I shall refer to two cases, which I have raised previously in this Chamber, most recently on 3 November 2010, when the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), responded. The first involves Robbie Hughes, who is a British citizen. He was on holiday in Malia, in Crete, when he was allegedly attacked by a group of British tourists, and left severely brain-damaged as a result. The second involves Neil Juwaheer, the son of a constituent, who died in suspicious circumstances in a Brazilian police station. According to the autopsy carried out by the family, he had been bound with cable and had suffered serious injuries, including head injuries. The police allege that he had drugs on him, but the

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evidence they say they had went missing and suspiciously turned up a number of months, if not years, later. The family have been trying to have DNA tests made on the package of alleged evidence, about which they are very suspicious, to see whether it was ever inside Neil Juwaheer, as the police allege, or whether the police in fact produced it subsequently because they thought they needed evidence to substantiate their allegations about what happened, which seemed to be in direct contrast to the family’s autopsy.

I know that at least one other Member is seeking to get into the debate, so I will make just two points. First, the Minister may not be aware that work is going on at European level on victim support systems. The European Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, is looking at new laws to require victim support systems in every EU country. This is the sort of thing the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) might be inclined to intervene on, so before he does, let me just say—he might be surprised to hear this—that I do not support the initiative. I do not think the EU should set EU-wide laws on the victim support systems that should be required in every country. However, the EU may have a role in trying to ensure that other European partners learn from best practice here. As I understand it, victim support in the UK is indeed very good, compared with virtually anything else that is happening in Europe.

The Minister may want to take the issue up with the FCO to see what discussions have taken place on the initiative. It has been pushed by Maggie Hughes, the mother of Robbie, my constituent, and it has received a lot of interest around Europe, including in Germany, where it is likely to feature shortly in a television programme. As a result of Maggie’s work, the victims commissioner in this country has looked at the support that could be provided to UK victims of crime abroad, and the FCO website has certainly been improved as a result. I hope the Minister will want to pursue that matter with colleagues.

On the second case, undertakings were made in a previous debate in response to a number of queries that I raised. I asked about the information that can be provided to UK victims of crime abroad, the support that can be given to them and members of their family and the help that can be given to ensure that crimes are properly reported. One of the biggest problems for victims of crime abroad is getting the crime recorded in the first place. If the police abroad are not willing to register the crime, the FCO might need to ensure that it is properly registered. I also mentioned the need to tackle police corruption, as and when it is encountered, and the need for additional support for victims of crime who are seriously injured.

The Government are improving services for those who are killed, which I welcome, but they are not improving them for those who are seriously injured. In the Neil Juwaheer case, the Government could argue that he was, perhaps, a criminal and therefore not entitled to support; but, first, that has never been proven in the eyes of the family and they are pursuing the matter, and, secondly, even if it were true, the family need support, because there is no suggestion that they are involved in any criminal activity and they are UK citizens.

Those are the two points that I leave with the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives made some very strong points about support for victims of crime in

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the UK. Equally, we heard about victims of terrorism abroad, but the Government could be more proactive in supporting the large group of UK citizens who experience other crimes abroad.

Mr Lee Scott (in the Chair): It is my intention to call the shadow Minister and the Minister to speak at approximately 3.40 pm.

3.20 pm

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Scott. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) for securing this much-needed debate on the support available for victims of crime.

I want to raise two separate points. The first relates to victims of car theft. BBC “South Today” recently contacted me about a constituent of mine who had had his car stolen. When the police informed him that the vehicle had been recovered, he was obviously pleased, and he agreed to the police request to fingerprint the car in an attempt to find the perpetrator. When he had managed to recover his vehicle from the police, one can well imagine his surprise when he, as a victim of crime, was also presented with an £80 parking charge and a release fee of £150. That is not an isolated incident—it is Government policy and has been since 2005. Victims of crime are treated as if they had parked incorrectly or abandoned their vehicles, which have then been towed. In this case, Sussex police responded that it acts in accordance with the law. I am sure that hon. Members agree that such a policy merely adds insult to injury for the victims of crime and needs to be re-evaluated. I ask the Minister to review the guidelines urgently.

My second point is rather longer and relates to issues that have come to my attention in my capacity as chair of the newly formed all-party parliamentary group on retail and business crime. I will focus on victims of crime in a business context, with particular reference to the small business sector, which is disproportionately targeted and for which less support is available. The APPG inaugural meeting on 29 March was attended not only by an impressive number of hon. Members, but by business representatives who sit on the National Business Crime Forum, whose members collectively represent hundreds of thousands of businesses across the UK, and by the press, including representatives from Crime Reduction Partnership News, Retail Newsagent and Retail Express.

At the meeting, we heard that the trade magazine Retail Newsagent carries weekly stories about shopkeepers who have been victims of crime, ranging from systematic shoplifting to assault, robbery and murder. Many of us remember the high profile murders last year of convenience retailers for little more than the cash in their tills, cigarettes and candy. Indeed, Retail Newsagent reported:

“It is now true that running a corner shop is statistically more dangerous than joining the police force when it comes to losing one’s life in the course of the working day”.

The Sentencing Council needs to recognise the vulnerability of shop workers to assaults by establishing clear guidance, which does not exist now, to protect retail workers. Retailers rightly feel that their cases are relegated to the realms of victimless crime by the justice system.

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We heard from Crime Reduction Partnership News that crime and disorder reduction partnerships incur nominal costs to operate—it can cost £350 a year to gain the necessary professional indemnity and public liability insurance coverage for a village or town. In some cases, towns and villages find it hard to raise that sum, and Crime Reduction Partnership News reported that if the Government underwrote CDRPs, as they do neighbourhood watch, it would be a huge help. The challenge would normally be developing appropriate insurance models, but such models already exist for neighbourhood watch. The precedent in underwriting neighbourhood watch schemes can realistically be applied as the model for underwriting CDRPs. It would have a huge impact on levels of crime for a relatively negligible cost, so the Government should look into doing so.

The increasing devolution of power to local authorities carries its own problems. Issues exist with a lack of standardisation from one police authority to another in reporting crime. That has an impact on businesses that work nationally or across several local authorities, and the lack of a joined-up approach manifests itself in a difficulty in meaningfully tackling organised crime. When the Localism Bill is enacted, we will all have to be vigilant to ensure that the unintended consequence in our communities is not that victims see bureaucracy getting in the way of a collaborative approach to bringing organised criminals to justice.

Who is most at risk? A recent Federation of Small Businesses report shows that community-based, convenience retailers are significantly more vulnerable than any other category to high-value robberies, with 41% of the total sector losses, and almost double the value is stolen from them as is stolen from supermarkets. That is unsurprising considering that independent businesses are likely to be open at unsociable hours with fewer staff and fewer sophisticated security measures than supermarkets. A discussion needs to be had with police representatives across the country to build a strategy specifically to address the disparity in vulnerability to crime of large and small businesses and how that disparity can be combated.

One huge concern is the under-reporting of crime. Businesses often fail to report crimes as they feel an inadequate amount is done to justify taking the time to respond. Retailers report that crime is often lost in crime reporting figures and there is little practical recourse to bring criminals to justice.

It is not all bad news though, because there is some support available to victims of crime provided by both the private and the public sectors. In the case of the former, there are instances of industry providing solutions in the spirit of the big society, such as Facewatch. That initiative is designed to help victims of low-level crime and create an online partnership between premises, such as bars and shops, and the police. Using Facewatch, a victim can not only get an instant crime reference number from the premises, but can also call CPP card protection, which will arrange for the cancellation and reissue all of their cards for free, even if they are visitors to the UK, with just one call.

I referred to the reluctance of businesses that have been victims of crime to report it, and that is not just anecdotal. Victim Support, which does tremendous work supporting victims of crime on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, concedes that it has trouble connecting with

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victims, and the way in which crime is recorded often lets victims fall through the support net. For example, if a shopkeeper lives above their shop and a crime is committed in the premises below, it is recorded as a business crime, whether or not the retailer has been assaulted, but the premises is also their home, and in any other circumstance the victim’s details would be passed to Victim Support to give the appropriate advice and assistance. That is but one concrete example that demonstrates that more needs to be done to bring police representatives, organisations such as Victim Support and business representatives together to discuss how police reporting can change for the better, so that existing resources can be adequately utilised.

Unfortunately, victims of crime have few statutory rights within the criminal justice system, and what rights they have are under threat. Victims of crime have the right to receive a basic level of service from each criminal justice agency under the code of practice for victims of crime. Everything victims are entitled to under the code is pretty basic—the sort of things that one would assume victims would receive automatically from the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, the code is under threat as part of a Ministry of Justice review of support for victims and witnesses. The Government have already removed the duty on local criminal justice boards to report on their compliance with the code, which means that no one is monitoring compliance with it or holding agencies to account where they fail to comply. There is a danger that the Government will downgrade the code or abolish it altogether, which would mean that victims of crime would have no statutory right to receive a decent level of service from the criminal justice system. Abolishing the code would be a serious retrograde step and would turn back the clock on victims’ rights.

The issue is not only about how we deal with crime and its victims, but about the perception of crime, which is paramount. It has a huge detrimental effect on the confidence of people who enter or remain in the independent business sector. Following the murders of Gurmail Singh and Jashbhai Patel in Huddersfield last year, a survey of retailers’ perceptions of crime by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents gathered some startling results: 51% of respondents stated that they expected crime to increase; a staggering 31% were unsure as to whether their business could even survive the next two to three years; and 57% thought that the police could do more to deter crime. However, the report demonstrated a high level of contact with neighbourhood policing units, which is a positive indication of the big society at work.

I draw attention to the work of Baroness Newlove, the Government’s champion for active safer communities, and her report, “Our vision for safe and active communities”. She says:

“The report calls for a change of culture on the part of communities, no longer seeing crime and ASB in their neighbourhoods as ‘someone else’s problem’; and on the side of services, going beyond simply asking communities what their problems are, to seeing them as equal partners in dealing with them.”

My hope for the newly formed all-party group is that it becomes the bridge that fosters the necessary dialogue that business is so desperately calling for. I welcome every colleague present to come along to our next meeting to discuss the experiences in their own constituencies.

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Tom Brake: There will be a statement later today about the national crime agency, which will have, among other things, a command that will look at economic crime. What expectations, if any, does the hon. Gentleman have of how that may be able assist the businesses that he is talking about?

Mike Weatherley: Businesses, as I have been explaining, have a real problem with crime, but the justice system does not seem to address that in the same way as it recognises individuals. I look forward to the statement and will review it with interest to see how it can assist.

I will close my remarks with three key questions to the Minister. First, what are the Government’s plans to re-evaluate the manifestly unjust policy whereby police treat victims of vehicle theft as if they had been irresponsible in abandoning their cars by charging them parking and release fees? Secondly, what measures do the Government propose to put in place to mitigate the impact of reduced provision of services to victims of crime, with particular reference to Victim Support’s recent appeal to the Department for transitional funding to oversee the period of restructuring to ensure that services are not drastically or adversely affected? Thirdly, will the Minister attend and perhaps address an upcoming meeting of the all-party group to discuss how the Government could support victims of crime in non-domestic cases, where support is even more lacking?

3.31 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I begin with an apology to you, Mr Scott, and to the Minister and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello). I may not be able to stay until the very end of the debate, because I have to meet some constituents. I apologise for that discourtesy. I will keep my remarks brief, because some excellent points have been made. I commend the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) for securing this debate, which deserves as much time as possible, so that the Minister can address the points that have been made.

I want to focus on a few areas that may not have been brought out by the debate so far. One of the main areas that we should surely focus on is how we prevent people from being victims in the first place—how we prevent future victims of crime. Different things are important to victims: prevention from being one in the first place, and if someone is a victim of crime, they want the person responsible to be detected, punished properly for the crime that they have committed and not go on to commit further offences. I am worried that, on most, if not all those issues, the Government are in danger of heading in the wrong direction.

On preventing people from being the victims of crime, one of the things that I am most concerned about is what happens when people are released from prison before the end of their sentence. I might not be present to hear the Minister’s closing remarks, but I hope that he will be good enough to tell the Chamber how many people are victims of crimes committed by people let out early from prison before the end of the sentence that was actually handed down. We now know that people are, at the very most, released automatically halfway through their sentence and that some are even let out before that. It would be interesting for the public to know how many crimes are committed by people

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who have been released from prison at a time when most people would consider that they should still be in prison serving the full sentence handed down by the court.

It is perfectly reasonable that the police cannot prevent crimes when people who are unknown to them commit them for the first time. It seems, however, that our criminal justice system is creating so many unnecessary victims of crime by releasing people early from their prison sentence, only to see them go on to commit further offences. If we want to stop people being victims of crime, we should focus on that first.

What about the things that people want when they are the victims of the crime? Presumably, the first thing they want is for their crime to be detected by the police. Two of the best tools that the police have for detecting crimes are CCTV and the DNA database. An enormous number of crimes are solved by using CCTV footage, technology and the DNA database.

We have also heard recently that the Government are concerned about preventing victims from having to go through the trauma of giving evidence in court. That was supposedly the genesis of the idea to give people a 50% discount on their sentence if they pleaded guilty early. I say to the Minister that I do not believe that the reason for giving a 50% discount to people who plead guilty early had anything to do with trying to prevent victims from having to give evidence in court. It was simply a way of having fewer people sent to prison or fewer people in prison at any one time. That was the motivation. The view that it was a benefit to victims was a positive bit of spin to put on it.

If we want to prevent victims of crime from having to go through the trauma of giving evidence in court, one would have thought that the Government would be anxious to use the benefits of CCTV and DNA. CCTV gives an unbiased account of what happened for a court to see, devoid of anybody’s spin, recollection bias or mistake. Often, when CCTV is viewed by defendants and their solicitors, it leads to a change of plea from not guilty to guilty. That certainly happens when defendants were drunk or on drugs at the time of committing a crime. It not only saves courts time and money, but prevents witnesses from having to go through the trauma and stress of giving evidence in court. The Government, however, appear to be trying to make it as difficult as possible for the police to use CCTV. They are trying to introduce extra regulation for the use of CCTV. If the victim is our top priority, surely the Government will rethink that and make it easier for the police to use CCTV evidence.

CCTV actually prevented Richard Whelan’s girlfriend from having to testify against his murderer, Anthony Joseph, who brutally stabbed Richard on a bus while he was attempting to defend his girlfriend. The attack was caught on camera and Joseph was jailed.

DNA is also one of the main ways in which the police can find the perpetrator of a crime, yet the Government are hellbent on taking people off the DNA database, and that will presumably make it harder for crimes to be detected. In fact, there have been 150,000 cases in which a DNA sample has been taken from the crime scene but there has been no match on the DNA database. Obviously, if everybody was on a DNA database, all those crimes

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would be solved at a stroke. Will the Minister explain why the Government are going out of their way to try to make it as difficult as possible for the police to use such technology to find the perpetrators of crime in the first place? I am sure that victims of crime do not understand it, and neither do I.

What I want to know most of all is why so many repeat offenders are not sent to prison, because that is the one thing that creates more and more victims of crime. Last year, 3,000 burglars and 4,500 violent offenders with 15 or more previous convictions were not sent to prison. If somebody goes before a court with more than 100 previous convictions behind them, they are still likely not to be sent to prison. Those are the things that really irritate the victims of crime.

My final point is about the role of the Crown Prosecution Service. I think that the hon. Member for St Ives touched on the issue—he certainly implied it—of the CPS undercharging people by charging them for a lesser offence that they did not commit, rather than prosecuting them for the more serious crime that they did commit. That is one thing that particularly infuriates victims.

The calibre of the CPS is also an issue, and I will end with a tale of what I think is the most depressing day that I have ever spent, sitting in Bingley magistrates court watching the day’s proceedings. I saw CPS lawyers reading cases for the first time—they clearly had not read them beforehand—while the defence solicitor was briefed up to the nines. On one occasion, the CPS lawyer did not have the file in front of him and prosecuted the case from the file handed over to him by the defence solicitor. This is British justice in 2011. We should be ashamed of ourselves. If the victim of that crime had turned up, they would have been horrified to see what was going on. The Government really need to get a grip and put the victim—not the criminal, as happens now—at the heart of the justice system.

3.39 pm

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time in this Chamber, Mr Scott. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) on securing today’s debate on an extremely important issue that has troubled him for more than a decade. Even though it is some 15 years since Claire was murdered, I should like to take the opportunity to express my condolences to her family for the ongoing pain that I am sure still results from her death.

The hon. Gentleman made a number of very good points. Certainly, his concern is not lost that, in circumstances such as those that he described, rather than the scales of justice being blind, they are weighted against the deceased. Indeed, how can it be correct that a murderer remains in all circumstances the next of kin? I find it incredible and horrifying that, where a prima facie case exists, those rights are still in existence and are not suspended. The point made that the criminal justice boards no longer need to file certain reports is also very worrying.

The relevance of today’s debate is heightened even more in the light of the Government’s review into the criminal injuries compensation scheme and the role of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. In the time available, I should like to bring to the discussion

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the issue of financial support for the victims of crime and the wide-ranging financial consequences that a crime can have on victims and victims’ families.

The impact of crime affects each person differently and can have various wide-ranging emotional, physical and financial implications. As we have heard, organisations such as Victim Support play a fantastic role in providing victims and witnesses of crime with both practical support and varying forms of emotional support. The valuable support and advice that Victim Support and others provide victims with should not be understated. Victim Support contacts more than 1.5 million victims of crime each year, but it and other voluntary organisations cannot provide the financial support and compensation required to help victims recover from the financial impact that crime can have on them and their families. The effects of crime can take many forms and, as I said, crime impacts on each individual differently. Victims can become isolated and suffer from anxiety, depression and amnesia. They are scarred and can become scared or reluctant to leave the house.

Victims of crime can also find it difficult to take pleasure in activities and social events that they previously enjoyed. That can have a damaging effect on a person’s family and social life and can therefore have a harmful effect on their relationships with family and friends. Many victims of crime develop anxiety or depression, which can lead to dependency on alcohol, tobacco or even precipitate drug use. Although crime rates have fallen significantly in recent years, one in five people is still likely to be a victim of a form of crime. Of course, for those people who are victims, the overall decrease in crime does not make their own experience as a victim any less traumatic. Given the wide-ranging emotional and physical impact that crime can have, it is imperative that financial support is provided to cover its direct financial impact—for example, as we have heard, the costs of counselling and other remedies such as emotional support therapy and health costs for any rehabilitation.

The commissioner for victims and witnesses, Louise Casey, recently revealed ahead of the publication of her policy review that families bereaved through murder, manslaughter or culpable road death face costs of an average of around £37,000. That includes costs for trials, legal fees, court proceedings, counselling and loss of earnings. Figures from a specific survey of 36 bereaved families show that legal costs range from between £280 and £150,000, with the majority of families meeting the costs themselves and only one family receiving legal aid. The survey found that the total estimated costs incurred for the 36 families were £1.3 million, which rises to a higher figure if loss of earnings is included. The annual figure of costs incurred is around £37,000 or, indeed, £113,000 if loss of earnings is included. Counselling costs for those surveyed averaged around £2,500, and 35 out of 36 of the families surveyed experienced loss of earnings.

The majority of victims of crime were unable to work, in some cases because of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some people lost their jobs; some had to leave work; and some got unpaid leave from their employer. Bereaved families also have the costs of child care to think about when a parent or guardian is murdered. One example of how a bereaved family can suffer a loss of earnings is provided by the situation of Barry Mizen, whose son Jimmy was tragically attacked and killed in a

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horrific attack in London, with which all hon. Members will be familiar. Barry Mizen was a self-employed shop owner. He had to shut his shop in the wake of his son’s murder and therefore had no money coming in for a substantial period.

Freedom of information requests made by the Daily Mirror show that the average amount of compensation received by the families of the 12 people shot by Derrick Bird, the gunman who murdered 12 people in Cumbria, was around £12,250. The figures highlighting the costs incurred by victims and victims’ families put into context the financial compensation awarded and shows how it would be, to say the very least, regrettable—indeed, it would be a severe blow to victims—if the Secretary of State for Justice approves cutting the Government’s payment awarded to victims and victims’ families, as is feared will happen. That would be highly regrettable and, as we have heard, says much about the Government’s attitude towards the victims of crime, particularly when they have still not implemented the compensation scheme proposed in the Crime and Security Act 2010, which had cross-party support.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont) said, although British victims of terrorist attacks in the UK are eligible for compensation under the criminal injuries compensation scheme, that does not extend to the victims of overseas terror. Hon. Members will also be aware that travel insurers in the vast majority of cases do not pay out to victims of overseas terror attacks. The victims of overseas terrorist attacks are all still to be compensated by the Government—for example, Will Pike who was paralysed in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, the victims of the Bali bombings and the victims of the 2005 Sharm el Sheikh bombings.

It cannot be right that, when the rights of prisoners and criminals appear to be enhanced all the time and the Lord Chancellor constantly has to defend his position, British victims of terrorist atrocities overseas are still waiting for compensation promised to them by the Government. If a terrorist attack should happen somewhere in the world tomorrow—heaven forbid—UK citizens and their families would be ineligible to receive Government compensation. The Government must re-evaluate how they treat victims of crime both here and abroad. If they cut the financial support offered to the victims of crime and do not compensate the victims of terrorist attacks abroad, it will have a devastating effect on the well-being of both victims and victims’ families, as well as sending the message that helping the victims of crime is not viewed as important by the Government.

I should like to take a moment to comment on a few of the speeches that have been made so far today. Hon. Members from all parties have made very good contributions. In the few moments remaining, I shall mention the speech of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I find it extremely worrying when I agree with much of what he says. I am not sure whether I find it more worrying than he does—I suspect he finds it more worrying than I do. The use of closed circuit television and the DNA database is extremely important. When we were in government, we were great advocates of those systems, and it is surprising that the Government do not seem to be continuing with that. On the 50% discounted sentence, perhaps sometimes through gritted

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teeth the 33% discount is there, but the push to make it 50% seems very strange indeed. Victims will see an extremely worrying trend.

Overall, the Government must finally put the victims of crime at the heart of their justice policy. They cannot prevaricate any longer; they must take action to do so. The rights and well-being of victims and victims’ families should always come before those of the criminal. Sadly, that is something we are not seeing and have not seen for a while.

3.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) on securing this timely debate about the wider topic of support for the victims of crime and the narrow case he raised. He is a doughty champion of his constituents and for a decade he has worked on their behalf on the case he mentioned. We should respect the determination with which he represents his constituents.

I begin by making it absolutely clear that the Government are committed to placing victims and their families at the front and centre of the criminal justice system. I view my remit as the Minister responsible for victims and for the wider issue of offender management through the prism of victims. Let us consider the system changes we are trying to deliver around, for example, work in prisons. What are they for? They are to generate the resources for offenders to compensate their victims and to create more resources to assist the victims of crime. One proposal in the Green Paper is to make it a duty for sentencers to consider a compensation order as the first point of departure in their sentencing. Hon. Members will have to wait until we formally respond to the consultation and introduce the legislation, but I do not see anyone demurring from strengthening that duty. That is the direction of policy—to ensure that victims are our consideration.

The future victims of crime, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) made clear, are absolutely at the centre of concern. That is why we are advocating a rehabilitation revolution and a complete step change in how offenders are dealt with and managed by our system. If we fail to effectively rehabilitate them while they are in our system, they will go out and reoffend again, and we have to address the dreadful reoffending rates. I suspect that he and I are in the same place on that. The Government face the constraint, of course, of the legacy of the financial position we received from our predecessors.

We are committed to ensuring that criminal justice agencies work to help families through the process of the investigation and trial, and afterwards. We are committed to providing families with a voice in the criminal justice system. We are committed to providing them with the support and the help that they need to deal with the consequences of crime. It is deeply unfortunate that the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives was mishandled. I understand the pain that such a traumatic experience can cause for bereaved families, but I accept that as much as I might understand the pain, it is beyond the power of any Government or

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Minister to repair that trauma. All Governments, however, will want to do their reasonable best to continue to improve the service to victims.

Support to victims and their families has improved dramatically since the case described by my hon. Friend. He referred to the work of Joanne Bryce, which, over a prolonged period, has contributed significantly to that improvement. Many of the things that she identified in association with the case have led to direct improvements, which I will cover if I have time. Constantly improving the system will continue.

During the debate, my hon. Friends made some suggestions that I will want to look at. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) suggested that there should be a positive duty to explain the absence of a victim impact statement to the parole board hearing. I undertake to look at that extremely good suggestion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) drew attention to an anomaly concerning retailers who live above their premises, the recording of crime and the sort of support triggered by victim support in cases of assault. We will constantly look at such suggestions, with the objective of improving the system.

I want to be clear to the Chamber that the law is on the side of the victim and the victim’s family. In the case of homicide, there are safeguards against the offender benefiting from the crime. Under the rules of forfeiture, any person found guilty of murder is automatically disqualified from inheriting property from their victim. In the case of manslaughter, they are disqualified unless a specific court order is granted in their favour. The bereaved family can make an application to the court to ensure that the killer is not responsible for the administration of the victim’s estate, under section 116 of the Senior Courts Act 1981. I understand fully that people who have just suffered such a tragic loss are likely to find the process confusing or complicated. That is one reason why the improvements in support are so important, and why, since October 2009, the Ministry of Justice has supported an advice helpline to provide legal advice to relatives who have been bereaved by homicide, and advice on associated personal and social issues.

Andrew George: That is an encouraging reply. Will the Minister clarify whether those rights were in place at the time of the trial that I referred to today? If so, do victims now get a level of support and advice, through those procedures, to ensure that their rights can be enforced and that the perpetrators of homicide are not entitled to determine the outcome of the estate of victims, as happened in the case I raised today?

Mr Blunt: That is the case. The right to apply to the court is in the Senior Courts Act 1981, so the right was in place. As my hon. Friend pointed out, however, the family were in ignorance of it. In the spirit of constantly trying to improve the service we provide victims, there is now an advice line for bereaved people in such situations to draw their attention to their rights under the law.

Since the mid-1990s, there has been a great deal of work to improve the experience of victims and their families in the criminal justice system. Criminal justice agencies are more victim-focused and more readily able to take account of victims’ wishes and needs at every stage of the justice process. The courage of victims in

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coming forward to report crime and giving evidence is central to a strong, fair criminal justice system. Coming forward can sometimes be daunting for victims, especially those who are vulnerable or intimidated. It is therefore right that there are protections for victims in the system and that there are services to which they are entitled and safeguards against further victimisation. We are not complacent, however. There is more work to do and I am currently reviewing the support that victims are given at each stage of the process—investigation, prosecution, trial and beyond.

In 2006, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service worked together to introduce witness care units in every police force area in England and Wales. Witness care units are dedicated teams that keep victims and witnesses updated and informed about developments in a case from a suspect being arrested to an offender being sentenced. They provide victims with vital information on bail conditions, court dates and outcomes. In the same year, the code of practice for victims of crime was introduced. It sets out the services that criminal justice agencies must deliver for victims of crime. It specifies how victims should be kept updated, how often the police and other agencies should contact them, and ensures that the criminal justice system as a whole recognises the central role of victims in the delivery of justice.

I am conscious, Mr Scott, that I will not be able to do justice to the debate in the time that I have available. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me.

Other individual agencies have their own initiatives to help to ensure that victims are kept informed and engaged and, above all, kept safe. The police provide bereaved families with specialist support and a single point of contact through nominating a family liaison officer—a specially trained police officer who will explain the criminal justice process to the family, and act as their first point of reference for any questions. I should point out that in 2008-09, the last year for which we have figures, victim satisfaction with the police was 83%.

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The CPS has introduced the victim focus scheme for bereaved relatives. Under the scheme, the prosecutor will write to the bereaved family through the family liaison officer, and offer to meet them to explain the role of the CPS, the court process, the charges faced by the defendant and the role of the victim personal statement. If I have time, I will say more about victim personal statements in a moment.

Under the victim focus scheme, prosecutors will meet bereaved families again if a defendant is convicted, in order to answer further questions. Meeting relatives when there has been an acquittal, which can be equally traumatic, is also being piloted.

The National Offender Management Service operates the victim contact scheme. Victims are eligible when an offender is sentenced to 12 months or more in custody for a violent or sexual crime. The scheme makes sure that victims of serious crime are kept informed if there are developments or changes in the offender’s sentence, and that they have an opportunity to submit evidence to parole board hearings and request licence conditions.

Throughout the criminal justice process, there is support for victims that did not exist in the 1990s. Criminal justice agencies have embedded consideration for the welfare of victims in their ways of working and in their internal procedures. A good example of how that works across the full range of victim contact with the system is the victim personal statement, which was introduced in 2001. It is the determination of this Administration to ensure that the victim personal statement will count for more than it does now. Governments of either colour will want to continue to improve support to victims of crime.

I am conscious, Mr Scott, that I have not been able to respond as fully as I would like, but there is much more to come from this Administration regarding support for victims of crime, making sure that offenders are the ones who will be held accountable; the burden of dealing with victims of crime will fall more on them. Victims will be receiving appropriate support from the state as well.

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Single Payment Scheme

4 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): It is an honour to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mr Scott.

I will keep my remarks shorter than normal, because several of my hon. Friends wish to intervene and comment on the subject, which is important. It is a great pleasure to see the Minister, who is such a doughty champion for agriculture.

I am pleased that we have the opportunity today to debate this important subject, which is vital not only to farmers in my constituency and throughout the country but to ensure that food is on the table of every person at an affordable price. Food production has long been taken for granted in this country and elsewhere in the world, at least since the green revolution. Until recently, it has not been the subject of much political debate in Europe, but it is no coincidence that this year President Sarkozy has made food a top priority at the G20, which is particularly appropriate for a Frenchman.

Recent headlines from around the world highlight the importance of food production: “Devastating food shortage said to be looming in Kenya”—all these headlines are from the past week or two—“Tanzanians debate rising food prices”, “Drought affects rice production in two central China provinces” and “Regional bank warns Caribbean of impact of rising food prices”. At last, we are waking up to the importance of food security, and it is about time, too.

In our own country, according to the Office for National Statistics, the population is expected to reach 65 million by 2018 and 70 million by 2028. With 7 million more people to feed in the UK alone over the next 15 years, we must act now to ensure that we can meet our needs sustainably. We cannot consider our own needs alone. Another 2 billion will be added to the world’s population in the next 40 years, yet uncultivated land is perhaps as little as 10% to 12% of what is currently cultivated, leaving little room for manoeuvre. That presents a huge challenge, which will only be met by better yielding crops, irrigation, fertiliser and so on. It also brings opportunities for the UK.

The UK has a competitive advantage in food production. We have a temperate climate, excellent yields, efficient farmers, high standards and a strong food manufacturing industry.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I completely agree with my hon. Friend that we need to focus on food production, which it is appropriate to discuss in the light of reform of the common agricultural policy. We need to focus on our profitability and the production of food, as well as, correctly, on protecting the environment. We have to strike the right balance. Does he agree?

Jeremy Lefroy: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will come on to that in a moment.

The strong food manufacturing industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the country and a vital customer for our raw materials. My own county of Staffordshire, along with Gloucestershire, Devon and many other counties represented in the Chamber today, views agriculture and food production as a business of the future and not

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of the past. Whereas other counties have sold off much of their farm estate, Staffordshire has largely retained its own, and continues to invest in it.

I have to declare a local interest, as about half of the county-owned farms—some 50—are in my constituency. They provide a start for the many young people who wish to farm but do not have the land or capital to do so. South Staffordshire college recognises the need for training young people on the land, and I welcome its application to establish a land-based academy at Rodbaston in my constituency, along the lines of the excellent JCB academy for technical subjects in nearby Rocester.

Last year, UK food and non-alcoholic drink exports topped £10 billion for the first time. If ever we needed a reminder of the importance of Ireland to our economy, it lies in the fact that Ireland is our No. 1 customer, followed by France, the Netherlands and Germany. Our recovery depends substantially on export growth, and agriculture is making a strong contribution. We also import £31 billion a year in food and non-alcoholic drinks, leaving plenty of room to increase market share at home. Food is also of increasing importance to the cost of living, in particular for those on low incomes. As with fuel, the more we produce ourselves, the less we depend on sources of supply over which we have no control on price, quantity and, I must say, quality.

Given the apparently rosy outlook for agriculture, why am I concerned about the single payment scheme or direct payments to farmers? Surely agriculture can survive on its own, without support. I have no doubt that it will, eventually, but that day has not yet come.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): If my hon. Friend can see a future without subsidy, can he outline how that would happen in a global context? It is one thing for the European Union to withdraw subsidy to agricultural food production, but that can only happen if the rest of the world follows suit. It would be unfair for European farmers to be disadvantaged by an American system that subsidises its farms.

Jeremy Lefroy: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I entirely agree with him. I will come on to how I see the future and how we can eventually get to a stage at which no subsidy is required. However, that day has not yet come. As the National Farmers Union has stated:

“while we are looking forward to the day that farmers no longer need state support, this is unlikely to be within the next few years and it is vital that we maintain and develop the industry now.”

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. On subsidies, does he agree that hill farmers in particular represent a special case, given their incomes relative to those of lowland farmers? If we are to encourage young people, to whom he has referred, to get involved in farming in such a context, it is important that we do more.

Jeremy Lefroy: I entirely agree. That is a particular concern in my hon. Friend’s constituency in Devon. I do not have hill farmers in my constituency—I do not have enough hills—but in nearby Staffordshire Moorlands we do. If I understand the statistics correctly, hill farmers have suffered the greatest decline in income in recent

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years—the decline is greater than for any other form of farming. The problem with the single payment applies in particular to smaller farms in the livestock sector. It has been estimated that in 2009 59% of all farms would have been loss-making without their single payment; in the livestock sector the figure was even higher at 87%.

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Staffordshire county show in my constituency. At the same show, some years ago, I met the Minister for the first time—he kindly came along and showed his support for Staffordshire farmers, as he does for farmers up and down the country, which all of us welcome. Talking to farmers at the show, many of whom have smallish holdings, it was quite clear that without the single payment they would eventually go out of business.

The single payment is essential for the short-term sustainability of agriculture. In the longer term, one might argue that farmers should look to diversify their income so as to reduce and eventually eliminate the need for support, and that that continuing support somehow makes them put off that evil day—or that day. However, no hon. Members who have farmers in their constituency agree with that. Farmers are constantly looking at ways of diversifying their income away from food production. They are taking matters into their own hands, and they do not want to rely on subsidy, in the same way that any other private business man or woman does not.

In any case, the single payment is not simply a subsidy. The payment recognises the vital public functions carried out by farmers: the management of the land in a way that provides an attractive and diverse landscape for those who live in the countryside as well as for visitors; and sustainable production, which meets the highest standards of food safety, traceability and animal welfare.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): My hon. Friend makes an important point, but does he not agree that the direct single payment is also a buffer against volatile commodity prices? While commodity prices except for milk are reasonably buoyant at the moment, there could come a time when they are in decline, which would be difficult for farmers to sustain.

Jeremy Lefroy: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He speaks with vast experience from his own Brecon and Radnorshire constituency which is one of the largest, if not the largest, in England and Wales. I ask the Government to recognise the importance of maintaining direct payments to farmers at the heart of the common agricultural policy after 2013. I recognise the importance of environmental management, but it is vital that the primary need to produce high-quality, safe food is kept firmly in mind. Schemes must be flexible and practical to operate for smaller farmers, as well as large landowners.

Julian Sturdy: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He has touched on food security, and I agree entirely with him on that. He has said that farming is going through a rosy patch at the moment, and that is certainly so in arable farming, but not in livestock farming. Does he believe that, despite the need for subsidies, certainly in the short term, supermarkets will play a key role in driving up incomes for farmers and how they are dealt with in future?

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Jeremy Lefroy: I agree that livestock farmers have been going through a difficult time for many years. Arable farmers, particularly on the eastern side of the country, are seeing better incomes, but that is not so for all farmers. I will address my hon. Friend’ comment in a moment.

We must ensure that markets work more efficiently, so that there is less need for support. Increasing demand from Britain and around the world will do much of the heavy lifting in the long term, as it raises prices.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): As my hon. Friend’s neighbour, I know that Staffordshire farmers appreciate his work to raise their profile and their issues. We have heard about the problems for arable farmers and livestock farmers, but we have not yet mentioned the terrible situation of dairy farmers, which has been an ongoing problem for many years, driven particularly by the supermarkets forcing down the price of milk as a loss leader to tempt people. Does my hon. Friend agree that we desperately need to do something to support our dairy farmers if we are to have a sustainable industry going forward?

Jeremy Lefroy: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why the Bill that proposes a supermarket ombudsman is welcome, but we need that as soon as possible, because in some parts of the dairy industry, despite recent small improvements in prices, there is a crisis, with people going out of business every week.

Neil Carmichael: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is surprising that only Government Members are here today to support this debate?

Jeremy Lefroy: I thank my hon. Friend, but I will not comment on what he has said. This is an extremely important matter, and I am sure that many hon. Members who would have loved to be here are not in their seats because they are otherwise detained.

I shall conclude, because I know that at least one other hon. Member wants to speak, and I must rightly give him time. The discussions about the future of the CAP after 2013 are critical for Britain. If the outcome is right, British agriculture will thrive and deliver high-quality, fairly priced food to the British people and to the world. There will be increasing employment in rural areas, with increasing exports and a narrowing of the trade gap. We will also ensure our own food security and that of those to whom we are net exporters of cereals, as we are in many years. Essential to getting the CAP right, in my view and that of many others, is the maintenance of direct payment to farmers, which keeps so many of them in business through the ups and downs of farm-gate prices.

4.13 pm

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) on securing this debate and on all his work for farmers in Staffordshire and more generally throughout Britain. I shall speak briefly, and begin by saying that the issue is enormously important, as my hon. Friend has emphasised. Not only does it make all the difference to lifestyles, to communities and to preserving

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farms through price volatility, but it is a good long-term bet in terms of food security.

4.14 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.28 pm

On resuming

Rory Stewart: I have little to add to the brilliant exposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford of why single farm payments are so vital to everybody. We see that every day in Cumbria, where such payments are vital for the support of our hill farms; in some areas, about 93% of farms would go bust if they did not receive the single farm payment. The entire agricultural economy depends on those payments and, as my hon. Friend suggested, they stretch into every area including the governance of agricultural colleges. The fight in my constituency is to protect Newton Rigg, our agricultural college, from having its assets stripped in a takeover.

I do not need to emphasise the problems faced by all farmers. There is no need to talk today about the horrors of the Rural Payments Agency, but all strength to the arm of the Minister for the steps that he has taken to sort it out. The system is totally unacceptable and debilitating for so many of our farmers.

Mel Stride: On the RPA, farmers in my constituency constantly complain about bureaucracy and red tape. Does my hon. Friend welcome Richard Macdonald’s recent review on cutting red tape and its 200 recommendations, and will he urge the Government—as I will—to take up those recommendations with some vigour?

Rory Stewart: Absolutely. The second area connected with red tape is, of course, the effects of these environmental schemes. Whether we are talking about cross-compliance or stewardship schemes, we exist in a world often of craziness, of indigestible tufts of grass emerging, of self-seeding oak plantations that never self-seed and of floodplains that never flood, because of a lack of local flexibility, so I again congratulate the Minister on pushing for more local flexibility. However, the short point that I wish to make is about our diplomatic initiative.

The really big game in the end is not the red tape; it is ensuring that we get 2013 right, that we team up with the right partners in Europe, that we are there with the Germans, that we understand the French position and that we are winning that diplomatic fight. That will not be done just by the NFU or by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; it will be done by the Foreign Office. We must invest in our embassies. We must invest in ensuring that the European countries are not ahead of us in that game—in ensuring that we get the best deal possible for British farmers through diplomatic enterprise in Europe.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I endorse what I have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart).I also very much approve of the line that my right hon. Friend the Minister has been taking on agriculture. We must ensure that we get the kind of farming that is needed. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)

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on his approach to the matter. To add one other note, I want to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border whether he thinks that it is important that the badger population is kept properly under control, because that is vital in areas such as my own.

Rory Stewart: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is vital that we deal with tuberculosis. We have just had our first incident in Penrith and The Border—a shocking incident. Much of it seems to be about the movement of cows from areas that are already TB-infected. That infection then can get into the badger population. Any measures, including proper control of badgers, must be taken. TB in our cows is completely unacceptable.

4.32 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I am delighted to speak under your chairmanship for what I think is the first time, Mr Scott, and to have the opportunity to respond to the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). I am sorry that it has been only a brief and an interrupted debate, because the issues that he and other hon. Friends have raised are central to a huge part of Britain’s rural economy. The debate comes at a time when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford said, a range of issues are before us. There is no doubt that there is an emerging global challenge as to how we will feed the world in the future.

The Foresight report produced a few weeks ago by the Government’s chief scientist, Sir John Beddington, considered all the challenges and how we can deal with them. It went through the statistics relating to population growth in the UK and the world that my hon. Friend referred to in his excellent speech. We are talking about something approaching a 50% increase in the world’s population by 2050. The report identified hunger and environmental degradation as key problems that we face.

Last week, DEFRA published the national ecosystem assessment, which began for the first time a full analysis of the environmental challenges that we face and how that feeds through to our natural capital and ultimately to our ability to exploit that natural capital for the production of food.

For all the reasons that have been given, we should all be able to agree that a do-nothing approach is not an acceptable option. There will be far more people in the world. Many of them will be much wealthier. In the emerging economies, people are demanding better and more extensive diets, often involving more animal protein. Competition for water, energy and land will increase as economies grow. All that is compounded by the impact of climate change. Water will be a particular issue, but some of the projections show that in addition a lot of current global arable land could be taken out of production. When we remember that one third of all the world’s arable production land is within 1 metre of sea level, we realise just how little sea levels have to change before we face serious problems.

In the meantime, we already have the price volatility to which a number of hon. Members have referred. I am delighted to say that the French Government have seized on that as a key issue during their presidency of the G20, which, as hon. Members probably know, meets

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in a couple of weeks’ time. We are wholly behind the French Government in their efforts to find ways of reducing the risks of international food price volatility.

There is no option but to change. Equally, there is no option but for every country to do its bit. For the last 13 years or at least for the first 11 or 12 of them, we had a Government who basically said that British food production did not matter and we could import it all. It is fair to say that in the last year or so, they changed tack, but far too late—a lot of damage had already been done. Our self-sufficiency—the proportion of the food that we consumed that was produced domestically—had fallen by some 10%, which is horrendous. We have moved on from the days when we worried about self-sufficiency in terms of every egg, every apple and every piece of wheat, because trade is so much more important and our modern diet is so much more international. However, the position does mean—my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford referred to the trade deficit and so on—that there is huge potential for our food and farming industries, which after all are part of the same industry, to do a great deal more for our economy.

There are issues to do with research. I am thinking of the development of precision farming for better use of resources, the phrase “sustainable intensification” and the concept of producing more from less. All those things are relevant, but my hon. Friend focused, as I will now, on the single farm payment and CAP reform. There is no doubt that that gives us a great opportunity, but it has to be seen against the background that my hon. Friend and I have described. There are those who advocate a return to the coupled payments that existed until six or seven years ago. Although production needs to increase, I do not believe that turning the clock back and simply linking payments to production is the best way to encourage efficiency, leaving aside the fact that that would be outside the World Trade Organisation agreements.

There might be slight dissent among my hon. Friends and me about the single farm payment. The Government believe that the CAP should provide a framework that enables farmers to raise their competitiveness and produce food, while rewarding them for their role as stewards of the environment. My hon. Friend referred to the single farm payment as doing some of that work in rewarding farmers to care for the environment. He also mentioned a number of other issues. If we look at it in those terms—of course, cross-compliance exists—it is an extremely blunt instrument. It does not focus on any form of outcome. That is why the Government take the view that reward for public goods, whether environmental or otherwise, is better achieved through what is currently pillar 2—the rural development programme for England—rather than being achieved much more bluntly and less effectively through the single farm payment.

The reform that we seek of the CAP must involve a twin-track approach. It must build the competitiveness of the industry—the ability of the industry to respond to the challenges that my hon. Friend and I have described in relation to both domestic production and increased exports—but also reduce its reliance on subsidies over time to ensure that it can better deliver the food and environmental goods that we need. The competitiveness issue is at the heart of our efforts on CAP reform. We want to be able to focus more of our resources on assisting competitiveness, which is why we believe that

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pillar 2—the rural development programme money—is the more effective way. As a result of the abolition of regional development agencies, we are bringing that money back in-house as of July this year, so that we can focus it more effectively on industry competitiveness.

I need to deal next with what I hope was not behind my hon. Friend’s speech but which is clearly a myth in some circles. It is that the Government are somehow calling for the abolition of the single farm payment. We are not, and I cannot over-emphasise the fact. The Government recognise, as my hon. Friend said, that the single farm payment is critical for today’s farmers. The figures that he gave were correct, and I would not dream of countering them. However, the background that my hon. Friend sketched out, and to which I have added, provides us with the opportunity to develop a trajectory for beginning to phase out the single farm payment.

The NFU is right to say that farmers cannot live without it today. However, although it is reasonable to say that, over time—I do not mean over the next seven years, but over a longer trajectory—we should be looking at how to phase out that direct form of support against the background of world shortages that will inevitably lead to higher prices. That is how we want to achieve it.

I share entirely my hon. Friend’s view that the industry needs to be more highly regarded and to have a higher reputation both here and abroad, not only because of its ability to produce our food but because it is an important part of our economy. Food manufacturing is the biggest sector of our manufacturing industry, and farmers also act as carers and managers of our natural environment, rather than assailants of it, as they were sometimes painted in the past. I emphasise that we are not calling for the scrapping of the single farm payment tomorrow, nor over the next seven years of this CAP period, but we do want genuine and far-sighted reform.

The Commission has published its early proposals. After much discussion and consultation, it will produce regulations later in the year, so we do not yet know what will happen. For the first time 26 member states are now involved, and for the first time the European Parliament is a co-decision maker, so the crystal ball is extremely murky on what will happen. However, I have absolutely no doubt that the single farm payment will be continued. Whether it is a straightforward payment, whether it will include the Commission’s proposal for a green element, whether there will be further cost compliance, whether the payment could be construed as simply paying for something that is already being done or whether it will provide real added value for the taxpayer, I do not know.

I turn quickly to some of the other issues raised during the debate. They were all relevant. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride)—I think that it was him—mentioned dairy farming. Only yesterday, we spent an hour and a half in this Chamber debating that subject, so I do not wish to repeat myself other than to emphasise that the Government are fully persuaded of the crisis affecting the dairy industry. There is obviously a limit to what we can do. We cannot force up the price of milk; but as has been said, we shall introduce a supermarket adjudicator as soon as we can.

Hill farming was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Central Devon and for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). The payment is most important

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in those areas. Indeed, it is important to our whole livestock industry. Again, however, we believe that the right way to support it is through the use of pillar 2 payments, as targeted support for the benefits that hill farms provide the nation. Those farms are important to the social structure of rural communities in our uplands, but there are other factors. They store carbon and water in their peat and are marvellous centres of biodiversity, and the ecosystems assessment to which I referred provides us with the tools to recognise that fact.

Finally, on the question of TB, all that I can say is that the Government intend to make a full announcement on the matter before the House rises for the summer recess.

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Machine-to-Machine Communication

4.44 pm

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure and an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Scott.

I believe I have the privilege of being the first Member to raise the matter of machine-to-machine communication in Parliament. Interestingly, the internet was first mentioned in the House in February 1990 by Emma Nicholson, a Conservative MP. At that time, only 3 million people worldwide had access to the internet, mainly academics and the military, three-quarters of them living in the United States. Twenty-one years later, there are an estimated 2 billion regular internet users, only 13% of whom live in the US and 44% of whom are Asian. Those figures will grow.

The internet has revolutionised our world. Machine-to-machine communication is the next stage in the internet revolution. Having connected people, we shall move on to connecting machines and things.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): The hon. Lady speaks of having connected people. May I remind her that 30% of people in this country do not have good access even to a 2 megabit connection? Currently, for only 90% of the time for 95% of people is there decent access to mobile communications. Without infrastructure investment in good fixed and mobile broadband, it will be very difficult to deliver the things that the hon. Lady so rightly mentions.

Chi Onwurah: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is absolutely right. He does well to remind us that although we shall be connecting machines, we have not yet connected everybody. Given the limits that have been set on mobile spectrum availability, he would not want to share it with trillions of devices, as I shall explain.

Machine-to-machine communications enable the internet of things. Ericsson estimates that by 2020, 50 billion things will be connected to the internet. Other analysts put the number of connected devices in the trillions. What will these devices be doing? Some will be doing what they already do; there will BlackBerrys and iPads, but we will also see, for example, lamp-posts with sensors that detect the level of light and save energy by turning themselves off. We will see smart fridges telling our chosen supermarket that more vegetables are needed. We will see water heaters monitoring the water temperature and deciding that it could be a little less hot for a few minutes because we are stuck in traffic and the national grid is overstretched. We may even see cholesterol monitors embedded in our bodies telling the doctor that it is time for another check-up.

As a self-confessed technophile, I see the internet of things helping to take the dull and the difficult out of our lives so that we can get on with what human beings do best—whatever that may be.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I commend her for raising this enormously important subject in Parliament for the first time. Does she agree that the development of machine-to-machine communication raises profound questions about security and privacy? Firm and effective

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standards on both will be needed if industry and the wider public are to embrace this revolution, which will clearly be of advantage.

Chi Onwurah: I thank my right hon. Friend. He is right that machine-to-machine communication raises a number of important questions about the way we live our lives, which I shall talk about later. We should be aware across Government of what the issues are, so that we give ourselves an advantage in addressing them.

The question today is whether the Government are doing all they can to ensure the UK economy will benefit from this trillion-pound market of the future? Why is spectrum not being made available, as it was recently in the US, so that UK companies can get on with innovating in this hugely important area and ensuring we reap all the rewards? I hope that the Minister will tell us how the Government aim to ensure that the UK benefits from machine-to-machine communication, because we are in danger of being left behind.

In some areas, the UK leads in machine-to-machine communication; it is otherwise known as M2M, which sounds rather like a pop group. Ofcom, my previous employer, has worked hard to ensure that spectrum is available for machine-to-machine communication. M2M can be divided into three broad areas: near field, home and personal, and wide area. I shall describe each in turn.

Near field means near or short-distance communications. Probably the best example is the Oyster card system. Every morning, at Westminster station, I see commuters holding various purses, wallets, gym cards and, occasionally, parts of their body up to the readers. There is no direct contact with the Oyster card. The reader operates it using radio frequency identification—RFID—over very short distances. Oyster saves us the time and trouble of carrying money, queuing and purchasing tickets for every journey. A few months ago, my local transport authority, Nexus, launched the north-east’s very own Oyster-type system called Pop. We will all be “Popping” about the north-east without having to wait at ticket machines.

We can increasingly expect to see RFID used in many other applications. Oyster has already been extended to support contactless payments for small purchases. In 2008, the St Louis-based Somark Innovations tested an RFID tattoo on cows to monitor stock movements, and RFID devices are being implanted in salmon, so that we can track how they are responding to changes in the environment.

Exciting innovations are possible in the area. In 2005, Ofcom deliberately chose to make spectrum in the 865-868 MHz range available for RFID applications on a licence-exempt basis. Licence exempt means that companies do not have to pay to use it, which means that small companies can think of exciting new ideas without having to pay out huge amounts to buy spectrum. That is why innovative businesses can try out new applications, and we can expect to see UK companies playing a big part in the RFID revolution. Therefore, when it comes to near-field communications, the UK is good to go.

The next area of machine-to-machine communication is home and personal, which is still over short distances, but more than a few millimetres. It enables personal

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area networks, which are networks around the human body, as well as home networking.

We all now think that it is a basic human right to be able to browse the internet from the garden thanks to wi-fi. There are other protocols that enable communications between devices in the home and in the office. For example, many of us use Bluetooth headsets, which wirelessly enable us to go hands free. There is also a protocol with the lovely name of ZigBee, which has been developed to enable wireless lamps. Increasingly, it might also be used by our fridge to tell our smart meter how much electricity it is using and whether it would be okay to turn the freezer off for a few milliseconds so that we do not have to bring on another gas power station every time “EastEnders” finishes.

ZigBee, wi-fi and Bluetooth all operate in licence-exempt spectrum. There are challenges in home and personal networking. In some cities, people are finding that the wi-fi is often congested. Interestingly, that is not because there are too many people uploading photos on Facebook. It is caused by people using wi-fi to transmit satellite or cable programming around their home, so that can be a disadvantage of licence-exempt spectrum. Some new application can come along and hoover up all the bandwidth. None the less, in general, we have a home environment with innovative applications competing to improve our lives.

Unfortunately that is not the case for wide area communication, which is everything from down the street to across the world. Mobile broadband, smart meters and the global positioning system are forms of wide area communication. Wide area applications are really where the huge innovative potential is. Smart cities need wide area machine-to-machine communication. I want to live in a world where the traffic lights on the Tyne bridge going into Newcastle can respond to traffic conditions on other bridges in the city so that we avoid gridlock. I would like to know exactly when the Number 10 bus will get to the bottom of Kenton lane.

It would be progress indeed if people with chronic illnesses could lead more independent lives because their condition was constantly monitored, and help was immediately on hand through telemedicine applications. I want a smart national electricity grid, where sensors in turbines on wind farms in the North sea calculate our energy production moment by moment and change the level of usage in homes across the country as a result. That is the obvious big win. Every form of energy production now has big costs and risks associated with it. We have the technical complexity, cost and unpredictability of wind and solar power; the emissions associated with coal and gas power stations and the potential dangers and long-term costs of nuclear power.

We need to ensure that we are using as little energy as possible. Machines use a hell of a lot of energy—whether in industrial processes, all the kettles switching on every time a soap ends, electric cars and transport or the giant server farms around the world that support cloud computing.

By using machine-to-machine communications to reduce the amount of energy being used, we reduce the number of power stations we have to build. To a certain extent, the Department of Energy and Climate Change is aware of that. It acknowledges the importance of smart meters and ultimately of smart energy grids.

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My concern is that in this area, unlike in the others I have spoken of, we have no suitable licence-exempt spectrum and no well developed plans to bring it about. One reason for that is the very success of mobile telecommunications, which are everywhere—though not so strongly in the constituency of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). Everyone has a mobile phone; many people have two. Given that, why would we possibly want more wide area communication? Have we not got enough? The answer is no, and I hope that the Minister will be good enough to acknowledge the reason. In fact, I hope that he will acknowledge all my points, but on this one, I specifically expect a response.

The Minister is not a machine. He does not look like a machine. He does not carry out his duties like a machine and he certainly does not communicate like a machine. Why then should he think that machines communicate in the same way as he does? Machines do not get annoyed when there is a busy tone. They do not become upset by congestion, or infuriated by delay.

Putting billions of machines on to mobile networks designed for people is an incredible waste of valuable infrastructure. That is why we need spectrum, which allows machines to communicate with each other. We need some of that spectrum to be licence exempt so that we have innovation.

Will the Minister tell me what assessment he has made of the potential economic benefits of machine-to-machine communications? Does he agree that it is important that there should be licence-exempt spectrum to support them? Does he agree that we urgently need clarity from Ofcom about when spectrum will be made available?

The Minister may say that it is not for the Government or Ofcom to determine the use spectrum should be put to, but for the market. He has said that before in response to questions that I have tabled, but the market cannot determine the use spectrum should be put to if it is not made available.

Rory Stewart: Given the enormous importance of these machine-to-machine communications, surely the hon. Lady agrees that we should not exclude large parts of the country and millions of people from accessing all the incredible benefits that she has listed. Surely, it is about not just making spectrum available to machines but making it available to people in those areas of the country, otherwise we will have real social exclusion.

Chi Onwurah: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Once again I agree with him; access to the internet will be an important part of enabling humans to reap the benefits of M2M communications. He is absolutely right that discussion of M2M communications is part of a wider argument about ensuring that the benefits of technology are available to all our citizens.

The Minister may claim that Ofcom should not intervene to support particular technologies but, as I have already suggested, I argue that M2M communication is not one technology but a huge market—in fact, it is a range of markets—and that the purchase of spectrum is a huge barrier to entry by small innovative firms. The Minister may also say that he does not have a stream of people coming to see him to ask for this spectrum, but the small innovative firms that I talk to do not have that kind of access to Departments.

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Personal and near-field communications have licence-exempt spectrum in which to innovate, so why is there none for wide range applications? I yield to no one—not even the Minister—in my praise of Ofcom. Under the Communications Act 2002, Ofcom is required to encourage investment and innovation, and specifically to use spectrum for that purpose, so I would like the Minister to tell us and Ofcom about the importance that he places on that requirement to encourage innovation, especially given the cross-party consensus that innovation will help to secure the recovery. Will the requirement to encourage innovation be retained and indeed strengthened in the new communications Bill, which is currently being drafted?

I am sure that the Minister shares my view that M2M communication is a very important area and I look forward to hearing how he will encourage the innovation and the economic benefits that it will bring.

5.1 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am grateful to you, Mr Scott, for giving me the opportunity to speak. This is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, and it is a great and significant honour to do so.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) for securing this debate. She knows, from remarks that I have made about her before in the House, that I am not surprised that she is the first MP to raise this important issue. She has referred to the last innovative MP, Emma Nicholson, who raised the issue of the internet for the first time in Parliament. I only hope that the career of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central does not follow that of Ms Nicholson and that she does not end up as a member of the Liberal Democrat party. I say that with all due respect to the coalition, of which I am a full and supportive member.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central is an expert in the House on this issue—she had a distinguished career in Ofcom. I mean it as a compliment when I say that this debate has perhaps been more like a seminar than the type of rambunctious debate that we are used to in this Chamber.

The hon. Lady has discussed machine-to-machine communications, or M2M. As she has rightly said, M2M sounds almost like a pop band, perhaps one that was competing in the Eurovision song contest. We also talk about M2M as “the internet of things”. It is an incredibly important subject and in some ways it is the “new new thing”, if I can put it that way, of the internet. It is something that people are now starting to talk about. As she elaborated on in her excellent speech, the possibilities of the internet of things are almost limitless, and they will transform how we live our lives. However, as both the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) have rightly said, the internet of things will also bring complex social issues that will attract the interest of politicians, notably privacy issues but also other important issues such as social exclusion.

Today the hon. Lady has shown that she has another string to her bow. She managed to secure this debate, and we know how difficult it is to secure a debate in Westminster Hall, let alone a particular timing for a

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debate. However, she has secured this debate on M2M on IPV6 world day. For those MPs who do not know what IPV6 is, it is internet protocol version 6. Effectively, sitting behind the internet addresses that we all use is a string of digits, like a telephone number. At the moment, we use internet protocol version 4, or IPV4, and we are about to run out of IPV4 addresses. I do not want anyone to panic about that for a moment, but this autumn the wholesale sale of internet addresses in Europe will come to an end and in the next two years we will experience a shortage. Consequently we need to move to IPV6, which is a longer string of digits.

I held a seminar this morning with key figures in the UK who are involved in this transformation to IPV6. One of them described the transformation to me in a very clear way, by saying that moving from IPV4 to IPV6 in terms of increased capacity is like moving from a golf ball to the sun. We might not need all the capacity that the sun would bring, but we will certainly need significantly greater capacity. Given that IPV4 only has 4.3 billion internet addresses, the increase in capacity in the future will be driven by the internet of things. As the hon. Lady has pointed out, that will include things such as smart homes, smart meters and connected cars. For example, I learned today something that is pretty obvious once you are told it, namely that every new car that is sold has its own internet address, to allow it to communicate with computers. There will also be e-health, smart cities and many other variations of things.

As the hon. Lady indicated, a number of companies have made predictions about the number of internet addresses that we are going to need. Ericsson has said that we will need 50 billion internet addresses by 2020 to cope with the internet of things. Some people talk about trillions of devices or connections. The debate is very fast-moving, and nobody can be certain what will happen. To be frank, predictions are fairly pointless, except to say that we will need a lot more internet addresses.

I want to use the opportunity that this debate provides briefly to speak out to those watching, particularly companies and businesses, and ask them to start preparing their websites and information systems for IPV6. Although that change is not an immediate issue for them, they will need to be on top of it in the next few years. In fact, the slogan that I came up with this morning, which I thought was rather neat, was, “Don’t panic, but do start to prepare”.

The hon. Lady has asked me whether I have estimated the economic value of the internet of things. I have not done so, and as far as I am aware Ofcom has not done so either. However, as one might imagine, various estimates are knocking about. Some people have estimated that the value of the internet of things is about €200 billion a year. Again, however, I say with some caution—given that we are, as it were, in the “known unknown” territory—that it is impossible to put a realistic value on the internet of things. As she has indicated, however, virtually any device that business or consumers use will be internet-enabled in the coming years. For example, the most immediate example that right hon. and hon. Members will probably be aware of is the idea of smart metering, which the hon. Lady has discussed at length. Other examples include radio frequency identification, which relates to the near-field issues that she has discussed.

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The thrust of the hon. Lady’s speech was about whether or not we should make spectrum available, particularly for entrepreneurs to take advantage of the growing internet of things. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border has rightly reminded us of the need to set in place proper infrastructure for the internet of people. Both the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend will be fully aware of the Government’s plans to support broadband roll-out and that we have set aside about £500 million for that programme. Our objective is to bring superfast broadband to 90% of homes and businesses, and a minimum of 2 megabits per second broadband to all other premises, by the end of 2015. My hon. Friend is also making firm representations about the forthcoming spectrum auction and the need to increase coverage in that respect. As the hon. Lady has indicated, wireless will also be an important part of M2M communications, and, as she knows, we are well on track to get that spectrum auction up and running at the beginning of next year.

As the hon. Lady has said, spectrum is absolutely vital for the future of the internet of things, and it is incredibly important that we make as much spectrum available as possible. As I am sure that she knows, we have committed to releasing a significant amount of public spectrum to the private sector. In March, just after the Budget, we published our detailed plans to release 500 MHz of public sector spectrum below 5 GHz by 2020. That will be a complex task, bringing together a number of Departments. We must also ensure that the spectrum that we make available is internationally compatible and that we make it available with the minimum of disruption to the public sector, be it transport, security or defence.

As the hon. Lady has predicted, although I believe that much of this spectrum will be suitable for M2M communications, it is not for me, nor indeed, in my view, for Ofcom, to decide how best to use both the spectrum and the infrastructure available to meet the demands for communications. That is for the market to decide. She is right to point out that the United States is making advances in this area, but I think that we are keeping pace.

The hon. Lady is well aware of the duties of Ofcom and of its light-touch approach to regulation, and those duties include encouraging investment and innovation in relevant markets. In addition, the European Union’s radio spectrum policy programme, which we debated at the Telecoms Council last week and which is currently generally under discussion, also includes the principle of promoting innovation in telecoms. Ofcom is the independent regulator charged with managing spectrum in the UK, using licences when users want rights and unlicensed spectrum when rights are not needed. The use of wi-fi is a very good example of successful unlicensed spectrum use.

The hon. Lady made it very clear in her speech that Ofcom has made spectrum available for M2M use, such as that which allows intelligent transport systems to operate without licence in a European harmonised band, aiding the development of those systems. Ofcom is also considering whether the 872-+876 MHz spectrum paired with the 917-921 MHz one might be suitable for M2M communications, and it is working with the European Commission and European regulators to see whether such services could operate without interference to adjacent

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bands. We also have, of course, the so-called white space spectrum, which might be suitable for machine-to-machine communication.

Ofcom frequently consults on spectrum matters. I absolutely take the hon. Lady’s point that a lot of the small entrepreneurial businesses that could make use of this spectrum are not necessarily in a position to lobby Ofcom, but I assure her that there are many organisations out there that bring their thoughts about spectrum availability and how it can be used to the table. I hope that this debate will also highlight the fact that this is a very live issue and that it is perfectly possible to contact me or the hon. Lady, or indeed Ofcom, to make points. In my experience as a Minister, small and entrepreneurial businesses are often the ones that come forward with radical and interesting thoughts, so I encourage businesses engaged in this issue to make their views known not only to me but to Ofcom.

It is absolutely right that we should be ahead of the curve, aware of what is coming and looking beyond the horizon regarding how this spectrum could be used, but as well as first-mover advantage there is potentially

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first-mover disadvantage with spectrum. We, as the United Kingdom, have to align ourselves with our European partners, and being the first to make a band available for unlicensed spectrum use could end up being costly, if decisions are then made to harmonise different bands. I do not want to give the hon. Lady the impression that we are complacent; we are absolutely not—this is a very live issue. I do not, however, want to be in the position of rushing forward with decisions that we later regret. Our planned release in 2020 of the 500 MHz is a very good example of that, because we are pushing ahead our plans but are very conscious of the fact that we have to keep in step with our European partners, while at the same time pushing European member states to move on spectrum decisions.

I am confident that Ofcom’s approach to innovation and to spectrum management will continue to take account of its duties and will be both proportional and appropriate. It is important to recognise that machine-to-machine—

5.14 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).