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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 18 May 2011

[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]

Human Trafficking

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Jeremy Wright.)

9.30 am

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): It was only four short years ago that the United Kingdom reflected on the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807. At the time, among all the self-congratulatory celebration, I suggested that our renewed focus should be on refreshing our resolve to tackle the modern equivalent of slavery—human trafficking. Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transfer and harbouring of men, and particularly women and children, so that they can be exploited for forced labour, sexual services or domestic servitude. It is the most unpleasant by-product of globalisation in the labour market and now scars each and every constituency.

The modern-day slaves that human trafficking has created are voiceless and vulnerable. They are stowed in the untouched shadows of our communities. They exist not just in the seedier corners of my central London constituency or of Manchester, because the backdrop to their exploitation can equally be the sprawl of suburbia, the fields of our countryside or even the beaches that line our shores. The means of their subjugation are varied. Sometimes, there is violence, but traffickers might equally threaten to harm a victim’s family; they might enslave people through debt; they might reduce them through shame; or they might manipulate them through deception.

As illicit ways to make money go, trafficking can be perceived as comparatively low risk. A busy brothel with five to 10 girls in central London, for example, can make £20,000 a week, without the violence and risk associated with the illicit drugs trade. As for those with even baser motives, trafficked victims working outside the established sex trade are attractively difficult to detect.

In putting my speech together, I was aware of the imminent publication of the Home Office strategy on human trafficking, which was promised in the spring, but which may now be released in June, owing in part to pre-local election purdah. I hope that the debate will prove timely and will, along with the strategy, help to create momentum by raising public interest and reigniting the will to tackle trafficking more robustly. I also hope that it will serve to clarify what progress the Home Office has made since October, when a number of Members, including some in the Chamber, raised legitimate questions about the Government’s strategy in the debates marking anti-slavery week.

A debate that took place as recently as last Monday helped to raise the issues before us, and I hope that the Minister will not find this morning’s proceedings too repetitious. I put in for this debate some weeks ago, but, alas, the unquenchable enthusiasm of the 2010 intake

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makes securing a Westminster Hall debate these days far trickier than it was in the past. Nevertheless, last week’s debate focused primarily on the European directive on human trafficking, so I hope that we can cover some new ground today.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I apologise, Mr Crausby, for not being able to stay until the end of the debate. In last week’s debate, a point was raised about there being an independent voice for children. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that there is an independent voice to support children in legally challenging the UK Border Agency, the police and other statutory or voluntary agencies, when the actions being taken are not in a child’s best interests?

Mr Field: I have particular sympathy with that point, not only because children are particularly vulnerable, but because having people acting in loco parentis in the way in which my hon. Friend has described is a well-known legal process.

It is important that we do not simply use the debate as an opportunity to produce an hysterical portrayal of the problem or to condemn Governments, past or present, for a lack of progress. I accept that this is an immensely complicated issue; it obviously has legal bearings, as my hon. Friend has suggested, and it touches on many parts of our system from policing to immigration, justice, housing and social services. I wish, however, to encourage a measured debate about how we can best create an environment that is hostile to traffickers. I also want to send out a clear message that we are firmly on the side of the victims.

In discussing human trafficking, I want to pay tribute to parliamentarians past. The erstwhile Member for Totnes, Anthony Steen, has probably done more than anyone to raise the profile of trafficking at the parliamentary level. He founded the first all-party group on the issue in 2006, and he continues to work as the chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, which is based at Blackfriars in my constituency. I played a small part in bringing Anthony together with the City of London corporation to ensure that the foundation was based in a high-profile place in central London. I cannot hope to emulate Anthony’s incredible passion for, and knowledge of, this subject, which he displayed in an extremely detailed debate that he led in the dying embers of the previous Parliament, but I hope that our discussion pays homage to some of his work.

Whenever we approach a subject such as trafficking, people inevitably demand numbers, so that they can grasp the scale of the problem. Unfortunately, as we all know, reliable statistics are difficult to come by. Some people contend that the number of trafficked victims is very low, while others contend that the figures are grossly underestimated. As a covert crime, trafficking is inevitably incredibly tricky to measure.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on this important debate, and we have had numerous debates on this issue in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Government strategy that will soon be published, and I do not condemn the Government for having a strategy, but it is action that we need. Children in the United Kingdom are being sold on the streets at £15,000 or £16,000 a time, which is an utter disgrace. We surely need action and some serious penalties for these crimes.

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Mr Field: I entirely agree. In fairness to the Government, it is important that we have a framework in place, but, as the hon. Gentleman has said, any framework is pointless if action does not follow. One hopes that the robust measures that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned will form an integral part of what the Government propose shortly.

There is no uniform story for those who have been trafficked. Some of the markets in which they circulate are closed to outsiders. Victims are often disconnected from mainstream society, so they find it incredibly difficult to seek help. Others may fear the consequences of coming forward, whether that is punishment by their oppressor or, indeed, the UK authorities—many victims are illegal immigrants and fear deportation, for example. Migrants do not always understand that they have been trafficked, or they may be reluctant to reveal to strangers the full picture of their ordeal. Of course, some also embellish their experiences in the hope that their case will be looked on more kindly by the British authorities.

The most recent study of the number of women trafficked into off-street prostitution, Project Acumen, released its findings last August. Conducted by the Association of Chief Police Officers, it aimed to improve our understanding of the nature and scale of the trafficking of migrant women for sexual exploitation. It estimated—as I have said, we must always include a caveat with any figures—that 30,000 women are currently involved in off-street prostitution. Of those women, 17,000, or more than 50%, are migrants, with 2,600 believed to have been trafficked. Most were not found to have been subject to violence, but many were debt-bonded and strictly controlled. A further 9,600 women were considered vulnerable, but fell short of what police officers regarded as the trafficking threshold.

Acumen examined off-street prostitution in part because it is relatively easy to identify. Its organisers have to balance subtlety with the need to advertise their “product” in a competitive marketplace. Nevertheless, criticism has been levelled at the study from some quarters. As a result, I do not intend to use it as an unimpeachable benchmark, but rather as the best, and probably the most recent, research we have in what, as I have said, is a shadowy sphere.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman as concerned as me about other statistics, which estimate that 80% of the 8,000 women who work in off-street prostitution in London alone are foreign nationals, many of whom started to work as prostitutes, or were indeed forced into prostitution, when they were still children?

Mr Field: I am very concerned about that issue, and I will come to it a little later. As the hon. Lady will understand, my speech focuses on my constituency, and I have become aware of the extent of this problem through my dealings with local councillors and local police in central London.

As I have said, the figures are pretty sketchy, and the grim reality of the experience tends to smack us in the face only when a case comes before the courts or because a raid has taken place in our constituencies. A recent example here in London is the grizzly ongoing case of a five-year-old Nigerian boy, who was identified only in March, 10 years after his murder. We believe

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that that tiny child was trafficked from Germany before being drugged and sacrificed in a ritual killing, his torso dumped in the Thames. Lucy Adeniji, a Church pastor, has been recently sentenced for trafficking two children and a 21-year-old woman to work for her as domestic slaves, locking them up and regularly beating them.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I apologise for being able to stay for only half the debate. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that with the various policing reforms we will lose some of the more targeted approaches to prosecution and the identification of victims, such as Pentameter 1 and 2 and Operation Golf, which were very effective in these difficult and complex areas of prosecution?

Mr Field: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, which bears witness to what I said earlier about this not simply being a policing matter but one with a focus on justice and social services, housing and the work of local authorities. The most important thing to learn is that solving the problem needs a multidisciplinary approach.

A pernicious trend emerged in my constituency of vans depositing women and children by Knightsbridge tube station in the morning to be picked up in the evening after a lucrative day’s begging. A couple of years ago, police raided properties in the constituency of the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) to crack down on Romanian and Bulgarian gangs who had trafficked children to pick the pockets of Londoners in my constituency and beyond.

Tackling adult trafficking is co-ordinated, as the Minister knows, by the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which was set up five years ago to bring together a range of stakeholders—police forces, the UK Border Agency, non-governmental organisations and so on. It acts alongside UKBA as one of the competent authorities for the national referral mechanism.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Government have signed up to the directive on human trafficking, which is good news, but they have refused to appoint an independent rapporteur who would have overseen it and ensured that they fulfilled their obligations. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that that should be done as a matter of urgency?

Mr Field: I confess that I do. It is important, and I hope that the Minister will specifically pick up that point, because in this shadowy world beyond what one might regard as the normal scrutiny of the political process, it is all the more important that the voiceless are given a distinct voice of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has described.

The national referral mechanism is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring that they receive appropriate care. It essentially means that if the police, social services or NGOs believe that they have encountered a trafficking victim, a referral is made for a decision on whether they qualify for a place in a Ministry of Justice safe house for 45 days. The 45-day period is designed to allow the referred person to recover and reflect on whether they wish to co-operate with police inquiries, return to their country of origin or take other action to get their life back on track.

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The situation with child trafficking victims is slightly different in having its focal point with the trafficking unit of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. Its work is assisted in the London area by Paladin, a dedicated team of Metropolitan police officers and UKBA staff based at Heathrow, who are tasked with stopping child trafficking through the entry points into London. Profiled compellingly by Bridget Freer in April in The Sunday Times magazine, Paladin is an absolutely tiny team with an enormous remit.

There are many deep concerns about the effectiveness of the approach being taken. UKHTC has been absorbed into the Serious Organised Crime Agency, a move criticised on the basis that the sheer size of SOCA dilutes the sense of purpose in dealing with human trafficking. With SOCA due to be replaced by a national crime agency, where do we anticipate UKHTC being placed?

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate, and I, too, must apologise that I have to leave before its end. Does he agree that the reorganisation has exacerbated the problem of the re-trafficking of victims, which needs to be urgently addressed? So many victims, who are initially secured in a safe house, are returned and re-trafficked by the very people from whom they were saved.

Mr Field: My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. One difficulty, even with the 45-day cooling-off period, is that a probably tragically high proportion of those who go through that process become known to the authorities later for other human trafficking matters.

The NRM has been rightly condemned for the quality of the decisions, the poor impression given to victims, the lack of an appeals process and the failure to gather comprehensive data on the scale of the problem. There is concern, too, that insufficient resources are directed at policing teams. In April 2009, for example, the Home Office decided to discontinue funding for the Met’s human trafficking unit—the only specialist police human trafficking unit in the country. The Met has since allocated a portion of its own budget to continue its trafficking work and to set up specialist crime directorate 9, which is the human exploitation and organised crime unit. I recently met Detective Superintendent Mick Duthie to discuss his work. There are now 38 people in his team, but their remit takes in not only trafficking, but a range of other street problems, vice, kerb crawling, casino fraud, money laundering and obscene publications, which, as one might imagine, are massive problems in their own right in the mere 6 square miles of my constituency. One wonders whether the other problems are crowding out trafficking.

We all appreciate that these are times of great financial austerity, and there is no realistic expectation of huge additional funding any time soon. The SCD team tries to be creative by setting up joint investigation teams and applying for EU funding streams, for example, but there are huge budgetary pressures, not least as trafficking investigations tend to be complex and lengthy, with overseas elements adding substantially to the costs.

Detective Superintendent Duthie is convinced that more must be done to educate police officers, local authorities and health workers to spot the signs of trafficking. Sometimes, the different teams that come into contact with victims do not get the right information from them or pick up the trafficking indicators.

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Fiona Bruce: My hon. Friend has referred to local authorities, and one local authority department that has an eagle eye on what is going on in property is the planning or development control department. Perhaps we have missed a trick in not involving them in the partnership working of locating properties in which such activity is happening.

Mr Field: My hon. Friend is right. She has a background as a lawyer, and I am sure that she dealt with such problems on a day-to-day basis in her former career. As I see in my constituency, the reality is that agencies are generally only alerted to these issues when there is a tip-off from local residents—for example, we have all been contacted by people who live next door or very near to a brothel. I suspect that a significant number of safe houses—safe from the perspective of traffickers—operate for months or years without being detected.

Fiona Bruce: Those properties are often residential properties in which a business is being run, and if that happened with many other types of business, the local authority would take immediate action due to the contravention of planning legislation. More initiative and activity from planning officers in that respect would greatly assist us.

Mr Field: My hon. Friend’s point is well made, although, without wishing to defend the planning officer fraternity too much, I suspect that the phenomenal financial constraints that most local authorities find themselves under mean that they are not necessarily prioritising this area, but it is important that we put those concerns on the record.

Tom Brake: My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. He has discussed different organisations needing to be educated about the problem, so that they can tackle it more effectively. Does he agree that when the elected police and crime commissioners take responsibility for policing, it will be essential for them also to understand the importance that people place on tackling human trafficking? That should not be neglected.

Mr Field: I am not sure that I want to go too deeply into concerns about precisely where that legislation goes, not least given yesterday’s comments by the Deputy Prime Minister, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. If one considers the populist element of electing police commissioners, I hope that everyone—not only MPs, but interested residents, constituents and citizens—will make it plain that the problem needs to be tackled; indeed, it might be part and parcel of the manifestos of would-be candidates for such a role.

The Government have declared human trafficking to be a coalition priority; I mentioned earlier that we await a new strategy that will shortly step up our efforts in that regard. We recently put our name to the EU directive on trafficking, so the UK has signed up to various obligations. Nevertheless, and without wishing to pre-empt the strategy, I want to put some of my thoughts to the Minister.

It is quite clear from my work on the subject that the current disparate, multi-agency approach has a multitude of fundamental flaws. I have alluded to some of those flaws, which others also recognise. Some are the result

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of the inherent difficulty in dealing with such a complex and varied problem. However, the Government should consider making a few reasonably small improvements.

The notion of a one-stop shop was put to me by Detective Superintendent Duthie as a means of improving the treatment of trafficked victims and the collection of intelligence. Victims tend to have a variety of needs, and at the moment they are dealt with by a huge range of organisations based in different places. A one-stop shop—a human trafficking centre, as it were—might assist in dealing with health, housing, legal aid, counselling, immigration, repatriation, family reunification and more. I wonder whether the Minister would let us know his thoughts on that idea.

When researching the subject in advance of this debate, I was struck by the poor information available on the internet of all places. If I were a trafficked victim, the first resource that I would use to find a way out of my situation would be the internet. Although a one-stop shop might be seen as too expensive, has the Home Office or any other body considered setting up a presence on the internet that would provide easy, comprehensive and readily available advice to trafficked victims on how to report their experience and, more importantly, how to escape? As things stand, information is dotted across a range of sites, which is incredibly confusing.

Earlier, I mentioned Paladin, the police unit tasked with identifying trafficked children at London’s ports. Concern has been raised by the recently ennobled Baroness Doocey about alternative trafficking routes. Her fear is that Paladin’s vigilance at Heathrow and other points of entry might persuade traffickers to use other routes; in particular, she is concerned that there are no specialist child protection officers working full time at St Pancras, even though that station is within Paladin’s remit.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He has touched on routes into the UK. Does he agree that we also need to establish the source from which many of the unfortunate victims of trafficking come? If it includes the small number of nations that have recently joined the EU, we need comprehensive discussions and negotiations with those member states to ensure that the tap is switched off at source.

Mr Field: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It would be wrong to suggest that the entirety of the problem is caused by the 10 nations that joined the EU over the past seven years, particularly Romania and Bulgaria, to which I referred earlier. However, it is clearly a substantial problem, and the relatively open borders in much of the EU play a part.

I was discussing St Pancras. Eurostar has relatively lax controls, and children under the age of 12 can travel unaccompanied from Brussels and Paris, so long as they have a letter from the parents or guardians. Have the Government considered making points of entry more robust, not only at St Pancras but in those parts of the country not covered by Paladin?

Turning to the EU directive, one of its key requirements is to provide every trafficked child with a court-appointed guardian to look after their interests. That idea, which

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was championed by Anthony Steen, was referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington. I note from last Monday’s debate that the Minister is not convinced of that route, believing that local authorities are best placed to fulfil the guardianship role. With local authorities under the most enormous budgetary pressure, how will the Minister ensure that that duty is being fulfilled, and can he convince all stakeholders that the Government are not merely absolving themselves of responsibility?

I am reminded of the problems encountered by my local authority, Westminster city council, where there was a marked increase in homelessness following EU enlargement in 2004 and 2008. It had terrible difficulty extracting additional funds from the Home Office to deal with the localised effects of a national policy. As a quick aside, I secured a debate here some four years ago and the Home Office—at that juncture we had a Labour Government—mysteriously arrived an hour before the debate with cheque in hand. I accept that these things can happen—

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I hope it happens again.

Mr Field: That is wishful thinking. It would probably have to be the right hon. Gentleman making the speech.

In a similar way, the matter of trafficked children is probably bearing more heavily on certain local authorities. For example, I imagine that the London boroughs of Hillingdon and Hounslow take a great number of the children that come through Heathrow. If the guardianship role is to be taken on by local authorities, will the Minister assure hon. Members that, if there is evidence of certain areas being badly affected, those local authorities will be adequately funded and not be forced to choose which of the competing aspects of child protection to fund?

I have referred to the Government’s commitment to making human trafficking a coalition priority, but there is concern that the slipping time scale for producing a robust anti-trafficking strategy is pushing some of the best experts away. The Minister may have seen a report by Mark Townsend in The Guardian this weekend on the loss of key UK staff in this area—it is an excellent piece. A former police officer, one of the most senior figures involved in investigating trafficking, reportedly stated that one of his greatest concerns is the lack of continuity in the Home Office team. Mr Townsend also highlighted concerns that the inter-ministerial group on trafficking has met only once. I would appreciate hearing the Minister’s response to these specific criticisms.

Does the Minister believe that an independent rapporteur to track our progress on tackling trafficking—such an appointment was suggested last Monday by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone)—might prove useful in reassuring those who criticise the Government by introducing a genuine sense of accountability?

In last October’s Westminster Hall debate, it was suggested that we should have a Pentameter 3, Pentameters 1 and 2 being two police operations to raid brothels, massage parlous and private homes where trafficking was suspected. The idea is that Pentameter 3 would send out the message that we are and continue to be tough on traffickers. The fact has been highlighted that

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precious few operational police units specifically target trafficking. I appreciate that those matters are essentially operational police matters, but I wonder whether the Home Office has had discussions with the police teams.

Yet more issues could be covered today, such as the role of the Crown Prosecution Service, the responsibilities of local authorities and details of how the UKHTC operates. Unfortunately I do not have time to touch on them, as others wish to speak.

Without being able to assess accurately the extent of the problem, I accept that it is difficult for any Government to be sure of the level and type of resources that are best suited to tackling it. It is all too easy to ignore trafficking. In short, if we do not go looking for the victims, we can too easily pretend that they are not there. When money is tight, the problem can only get worse. I sincerely hope that today’s debate will give some small voice to that forgotten group of the most vulnerable in our midst, and that it will provide the Government with an opportunity to reassert their commitment to rooting out this most despicable ill.

9.58 am

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) on securing this debate and on making an excellent speech. I should make it clear at the start that I consider this an all-party matter, but the fact that it is an all-party campaign does not mean we should let the Government off the hook.

I have been enjoying reading the Foreign Secretary’s biography of William Wilberforce. There are some parallels. Wilberforce started his campaign to eradicate slave trafficking in the late 1780s. It took a long 20 years—with ups and downs such as fighting a little war against Napoleon, and having to divert money to other causes—before the legislation came into effect, and a number of decades passed before other countries followed suit.

We are at the start of a long campaign, and certain fundamental issues must be addressed. I invite the Minister, who has a wholly responsible approach to this matter, to reread his speech to the House of Commons in 2008 in which he made a powerful plea for guardianship, an increase in resources to the Human Trafficking Centre, and more joined-up work between local authorities and the police—all the points that were made by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. It was a compelling speech in which he attacked and criticised my right hon. and hon. Friends who were then in the Home Office.

Sadly, the Minister is now in the position of having to resile, deny and turn back almost everything that he called for at the time. We have shut down the UK Human Trafficking Centre. Pentameter is no more, and we will not appoint a guardian. After six months of campaigning—I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) for that—we have signed up to the EU directive, but without the core element in it of a rapporteur. However, we cannot sign up to a directive without finding the resources to give effect to it. Moreover, it requires us to work collaboratively across the European Union. There again, for good or ill, we have a Government who prefer not to work collaboratively to build a stronger EU and stronger cross-border policing and judicial procedure.

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The hon. Member for Derry—[Interruption.] Forgive me—given my particular Irish descendancy, I cannot easily stick “London” in front of “Derry”. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) said that we must be robust with the new EU member states and any others that may be trafficking people into this country. I agree with him, but is not the real robustness that we need on the demand side? These women—girls, children even—are here only because honest British men think that if they put down £20, £30 or £50, they have a God-given right to the use of a woman to put their penis into at will. I am sorry to use such strong language, but we must face up to the fact that unless we tackle demand, the supply will continue to increase, and all the words that the Minister will say—I do not for a second doubt his sincerity and I understand that he is working within terrible financial constraints—will come to nought and we will be having this debate next year and the year after that.

We have laws. Without opposition from the Minister, who was in his shadow post at the time, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and other former Ministers changed the law to say that it is a crime to pay for sex with any person who may have been coerced or forced to work as a prostituted woman. To my knowledge, and I stand to be corrected, there has not yet been one single arrest, prosecution or conviction using that new law. The police have the ability to go into massage parlours and brothels—they are not that hard to find; a couple of phone calls and they can find where to go—and challenge the men and put them in front of magistrates courts. Those men should be named and shamed. It is not just a certain French gentleman in New York who should attract all the attention—and yes, I know that he is innocent until proved otherwise. There are hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of British men who are clients of this trade. They are providing the demand and the money. The police must be asked why they have not used their powers.

I regret the shutdown of the different police agencies dedicated to trafficking and their absorption within the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which is to face a further dilution. The police are there with every energy in the world to tackle driving offences and to find out how many points somebody has or has not got on their licence, and to take part in other worthy investigations. None the less, the language of Government should be the choice of priorities. I put it to my colleagues here and to the Minister—not in a critical way—that the police have not focused hard enough on this matter. We do not know the figures and I do not want to enter into the figures debate. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster cited some that were available, but as he acknowledged, they have been widely criticised by other expert groups. We could have a row on figures, but suffice it to say that we are talking about a substantial number; it is not just one or two people, as this odd organisation the English Collective of Prostitutes claims, with occasional support from journalists as well.

We need a rapporteur. Appointing an individual and giving them a task to achieve can change policy. We need to have a guardian for each child taken into care. I can produce the figures on the children who disappear from care. Children are put into care in Hillingdon, from Heathrow; their traffickers come round, and out they go through the door—obviously we cannot lock up a child—to work as sex slaves.

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Moreover, we must change the culture of making the victims of trafficking into associate criminals. The approach of the Home Office and the UK Border Agency is to catch and deport. The figures can then be produced. It happened under Labour because of the mass hysteria from some organisations and the right-wing press. Almost any foreigner in Britain was unwelcome; it was said that there were too many of them. We have this tick-box culture of wanting to report the numbers that have been deported. Of course, women are the most vulnerable; they are easy to catch and deport.

Margot James: The right hon. Gentleman makes some good points about how the system treats children. Is it not a scandal that according to ECPAT, children are more likely to be convicted of offences—often they are forced through their trafficked status to commit offences such as growing cannabis—than the perpetrators themselves?

Mr MacShane: It is a scandal, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. This question of criminalising the victims is one that should shame us. I know that it is hard because everybody loves to kick the immigrant, the asylum seeker, the economic migrant and the person here without papers, and they are easily victimised. We even had the noble Lord Glasman saying in Progress Magazine that Labour lied about immigration. He is a Labour lord accusing the Labour Government of telling lies. We may have got some things wrong, but he was expressing the notion that Ministers had lied. That was the language of the election and it is a culture that we need to change.

In his 2008 speech, the Minister eulogised the work of Eaves and its POPPY project, which was a standard-bearer and a model. The Conservative party was right behind it and called on the Government of the day to give it more resources. I am now extremely distressed to find that Eaves is being shut down and its money handed over to a religious organisation that has its proselytising and evangelising duties. I have worked closely with many church charities, so I am not condemning it. None the less, we now have a mono-religious organisation, the Salvation Army, being told that it must be in charge of women from different cultures and different faith backgrounds. I am not criticising the Sally Army for one second; it is a great outfit. However, it is not appropriate for it to replace the Eaves organisation and its POPPY project.

The Salvation Army wrote to MPs—I do not know if it wrote to all MPs or just those who are interested in combating human trafficking—to say that it is now going to transfer hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds to an outfit called STOP UK. I have tried to find out about STOP UK. It has a website, but that is all. It has no publications and there is no board of directors. It has a chief executive whom I think works in the Serious Organised Crime Agency. One of the big problems with victims of human trafficking is that they need to be dissociated from potential police and criminal investigations for being prostituted women. STOP UK has a couple of people with mobile phones, and I tried to call them. It has an office somewhere in south London. I do not doubt the sincerity of the outfit, but it is almost

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virtual and the Government, having shut down the support for Eaves and the POPPY Project, are now potentially giving it hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds. I put it to the Minister gently—I respect him—that that is opening the way for a scandal further down the line.

I also worry that the National Register of Unaccompanied Children, which was set up in 2004, has been shut down. Why? We have still got children leaving care—in Rotherham, Hillingdon, London and elsewhere—and we also have the problem of unaccompanied minors coming into the UK. My view is that no airline should be allowed to fly somebody under the age of 14, possibly even under 16, if they are unaccompanied. There is also the problem of St Pancras. We had the remarkably complacent answers in the Lords from the noble Earl Attlee, saying, “Oh, there’s no problem, they’re all checked when they get on the train and go through passport control in Paris or Brussels.” For heaven’s sake: any of us who have gone through the maelstrom of getting people on to the Eurostar train as quickly as possible know that the notion that the hard-working officials in Paris or Brussels—I do not criticise them—are spotting potentially trafficked children is ludicrous. It is exactly that complacency that is the problem.

I will finish there, as other colleagues want to speak. There are other points that I want to make, but I think there will be further debates on this issue. My sense is that the House of Commons is seized of this issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone)—I call him my hon. Friend and my colleague—is not here in Westminster Hall today, but he is one of my heroes because he is working so hard on this issue, as did Anthony Steen. Indeed, Anthony Steen is still continuing his work on combating human trafficking. I have visited his offices down at Puddle Dock, and I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster for helping to arrange those very good facilities there.

I put it to the Minister that the debate on this issue will continue, and I invite him to make a name for himself on it. I also invite him to read the Foreign Secretary’s biography of Wilberforce, and to try to put himself in the shoes of that great Yorkshire MP at the end of the 18th century. Everybody, independently of party affiliation, will appreciate it if there is substantial change on human trafficking on this Government’s watch. However, as is apparent from the points I have made, I am concerned that we are going backwards, not forwards, on this issue.

10.13 am

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Crausby, for calling me. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I want to start by applauding the work of Members—current and former—from all parties in this House who have championed the fight against human trafficking. I was elected just over a year ago, and there have been many opportunities since then to debate this issue and to raise concerns with the Minister responsible for dealing with it.

As was outlined by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) in his excellent opening speech, the slave trade was abolished in our country 200 years ago, but another form of slavery has

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emerged since then. It is a more clandestine and underground form, but it is just as insidious and brutal. Unfortunately, it is also pervasive in modern Britain.

Thousands of vulnerable people, mostly women and children, are being trafficked into our country this year. As the hon. Gentleman said, we do not have a grip on the figures for the number of people involved. Nevertheless, behind the figures are real lives. Tragically, many of these women and children come to the UK on the promise of a better life, only to find on arrival that they are imprisoned and forced into slave labour or prostitution. The criminal gangs and pimps who trade these women consider them to be like second-hand cars—like a commodity. According to some estimates, each sex trafficker earns an average of £500 to £1,000 per woman per week. It is the most unimaginable treatment of one human being by another, that they should think of people and treat them in this way.

The Observer recently highlighted the case of a 17-year-old woman, Marinela Badea, who was abducted from Romania, trafficked to Britain and forced into prostitution. She was repeatedly raped, violently abused and held captive. Her experience is indicative of what happens to thousands of trafficked women in our country and across the developed world. It is a great victory that her traffickers are now serving the longest sentence for human trafficking ever imposed in British history, but it is extremely rare for the perpetrators of this horrible and hateful crime to be caught and brought to justice. Prosecution rates are pitifully low, and proactive policing operations to root out trafficking, such as brothel raids, are apparently being scaled down.

Like other Members, in all parties, I am concerned that the Home Office is not doing enough to tackle this most egregious human rights abuse. The new anti-human trafficking strategy, which was promised earlier this year, is late. Can the Minister explain why there has been a delay, and say when we are likely to see it? I echo the comments of Members from all parties: the words in that strategy and in the new EU directive on human trafficking, which the Government have finally opted into, are welcome. However, it is the actions taken because of those words that count, and by which we need to judge them.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster made such an excellent opening speech that I fear I might repeat some of the points he made. Nevertheless, I want to echo what he said about the concern, expressed in recent reports, that key specialists in this field have left the Home Office human trafficking team. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is real concern at the lack of continuity among the staff taking on this important issue. Moreover, the inter-ministerial group on human trafficking has met only once since the election of the present Government. What does that say about this Government’s resolve and seriousness regarding human trafficking?

There is also evidence to suggest that many victims escape their traffickers but are then classified as “illegal immigrants”—a problem outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane). We must ensure that that does not happen. Can the Minister reassure the House that something is being done to ensure that victims are properly identified and treated as such, rather than being put down as “illegal

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immigrants” when they are in fact brought here, often against their will, and forced into the most horrendous type of work?

I want to say more about the protection of victims, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham also mentioned. I am deeply concerned that the POPPY project’s funding has been withdrawn and given to another organisation that I am not sure has the project’s specialism and experience in helping the victims of trafficking. Human trafficking is a hugely complex issue, and it is sometimes very difficult even to help these women talk about their experiences, because they have been so violently abused. I worry about the rationale for withdrawing the funding for the POPPY project. Can the Minister explain why the funding was stopped for that organisation, which has great expertise in this field?

I turn to the Olympics. International sporting events are a magnet for pimps and traffickers—that is the evidence from elsewhere in the world when there have been Olympics or World cups. Can the Minister say what measures the Government are taking to ensure that the rise in demand for prostitution as a result of London’s hosting the Olympics next year—and, therefore, the rise in human trafficking that will also unfortunately happen—will be dealt with? Have the Government considered whether they could work with hotels and, if so, how? Hotels often turn a blind eye to prostitution, and the Government could raise their awareness of the fact that many women in prostitution have been brought across borders and forced into it.

Now, 200 years after the abolition of the slave trade, this Government and future Governments have a great responsibility to root out this modern, pervasive form of slavery. I would like reassurance from the Minister that the Home Office and the wider Government are taking the matter seriously enough.

10.20 am

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I compliment the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) on his excellent analysis of the issues, particularly of prostitution, and of the scale of the problems we face in dealing with what is a very well organised, multinational business in the criminal fraternity. Sometimes that business has technologies way beyond those available to even the forces of Government.

No community is untouched by the problem. Small, peripheral communities on the edges of cities are very attractive to people who are trafficking and setting up brothels. It is amazing where brothels pop up, and how ill-equipped the police are to distinguish between communal living by immigrant workers and the very common phenomenon of people being used for sexual exploitation—people who go into the cities in the evenings to ply their trade and come back to live in houses of multiple occupation.

The debate is about not just prostitution but all types of human trafficking, and I will make my speech in that context. The question for me, and for the Minister, is: are the Government equipped to carry out the responsibilities that they are about to take on by opting into the human trafficking directive and signing up to

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the directive on sexual exploitation and abuse of children? There are very serious concerns about that. In a debate in the House on 9 May, the Minister said:

“We are confident that the UK is compliant with those measures.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 977.]

He was talking particularly about measures to do with trafficked children, and I want to challenge him on that statement. I do not believe that the UK, using local authorities under the present arrangements, is equipped to deal with the problem of the trafficking of children, many of whom are trafficked for other reasons but many of whom, sadly, are trafficked for sexual exploitation of various kinds.

I refer Members to the article in The Sunday Times of 3 April 2011 about a woman who was multiple-trafficked—three or four times—in and out of the UK and back to her home country. She was treated as a criminal and not as a victim, and that also happens with children. On Sunday 15 May 2011, The Observer highlighted something that we have been aware of in the all-party group on human trafficking: the collapse of the Home Office structure to focus on human trafficking. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster talked about the specialist police force, which has been absorbed—some say swamped—due to the changes that the Home Office is making.

The all-party group had a meeting last week, during which we were supposed to be addressed by the director who was setting up the response from the Home Office and the UK Border Agency, but we received an apology saying that he had been sacked seven weeks previously as part of the cuts in the Home Office. So the person who is organising the team has gone, and the people who are supposed to be in it have gone. Where are the Government travelling? They are travelling in one direction, because of political pressure, into the EU directives, but in the other direction they seem to be stripping away the very facilities we require, and that troubles me.

ECPAT UK is very keen on having formal guardianship that is not just a local authority’s social work department being given charge of young people and putting them into what Barnardo’s referred to, when it spoke to the all-party group two or three weeks ago, as “just bed and breakfasts”. The young people are not supervised, and many of them run away and are picked up and trafficked into some other environment.

There is a huge ring in the Chinese community. Respectable Chinese businessmen that we meet in our business community meetings often use people who have been trafficked from mainland China, and do not pay them. One man, who came to see me after a speech, had been trafficked out of mainland China 11 and a half years previously. He lives in communal housing. He has been moved all over the UK and now lives in a house in Armadale in my constituency—now that I have said “Armadale”, he will probably be whisked away somewhere else. He does not receive wages; he is told that he is still paying back the cost of his trafficking. There are thousands like him: every time one of my local restaurants is raided, trafficked people are found. The industry is massive, and we are not equipped to deal with it with the facilities that we have.

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Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes a compelling argument for the Government looking seriously at the issue of a formal guardianship programme for children.

Some of the statistics have worried me. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the 2007 ECPAT UK report that found that of 80 children trafficked over an 18-month period 56% had gone missing from the north-east, the north-west and the west midlands. That shows the scale of the problem, and although the report is from 2007 I do not believe that things have improved much since. A 2009 Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—CEOP—report identified 325 potential victims, 23% of whom have gone missing without trace. It is unacceptable to carry on with that situation.

Michael Connarty: If we had the facilities and the teams, those statistics would pop up in any region in the UK. Voluntary organisations that are in touch with such people, but are not formally responsible for them, can give a large number of worrying figures.

ECPAT UK points out that children from China, Vietnam and Nigeria are consistently ranked highest in CEOP national referral mechanism statistics, but there have been no trafficking convictions of people who traffic child victims from any of those countries, and there are no specialist child trafficking police units left. More trafficked children have been convicted by the courts for cannabis-related and other offences than have child traffickers for trafficking, as the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) said earlier. CEOP, the only Government agency to produce reports on child trafficking, has disbanded its child trafficking unit, and the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre has never published any reports on child trafficking. The Government say that they are going to go in and match the best in the EU, if not the world, but they are ill-equipped to do so.

I wish to refer in more detail to something I have mentioned a few times in debates: the report of Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People. Despite being a commissioner in Scotland, the commissioner is part of the UK structure. I hope that the Minister has read the April 2011 report, because it has recommendations for the UK Government. It expresses deep concerns about having multiple responsibilities in the UK Border Agency, and states that with guardianship there is conflict regarding the responsibilities of local authorities.

The report recommends that the UK Government should have a rapporteur and go and look at other European countries that have such people to look at Governments’ performance and oversee whether they are just all talk and no action. It also recommends a guardianship scheme, and clearly refers to the overarching responsibility that we have because we signed up to the Council of Europe convention on sexual abuse and exploitation of children. We have, however, not ratified that convention, and can therefore avoid doing anything. We have put a signature on paper, but have not followed it up with resources.

I hope that many of the report’s recommendations will be considered, including that for an independent rapporteur on trafficking. The report also suggests that the Government should consider the values of the guardianship scheme being run as a pilot by the Scottish Refugee Council and the Aberlour Child Care Trust

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and seek a guardianship that satisfies ECPAT’s expectations without necessarily being as burdensome as the Government think it will be.

Apart from words on paper, will the Minister give us some examples of why the Government believe that they are capable of dealing with child trafficking and some indication that we can train police forces to see it not as an extra but as fundamental to their duties? They must see trafficked children as victims—I mean children up to the age of 18, not just children of four or five, or as young as Baby P—and treat them as victims, which means looking after them properly.

10.30 am

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): As is usual on this subject, we have had an excellent debate with a great deal of consensus among Members of all parties. I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) for bringing this subject before the House once again. As he pointed out, it was an accident that we discussed it only last week, but it is often helpful for Members of Parliament to be able to follow up on a previous debate. Some issues in the last debate were not resolved, and I hope that when the Minister responds, we will hear some of the answers that have been re-requested during this debate.

I welcomed the hon. Gentleman’s call for a multi-agency, one-stop approach. I agree that we need a strategy: not just broad aims, but specific commitments. In order to deliver that as the House and society would want, we need a rapporteur of sufficient independence for everyone to have confidence in the information that they produce. I welcome all those aspects of his remarks.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) reminded us that to tackle trafficking, we must have an effective strategy for driving down demand for the products of trafficking. I was concerned to hear his remarks about STOP UK, and I hope that the Minister will deal with that in his response.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) reminded us that the women and children involved in trafficking are treated as commodities, like used cars. It is not enough for us to say the right words across parties; we need action to tackle the problem, and specifically action to prevent the threat from coming to London along with the Olympics in a year’s time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) remarked on the Home Office’s problems in managing the process and advised us of the opportunity to consider whether what Scotland is doing on child guardianship can provide models or lessons for the rest of the United Kingdom.

In my view, we are a little complacent about our quality of victim care. I was rather shocked to read a research report by the London School of Economics and the university of Goettingen suggesting that the United Kingdom was less effective than Albania at tackling human trafficking. The reason why the report came to that conclusion involved our treatment of victims. Most of the study was done while the POPPY project, which we all admire, was providing victim services, but the researchers felt that the UK habit of convicting the victims of trafficking—we have heard about children being convicted of cannabis cultivation,

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for example—means that the quality of our trafficking strategy is less good than that of many countries that we would expect to outperform.

Mr MacShane: My hon. Friend mentioned the London School of Economics. Is she aware of its feminist political theory course, taught by Professor Anne Phillips? In week 8 of the course, students study prostitution. The briefing says:

“If we consider it legitimate for women to hire themselves out as low-paid and often badly treated cleaners, why is it not also legitimate for them to hire themselves out as prostitutes?”

If a professor at the London School of Economics cannot make the distinction between a cleaning woman and a prostituted woman, we are filling the minds of our young students with the most poisonous drivel.

Fiona Mactaggart: I share my right hon. Friend’s view about those attitudes. I hope that the LSE provides sufficient contest to Professor Phillips’s frankly nauseating views on that issue.

To return to victim care, one of my absolute concerns is that victims should be supported to be identified as victims. I am anxious that the national referral mechanism requires a referral, through a multi-tick-box questionnaire, by an appropriate authority, does not accept all attempts at referral and does not always make good decisions. During our recent debate, I asked the Minister whether he would ensure that the new victim care organisations—the Salvation Army and its subcontractors—were supported in challenging decisions under the national referral mechanism if victims were not initially identified as such, and that they were funded to support those people. The experience of the POPPY project is that many trafficked victims were not originally given reasonable-grounds decisions or conclusive decisions on their trafficking status.

The Minister reminded me that

“support providers are asked to, and helped to, provide information about victims’ experiences and circumstances to the competent authority precisely to ensure that the correct NRM decision is reached”.—[Official Report, 9 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 994.]

I hoped, in the cut and thrust of debate, that that was a positive answer, but my view on reflection is that it is not. I would like a specific commitment from him today that if an organisation supporting a victim helps that victim challenge a decision by the NRM, it will be funded to support the victim. One of the tasks of such organisations, if they believe professionally that someone is a victim of trafficking, is to advocate on their behalf with the competent authorities. I hope that he can give us that assurance.

In addition, I am concerned, as are other hon. Members, about the transparency of the process. The Serious Organised Crime Agency has not produced an annual report since Jacqui Smith was Home Secretary. We do not have any compelling data about decisions under the NRM or enforcement actions taken by police. One reason for calling for a rapporteur is to ensure that such data exist.

The Minister suggested that the role of rapporteur could properly be fulfilled by the inter-ministerial group, the NRM and the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre. At the moment, that is not happening. Will he make a commitment during this debate to a specific mechanism for ensuring transparency? Unless we have

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a formal rapporteur charged with providing that transparency, we cannot properly interrogate what the Government are doing.

A specific example is the disappearance of children from care, which Members have mentioned. If we believe that local authorities are providing adequate guardianship services, can we please have a national study of how many trafficked children are in local authority care and of which local authorities lose children and how many, and a report to Parliament on how those issues are handled?

The Minister makes a reasonable point when he says that it is possible for the directive’s guardianship requirements to be fulfilled by local authority responsibilities. I think that that could be possible. I am not saying that his decision to do that is mere penny-pinching—although it obviously is, partly because of pressure on funds—but it cannot be done under the present arrangement, because so many local authorities are, frankly, incompetent in this area. We do not know how many are involved or which ones are making good progress. I hope that the Minister will commit to that, because without that kind of transparency, any claim to fulfil a rapporteur-type function is unfounded.

My final concern relates to the role of the police. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned how Vic Hogg was invited to address the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children, but did not turn up because apparently, at the last moment, he did not have a job. I have spoken to representatives from civil society organisations involved in this field. They feel that meetings with the Home Office to discuss the strategy have been frustrating, disorganised and unclear.

I do not believe that the Minister wants a disorganised and unclear strategy—I am not accusing him of a deliberate policy. Nor do I believe that he wants to exclude those excellent organisations—ECPAT UK, the POPPY Project, the Salvation Army, the Medaille Trust and so on—from contributing to the strategy. I am concerned, however, that there is a real risk, because the former strategy was extremely specific and connected police operations, which have been the most powerful way of discovering the extent of trafficking.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster has pointed out how the research is not very good, because the subject is an illegal activity. Actions by the police have been more effective. They have illustrated more powerfully the range of trafficking and where it is to be found, and have led to some successful prosecutions. I am concerned that, at present, we do not have any nationally directed operations, and that the consequence of that will be that we will lose expertise among the police.

I hope that the Minister can reassure us that, even if the Home Office does not wish, at present, to direct police forces to mount those kinds of national operations, it will support and enable them to do so. Without Operation Golf, the excessive trafficking of children from the town of Tandarei in Romania, many of whom were trafficked into my constituency, and the grotesque profits made by criminals in that town, would have continued unabated.

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Strategic national interventions that are properly directed can protect people more effectively than a strategy and the warm words that we are able to produce in this Chamber. I believe that we are all on the same side, but we need a strategy to ensure that the shared ambition to eradicate this modern form of slavery actually works in practice.

10.43 am

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) on securing this debate, which, interestingly, follows a previous debate on this issue. I should point out that it was not an accident that the Government called that previous debate, because I made a commitment that we should have proper scrutiny when we decided to opt in to the European directive.

This is a matter of undeniable significance to both Houses. Many thoughtful points have been raised today, along with one or two slightly less thoughtful ones. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to Anthony Steen—it has become almost compulsory and certainly de rigueur to pay tribute to him in debates such as these—for all his work. I also thank the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who speaks for the Labour party, for her extremely constructive and thoughtful contribution. She and I disagree about individual details, but what she said at the end of her speech is exactly right. We all need to be—indeed, we all are—fundamentally on the same side on this issue. We are discussing how best to eradicate trafficking as much as possible. My hon. Friend said in his introductory remarks that it is much better to conduct this debate in terms that are not hysterical, which, as we progress, will be important not only for our debates in this House, bur for debates among wider groups that are concerned about the issue.

A wide range of issues have been raised this morning. Members have reflected on the complex nature of tackling human trafficking. Many have acknowledged the challenges inherent in tackling this appalling crime. Britain has a good record, under Governments of all hues, of tackling it, and this Government intend for that to continue. I am, however, happy to acknowledge that we can always improve. Indeed, it is striking that, while many Members have paid tribute, as do I, to the work of the POPPY Project, the hon. Member for Slough produced a report that says that Britain is doing worse on victim care than Albania. I think that that point was designed to gain an effect rather than to offer a truthful analysis of what is going on, but it illustrates the complexities and difficulties.

The Government are rising to the challenge of developing more sophisticated ways of tackling traffickers in the changing landscape of organised crime, while continuing, of course, to care for the victims of this trade in human misery. I listened eagerly to many of the contributions. It is clear that the subject of trafficking is close to the hearts of many Members. I acknowledge the point that our work should be transparent and responsive to criticism, when that criticism is well founded.

Mr Field: Does the Minister accept that one of the key problems that we all face in our efforts to raise the profile of this issue is that, to be brutally frank, there are no votes in it? All too often, some of the people who suffer most are regarded by many of our constituents as

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a troublesome problem. It is, therefore, all the more important that we utilise this opportunity. I hope that the Minister does not see politics as a platform for his views and that he can try to do something fairly constructive. I hope that he will keep that in mind as he continues his speech.

Damian Green: My hon. Friend has made a good point. This is not an issue that tends to gain huge headlines or create partisan politics, and nor should it. This is, therefore, an opportunity for Ministers and Governments simply to seek to do the right thing by some very vulnerable people.

Let me move on rapidly to address all the individual points that have been made by my hon. Friend and others. I reassure him that the work that was done by the UK Human Trafficking Centre will continue unaffected. The UKHTC plays an important role in our overall efforts to combat trafficking, and the Government are committed to ensuring its continued success. When it became part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, much work was done to ensure that the UKHTC retained its unique role, character and identity. That includes its focus on victim care and its competent authority role in identifying victims as part of the national referral mechanism. Merging the UKHTC into the national crime agency will not affect its important work or change its focus in any way. Specifically, as part of the NCA, the UKHTC will benefit from being able to draw on the resources and intelligence of the wider organisation, while retaining its focus.

During the debate, it struck me that two contradictory demands were often made in the same speech: first, that we need to work much better across different parts of the police, between police forces and between the police and different agencies; and, secondly, that specialist units should be set up. There is clearly a tension between those two entirely legitimate demands. I am sure that hon. Members from all parties recognise that.

Michael Connarty: The Scottish commissioner identified that dealing with trafficking is seen as additional work within police forces. If specialist organisations are absorbed inside larger police forces, dealing with the matter will clearly become a marginal activity, particularly for those forces that are currently being slashed and are losing 20% of their resources.

Damian Green: That is precisely why it needs to become a mainstream activity, which is what the strategy is designed to achieve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster has referred to the national referral mechanism, as have other hon. Members. The NRM is a framework designed to make it easier for agencies—the police, the UK Border Agency, local authorities and non-governmental organisations—involved in a trafficking case to co-operate, to share information about potential victims and to facilitate their access to support. The framework is designed precisely to achieve the kind of coherence that we are seeking.

The expert decision makers—the competent authorities—are based in the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre and the UK Border Agency, and we are committed to ensuring that there are multi-agency working arrangements in both. I recognise that victim

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identification is an area that can always be improved, and the NRM was set up by the previous Government for that purpose. In the first 21 months of its operation, more than 1,250 potential trafficking cases were referred to the NRM by a range of front-line agencies, and our expert decision makers went on to grant a period of reflection and recovery in 65% of the cases decided. We remain committed to working with partners to ensure that our arrangements for identifying and protecting victims constantly improve.

My hon. Friend recommended having a one-stop shop to gather intelligence and care for victims. I will obviously think about that but, at the moment, the strategy has been to draw on the expertise of anti-trafficking groups to develop a support system that offers victims a more diverse range of services and enables more providers to support victims of this crime. That has been the basis of the approach up to now. The new victim care arrangements, which have been referred to, will mean that the Salvation Army is responsible for the co-ordination and contracting of victim care and will ensure that all identified victims receive support based on their individual needs. Those arrangements continue to be in line with the standards set out in the Council of Europe convention.

It is important to bear in mind that victims must not be compelled to share information with the police in order to access support services. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) has referred to the POPPY project. I reassure her that money has not been taken away. A new contract is being let and we are having a different model. Rather than one provider doing everything, the Salvation Army will act as a gateway to other providers, so that a wider range of expertise is available.

Emma Reynolds: Is it not the case that the resources available for that contract are much reduced compared with what was given to the POPPY project?

Damian Green: Straightforwardly, no. That is simply not the case. It is one of the areas that has been protected. While I am talking about the Salvation Army, I strongly reject the comments about that organisation made by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane). As he knows, I agree with many of the things that he said, but his attack on the Salvation Army was deplorable. He seemed to suggest that a faith-based organisation could not deal adequately with victims of other faiths or of no faith. That is a disgraceful thing to say. If he is saying that a Christian-based organisation is not capable of fulfilling such a role, that is anti-Christian bigotry and he really should be ashamed of himself.

Mr MacShane: For heaven’s sake! The Minister is rather spoiling a good debate. I am appalled at the bigotry against the Eaves organisation—the POPPY project. Yes, I do believe that an organisation based on women is best suited to help trafficked women from different faiths. That was my point. I said on the record that I have nothing but praise and respect for the Salvation Army. It is the decision to remove the money from Eaves and the POPPY project that is deplorable.

Damian Green: When he reads the record, the right hon. Gentleman will wish to reflect on what he actually said about the Salvation Army.

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The separation between sharing information with the police and access to services is important in ensuring that victims can reflect and recover, and to engage with law enforcement if and when they feel safe enough to do so. The strength of our approach to tackling human trafficking lies in its diversity and in having the UKHTC as our repository for collecting data and the NRM to draw together all those who may be involved in a trafficking case to make the right decisions on victim status. However, I recognise the importance of ease of access to the information that is available to victims of trafficking on how to report their experiences, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned. In that regard, my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster recommended having a website for all the relevant information. I suggest that, given the situation in which many victims find themselves, access to a website may not be the most useful solution. Victims of forced prostitution might be locked in basements and will not have access to any basic services, let alone the internet.

In response to my hon. Friend’s points about the Metropolitan police’s human trafficking unit, the previous Government decided to discontinue that funding, which was provided on a time-limited basis, because they believed that trafficking work should be mainstreamed into the Metropolitan Police Service budget, as it is core police business. The team’s expertise was therefore not lost and reorganisation ensured that it retained its capability to support victims and mount investigations against trafficking.

I agree with my hon. Friend in congratulating the team that runs Operation Paladin, which acts as a point of expertise and guidance for all UKBA officers and Metropolitan police officers. It is important to note that although Paladin is a Met-UKBA joint operation, advice is not only restricted to the ports in London. Paladin offers an advisory service and routinely offers support to officers outside the London area. A specific point has been made about St Pancras. Of course, all passengers arriving at St Pancras have been cleared for immigration purposes at juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium.

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If there is any suspicion that a child arriving at St Pancras is at risk, UKBA will refer to the appropriate authorities. Specifically, Operation Paladin’s coverage extends to St Pancras.

Michael Connarty: Will the Minister give way?

Damian Green: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I have many points to respond to that were made in the debate.

The issue of re-trafficking has been discussed. That is precisely why, as a key part of our new strategy, we will be working much more in the source countries—the sending countries. I am sure that we all accept that prevention is better than cure. That has been lacking, and it is something that we will address in the new strategy. Much criticism has been based on the lack of provision of information across agencies, and another key part of the new strategy will be to improve our performance in putting information around the system.

The right hon. Member for Rotherham has mentioned STOP UK, which is indeed one of the organisations that will be part of the Salvation Army’s supply chain. It has satisfied the procurement requirements so far but, obviously, I will take what he has to say seriously. The hon. Member for Slough asked about NRM decisions and support providers. As I have said, support providers advocate for victims in the provision of care and ensure that competent authorities receive the information that they need to make the right decision. Although there is no appeal system for the NRM, the decisions can be judicially reviewed.

Let me move on to child guardians and the national rapporteur. I know that hon. Members found the previous debate useful. We will, of course, be applying to the European Commission to opt into the directive. The directive contains a number of important provisions on the issue of child guardians. Local authorities already have a statutory duty to ensure that they safeguard and promote the welfare of children. So it is not, as some hon. Members have suggested, an additional burden on them. Can local authorities do it better? Absolutely. I have no doubt that some of them can and should do so.

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11 am

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I have never been in this situation before, so I hope that you will treat me gently in the course of the next half an hour.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise this important issue in Westminster Hall. Stillbirth is a sensitive, painful subject that has a lasting effect on thousands of people each year, and I am not convinced that enough is being done to support the families of stillborn children. I am concerned that the UK seems to be failing to reduce the number of stillbirths that we have each year.

A few years ago, a couple who are good friends of mine were joyfully awaiting the birth of their second child. The mother had what can only be described as a normal pregnancy. When the baby was full term, she had some intense pain in her stomach and decided that it would be wise to head to the hospital. Rather than being admitted, she was sent home. When she returned a day or so later, she was told that the baby she had been carrying had died.

Who knows what might have been different, had the circumstances a day or so previously been different? That is not the point of this debate, but what happened then made up my mind that, should I ever be elected to this place, I would do my best to ensure that, in future, no parents would have to suffer the same fate as my friends. Unfortunately, due to staffing problems, the couple were sent home on that day, with the deceased baby still inside the mother. They were asked to return after the weekend for the delivery of their son.

Clearly, that is not an acceptable or humane way to treat someone who has received the worst of all news. It was, and still is, impossible for any of us here to know or have the slightest clue about what my friends were feeling at that time, and what so many parents like them go through each day. It is not a small number of families who go through this. Recent research shows that 11 babies are stillborn every day in the United Kingdom, averaging out as one in every 200 babies born, or 4,100 babies a year.

Some parents I have spoken to have had only the nicest things to say about how they were treated following the stillbirth of their child. Others have stories that are not so good, which is why I have been trying to secure this debate for months. I want to impress on the Minister, whom I know is very sympathetic, the need to help spread best practice across the health service when it comes to stillbirth. Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, has developed comprehensive guidelines for professionals. However, I am not confident that that best practice is used across the whole of the NHS.

I acknowledge completely that we have come a long way in how we deal with stillbirth. There is a lady in the Public Gallery here today, Angela, who has, alas, experienced some of the worst of what used to happen not so many years ago. She created a group, I Have Rights Too, to help other parents after her baby, Natasha, was born and passed away almost immediately. Born a Catholic, Natasha was denied the last rites, and her parents were not allowed to hold her. At least one of

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her organs was removed without her parents’ knowledge, and she was buried in a mass grave. That is what some would call a legacy case, and I would appreciate it if one of the Minister’s officials helped Angela finally to get the answers she needs as a mother, in order to come to terms with what happened a few years ago.

Some of the things that happened to Natasha no longer happen. The Human Tissue Act 2004, the Human Tissue Authority Codes of Practice (2006), which apply in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006, which applies in Scotland, mean that parental consent is required before any organs are removed from a stillborn baby. In most cases now, funeral arrangements for a stillborn baby are a matter of decision for the parents, or by the relevant health or local authority if the parents are unable to meet the cost. However, public graves for the interment of stillborn and young babies remain to this day in some areas.

Another matter that causes great anxiety to parents who have a stillborn child is certification. Parents I have been in contact with have been very distressed that they cannot legally register the birth of a baby born before 24 weeks who did not breathe or show any signs of life. While I understand that some parents would be distressed at the possibility of having to do that, I wonder whether we could have a more flexible system whereby parents have the choice of a formal birth certificate, a local certificate issued by the hospital or—if they chose it—nothing. In modern society, I believe we have the ability and sensibility to deal with the matter of certification, which is very important to most of the parents I have spoken to, because it is a simple process of formally naming their deceased baby.

Parents should be actively encouraged to see, hold and care for their stillborn child. From all the various examples I have heard, while heartbreaking at the time, it seems to help parents come to terms with their loss much quicker than they would otherwise have done. One of my correspondents on this subject has suggested that where parents do not wish to do that—with the emotions running through them at the time, some parents feel confused and do not know how to deal with these matters—staff should take photos of the baby while it is being washed and dressed, so that, should the parents change their mind at a later date, pictures of their child are available.

Without a doubt, the hardest thing for anyone to do when a family member passes away is to say goodbye. Saying goodbye in these circumstances should be done in the parents’ own time and in their own way, and they really should have expert support to help them decide what is best for them. Leaving the hospital, without the baby the parents expected to be taking home, is a terrible thing for anyone to go through. From what I gather, most maternity units now deal with this in a professional and responsible fashion, and should be commended for the way they handle this circumstance. Invariably, in the weeks after a stillbirth, the parents have to go back to the hospital where their baby was delivered for check-ups and medical tests. Many parents have suggested to me that more consideration should be given to subsequent hospital visits, and that space for those appointments should be made available away from the maternity unit. Quite often, parents have to go back to the place where they have just had such a distressing occurrence.

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I would like to thank Melanie Scott, whose son, Finley, was stillborn, and who received a lot of quality support. She has written a book about her experience, and feels that the support she received allowed her and her family to heal at the time, and to continue to heal. She now helps other families who have had the same experience.

Finally, I would like to come back to the issue of the number of stillbirths that occur each year. As I mentioned earlier, more than 4,100 babies a year are stillborn; that is 11 a day. That number is simply too high. I have been told that approximately 30% of stillbirths remain unexplained, and that various factors play into the deaths of the remaining 70% of those babies. I know that the Minister is concerned that the UK is slipping down the league table. According to a recent study in The Lancet, the UK has one of the worst records for stillbirths, ranking 33rd out of 35 high-income nations. While it is important to acknowledge that all women are vulnerable, we need to work out why the women in our nation may be at a higher risk of stillbirth, and what we can do to change that fact. There are some troubling regional differences in the percentage rates of stillbirth across the UK. How can we explain the 33% difference between the south-west, with the lowest rates, and the east midlands, of which my constituency is a part, which has the highest rates?

I have had discussions with people who point out that in recent years, Britain has become one of the unhealthiest nations in Europe. We are the most obese nation in Europe, and we are the heaviest drinkers. As life expectancy has increased, more British women are waiting until later in life to become first-time mothers. Those could all be contributing factors to the horrid statistic of 11 stillbirths a day.

What research has been done into the reasons behind our high stillbirth rate? Why is there so much regional variation? More than anything, I want the Minister to assure me and the House that the Government have an ongoing commitment to reducing the number of stillborn children throughout the United Kingdom, and that he will do his best to ensure that best practice, which does exist, gets spread through the whole NHS, so that eventually, fewer parents need suffer this terrible fate.

11.10 am

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) on securing this important debate and on the sensitive way in which he commented on a deeply distressing set of circumstances that, sadly, affect far too many families in this country. My hon. Friend has an active interest in this area, with his support both for his constituents who have suffered the tragedy of stillbirth and for the I Have Rights Too campaign, to which he alluded.

My hon. Friend asked for help from Department officials in an individual case. If he is kind enough to contact me with further details, I will be more than happy to ask my officials to look into what could be done to help. I cannot prejudge what might happen—there are too many unknown quantities—but he has my

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assurance that we will see whether there is anything we can do to help. I would certainly like to provide help if that is humanly possible.

For most people, having a baby is the most profound and important event of their lives. It is a time to make plans and look forward to a future with all the joys that having a child can bring. To lose a baby, at birth or shortly afterwards, is devastating for parents and the wider family. Anyone who has been fortunate enough not to have undergone such a tragic circumstance cannot fully appreciate the depth of devastation and despair of such a family; nothing could be worse in family life.

It is important for parents who have lost a baby to receive immediate and ongoing support and information at a time that is appropriate for their needs. Parents might find it helpful to talk to their GP or community midwife who, as well as providing support, can provide advice on the bereavement and counselling services available locally, such as those provided by specialist bereavement-support midwives.

To support the NHS in the provision of such services, in 2008 the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published “Standards for Maternity Care”, which sets out clear standards for the levels of care that should be provided to help patients and families whose baby is stillborn or dies shortly after birth. Comprehensive guidelines for professionals, on “Pregnancy Loss and the Death of a Baby” have been developed by Sands—the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity. For parents, the pregnancy care planner on the NHS Choices website provides information on stillbirth, to complement information provided locally, and signposts other sources of help, including Sands, which I hope individuals find helpful at what is a difficult time.

Forms and certificates are often greatly valued by parents as a way to acknowledge and commemorate the life of their baby. The Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953, as amended, provides for the registration of babies born dead after 24 weeks’ gestation, which is the legal age of viability. A certificate of registration and a certificate for burial or cremation are issued.

Parliament supported a change to the stillbirth definition from “after 28 weeks” to “after 24 weeks” in 1992, given a clear consensus in the medical profession at that time that the age at which a foetus is considered viable should be changed. The medical certificate of stillbirth records the name of the mother and details such as the weight, the estimated duration of pregnancy and when the child died—before labour or during labour—as well as the cause of death and whether a post-mortem has been or might be carried out.

Some parents find it deeply distressing that they cannot legally register the birth of a baby born before 24 weeks, as my hon. Friend mentioned; the definition involves a baby born before 24 weeks who did not breathe or show any signs of life. However, it is important to recognise that some parents would be distressed at the possibility of having to do so. When a baby is born dead before 24 weeks’ gestation, hospitals may issue a local certificate to commemorate the baby’s birth.

The devastating effect of any stillbirth cannot be overestimated, and we recognise the distress that parents might face when having to deal with the further impact of a post-mortem examination. The Human Tissue Act 2004, which applies in England, Wales and Northern

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Ireland, established the Human Tissue Authority to regulate the removal, storage, use and disposal of any body parts, organs and tissue. Consent is the fundamental principle underpinning the Act.

The HTA has issued codes of practice that provide practical guidance and lay down expected standards in relation to activities within its remit, such as the carrying out of a post-mortem examination. The code on post-mortem examination recognises the particular difficulties involved when pregnancy loss or stillbirth has occurred, and emphasises the need for sensitive communication and the provision of further advice and guidance for parents when necessary. That is especially important when the pathology results have implications for future pregnancies.

The funeral arrangements for a stillborn child are a matter for the parents, or for the relevant health or local authority if the parents are unable to meet the costs. Individual local authorities decide what burial facilities to offer, but public graves for the interment of stillborn and young babies remain in some areas. In many cases, sections of the cemeteries may be set aside for the burial of babies, and that can provide some comfort for bereaved parents. Whatever arrangements are made, we expect them to be provided with dignity and sensitivity.

I turn to the UK’s record. My hon. Friend made a number of valid points. He alluded to a recent series on stillbirth in The Lancet, which ranked the UK stillbirth rate 33rd worldwide, below many other high-income countries. Since 1999, there has been a small reduction in the stillbirth rate for England—from 5.3 per 1,000 total births, to 5.2 in 2009. However, over the past 50 years the rate has declined significantly; for example, in 1960 the figure for England and Wales was 19.8.

Historically, there has been a step in the right direction, but I fully understand the validity of my hon. Friend’s point: even if the rate has declined in the past 10 years, the difference is marginal, suggesting that considerable work has still to be done to bring the rate down further and to minimise the number of occasions on which families have such a traumatic experience. The Government want to improve health outcomes, which is a key focus of our NHS reforms. We have made the reduction of perinatal mortality, including stillbirth, an improvement area under domain 1 of the NHS outcomes framework for 2011-12.

What can be done to reduce the risk of stillbirth? First, every unexpected death of a baby should be investigated. The National Patient Safety Agency has published a pro forma for the review of intrapartum-related perinatal deaths, for use by health professionals, and it may also be used for the review of all perinatal deaths. The aim is to find any avoidable factors, to identify any lessons to be learned, and then to develop and disseminate an action plan to deal with issues arising from the information. Secondly, it is imperative that we continue to drive forward improvements in maternity and new-born services, so that all women and their children have access to safe, high-quality and locally led care.

In recent years, there have been encouraging improvements in antenatal care. The Care Quality Commission’s survey of women’s experiences of maternity services was published in December 2010, and found that 92% of women rated their maternity care as good or better. We should be proud of that, but more can be done and needs to be done to improve care during

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pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period. It is important that women access maternity services at an early stage; we believe that that is one of the most fundamental characteristics of high-quality maternity care. We therefore included the maternity 12-week early access indicator as one of the measures for quality in the NHS operating framework for 2011-12.

Encouraging early access to maternity services will enable women who can be identified as being at increased risk of stillbirth to receive additional support and monitoring. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence will develop new quality standards on antenatal care, the management and care of women in labour and delivery, and postnatal care. Based on the best available evidence, the standards will play a key role in the Government’s vision of an NHS focused on improving outcomes for patients.

We believe that there should be more accountability within the NHS, and the outcomes framework will be used to hold the NHS to account for the outcomes that it delivers through commissioning health services from 2012-13. We also believe that the availability of a full range of services, as close to home as possible, is fundamental to safe, high-quality maternity care. To help to achieve that, we have made extending choice in maternity services a key priority for the NHS. Maternity provider networks will help to make safe, informed choice throughout pregnancy and in childbirth a reality, and will facilitate movement between the different services.

I am pleased to announce that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Public Health plans to host a meeting on stillbirth later this year. It will consider the issues in more detail and consider what more can be done to help reduce the number of stillborn babies and provide an opportunity for all pregnant women to receive accurate and timely advice on risk factors and simple measures to reduce risk—for example, stopping smoking.

Pregnancy is a vital time for health promotion. Parents are motivated to do the best for their children, so they are particularly receptive to information and advice. That means that maternity services, when delivered well and with a holistic approach, can help to tackle some of the biggest public health issues facing us as a nation, to do with nutrition, physical activity and health inequalities—not just for infants and children, but for all of us.

My hon. Friend asked about research in the Department and the NHS, and I shall briefly address that issue. First, the Department of Health continues to invest in research in this important area. The Department’s National Institute for Health Research in Cambridge has an ongoing programme to look at women’s health. A major focus of that research is understanding the factors linked to stillbirth, and to use that information to improve the clinical care of pregnant women. I hope that that goes some way to reassure my hon. Friend that research is ongoing and that we take the issue extremely seriously because of the implications and level of the problem in this country, given its high income and standard of living compared with other nations around the world. We can do better, and we must do better.

I want to speak about another issue that my hon. Friend did not raise specifically, but I hope that he will find it useful in the context of this debate. Financial support is of great importance to families who may have a financial problem when they suffer the devastation

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of a stillbirth or early birth. Information on financial support is made available through the “Money made clear” leaflet on

“Late miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death: financial help available”.

It collates the information that parents may need from a range of cross-Government organisations and the voluntary sector. The leaflet contains information on whether, following late miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death, parents are eligible to receive free prescriptions and dental treatment, Healthy Start free vitamins and vouchers, statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance, statutory paternity pay, child benefit, the child trust fund and child tax credit.

That document is easily accessible in its format, so people do not have to be referred from pillar to post to find information and answers to questions that may be relevant to them, or uppermost in their minds when seeking a solution. It is worth putting that on the record so that people have an opportunity, when it is applicable or when they are suffering difficult financial circumstances, to be able easily to ascertain where and what they may do to access help at what is always a difficult time.

I conclude by thanking my hon. Friend for calling this debate. The issue is important simply because of the utter devastation, despair and misery that it causes to far too many families in this country. We take it extremely seriously, as I hope my hon. Friend recognises from the activities and actions that I have outlined and that the Department of Health and the NHS are pursuing. We continue to give the matter the highest priority, because we must do more to help families who face such a devastating and terrible loss.

11.27 am

Sitting suspended.

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Waste Reduction

2.30 pm

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I am glad to have secured this debate, and that at least some hon. Members are hoping to contribute. This is a timely debate given the Government’s review on waste policy. It is also real nappy week; later, I will explain my reasons for referring to that. There is a pressing need for action. When launching the Government review, the Environment Secretary stated:

“There is an economic and environmental urgency to developing the right waste strategy.”

Or, to adapt the Prime Minister’s own words in another environmental context, the house is burning down. Given my views on incinerators, that is perhaps not the best analogy.

Waste is a pressing problem. One could refer to many of its aspects, such as the unrequired and/or excessive use of materials in packaging, the ubiquity of single-use items to which we seem to be addicted, or products that cannot be repaired, reused or used in a different way. Some products are difficult to recycle because of their complex use of materials. When preparing for this debate, I read about changes in the automotive industry where the use of plastics has been simplified so that recycling is easier. There are problems of inefficient energy recovery, and of waste being disposed of when it could have been treated differently.

As hon. Members will recognise, there is a hierarchy of waste disposal methods that runs from the most favoured options such as prevention or the preparation of something for reuse, through to recycling, other methods of recovery including energy recovery, and finally disposal. Much of the emphasis in the media and popular discourse concerns recycling, and in particular hitting—or missing—recycling targets. Such issues have obsessed us; I will refer later to targets in the context of Wales.

The popular debate also looks at inefficiency and the mystifying use of recycled materials. Some hon. Members will have seen pictures of ships full of plastics being sent to China. There is public disbelief that such things happen, but it is a relevant issue. I have also heard rumours about compostable material going straight to landfill. Last night, one of my constituents called me to say that compostable material in my local authority was being carried by lorry to Skelmersdale for dumping. I checked this morning with my local authority, and I was assured that that was not the case.

Controversies surround issues such as incineration and overflowing landfill sites, and when new landfill sites are proposed there are often local protests. I recently had experience of that in my constituency because a large quarry had been used for waste disposal for many years, and some people argued that it had been leaking into a local stream. That site has now been capped and closed, but finding a landfill site for the short period before another permanent site is found has been fraught with difficulty. I hope the problem has now been solved.

Much less popular attention is given to reducing the amount of waste generated by producing and using a product—from source to end of life—and I would be glad if the popular press gave that issue more attention. Less attention is also given to the construction industry,

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for example, which generates a large amount of waste. On a more positive note, efforts have been made by some areas of industry to achieve significant reductions in waste—I referred earlier to car manufacturers that have taken steps to reduce the numbers of plastics used, thus simplifying recycling.

Hon. Members may raise other issues this afternoon, but I would be interested in the Minister’s comments on what the Secretary of State described in her statement as

“new approaches to dealing with commercial waste and promoting ‘responsibility deals.’”

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He spoke about businesses disposing of waste. I have found that despite paying business rates, local businesses in my constituency are often asked to pay more and discouraged from recycling things such as paper, which we probably recycle automatically when throwing out our household waste. Because of the financial penalties, businesses are actively discouraged from taking a full part in recycling and reuse.

Hywel Williams: The hon. Lady makes a good point. We should not discourage recycling, but that should not necessarily be the first choice; generating less waste in the first place might be a wiser course of action. Some local authorities have withdrawn their charges for waste produced for the reasons mentioned by the hon. Lady.

I want to look at how we can prevent waste in the first place and at reuse, and I intend to use the example of real nappies—it is real nappy week. First, however, I will look broadly at the waste review, and it will be useful to refer to Wales as well as to England. I am a Welsh MP, and as hon. Members may know, in some respects Wales is well ahead of the game as far as the UK is concerned. The Welsh and UK Governments can learn much from each other, and the waste review provides an opportunity for that.

What happens in one country is bound to have an effect—perhaps a profound effect—on the country next door. I hardly need point out that incinerators in Wales near to the border are bound to raise concerns downwind. For decades, farms in Wales suffered from the effects of the wind that blew from Chernobyl, and farms in my constituency suffered restrictions for many years. The wind blows as it pleases.

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way again. He talks about incineration, and hon. Members from all parties will know constituents who feel passionately about that issue once an incinerator is proposed on a nearby site—I am thinking of Shepshed in my constituency, where Biffa wants to place an incinerator. A couple of weeks ago, an article in the Sunday Express stated that the Health Protection Agency is going to work with researchers from Imperial college in London to look at the health effects produced by incineration and the health worries felt by those who live downwind from an incinerator.

Hywel Williams: Again, the hon. Lady makes an excellent point. We have long experience of such things in Wales. In the south-east an incineration plant caused tremendous worry to local people for many years because

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of the release of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. As I understand it, there are proposals to place a large incinerator in Merthyr Tydfil. There is also talk of an incinerator in the Wrexham area, which is upwind from large English conurbations and could have implications for people outside Wales. There has been much controversy over those plans and the possible health effects, and any research on the subject will be welcomed.

I want to refer to a recycling partnership that exists in my constituency between the local authority and social enterprises, and to the employment opportunities that that has provided. The Government have said that they have two ambitions: to have a zero-waste economy and to be the greenest Government ever. Obviously, tackling waste offers an opportunity to create a more resource-efficient and competitive economy, to create jobs and to save money.

It is gratifying that the generation of household waste continues to decrease and that the public’s enthusiasm for recycling is clearly growing. Recycling sites now rival garden centres at the weekend as places to socialise—I had a peculiar experience in that regard the other day. The recycling rate in England is 40.3%, according to the latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. However, that figure is behind the best in Europe—our ambition is to be the best, and the best rate in Europe is 70%-plus. The rate for Wales in the third quarter of 2010 was 45%, so in Wales we are slightly ahead of the game as far as England is concerned. The figure for the last quarter of 2010 in Wales was 42%. Of course, there is a drop-off in the winter months because there is less garden waste, but in Wales we are still somewhat ahead.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I want to refer back to a point that the hon. Gentleman made earlier. Does he not think that a more appropriate measure for any Government, be they a devolved Administration or the UK Government, involves consideration of waste arisings, rather than recycling? As he said, the issue is avoiding waste going into the waste stream in the first place, whether it consists of products for recycling or otherwise. For example, rather than recycling products through recycling banks, one could take part in a bottle deposit scheme, as I do in respect of my doorstep milk collections; reusing bottles rather than recycling them is surely a better option than simply measuring recycling rates.

Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Of course, there are questions about the durability of the bottles being recycled. Will we get the right bang for our buck by recycling? There are questions about transportation, the weight of glass and so on. However, the thrust of the point is excellent. I am old enough to remember getting a penny, or a penny ha’penny, back on a bottle of lemonade and I look back to those days with—well, I am showing my age now.

The targets for Wales are 70% recycling by 2025 and zero waste by 2050, so they are very ambitious. Without praising the previous Plaid Cymru-Labour Government too much, I shall say that Wales is the first country in the UK to adopt statutory recycling targets for municipal waste, following a Measure passed by the Assembly. It was one of the first measures that the Assembly managed to pass on its own. The Waste (Wales) Measure 2010 received royal approval in December. The first statutory

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recycling target set under that Measure is 52% by 2012. Clearly, therefore, there is a pace of activity in Wales that I am sure will be interesting to people over the border.

Wales is also the only country in the UK in which every local authority offers a separate food or food and green waste collection. That is the case throughout the country. It was the first country to introduce the landfill allowance scheme and it looks as though it will be the first to introduce a carrier bag charge, in October 2011. We will see, of course, but that is the intention and it has widespread support. My local authority, Gwynedd, achieved a recycling rate of 44% in 2010-11 and, I hope, will achieve the target of 52% in 2013.

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman tell us a little about how the clearly more progressive, more advanced policies in Wales are being received by the general public? What binds the general public to those higher aspirations?

Hywel Williams: Speaking generally, I think that there is a political consensus in Wales anyway. In the recent election, it was sometimes difficult to see the difference even between a party of government and a party of opposition. There is a consensus on these issues and there is a tradition. I was talking to someone about this the other day. We used to call the rubbish not the rubbish, but the salvage—what we would be salvaging from rubbish. There is a long tradition of that. I have no idea what the basis is for what the hon. Gentleman refers to, but perhaps what is important is the outcome—a higher recycling rate.

My local authority is introducing weekly food collections. There had been concern about bi-weekly collections and possible dangers to health. The authority is bringing in weekly food collections, with a target for the amount collected by 2013. As I said earlier, it works with two third-sector organisations: Antur Waunfawr and Seren. They sort high-quality plastics and will be moving to lower-quality plastics quite soon. They also collect textiles. Those activities produce not only an income stream for the organisations involved, but 35 jobs for people with learning difficulties at Antur Waunfawr, so it is a win-win situation.

Antur also runs a furniture recycling scheme and a confidential waste shredding scheme for 450 customers throughout north Wales, including MPs such as myself, and it is now employing five young people on apprenticeships in recycling. There is a great deal of progress. The chief executive of Antur, Menna Jones, recently said to me—I am translating—“I don’t know about the big society, but small social enterprises are achieving a lot.” There is a good deal to emulate over the border.

At the same time, Friends of the Earth is pressing for another approach—halving residual waste by 2020. I would be interested in the Minister’s comments on that. Targeting the reducing of residual waste—black bag waste that cannot be recycled—would reward waste prevention, reuse and recycling, as well as reducing the use of landfill and incineration. Friends of the Earth argues that zero waste must not mean zero waste to

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landfill, with some being diverted to incineration. It points out the inverse correlation between incineration and recycling.

Denmark has a very high level of incineration but a low level of recycling. There might be a causal relationship there. Friends of the Earth points to other European examples. Flanders has a ban on landfill or incineration of unsorted waste; it also has a very big network of reuse shops. Irish local authorities can levy a charge on waste incineration, and similar taxes exist in Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. There is a great deal that can be learned not only over the border within the UK, but from other European countries.

I said earlier that this is real nappy week; indeed, that is what led me to apply for the debate in the first place. Earlier this year, I visited a small company in my constituency called BabyKind. I should say that I have no particular interest in that company, but I was impressed by its enterprise, by its commitment to its products and customers and by its enthusiasm for the wider cause of promoting environmental sustainability.

Some people might think that my referring to real nappies in this debate is eccentric or even frivolous. However, the waste produced by throwaway nappies is a significant burden. The Nappy Alliance says that 3 billion nappies are thrown away every year—8 million a day—making up 4% of household waste. That is a huge amount—a huge negative contribution to the mountain of waste. Throwaway nappies that go to landfill add to the problems that we all recognise: the increased pressure on landfill sites, the waste of land, the potential water pollution and the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane.

The Nappy Alliance also states that, according to the Environment Agency, the decomposition time scale for some of the materials and chemicals used in throwaway nappies is more than 500 years, so we are storing up problems for the future. In that respect, throwaway nappies are clearly misnamed when they are called “disposable”—they are far from disposable.

Debate on this matter has been distorted, although some would go further and say that it has been plagued by misinformation, unintended or otherwise. On Monday this week, an article in a national newspaper criticised local authorities for spending money on promoting real nappies. It claimed that

“taxpayers’ money was poured into real nappy campaigns even though the notion that re-useable nappies are better for the environment was discredited years ago.”

It further claimed that there was “overwhelming evidence” in 2007 that such campaigns “were pointless”.

I believe that that claim refers to the well publicised Environment Agency life cycle analysis report on nappies in 2006, which some Members might recall. The report was prominent in the press at the time—in 2006, not 2007—and it made similar assertions, if in a less striking way. However, when the report was revised in 2008, it showed that reusable nappies could be about 40% better for the environment than throwaways. News of that revision seems to have escaped the notice of Monday’s newspaper—although I am sure that it is simply the result of a busy journalist not doing his homework.

Real nappies will directly solve much of the landfill problem, being reused and even passed on to be used by other children, as recently happened in my family. Their

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use offers local authorities an excellent cost saving. According to the Nappy Alliance, the cost of disposing of throwaway nappies in England is £90 million per year. Real nappies also fit into the waste hierarchy at a much higher level than throwaways, which are poor fuel for incineration and tend to go for disposal. They are also higher in the hierarchy than recycling, and that too should be borne in mind, given that some look to incentivise recycling while ignoring waste minimisation and reuse. That is another point for the future.

I realise that I have ranged fairly broadly in my speech, but it is necessary to set the matter in context. However, I draw the Minister’s attention to the question posed by Friends of the Earth about the definition of zero waste. Is it zero to landfill, or is it in fact zero? I would also like to know what his Department is doing to promote the reuse of real nappies.

Andrew George: Before the hon. Gentleman draws his remarks to a conclusion, I wonder whether he would like to comment on the opportunities for business in recycling. For example, scrap metal merchants will be found in all constituencies and those who remember the Corona bottle referred to earlier will remember that licensed totters on every municipal site regularly recycled items. Those are honourable professions, but they are often pushed to the margins of society and treated badly. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that those people and professions should be harnessed and given a central place in our business response to the need to reduce the waste stream?

Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. The Steptoe image is way out of date; indeed, it was out of date in the 1960s. There is clearly a huge market for reused materials, and if the constabulary keep an eye on our manhole covers I would be very much in favour of continuing with it.

Will the Minister assure the House that his Department is working closely with the Welsh and Scottish Governments and the Northern Ireland Administration, as well as on a wide range of matters in the European context? There is one small niggle, but others might raise it. Welsh authorities are doing rather well—for instance, Anglesey and Denbighshire are now recycling 57 %—but there is a sneaking suspicion that this might lead other authorities to slacken in their drive to reach 50% by 2020. I hope that that does not happen.

2.54 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I wish to raise four matters that relate to my constituency or are of personal interest. I congratulate the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on securing this debate; as he has said, coming in real nappy week, it is timely.

The first of the four matters is landfill. I represent a west London constituency that still has considerable open spaces. It covers a large geographical area. For the past 40 years, it has been a site for gravel extraction, the gravel being used by the construction industry in London and the south-east. I have appeared at every planning inquiry for gravel pits in my area for at least 35 years, and only once did we prevent a gravel application from going ahead. Usually, the extracting companies are offered a five-year term for operating the site, but as

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more gravel is discovered, so permission is renewed and renewed again. In some areas, a whole generation can be blighted by mineral extraction.

Following extraction, the holes are used for landfill. Putting to one side the traffic and noise caused by gravel extraction, the landfill exercise generates more traffic, more noise and more pollution, particularly air pollution and dust. In that respect, I have had considerable problems in my constituency over the last 30 years. For instance, the Stockley site operated for a number of years after the second world war and into the 1970s, and we were plagued with dumping, which can be associated with illegal dumping, and then with methane fires under the ground. Because of such problems, we need to include stricter controls on the development of landfill sites. Under the Localism Bill, greater authority will be given to local authorities, councils and communities to have a say in refusing landfill developments.

The second matter is incineration, a subject which has already been mentioned. Planning permission was given to an incinerator at Colnbrook, which is outside my constituency but adjacent to it. In recent years, the site was given an extension. The prevailing wind means that pollution from the incinerator is blown across my constituency. I have often raised questions in the House about the health impact of the pollution from incineration during my 14 years as a Member.

Research has been undertaken into the high level of birth defects, most of which was refuted by the Department of Health, yet researchers still come up with increasing evidence of the association between incineration and local health problems. I urge the Government to use the review to ensure that the Department of Health supports additional research into the implications of incineration on the health of communities that live down wind. We heard earlier about the research that is being undertaken. It is still relatively small-scale, and I would welcome additional funding going to primary care trusts, or whichever body results from the health legislation, to assist them in undertaking research in areas with incinerators where pollution could have an impact on local communities.

The third of my concerns is about council provision. We have heard about excellent examples of recycling in Wales, but there is an inconsistency of approach between local authorities. We are all in favour of localism, but it would be welcome if the Government were to consider standardising the opportunity to minimise waste as well as recycling it. For example, there is still an inconsistency in my area in the number of recycling centres, and we do not have a food waste service, which is another inconsistency among the London boroughs. I hate to use the phrase, but there is a postcode lottery for policy on waste and for access to facilities to minimise waste or to recycle food waste, compost and so on. In my area, the figures are still significant. In my borough of Hillingdon, 44,644 tonnes of waste is recycled and 64,566 tonnes is disposed of either through incineration or landfill. Therefore, we are still disposing of more waste than we recycle. No attempt is being made to assess what could be achieved through minimisation and prevention, which leads me on to a personal campaign. I support the Nappy Alliance, which is a representative organisation of the reusable nappy sector.

My youngest child was in reusable nappies 15 years ago, which is when I became an advocate of reusable schemes, working through the National Childbirth Trust.

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It is blindingly obvious that we would have a big impact on the environment if we could promote the use of reusable nappies and provide disincentives for the use of disposable ones.

The Nappy Alliance has brought forward its own charter, which I support. It believes that there should be a 1p tax on disposable nappies to try to prevent the harm that they do to the environment. We should urge the Government to exhort local authorities to work with local community organisations to see what can be done to support the development of reusable nappies. We have seen the figures about the impact on the environment and the savings that could be provided.

The cost of disposing of disposable nappies is estimated to be around £100 million. If the promotion of reusable nappies leads to a 10% reduction in disposable nappies, we could save £10 million, which is worth considering. The savings could be significantly more as people begin to understand the benefits of using reusable nappies.

I urge the Government to enter into discussions with local authorities, the voluntary sector and private industry to see whether we can promote local schemes for reusable nappies. In that way, we will assist in reducing landfill, incineration and overall pollution.

Hywel Williams: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if this is to be a long-term change, there needs to be a cultural change among young parents? It has taken many years for people to get out of the habit of using the old-style terry nappies. Therefore, we need a sustained effort by third sector organisations, charities, local authorities and central Government to achieve such a change.

John McDonnell: It requires a sustained effort, of course, but it should not be an arduous task. In fact, it could be a relatively easy exercise of advocacy. We could make use of the various mechanisms that already exist, particularly to improve the level of parenting. For example, the Sure Start centres and our local nurseries and schools could be used. The task could be relatively easy, if there were a concerted effort by local authorities and community organisations.

It is not like the old days, when we had to swill nappies around in buckets. The design of reusable nappies has moved on dramatically since then. Once parents have been introduced to them, they will see the benefit of them. Parents of younger children often look to see what wider goals there are in life. They want to ensure that they preserve the planet for their children, and they are just at that period in their lives when they are open to the arguments about waste prevention, the protection of the environment and overcoming climate change.

We need clear statements from national Government that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed and from local government about what can be done in the local area. They need to work together on a national plan that can be rolled out on a local level, with the support of the local voluntary sector as well as the private sector industries.

In my area, there are increasing pressures on our local environment as a result of illegal dumping. In their waste review, the Government must look at every

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measure they possibly can to minimise waste rather than putting the pressure on recycling. Certainly they must do everything they can to prevent landfill and incineration. In the past, I have been a supporter of the landfill tax, but I can see how that has resulted in further illegal dumping.

With the M25, M4 and the A40 all passing through my west London constituency, a large number of illegal dumpers have been able to take waste from central London, drive along the A40, the M4 or the M25 and then fly-tip the illegal rubbish in my constituency. No matter how much we put in place by way of detection and legal action against fly-tippers—some of the legislation that the previous Government introduced was excellent in giving us the tools to do that—the real solution is about minimisation and preventing the build-up of waste products. The disposable nappy might seem a small matter, but if we minimised its use and transferred to reusable nappies, we would be making a major contribution to the future waste policy of this country.

3.6 pm

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on securing this debate. These are vital issues that deserve much greater attention than they currently receive, and the need for action in this area is pressing. Let me also say that it is a pleasure to face the Minister again. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has made some interesting and compelling points about the issues facing his own constituency.

As the father of four children, the youngest of whom is five months old, I have to say that nappy week poses a real challenge in terms of trying to convince people of the benefits of moving towards more sustainable nappy use. The Minister knows that he will have my support and the support of Opposition Members when the Government seek to do the right thing. None the less, one year into this Conservative-led Government, we can see that environmental policies do not rate highly on their agenda. Regrettably, over the past 12 months, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has become a struggling Department. It has been described as being in special measures. It has settled for the biggest departmental budget cut across Whitehall; it has struggled to articulate policy; and it has been forced into a series of U-turns. It is a picture of absolute chaos. I genuinely regret the fact that the Department that is meant to be the custodian of the green agenda is in such a poor state.

In his recent review of the Government’s environmental record, Jonathan Porritt summarised the situation most succinctly.

3.8 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.18 pm

On resuming—

Mr Reed: In an excellent piece of work undertaken for Friends of the Earth, Jonathon Porritt reviewed the Government’s environmental record one year in:

“the bad and the positively ugly indisputably outweigh the good…It is…unavoidably depressing to see just how rapidly things have gone backwards since May 2010.”

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Few would disagree with that assessment, and the ongoing inertia over waste policy illustrates the point further, with the Government routinely being accused of lacking ambition, as long-running disputes between DEFRA and the Department for Communities and Local Government continue—disputes that usually end with an outright DCLG victory.

The hon. Member for Arfon is right that waste policy must be based on a whole-systems approach. That means that it should concentrate not simply on recycling, but on reusing resources and reducing the resources used by society. In short, it should consider how we use the resources available to us in the most sustainable, environmental and economic ways possible, and not simply how we deal with the waste produced by utilising resources.

The Labour Government’s record in this area was very good and was widely recognised as such. The Independent reported last year that

“waste management was one of the real success stories of the last government, which in a mere decade managed to raise the amount of household waste going for recycling…to nearly 40 per cent”.

Next month is the publication of the Government’s much vaunted and much delayed waste review, which has so far, regrettably, failed to set the political world alight. That is a mutual regret for everyone involved in this policy area. There are issues about the review to raise here, and no doubt there will be more issues after the report’s publication. Will the Minister confirm that it will be more than a “series of case studies”, as some within DEFRA have briefed? Building on that, will the waste review replace the 2007 waste strategy? If so, what is the time scale? Local authorities, businesses, communities and individuals require certainty on this, and they are not receiving it now.

On the subject of certainty, I hope that the Minister will enlighten the Chamber on the recycling targets for local authorities in England. Will the waste review cover the targets and, more importantly, does DEFRA believe in such targets for local authorities in England? Can he guarantee that the waste framework directive will apply to England as well as to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all of which have significantly more ambitious recycling targets than the mandatory 50% by 2020? Is he content for Britain’s minimum 50% target to be met by home nations other than England exceeding that minimum requirement?

Surely the Minister does not want England to lag behind, but wants to enable the English regions to benefit from the economic opportunities that the waste industry presents, which the devolved Administrations seem to acknowledge and enthusiastically pursue. Will he state categorically today that, however it is achieved, England will meet the minimum requirements of the directive? If DEFRA has rolled over again because the Department for Communities and Local Government has once again trumped it, and recycling targets for England are to be abandoned, will he assure us that the UK will meet the directive’s minimum target?

What is the future of the joint municipal waste management strategies, which currently require local authorities in two-tier local authority areas to work together? What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the strategies’ removal on recycling rates and other performance goals? The fear among non-governmental organisations, environmental activists and

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others who care about this area is that political dogma is being placed above real outcomes, results and improvements to our environment, which is distorting environment and waste management policy.

The economic opportunities that effective resource management present are significant. The hon. Member for Arfon is right about the discourse in the country at large in all the nations of the UK. We need to change the terms of the debate and the frame of reference, which is a common responsibility for both Government and Opposition Members. Friends of the Earth estimates that 50,000 new jobs might be created across the economy, if recycling rates were to rise to 70%.

The CBI is even more optimistic about the benefits of a comprehensive approach to resource management policy. It recently warned the Government about the timidity in their approach to waste policy, and it rightly identified a series of quick wins that the country might secure if the Government were bolder and more ambitious—if they choose to show that boldness and ambition, we will certainly support them. The CBI identified providing massive business opportunities, meeting climate change targets, bolstering energy security and unlocking infrastructure investments from the private sector as just some of the benefits of a comprehensive waste policy.

As 300 of the UK’s largest existing landfill sites have to close, the CBI estimates that it will require £1 billion of investment in approximately 2,000 new waste management plants over the next 10 years to meet Britain’s minimum waste framework directive targets. We have fewer than 10 years in extraordinarily difficult economic circumstances to find an average of more than £1 billion a year to invest in the infrastructure that we need to meet our targets. That will require private and public investment, so how, credibly and specifically, do the Government intend to achieve it?

Where is the detailed Government strategy that sets out the investment required by and the roles and responsibilities of the public and private sectors? Will the Minister provide us with details of how the change will happen and what discussions he has had with the Treasury about the contribution that it will inevitably have to make towards the effort? The issue needs effective project management, not political abandonment. Will he also update the Chamber on the infraction proceedings caused by the Government’s late transposition of the waste framework directive into law?

The Minister is aware that energy from waste is an incredibly exciting policy area, so will he spell out Government policy? Many hon. Members have mentioned it, but can he be clear about what, specifically, Government policy on waste incineration is? Ambiguity is not an option. What assessment has his Department made of the impact that the review of feed-in tariffs is having on investment in energy from waste projects? I was fortunate enough to visit a multimillion pound anaerobic digestion plant on a farm in Haselmere only yesterday—it is a superb scheme which I urge him to visit. It is clear to me and to others that continued uncertainty is damaging confidence in investment in the sector.

I know that the Minister is a good man and wants to do the right thing. We both know that the Government have relegated their environmental policy concerns. I have asked specific questions, and I look forward to specific answers now.