2.47 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the Minister, who was very careful in setting out how he is attempting to ensure that this process proceeds in an appropriate way. I was pleased by his comments about the consultation being genuine and about the review being flexible, open-minded and not limited to a particular set or number of outcomes. His contribution was very reassuring and I thank him for that.

I would like to use as my reference point a lady who attended a meeting in Scunthorpe, at the Wortley House hotel, for people who have used the Leeds children’s heart unit’s services in recent years. Her use of the service goes back to when it was in Killingbeck hospital a long time ago before it moved to Leeds General infirmary in 1997. At that point, as has been pointed out, all children’s services were located in one area to great positive effect for the children of the Yorkshire and the Humber region. What she said to the people from Leeds at that consultation was that she really did not mind where the heart surgery locations were, but that she wanted the very best to be delivered for children in need so that they could access the best and most excellent services. She went on to say that her experience of the Leeds service was such as to give her assurance that it would meet those needs. She was particularly concerned that proper outreach services should remain in any future configuration. Her daughter was expecting another child and was already engaged, in relation to her pregnancy, with service support through Leeds, which was going to make it less likely that there would be significant cardiac problems that could not be dealt with at the appropriate time and with appropriate effectiveness.

In the Scunthorpe area, we tend to be on the periphery of things, so we always have to travel, in this case to Leeds. The weather conditions at the end of last year made it difficult to travel to and from Scunthorpe, and a two-hour journey with unwell youngsters would have led to great concern.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 532

We need to make sure that there are proper outreach services to give support in future and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) said earlier, we must recognise that people should have equality of access to excellence wherever they are in the country. That is important for my constituents.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it seems a little unfortunate that the options in the consultation would not include the continuation of services at both Leeds and the Freeman hospital in Newcastle? That was deeply upsetting for parents in the communities that both hospitals serve. There is real concern that the excellent heart and lung transplant service at the Freeman hospital could be jeopardised.

Nic Dakin: I thank my hon. Friend for that important point. One of the things illustrated by the debate is that there are many forms of excellent practice, with excellent people working across the country in this area of medicine.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): It is good to be working with the hon. Gentleman on this issue, but does he agree that there is a fundamental problem? Newcastle performs only 255 procedures, so it needs the Leeds unit to close to reach the 400 figure specified in the review, whereas Leeds can stand on its own. Together, we have to challenge that premise, because the European regulations state that 250 procedures is perfectly safe. The Newcastle unit is safe and the Leeds unit is safe; they are both excellent. Together, we have to challenge the review.

Nic Dakin: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments. Leeds delivered 316 cardiac operations in 2009-10 and 372 in 2010-11, so the numbers meet the criteria fairly closely.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing the debate. The Minister will have heard from his comments that there is still not total confidence in the integrity and transparency of the review. I feel that the Minister has helped to allay those fears and I am reassured by his saying that the review will be open, genuine and flexible. I thank him for putting that message across so strongly. The hon. Member for Pudsey clearly outlined the concerns, especially the need properly to engage with the ethnic minority community. Although it sounds as though steps have been taken latterly, they ought to have been taken at the beginning of the process, given the fact that young people in that community have a higher incidence of cardiac issues than the rest of the population.

I hope that the people conducting the review will hear the excellent comments that have been made by Members on both sides of the House, and from all regions of the country, during the debate, and that they will think outside the box, as the hon. Members for Pudsey and for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) said earlier. We need to be flexible. We do not need to compromise on clinical excellence or clinical outcomes for children, but we should recognise the need for equality of access to excellence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East said. I hope that our debate will be part of the consultation process that the Minister assures us is genuine, listening and ongoing, and that it will assist us in reaching an outcome that we can all applaud.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 533

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I am sure that hon. Members will show time discipline, so that we can get as many of them in as we possibly can.

2.55 pm

George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) (Con): I should like briefly to place on the record my grateful thanks to the 18 highly qualified consultants from Portsmouth who recently wrote to me to express their support for the Southampton unit. As time is short, rather than repeating much of what has been already said, I should like to concentrate solely on one element of the review: retrieval times and their effect on the volume gateway.

The number of operations that a centre undertakes is clearly important to generate wide experience across a team and maximise the accumulated wisdom in any unit and, crucially, its support services. That seems entirely logical and sensible, and it is, of course, at the very centre of the entire review, but the available volume is crucially affected by one absolutely critical variable: the distances of emergency admissions, or retrieval, as it is known.

The paediatric heart unit closest to my constituency is in Southampton—thus, of course, it has been the focus of my attention. I absolutely agree with the point made by many hon. Members that we should not let our local sympathies cloud our judgment on what is a national matter, and I hope I have not done so. It is worth pointing out to hon. Members that for many constituents in Meon Valley, my constituency, the reality is that the loss of the Southampton unit would not be a huge disadvantage. The change would result in their becoming clients of the Evelina children’s hospital at Guy’s and St Thomas’s—hardly a poor alternative for them—but we should notice that the insistence that a three-hour, road-based retrieval time for emergency admissions should act as part of the gateway excludes certain parts of the south-west and south Wales from Southampton’s potential catchment. Initially and puzzlingly, as we have also heard, the Isle of Wight was also excluded, but that seems to have been sorted out, for which we are all grateful.

Why is this important? Simply because Southampton has the second highest score for quality in the country at 513 points, with the Evelina at the top of the list with 535 points. Although I genuinely do not believe that it is the place of elected politicians to wade in every time that the NHS wants to reconfigure local services, I am concerned that the review is likely to result in the loss of one of the very best heart units in the country.

We have been told that quality was presumed to be the overall driver of the review and that quality trumped geographical proximity and convenience. So the decision to include the Southampton unit, which is rated second in the country for quality, in only one option must be regarded as running counter to the core principles of the decision-making process. I fear that the panel may choose to lose one of the highest-quality options available in favour of a lower-quality alternative, for reasons that do not necessarily stand up when looked at closely.

I believe that those who are tasked with making the decision need to satisfy themselves that the overall three-hour road retrieval criterion is truly as crucial as it seems. Can it really be right that, in a review driven at its

23 Jun 2011 : Column 534

core by quality, the population-level risk of closing the second highest-rated paediatric cardiac surgical unit in the country is truly outweighed by a possibly longer-than-three-hour retrieval for a small number of potential patients? Only the joint committee of primary care trusts can make that judgment, and I leave it to do so. I simply ask that it considers that key variable and wish it the very best in making a decision that, although entirely necessary, is bound to upset many people.

2.58 pm

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): I will try to keep my remarks as brief as possible to allow other hon. Members to have their say. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), who secured the debate, and all the other Members who have supported him. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the subject to be debated in the main Chamber.

I shall speak in favour of the motion. I was first contacted about the issue shortly after the election, and I should like to thank in particular the Russell family in Loughborough for bringing it to my attention. The review is called Safe and Sustainable for a good reason, and I entirely endorse the statement that all hon. Members probably received from the Little Hearts Matter campaign that the review offers a monumental opportunity to ensure that every child with a heart problem has access to the best heart surgery service that this country can offer. I am sure that that is what we all want.

I am, however, concerned by a few comments made by Opposition Members and in a recent article in The Times, which seemed to question why MPs felt the need to defend their local services whenever a reconfiguration is suggested. That is a misunderstanding of the role of 21st century Members of Parliament, however long ago they were elected. We are here to speak up on behalf of our constituents. I am sure that all hon. Members here today and those who cannot be here have been contacted by constituents who are concerned about their access or that of their children and grandchildren—those born and not yet born—to heart surgery should the need arise. It is absolutely our duty to stand up for that and to ask whether the review and the options are right. However, I am very pleased that, as a Member of Parliament, I am not the one making the final decisions.

As I said, I support option A, as do my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) and the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth). I am sure that, although the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) will focus on the national perspective, she will manage to get in a reference to Glenfield hospital somewhere in her concluding remarks. That hospital serves my constituents extremely well and I am in awe and admiration of those who work there—the surgeons, those who run intensive care units, all the nurses, and the many staff who packed the Walkers stadium for two consultation meetings last Thursday. Option A is the highest scoring option and the most cost-effective.

In the time available I want to talk about a topic that the hon. Member for Leicester South touched on—the ECMO services at Glenfield hospital. The hospital treated many of the patients who had swine flu over the winter, and the national leaders of the NHS said that the

23 Jun 2011 : Column 535

nation owed Leicester a debt of gratitude for the work that it had done with ECMO. My worry about the review—if option A were successful, I would not have this worry—is that we have a clinically excellent service in ECMO and I do not want to see that jeopardised in any way. As has been said, if the children’s ECMO service is moved, that will inevitably have an impact on the adult ECMO services. We should be very careful in this country about not respecting such clinically excellent services. We should allow them to continue in places where the staff are already well trained and well versed and offer a service of national importance.

My final point, which the Minister addressed—I am grateful to him—is about translation. There are a large number of ethnic minority people in Leicester and in my constituency of Loughborough. My right hon. Friend the Minister generously acknowledged the fact that it would have been helpful if the documents had been translated earlier. The question posed by hon. Members in the debate is whether that impacts on the fairness of the review and the way the process has been carried out. That is clearly for others to judge. It will be interesting to see how many people reply using documents that have been translated.

The timeline in the consultation document shows that the process has been going on for a long time, so it should not have been beyond the wit of man or of the review committee to realise that many of the services are located in areas where there are high ethnic minority populations, and that those documents should have been translated early enough to make sure that members of those populations could play their full part in making their views heard.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. If hon. Members speak for just under four minutes, everyone will get in.

3.2 pm

Mr Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew). There have been some interesting moments in the past week and I know he has enjoyed every minute of it.

I want to be clear from the outset that I have never called and am not calling for the Safe and Sustainable review to be stopped or even paused. The Children’s Heart Federation said to me this week, as it said to many Members:

“We urge MPs countrywide to support the need for change and fight for the highest quality national children’s heart service.”

I could not agree more and I could not have put it better myself. In the words of Sir Ian Kennedy, whom Members know well:

“Mediocrity must not be our benchmark for the future.”

Spot on, again.

On that point, let me take head-on the inevitable comments in some of today’s newspapers. Intellectually the case for change is compelling and, to be clear, I am not co-sponsoring today’s debate out of political or personal interest. For me, today is about getting us back to a point where the focus of the review is on quality. I

23 Jun 2011 : Column 536

recognise 100% that, since the recommendations from the Bristol inquiry were published a decade ago, professional bodies and patient groups involved in children’s heart care have been united in pressing for changes in the organisation of services to drive up the quality of treatment.

The Safe and Sustainable review states its main aim as providing

“excellent care for children with congenital heart disease”.

I have yet to meet one person who disagrees with that statement, but I have met many who take issue with how we are trying to get there. Each speaker this afternoon has in mind the children’s heart centre serving their constituents and many of us, myself included, will no doubt make points in support of the option containing their unit. That is fair enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) said, we are MPs and would not be representing our constituents if we did anything less.

However, for me it is not all about my backyard. The points I have to make about Southampton have a wider purpose and illustrate the bigger picture. During the past few months, Members from across the House have listened to one another speak on the subject and heard the arguments ring one or two bells. For me, that moment came in the Adjournment debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey secured in March. That is what brought us together. As so often happens in this House, disparate parts come together to form something much bigger.

It is true that some campaigns in other parts of the country have been bigger and more muscular than others. It is also true that the campaign based around the so-called option B, which is to retain children’s heart surgery at Southampton, has been enormous by any measure. Its momentum flows directly from the fact that 17 weeks ago, when the options were published, the second-best children’s heart unit in the country was given only a one-in-four chance of survival. I want to be crystal clear that the team from Southampton supported the Safe and Sustainable review taking place and, on balance, still does, but it was shocked to the core to learn that a process that is about quality could put one of the world’s top centres on such a sticky wicket.

This week I received the final submission from the Hampshire health overview and scrutiny committee to the joint committee of primary care trusts. The opening paragraph does not pull any punches:

“Given that it has taken over a decade to reach this point, our observation is that the overarching objectives of this exercise—to improve the quality of these services for children—has been lost in an adversarial and divisive consultation exercise which has focused predominantly on defending the process and not on delivering the desired outcome.”

My fear is that Sir Ian Kennedy’s feared “mediocrity” is exactly the outcome that we are in danger of delivering unless those leading the process change their focus. The scrutiny committee also said:

“The responses to issues raised by clinicians, parents and other stakeholders seem to reflect a preoccupation by those driving ‘Safe and Sustainable’ with defending the process against legal challenge rather than securing the prize of better quality care for these patients. This is not acceptable or in the interests of the patients affected.”

That puts it very well.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 537

The Isle of Wight factor is fast moving centre stage in the Southampton campaign. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) spoke with his usual force on the subject, so there is no need to say any more on it, other than to say that it is not too late in this regard and that the Safe and Sustainable team is listening carefully to the island’s arguments.

Finally, I will be supporting the motion because it clearly welcomes the aim of sustaining the provision of services based around quality. Above all—this is the key part that we worked so hard to include in the motion—I support the call for the joint committee not to restrict itself to the four options outlined in the review document. A case can be made for options A, B, C or D, but it can also be made for E and F. I ask it to bear that in mind as it goes forward to the end of the process on 1 July.

3.8 pm

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on his leadership in securing the debate. I open my remarks by paying tribute to Oxford’s paediatric cardiac team, including Professor Steve Westaby. The team have saved countless lives and have the complete confidence of the patients and families who have asked me to speak up for them today. I also pay tribute to the Young Hearts charity, which has stood up for children with congenital heart disease and their families in Oxfordshire and presented a petition, which I am holding in my hands, with thousands of signatures to the Prime Minister in his constituency this month. They have done much to assure services in Oxfordshire.

Few would take issue with the basic aims of the Safe and Sustainable review; who does not want to improve outcomes for children with congenital heart disease? That is not where the concerns lie. The review works on a simple premise: more surgeons doing more surgeries will achieve better outcomes for more patients. That makes perfect sense, but in this instance, as the motion states, size is not everything. Although the simple centralisation of specialist services is backed by clinical evidence, some clinicians in Oxford, Southampton and elsewhere are of the opinion that it draws on too narrow an evidentiary base and that matters such as the co-location of services, assessed travel and population projections must also be considered.

On co-location, for example, a 2008 Department of Health report states that cardiac surgery requires the absolute co-location of paediatric cardiology, paediatric critical care, specialist paediatric anaesthetics, specialist paediatric surgery and specialist paediatric ear, nose and throat services. Even though Safe and Sustainable states that the co-location of those services should be mandatory, it is not clear how the four proposed options meet the standards of the framework of critical interdependencies or, for that matter, the standards of Safe and Sustainable itself. I hope that the Minister will note those grave concerns, which patient groups, families and clinicians have expressed, and will ensure that the joint committee of primary care trusts takes the process forward, clarifying the issue of the co-location of service and properly and transparently communicating that clarification to those groups.

A child with congenital heart disease does not exist in isolation. He or she is cared for tirelessly by family

23 Jun 2011 : Column 538

members who have to make terrifying treatment decisions, and by siblings who have to accept that home life is on hold while parents go to and from hospital and everyone concentrates only on keeping that child alive. That is what parents do for their children. It is what they sacrifice and do without hesitation, because nothing matters more than bringing that child home again, happy and healthy, so that everything can get back to normal. No matter how freely they give that care, however, caring for a child with congenital heart disease puts massive stresses on parents and siblings, and the outcome of the review should also try to relieve that pressure, if at all possible.

That is not just a moral argument; paediatric patient outcomes improve when carers cope better. I know that Ministers believe that the best possible surgical outcome is the best way to help families, but families who come to see me are worried that they will not be able to get to the hospital for the surgery in the first place; that there will be longer waiting lists; that they will not have continuous care under surgeons whom they can trust with their child’s life; that staff at units that close will not be able to move to those that scale up; that we will lose dedicated people from the NHS; and that there will be a shortfall in service while new staff are trained up. All those concerns are just as valid and significant as ensuring that the surgeon has the necessary skill once he gets the patient on to the operating table.

The irony is that, while the Safe and Sustainable options are causing that concern, Oxford and Southampton already have an option that is working as we speak. The south of England congenital heart network offers the quality guarantees of an increase in clinical team size and patient base that Safe and Sustainable seeks, while creating and retaining the continuity of care and patient access that local clinicians and patients fear losing. That network was developed and is led by clinical teams at Oxford and Southampton; it has five congenital heart surgeons and nine consultant paediatric cardiologists; and it is the first time that two teaching hospitals have collaborated to provide joint tertiary clinical service.

That is exactly the kind of networking arrangement that Safe and Sustainable aspires to create, but the network puts the patient first, not the surgeon. It makes the best use of existing services but does not require extensive restructuring of human or physical resources; it addresses the problems of waiting times, travel times and co-location which Safe and Sustainable has failed to address; and, most importantly, it has been tried and tested for more than a year.

There is a risk that Safe and Sustainable will be seen as a top-down, inherited review, so a locally innovative system such as that network, which is supported by local heart groups, supported by local clinicians and clinically driven, is something that the Government should seek to support.

3.13 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): In view of the time, I will be as brief as possible. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for initiating this debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr Brine), who has provided much sound advice and support as we have brought this case to the House.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 539

Two issues about the calculation of quality have come to my attention through my constituents Joanne Diaper and Richard Maguire. Southampton scored extremely well, but I am concerned about the differences between the various hospitals and how they have scored. If there is a range of difference of up to 20% on outcomes, I am concerned that the review could institutionalise mediocrity, not excellence.

There is consensus throughout the medical world that, as the Children’s Heart Foundation chief executive says,

“the majority of parents recognise that paediatric cardiac surgery is a specialist service,”

and that there will need to be some rationalisation nationally. She goes on to say that parents

“support the concept of larger but fewer centres of excellence”—

not of centres that are quite good but could become better over time. Given the complexity of the procedures that need to be undertaken, it behoves those reviewing the decision to note excellence and to embed it in future provision. We need to drive up standards in areas that do not have excellence.

Some clinical experts may move to the other side of the country, or perhaps to another country altogether. Most parents of chronically sick children with conditions that can be treated only by two or three specialists will travel any distance because they want to know that they have the best chance of having their children’s lives extended. The motion makes a sensible case in recognising the need for partnerships, and I welcome the partnership that exists between Southampton and Oxford.

It was announced in the Safe and Sustainable pre-consultation business case that 400 surgical procedures constituted a minimum threshold, but the mix could be extended to include surgery on adults as well as children. It is vital to look at what is clinically the right thing to do instead of imposing a threshold that seems convenient but does not do justice to the skills that exist in individual hospitals.

In the interests of time, I will now conclude my remarks to allow some of my colleagues to make, I hope, some different points.

3.16 pm

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I will try to be brief to allow as many of my colleagues as possible to speak.

I do not want to take up too much time in defending the case for Leeds because that has been done exceptionally well by many others. Like me, a good number of the Leeds MPs who now occupy this place were city councillors there, including my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and the hon. Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie)—a distinguished leader of Leeds council who was very much involved in achieving our aim of having the children’s hospital all in one place. As Leeds councillors, we had personal experience of this matter when one of our colleagues died of heart disease in his early thirties. He was from the black and minority ethnic community, which makes up 23% of the population

23 Jun 2011 : Column 540

of Leeds. Sadly, that community has inherent heart problems. That has been overlooked, and it needs to be given weight in the review.

We have heard about many of the flaws in the review. The Minister rightly says that he does not have any influence over the review, which is independent, and as individual MPs we probably do not have much influence over it either. What we do have, however, is this place. Twenty-four hours ago, we were knocking nine bells out of each other. It was raucous and it was fun; we made some serious points and we were having a go. Today, from across the Chamber, some very serious speeches have been made. No matter which side of the House we are on, politics does not come into it. This House is speaking with one voice, and that voice should be heard by the people carrying out the review.

When Members of a House such as ours, which can be so confrontational, all come together, that shows the real power of our parliamentary democracy. Although the Minister, and we as individuals, may not have any direct influence on this process, it would be extremely foolish for the people involved not to take note that we will almost certainly not divide on the motion and that we all support it, including the Minister himself and the Government. My constituents are always asking whether we can work together, and we can. Everyone has come together to say that the House of Commons says that the review needs to be looked at again and other options need to be developed. That is a powerful message that I want to go forth to the people who are carrying out the review.

3.19 pm

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing this debate. I thank the Minister for his important comments on, and support for, the motion.

I feel strongly that there should be a change in the configuration of children’s cardiac surgery, but it must create the right configuration. We want the correct answer to the question, and we want the review team to listen to all the arguments and make its decision based on the best possible evidence. I argue strongly, representing as I do part of the city of Southampton, that when we are looking at the important issue of children’s cardiac surgery, we must base our decision on quality.

I have been in regular contact with a constituent of mine, Mr Jim Monro, whose name will be familiar to all Members who have investigated this matter because he is one of the country’s most eminent cardiac surgeons. He is now retired. He first conducted a review into children’s cardiac surgery after the tragedies in Bristol in the 1990s. He feels strongly that he has seen this matter kicked into the long grass for too long. We must crack on and ensure that the review is completed. However, it must take into account the best available evidence and come up with the right outcome. None of us wishes to see a recurrence of the dreadful tragedies in Bristol. That is where the roots of the review lie.

Although I support the need for the review, I do not endorse the process, nor the recommendations in their entirety. I question three elements in particular. Fundamentally, the review must be about quality. We have to ensure that the best outcomes are achieved for

23 Jun 2011 : Column 541

the very sickest babies and children. However, the Southampton unit, which has a superb record of outcomes, finds itself in only one option—option B, the so-called quality option. I cannot believe that that is right for one of the highest performing units in the country. It carries out difficult procedures, does not cherry-pick cases where the best outcomes are likely, has proved that it can work collaboratively with Oxford, is widely acknowledged to be one of the best units in the country, and already has three surgeons, with a fourth starting shortly. I have heard colleagues describe it as a perverse outcome that one of the country’s top performing units is included in only one option, in which postcode matters more than the life chances of the sickest babies.

Secondly, and I will not rehearse this argument at great length, there is the additional complication of the Isle of Wight. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) has informed us of that issue clearly. People from Southampton want an answer to that question. Six weeks ago at a consultation meeting, they were promised that more information would be forthcoming from the review team about how significant the Isle of Wight factor was. We are still waiting.

Thirdly, the manner in which the consultation is being conducted has created an adversarial climate in which cardiac unit is put against cardiac unit and surgeon is put against surgeon. I feared that today we would see MP against MP, but we have not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) said, this has been a collaborative debate that has picked up on the strengths of each case.

I welcome the spirit in which this House has responded to the motion.

3.22 pm

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): Like many Members, I have a local heart unit that I shall seek to defend. However, before discussing the merits of retaining the Leeds unit, it is important to acknowledge the wider context of the debate.

I strongly believe that the Safe and Sustainable review is a necessary and genuine exercise. Its aim is to ensure that the highest possible level of surgical care is provided to each and every affected child, regardless of where they live. There is no doubt that the case for change is medically accepted. Nevertheless, I believe that decisions over the potential closure of local health services cannot and should not be taken lightly. In the light of the huge amount of evidence behind the motion, I urge the review’s steering group to take as much time as possible in considering the performance, locality, capacity and strength of each unit, among other factors.

On the basis of those four criteria, I strongly believe that closing the Leeds unit would be a huge mistake. The first and most important factor is performance. Leeds General infirmary is at the forefront of work on cardiac conditions. All the relevant reviews and statistics highlight its record of excellence in providing safe and high-quality children’s heart surgery. An important contributing factor in that excellence is the centralisation of the whole children’s services operation at the site in Leeds. However, the review document contains discrepancies when it comes to the definition of co-location of services. To me, co-location means all children’s services operating on a single site, and Leeds is one of only two hospitals cited in the review that offer that gold standard.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 542

The second principle is locality. The unit is within two hours’ travel time for nearly 14 million people, including 5.5 million in the Yorkshire and the Humber area. In such highly populated areas, surely the focus should be on delivering services to the people and delivering them to the greatest area of need, not vice versa. In my view, the location of the unit and the huge number of children whom it serves make its continued existence imperative.

The review document states that parents need not accompany their children. I have two young children myself. What parents would not want to accompany their children in such difficult circumstances? Sadly, however, that is not always possible. There are child care arrangements to be made, and work issues and transport links to be considered. The stress of all that is extremely disturbing for all families in such circumstances. I realise that that applies to all the centres, not just Leeds, but I believe that we must take account of the core principles: the need to deliver services to the people, and the need to provide easy access for as many as possible. That means locating services in highly populated areas with good transport links and travel times. Birmingham and Liverpool have been included in every option in the review, and rightly so, but why has Leeds not been identified in the same way on the basis of those core principles?

3.26 pm

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): The review document is called “Safe and Sustainable”, and that is absolutely the right title for it. It is worth repeating what has been said by every speaker today, and by the clinical leadership of the review: this is about saving lives, not about saving money. We must bear in mind the link between scale and quality and between quality and safety. The “scale” factor applies to the number of procedures per surgeon per year and to the number of surgeons per unit. The challenge was summed up best by the statement from the Royal College of Surgeons, to which the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) referred, that although the country has the right number of surgeons carrying out these complex operations, they are too thinly spread. Change is clearly needed.

Coincidentally, in the last three weeks my family has had occasion to rely on the paediatric intensive care units and surgery at Southampton General hospital, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), where we benefited from outstanding care. This was not heart surgery, but the experience gave me plenty of cause to reflect on the value of not just convenience and location but, above all, quality of care. In such circumstances, families will do what they have to do, although it may be very difficult, and they will find a way of securing care of the highest quality. The experience also taught me something about the interconnection between services.

All the criteria set out in the review document have a role to play, but in my view the most important criterion of all must be quality, and I do not think that that comes across as much as it should in the review. How can it, given that the centre that is ranked second out of the 11 in the country for quality appears in only one of the four options? The question also arises, in the context of Southampton General hospital, of whether—given

23 Jun 2011 : Column 543

the role of scale and quality—sufficient consideration has been given to the most recent trends since the suspension of paediatric cardiac surgery at the John Radcliffe hospital.

Other factors have also not been given sufficient weight. First, there is the requirement for co-location of paediatric surgery with other essential services for children. Secondly, there is the impact on paediatric intensive care units, paediatric intensive care retrieval, and the other networks mentioned by the right hon. Member for Oxford East. Thirdly, there are the implications for services that provide longer-lasting care for people with cardiac conditions from birth to adulthood.

Our objective must not be to stall or jam the process, because there is a need to reduce the number of centres. We must avoid the politician’s tendency to say that of course we agree with the general principles of the review, except in the particular circumstances that apply to our own constituency. I hope I have not done that, but I do think that Southampton has a particularly strong case based on the excellence of its clinical record. I strongly support the drive for us not to be restricted only to the four options in the review, considering the additional evidence that has come to light during its course.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): To resume his seat at 3.32 pm, I call Mr Percy.

3.30 pm

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Outrageous, Mr Deputy Speaker! But obviously accepted.

I associate myself with many of the comments of my fellow Yorkshire and the Humber MPs, particularly my near neighbour the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). I want to mention a couple of issues raised by our local health trust, which is opposing anything other than option D very strongly. Indeed, North Lincolnshire council’s scrutiny committee met to discuss the matter on Tuesday and similarly supports that option, which would help to maintain the Leeds unit. That is not simply because it is our local centre. My constituents have to travel a considerable distance to get to Leeds, as it is not exactly next door. It is okay for some of us, but it is quite some distance for my constituents over in Brigg, in particular.

My constituents accept the regionalisation of health services when it is of proven benefit. That is so in the case of adult cardiac services, which are currently provided in Hull, and the same applies to children’s cardiac services. However, if we are to go down the route of regionalisation and big centres, it seems sensible to put services where the population is rather than try to move the population to where the clinicians are.

I wish to quote a couple of points that my local health trust has made. It has stated:

“Leeds has the largest population centre and therefore it is most sensible to ask fewer patients to travel the least distance”.

As I said earlier, the conclusion of the North Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was that it believed babies, children and families in North Lincolnshire would largely be disadvantaged in their access by the proposed changes.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 544

I am aware of the very short time available, so I cannot say most of what I would have liked to say, but my final point is that under the proposals we could end up in the rather odd situation that some of my constituents could be served by one centre and others by another. Given that they are all in the same health trust area, that could mean different services being provided to different constituents.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): To speak for 10 minutes, I call the shadow Minister, Liz Kendall.

3.32 pm

Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab): It is a real privilege to take part in today’s debate, and to follow the thoughtful, moving and at times passionate speeches of Members of all parties. I thank the Backbench Business Committee, and I particularly thank the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for securing the debate.

Like the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell), I wear two hats today. As the Member for Leicester West, home of Glenfield hospital’s superb congenital heart centre, I know how important the review of children’s heart surgery is for my constituents, as it is for those of each of the hon. Members who have spoken. As the Opposition spokesperson, however, I am also well aware of my national responsibility, and that of the House, to ensure that every child gets the very best quality of care.

I want to start by making the case for change, as did other Members including my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and for North West Durham (Pat Glass), my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who made brave and courageous speeches.

Following the devastating findings of the Bristol Royal infirmary inquiry almost 10 years ago, clinicians and professional bodies have been clear that children’s heart services need to change to ensure that every child gets the best standard of care now, and crucially also in the future. They include the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery, the British Congenital Cardiac Association, the Paediatric Intensive Care Society and many others.

The reason why services need to change is that children’s heart surgery is becoming ever more sophisticated. Technological advances mean that care is increasingly specialised and capable of saving more lives and improving outcomes for very sick children. However, services in England have grown up in an ad hoc manner. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) said, surgeons are too thinly spread. Care needs to be better planned to pool expertise in specialist centres so that all children get excellent quality care. I therefore welcome the Safe and Sustainable review, which was initiated by the previous Government. The challenge, as the House has rightly demonstrated today, is to ensure that the right aims, objectives and criteria drive the review, and, crucially, that they have the right weighting and that the right balance is struck.

Of course, improving the quality of care must be our primary concern. The review rightly calls for fewer, larger surgical centres to provide 24/7 consultant cover,

23 Jun 2011 : Column 545

and seeks to ensure that surgeons treat a sufficient number of patients with a sufficient variety of problems to ensure that they have the best possible skills.

The review also recommends the development of congenital heart networks, so that care is better co-ordinated at all stages of a child’s life, and that assessments and ongoing care can be provided closer to where patients live. However, as several hon. Members have said, the review cannot look at children’s heart surgery services in isolation; it must also fully consider the knock-on effect on other specialties at the hospitals in question.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jon Ashworth) and the hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) rightly said, the work of Glenfield children’s heart surgery centre is closely linked with its extra corporeal membrane oxygenation service. ECMO helps patients with reduced heart or lung functions to have complex surgery that they might not otherwise survive. Glenfield is the country’s leading specialist ECMO centre, and trains and supports other services nationally and internationally. There is real concern at the possibility that that service will be moved to another hospital, because of the time that it would take to build up expertise elsewhere. Not only does it take up to 18 months to train new specialist nurses, but it takes many years to develop equivalent experience.

Ensuring high quality care is not just about surgery standards or links with other specialisms. The wider help and support that families get from doctors and nurses are vital. I was genuinely moved when hon. Members spoke of their conversations with parents and staff in their centres. Time and again, parents emphasise the communication skills of staff, and their ability to explain diagnoses and procedures simply and clearly, at what is often a frightening and worrying time.

Parents at Glenfield tell me that staff are like members of their families—they can ring day or night if they have any concerns. Such familiarity and trust is crucial, and it links to the issue of providing ongoing help and support, which many hon. Members mentioned. When children who have had heart surgery grow up, they have to deal with difficult issues such as whether they can have children. Many families are understandably concerned about having to build new relationships with a different team of doctors and nurses if their local centre closes. It is vital that the review look closely at the links between child and adult congenital heart services, but it has probably paid insufficient attention to that so far. I hope and believe that that will change before the review concludes.

As well as stressing the importance of the quality of clinical care, many hon. Members stressed the importance of ensuring fair access to services. We heard passionate speeches about that from my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) and for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). Accessibility matters, because time is of the essence when seriously ill children need to get to heart surgery centres in life-or-death situations, as the hon. Members for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery) and for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) rightly said.

However, travel times also matter to families who need ongoing care and support. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham rightly said that many parents would travel to the ends of the earth for their children, but as the hon. Members for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and for Oxford West

23 Jun 2011 : Column 546

and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) said, making families travel further than they already travel would make such a difficult time even harder for them, especially if they must also hold down a job or care for other children.

The difficult balance between specialising services in some areas but ensuring fair access is the crucial issue for the review.

Mr Dorrell: The hon. Lady is making an important point about access being one of the quality characteristics that need to be taken into account in making these decisions. However, does she agree that the Safe and Sustainable work programme has taken that into account? It was one of the key factors it took into account in making its recommendations and drawing its conclusions on the relative merits of these units.

Liz Kendall: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but hon. Members have said that they feel the issue was given insufficient weighting. At the Leicester consultation, one parent said to me, “If we’d known that all the services were safe”, as the review has said, “we might have placed more importance on the issue.”

The affordability issue has not been mentioned. Hon. Members will, I am sure, be as one in saying that the review must be driven by the need to improve the quality of care, not by reducing costs. However, it is important to recognise, particularly in these financially constrained times, that significant costs are associated with all the current, and likely future, options in the review. That needs to be taken into account.

In conclusion, changing how we provide any hospital service is difficult, but when changes are necessary to improve patient care, as I believe they are for children’s congenital heart services, the House must have the courage to make them happen. Hon. Members have rightly raised a range of concerns on behalf of their constituents, but I am sure we would all agree that the final decision must be made by clinicians on the basis of evidence, not on political considerations. I hope that the joint committee will seriously consider the points raised in this debate and then make final recommendations in patients’ best interests.

3.41 pm

Stuart Andrew: I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, which I think all will agree has been very good and knowledgeable. Members have spoken passionately in favour of their units. The right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) and the hon. Members for North Durham (Mr Jones) and for North West Durham (Pat Glass) spoke passionately in favour of the Freeman hospital. The right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith), the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and my hon. Friends the Members for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner), for Poole (Mr Syms), for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery), for Winchester (Mr Brine), for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), for Salisbury (John Glen), for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) spoke in favour of Southampton. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) spoke for the Royal Brompton—I do not think I am going to get through all these.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 547

The fact is that this debate has got to the heart of the matter. We have discussed the issues that parents and patients have been talking about, but also the concerns that clinicians have been talking about. It is important that we hear those. We heard concerns that if this review does not happen, there could be another Bristol baby tragedy. However, it was reassuring to hear that the units we have are safe. We just need to make them sustainable.

In conclusion, this has been a most excellent debate. I am sure that the Safe and Sustainable team have been listening to Members on both sides of the House. Above all, what has been brilliant about the debate has been the reassurance from the Minister that the Safe and Sustainable review is now flexible over the options and should be flexible over the number of units. That will mean a lot to the people who have been campaigning so hard on this issue, and it shows that a Backbench Business debate can work and make a real difference.


That this House notes the review led by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts into the reconfiguration of children’s heart surgery; welcomes its aim of establishing a more sustainable provision of congenital cardiac services in England which has strong support from professional associations and patient groups; notes that concerns have been expressed during consultation on the proposals; calls on the review to take full account of accurate assessed travel and population projections, the views of ethnic minority communities affected, evidence supporting the co-location of children’s services, and the need for patients and their families to access convenient services; and therefore calls on the Joint Committee not to restrict itself to the four options outlined in the review but instead to consider further options in making its final recommendations.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 548

Wild Animals (Circuses)

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I have to announce that Mr Speaker has not selected the amendment.

3.44 pm

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House directs the Government to use its powers under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to introduce a regulation banning the use of all wild animals in circuses to take effect by 1 July 2012.

I would like to record my thanks to all the members of the Backbench Business Committee for the opportunity to raise this important issue. I would also like to thank the Clerks for all their helpful advice and assistance in preparation for today’s debate.

It has been an interesting few days. It remains a mystery why the Government have mounted such a concerted operation to stop a vote on this motion, or indeed a vote on any amendment that would allow a ban on wild animals in circuses. I was flexible on amendments.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mark Pritchard: I am going to take only two interventions, but all right.

Mr MacShane: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Will he confirm that he and his Conservative colleagues who are in favour of helping the lions and the tigers have been put under pressure not just by the lance corporals of the Whips Office, but directly from No. 10, the heart of Government? What is it with our Prime Minister that he should have no affection for the lions and tigers waiting to be released from caged imprisonment?

Mark Pritchard: All I can say is that 64% of Members of this House support a ban on wild animals in circuses. I cannot speak for the Prime Minister; he can speak for himself.

It has been an interesting week. This is a Government who have said from the outset that they want to reassert the authority of Parliament. This is a Government who have said that they want to listen to people. Some 92% of the British public want a ban on wild animals in circuses. More than 200 Members of this House have signed an early-day motion supporting a ban, and in a YouGov poll for Dods, 64% of Members of this House said that they want a ban, so why are the Government not listening to the will of this House and, more importantly, the will of the people?

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the Government wanting to reassert the importance of this House, will he explain why they still appear to be claiming that Europe could somehow intervene and prevent us from acting? Will he also confirm that the relevant commissioner said only a few days ago that responsibility for the welfare of circus animals remains in this country, with this House?

Mark Pritchard: My hon. Friend makes an accurate and pertinent point, which, if I may, I would like to address later.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 549

I want to focus on the interesting past few days. On Monday, in return for amending my motion, dropping it or not calling a vote on it—and we are not talking about a major defence issue, an economic issue or public sector reform; we are talking about the ban on wild animals in circuses—I was offered a reward, an incentive. If I had amended my motion and not called for a ban, I would have been offered a job. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Not as a Minister, so those who are competing should not panic. It was a pretty trivial job, like most of the ones I have had—at least, probably, until 30 minutes from now. I was offered incentive and reward on Monday, and then it was ratcheted, until last night, when I was threatened. I had a call from the Prime Minister’s office directly. I was told that the Prime Minister himself had said that unless I withdrew this motion, he would look upon it very dimly indeed.

Well, I have a message for the Whips and for the Prime Minister of our country—I did not pick a fight with the Prime Minister of our country, but I have a message. I might be just a little council house lad from a very poor background, but that background gives me a backbone, it gives me a thick skin, and I am not going to kowtow to the Whips or even the Prime Minister of my country on an issue that I feel passionately about and on which I have conviction. There might be some people with other backbones in this place, on our side and the other side, who will speak later, but we need a generation of politicians with a bit of spine, not jelly. I will not be bullied by any of the Whips. This is an issue on which I have campaigned for many years. In the previous Parliament I had an Adjournment debate and I spoke in the passage of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. I have consistently campaigned on this issue, and I will not kowtow to unnecessary, disproportionate pressure.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mark Pritchard: I am sorry, but I am afraid that I cannot give way because I have very limited time, although I am sure that it would have been a wonderful intervention from my hon. Friend, as they usually are.

The fact is that we are now in a place that I hoped we could have avoided. I tried to co-operate. Even last night in the Lobby, I spoke to the Whips and said, “Perhaps we can amend the motion”—

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Are we actually going to get on to the substance of the debate at any point, rather than discussing my hon. Friend’s—[ Interruption. ]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I know that Mr Pritchard is now going to move on to the substance of the motion before the House.

Mr MacShane: Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is there anything more important than a Member of this House being allowed to speak as he wishes and not being threatened and intimidated? This goes to the heart of what we should be debating.

Mr Deputy Speaker: We are here today to debate the motion before the House and that is exactly what we are now going to do.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 550

Mark Pritchard: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Today, this country has three travelling circuses with a total of 39 wild animals, including zebras, tigers, lions and camels. Until the recent exposure of the brutality with which Annie the elephant was treated, there were also elephants, but there are now no elephants in circuses in England. Let us remember that this measure applies to England only. I give credit to the Scottish National party for possibly moving towards a ban in Scotland.

The trouble with the Government’s proposed licensing scheme is that it would create a new generation of animals that could be imported. It would give a green light to new imports. We might not have any elephants left in our circuses now, but we would certainly have some if the new licensing regime came into effect. My concern is shared by 92% of the public, and there are very few public policy areas that attract that support. I am concerned about the cruel and cramped conditions in the housing and transportation of these wild animals. Countries including Singapore, Bolivia, Israel and Hungary have banned the use of wild animals in circuses. Many of those circuses are commercially successful. I should also like to pay tribute to the media, especially The Independent and the Sunday Express, which have campaigned on the issue for many years.

I want to address the specifics of the Government’s proposal for licensing. It is well intentioned, but it will not improve animal welfare. It would be difficult to monitor, implement and enforce. The licensing regime would also be very costly; it could cost taxpayers more than £1 million. An unintended consequence of the regime could be inadvertently to legitimise the import of new animals and continue the use and, I believe, exploitation of wild animals in circuses. Are colleagues really prepared to vote for that today?

Some of my colleagues have quite legitimately approached me to say, “I don’t really believe in banning things.” I take a similar approach, but I like to look at each case on its merits and take each issue case by case. If we followed the logic that we do not like to ban anything, the House would not have banned bear-baiting, badger-baiting or dog fighting. Perhaps we would also not have banned carrying knives in a public place, or even slavery.

Some myths have been put about prior to this debate. It has been said that passing this motion would result in the end of zoos. That is not right; the motion would not affect zoos. It has also been claimed that it would put an end to falconry, but that is not right either. It would not affect falconry. It relates only to wild animals, some of which I have listed. The definition of a wild animal is a species that does not originate in the British isles.

Concern has also been expressed in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about the effect of the motion on the entertainment industry. I reassure the House that it would not have an impact on the film and television industries. Paragraphs 34 and 37 of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ regulatory impact assessment state that travelling circus animals are entirely different from those kept in static locations by private keepers. I hope that with the advancement of digital technology, there will eventually be an end to the use of wild animals in films and on TV because when they are not being used many of these animals are warehoused like a carton of vegetables.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 551

I shall concentrate primarily on the legal issues. Notwithstanding the Government’s written ministerial statement of 13 May and the subsequent revised Government response on 19 May to an urgent question, I hope that the Government will accept that there are no legitimate outstanding legal impediments to prevent a ban in England.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab) rose

Mark Pritchard: Forgive me, but I am not giving way. I know that the hon. Lady has a long track record on this issue, but I am pressed for time.

If Mr Speaker had selected the amendment this morning, which is relevant to this point, it would have kicked this motion into the long grass and there would have been no ban on the use of wild animals because we would have had to wait, as a country, for other legal cases to be dealt with in other parts of Europe. That, in itself, is a red herring.

In his statement to the House last month, the Minister told Parliament, at column 497, that a court case “against the Austrian Government” would “commence shortly”, given that the Austrian Government wanted to introduce a ban. I understand that the papers have now finally been submitted to the court in Vienna, but there is no live case. Interestingly, despite outright bans in other EU countries—I have already listed some and I could add Greece and Luxembourg—a legal case has never been brought or won before. It is not uncommon to hear of Governments sheltering behind courts in Brussels or Strasbourg, but to hear Ministers in my own Front-Bench team say that this Government are now sheltering behind a domestic court in Vienna is a completely new innovation.

There are two further flaws in the Government’s so-called legal defence. Are the Government of this country suggesting that the threat of legal action or the possible outcome of court cases is enough to paralyse Government decision making? Fear is not usually a prerequisite to success. What is more, the Government are seeking to put Vienna before the courts in London. If the Government waited for the court case in Vienna— the papers have been submitted, as I said—the case went through and the European Circus Association lost, there would be an automatic appeal to the European Court. That would add more delay and procrastination, further getting the Government off the hook when it comes to introducing a ban in this country. Even if that case were spent, there could be another European court considering another case in another European capital.

Notwithstanding my comments, the reality is that the Government’s Austrian defence is a red herring, given that the European Commission has clearly stated that a ban is a matter for member states alone. It is an issue that English courts decide. Surely that is something to celebrate in this age of judicial creep from Europe, and also something to exercise and implement. A ban can be introduced in an English court— without waiting for other European capitals to decide and without interference from Europe, which makes a refreshing change.

The Government have invoked the Human Rights Act 1998—yes, that old chestnut. The sooner the Government scrap the Act and introduce a British Bill

23 Jun 2011 : Column 552

of Rights, the better for everyone. Let us test the Act in an English domestic court, where even Brussels wants such cases heard. Let the Government have the courage of their own convictions. Legal advice from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs itself suggests that a ban might breach circus owners’ property rights under the Human Rights Act, so let us test it in the courts. Let us see what the courts have to say—the courts in London and England, not in Vienna, Brussels, Strasbourg, Copenhagen or some other European capital.

I pay tribute to the Minister of State, who has been put in a very difficult position. On 19 May, he courageously and bravely told this House that he personally would like to see a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. We also know that officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs want a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, and it is reported that the Secretary of State herself is minded to favour a ban, yet No. 10 has overruled: so much for devolving power and allowing Departments to get on with their own business, and so much for ending the control-freakery of No. 10; it appears that that tendency under the last Government is continuing under this one.

The Government have also invoked the European services directive, saying that a ban would breach it and would fail to meet the proportionality legal test. I can tell the House that that is not the case, and that the European Commission has denied that it is the case.

I appeal to the House to support my motion. Let us get Britain back to where it was in the last century—leading, rather than lagging behind, the world on animal welfare issues—and let us put an end to the use of wild animals in circuses.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. There is a six-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions. As is apparent from the number of Members rising to be called to speak, this is a very popular debate.

4.1 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), and I congratulate him. I do not imagine that he is in the running for his Chief Whip’s Back-Bencher of the month award, and he might have to wait a wee while before receiving further invitations to receptions at No. 10, but he is showing great tenacity and determination in keeping this issue alive in Parliament, and in bringing it to the attention of the House today, with the able assistance of the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell). I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for this debate.

Some people may not consider this issue to be of major political consequence, but it means a great deal to a lot of people, as evidenced by the thousands of responses to last year’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation, by the number of people signing The Independent newspaper’s petition, by the hundreds of MPs who have signed the relevant early-day motions, and by the e-mails and letters MPs have been receiving not just in the last few days, but over the past 14 months.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 553

I should declare an interest: I was the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister who left this matter to the current Minister of State, the right hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice), to sort out, and I apologise to him for that. I am sure he would rather be concentrating on other matters, but he is a highly respected politician of integrity, and I know he will take note of today’s debate and vote.

Tony Baldry: As the hon. Gentleman had ministerial responsibility for this issue under the last Government, may I ask him a question? In the last Parliament, we spent a lot of time debating the Bill that became the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and we were told that it was the most up-to-date legislation in the world. Therefore, if there is a concern about animal welfare, why is it not covered by the provisions of that Act?

Jim Fitzpatrick: That is a good question, and I will discuss the 2006 Act in due course. It is my understanding that that Act could be used as the enabling legislation to introduce a ban, and I hope that my later remarks on it will clarify the situation for the hon. Gentleman.

When I took over as Minister of State in 2009, the question of wild animals in circuses had been left over from the 2006 Act. That Act was much needed and warmly welcomed and took animal welfare to a much better place, but wild animals in circuses were not specifically covered. I was lobbied by the Born Free Foundation, as well as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Animal Defenders International, and also by many Members. DEFRA organised a consultation, and we all know the outcome: 94.5% of the 13,000 respondents said they wanted a ban. The then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), agreed that we should express our conclusions before last May’s election and we said we were minded to introduce a ban.

Recently, there has been much comment about legal impediments. The European Circus Association challenged the Austrian ban at the European Commission in 2006, and it lost. It invoked the European ombudsman and it lost. The ombudsman asked the Commission to evaluate whether the Austrian ban on wild animals in circuses was proportionate. The Commission’s final opinion of September 2009, as laid out in the documents available in the Library pack for today’s debate, set out why it did not believe there were grounds for an accusation of maladministration and also set out its view on the proportionality of the Austrian ban. It ruled that this was a matter for member states to decide.

Much advice was offered to me when I was a Minister, but my recollection is that the legal questions were about whether a ban would require primary or secondary legislation. I do not remember there being a European dimension to the advice, but of course memory does play tricks on us.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): The hon. Gentleman was a good Minister, but does he regret that he did not introduce a ban in his time as a Minister?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I regret that we as a Labour Government did not introduce a ban, but the Animal Welfare Act was a major piece of legislation and we tried our best. Given the constraints and the time frame between when I was appointed Minister of State and the May 2010

23 Jun 2011 : Column 554

election, there was not long enough to introduce that ban. However we gave a commitment to the animal welfare lobby, to parliamentary colleagues and to the public that we were minded to introduce a ban if we were re-elected, which sadly we were not. I am convinced that we would have gone ahead with that.

The biggest obstacle to progress that I can remember, as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for The Wrekin, was at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which contended that any such ban could harm our creative industries by outlawing the use of animals in film and TV productions at worst or by reducing the number of performing animals available at best. Either way, the contention was that the threat to film and TV production would move it abroad and cost us jobs and revenue. We had numerous discussions about this and we were eventually able to reassure DCMS that that would not be the case and that we could limit the ban to the use of wild animals in circuses, as the hon. Gentleman has outlined. DCMS dropped its objection and the Government had a united policy, which appeared in our manifesto in May last year.

All kinds of questions were raised about whether wild animals should perform at all and which should be allowed to. My main concern was and is about the conditions in which animals are kept in venues and on the road. We are mostly reassured that modern zoos create environments that try to reflect animals’ origins, natural habitat and behaviour patterns, and we have to ask how that can be done in the back of a cage attached to a lorry driving along the motorways of Britain. Even this morning on BBC “Breakfast”, the camera crew visiting a circus was not allowed to film the animals’ living quarters. I think that that speaks volumes. Why the reluctance? I think we all know.

The Government say they want to introduce a licensing system rather than a ban. The system would mean that any circuses wishing to have wild animals such as tigers, lions and elephants performing in them would need to demonstrate that they met high animal welfare standards for each animal before they could be granted a licence to keep them. Areas being considered as part of the licensing conditions include the rules on transporting animals, the type of quarters they could be kept in, including winter quarters, and their treatment by trainers and keepers.

I know from my time at DEFRA that it wants to improve the welfare of animals across the piece and to improve the situation. It has even been suggested by some that the licensing regime could introduce a ban by the back door, but we do not want a ban by the back door—we want a ban through the front door. We want honesty and transparency in the laws and regulations we debate and introduce. We want clarity, not confusion. The public have used their voice to articulate that they want a ban and Members of every party have said that they want a ban. I hope and appeal to hon. Members in all parts of the House when it comes to the vote at 6 o’clock tonight to support the motion in the names of the hon. Members for The Wrekin, for Colchester and myself.

4.9 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): Animal welfare matters to the British people, but we in the House have a duty and responsibility to make decisions on issues

23 Jun 2011 : Column 555

relating to animal welfare based on facts, knowledge and science. If we make decisions based purely on opinion polls and emotions, we shall get ourselves into great difficulty. I heard nothing in the speech of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) about the actual welfare of animals.

Mark Pritchard: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Rosindell: I will give way in a moment.

We have to base our decisions on cool hard facts and knowledge of the situation. The speeches I have heard today do not show that; they have avoided the real animal welfare issues and are pandering to the emotions of animal rights activists who care more about their political agenda than about the real welfare of animals.

I condemn utterly and totally cruelty to animals of any kind. I was the shadow Minister for animal welfare for three years before the last election, and I had the same instincts as many people in the Chamber today and many of the people who respond to opinion polls, when they say, “Isn’t it dreadful. It should be banned. How awful this is.”

Caroline Lucas: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Rosindell: May I make some progress before I give way?

Instead of basing my views purely on what the newspapers or the opinion polls say, I looked into the matter. The truth is that in this country only a small number of animals are in circuses: 39 in total. They are not captured from the jungle and dragged to the circus; many have been born and bred in circuses for generations. [ Interruption. ] Their entire rhythm of life is based—

Mark Pritchard: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Rosindell: Not at the moment.

For those animals, their entire rhythm of life is based on what they have known since they were born. On the face of it—

Several hon. Members rose

Andrew Rosindell: May I continue?

On the face of it, I agree that it looks to many people as though it is all very cruel, but in reality many of those animals have been so domesticated over so many years that to wrench them from the life they are used to would be crueller than allowing them to continue it. The Government have to implement welfare and we already have the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If there is real cruelty to animals, we can use existing legislation or, as the Government propose, licensing to deal with it. [ Interruption. ]It is amazing that we are focusing on an area where there is almost no cruelty—[Hon. Members: “There is.”] There isn’t. [ Interruption. ] No one wants to hear the facts—[ Interruption. ] They don’t.

I am fed up with animals being used as a political football. If Members want to campaign for animal welfare, they should look at the facts, examine the

23 Jun 2011 : Column 556

reality and not use it to promote a political agenda. I am afraid to say that certain animal welfare organisations—




Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Mr Rosindell is not giving way, so persistent requests are not helping the situation. I am sure he will let the House know when he is ready to take an intervention.

Andrew Rosindell: I should like to take interventions, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am being shouted down, which is not very fair, especially from a Green MP—I should have thought that she would want to hear the other point of view.

I am a champion for animal welfare, but I shall not just follow the crowd. I shall look at the facts. What is being proposed is worse than those poor animals are used to; their entire life has been in the environment they were brought up in. Wrenching them away from the people who have looked after them, loved them and cared for them would obliterate their rhythm of life and would be crueller than allowing it to continue. I shall now give way.

Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman says that he wants science. What about the science from the British Veterinary Association, which says:

“the welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within the environment of a travelling circus…A licensing scheme will not address these issues”?

The BVA is one of the most respected scientific organisations for animal welfare in this country. What does he say to that?

Andrew Rosindell: Non-domesticated—they are wild animals, but when lions and tigers are 10th generation born in that environment, we are no longer talking about a lion taken out of its natural environment and dragged into the circus. I am afraid to say that the issue is often used by organisations for fundraising. Charities and animal rights groups raise money, and the issue is raised to attract political support and donations, by whipping up emotions instead of treating the facts as they are.

Mark Pritchard: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Andrew Rosindell: No, I will not.

We have the Animal Welfare Act 2006—a brilliant piece of legislation from the last Government, which we supported—and it can be used when cruelty occurs, but I appeal to the House: do not go with the crowd, look at the facts, do not wrench those creatures away from the life that they are used to and have grown up in. If you do that, you will be more cruel than leaving them where they are, with the people and in the environment that they are used to.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend share with the House his views on whether third-generation slaves in the United States, born into slavery, were content with slavery, more so than those who were enslaved in the first place?

23 Jun 2011 : Column 557

Andrew Rosindell: I am afraid to say that I am sorry that the debate is being dragged to such a level. Instead of dealing with the facts, you are ultimately saying that animals—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Once again, I can see that emotions are running high, but I remind the House that when you say, “you”, you mean me.

Andrew Rosindell: I knew that my views would be unpopular, but I ask hon. Members perhaps to take something away from what I am saying, because I believe passionately in animal welfare. I looked at this for three years. I visited circuses. I spoke to people who deal with training the animals, and I know that they are loved and cared for. This is like a pack hunting a tiny bit of tradition that still exists in this country, where animal welfare standards are greatly considered and animals are loved and cared for. I am afraid to say that, if we rush to make a decision based on pure emotion and opinion polls, I really think that it will be an irresponsible decision. We should look at the facts. We should understand the long-term interests of animal welfare and use existing legislation to deal with this issue.

4.18 pm

Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): That contribution can best be described idiosyncratic, or idiotic, depending on the point of view taken. To say that it is not about the welfare of animals is either a display of stupidity that is quite mind-numbing or a deliberate attempt not to face up to the heart of the issue. As the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) said in opening the debate, this is entirely about animal welfare. Only about 40 or so animals are involved—there are various numbers; perhaps it is 36 or 37—but the numbers do not matter. What matters is cruelty.

Mark Pritchard: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, in the absence my having been able to intervene on my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). The hon. Gentleman needs to be careful not to be too harsh on my hon. Friend, who wrote the foreword in 2009 for the Great British Circus and previous forewords as well. Perhaps that is why he would not allow me to intervene.

Jim Dowd: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; I suspect that he might be on to something.

I am puzzled because this is a relatively minor issue: as I say, somewhere between 36 and 40 animals are involved. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) quoted the British Veterinary Association. The hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) did not grasp the difference between domesticated and captive animals. Captive animals may still be wild and nowhere near domesticated. Even until the nth generation, they remain wild and their instincts are those of wild creatures. The British Veterinary Association said that in captivity in circuses, there are no circumstances under which such animals can demonstrate their natural behaviour. That will remain the case, regardless of a regulatory scheme. The big disadvantage of a regulatory scheme is that it would be a more complicated way of dealing

23 Jun 2011 : Column 558

with the matter and it would be much more likely to increase, not reduce, the number of wild animals being used in circuses.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): I have received a huge number of e-mails and correspondence from constituents about this matter. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), whom I congratulate on having initiated the debate, mentioned how the conditions in which the animals are kept adversely affect them. The hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) referred to facts. The usual life expectancy of animals kept in such conditions is much shorter than that of animals not kept in those conditions.

Jim Dowd: Indeed. The hon. Member for Romford was being most disingenuous or misinformed, depending on one’s point of view, in saying that there was not a body of evidence based on animal welfare considerations that supports the ban. The argument in favour of a ban is entirely predicated on that. He may not have understood the evidence, but that does not mean it does not exist.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): As a scientist I am very interested in evidence. Could the hon. Gentleman spot what the facts were that we were being asked to listen to by the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell)? I missed all those, whereas the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) seemed to cite facts that were much more interesting.

Jim Dowd: The hon. Gentleman has it exactly right. The speech of the hon. Member for Romford would bear rereading, as they say. Perhaps we can have a prize for anyone who can mine a single fact out of it—but please do not send that to me.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), I and Brian Blessed, among others, were over at Downing street towards the end of March to hand in a letter calling for the ban to be introduced. I know that there are those on the Government Benches who are ideologically opposed to bans of any kind, which is a strange position, but it is understandable. Parliament and the whole body of law is about bans of one kind or another designed to change people’s behaviour in different ways. A law says, “If you behave in a certain way, there will be certain consequences,” but no law can ever make people better. What it can say is that there are patterns of behaviour and conduct which are acceptable and there are those which are not. Cruelty to animals is one of those considerations.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): Is it not a fact that zoos have spent a great deal of money doing the research to find out what sort of facilities should be made available for the sort of animals that we are discussing? Clearly, travelling circuses cannot provide such facilities.

Jim Dowd: I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. When we speak to those involved with zoos and aquariums, it is clear that they are looking carefully at the kind of animals that they will and will not exhibit. Large mammals and large carnivores are very much at the top of their considerations.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 559

As just about every Member knows, animal welfare is one of the most persistent issues raised with us by our constituents over time. From the 19 years that I have been in the House, I have a database running into many thousands of people who have raised various issues with me. People feel very strongly about these issues, and rightly so. It is the hallmark of a civilised nation that it has the highest possible animal welfare standards, and I still believe this to be a civilised nation. There is a maxim that suggests that the hottest corner of hell is reserved for those who are cruel to children and animals, and in that regard, despite being a life-long atheist, I hope that there is a hell.

Constituents raise concerns with us because they care about them. For the hon. Member for Romford—I do not want to concentrate on his contribution, but it really was quite extraordinary—to describe the entire pantheon of animal welfare organisations, many of which have royal charters and have been around for decades, if not centuries, as part of some kind of trendy conspiracy invented simply to please Guardian readers is ludicrous.

I accept that the Minister is in a difficult situation, and he has made his personal opinion clear. What I cannot understand—the hon. Member for The Wrekin alluded to this—is why the Government have handled such a relatively straightforward issue in this fashion. The idea of No. 10 getting personally involved in such as issue shows a curious lack of proportion. It also appears curious when tested against the idea that the Government are now listening and that listening is a sign of strength.

Mark Pritchard: I am pleased to announce that the coalition Government, certainly on the Conservative side, have heard the voice of the British people, seen sense and will now allow a free vote on the matter.

Jim Dowd: Well, there are free votes and there are free votes. To paraphrase George Orwell, some of them are more free than others. There is a great deal more to be said on the matter, but unfortunately not by me. I urge Members to support the motion.

4.27 pm

Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): I am pleased to be called to speak in the debate, but I find it rather sad that we are still talking about this issue after so much time. DEFRA officials said in 2009 that the ban could be introduced under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. We went wrong when the Minister of State commented recently that a total ban on wild animals in circuses might be seen as disproportionate under the EU services directive and under our own Human Rights Act 1998. I must say that, on that point, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard). Having had some contact with the Whips in the past week, I have become quite an expert on the Human Rights Act and particularly knowledgeable on article 8 of the convention.

With regard to the European Court’s case law, it is difficult to envisage a cogent argument that could support the assertion that a ban would engage the other rights set out in the convention, such as the rights to life and

23 Jun 2011 : Column 560

to a fair trail. Therefore, I can only presume that the Minister made his comments while considering a ban under article 8.

Article 8(1) has been interpreted extremely broadly by the European Court, whereas exemptions or limitations to the right have been interpreted narrowly. The right has three potentially relevant elements: private life, family life and home. Private life has been held to include the right to develop one’s own personality and relationships with others. The European Court considered that the notion of personal autonomy is an important principle underlying the interpretation of the right.

However, the right has been held not to apply to activities that relate to the private aspects of a person’s life, such as those that take place in public and where there is no expectation of privacy. In the current situation, a ban relates not to the private aspects of the lives of those potentially affected, but to their employment, which essentially takes place in public and without the expectation of privacy. Equally, the ban would not affect the right to a family life, as it would not prevent or interfere with a person living in proximity to their family.

Finally, the concept of home under the convention is wide and would include travelling accommodation as well as permanent dwellings.

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I am sure that my hon. Friend is right about article 8 of the convention, but at no time have I referred to it. If he had read what I said, he would know that I referred to article 1.

Mr Offord: I am happy to stand corrected by the Minister. That allows me to move my argument on.

Another argument is that a ban on animals in circuses would interfere with a person’s right to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions because it would amount to a control on how those possessions may be used, but such an interference with that right would not violate the right if it were done in the public interest. I therefore urge the Minister to consider a ban in that public interest.

The European Courts have decided that, whether or not the control on possessions imposed by a ban is in the public interest, they will have regard to whether a ban represents a fair balance between the needs of the public interest and the rights of the individual. In other words, I tell the Minister that the European Courts will consider whether a total ban is a proportionate measure to achieve the public interest aim in question.

Accordingly, it is important to consider why exactly a ban is required in the public interest. If a total ban is proposed to ensure that animals are kept in appropriate conditions and cared for by appropriately qualified persons, there is an argument that, unlike the proposed licensing and inspection regime, a ban is not proportionate to the public interest aim being pursued. If a total ban is proposed because it is considered cruel or ethically wrong to make wild animals perform in circuses in the UK, however, a total ban is the only measure that will achieve that public aim.

Accordingly, if Parliament determines that wild animals performing in circuses is no longer acceptable to the public, it will therefore be in the public interest to have a

23 Jun 2011 : Column 561

ban on the use of such animals. The European Courts would be very unlikely to question the judgment of this House as to what is in the public interest of the United Kingdom.

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that in the UK more than 200 local authorities have bans on animals in circuses, and that more than two thirds of those bans are on all performing animals, the remainder being on wild animals? Is he aware also of any ongoing court cases under human rights legislation?

Mr Offord: I am certainly not aware of any cases under human rights legislation, and the situation involves not just 200 local authorities, but countries and principalities in countries, including Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. All those countries have to decided to take that suggested approach, yet we are once again kowtowing to the European Courts.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): On human rights, does my hon. Friend accept that it takes only one person to challenge this decision in order to delay for a number of years the process that every Member seems to want, whereas sensible regulation would achieve the same aims over a much shorter time?

Mr Offord: I suggest, as others have already urged, that we take a lead on the matter. As I have said, I have had some experience with the Human Rights Act this week, but when people use it they find that many in officialdom bow down and decide that, suddenly, it is a very important issue and that those people will get away with what they are trying to achieve.

In summary, case law from the European Court of Human Rights indicates that a ban would be within the “margin of appreciation” afforded to the United Kingdom. If a ban is proposed because it is considered cruel or ethically wrong in itself to make wild animals perform in circuses in the United Kingdom, as opposed to a ban being proposed because welfare standards cannot be guaranteed, then a ban is the only measure that will achieve that public interest aim and is therefore automatically proportionate.

Accordingly, a ban will not breach the European convention on human rights, and as a ban is only a control on the use of wild animals in circuses and therefore does not deprive the owner of the animal itself or of their ability to use it for commercial purposes, there is a strong presumption against compensation being awarded to persons who suffer any loss as a result of the ban. If the Government decide to implement a ban, it will not be as revolutionary as we have heard, given the 200 local authorities and the other countries that have been mentioned.

I do not believe that animals should be subjected to the conditions of circus life. Regular transport, cramped and bare temporary housing, forced training and performance, loud noises and crowds of people are all typical and often unavoidable realities for such animals. Therefore, unless the Government give us a time frame for a ban on animals in circuses, I will vote for the motion.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 562

4.33 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): We have already heard many comments from many colleagues, so I will not repeat what has been said. I rise in support of the motion, which

“directs the Government to use its powers under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to introduce a regulation banning the use of all wild animals in circuses”.

I had the privilege of serving on the Animal Welfare Bill Committee back in 2006. The Bill became an excellent Act with many good measures asking people to think carefully. It was good in terms of introducing codes and saying that animal welfare really matters. During that Committee’s proceedings, however, I raised the issue of banning the use of wild animals in circuses, and I would have liked to have seen a much slicker process in the Bill to progress the matter at that time.

Matters have progressed, however. The consultation that the Labour Government instigated in 2009 showed that public opinion is even more clearly behind a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses than it was back in 2006, with 94.5% of people saying that they would support it. It is therefore a great shame that we did not have the time to introduce that ban before the election, after which the coalition Government chose to disregard public opinion by not proceeding with introducing it.

It is extraordinary that the smokescreen of the European Union has been put up as an excuse for not introducing the ban, because as was explained earlier, the Commissioner has clarified the position and there is absolutely no obstacle whatsoever in the way of our doing so. The European Union does not prevent us from doing this.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): My hon. Friend is to be commended for the work that she has done on animal welfare in the last Parliament and in this one. Is it not the case that all that is required to bring in the ban is secondary legislation using the existing provisions in the 2006 Act—a very simple process?

Nia Griffith: Indeed; my hon. Friend has clarified the position. It is very straightforward. It can be achieved because of the groundwork that was done during the first stages of the Animal Welfare Bill.

Evidence from local councils over very many years shows that when given the opportunity many local councillors, rather than trying to ban the use of animals, have said that circuses are not allowed to come on to their land to perform because they want to make the point and respond to public opinion. We do not want a messy licensing situation whereby this, that and the other has to be done and the situation is unclear to everybody—we want a simple, straightforward ban.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I am sure that there will be party political points to be scored throughout the debate; I congratulate those who have called it. Does the hon. Lady accept, however, that there is a gathering consensus, with the Government’s body language since the announcement on 13 May indicating that there is a growing preference in Government for a ban?

Nia Griffith: We want a definitive decision to be taken today. We want that decision to go in favour of a ban, and we want that ban to be implemented without

23 Jun 2011 : Column 563

any further delays of any sort whatsoever. The consultation clearly indicates where public opinion stands and the reasons why. I am not going to keep listing the terrible instances of cruelty that we have heard about. Even if there were no deliberate cruelty, it is clear to anybody that the lifestyle of always popping in and out of a cage and performing and travelling is not something that anybody could possibly understand as the way that a wild animal would be expected to behave.

On the business about 10 generations, even in the case of our own cats and dogs who may be 10 generations domesticated, we have cat flaps and take dogs for walks. We certainly do not expect them to live the life of popping in and out of a cage and being isolated from other members of their species and taken right of their environment. That is clearly incompatible with their natural way of life. There are many opportunities for young people to see how animals can live in the wild using hidden cameras. We have experts and naturalists who produce fabulous films. We can click on our computers and see it all. We can go to a safari park, without having to travel abroad, to see animals who can be kept in certain ways in this country.

Angela Smith: Have we not come to expect, as a society, that animals should live in their natural environment and should not have to exist for the benefit of human beings and their entertainment?

Nia Griffith: Absolutely. It is a purely selfish idea that anybody would want to see an animal perform in a circus. As my hon. Friend says, we have moved on from that. It is completely mediaeval to think of going back to the idea that an animal is to be taken round on a chain because nobody in the area or in the country has ever had a chance to see that type of animal. We do not want that any more.

There are many important lessons that we want to teach our young people. They will not learn the fundamental lesson about respect for animals and treating them properly and well if they are taken to a circus to see such antics. Young people have to understand that for them to see such things, animals have to travel and undergo very undesirable practices. Animal welfare is incompatible with the life of a travelling circus.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I have personal experience of a wild animal. I found a bear in a cage in no man’s land. He had been left there for four weeks without water. He was entirely miserable and would not even be coaxed out of his cage by honey. We managed to ethnically cleanse that bear out of Bosnia and into Croatia. He is now a very happy bear who is full of life and living in Amsterdam zoo, which is great. I fully support the idea of banning animals in cages, because it would stop that sort of thing.

Nia Griffith: As I have said, society has moved on. We do not expect to see the cruelty of animals being kept in circuses in this day and age.

We want this ban to be sorted out in the most efficient way for the whole country, not in little bits and pieces or through half measures. We want a proper ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. As I have said,

23 Jun 2011 : Column 564

there are many other ways in which young people can be educated about animals. They do not need to see cruelty to animals in the circus. I fully support the motion. I congratulate the Members who called for this debate and thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it.

4.41 pm

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I am delighted to speak on this incredibly important motion, and I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this debate. It is fair to say that I do not always agree with him, but I recognise his strong commitment to animal welfare, which I share.

Hon. Members had the opportunity to debate banning wild animals in circuses in a Westminster Hall debate secured by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on 8 June. I am delighted that we now have the opportunity to debate it on the Floor of the House and to vote on it. I make it clear that I will be voting for the motion. There have been suggestions that Conservative Back Benchers are being or have been whipped to vote against the motion. I state categorically that I have not been whipped by any Liberal Democrat Member to vote either way. All I say to Conservative colleagues who may be thinking of voting against the motion is that they should bear in mind the level of public support throughout the country and, more specifically, in their constituencies for a total ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.

My concern is that the Government’s proposal of introducing a licensing scheme may inadvertently legitimise the use of wild animals in circuses, resulting in an increase in their use and an increase in suffering.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Another problem with licensing is that it does not deal with the issue of animal welfare, because the animals still travel and are still kept in unacceptable conditions.

Mr Leech: I thank the right hon. Gentleman; I was about to make that very point.

Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of wild animals in circuses. There are now only about 38 or 39 animals being used in three circuses. That is a welcome decline and I hope that the trend continues as more and more people support a complete ban. Recent surveys have suggested that at least 70% of people support a complete ban, and more than 94% of people who responded to the consultation did so as well.

Unfortunately, I understand from the Captive Animals Protection Society that the day after the Westminster Hall debate Malcolm Clay, secretary of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, said that far from a licensing scheme discouraging circuses from using wild animals—which the Minister suggested might be the case—

“Once we have… regulation which reassures the public we may see some circuses return to using animals.”

Surely that is not the Minister’s intention.

There has been a public focus on the issue of wild animals in circuses in recent times, not least because of the spotlight on the poor treatment of Anne the elephant, but also owing to the number of people who have seen the film “Water for Elephants” in the cinema. I urge

23 Jun 2011 : Column 565

Members who have not seen the film to go and see it. Unfortunately, however, the plight of Anne the elephant has muddied the waters to some extent. I do not think anyone would deny that no one with a brain would condone the mistreatment of animals, and I have no doubt that this was only one of a very small number of instances of animal cruelty in circuses. I am sure that the vast majority of wild animals in circuses are looked after as well as they possibly can be. What concerns me is that the nature of a circus, which involves moving from place to place in cramped conditions, makes it impossible to provide a suitable living environment for wild animals.

The nature of a circus also makes it impossible to provide an inspection system that could adequately check that regulations were being adhered to at every location unless that system is ridiculously expensive. Although the Minister has said that the cost will fall on the circuses, I suspect that the result will probably be an inadequate inspection system and an insufficient number of inspections. An inspection system will not work, and may result in more wild animals in circuses and more suffering. It will not address the fact that the constant movement of animals in cramped conditions is not good for the welfare of the animals. The only way to ensure an end to animal suffering in circuses is a complete ban, and I urge Members in all parts of the House to vote for that ban

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. So that more Back Benchers will have an opportunity to speak, I am reducing the time limit to five minutes.

4.47 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I pay tribute to the Members who tabled this important motion.

We need a ban on keeping wild animals in circuses because it is cruel, but we also need a ban because the welfare of those animals is emblematic of the way in which we treat all animals, and is symbolic of the kind of society in which we live. The Government are wrong to suggest that the European Union is somehow preventing us from dealing with the issue. In response to the insistence of Ministers during the last debate on this subject that a legal threat in Europe had been a major factor in the prevention of an outright ban, leading animal protection organisations called a meeting with the European Commission’s Head of Representation, at which it was confirmed once again that the issue of wild animals in circuses was a matter best left to the judgment of member states.

When I was a Member of the European Parliament, we did a great deal of work trying to make progress with animal welfare issues in the Parliament. Often, the advice was to go back to member states in the first instance and to rouse them to act. I have therefore urged Ministers to consider, for example, the action that was taken first on dog and cat fur and then on seal fur. On both occasions, leadership by member states prompted the EU to ban imports of those types of fur. It is significant that the legal advice that was used in an attempt to stop those bans was that there were so-called “outstanding legal impediments”. Exactly the same excuse is being used today. Governments were given the legal

23 Jun 2011 : Column 566

advice that it would be impossible to ban imports of cat and dog fur, and the same was said of seal fur, but when individual Governments challenged that dubious advice, they were able to make the bans happen.

It is when a number of forward-thinking member states call strongly for action on something that we see progress on the EU position. There are clear precedents, not least in animal welfare policy, in which action by individual states has been the means by which animal welfare protection has been secured across the EU.

In an attempt to find out whether the Government were genuinely looking for a legal way to make a ban on wild animals in circuses happen, I tabled a written question asking whether the Secretary of State had received any legal advice on

“instances where a single EU member state has taken unilateral action on animal welfare matters which has led subsequently to a change of EU policy in line with that action”.—[Official Report, 9 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 408W.]

The extraordinarily complacent response was that the Secretary of State had “no recollection” of any such advice. Why is she not going out and asking for that advice? Why is she not looking for the legal means to go ahead with a ban, in line with the wishes of the vast majority of people in this country? Instead, she and her Ministers have been looking for legal cases to cower behind as a cover for not acting.

It is worth reminding ourselves that it is not just because of public opinion that we need a ban, important thought that is. Members have spoken about the importance of science, and I have cited the evidence of the British Veterinary Association, which has stated that

“the welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within the environment of a travelling circus; especially in terms of accommodation and the ability to express normal behaviour. A licensing scheme will not address these issues”.

We are not criticising individual circus owners; we are saying that the very nature of being in a circus means that animals’ welfare needs cannot be addressed.

At first, my feeling was that the Government’s position was extraordinarily cowardly. As the debates continue, I am sadly coming to the conclusion that they do not want to act because they do not like to be seen to be banning things, and are therefore looking for excuses. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that successive UK Governments have been in breach of their obligations under the bathing water directive since 1975. Although it is nice to see DEFRA suddenly discovering the idea of complying in full with what it perceives to be its EU obligations, perhaps it is not too cynical to suggest on this occasion that they simply do not want to act.

If the Government wanted to stop this cruel practice, they would be acting. In their defence we would have another euro-sausage type story, with headlines about the UK having every right to act and comments like “How dare the EU interfere?”, as we saw with the “Defend the British banger” story. Yet in this instance, the EU is not telling us what to do. Instead, we are inventing barriers where none exists.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Lady is making a marvellous speech. My understanding is that every legal case brought by European circus owners, like the one in Austria that has been mentioned, has been lost. There seems to be almost no real basis at all for the Government’s claim.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 567

Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman’s intervention is very helpful in pointing out that that argument is a smokescreen that the Government are hiding behind. Indeed, the Head of Representation of the European Commission here in London recently wrote a letter to the Captive Animals Protection Society stating plainly, yet again, that the EU considered that

“the welfare of animals…is a matter best left to the judgement of Member States”.

It is not acceptable to have a policy which leaves us just hoping that regulations will have the same effect as a ban, particularly given that the secretary of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain stated on the day after our last debate that he did not believe the new costs of regulation would discourage circuses from having performing animals. Instead, he stated that

“once we have robust regulation which reassures the public we may see some circuses return to using animals”.

How perverse would that be as an outcome of having licences?

Mr Foster: For the avoidance of doubt, will the hon. Lady confirm that the EU has not said just that these issues are best left to member states? The Commissioner has specifically said that they are the responsibility of member states. That is what gives us the legitimacy to have a ban, and to have it now.

Caroline Lucas: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is the responsibility of member states to act, and it is within our remit and right for us to do so. That is what the EU is saying, so it is incredibly perverse to try to do otherwise.

In conclusion, the Government’s judgment on this matter is woefully lacking. They have got it wrong on this one.

Angela Smith: I am sorry to intervene on the hon. Lady towards the end of her speech, and I thank her for allowing me to do so. If the vote tonight is in favour of a ban, does she, like me, expect the Government to act on that and bring in a ban as quickly as possible?

Caroline Lucas: I think that were the Government not to act in that way, the Great British public would be shocked and any sense of democratic accountability would be undermined. I agree completely with the hon. Lady that they should respect the wishes of the vast majority of people in this country and immediately ban the cruel practice of keeping wild animals in circuses. Personally, I would go further and ban all animals in circuses, not just wild animals. I refer hon. Members to Cirque du Soleil, one of the most famous and successful circuses in all of Europe, which uses no animals at all.

The outcome that the Government imply they want is for there to be no wild animals in circuses. If that is the case, I call on them to show some real leadership and effect a ban now.

4.54 pm

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I pay my respects to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), whom I cannot see in the Chamber, and congratulate him on securing this important debate.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 568

I should like to put it on the record that I am grateful that we will now have a free vote. Applying a three-line Whip to an issue such as this would have made a mockery of the relationship between Parliament and the Government. That is a welcome move in the past couple of hours.

I shall not pretend that this is the biggest animal welfare issue, because it clearly is not. There are 30 or 40 wild animals in circuses in this country. That does not compare with the millions of animals that have to experience daily the brutality and horrors of factory farming. This is none the less an important issue. There is no justifiable reason for keeping animals such as elephants, tigers, lions and so on in small, travelling cages, away from any semblance of what for them would be a normal life. That is just not civilised.

My understanding is that until recently the Government took the same view, but that that changed somewhere along the line. It is hard for me—and, I believe, many others—to understand why that happened. For one thing, the vast majority of people support a ban. All the polls suggest that. The public appetite for such entertainment is, at best, fading. It is certainly not a growth sector.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): With overwhelming public opinion against the use of animals, might such a ban help circuses, because it could attract customers who, like me, are appalled by the use of wild animals, back to them?

Zac Goldsmith: That is an extremely valuable point. I have been to circuses in this country, but I have made a point of choosing to go only to those that I know use no wild animals. It would be nice not to have to do that research. I am sure that many people are repelled for that reason.

Mr Watts: The general public, MPs and even Ministers are opposed to live animals in circuses. Is it not clear that the only person blocking a ban is the Prime Minister?

Zac Goldsmith: I have no idea. I do not know the politics and I do not know the Prime Minister’s position. I accept that the vast majority of the public are opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses, as—I believe—are the vast majority of Members of the House.

It is particular confusing that whereas the Government have a stated ambition over the course of this Parliament to reduce red tape and bureaucracy, their alternative to a straightforward ban affecting 30 or perhaps 40 animals is to construct a new regulatory regime, with licensing and inspections and the various associated costs. That goes against the Government’s general thrust and direction—and all for 30 or 40 animals. That makes no sense at all.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the strength of public opinion. Why were his Government and his Prime Minister prepared to have a three-line Whip for Conservatives until the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) stood up?

Zac Goldsmith: I began my speech by welcoming the change of heart over the past couple of hours. I have not been part of that process, so I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I am very pleased that

23 Jun 2011 : Column 569

we will have a free vote—it is the kind of issue that should have a free vote. I am very much on the record before the debate as saying that I would have defied a three-line Whip and voted for the motion, as a very large number of Government Members would have done. That is perhaps one of the reasons why we will now have a free vote.

The most disturbing aspect of the Government’s change of position is that it is not based on a change of heart. As a number of hon. Members have pointed out, the only reason we have been given is that the Government fear a possible EU legal challenge some time in future. The Minister was quoted in The Independent today, I believe, as saying that

“a total ban on wild animals in circuses might well be seen as disproportionate action under the European Union services directive and under our own Human Rights Act”.

If that is true, it is hard to imagine anything more embarrassing for the House. The Government are effectively saying that even though they want to do this minor thing, and even though the public would support such a move, they cannot do it because they no longer have the authority. What does that say about Parliament, democracy or this country?

Let me put it another way. What is the point of making promises up and down the country in the run-up to an election on the campaign trail if we no longer have the authority to fulfil even the most basic promise? That makes a mockery of parliamentary democracy in this country.

Mr Offord: I am sure my hon. Friend will recall the issue of prisoners’ voting rights, when the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights told us we were not allowed to deny them those rights. I was pleased that hon. Members, particularly Government Members, had the opportunity to show the will of Parliament. This is an opportunity for us to show our will again.

Zac Goldsmith: I absolutely accept that point, and there are other examples too. We had a debate a month ago on fish discards, and the House unanimously agreed a resolution requiring that the Government veto any reforms to the common fisheries policy unless they included our reasserting control over the 12 miles around our coast. It remains to be seen whether we have the strength to show our will again, although I very much hope that we do, just as we did over prisoner votes. In this case, the legal advice is, at best, ambiguous, and I am convinced by the arguments used by a number of speakers that there is, in fact, no genuine threat at all, and that this is something that the Government should and must do. I am going to back the motion, and I hope that colleagues will do the same, if not for the wild animals themselves then simply to send a message to the public that Parliament exists, and exists for a purpose.

5 pm

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): For once—perhaps the only time—it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). I suspect that there might be many occasions on which we do not agree, but on this one we certainly do.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 570

I want to make a short contribution because it is important that the House is seen to reflect public opinion and the views of our constituents. Like other hon. Members, I have many constituents who care passionately about animal welfare. They do not see it as part of a political agenda that they are working to for their own sake or to gain a position; they believe genuinely in what they argue. I pay particular tribute to one of my constituents, Maureen Rankin from Kilmarnock, who over the years has done a huge amount of work on the issue of wild animals in circuses. I am glad that the tone of debate has moved on from what was a fairly sparky beginning to starting to find consensus across the House and political parties. That is what the public are looking for on an issue such as this. There will be times when we disagree, and there will be nuances and differences.

Nia Griffith: My hon. Friend will be well aware that the Labour Government allowed a free vote on tail docking. Does she agree that her constituents would expect there to be an automatic free vote on an issue of this importance, which is cross-party rather than party political?

Cathy Jamieson: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I certainly was glad to hear, during the debate, that the Government have decided to offer a free vote, because it gives Members the opportunity genuinely to reflect the views of their constituents.

The arguments for the ban have been well rehearsed during the debate, so I do not want to go over them all again. It is important to recognise that the arguments being made by organisations such as OneKind, Animal Defenders International and the Born Free Foundation arise out of the view that has grown up over the years that it is no longer acceptable for animals to be used for entertainment in circuses. After many years in politics, albeit in another Parliament, I am glad to be with 95% of the public rather than trying to change opinion and argue my case, which was the position I was in when I first entered politics. It has been mentioned that several local authorities, including in Scotland, have already decided not to allow circuses with wild animals.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that despite some of the doom and gloom, including in my city, when local authorities took that step about 20 years ago—people said, “Well, that will be the end of circuses in the city”—we have seen some superb circuses every year since?

Cathy Jamieson: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. In Edinburgh, Fife and my local authority area in Ayrshire, there was cross-party support for not allowing circuses with wild animals on to council land, but the local authorities I know of, particularly in Scotland, want to take further measures to ensure not only that such circuses are not allowed on their land but that they cannot enter other locations in the council area.