Those rates and percentages refer to real people and real families of all

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ages, and if changes affecting their lives are to be made, they should be changes for the better that are properly piloted and managed.

I know that our current welfare system causes frustration and distress to some constituents, because benefits and tax credits form the second largest part of my constituency casework after housing. I am sure that I am not alone in anticipating that such casework will increase as this week’s welfare reforms are introduced. In recent months I have met jobcentre staff, local authority staff and my own local social housing provider, and my team has swapped notes with the citizens advice bureau. I wanted to find out who will be affected by the reforms that are coming in, whether the details of benefit changes are clearly and easily understood and how they will be made.

So what is the picture on the ground in a constituency of 54,000 electors? There are 6,240 people in Blaenau Gwent claiming either employment and support allowance or incapacity benefit. Labour created the new test for people on incapacity benefit to see what support people needed and who should take steps to get back to work, but the Conservative-led Government are moving to a new assessment procedure, which I and agencies in Blaenau Gwent fear will deny people, perhaps with cancer or with mental health problems, the help and support that they need.

Some 4,180 recipients of incapacity benefit in Blaenau Gwent will undergo a reassessment, and initial estimates suggest that 1,254 of them will be found fit for work and barred from claiming ESA. Those found fit for work will have to apply for jobseeker’s allowance and will see up to £28.85 lost in weekly benefits. In addition to those deemed fit for work, trials also show that a further 39% of incapacity benefit claimants will be placed in a work-related activity group. In effect, it means that a potential 69% of those IB claimants being reassessed will either lose their benefit entirely or see the demands placed on them increased.

One of my concerns is that the test that decides who goes where has been found to have serious flaws, and preliminary trials show that people with multiple sclerosis and serious mental illnesses have been found fit for work. Staff at our CAB in Blaenau Gwent say that their office has had numerous complaints from clients about medical personnel not listening to them when they go for medicals. The test must measure fitness for work accurately, so it must take account of variable symptoms, the seriousness of underlying conditions and the context of the work environment.

Despite all that, the Tory-led coalition is ploughing ahead with a massive increase in testing. Charities say that that roll-out is happening too fast and Government reforms to the system will not be implemented in time. Jobcentre Plus is to have more autonomy over decision making, and I welcome that. I hope that it will, and that jobcentre staff will help people to move into sustainable employment and to obtain the benefits to which they are entitled.

On the changes to housing benefit, Blaenau Gwent has 1,298 local housing allowance claimants who will be affected by the change to LHA rates. From January, 799 people under 35 years old will be on the shared room rate, rather than on the rate for a full flat, and an analysis by the local council showed that an average person in that age group will see their housing benefit reduced by about £25.92 a week.

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Many reforms are taking place, but unfortunately I do not have time to cover them. I wish to highlight the scale of the changes from this month and in subsequent months and years not just for the individuals affected, but for our local economy. This is big-ticket stuff for our families and for our economy. In Blaenau Gwent and in south Wales we need an ambitious plan for growth and, in particular, investment in our transport and IT infrastructure to boost jobs. We need also fairness and good administration of the benefit changes that will be introduced this month.

Finally, the Prime Minister has told us that the Government’s Work programme will be the best ever. My constituents need nothing less, and we will hold him to his word.

5.22 pm

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving me this chance to talk about the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, or one element of it—the Child Support Agency.

In the borough of Charnwood, the CSA currently handles 2,000 cases, and I am sure that many colleagues throughout the House know of similar work loads. Despite the best efforts of the staff my office has dealt with, it is clear that the CSA is not working and seems to embed conflict between separating parents. It costs £460 million per year, or 40p for every £1 collected, and on a day when the Government are talking about social mobility we must ensure that such organisations as the CSA do not play their part in hindering the life chances of those children who rely on it.

In the Government’s Green Paper, I welcome the approach of considering child maintenance not in isolation, but with the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice as part of the family law review. Based on the cases that I am going to mention, with the permission of the people involved, however, I particularly feel that access to the children for whom maintenance is being negotiated cannot be sidelined.

My main reason for speaking today is to give a voice to some of the parents who have contacted me about the CSA since my election last year. I realise that there are two sides to every case, but they highlight why change is needed to the way child maintenance is collected and calculated. I want to concentrate on three areas: enforcement, charges for those who have to rely on the state system and, in terms of the families involved, the need to look at the whole picture.

Mrs Denise Kuzniar, one of my constituents, has been receiving child maintenance payments from her ex-husband through the CSA for the past 11 years. However, the payments are intermittent, sometimes stopping for several months at a time, and she is currently owed £2,300 in arrears. She is in increasing debt as a result of this situation. She has two teenage children to look after and is really struggling to make ends meet. I have had several conversations with the CSA about this issue, but no serious enforcement or action to remedy the situation has taken place. Any reforms to the statutory system evidently need to include much more stringent

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enforcement provisions so that parents do not have to go through the pain and uncertainty that Mrs Kuzniar has suffered.

In addition, Mrs Kuzniar is already struggling to support her family, and it would be all but impossible for her to reach a private maintenance agreement with her ex-husband, given his continued attempts to avoid making payments through the CSA. Under the Government’s proposals, it appears that she would have to turn to the statutory system and potentially incur a charge on a case-by-case basis. This would be devastating for her in view of the number of times her case has had to be re-assessed by the CSA because of her ex-husband’s actions.

I have been contacted by many other constituents who have faced similar difficulties and for whom the idea of making private arrangements with their ex-partner is unthinkable, so that they, too, would have to turn to the state system. One ex-partner has been requested to pay only £5 per child, but instead seems to do what he can in order not to have to pay the mother anything. There is a risk that under the Government’s proposals, vulnerable parents such as those I have mentioned will be forced to turn to the statutory system but could be put off doing so by the thought of having to pay to access the system. I realise that there are proposals to ensure that the non-paying partner pays the charges, but this must be made clear to all involved, as it is clearly causing a great amount of stress and worry.

I want to highlight some of the issues currently faced by parents making payments through the CSA. I have been contacted by numerous constituents who say that even under the current system, these payments are unaffordable and do not share the burden of responsibility evenly between the partners involved. These parents literally live on the breadline, and although they do everything they can to support their children and would be willing to come to a private maintenance agreement with their ex-partner if possible, they have been unable to do so for a variety of reasons.

I particularly want to talk about the cases of two fathers, because we often concentrate on the mothers involved. The Minister may be aware of the case of Mr Jonathon Little, about whom I spoke at Work and Pensions questions last week. Mr Little has not seen his children for two years, although he has been to court more than 40 times to get agreement to visit. He is paying £446 per month under the old scheme for children he does not see. Meanwhile, he cannot afford to keep a roof over the heads of his new family.

Mr Mark Boylan has been left with only £49 in disposable income a month after paying the CSA and all other expenses. His assessed payment should be lower, as the CSA charge attracts a discount if someone looks after their children for more than 52 nights a year. However, his youngest daughter is two years old and too young to stay away from her mother overnight. As a result, although he looks after her during the day and pays all expenses for her, the CSA will not give him any discount for the care because she does not stay with him overnight.

I have sought to highlight some of the major concerns raised by constituents about the proposed changes to the child maintenance and support system, but I have also mentioned the problems with the current system because they clearly demonstrate that reform is very much needed. There must be robust enforcement

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mechanisms which prevent parents from using various means to avoid paying what they owe, there must be clarity about charging, and the system must be flexible enough to reflect both parents’ incomes and who is taking the burden of financial responsibility for caring for the children.

5.28 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): I am grateful to the four hon. Members who have contributed to this debate. I have been asked to keep my remarks relatively brief because many hon. Members want to contribute on a range of other topics, but I hope to offer a few comments in response to the speeches that we have heard.

I thank the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) for his measured comments on the Health and Safety Executive. I, too, applaud its work, which the Government continue to value. He will be aware that in the context of the comprehensive spending review, all Government bodies, including the HSE, are being asked to make savings. The HSE is doing this very much by focusing on the highest-risk sectors and trying to take a risk-based approach. I entirely agree that health and safety is not a bolt-on and that good health and safety regulation and legislation is not simply red tape. On the other hand, there is a concept of proportionality in regulation. One could try to regulate and legislate to eliminate every possible conceivable risk, but at disproportionate cost relative to the damage that one would do to employment and businesses. As the hon. Gentleman says, there is a balance to be struck. We do not want employers taking chances with people’s lives; on the other hand, we do not want to get in the way of employers who basically want to get on with doing a good job and who are not taking risks with health and safety but find themselves constrained by unnecessary bureaucracy and regulations. That is what we are trying to achieve.

The hon. Gentleman welcomed the decline in the number of accidents and said that there was no guarantee that would continue. He is of course right, although it is interesting that much of that decline has happened at a time when more money was not necessarily being spent and new regulations were not necessarily being brought in. That shows that we can achieve improved outcomes in health and safety without necessarily increasing budgets or passing new laws. Good proactive and reactive health and safety work and good conduct by employers and employees can achieve improving outcomes. The link between spending and outcomes is not linear. We can deliver good health and safety outcomes with a reduced budget, as recent history shows.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the decline in the number of prosecutions, although of course if there were fewer accidents that would, we hope, lead to fewer prosecutions. There has not simply been a step change in the willingness to prosecute. Under the Health and Safety Executive’s enforcement policy statement, prosecution is the expected outcome when the investigation of an incident has collected sufficient information about a breach of health and safety law to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and when it is in the public interest to prosecute. I cannot comment on the hotel example that he gave—I obviously do not know the details—although I am pleased that he took the case up

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with the HSE. I note that he was not satisfied with the response he received, and if he wanted to take that matter further, I am sure my fellow Minister of State at the Department—he is in Committee at the moment, debating the Welfare Reform Bill—would be pleased to hear from him.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter, but want simply to stress the Government’s commitment to health and safety, to proportionate regulation and to ensuring that we go on maintaining high standards of health and safety in a cost-effective way. That is our goal. We have set up a review, to be chaired by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, to look for opportunities to consolidate, simplify and abolish regulations without, crucially, putting people at risk. Protecting people in the workplace and society as a whole remains a key priority for the Government. We have found that there have been too many inspections of relatively low-risk and well-performing workplaces, frequent poor advice to business from badly qualified consultants —we want to deal with that—and a complex structure of regulation. Changing that is the goal for which we have set out our strategy. I hope that that is helpful.

Let me deal now with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). She made an important point about the position of people who are being made redundant and the particular problems faced by professionals. Her constituency has a relatively high proportion of professionals, including those who are, unfortunately, experiencing unemployment. She is right to say that unemployed professionals face particular challenges, although I would say that they have particular advantages, too. The evidence shows that almost by definition they tend to be more experienced and qualified, they tend to have their own networks to look for work and, on the whole, they tend to be more successful than non-professionals at finding work more rapidly. They also tend to make greater use of private sector recruitment agencies other than Jobcentre Plus. That helps to explain why 63% of those claiming jobseeker’s allowance in my hon. Friend’s constituency come off it within three months, compared with the national average of 56%. In part, that reflects the higher proportion of professionals in her constituency.

My hon. Friend made some important points and I know that she has been in correspondence with the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus on this issue. We need to ensure that what we call the rapid response service is effective. She will be familiar with it: when we know that large-scale redundancies, such as those that she mentioned at Ideal Standard in her constituency, are coming down the track, we try, through the rapid response service, to get in there before people have lost their jobs rather than having them go through that. The aim of the service is to help people move quickly into new employment or self-employment, which she also mentioned, connecting people to jobs in the labour market, matching people facing redundancy to known job vacancies and helping people, where appropriate—I take her point about patronising schemes—with CVs and job-search skills.

My hon. Friend’s point about sending people on box-ticking and patronising courses was important and I want to give her some reassurance that we should see an end to that kind of thing, certainly for those who are

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long-term unemployed and who go through the Work programme. Hitherto, people have been paid for these welfare-to-work schemes regardless of whether they were effective, but under the Work programme the remuneration for those who provide such services will be results based. If they pay to provide a useless scheme, it will come off their bottom line, not from the taxpayer, but if they send someone on the right course to help them retrain and acquire the right skills, they will be remunerated for helping somebody into a sustainable job. I think that the incentives structure in the new regime will be better.

Finally, my hon. Friend asked about volunteering, which is an important route back into work. We are implementing what we call volunteering desks in Jobcentre Plus offices, to allow charities such as the Prince’s Trust to attract volunteers. In a big society way—I had to say that phrase at some point—we are keen for jobcentres to facilitate such opportunities. We value volunteering, and I hope that the kind of experience that her constituent had will not happen as much in the future as it has in the past.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) described very clearly the situation in his constituency, including the number of people who are dependent on incapacity benefit. I understand that in his constituency, 5,110 people received IB in August 2010, which is a high proportion compared to the national average. Three quarters of those people had been on IB for five years or more.

That situation presents us with a challenge. I think that both the hon. Gentleman and I would describe ourselves as political progressives. The question is whether it is humane and progressive to say, “Well, you’ve been on IB for five years, there aren’t many jobs round here, and you can’t really move easily because the house prices are too low, so we’ll just leave you on IB.” That has been the problem for years. People just say, “It’s all a bit difficult, we’ll leave you on IB and we won’t really have any contact with you.” I do not think that that is humane or progressive.

The hon. Gentleman might be aware that the outgoing Labour Government planned to reassess people on IB. This project is therefore not an evil plot, but something that was planned by the previous Government. The work capability assessment that he criticised was introduced by the previous Government. In the run-up to the last election, the Department commissioned an internal review of the WCA, and we have acted on its conclusions. Perhaps more importantly, an independent review has been undertaken by Professor Harrington, who has suggested a list of things that need to change to make the WCA better. The Department has accepted every single one of his recommendations. The WCA will also be the most reviewed bit of the benefits system because, from memory, there is a statutory requirement to review it every year for five years. Professor Harrington has kindly agreed to play an ongoing role. I cannot commit him for five years, but he has certainly agreed to carry on for now. He has gone out, sat in on WCAs, talked to people and learned lessons from that. We will continue to refine the process in the light of his comments.

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The hon. Gentleman referred to the piloting of these measures. We have been piloting migration from incapacity benefit in Burnley and Aberdeen, and are learning lessons from those pilots. Indeed, some of the figures that he quoted probably come from the pilots.

It is important to stress that because incapacity benefit stopped a few years ago, anybody who is reassessed on IB has, by definition, been on it for at least two and a half years. Therefore, anybody who is deemed capable of work, either in the work-related activity group or with jobseeker’s allowance, will be eligible for the Work programme. The Work programme gives tailored support to individuals, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton. It involves payment by results, so the people who provide such welfare-to-work services will not be paid if they do not get somebody into sustainable employment. They therefore have an incentive to meet the individual where they are, to respond if they have a particular health condition, as the hon. Gentleman said, and to see whether there are particular sorts of work that they can do.

The hon. Gentleman gave the example that someone with multiple sclerosis had been found fit for work. I was inclined to say, “And?” Clearly, some people with MS are not fit for work, and some people with MS are. The challenge is not to write people off because of a condition, but to meet them as individuals, assess their needs and potential, and identify work that they can do or support them if they cannot work. There will be long-term receipt on the support rate, as appropriate. If people can work, welfare-to-work providers will be paid by results to help them. Nobody will be sanctioned for turning down a job that is not there. Nobody will be told, “We’re cutting off your benefit, because you didn’t take a job,” if there are no jobs there. However, where there are jobs, people will be expected to make reasonable efforts to take them, with the right support. That is the strategy that we are adopting, and I believe that it is more humane than simply leaving people on long-term IB receipt.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) raised a number of issues to do with the Child Support Agency, with which I think every Member will have had considerable dealings. Some of us have had CSA cases for a long time. One reason for the reforms is that we feel that the old CSA system and the so-called new CSA system have not worked. She cited the figure of 40p per £1 of maintenance collected, which is nonsense.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend about the need for strong enforcement powers. There are already pretty strong powers in the system, although I cannot comment on why they have perhaps not been used as they might have been in individual cases. There are serious sanctions available, including direct deduction from earnings, and we want them to be used appropriately.

My hon. Friend was right to make the point about seeing child support in its wider context, and the Department is certainly committed to doing that. We want to ensure that when people break up, there is not an assumption that they should go to the CSA. To paraphrase what she said in the words that someone once used to me, the CSA is seldom part of the healing process. If we can encourage people to seek some sort of mutual agreement at the point of break-up, and provide them with calculations if they need them, that will be a better strategy.

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I absolutely take my hon. Friend’s point that when relationships have broken down and there are long-standing cases, the situation will be more difficult. However, I can offer her a word of reassurance. Under our current proposals, an application charge is planned only for initial application to the system, not for reassessment. The cases that she mentioned would hopefully not face such a charge. I believe that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), is going to meet her to discuss some individual cases, and I hope that she will be able to respond in more detail.

I assure the House that we want a system in which, when relationships unfortunately break down, there are incentives and encouragement to form an agreement. The CSA will then be able to act on behalf of children and families when enforcement is needed. We hope that it will take firm and effective action to ensure that children and families get the support that they deserve. We look forward to the ongoing contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough to our consultations on the issue.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): We now move on to the general debate. Many Members are listed to take part, and a time limit of six minutes has been set. I plan to call the Deputy Leader of the House at about 7.44 pm.

General Matters

5.42 pm

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving us the opportunity to raise matters before the Easter recess in the same style as we have previously. I wish to use this opportunity to raise a continuing and growing concern about the impact of the Budget on my constituency and on major investment in the UK economy.

I must first declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a shareholder in Shell, and my wider interests in the oil and gas industry, but my particular reason for speaking is the interests of my constituency and constituents in the future of that industry and the many jobs that it provides in the north-east of Scotland and throughout the Scottish and UK economy.

I am motivated in many ways by the memories of what has happened before to the north-east of Scotland when there has been a downturn in investment—the rows of “For Sale” signs, people handing in the keys to their houses, the repossessions and the loss to the local economy of a major industry. It is vital that the Government understand and recognise the contribution of that industry.

In what was called a Budget for growth, which was otherwise well balanced and effective, it is depressing that so much risk should have been taken with one of the current success stories of the economy. The industry is not just a local interest, it is a national one. One third of industrial investment comes from the work of the oil and gas industry in the North sea and on our continental shelf. It is a major contributor of tax revenues to the Exchequer and a major contributor to our balance of payments and our energy security.

A matter of growing interest has been the export market that has grown up on the back of the expertise built up in the North sea. That market requires a viable and effective home base. The Government seem to have

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failed to understand the costly environment in the North sea at the moment, and the area’s maturity. There are much smaller finds and much higher costs and risks to investment. It is therefore a very dangerous time to suddenly alter the tax regime. Also, the Chancellor prayed in aid the price of oil, but many of the investors in the North sea are smaller, new entrants, who have already hedged their sales for this year and are not receiving anything like the price that the open market would provide. It has yet to be explained why the Chancellor did not tax the hedge funds rather than those doing the legwork at the coal face.

The Chancellor talked about decisions made last June, when he was promising not to interfere with the tax regime, and the movement of oil prices since then. Someone who makes a 20-year investment is not interested in a six-month cycle, but in all the peaks and troughs. Recently, the industry had to survive a fall to $35 a barrel and still be able to invest.

The other crucial point that has been missed is that some of the older fields will now pay 81% tax on their profits, yet they are the vital hubs that ensure that we exploit the minor, smaller fields that are still available. The infill—the new fields—will keep the larger, older platforms and pipework going to enable us to exploit the North sea. If there is a hiatus in that investment and those fields are decommissioned, whole areas of the North sea will be left barren and the oil and gas will never be recovered.

There is quite a worry not only about the actual tax, but the way in which it was handled. So many reassurances that there would not be a tax change were followed by a sudden tax change. As one industry insider said to me, “It’s worse than Brown because at least he didn’t promise not to do it, when he was in government and did the same thing.” A promise not to do it followed by doing it is much more damaging to the investment climate. The Government will have to work hard to undo that loss of confidence by the investor community.

Even if, in the long run, quite a few projects still stack up, there is a major hiatus when they have to be put on hold and reappraised, and investors in other parts of the world are saying to their local manager, “What’s the bottom line? Is it still worth going ahead?” That affects the whole supply chain. I was chatting to one manager in the supply chain who said that he had to put his graduate recruitment round on hold because he does not know whether his clients will go ahead with their project. That disruption to management and to activity is most damaging at such an important time, when the industry was one of the few success stories in our economy.

The Government must restore confidence. I welcomed their agreement to an emergency meeting of PILOT, the industry-Government taskforce, during which the Government undertook to try to restore confidence in the stability of the regime. The Government have floated the idea of field allowances to deal with individual problems. I hope that they realise the number of civil servants that they will have to recruit to manage the North sea on a case-by-case basis so that they can make real-time judgments on the new tax allowances that they are promising.

The Chancellor prayed in aid the price of oil when the price of gas is well below his $75 trigger. Gas is not a global commodity in the same way, and there is therefore

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a risk that he is putting up the cost of consumers’ gas supplies while taxing profits on an industry that has not got the same upside of a high commodity price.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee also has a wider concern about investment in new electricity generation, because £200 billion is required and people need the security of knowing that that investment will not be taxed after it is made.

The Chancellor is right to say that it is our oil, but we need experts to invest in getting it out of the ground. Without that investment, we earn no taxes, gain no jobs, and get no balance of payments help or energy security. The Chancellor must not undermine our energy security and he must restore stability.

5.48 pm

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for the opportunity to speak today on the importance of local bus services, which are of continuing concern to my constituents.

Good local bus services are vital to the local economy, the national economy and hard-working people throughout the country. The Transport Committee’s recent report recognised the importance of effective transport. It stated that

“supporting sustainable economic growth should be the overriding objective for the Department for Transport”.

However, that is nothing new. In 2006, the Eddington transport study, which the Labour Government commissioned, concluded that an efficient transport system is vital for a healthy economy. Sir Rod Eddington’s report recognised that people’s ability to travel to work, for work or to find work is crucial to drive the growth that our economy needs.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recently advised the unemployed that they should get on a bus to find work. In my constituency, that would be pretty difficult. That is the fatal flaw in his plan—local bus services outside London need considerable improvement, particularly the network in my constituency.

I grew up in the local area, and I still frequently use local buses, so I know both the best and the worst of our local bus network. During my campaign and since entering the House, I have continued to receive regular concerns from constituents about the local bus service, and I decided to investigate by launching a constituency-wide campaign called the “Big Bus Survey”. Constituents can either complete an online survey or return a postcard. I have already received hundreds of responses, and they continue to come in.

From the initial responses, it is clear that the people of Houghton and Sunderland South want lower bus fares and a more frequent service. There is also the obvious frustration that bus operators can change routes or pull services with minimal notice or consultation. Local people feel that they do not have a voice and that they cannot influence those decisions.

Some of the comments I have received are particularly revealing. One constituent said:

“I don’t use buses at all for one reason—they are far too expensive and it is cheaper and safer by car.”

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One who has young children said that she wants

“better family deals and access”,

which was echoed by many other parents. A large number of respondents said that they wanted an improved and direct service so that they can get to the local hospital.

The replies to the survey so far coincide with the bus watchdog—Passenger Focus—research on what bus users want from their local bus service. Recent results show a reduction in satisfaction with the overall level of service, and a reduction in satisfaction with reliability. Additionally, research by Bus Users UK says that 32% of commuters want a considerable improvement in the bus service.

One particular concern for many of my constituents is bus fares. As I have said, my survey so far shows that the majority of people want lower fares. With the price of diesel at an all-time high, and bus companies increasingly pressurised to pass on those costs to commuters, I am concerned about the affordability of buses, given that high bus fares are clearly already an issue.

High bus fares hit all sectors of our society, but particularly students and those seeking work. That is why education maintenance allowance helped with the cost of getting to college. The Association of Colleges has identified that 75% of its member colleges said that the majority of their students get to school by bus. It also found that 94% of its members believe that students will find it harder to attend without EMA because of bus fares.

For older residents, bus services are a lifeline. Older people are among those who most depend on buses, for example, to access the general practitioner’s surgery or the hospital. They often have no alternative means of transport.

It is clear that not tackling that problem will have serious and lasting effects, not only for our economy, but for future generations. High Speed 2 is getting considerable attention both inside and outside the House, but my constituents are more concerned with ensuring that we have an affordable and accessible local bus network, which is crucial in my area in the absence of rail or a light rail network.

If we are to create jobs and drive growth, we need to ensure that we have bus services and the capacity to encourage businesses to invest and to grow. Our constituents also deserve a bus network over which they feel they have a say, and one that responds to their needs and is accessible to all. Those do not strike me as unreasonable demands, and local people deserve better.

5.53 pm

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I should like to make a few brief remarks about the importance of marriage and family policy.

My constituents, George and Dot Kemp, celebrated their diamond wedding in December 2010, and they were good enough to share with the local paper, the Dunstable Gazette, their secret for a long and happy marriage. George said as follows:

“The secret to a long and happy marriage can be summed up in six words…The magic words are, ‘I love you,’ and, ‘yes, my dear!’”

That is a good tip, and good advice perhaps for those of us who aspire to reach George and Dot’s record of 60 years together.

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That is a very happy story, and one that I am pleased to share with the House, but when politicians look at what is happening to family life in our country, we see a much more alarming picture. Only last week, the Office for National Statistics released figures showing the lowest number of marriages in England and Wales since 1895—there were 231,000 marriages in 2009, compared with a peak of 426,000 in 1972. It would be tempting to ask, “Why does this matter? What concern is it of ours as politicians?” I agree that it is wrong for politicians to lecture people, and even worse for them to preach or moralise, but we have a duty to look at what is happening across our constituencies, and to consider its impact on our society.

We know, for example, that if a child’s parents separate, that child is twice as likely to grow up in poverty as a child whose parents stay together—very relevant on a day when the Government have brought out their child poverty strategy. A child has a 36% chance of growing up in poverty if their parents separate, and only an 18% chance if they stay together. Those statistics are from the Government’s own figures in the “Households Below Average Income” series. We know, however, that marriage is not out of fashion among young people. Survey evidence suggests that more than 90% of young people want to get married eventually—once they are debt-free, can get a home of their own and have sorted out their education—and I know, because I survey them regularly, that 18-year-olds in my constituency are concerned about this issue. More than seven out of 10 tell me that they believe that family breakdown is a big problem in the UK and that they want more done about it.

Whether we are concerned about the effect on constituents’ lives or the impact on society, we should also be concerned about the financial costs to the country. Estimates vary, but the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has estimated that every year we pay in taxes between £20 billion and £40 billion to pick up the pieces when, sadly, couples separate. What can we do to improve this dire situation? A leading family judge, Mr Justice Coleridge—he should know about this, because he is at the coal face in the family courts—said in 2009 at a Relationships Foundation conference:

“We are experiencing a period of family meltdown whose effects will be as catastrophic as the meltdown of the ice caps… It will be more destructive than any economic decline caused by international market or financial movements triggered by mismanagement by financial institutions.”

On the plus side, in showing how things can be different when families stay together, Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, said in another place:

“Children lucky enough to be born into strong families are advantaged in almost every area for the rest of their lives: school attendance, educational achievement, getting and keeping a job. They will earn more. They will be healthier. They will be more likely to form strong families of their own. Children who do not have that good fortune will be disadvantaged for the rest their lives.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 February 2011; Vol. 725, c. 366.]

We can do a number of things about this situation. We have taken steps to deal with the couple penalty. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who is in his place, raised this matter very well in a recent “Panorama” programme entitled, “Britain’s Missing Dads”. It featured young couples who had been together until the birth of their first child, at which point they suddenly stopped living together. When asked why, they made it clear that

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the loss of about £30 a week was the key factor in driving them apart. That is not a sensible way to design a welfare system, so I am pleased that the moves we are making in universal credit will do something about that. That is a positive start. It is also absolutely right that the Government do more to give our constituents the skills and support necessary to make a success of their family relationships. The Government have committed £7.5 million a year over the next four years to roll out courses such as the “Let’s Stick Together” programme pioneered by the Bristol Community Family Trust. That is welcome indeed. We need more of that type of initiative.

5.59 pm

Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): Yesterday’s centrefold in The Guardian—if I may call it that, although the term centrefold has been expropriated by a different publication —had a good picture of two artisanal miners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo scraping away in what was basically a big hole. They do 24-hour shifts and get paid very little. The picture emphasised how rudimentary mining is in the DRC. Mining is something that could generate enormous wealth in the Congo, but it invariably does not, because the market is very difficult.

I want to mention a different expropriation today—one that should give us all pause. I want also to emphasise the extractive industry’s transparency initiative and the Dodd-Frank legislation in the US. As is increasingly accepted on both sides of the House, these are examples of good practice that can help businesses to operate properly in Africa, helping Africans themselves and delivering mutual benefit from the good trade that City companies do. As has been made clear in The Times Africa CEO conference in the past couple of weeks, the City of London is one of the country’s great strengths. Right now there are new and important opportunities for investment in Africa. Companies listed in this country can contribute more to Africa’s development than aid ever could. Aid is extremely important, but ultimately, the only way out of poverty for those countries is through proper investment.

We expect our senior executives to put their figures and their shareholders first, and yet there is a tipping point. Where a company prospers by doing business in Africa, we expect Africans to acquire some benefit—through proper taxation payment and, for example, jobs. Pretty much all the executives whom I have spoken to agree with that; indeed, that was very much the positive attitude on parade at The Times conference. However, where a corporation ignores the principles of mutual benefit, that can do enormous damage to the prospects of investment in Africa. The bad reputation that a company acquires can shake the confidence of other investors. I want to say a few words, therefore, about a particular example of a large and would-be successful corporation wrecking its reputation and integrity by entering into ropy deals with, frankly, shady middlemen—the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, a FTSE 100 company.

The centrefold in The Guardian referred to the DRC Government apparently raising only $13 million in tax from mining licences in the last financial year. Before that, however, they raised $55 million per annum from one company alone—First Quantum, the country’s largest taxpayer. Last year, however, the DRC Government essentially expropriated the assets of First Quantum for

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reasons that looked extremely dubious indeed. First Quantum had invested $700 million in a mine in Kolwezi which was generating thousands of jobs, and it was the largest taxpayer in the DRC. For good reasons—again, having looked at the mining and licensing contracts—I have no doubt that that was the right thing to do. However, one or two contracts were cancelled for reasons that we should be more aware of.

Inefficient artisanal mining raises small amounts of money compared with the enormous investment that First Quantum had made. In essence, First Quantum had its assets expropriated, which were then sold on to a middleman—a man called Dan Gertler, whose only business qualification as far as I can see is that he is a close personal friend of the President of the DRC. Having bought those assets for a song, Mr Gertler put them on the market and within a few months a FTSE 100-listed London company bought them for $175 million. Not one whit of that enormous benefit to him—and perhaps others: it is very hard to tell, because there was no transparency in the deal—would have gone to the people of the DRC. It was an absolute and utter shocker.

What of ENRC, the buyer? Lots of companies said, “We’re not touching this with a bargepole—it completely stinks,” but ENRC was absolutely up for it. ENRC is ostensibly a successful FTSE 100 corporation, but it is underperforming on the stock market, in spite of the wealth of assets. It should be striding away from its competitors, but its deal in the Congo has left it without a CEO, its reputation trashed and its major investors, including the Kazakhstani Government, wanting out, and it has now become a possible takeover target. There is a lesson there for all to see. Perhaps it is time that ENRC grew up or just passed over its assets to somebody else who can manage them better.

However, there is one other lesson: that non-executives should be careful that they are not simply used as patsies for puppet masters of questionable integrity. ENRC’s board is primarily Kazakhstani—I have no quibble with the Kazakhstani Government; I think that they are pretty nervous about the whole thing too—but there are also three well-known UK business men on the board. They are Sir Paul Judge, Ken Olisa and Sir Richard Sykes. Ken Olisa wrote a letter to the Financial Times last week that was comical in its naivety. He has clearly been put up as a front man, but he made a complete fool of himself by complaining about the Lombard column’s criticism of ENRC. Essentially, however, the point man from the UK perspective is Sir Richard Sykes. He has had a pretty sound reputation in the past. He ran a large multinational, and he is used as the man who calms the markets. This whole business has done his reputation immeasurable harm, however. People in the City are aware of that fact, and I hope that people on both sides of the House will be aware of it, now that I have raised the matter.

I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on this point. Does he agree that all this could be avoided if there were more transparency in such deals? The Government are moving towards that, which is welcome, but none of these things would take place if we had legislation like the Dodd-Frank Act in the UK.

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6.5 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I wish to raise a number of points before the House adjourns for the Easter recess. Proposed changes to legislation will come into effect on 1 May relating to herbal medicines and vitamin and mineral supplements. Those changes will have a major impact on the Annandale homeopathic and allergy clinic in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. Varying strengths of such supplements have always been available for purchase, but my constituents understand that under the proposed European Union regulations the strengths of vitamin and mineral supplements available will be standardised. The standardised levels will be too low, and the ability to prescribe and retail such supplements to patients will consequently be adversely affected. I would be grateful if the appropriate Minister could write to me about that matter.

Another constituent has contacted me about an e-mail that he received from the Lottery House which claimed that he had won £1 million on the lottery in the Netherlands. He was sent numerous fraudulent letters asking him to pay money into various foreign accounts in order to access his lottery winnings, and he has spent thousands of pounds trying to access that money. This is not an isolated incident, and I would be grateful if the appropriate Minister could look into this type of fraud, which is pretty rife at the moment.

Mr Rod Godfrey, of 153 Hadleigh road, Leigh-on-Sea, has recently visited me at my surgery to discuss a serious problem with the tax code that he has been given by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Mr Godfrey pays his tax through PAYE, as he has always done, through a tax code issued to Tower Hamlets by HMRC. He has now been advised that he has underpaid by a substantial amount of money. It is completely unreasonable that my constituent should be expected to pay such a large sum of money, given that it is the fault of HMRC and not that of Mr Godfrey. Again, I would be grateful if the appropriate Minister could comment on that.

My next comments are not directed at any Members present today, but I am increasingly fed up that the West Lothian question has not been addressed. It is completely unfair that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Members have two votes and that we poor English Members have only one. I hope that that matter will be addressed during the course of this Parliament.

I am also concerned about the oppression of 3,400 members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, including 1,000 women in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. Those residing in the camp have undergone psychological torture and serious medical restrictions. Already, 208 Members have signed an early-day motion calling for the Government to provide the necessary protection for the residents of Camp Ashraf. Yesterday, in Committee Room 14, a couple of US Senators addressed a very well-attended meeting, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will raise this issue with his American counterpart.

Religious freedoms are under threat across the world. Recent issues of significant concern include high-profile assassinations of public figures who have attacked Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, the arrest and detention of dozens of Christians in Iran, and the assassination of a Muslim cleric and attacks on Christians in Nigeria. There is no simple solution to the situation in Pakistan. There is

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clearly a need for proper international discussion on blasphemy laws. Again, I hope that the appropriate Minister will be able to address this point.

I am increasingly uncomfortable about the way in which the Equitable Life issue was dealt with during the Committee stage of the Equitable Life (Payments) Bill. I remain concerned about the situation of with-profit annuitants who took out policies before the September 1992 cut-off date. About 10,000 elderly people have now been excluded from the compensation scheme and are set to lose thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of pounds. Those people were “locked in” and suffered the same maladministration as the other policyholders, who will be paid 100% compensation. I had certainly not appreciated in Committee that those people would be excluded. I know that the Treasury team are working extremely hard to try to balance the books, given the terrible legacy that we were left, but I must tell the Deputy Leader of the House that I am worried about the promises that were made before the general election. Some of my elderly constituents feel that we have not honoured them.

To end on a brighter note, I am delighted to say that the Better Southend project, involving four major regeneration works at Cuckoo corner, Progress road, Victoria circus and City beach, has, thanks to our excellent Conservative-controlled council, been completed on time at the end of March. I ask local residents to judge those schemes on how they work out in practice.

I am also delighted to say that any number of international teams visiting Southend at the moment can consider using the town as a training base for their international athletes. The latest to arrive are the Malaysians, so it is all happening in Southend. We hope that these international teams are successful and, above all, that British athletes will enjoy great success in the 2012 games. Of course, we all wish the happy royal couple every success in the royal wedding on 29 April.

6.11 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The swine flu pandemic that never was is an extraordinary story of bad science, fortunes made, public money wasted and fear-mongering on a mass scale. It started in May 2009 when a new branch of flu was detected in Mexico. The epidemiology then and now is still the same—that this flu was very mild. It killed about one in every 10,000 who had it.

On the World Health Organisation website in May 2009, the definition of a phase 6 pandemic—a crucial issue—was that the flu had to be likely to cause “a terrible number” of deaths and serious injuries. In the next month, that definition was changed to take the severity of the flu out of the definition; it was described as a flu that was being experienced in more than two WHO areas. In June 2009, however, Margaret Chan declared a phase 6 pandemic. The world press turned up and asked what a phase 6 pandemic was and whether there was a phase 6.5 or a phase 7 pandemic. She said, “No, this is the most severe pandemic—the top one.” Understandably, the world press went into hysteria mode and announced that this was as bad as the 1918 flu that killed between 25 million and 40 million people.

There was never any possibility that it was going to turn out like that. In this country, Liam Donaldson said that the likelihood was that deaths would be between

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3,000 and 750,000. The average we should expect, he said, was 65,000 deaths. The WHO said that we should expect between 2 million and 7 million deaths in the world. In the event, there were 18,000 deaths. In Britain, there were 447 deaths of people with swine flu, but fewer than 150 died of swine flu. It is, of course, a tragedy for all the individuals involved, but this was nothing compared to the normal seasonal flu we have almost every year, when 10,000 and sometimes 20,000 people die.

The World Health Organisation has been challenged since and there have been a number of inquiries. In this country, we had an inquiry by Deirdre Hine, but I am afraid that it was premature. It did not come up with the right answers because it did not ask the right questions. There is a far better inquiry, just published, by the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament. Its main conclusion is that next time, the severity of the flu must be a feature in any warnings given. It is extraordinary that in calling this a phase 6 pandemic, no judgment was made about the severity of the disease.

What was the cost to this country? We spent £1.2 billion and we suffered greatly from anxiety and fear. That was particularly the case for parents of young children, who were told that there would be 65,000 deaths. The health service was disrupted for nearly a year. All its priorities were changed, and vital services were neglected so that the necessary preparations could be made. Heaven knows what the cost was of the closure of all the schools, for instance. All that was unnecessary, and we must now consider what we can do about it. It is difficult to blame the national Governments, because they would be damned if they did and damned if they didn’t, but can we say that spending more than £1 billion in Britain had a good result? Can we say that more people would have died if we had not spent that money? In fact, the reverse is true.

A splendid example is provided by Ewa Kopacz, who was the Polish Health Minister at the time. In November 2009, she made a very brave speech saying that the Polish Government would not buy vaccines and antiviral medicines because she did not believe that H1N1 flu posed any serious threat. In Britain, having spent £1 billion, we lost 7.4 people per million of the population; Poland, having spent about 7 zlotys, ended up with 4.7 deaths per million. In other words, Poland spent virtually nothing, and suffered half the number of deaths per million that we suffered. There is a lesson to be learnt from that. As I said earlier, I do not blame the national Governments, because they were in a very difficult position. They had the advice of the World Health Organisation, which is a body that we should respect, because we need a body that is above the national melee and national interests. Can we blame the World Health Organisation? We certainly can.

I have been to Geneva on a number of occasions. Incidentally, my general election result was greatly improved by the fact that I was there at the time. Because of the ash cloud I had to stay there for five days, which, according to my constituency workers, helped to ensure that the swing against the Labour party was one of the lowest in Wales, and to secure my re-election. Absence is a great factor. However, although we have heard reports from various organisations throughout the world, we must face the fact that the problem lay not with

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national Governments but with the World Health Organisation. The decision was taken by an emergency committee with 15 members—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Gentleman’s time is up.

6.17 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I welcome the opportunity to contribute, and I thank the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who chairs the Backbench Business Committee.

Let me begin by endorsing what was said by the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) about the West Lothian question. It is time that that was sorted out, because too many votes are being cast twice by Labour and Scottish National party Members. I also want to take a leaf out of the hon. Gentleman’s book when it comes to dealing with constituents who are dealing with real problems. I am thinking primarily of our brave troops in Afghanistan, both men and women, and the great sacrifices that they are making.

One such trooper, Lyndon Chatting-Walters, of 23 Engineer Regiment, is now 20 years old. On 19 July 2008, while serving in our armed forces in Afghanistan, he was blown up in an explosion. He suffered shrapnel injuries to his face, groin, legs and both arms, broken teeth, a damaged arm, jaw and ankle, and muscle and tendon injuries. He has also experienced constant trouble with his back, and will be susceptible to arthritis and rheumatism for the rest of his life.

That young guy was taken to Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham, which patched him up and did everything that it could for him. However, even while experiencing great pain and suffering, he was determined to return to Afghanistan. He went back in autumn and served for a couple of months, but the pain from the injuries that he sustained in 2008 was so bad that he was invalided back to the United Kingdom just after Christmas last year. He is still waiting for appointments to see doctors so that the nature of all his injuries can be clarified, and he is still seeking proper compensation from our armed forces Ministers. I have written to them, and recently wrote again to the Secretary of State for Defence. I know it is not directly his responsibility, but this young man has given his all for his country, and I really do feel that he has been treated shabbily. I do not know whether the fault for that lies with our bureaucracy or elsewhere, but I appeal in the strongest terms for us to do something for that young man, because he has given his all, and given his future as well, and he must be adequately looked after and adequately compensated.

My next case concerns Ukraine. A constituent of mine, Mr Barry Pring, joined a dating agency in 2007, met a Ukrainian woman online and later married her. To cut a long story short, tragically, a year later Mr Pring was run over in a very suspicious car accident 28 km outside Kiev. An investigation is being carried out into whether—I think I can say this under parliamentary privilege—his wife was responsible for his death. Immediately after his death, she came to Britain and started trying to get hold of all his assets, and he was a reasonably wealthy man. I have written to Ministers to

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try to find out what exactly we can do. Of course, I understand the issue of the sovereign powers of Ukraine, but this case is not being investigated properly by the Ukrainian authorities. Every time we try to get a proper investigation, that is blocked. There is no doubt that there are problems within the police authorities in Ukraine. We have dealt with our own police and with Interpol, and I appeal to Ministers to do much more to make sure that a proper investigation into the death of my constituent is carried out, so that his family can know what happened to him and can put the whole matter to rest.

The final case is about a problem that dates back to long before I became a Member of Parliament. It concerns Terence and Wendy Hart. When Mr Hart’s wife was taken ill in 2006, he had problems with the Axminster medical practice, and there was an encounter between him and the practice doctors. Mr Hart was very emotional at the time and was accused of being abusive, but he has always denied that. We have taken that case to the health service ombudsman, and we have been down all the other bureaucratic routes. I have contacted Ministers about it too, yet we still cannot get this case settled. I again appeal to Ministers about it.

6.23 pm

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). I echo his tribute to our brave troops in Afghanistan, and in particular I wish him well in his efforts to secure better support for the trooper whose case he brought to the attention of the House, and who has made a huge sacrifice for our country.

I rise to raise two issues. First, I want to ask a series of questions on the Government’s view of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and, through them, to ask a series of questions of the Sri Lankan Government. I understand that the UN Secretary-General is due to receive a report on 13 April produced by a three-member panel that has been mandated to advise him on options for addressing accountability for crimes committed during the final stages of the recent conflict, with which all who have an interest in Sri Lanka will be familiar. I ask whether that document will be published, and if not—or, indeed, if we are unsure whether it will be published—I ask the British Government to call on the UN Secretary-General to publish it.

Furthermore, will the Government urge the lifting of the prevention of terrorism Act in Sri Lanka? The UN urged this as long ago as 2000. Will they urge the Sri Lankan Government to release those who have been arrested, unless they are charged with criminal offences and remanded in custody by a civilian court? Will the Government urge the Sri Lankan Government to adhere to a 2006 presidential directive by registering detainees, informing their families and the Sri Lankan human rights commission of the place of their arrest and detention? Lastly, will our Government urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow the Red Cross full access to the prisons where those still detained after the conflict are held?

In January and February, two of the world’s most respected human rights groups, Amnesty International and Minority Rights Group International, raised, in separate reports, a series of concerns about the human, social and economic rights of minority communities in Sri Lanka. MRGI argued that nearly two years after the

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end of the war between the LTTE—the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—and the Government, minorities face daily repression, and are marginalised in development policies and in politics in Sri Lanka. The MRGI’s report documents cases of land in the north and east of Sri Lanka being seized by military and civilian authorities and used for the construction of everything from military encampments to hotels and leisure facilities. The report notes that international and national media and non-governmental organisations still have restricted access, and that there is a high level of militarisation and state control over freedom of movement and association.

Amnesty’s report goes further. It believes that there are credible allegations that both Government security forces and the LTTE committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law throughout their conflict, particularly in the final months, including summary executions, torture, attacks on civilians and other war crimes. The Sri Lankan Government have established a domestic “lessons learned and reconciliation commission”, but most international observers have argued that the gravity of the accusations is such that a truly independent international investigation is necessary to address these issues fully and ensure accountability. That is why the UN Secretary-General established a three-member panel to advise him on options and why we need to have those recommendations publicised and made clear.

A longer-term problem in Sri Lanka has helped to drive what appears, at least, to be a culture of impunity and tolerance of breaches of human rights. The country has been under an almost continuous state of emergency since the early 1970s and, as Amnesty has made clear, successive Governments have used national security as the reason to bring in a series of broad and complex emergency regulations. If we look at the history of Sri Lanka, it is obvious that security has been a real concern, but let me be clear that the scale on which these emergency regulations have been used raises concerns. They have, at times, been used against critics of the Government from within the majority Sinhala community, as well as against those within the Tamil and Muslim communities. That is why I ask whether our Government will continue to press the Sri Lankan Government to lift the prevention of terrorism Act and to press for the Sri Lankan human rights commission and relatives to be informed when someone has been arrested.

The second issue that I wish to raise today is very different, although it is of equal, if not more, concern to all my constituents. I am talking about the future of the three polyclinics that serve my constituency: the Alexandra Avenue centre, which was opened by Lord Darzi; the Pinn medical centre in Pinner; and the urgent care centre at Northwick Park hospital. They provide walk-in services from 8 am to 8 pm all year round and they are hugely popular with my constituents, but they are under threat of closure or restriction. I urge the Government to take the opportunity of the pause in consideration of the current NHS reforms to examine the future of the polyclinics in my constituency and to recognise the huge support that those have from my constituents.

6.29 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak about the preservation of Britain’s built civil nuclear heritage, but I understand

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that the topic might at first seem rather obscure, if not obtuse, to many Members, and the timing peculiar. First, I must declare an interest as a member of the Twentieth Century Society, which campaigns to preserve examples of built heritage and modern architecture for future generations. I am not here to debate the merits or demerits of nuclear power—I am sure we will have plenty of debates on that in the months and years to come—but rather to draw the Government’s attention to the fact that as the decommissioning process for nuclear power stations begins, those buildings come to the end of their industrial usage and we have to consider whether we wish to preserve them for future generations.

There might be arguments about whether such buildings should be preserved. Those against nuclear power might wonder why anyone would wish to preserve a nuclear power station, but let me quote Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth, who told The Sunday Times on 19 November 2006:

“We need to be reminded of the huge amounts of money they wasted and the radioactive legacy they left us. We should preserve these buildings as a monument to all that stupidity”.

Equally, those of us who are more positive about nuclear energy and think it still has a role to play might think that we should celebrate and protect examples of our world-leading role in developing civil nuclear power. It is often forgotten that we were at the forefront of developing the use of nuclear power for civil means. Just as Ironbridge and the Pontcysyllte aqueduct are examples of Britain’s greatness in the 17th and 18th centuries, Dounreay, Hinkley Point and Windscale, or Sellafield, are examples of our greatness in the 20th century. We need to retain that sense of heritage and it is vital that we debate what to do with them and understand their heritage value. They certainly have architectural value, but they also have a quite separate heritage value. As English Heritage’s 2006 report on our atomic age made clear:

“Nuclear installations due to their size have also created distinctive late 20th-century landscapes…The power station sites are overshadowed by the large rectangular architectural blocks of the reactor buildings and turbine halls which in turn dominate their usually low-lying coastal locations and often provide focal points in the landscape for many miles around”.

My experience, from living on the coast in Blackpool, is of walking out of my front door and being able to see the rectangular block of Heysham power station shining from 20 or 30 miles away across Morecambe bay. It is a major landmark in the local area. It does not quite compete with Blackpool tower, but it is certainly always on the horizon. We have to realise that in those communities the role of nuclear power has been not just one of environmental concern or energy production, but one of building communities. Places such as Sellafield and Dounreay have been major providers of jobs, and communities have sprung up out of nowhere. Just as many Opposition Members fiercely defend the interests of coalfield communities and the heritage of mining that has gone on for many years, we should not lose sight of the importance of the communities who have contributed to building our nuclear industry.

That is why it is vital to take notice of the current consultation process being carried out by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. In September 2010, it announced its initial intention that

“none of our facilities will be preserved for national heritage”.

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On one level that is understandable, as one cannot divorce the heritage component of a nuclear power station for the obvious reason that it has a high degree of radiological risk associated with it. Take, for example, Trawsfynydd power station in north Wales, which was not listed, not because it had no architectural value—far from it, as it was designed by Sir Basil Spence, who designed Coventry cathedral—but because it was sitting on a toxic time bomb and the costs of preserving that toxic time bomb outweighed its architectural value. Conversely, Cadw, the Welsh heritage agency, has at least registered the equally notable garden by Dame Sylvia Crowe and the associated landscaping that surrounded the power station. That shows that we can preserve heritage not just by preserving something that is toxic or radiological but by understanding the wider heritage aspects.

That is why I welcome the fact that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has grudgingly conceded that a national nuclear archive will be established at Dounreay as part of its decommissioning process. I urge both Dounreay and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to consider fully what they mean by nuclear heritage and what they intend to retain in the archive. It must not merely hold photographs of the buildings, but provide an understanding of the lives of the people who built those power stations, made them a success and relied on them for their livelihoods. It is vital that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has a coherent plan to protect them for future generations.

6.35 pm

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I wish to raise briefly the animal welfare issue that dare not speak its name—namely, the licensing of animal experiments. I do so mindful of what many of us have gained in the past and present, and will gain in future, from a number of those experiments, and of the fact that public opinion on what is proper for animal experiments changes. The House has reflected those changing views. At one time one would have stood here and talked about testing cosmetics on animals, but such testing is now forbidden. I want to discuss the regulatory role we assumed when we established the Animal Procedures Committee and question whether we are being complacent in assuming that everything is fine in that regulatory system. In so doing, I want to ask what further actions—new actions—we should take.

Last year, 3.6 million experiments were licensed in this country to be performed on animals. Only three of those licences were referred to the Animal Procedures Committee for consideration. The others were decided by Home Office civil servants. If we tally up the number of experiments on animals that the House has agreed to since the establishment of the current system in 1986, we get a total of 65 million. I want to contrast the care that the House took over possible cruelty in hunting with dogs with the care we have taken in our supervisory role for those 65 million experiments. The House spent 700 hours considering changing the law on hunting with dogs. We spent only seven hours committing our country to the war in Iraq. We did not spend one second on those 65 million experiments.

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I want to question our sense of priority and that of animal charities. In doing so, I raise a central question about the attitude of mind and the training of those officers who had to decide, for example, to grant licences for the 3.6 million experiments that took place last year. We lay on them a duty to weigh up the pain those animals will suffer and the gains that we as a society could accrue from those experiments. Obviously the animals have no say in whether the pain is greater than the gain, but I think that we take it for granted that all those decisions by those officers are right and that the pain inflicted on the animals is less than what society gains.

In order to provoke a debate on the matter at some stage, I wonder what role the Deputy Leader of the House thinks the House should play. Should we spend the next 25 years never discussing the number of experiments on animals? What role might a Select Committee play, and what role should the animal charities play? Every time somebody writes to me about the latest thing that is happening to animals, I write back and say, “That’s my view on the particular issue you’ve raised, but will you raise with the organisation that you belong to and support this issue of experiments on animals, which the House of Commons rarely debates and, in fact, is never raised with me or, probably, with other hon. Members by the animal charities themselves?”

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): I am listening with very great interest to the right hon. Gentleman. He may be familiar with the memorial in Park lane to animals and their suffering in wartime, which has the inscription, “They had no choice”. Is that an area which he believes might be looked at more closely, as well as the area of experimentation?

Mr Frank Field: I certainly do not want such a memorial; I want the memorial to be in this House, and in what we do about the numbers, questioning whether all those experiments are gainfully employed for the benefit of mankind, and what the animal charities themselves might do. Why has none of them written to me about the matter? Should they not raise, in coalition form, the political issue of the apparent lack of supervision that we give to the whole regulatory procedure? Might they also raise with the Home Office how we can be so sure that the gains that we accrue from those 3.6 million experiments last year will outweigh the pain that those animals felt?

6.41 pm

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): I, too, thank the Backbench Business Committee for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I would very much like to focus on antisocial behaviour and the steady creep of a seemingly higher tolerance of it by our local agencies and local police authorities.

When I say that antisocial behaviour is increasingly tolerated, I do not mean that there has been a willing submission by our constituents. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have seen examples from their own constituencies of harassment, racial abuse left unchecked, elderly and vulnerable constituents too terrified to leave their homes, and noise disturbances and large gatherings that are so frequent as to impact on the quality of people’s lives.

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One of my constituents, an elderly lady who lives alone, is being constantly and, I believe, systematically intimidated by a neighbour. She has come to me because she has been unable to enlist the help and support of her local housing society or, indeed, of the police. She feels that no one is taking her problems seriously, and the suggestion, “Well, you can always move,” which believe it or not came from the police, was not particularly helpful.

One of the most serious cases that I have been asked to help with concerns a couple, living barely half a mile from me, who are being subjected to constant verbal homophobic abuse and intimidation. They decided to take their case to the authorities, but it took almost a year for them to receive a response that fully acknowledged all the problems that they faced. In the end, one of the perpetrators was arrested, but no further action was taken, and after yet another incident my constituent decided to confront the individuals responsible, which he did only in a measured and verbal fashion, but was then himself arrested by the police.

I hope that those terrible examples of how some of my constituents have suffered at the hands of aggressive, intimidating and destructive behaviour by others demonstrates to the House that the current methods of dealing with such issues are inadequate given the task that they face. I am reluctant to call those incidents antisocial behaviour; to me they are crimes and should be dealt with as such. I am, however, encouraged by the Government’s proposals for and ambitions in tackling this serious problem, which runs through our communities.

The Minister with responsibility for crime prevention, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) has recognised the slow and bureaucratic way in which complaints are dealt with, and that it sometimes results in

“months and months and months to obtain relief for communities that may be being very hard-pressed by the problems of anti-social behaviour.”

In reacting to that problem, the Government recently announced community triggers, stating that

“if five people have made a complaint that’s not been followed through, they’re able to escalate it to the agencies that are supposed to be providing that response.”

The goal must be that no case of intimidation or abuse goes unchecked, and we must rebuild the partnership between the police and the local community.

Most welcome is the report published last Tuesday by Baroness Newlove, the Government’s champion for active safe communities, who has herself been the victim of a terrible crime—the murder of her husband outside their home. The Baroness puts it perfectly in her report:

“The public are on the frontline in suffering the effects of crime and antisocial behaviour but on the backline when it comes to decisions about how to deal with the problem.”

I welcome several of the recommendations in her report, such as the community reward, whereby if information provided by the community leads to a conviction, the community is then given a reward to spend on crime prevention work; giving the public a single point of contact through the roll-out of the 101 number to report antisocial behaviour; and plans to enhance the street level crime maps scheme so people can use it to report crime and agencies can publish details of what action was taken against offenders.

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With these new powers and initiatives for residents must be a greater accountability of the local police. That will become a reality with the Government’s plans to replace police authorities with directly elected police and crime commissioners by May 2012. I agree with the Government that this will make the police

“more accountable to the public and responsive to local people, more focused at a national level and more effective at tackling crime, as well as providing better value for money”.

On another local front of crime prevention and deterrence, I must raise an issue of considerable importance to my constituents and our surrounding area—the proposed move of our police helicopter. At present, the western counties air operations unit covers the counties of Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire. It is based less than three minutes’ flying time from Bristol so that it can react to any serious crime in the city and the surrounding areas. Until the creation of the unit, the area suffered high levels of vehicle crime, vehicle pursuits and on-street crime such as ram raiding. The presence of the police helicopter within a few minutes has markedly reduced that level of crime. I have been supported in my campaign against the move by Councillor Brian Allinson, a former top-ranking police officer who was responsible for the introduction of the helicopter in the first place. I continue to be concerned by the proposed move of the aircraft away from Filton airfield to Wiltshire, as that will have a very serious effect on its ability to reach incidents in the local area in an acceptable time scale.

Finally on the problem of antisocial behaviour, I believe that the previous Government were far too soft on those who intimidate, disrupt and bring misery to the lives of others. I would like to share with the House a simple question that was put to me by a constituent: when did the law stop being on the side of good and decent people who work hard, play by the rules, and ask only for the right to live in peace and privacy?

6.47 pm

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): I should like to thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate.

On 9 February, the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the House and gave a statement on the Project Merlin agreement that was reached between the banks and the Government. He outlined what he described as the essentials of a “new settlement” with our major banks following the global financial crisis of 2008. He said that under the agreement the banks would lend more money, especially to small businesses, pay more taxes, pay less in bonuses, be more transparent about the bonuses they do pay, and make a greater contribution to our regional economy and society. If this is what the agreement achieves, it is of course most welcome, but my impression is that it falls far short of this because there are so many holes in the small print and it lacks teeth.

How confident can we be that the settlement will result in more lending to small and medium-sized enterprises? The Chancellor told us that under the agreement, Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, HSBC and Santander had agreed to lend more money to SMEs. We were told that overall gross new lending to all businesses, large and small, would increase from £179 billion to £190 billion, and that these targets would be monitored by the Bank of England, which had

“agreed to collect the relevant data and publish them quarterly.”

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The Chancellor said that to help to ensure that the agreement on lending is honoured,

“the pay of the chief executives of each bank…will be linked to their performance against…SME lending targets.”—[Official Report, 9 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 313.]

However, there are a number of problems with all this. The lending targets are gross, not net. As the Business Secretary said in the Daily Mail on 23 March last year, a gross lending target lets the banks “off the hook” because they can achieve a gross lending target while withdrawing capital from SMEs. The banks’ statement on Merlin refers to a commitment to lend up to £190 billion “should sufficient demand arise”, so it is quite feasible that they could argue that the demand had not arisen, which surely presents a get-out clause.

On the scope of the monitoring exercise to be carried out by the Bank of England, the Governor could not have been clearer when he appeared before the Treasury Committee, on which I sit, on 1 March. He said:

“We’re not monitoring. What we are doing is putting up on our website the data that banks submit after a fairly cursory plausibility check. We are not auditing the data that are submitted”.

Then there is the claim that CEO pay will be tied to performance against the lending targets. Again, when one reads the small print a different picture emerges. The banks’ statement on Merlin simply says that whether lending targets are met will be given more weight in the performance metrics of the CEOs concerned, but Treasury officials appearing in front of the Treasury Committee on 29 March were unable to tell us how much weight would be given in the performance metrics of the CEO in each case. Furthermore, in a parliamentary answer on this point given to me by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I was told: