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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 29 June 2011

[Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Convention on Domestic Workers

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

9.30 am

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I know that it is customary to praise the occupant of the Chair at such moments as these, Mr Howarth, but I am very pleased indeed that you are presiding over this debate on such a critical issue. My aim in calling for the debate is to hold the Government to account for their unannounced refusal earlier this month to sign the International Labour Organisation convention on domestic workers.

The convention’s introductory text describes why the protection is needed:

“domestic work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment and of work, and to other abuses of human rights”.

It is for that reason that there have been international efforts over some years to produce a convention that covers basic human and workplace rights for people all over the world who work in other people’s homes as cleaners or cooks, or do other kinds of domestic work. The convention will entitle them to the basic labour standards that we expect for all workers.

I intend to show how, in the worst cases of abuse, some domestic workers in the UK are forced to work for no wages and are therefore basically slaves, others are subjected to sexual abuse and physical violence, some are barely fed, many have only a floor to sleep on, and many earn a pittance and work extraordinarily long hours. Some Members might feel that we did that yesterday in the House, but it is a regular occurrence for people in these circumstances.

The convention serves to give international backing to the right of domestic workers to protection against such abuses, and to entitle them to the dignity at work that every human being should expect, yet the UK Government were one of only eight Governments to abstain in the vote. Let us see what company we were in: the Governments of El Salvador, Panama, the Czech Republic, Sudan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Swaziland did not vote in favour. All other 173 Governments voted in favour of the convention, including the USA and China. All the worker representatives voted in favour, as did many employer representatives. It looks to me as if, in that list of shame—I do regard it as such—the UK is the country that is probably on its own in having a record of receiving rather than generating victims of human trafficking, a problem that is so rife in this sector. We should be especially ashamed of that.

My first question to the Minister with responsibility for employment relations is: why was the UK one of only eight countries to abstain on this vital treaty, which provides clear rights to the 100 million domestic workers around the world? This is not a small sector, and the

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issue is a very important human rights one. I have heard some excuses already. The UK Government representative at the ILO conference gave the following explanation:

“The United Kingdom already provides comprehensive employment and social protection to domestic workers; however, the strength of our general provisions means that it is occasionally inappropriate to treat domestic workers identically and, sadly, the Convention does not recognize this. For example, we do not consider it appropriate or practical to extend criminal, health and safety laws, including inspections, to private households employing domestic workers. It would be difficult, for instance, to hold elderly individuals employing carers to the same standards as large companies. Accordingly, the United Kingdom will be unable to ratify this Convention in the foreseeable future.”

Colleagues who have raised the issue with the Minister get exactly the same formula and exactly the same “for example,” but my belief is that this is not one example of many problems, but the only fig leaf that the Minister can hang on to. A letter from him refers to

“those few areas, such as health and safety law”,

and I hope that he will take the opportunity of this debate to tell us what the other areas are in which it is inappropriate to treat domestic workers the same.

The Minister’s claim on the grounds of health and safety law is fundamentally unfounded, because he knows, even better than I do, that health and safety is implemented incrementally. Local inspectors, if they engage with a company—I have worked for many small companies and have never been inspected by a health and safety inspector—usually offer advice notes before proceeding to criminal prosecution, unless there has been a death or a very serious injury, for example. Perhaps the Minister will therefore give specific examples of when small employers who are suspected not of putting customers’ health at risk—I accept that there are criminal prosecutions in such cases—but of putting employees at risk, have been subject to criminal prosecution and active investigation without prior advice, unless there has been a fatality or a serious injury. I do not believe that there is the rash of examples of heavy-handed health and safety implementation that the Minister implied in his letter.

In defence of the Government’s position, the spokesman continued:

“We do hope that the principles”—

that the convention enshrines—

“can help to raise standards”.

I want the Minister to tell us, therefore, how the UK Government’s position will help to maintain standards and enhance the rights and protections of domestic workers in the UK and around the world when, unlike the overwhelming majority of Governments, ours have actively chosen not to support the convention.

The statement by the UK’s representative continues:

“Within the United Kingdom, we will continue to see proportionate improvements to the social and employment protections available to domestic workers where particular problems are identified.”

I would like to know what improvements we will see because, in my view, the Government are doing precisely the opposite of improving conditions for domestic workers. On the very same day that the UK abstained in the vote, the Government announced a consultation on proposed changes to visas for the UK, including a proposal to end the domestic worker visa. That consultation includes options either to abolish the route for migrant domestic workers to enter the UK, leaving them open to being brought in by employers through informal routes in

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breach of immigration controls, or to restrict them to a six or 12 month non-renewable visa and remove the right for them to change employers, even if they are severely abused.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this very important debate. Leaving aside the fact that the coalition has failed to vote on the convention—hopefully we will hear what the Minister has to say on that—does she believe that the unions, the CBI or any other employment agencies are doing enough? Could they do a lot more?

Fiona Mactaggart: To my surprise, when I conclude my remarks, I am going to read a quote from the Centre for Social Justice. That is not normally a place to which I look for guidance, but when it launched its inquiry into human trafficking its director said that it was critical that all the sectors—the Government, voluntary organisations, employers and employees—worked together on a coherent strategy to deal with this modern-day form of slavery. My contention is that the Government’s position is confused—if I am kind—or actively malevolent —if I am not—and that it is not working coherently to deal with this serious and substantial human rights problem in the UK.

Removing the right for migrant domestic workers to change employer means a return to bonded labour. The visa has been recognised as the main form of protection for this group of workers, who, as has been recognised by the international convention, are especially vulnerable to severe exploitation, including slavery and trafficking for domestic servitude. Indeed, the 2009 report of the Home Affairs Committee included the statement:

“To retain the existing migrant domestic worker visa and the protection it offers to workers is the single most important issue the government can do to prevent forced labour and trafficking”

of such workers.

At a time when the Government are choosing not to participate in an international convention, they are choosing, domestically, to remove an important protection for migrant domestic workers against slavery and bondage. Removing the visa altogether will increase both trafficking via illegal routes and unlawful working, which will leave these workers believing that they are unable to contact the authorities for assistance and with fewer, if any, enforceable rights. Limiting the length of the visa makes it likely that unscrupulous employers will keep workers working for them beyond the length of the visa, again without any recourse to meaningful legal protection against severe exploitation.

The Government claim that anti-trafficking measures can replace the protections provided by the visa. I have talked to Kalayaan, whose work I praise. It is the most effective group that represents migrant domestic workers. I have known its work since about a quarter of a century ago, when it helped illegal entrants to the UK who did not know that they were illegal entrants. Together with others who work with victims of trafficking, it has produced a report that shows how ineffective the measures we already have are in practice for all victims.

The report shows that the overseas domestic worker visa is a relatively inexpensive and effective way of protecting migrant domestic workers, and that, without

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that legal channel, trafficking of domestic workers via illegal routes will increase. Workers who do not benefit from those protections, particularly domestic workers who enter the UK accompanying diplomats, are more likely to be in slavery than those who work in private households. Kalayaan’s figures show that seven in every 100 of the diplomatic workers they have seen were trafficked, compared with one in 1,000 migrant domestic workers in private households. That shows how effective the visa is.

Let us be clear: even when they are not trafficked, these workers are commonly subject to the most grotesque abuse and exploitation. Kalayaan has produced figures that show that two thirds of those who approached them did not have any time off—they worked seven days a week. Three quarters of them worked on call and had to be available 24 hours a day. More than half of them worked 16 or more hours a day, and 70% received a salary of £50 or less a week. I do not think that the Minister is proud of that type of exploitation, but it is a reality and the failure to sign up to the convention and to take any effective action means that it will be a more common reality in Britain.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): The hon. Lady has an excellent record on campaigning against human trafficking and slavery. How would signing the convention have helped to tackle slave labour and human trafficking in the UK? What difference would it have made to our domestic legislation?

Fiona Mactaggart: Signing the convention would make a difference in three ways. The first is the signal it would send to traffickers, who will otherwise believe, no doubt, that the UK is joining their infamous gang and saying that this country is open to human trafficking. We know how extensive human trafficking is in the UK and that it is more profitable than drug dealing. It is the most profitable activity for organised crime, although the field of human trafficking is unorganised as well as organised, because people as well as agencies supply domestic workers. Moreover, individual families bring domestic workers with them. It is, therefore, important that Britain sends out a signal that we are closed to that kind of abuse.

Secondly, the victims themselves would also get a signal. People who work with victims of trafficking have told me that those victims believe that they have no recourse to help and that the clear signal is that they are dependent on their owners/employers, who usually retain their passports. They do not believe that anyone can help them. They are frightened of approaching the police and, frankly, our national referral mechanism is an incompetent way for them to get help.

Thirdly, if we were signatories to the convention, the Minister would have to do something about this level of labour exploitation. Our laws apparently say, and we claim at international events, that we have fantastic working hours and protection and so on. However, 67% of the migrant domestic workers who approached Kalayaan said that they did not have any time off, were working seven days a week and worked on call for 24 hours a day, and more than half of them worked for 16 or more hours a day. The Minister may say that the UK’s position is that people ought, voluntarily, to be able to

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work for more than 16 hours a day, but I do not believe that those workers were working voluntarily for more than 16 hours a day when their salary was £50 or less a week. If the Minister were a signatory to the international convention, I think that he would actually have to do something about this level of labour exploitation in people’s homes.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government’s position appears to be that signing the convention would either make no difference or create a series of other, consequential problems? Other nations, communities and countries have supported and signed the convention, so does she also agree that the Minister should outline the difficulties that the Government think have appeared and that the rest of us are unaware of?

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman is right. I think that we all find what has happened to be depressing.

As well as being subject to labour exploitation, these workers are also subject to horrific working conditions. About half of those who approached Kalayaan did not have their own room and had to sleep on the floor. We do not expect to see those sorts of working conditions in Britain in the 21st century. Two thirds of them were not allowed out unaccompanied, and two thirds had their passport withheld. That is unlawful. I know of no prosecution, except in cases in which someone has succeeded in being declared as having been trafficked, but that applies to only a tiny minority of these poor victims. Many of them are also victims of psychological abuse.

I have tried to show the ways in which the abuse is widespread and serious. I do not want to accuse the Government of bad faith, but, having talked to people who participated in the ILO process, I was shocked at the way in which our national representative behaved during the negotiations as the agenda approached its conclusion. It suggested that our aim was not in any way to improve conditions for these vulnerable workers. Apparently, the UK often led European Union amendments to attempt to dilute the convention in areas such as working hours and occupational safety and health. I have described the working hours that migrant domestic workers frequently face. Will the Minister tell us what working hours he thinks are reasonable for workers in people’s homes? Does he think that they deserve effective, not theoretical, protection in relation to working hours?

Even when all other countries had agreed on positions, the United Kingdom cited continued objections to the consensus, for example, on the working and living conditions of children. What protections does the Minister think that children should have when working in other people’s homes? The United Kingdom stated that the final text of the convention would be unratifiable. Indeed, the Government intend not to ratify the convention and will not even vote for it, citing apparent conflicts with EU regulations. The EU bloc and all other major countries decided wholeheartedly to endorse and vote for the convention, so the United Kingdom representative was the only dissenting voice in the plenary voting session on the convention.

On 23 May, less than a month prior to the final decision, the Minister said in reply to a question asked by two hon. Members about the matter:

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“The Government will seek a workable convention that can be ratified by as many countries as possible, and consequently protect vulnerable domestic workers worldwide”.—[Official Report, 23 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 469W.]

The Minister does, therefore, recognise that an international convention can protect vulnerable domestic workers worldwide. However, having abstained on the ILO vote, can the UK Government play a positive role in encouraging other countries to ratify the convention or protecting vulnerable domestic workers worldwide? We have completely lost moral leadership. Will the Minister tell us what contribution he thinks Britain can make to international action to protect this vulnerable group of workers?

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this most important matter to Westminster Hall for debate. As far as I am aware, she has not mentioned the UK Border Agency and the role that it should play in relation to the convention. Does the hon. Lady feel that the UK Border Agency should be better resourced and equipped to help those migrant workers who, in reality, are slave labour? Perhaps there is a greater role for the UK Border Agency to play in the matter.

Fiona Mactaggart: That organisation should be better at dealing with the issue, but I am not sure that it is easy to do so properly at borders. That is one of the challenges. There needs to be an in-country resource to which vulnerable trafficked people know they can turn for help. Their fear is that if they turn to the authorities for help, they will be outed. Unfortunately, that happens too often as those concerned are classed as illegal. For many people, that is through no fault of their own. They are here without status and they are illegal because their owner—we must not forget that we are talking about a kind of ownership and slavery—has retained their passport unlawfully and has said, “Don’t worry, I’ll sort this out,” and so on.

There needs to be an effective in-country recourse to which people in these circumstances can turn. Unfortunately, the national referral mechanism frequently fails to provide that because it does not consider its first priority to be protecting the individual. There is a laborious tick-box process and, because there is no real prospect of prosecuting someone for trafficking and getting a conviction, often the national referral mechanism will suggest that a person is not really trafficked. That is really sad.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): Certainly we need to break the coalition’s “Upstairs, Downstairs” mindset in relation to workplace issues. On the question of people having to report the horrific circumstances in which they live, does my hon. Friend agree that the trade unions’ work on taking the evidence that was given—and I hope the Minister will arrange meetings with the trade unions to talk through the issues—is vital? If the trade unions had not been there to pick up these issues, I doubt anyone else would have done so.

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the powerful things about the ILO is that it is tripartite—it involves Governments, employers and trade unions. Where trade unions have picked up these issues, they have been brilliant. It has been difficult in some

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ways because trade unions have traditionally organised in big workplaces, and organising domestic workers has been a challenge for them. I had the privilege of speaking to a Nepali trade unionist who talked about how she had organised domestic workers in Nepal. Frankly, if someone can organise domestic workers in Nepal, they must be a genius organiser. It was wonderful to hear about their work in connecting to this vulnerable group of people. That was a strong piece of evidence about how trade unions can, by reaching out to people who are in these completely isolated workplaces, protect workers very well.

I want to draw my remarks to an end. I said that I would conclude by citing the Centre for Social Justice. When Gavin Poole, the executive director of that organisation, launched his very welcome inquiry into trafficking he wrote:

“Enslaved in homes across the UK are vulnerable domestic workers who want to earn money cleaning and cooking, but instead have their passport seized by their ‘owner’ and are forbidden to leave the house in which they live and work; sleeping on the kitchen floor and eating leftovers from the family meal is commonplace. We believe that whilst there is much good work going on in the UK to confront slavery, much of it led by the voluntary sector, there is a need for a strategic overview to detail how this hidden criminal activity can be defeated once and for all. For instance, it is essential that all government departments, the voluntary sector, the police and local authorities move in the same direction in order for the UK’s response to be appropriate and effective…One slave in this country is one too many, and it is time for the UK to take a lead again. I encourage people who think slavery is a thing of the past to look again, and join the CSJ as we work to help build a different future for people trapped in this tragedy.”

The Minister’s coalition Government have borrowed many ideas from the Centre for Social Justice. I hope that they do not make this one an exception because, on this matter, what we see are words going in one direction and actions going in another direction. The Minister should change his mind. Let us have another U-turn.

9.57 am

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on securing this important debate. I, too, attended the launch of the Centre for Social Justice inquiry into modern-day slavery and human trafficking. When I first heard at that event that the United Kingdom had opted out of the convention, I must admit that I was worried. I did not know why we had done that. On the face of it, it sounded an odd thing to do and it concerned me greatly. However, I have to say to the hon. Lady and other hon. Members that, when I looked more deeply into the issue, I realised that there were reasons why the United Kingdom did so.

The hon. Lady concentrated heavily on the issue of human trafficking, which she and I have made common cause on and no doubt we will continue to do so. I point out to her that the United Kingdom has recently signed the European convention on human trafficking, and I am happy to admit that I was one of the Members who lobbied our Ministers heavily to do so because I thought it was the right thing to do. I join her in saying that slavery and human trafficking is a modern evil; it is a disgrace that it goes on in our age. Some 27 million

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people are in slavery around the world, not just in domestic labour, but in bonded labour in factories and in prostitution. She is right to be concerned about the issue.

From the hon. Lady’s remarks, hon. Members might have gained the impression that the ILO convention would have an impact purely on those evil employers who traffic people to be their domestic workers. In fact, the implications of the ILO convention are much wider than that. The United Kingdom already provides significant employment protection for domestic workers; in fact, in general, it makes no distinction between domestic and other workers. It is worth reminding hon. Members that domestic workers benefit from being paid the national minimum wage. They receive sick pay, paid annual leave and protection from unfair dismissal. That already exists in United Kingdom law. We do not need an ILO convention. Those are rights enshrined in law by this Parliament. What we need is greater enforcement. We need to seek out and identify employers who are behaving badly.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, if we have something that is better than an ILO convention, we should not sign up to it? That is what he seems to be implying. He is implying that, if we have something better, then we do not need it. Surely, if we have something better, it is not problematic to sign up to it.

Andrew Selous: If the hon. Lady will allow me to develop my argument a little further, she will understand what I am saying. I just wanted to make the point regarding the protections that all of us are rightly concerned about. I have taken to task many employers in my constituency and elsewhere who have not behaved properly towards their workers. We need to enforce the law that we already have. I am looking for reassurance from the Minister, as, I am sure, are many hon. Members. There is much in the text of the convention that he will be keen to apply. He will want to ensure that we root out evil employers who treat their domestic staff in the way described by the hon. Member for Slough. There is not one of us here, including me, who wants to see that continue.

There is much in the convention that is good, but there are one or two areas that are problematic. One problem in particular is that it applies to other groups of workers that the hon. Lady did not even mention in her remarks. She read out the list of countries that did not sign the convention, including the United Kingdom. What she did not tell us was that a number of countries did sign it, but then said that they were not going to ratify it.

The United Kingdom has, quite rightly, very high standards when it comes to international agreements. We are a country of our word. If we say that we are going to do something, we do it. We play cricket, we believe in the rules and we follow them. It is pretty dishonest of many other countries, which she did not name, to sign up to the convention and then say that they will not be ratifying this bit or that bit.

Fiona Mactaggart: Canada, for example, said that it would find the convention difficult to ratify. I read the whole of the report, but I did not read that any country

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said that they would not. They said that they would struggle to ratify it, and I think that that was simply being honest.

Andrew Selous: I am making a slightly different point. Some countries ratified the convention, but then said that they would not enforce it. I just think that that is dishonest. The United Kingdom could have gone along and signed, got a pat on the back, not have had the aggravation of having this debate today, and then quietly not done anything about it. I am proud that, as a country, if we say that we will do something, we do it—that is important.

Jim Sheridan: The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the protection that workers have in this country. Does he understand, however, the frustration of people who are frightened to raise these issues with their employer for fear of losing their jobs? What would his suggestion be for people who are not being paid the minimum wage, and who are being mistreated in the workplace? What does he suggest that they do?

Andrew Selous: I am not sure that the convention actually gives them any particular rights that they do not have under employment law. I suggest that they contact Kalayaan, as the hon. Member for Slough said. There needs to be an education campaign. With evil people treating domestic workers like that, we need to find every opportunity to help them to realise what rights they already have.

Mr Davey: Before my hon. Friend moves on, his point about the number of countries that are members of the ILO not ratifying is very important for hon. Members to understand. Only one of the 25 conventions agreed in the ILO in the 20 years up to 2006 has achieved more than 30 ratifications, although there are 183 members of the ILO. That speaks volumes for how some member states approach voting on conventions and subsequent ratification.

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to the Minister for giving us those points of detail, so that they are now on the record.

The workers whom the hon. Member for Slough did not mention, and the reason that I have come to speak in this debate today, are people such as child minders, carers, housekeepers, cleaners and nurses who work for many of our frail and elderly constituents. The worry is that the imposition of criminal health and safety law in people’s private homes could mean that some of our frail and elderly constituents could be forced out of their homes and into residential care. All I would say to hon. Members is that they can come here and share my passion, and the passion of the hon. Lady, against the evils of human trafficking—we are as one in this Chamber on that issue. If she looks closely, however, at the text of the convention and its implications, inspectors could come into our constituents’ private homes, examine the rooms, gadgets and layout of the house, and perhaps tell a frail, elderly lady that her home is not fit to have a carer. That lady could be forced to move into a residential home.

The Government are right to be wary of some of the unintended consequences that they believe the ILO convention could have. As I said earlier, it is important for the Government to enforce those parts of the convention that are important and that we can agree on. There is,

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however, another group of perhaps 250,000 or 300,000 workers who we have not heard about—child minders, carers, cleaners and housekeepers. We have not heard what the effect on their employment could be if the enforcement of this ILO convention is not got right.

Mr Gregory Campbell: The hon. Gentleman is outlining potential consequences for the United Kingdom. Is there any evidence of any of those problems happening in the countries that have signed the convention?

Andrew Selous: This is a new convention that is being signed, so neither the hon. Gentleman nor I know what will happen. I come back to my general point.

The hon. Member for Slough was good enough to say that she was not necessarily impugning the motives of the Government. I am just trying to explain, as I understand it, the rationale for the United Kingdom to hesitate. It is not because the Government, or any members of it, are in favour of employers treating their staff wrongly. On the contrary, as a Government, my hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friends here today will say that we hold no candle for rogue employers. We want employers to treat workers fairly and properly, but we think carefully before we sign.

The hon. Lady spoke just about human trafficking. From her remarks, we would not have thought that the convention would apply to many of our constituents who work as carers, cleaners, nurses or housekeepers for our frail and elderly constituents who need extra help. All I say to hon. Members—who I think have come to the Chamber for honourable and proper reasons, and for reasons that I think we all share—is that there are wider implications to this issue. There could be unintended consequences. I will press the Minister to ensure that we enforce the convention—we can do this ourselves, we do not need to sign all parts of it—where we think that it is right, and where we think it bears down properly and legitimately on unscrupulous employers. I believe that he will be able to give me that reassurance when he comes to reply to the debate.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr George Howarth (in the Chair): Order. It may be of assistance to those present if I point out that I intend to call the Opposition Front Bencher at 10.40 am. If those who speak in the meantime could keep their remarks within that time frame, we should be able to fit everybody in.

10.9 am

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for securing the debate.

May I start by telling a story? We need to bring alive the human face of what we are talking about. It is about a young Nigerian woman who was deserted by her father when she was five, went to live in Benin and came to this country as a domestic servant. She told, in her own words, of her experience:

“I would wake up at 7 am to start the work, bring the 2 children to school and the youngest at 11.30 then picked them altogether at 3.00 pm. I did the general housework while the children at school. At night, I had to wait for my employer to open the door even at midnight though she had a key. I didn’t remember any single moment that she wasn’t angry, the moment I saw her, I felt very scared already.”

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She then talks about how her employer effectively held her captive:

“She took my suitcase, kept my passport. Bank card and National Insurance card and did not give my salary for 2 months which was £250 per month only. My employer shouted non stop at me and pulled me out of the house. As I had nowhere to go, I knocked and knocked the door but for three days and three nights, my employer never opened the door. It was raining and winter, I was cold, hungry and scared in the dark.”

The teacher of the two young children then advised the young woman to escape from such a form of modern-day slavery. In her words:

“I had nowhere to go so I went to the Park and slept there for nights. I was very scared but there’s nothing I could do, I was all alone in the dark, I thought of my mother and sisters. How I wish they were just near me that at least I could hug them. The sky was very dark, I could see the beasts coming out from the dark, they were wild and heartless creature living in a beautiful Rose Garden”—

she was hallucinating—

“they would come out and attack helpless life wandering around like me. I couldn’t see any hope but I prayed and prayed, this was all I could do.”

The young woman went to that admirable organisation, Kalayaan. She was then supported—I am proud to say this—by my former union, of which I was deputy general secretary; for many years, the old Transport and General Workers Union, now Unite, has championed the cause of domestic servants in this country.

I will cite figures from a union survey of hundreds of domestic servants in London, whose length of service varies, but whose answers reveal a depressing pattern. Fewer than half of them were issued with written terms and conditions of employment. Almost half received itemised payslips with their wages and, typically, they worked long hours, aggregating well beneath the national minimum wage. In terms of treatment in the home in which they are working, fewer than a third received sick pay, with the majority forced to work when they were unwell, and a third of them were injured in that workplace, their employer’s home.

Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman has read out an appalling list of employer abuses, but does he not agree that they are already illegal? He went through a list, but we have legislation dealing with almost every issue that he read out. What we need is greater enforcement and vigilance to apply the law that we already have.

Jack Dromey: The law is not properly enforced but nor are our Government giving leadership. What message does it send if we are in a sorry minority worldwide in not signing up to the convention? I will come to the point made by the hon. Gentleman in a moment but, if we look at the grounds cited by the Government for refusing to sign the convention, they include objections on the basis of working time and health and safety, yet the evidence is absolutely clear: most individuals concerned work unacceptably long hours for less than the minimum wage and often in unsafe conditions, given the injuries they sustain.

All of this has a depressing pattern. In relation to the convention, the Government have failed to give moral leadership—that is what is necessary—or to show determination to enforce the law. They also dragged their heels over the European Union directive on sexual

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trafficking, and took a minimalist approach even when finally accepting their responsibilities. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) is in the Chamber. He led on bringing the Gangmasters Licensing Authority into being but, sadly, the effectiveness of another organisation with an outstanding track record in combating modern-day slavery is being watered down by the Government. Now, it is the ILO convention.

When the convention was debated, one of the TUC representatives was a woman called Marissa Begonia, who is a member of Unite. She and the other worker representatives hoped that our Government would accept their responsibilities, as had, she said, virtually all the other employer and governmental representatives. She thought, “Surely, our Government must share in this consensus that there must be effective action internationally and nationally.” She was utterly dismayed that the country to which she is devoted failed to sign up.

In conclusion, it is utterly extraordinary that our Government, led by our Prime Minister, who quite rightly last week told China that it needed to accept its human rights responsibilities, did not sign up to the ILO convention, but China, America and virtually every other Government in the world did. We are in a sorry minority of those failing to accept their responsibilities. We are talking about desperate circumstances facing good women, of whom I have met many over the years. I remember a particular meeting, with 30 of them. They were people with bright eyes and hope on their faces, who had come here often to support their families or villages back home. They thought that coming to and working in this country would be a brave new world, but they came here and were treated utterly shamefully. This Government and this House should be on the side of such people. What this Government have done is to abrogate completely their moral responsibility.

10.16 am

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. On the record, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for securing this important debate on Government policy on the ILO convention on domestic workers.

Many debates in this Chamber, such as on the issue we are discussing, might be lightly reported. Nevertheless, the Government decision on the ILO convention has significant consequences which will reverberate across the globe. It is significant because of what is being said to some of the most vulnerable people throughout the world as well as to potential traffickers. It leaves a stain on Britain’s reputation as an advocate of basic human rights, casting a cloud over our democratic values.

So important is the decision, that the Government have been accused by many commentators of betraying Britain’s 200-year history of anti-slavery and of isolating itself on the margins of the world stage. By abstaining from voting on the ILO convention on domestic workers, Britain has lined itself up alongside countries where workers’ rights are routinely infringed. Press reports state that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills does not intend to ratify the convention “for the foreseeable future”, ruling out the application of the convention to British workers.

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Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Government’s position seems to be at odds with their international development policies, which are stated to be working towards improving the support for and the working rights of marginalised workers? Britain is therefore put in a difficult position when trying to speak on the world stage on such issues.

Grahame M. Morris: My hon. Friend makes a good point well. I completely agree with her.

The decision to abstain has two damaging effects. First, it will leave domestic workers in the UK, namely nannies, cooks, cleaners and the like, vulnerable to the risks prevalent for them. Secondly, it will undermine the UK’s standing and moral leadership on the international stage. For countries whose citizens, including domestic workers, have far fewer legal protections, Britain has abdicated its position as their champion. By neglecting their duty in this matter, the UK Government have tarnished their international reputation. People would be astonished to learn that workers who live with their employers in the UK and are treated as family are not covered by the working time or health and safety legislation, and are not entitled to the minimum wage. In fact, the ILO convention would have extended to those in domestic employment only very basic labour rights that are available to all workers—rights such as reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, a limit on in-kind payments, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, and some of the most basic rights of workers, including freedom of association, and the right to collective bargaining. Those are not extreme demands; they are moderate requirements.

ILO estimates of the number of domestic workers worldwide put the minimum at 53 million with the likelihood of the true figure exceeding 100 million. Domestic workers are often hidden behind closed doors, so they are all too often unregistered, and that higher estimate may be conservative. The ILO’s Director-General, Juan Somavia, said:

“Bringing the domestic workers into the fold of our values is a strong move, for them and for all workers who aspire to decent work”.

Unfortunately, that modest move was too strong for our Government.

The improvement on gender equality has also taken a hit from the British Government’s neglect because, as my hon. Friends have said, many of those workers are young women and girls. The ILO document “Questions and Answers on the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers” states unequivocally:

“The impact is tremendous. The mere fact of stating unambiguously that domestic work is work is a very important step toward gender equality in the world of work, because domestic work mainly employs women.”

The Government’s position has been weak and disingenuous. They have claimed that domestic workers in this country are covered by protective laws anyway. The truth is that they are not treated like workers in any way at all. Many are poorly treated, as we have heard, and are paid nowhere near the minimum wage. Some are effectively prisoners in the homes where they work, and rely on their work for their home, shelter, food and livelihood.

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Andrew Selous: On the minimum wage, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we do not need to sign the ILO convention because we already have legislation on that? It is already illegal not to pay the minimum wage, and rightly so.

Grahame M. Morris: My hon. Friends have indicated that many domestic workers feel intimidated, and are unwilling to resort to traditional means. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s assertion. Many of his arguments were deployed against the UK Government signing up to the convention on human trafficking, and in relation to basic health and safety. I do not accept that domestic workers are already covered by effective legislation.

Jim Sheridan: Does my hon. Friend share my sadness at the suggestion of the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) that if the ILO convention were signed, old women would have their houses raided by inspectors to make sure that the working conditions and their houses are suitable for people to work in? That is ridiculous.

Grahame M. Morris: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. The point made by the hon. Gentleman is a scare tactic. I remind hon. Members that basic health and safety regulations apply in the workplace, so it is nonsense to suggest that signing up to the ILO convention would somehow disadvantage the groups identified.

It is appalling that the CBI voted against the convention, but no more so than the fact that the British Government abstained. The only way for the Government to restore their credibility, not just here in the UK, but internationally, is to lay out their plan to ratify the convention for the benefit of domestic workers in Britain. I am aware that the TUC has set up a campaign for ratification in alliance with domestic workers and several charities and non-governmental organisations. I hope that hon. Members will take note of that, and that those who follow our proceedings will support it.

I know that other hon. Members want to participate, but before finishing I want to touch on one of the progressive moves that set the ball rolling on improving rights, particularly for migrant domestic workers. The visa for domestic workers was introduced in 1998 for the specific purpose of protecting migrant domestic workers from abuse and exploitation. It recognised their vulnerable position in the under-regulated work environment, their isolation from co-workers, and their absolute dependency on their employer for finance, accommodation, immigration status, and information about their general rights.

Signing the convention would be a first step in putting the employment relationship, visa demands and working choices in the hands of migrants to some degree. Migrant domestic workers could, for the first time, enforce their rights. I hope that the Minister will not simply read out the line on the Government’s absolutely unacceptable position. Instead, I hope that he will reflect on what has been said today, and that he will take steps to rectify the damage that has been done to our international reputation and standing on workers’ rights, taking the cause of domestic workers backwards and aligning the British people with some of the most deplorable regimes, which have been labelled an axis of evil—I do not

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know whether that is a fair assessment—and which would make many decent people in the United Kingdom ashamed.

Will the Minister review the Government’s position, and dissociate themselves from the CBI on this issue? Will he also lay out a plan for Britain to ratify and abide by this internationally backed convention?

10.27 am

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on securing the debate. She has a long track record of vigorous campaigning on this and related issues. She has explained the reason for the debate: to call the Government to account for their decision to abstain on the vote a fortnight ago on the International Labour Organisation’s convention on domestic workers. Detailed preparation of the ILO’s landmark convention continued for some time—indeed, since last year—with opportunities for countries to contribute to the work in progress in readiness for the vote on the convention at this year’s ILO international labour conference in Geneva some two weeks ago on 16 June.

Many people were taken aback to discover that although 173 Governments voted for the convention and only one, the Swaziland Government, voted against, the UK was one of eight countries that abstained from voting for the ILO’s convention on domestic workers. It is even more surprising that given the recent media reports about abuses in other countries and inexcusable treatment of domestic workers, the UK has, in abstaining, aligned itself with El Salvador, Malaysia, Panama, Singapore, Thailand, the Czech Republic and Sudan. The USA Government voted for the convention, and with the exception of the Czech Republic all EU countries voted for it. As we know from our previous discussions on the European working time directive, there is a plethora of different opt-out arrangements in many EU countries, but that has not prevented them from signing up.

Only last week, The Times reported on the

“abusive conditions endured by domestic workers...and their powerlessness”.

I believe that the Government have, by remaining silent, condoned that. We have heard horror stories today, and it is now clear that our Government are sending out completely the wrong message to millions of domestic workers around the world. When trying to help and protect them, they are often among some of the hardest to reach, particularly if they have recently arrived from abroad, live in, and have little knowledge of where to find help. Since 1998, following legislation by the then Labour Government, the UK has offered the overseas domestic worker visa, which provides workers with the possibility of independence from their employers. Will the Minister tell the Chamber what plans the Government have for the future of the overseas domestic worker visa, and whether there is any truth in the suggestion that they are looking to scrap it? I remind the Minister that the visa was introduced in 1998 with cross-party support, and that scrapping it would be a backwards step.

In 2008, the Labour Government set up the vulnerable worker enforcement forum, recognising that there was still much to be done to tackle hidden exploitation, and

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that vulnerable workers need an awareness of their employment rights and to know what to do if they suspect that those rights are being breached. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), then the Minister responsible for employment relations, set up and chaired a fair employment enforcement board. Campaigns were run to raise awareness of employment rights and encourage the reporting of abuses. Some £6 million of extra funding was provided to supply information about workers’ rights. As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) suggested, that educational role is important and we must get information about workers’ rights to the relevant people. That campaign included outreach work using buses, but domestic workers are particularly difficult to reach, and both the carrot and the stick are important. We need education, but also the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, the temporary and agency workers directive, and now the domestic workers convention.

The ILO stated that

“this instrument sends a very strong political signal.”

By not backing the convention, the Government also send a strong political message, but of a different order. I am disappointed with the decision, and hope that the Minister will explain what he is doing to ensure that Britain protects its work force, no matter what jobs they do.

Let us look at some of the detail in the convention. Before the meeting in Geneva, the UK Government expressed concerns about three areas of the draft text: first, the articles covering working time; secondly, the potential application of health and safety regulations to private dwellings where domestic workers are employed; and thirdly, those sections of the convention that call for greater regulation of private employment agencies.

Considerable preparation went into the drafting of the convention, and if we look at how it is worded, we see that its articles refer repeatedly to bringing the law concerning domestic workers into line with existing national laws for the rest of the work force. For example, article 10 states:

“Each Member shall take measures towards ensuring…normal hours of work, overtime compensation, periods of daily and weekly rest and paid annual leave,”

which should not be less favourable than those provided for workers generally in accordance with national laws and regulations. In other words, as would be expected for an agreement that is prepared for endorsement by countries across the globe that have different laws and traditions, the convention allows countries to refer back to their own national laws and regulations. Legislation already in place for workers generally can be extended to domestic workers.

Mr Davey: Will the hon. Lady explain why the previous Government never extended the working time directive to domestic workers?

Nia Griffith: We could have an entire debate on the working time directive, but I am not going to get too distracted by that. I remind the Minister that we had an interesting discussion the other day in a European Committee, and it became apparent that most of the 27 countries in the EU operate various types of opt-out from the working time directive. Our original opt-out

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has been copied in many different ways, but each country has its own ideas. It is recognised that we need a full and frank discussion about what happens next; the picture across the EU has been a little confused and when we look at our domestic law, we need to ask what is appropriate, including for domestic workers. It is clearly not appropriate for people to work seven days a week, 24 hours day. We need to look at best practice and ensure that we follow that type of model.

Jim Sheridan: My hon. Friend should not be so modest. The Leader of the Opposition has said clearly that mistakes were made by the previous Government that we need to rectify. Although we recognise that, it is not an excuse for the current Government to bring in legislation.

Nia Griffith: Absolutely, particularly on issues that have taken years of discussion to get to our current position.

Let us return to how the articles in the convention are worded. They state that we should try to make national laws that apply to the general work force apply to domestic workers. That is not easy because domestic workers are often the hardest to reach. Nevertheless, we need to educate people and use the stick as well as the carrot.

The Government have said that they

“do not consider it appropriate or practical to extend criminal, health and safety laws, including inspections, to private households employing domestic workers. It would be difficult, for instance, to hold elderly individuals employing carers to the same standards as large companies.”

Let me remind the Minister of two parts of the convention: article 13 and the relevant recommendation. Article 13 states that each member should take appropriate action,

“with due regard for the specific characteristics of domestic work”.

It is clear that the convention views work undertaken by corporations and that carried out in people’s homes as different, and does not demand that they be treated similarly.

Mr Davey: The hon. Lady argues that the convention would not require health and safety legislation to be extended to homes where there are domestic workers. Is that her position? It is certainly not the legal advice we have received.

Nia Griffith: It is certainly not my position. Article 13 states that appropriate measures should be taken,

“with due regard for the specific characteristics of domestic work”.

We all know the benefits of health and safety provisions. For example, when students come to do work experience with me I receive a form from the school, asking about fire exits and smoke alarms. Those are sensible and routine questions that every office should be able to answer appropriately. Exactly the same should be the case with domestic workers. We would not want people to work in circumstances that are not safe. We now have higher standards than we used to have—thank goodness; those standards have considerably reduced the number of accidents at work. The convention states that although what is appropriate in a home may be different from what is appropriate in a corporation, that does not mean that protection should not exist.

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Mr Davey: Is it therefore the Labour party’s position that the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 should be extended to households where there are domestic workers?

Nia Griffith: It is appropriate to endorse what is in the convention. The convention seeks to sort the issue out and find what is suitable.

Fiona Mactaggart: The Health and Safety at Works etc. Act 1974 does apply to domestic workers. The only exception relates to criminal legal sanctions. We know that in practice the Act is already enforced differently for small employers and large employers. Therefore, in response to the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), it would be perfectly proper for the Act to be imposed more lightly in a domestic workplace with only one worker than it would be in a big workplace with dangerous machinery and many workers. That is already the case in Britain. My view is that the Government are trumpeting an excuse.

Nia Griffith: I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent explanation. Let us move on to recommendation 20, which states:

“Members should consider additional measures to ensure the effective protection of migrant domestic workers’ rights, such as…providing for a system of visits to households in which migrant domestic workers will be employed”.

The emphasis in the recommendation is on looking into and trying to find out the best way to deal with the matter. What has the Minister done, for example, to find out what happens in Finland or Ireland? What has he done to find out what happens in other countries, so that we can learn from those models, look into the best ways of dealing with the matter—best practice—and achieve improvements in standards?

The Government’s actions so far send a stark message to the world. By not supporting the convention, the Government are sending a bleak message to domestic workers not only in the UK, but throughout the world—perhaps 100 million people, who in some countries constitute up to 12% of the work force. The UK still commands considerable respect in the world, but at a time when the convention has been supported by 173 countries, including the US and almost all of the EU bloc, the Government seem to be suggesting that they will not stand up for the idea of extending to domestic workers the same basic rights as those enjoyed by workers throughout the economy. That is sending a very gloomy message to the world.

I would like to ask the Minister a few questions before I finish. Will he explain exactly why the UK chose to abstain from voting for the convention? It would have formed the basis for the UK to improve protection for domestic workers in the UK and would have shown leadership to the many countries in the world that still respect the UK and whose Governments may be trying to ratify the convention in very challenging circumstances.

Media reports quoted the Minister’s Department as saying that the Government would not be ratifying the convention to bind the UK by its rules “for the foreseeable future” and so they felt that it would be wrong to vote for it at all, but why do they not intend to ratify it for the foreseeable future? Is it just a low priority? Is it that no

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one in the Government wants to work out how existing UK law can be extended to cover domestic workers? That is what the convention is about—extending existing UK law. After all the times that hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised the related issue of the EU directive on human trafficking, are the Government still not aware of how much concern there is about this issue?

Will the Minister explain why a spokesperson for his Department is quoted in the press as saying that the Government “strongly support” the principles enshrined in the convention and that the UK

“already provides comprehensive employment and social protections to domestic workers”

when there is clearly plenty of evidence to show that, in reality, domestic workers do not always enjoy such rights and benefits?

What is the real reason behind the Government’s decision? Is it a complete phobia of anything that might look like a regulation, and the hollow-sounding promise on regulation? This year, it has been a case not of one in, one out, but of 53 in and three out. Are the Government succumbing to the constant demands from their Back Benchers, the hon. Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Christchurch (Mr Chope), who regularly propose scrapping the minimum wage and heap ridicule on measures to protect workers from exploitation? I sincerely hope not.

Now that the UK has not voted for the convention, what do the Government intend to do to improve the rights of domestic workers in the UK? Having abstained in the ILO vote, how can the UK Government play a positive role in encouraging other countries to ratify the convention? Can the Minister confirm whether it is true that in the negotiations, the UK also asked to be officially disassociated from an agreed EU position on encouraging countries to consider adopting voluntary codes to cover incidents of abuse of domestic workers by their diplomats while posted abroad? I ask that in the light of a report this week in The Guardian, which states:

“The US state department has expressed concern about the abuse of domestic staff working in foreign embassies in London, saying repeated allegations of mistreatment have not been addressed by the government.”

That is a very serious accusation indeed.

If the legislation and the reality are already better than what is required by the convention, what is the problem with signing up to it? If we are saying that our existing laws are too good to be extended to domestic workers, I find that disgraceful. If we are not yet in a position to meet all the demands of the convention, surely it would be an aspiration to work towards and we should look towards ratifying it. Will the Minister explain why the Government have chosen to put us in an extremely embarrassing position in the world by not signing up, sending out a very negative message to workers both in this country and abroad?

10.44 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough South East (Fiona Mactaggart) on securing a debate on this important

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subject. She spent quite a lot of time talking about trafficking, and I understand her campaigning role on that and her record, but we do want to talk about the text of the convention, so I thank her for the opportunity to explain why the Government abstained on the vote on the convention while strongly supporting its principles.

A key factor in understanding our position is recognition of how the convention would or would not have changed our domestic laws for domestic workers. In the UK, we already have a legal framework of basic employment rights and social protections for employees and workers, including domestic workers. So, like other workers, most domestic workers benefit from the national minimum wage, statutory sick pay, paid annual leave and protection from discrimination and unfair dismissal, as well as other protections. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) was completely right about that: the key question is enforcement.

Fiona Mactaggart: The Minister says that most domestic workers benefit from paid annual leave.

Andrew Selous: They should.

Fiona Mactaggart: I am sure that they should. I want to know how the Minister knows that most actually do, because in my experience, it is very likely that most do not. I do not know how he knows that most do.

Mr Davey: This is a question of the law. The law says that those workers are entitled. Signing the convention would have made no difference to that. The question that my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire raised was about enforcement. The hon. Lady should understand that. It is about enforcement.

Nia Griffith: If the issue is about enforcement and we already have existing legislation, what is the problem with signing up to the convention? Of course we need to improve our enforcement. We need to do that in many areas. However, if the legislation is sufficient, in the Minister’s view, to meet the convention, what is the difficulty?

Mr Davey: Of course I will come to that point as it is central to my speech, but let me say for the record that I am undertaking a review of enforcement and compliance rights in the UK to try to improve enforcement in the UK. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire would welcome that.

Domestic workers have the same access as other workers to mechanisms for enforcing their rights. The national minimum wage and statutory sick pay, for example, are enforced by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and those and other rights can also be enforced by individual workers, if necessary by taking a case to an employment tribunal.

If the domestic worker is an agency worker, they have additional protections under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003. Those regulations prohibit agencies from charging work-finding fees; require agencies to pay workers for all the hours worked; and provide other protections. They are enforced by my Department’s employment agency standards

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inspectorate, which responds to complaints and, additionally, carries out a programme of proactive, risk-based inspection.

The pay and work rights helpline, set up by the previous Government, provides an accessible single point of contact for all workers—and, indeed, employers—seeking advice about or wanting to report abuses. It covers basic employment rights, such as the national minimum wage, working hour limits and the special regulations applying to agency workers. A translation service is provided in more than 100 languages for those who need it.

As required by the convention, our child employment regulations are robust. Children under the minimum school leaving age can only do light work, and there are strict rules on when and for how many hours children can work.

For egregious offences at the serious, criminal end of the spectrum, the UK has recently introduced a new offence of holding someone in slavery or servitude or requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour. The offence builds on existing statute and will in some circumstances make prosecutions easier.

Signing the convention would have made no difference to the measures that we have in the UK. It would have made no difference to stopping slavery or human trafficking. Why? Because we already, rightly, have some of the strongest laws in this area. There is no question, then, about the Government’s commitment to the principles behind the convention. In almost all respects, our laws already match the requirements set out in the convention.

I come now to the question posed by the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith): if we already comply with almost all of the convention, why did we abstain? The main sticking point for us is the convention’s approach to health and safety in private households. The wording does not provide sufficient flexibility to meet the UK’s long-established approach. Nor does it match our principles of proportionate regulation based on risk. Indeed, because it is inflexible and disproportionate, it could, if implemented, have damaged the interests of vulnerable people. I am sure that the hon. Member for Slough South East would not want that.

Fiona Mactaggart: I am not Slough South East; I am all of Slough.

Mr Davey: I apologise to the hon. Lady.

Let me explain the position in detail. Article 13 of the convention requires each member to take

“in accordance with national laws, regulations and practice, effective measures, with due regard for the specific characteristics of domestic work, to ensure the occupational safety and health of domestic workers.”

For the UK, that requirement to take effective measures would, in practice, mean extending the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 to private households employing domestic workers. I ask colleagues to consider what that would entail.

Fiona Mactaggart: As I understand it, the Act does apply to private domestic workers, with the exception of section 51, which provides a specific exclusion in relation to criminal prosecution. It is not usual for people in a small workplace to go to criminal prosecution without previously having been advised by inspectors, unless

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there has been a death or serious injury. As I said in my speech, perhaps the Minister can give us an example of where criminal prosecution has taken place in a small workplace.

Mr Davey: I have to tell the hon. Lady that domestic workers are excluded from part I of the Act, which covers health, safety and welfare in connection with work and the control of things such as dangerous substances, and which includes some general duties. There are protections under civil law, and I will come to them in a second, but I am afraid that signing the convention would have meant extending the Act to private households employing domestic workers.

Anyone employing a domestic worker such as a cleaner, a home help, a child minder, a carer for an elderly or disabled person, a gardener, a nanny or an au pair—it is a long list—would have been covered by a range of health and safety regulations, and, in particular, by the 1974 Act. Hon. Members might ask what is wrong with that, but they should consider the implications. The Act would place specific duties on such employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of domestic workers in so far as that was reasonably practicable, and individual householders would have to familiarise themselves with the law. According to the Act, they would need to consider the information, training, instruction and supervision that their helper needed. They would need to assess the helper’s tasks and any risks from equipment and substances to which the helper might be exposed. The householder would also have to carry out a wide range of risk assessments, which would be different for each home.

The sanctions for non-compliance would be criminal. Householders failing to comply with the law would be subject to criminal penalties providing for unlimited fines and imprisonment for up to two years.

Nia Griffith: Does the Minister not think that it would be highly desirable for the workplace to be made safe? Does he really want people to be exposed to all sorts of dangers, particularly when a large number of accidents happen in the home? What is his objection to strengthening the health and safety situation of domestic workers?

Mr Davey: I will come to the evidence for not applying the provisions in a second, but if I may, I will continue my remarks, because I want to answer the hon. Lady’s questions.

The Act would place a serious regulatory burden on individuals and create a fear of criminal liabilities if things go wrong. That speaks to the point made by the hon. Member for Slough, who says that there are not many prosecutions of small and medium-sized enterprises and that lots of advice is provided before such things happen. We could, of course, contest that, but what she fails to recognise is the fear of prosecutions, so let us look at the implications of that.

There would be new and significant disincentives to employing domestic workers in a private arrangement. Individuals may cease to employ the additional help they need, which could have serious social consequences. Elderly or disabled individuals, for example, could be

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deterred by the increased burden they would face from employing carers in their homes, potentially forcing them into residential care.

I assume that hon. Members, like me, visit constituents who are unable to come to their advice surgeries. I have two advice surgeries a week, but I also go to the homes of disabled and elderly people who are not able to come to see me. I have gone into many constituents’ homes, and my understanding of the health and safety legislation is that those homes would have to be significantly improved and changed. I do not believe that the people I visit would welcome inspections of their homes, which would be very intrusive.

Jim Sheridan: The Minister is a decent man, and I do not believe that he is reading out the script he has been given to scare people, but does he honestly agree with the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) that old women’s houses will be raided to ensure they comply with health and safety provisions? Is he seriously suggesting that will happen?

Mr Davey: I am not suggesting that, because health and safety inspectors do not raid people’s homes.

I ask colleagues to reflect carefully on the legal implications of the position they are taking. The convention would undermine the Government’s policy to support independent living, which includes offering personal budgets in the form of direct payments to people receiving state-funded care. In line with Government policy, social care is increasingly being delivered in the recipient’s own home, and more than 150,000 people are currently working as social care personal assistants in private homes. That policy was begun by the previous Government, and we support it.

Andrew Selous: I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned the personalisation agenda. Does he agree that many of our vulnerable constituents who employ people are quite worried about their obligations as employers anyway? They are not evil people, and they just want their care, but they are quite worried about the implications of being an employer in their own homes.

Mr Davey: Indeed. That is why previous Governments, understandably, did not choose to extend domestic law in the way proposed in the convention; they had the choice, but they did not do that.

Nia Griffith: Is the Minister not aware of the many local authorities and private care companies that provide care? Their arrangements could be replicated in the independent care packages.

Mr Davey: Of course, those would be covered if we went down this route.

What would be the benefit of extending health and safety laws to individuals and increasing the scope of our criminal regime? Why would we want to give health and safety inspectors a new right to visit millions of homes? Why would we want to pass quite an intrusive law, which the previous Government baulked at? The evidence of the need for such a change is weak, to say

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the least. Despite what the hon. Member for Llanelli said, households are low risk in health and safety terms. If there is any increased vulnerability for domestic workers, it arises not from health and safety concerns, but from issues such as their treatment by their employers, which is already covered in other legislation.

Of course, we could have voted for the convention and then not ratified it.

Fiona Mactaggart: Before the hon. Gentleman leaves health and safety, will he answer the first question I asked him? I asked for a specific example of a small employer, none of the employees of which had died and which was not suspected of putting customers at risk, but which had been prosecuted.

Mr Davey: I do not have such an example at my fingertips. I will write to the hon. Lady. However, she fails to address the fear that introducing these provisions would engender, which my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire addressed.

If we had voted for the convention and then not ratified it, what would that have said about the UK? We have heard a lot about our reputation, but other ILO members undermine the ILO by not going ahead and ratifying conventions they have voted for, which is no good for the ILO or labour rights. In the negotiations, we tried to come up with a convention that we could have voted for and ratified—that is what we want. We worked very hard on that and we supported the development of the convention because we see it as important. We rightly meet our legal obligations and do not run away from them.

That is a conventional approach to the ILO, and it is one the previous Government took. Let me explain that by giving some examples. The previous Government abstained in an ILO vote on the maternity protection convention in 2000. I think they would have supported the convention, but it no doubt had some burdensome implications in domestic law. The previous Government also abstained in the 2006 vote on the ILO’s recommendations on employment relationships. That was probably not because they were against the principles, but because they realised that the provisions would have an impact on UK legislation. In other words, we are taking exactly the same approach as the previous Government.

During the debate, it has been suggested that we are letting the rest of the world down and sending a signal that we do not care about these issues, which is one of the more outrageous suggestions I have heard, given the records of the previous Government and this Government. This Government are leading the world in taking practical action to combat human trafficking and to help exploited workers around the globe. Members should consider the Department for International Development’s funding for the Salvation Army anti-child trafficking project in Malawi or its new programme aimed at reducing human trafficking in south Asia, which focuses on helping women and girl domestic workers and garment sector workers. Members should also consider our support for other Governments’ anti-trafficking efforts, such as the Bangladesh police reform project, which established a specialised police unit to combat human trafficking. Above all, Members should consider the increase in the overseas aid budget, which comes when other budgets at home are being cut.

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I therefore totally reject the suggestion that we are not showing leadership in the fight against some of the awful crimes we have heard about. We are showing leadership here, and we showed leadership on the convention. We regret that we were unable to vote for it, because others were unable to give member states more flexibility in a sensible and measured way.

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Kirkstall Forge Railway Station

11 am

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): I am pleased to have secured this debate, which means an awful lot to my constituency. The prospects for Kirkstall Forge are hugely important to local residents, who have been waiting a long time for them to advance. My predecessor worked hard on the issue, and I too have devoted a lot of time to it as the Member of Parliament for Leeds West. It would be reassuring to hear some answers about the future of Kirkstall Forge today.

If you will indulge me slightly, Mr Howarth, I want to explain some of the history of the site, which gives an important context to the issues I want to raise. The site lies between the A65 and the river Aire, one of the major routes in and out of Leeds. The A65 runs along the valley floor, past the remains of the Cistercian abbey. Hon. Members may have seen the production “Frankenstein’s Wedding” that took place there, on the BBC recently. It is one of the best preserved abbeys in the country, and as well as playing host to fictional weddings it is the home of an annual festival, which will take place next week, live concerts, plays and, recently, a farmers market.

The monks of the abbey commenced work on the site of the forge more than 800 years ago, and until its closure at the turn of the century it could lay claim to being the longest operating forge in the country. The monks powered their forge through a mill race diverted from the river, which remains today. More recently the forge was turned to heavy industrial use, seizing the opportunities of first rail and then road transport to manufacture axles for trains and motor vehicles. The forge employed an army of workers, who were housed in Hawksworth wood, just up the hill from the site. Its economic success depended on a stop on a railway line at the forge site.

Now that has all gone. The high wall that once hid a hive of activity is now a barrier between the community and derelict space. Since the forge closed it has been purchased by a developer, laying the groundwork for a major project that could mean the forge being brought back into the heart of the Kirkstall community. The plans for Kirskstall Forge are exciting. They offer the prospect of more than 2,000 jobs and more than 1,000 new homes—regeneration for an area much in need of investment. Crucially, however, they also offer improved sustainable transport into Leeds city centre in the east and Bradford to the west, because a new station is integral to the plans. That is why this debate falls within the remit of the Department for Transport.

High-speed rail and the southern entrance to Leeds city station are welcome developments in transport infrastructure in our city. I know that they will bring Leeds significant benefits. However, the project I am outlining, incorporating improvements to stations and the development of two stations—at Kirkstall Forge and at Apperley Bridge—is part of the Leeds rail growth package. When decisions were made about investment in major transport projects in October, there were three categories: supported projects, unsupported projects and a rather more ambiguous development pool in the middle. Kirkstall Forge fell into that uncertain hinterland,

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where 22 schemes must find extra money if they are to be successful. Those schemes have sat in limbo since then.

The Secretary of State for Transport told the House that schemes in the development pool would be

“challenged…to consider the scope of the scheme, its cost, lower-cost alternatives and their ability to contribute more locally.”—[Official Report, 26 October 2010; Vol. 517, c. 179.]

The Secretary of State also referred to a further 34 schemes that would be considered as candidates for the development pool, but which had not quite made it that far. The Government have invited improved funding offers, and indicated that final decisions about support for schemes would be made by the end of 2011. I would appreciate it if the Minister would today confirm the timetable for making those decisions, so that we can have some clarity about the process, and tell us the number of schemes in the development pool at the moment, their combined value and the money that is likely to be available for them.

People in Leeds West want to know what is happening to the forge site, and developers, councillors and local transport officials need to start putting plans in place.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Does she agree that the benefits are far greater than just for the site itself? The massive developments in my constituency, in Aireborough and Pudsey, could also benefit enormously.

Rachel Reeves: The hon. Gentleman is correct. He has been a big supporter of the development, and I appreciate that. The benefits of the Kirkstall Forge site, including the jobs and housing that it will bring, will have an effect across Leeds but also, I believe, as far away as Bradford.

First and foremost among the scheme’s benefits are its transport benefits. The forge site used to depend on a rail halt to distribute axles around the country. Now, the development that is planned depends on a rapid link into Leeds city centre, and to Bradford. The construction of a station at that point would offer journeys of five minutes into Leeds city centre, a vast improvement on the prospects when travelling by bus or car on the busy A65, which can take as long as 30 minutes, as I know well. The new station would be linked to both Kirkstall and Bramley, and would encourage more sustainable transport for both those communities. Does the Minister agree that we should be encouraging a shift away from cars, particularly in busy urban areas where traffic jams are a common problem, with big environmental, business and economic costs?

As well as offering sustainable, efficient transport, the Kirkstall Forge development promises major opportunities for Kirkstall. It would lever in £350 million of investment in the area, and support 2,400 jobs, in construction and then on site permanently in offices, shops and leisure venues. That is hugely important to an area that has for a long time missed out. Average earnings in my constituency are £18,000—two thirds of the national average—and unemployment stands substantially above the national average. The Hawksworth Wood estate, initially built to house workers on the forge site, now has no major local employer, and residents

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look to the city centre for work, when it exists. The take-up of free school meals at the local primary school runs at 60% —among the highest in the country. Does the Minister recognise that the scheme could bring multi-million pound investment to an area much in need of regeneration, and will he take that into account when considering the funding allocation for the scheme?

Housing is also a big issue. The proposed development includes living space for 2,600 people. It would make use of brownfield land that is currently lying empty to develop houses that would not impinge on Leeds’s green belt, or demand that residents use cars to get to or from work. From my constituency surgeries I know about the huge demand in that part of Leeds for social housing, but also for housing to buy and rent in the private sector. The pressure on developments just a couple of miles away from my constituency in the green belt is also well known to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and other MPs in the area.

When I have raised the issue in the past, I have been told that local support is important. In a letter to me, the Minister of State said:

“We are happy to support the re-opening of new railway stations where the relevant Passenger Transport Executive believes that this is the best way to meet local transport needs and where the scheme demonstrates value for money and is affordable.”

I can confirm, as I have done in the past, the support of Metro, the West Yorkshire passenger transport executive. Leeds city council, local councillors and MPs of all parties across Leeds support the plans, as do the chamber of commerce and local businesses. Crucially, the Minister also knows that the development has strong support in the local community: I have received a significant number of letters and e-mails in support of the project, including from residents’ associations and community groups. I know that many residents will be watching proceedings today or following them later in Hansard to see where we stand. Will the Minister recognise those factors in the decision-making process?

I accept that developments need to be affordable; and cost savings have been made to the scheme. Metro has found approximately 20% in savings through changes to the scheme, and it has also been in discussion with the developers to increase their contribution to the station. At programme entry, the developer had pledged £4 million towards the overall £23 million cost of the Leeds rail growth package. That in itself is a considerable investment on top of the wider investment in the Kirkstall Forge site. The funding requested from the Department for Transport will have fallen by more than 30% since the development pool was initiated, and the station will now cost the Department between £12.3 million and £12.9 million. The local contribution will be over £5.5 million, or more than 25% of the total cost of the project, reflecting an additional £2.6 million investment, subject to agreement.

Will the Minister outline the extent of private contributions to other schemes in the development pool, in comparison with contributions from the private sector and locally for the Leeds rail growth package and the Kirkstall Forge development? Does he believe that this extensive contribution reflects the developer’s commitment to the scheme, as well as the commitment of Leeds city council and the passenger transport executive?

Kirkstall Forge can again play an active part in the life of the local community, as it has done in the past. The Minister’s Department holds the key to unlocking

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that potential, and the railway station is integral to the development. Without the station, the economic benefits of new business space and housing will be much less clear, as the site will be poorly connected to the urban hubs of Leeds and Bradford. Moreover, the impact of the development on the local community will be significantly enhanced if local people can benefit from improved transport links, and if roads are not congested because of the new homes—and new commuters.

The original Kirkstall forge powered jobs and growth in Leeds and Leeds West, and the new development could play a huge role in the economic future of the area, encouraging more sustainable transport, as well as sustainable housing and sustainable jobs. It has major financial backing, it has widespread local support and it fits the Government’s criteria for rail development. Will the Minister clarify the future of Kirkstall Forge railway station, and its place in the Leeds rail growth package?

11.11 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I welcome the chance to engage twice in one week with the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), and I congratulate her on securing this debate. It is on a subject that is of great interest to her existing constituents and to those who may contemplate moving to the Kirkstall Forge area in the years to come, as well as to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and others in the area.

I assure the hon. Lady and her constituents that the coalition Government have rail at the heart of their transport strategy. We recognise that railways can contribute fundamentally to the key overarching objectives of the Department for Transport, which are to foster economic growth and reduce the carbon emissions of the transport sector. The railways can also help to reduce our fiscal deficit, if the money is appropriately deployed. Given the significant pressure on public spending, we are determined to maximise the value of that expenditure, as people would expect.

Investing in our rail network will help to cater for the rapidly growing number of people making rail journeys in all parts of the country. Our rail network is essential in allowing millions of people to get to and from work every day, and in moving people around the country for business and for leisure or pleasure. Between 1994 and 2009, the number of miles travelled by rail passengers in Britain every year nearly doubled from 18 billion to 32 billion, and that growth shows no sign of slowing. It has been resistant to the problems in the economy of the last three or four years.

Transport did well in the comprehensive spending review, and over the next four years we will invest over £30 billion in transport projects across Britain, with £18 billion being committed to the railways. There is significant pressure on public spending, so we are determined to maximise the value of our expenditure.

The Government welcome the publication of Sir Roy McNulty’s independent study on rail value for money. The study found that although performance and safety have improved markedly over the last decade, our railways are 40% more expensive per passenger mile than those of our European competitors. The Government are considering the recommendations that are directed to them, and will deliver their response later this year.

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In parallel, the Government are developing a wider rail strategy to ensure an affordable, sustainable, safe and high-quality railway that will deliver a better deal for taxpayers and for fare payers. That strategy will clearly set out the roles of Government, both central and local, of the train operators and of Network Rail in securing the future of the railway.

The Government have ambitious plans for investment in rail infrastructure and rolling stock. That is possible only because the Government have taken the tough decisions necessary to protect future investment in the UK’s rail industry. Over the next four years, we will provide £14 billion to Network Rail to support capital maintenance and infrastructure investment. We are funding and delivering the Thameslink programme, virtually doubling the number of north-south trains running through central London at peak times. About 600 new carriages will be provided for the Crossrail project, and up to 1,200 new carriages will be procured for Thameslink. A further 650 carriages will have been delivered to the network by March 2014.

On 1 March, the Secretary of State announced that Scotland, Wales and northern and south-west England are to get a fleet of new trains, and more reliable rail links to London. That will create thousands of jobs, boost the economy and improve services for passengers. He gave the go-ahead for the £4.5 billion intercity express programme and for the plans to electrify the Great Western main line between Cardiff, Bristol and Didcot.

Subject to consultation, the Government will proceed with plans for a national high-speed rail network, spending over £750 million during the period of the spending review. When complete, that will dramatically reduce journey times and increase capacity on routes between Britain’s major population centres; it will bring Birmingham within 49 minutes of London by rail, and Manchester and Leeds—the latter will be of particular interest to the hon. Lady—to within about 80 minutes. Connections to existing lines will also be included, allowing direct high-speed services to our major towns and cities. The capacity released on existing lines would allow an expansion of commuter, regional and freight services.

Mr George Howarth (in the Chair): Order. I have been listening carefully to the Minister, and I realise that he is setting out the context of Government expenditure on transport. However, at some point soon he needs to speak on the specific subject of the debate, which is Kirkstall Forge railway station.

Norman Baker: Indeed, Mr Howarth. However, as the hon. Lady finished five minutes early, I have taken the opportunity to put the matter into the general context of our rail policy.

Suffice it to say that we are driving out inefficiencies on the railways and reducing costs. However, we are making what I believe is the biggest investment in rail, including in the Leeds area, that we have seen since Victorian times. That should give the hon. Lady some comfort. There is a hard-nosed economic and environmental case for investing in rail. I turn now to Kirkstall Forge.

A new station at Kirkstall Forge has been a high priority for Metro, the West Yorkshire passenger transport executive, for many years, and I know that considerable progress has been made towards achieving that objective.

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The coalition Government are committed to localism, and that determines our approach to local rail. We realise that local rail networks have to adapt in order to serve new and expanding communities, which is why we welcome PTEs taking the initiative. PTEs, working with local enterprise partnerships, where they exist, are best placed to identify the needs of local areas, and to identify and secure funding for new lines, new train services or stations, if they believe that that is the best way to meet local transport needs and the wider objectives of economic growth, housing growth and carbon reduction.

The development at Kirkstall Forge is a large one, and in the spirit of localism it is entirely right that Metro should take the lead in developing solutions to the transport issues that the development will give rise to. Metro has a good record in identifying sustainable transport solutions. For example, we welcome Metro’s and Leeds city council’s commitment to more sustainable solutions for the city region, as set out in the local transport plan 3, “My Journey”. We have backed their judgment by providing £12 million towards the cost of the Leeds station southern entrance, which will do much to improve access to new major housing and commercial developments to the south of the city centre.

The proposed Kirkstall Forge station will complement the A65 Kirkstall road quality bus corridor, to which the Department will be making a contribution of £19.8 million, and that is on track to open in 2012. It is a busy and congested corridor that is heavily used by commuters, so these two schemes will help to provide a sustainable alternative to car commuting.

The hon. Lady asked specifically about the shift from the car. The Department recognises, first, that we have to use transport to drive economic growth. Secondly, however, we have a responsibility to use transport in a way that reduces carbon emissions. We are certainly keen to secure a reduction in carbon emissions, and that could mean a modal shift from car to rail, particularly until the road transport network has been decarbonised, which is some way off.

Metro is seeking funding from the Department’s budget for local authority major schemes. The outcome of the spending review is testament to our commitment to such schemes. We recognise that well-designed proposals can make a big contribution to economic growth.

We plan to spend more on local authority major schemes in this spending review period than the average spend over the past 10 years. Nevertheless, that cannot fund all the schemes from the previous regional funding allocations process that promoters wished to deliver, and we will need to rationalise. Put simply, we inherited a completely unrealistic pipeline of schemes, and we have had to rationalise those as best we can. For the future, we want to move away from a top-down approach to determining local transport needs, working towards a more devolved system for funding local authority major schemes, with local enterprise partnerships taking on an important role. However, for this spending review, we need to rationalise the previous Government’s programme, so we have invited final bids from the promoters of 45 schemes from the previous programme. The Leeds rail growth package is one such scheme, and we believe it will now consist of new stations for both Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge. Metro will submit

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a final bid in September to the Department, which we will consider alongside the others we expect to receive, including bids for maintenance for the Leeds inner ring road and the New Generation Transport trolley bus scheme, and will make an announcement in December 2011. I hope that that helps to confirm the timetable which the hon. Lady asked about.

Although I cannot indicate how successful the Leeds growth package bid might be, because it is a competitive process and obviously the bids are not in yet, we will look favourably on schemes for which promoters have reduced their funding requests to the Department. I can confirm that, and I note the comments that the hon. Lady made about increased private contributions. I am aware that a developer contribution has been secured towards Kirkstall Forge station and that Metro is scaling down the size of the bid by removing some additional car parking schemes at stations elsewhere.

In its bid, Metro will also have to demonstrate that the scheme provides value for money and that there is no ongoing cost to the Department arising from the stations’ introduction. That is an important point, as our policy is that new stations should cover their ongoing costs from newly generated fare income. However, I understand that Metro is confident that over time that will be achieved.

It is proposed that Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge stations will be served by inserting calls in the services that run between Bradford Forster Square and Leeds stations, which have spare capacity to accommodate the new users from the stations. It is for Metro to discuss with Northern train operating company and Network Rail how those calls are to be accommodated within the timetable, given that the additional stops will increase end-to-end journey times by about four minutes in each direction. The good news is that we have recently agreed to fund the provision of additional carriages on the electrified routes to the north-west of Leeds, so Metro and Northern are now in a better position to determine whether further rolling stock will be required to enable the calls to be made.

I have tried to cover the points that the hon. Lady raised. She explicitly asked whether I would take into account wider economic factors in determining applications—yes, we will absolutely do that. The Secretary of State recently published a new transport business case appraisal system, which was announced to Parliament through a written ministerial statement. The hon. Lady may want to get a copy of that. She will be able to see the factors we now take into account to determine transport projects. Broadly speaking, the changes made to the valuation process have increased the value of carbon, so, on the face of it, they marginally benefit public transport schemes and marginally disbenefit road schemes.

The hon. Lady asked about private contributions to other schemes in the development pool. That information is simply not available yet, because we do not know what the final bids from the other schemes will be. The deadline for all bids is September, and obviously we will not be able to make a judgment until they all come in. I reiterate that private contributions are important. We are looking for buy-in, not only from the local transport authority, but from the wider community. Private contributions are therefore important, not simply to reduce the call upon the taxpayer, but to demonstrate

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commitment to the particular project for which an application is being made. In all the bids that come forward, we will be looking for details of private contributions, the support of the local community, and evidence that there have been sensible attempts to reduce costs wherever possible.

The hon. Lady appears to be confident that Metro has addressed those issues, and if it has, that will count in its bid’s favour, as and when it comes in.

Rachel Reeves: I welcome the answers the Minister has given.

To return to the wider economic benefits of the development, a point that I tried to get across was about deprivation in that part of Leeds West, particularly on the Hawksworth Wood estate—I mentioned the proportion of free school meals—and in Bramley, which has one of the highest proportions of young people not in education, employment or training. As well as the aggregate externalities and economic benefits that would come from the development, will the Department look at the importance of economic regeneration and how the returns in areas such as Kirkstall or Bramley might benefit some of the most deprived communities when compared with developments in areas where there are already good jobs and low levels of unemployment?

Norman Baker: As a Government, we recognise the need to support areas where there is economic deprivation. If we applied a simple economic test to everything, there would frankly be a lot of investment in south-east England, because it has a very good rate of return, and not a lot elsewhere. We do not do that. We try to ensure that we take into account a wide range of factors and ensure a modal balance of transport investment, as well as a regional balance. The hon. Lady is right to put those points on the record. They have been noted for when the Department considers the matter, as and when the bid comes in from Metro.

The Secretary of State’s approach to developing a package of bids to be approved has been successful in driving down costs on the bids that have been agreed so

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far. That has meant that the number of bids that have been able to be approved so far has been greater than if that discipline had not been applied. By driving down costs, we have been able to approve more schemes than would otherwise have been the case, so we have been able to make more progress than many dared hope given the unrealistic pipeline we inherited. That approach is not simply good value for money for the taxpayer, but helpful in spreading the money as widely as possible.

In conclusion, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the issue. I know that there is genuine concern in her constituency and others that the proposed station goes ahead without delay.

Rachel Reeves: I have some more questions before the Minister concludes. What is the total pot of money available for the 45 schemes that remain in the development pool? I recognise that due to savings and increased private sector contributions costs may have fallen since the projects went into the development pool, but how much were they worth then? What is the difference between the amount of money in the pool and how much the schemes were bidding for? Does he have that information?

Norman Baker: I am not sure that I can give that detailed information now, but I shall write to the hon. Lady. The amount of money available is about £700 million—that is a rough figure for her to consider. I will drop her a line to give her the specific information she asked about.

The debate has been useful. I look forward to receiving a final bid from Metro in September. It will be properly and objectively analysed according to the criteria that Metro has been notified about, which I have referred to today. Decisions will be made known to MPs and others in December.

11.27 am

Sitting suspended.

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Coal-fired Power Stations

[Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I am pleased to have secured this debate on what I consider one of the most important issues the country faces at the moment. It is also a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.

I have a number of concerns that require a great deal of attention. Principally, our nation’s ability to ensure energy security is very important. Will we be able to keep the lights on in the future? Many customers and constituents are keen to ensure that the Government are focused on that question. How are we to keep the lights on, without becoming completely reliant on our European neighbours? Although we have a European market and many nearby nations are able to supply electricity, I am concerned about how secure that supply is, and how amiable their taxpayers will be about giving British people electricity when they may run short at the same time.

Throughout history, this nation has been served well by coal-fired power stations. Coal as an energy source to generate electricity is flexible, reliable and dependable. However, there are a number of pressures, such as the requirement to reduce our carbon footprint, that are calling that into question.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) on securing this important debate. Does he agree that it is not just an issue of energy security? There is also an issue in relation to facilities such as Daw Mill colliery in my constituency, where nearly 700 people work. In addition to issues around energy security, should we not be concerned to ensure that we still use the coal that is under our feet in Warwickshire, so that we are not exporting carbon emissions abroad and are supporting UK jobs?

Mr Spencer: I will come to that point later. I should put on record that some of my constituents in Nottinghamshire travel to Warwickshire to work at Daw Mill. That we have so much coal under our feet is pertinent, as is the fact that so many constituents rely on the coal industry for employment.

I will start by outlining the current usage and how we generate power. Coal produces more than 35% of the UK’s base load of electricity during an average year. In recent winters, when the weather has been cold, that base load lifted to 50% of the supply generated by coal. That emphasises not only how dependent we are on coal, but how flexible it is, responding to the requirements of the British public. On a cold Christmas day when everyone is trying to cook their turkey at the same time, we need a great deal of flexibility in the supply chain to be able to respond. I want to touch later on the fact that, unfortunately, the wind does not blow harder on Christmas day than on any other day of the year. We need that flexibility to respond to demand.

Fossil fuels as a whole account for 80% of our energy supply: coal being 25%, gas 21% and petroleum 34%. In addition, nuclear provides 6.5%; hydro 2.2%; and biomass waste 11%. Only 0.4% of global energy demand is met by geothermal, solar and wind. Estimates suggest that

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world demand for coal-fired generation will increase by 70% in the period up to 2030. China is currently constructing the equivalent of two 500 MW coal-fired power stations a week, a capacity comparable to the entire UK power grid each year. Those figures are quite pertinent and put in perspective where the UK fits into a global generation market. About a third of UK electricity is generated from coal but it currently emits more CO2 per unit of electricity than all other forms of generation. That is something we need to address.

The UK has installed electricity capacity of 77 GW. By 2016, it is expected to face a shortfall of 32 GW, as older coal, nuclear and oil plant is closed down, as demand rises. That is crucial and key to the debate today. Government policy is currently to introduce a floor price for carbon. Many of the coal-fired generators recognise that that is going to put enormous pressure to be economic on their business. In the medium to short term, it will not be possible to secure nuclear power stations that deliver the energy that we require. Generators that produce power via coal are working their units very hard to secure as much return on their investment as possible. There will be a period when our ability to generate power will be short, and the Government need to look long and hard at how we will close that gap.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) suggested, coal is currently plentiful. It is relatively cheap, flexible and able to respond quickly. We are not prone to outages, and coal is not vulnerable to geopolitical risk. Coal generates about 40% of the world’s electricity, with about 10% each for gas and nuclear. Coal burned by major electricity generators, which account for 80% of total coal use, was up 3% in 2005. Coal burned in UK power stations was 23% higher in the third quarter of 2006 than in the same period in 2005. Coal demand is rising. That demonstrates not only how reliant on coal we are in this country, but the pertinent fact that use is increasing.

UK pits and mines are pretty efficient. We have heard about Daw Mill. Thoresby colliery in my constituency is very efficient in its coal production. I am delighted it has now had permission to explore another seam, which will secure the future of that colliery for at least the next 10 to 12 years.

Given current global energy consumption, it is estimated that there are enough recoverable coal reserves to provide the entire planet with all its energy for the next 600 years, at the current rate of usage. Britain is estimated to have 7 gigatonnes of coal left. In power stations performing carbon capture and storage, we could deliver a sustainable and reliable approach to energy production.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) for securing the debate. He is right about the importance of energy security, especially over the next 10 to 15 years. Does he agree that we need a balanced energy market and security of supply, in which, as he says, coal will play a key role? He touched on carbon capture, which will be the key way potentially to keep many of our coal-fired power stations burning and supplying energy over the short term of 10 to 15 years.

Mr Spencer: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. That point is fundamental to the debate: coal is recognised as being flexible, but we need to embrace the technology

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of carbon capture and storage. That is something that I want to explore in more detail later. It is interesting that my hon. Friend touches on carbon capture and storage, because those are new clean technologies that have been proven to work. Powerfuel’s new development at Hatfield, Yorkshire, is backed by Friends of the Earth. It is a good example of how new clean coal plant can be developed and can work in practice.

I turn to the environmental side of the argument. Despite legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in 2008 91.5% of UK energy supply was met by the use of carbon-intensive fossil fuels. We need to address that figure seriously if we are to, first, meet our energy demands and, secondly, reduce this nation’s carbon footprint.

EDF Energy has said that, between now and 2016, 13 GW of coal and oil baseload plant will close. Other ageing coal plants may also close by 2016 and 7.5 GW worth of nuclear closures are scheduled by 2015. EDF Energy reached its figure of a 32 GW shortfall by factoring in the expected closures, the expected growth in demand for electricity and the expected growth in line with the renewables obligation. That figure of a 32 GW shortfall will be a terrifying one unless we find ways of plugging the gap that do not necessarily involve laying cables across the channel so that we become dependent on our near neighbours.

If the UK coal-fired power stations were replaced over time with clean coal plants, the UK would stand at the head of an energy revolution, we would be secure in our energy supply and we would also be comfortably within the environmental emissions targets. I hope that the Government can find a way to support investment in clean coal technology so that we can achieve some of those goals.

Carbon dioxide capture and storage—CCS—is the critical enabling technology that would reduce CO2 emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world’s pressing energy needs. It is important to recognise that this is a global issue. While we are considering UK energy generation, it would be foolish not to observe what is happening on the rest of planet Earth. I have already mentioned China and the number of power plants that it is producing. If we can find, develop and enhance CCS technology, we could position ourselves well in the world.

Mr David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising this very important issue. Given the timetable before us—the site contract is to be signed by Scottish Power by 2011, but we will not see any real production until later—is he as concerned as I am that there will be a gap in the energy market and we will not be able to fulfil the energy requirements of this country? How will we overcome that problem if we do not move the energy agenda forward?

Mr Spencer: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and that is exactly the point—there is this gap and we must find a way to fill it. A Government of whatever colour have to address this issue quickly and grab it with both hands, because we cannot afford to be in a position where that gap increases and we cannot keep the power on. I therefore commit myself to supporting

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him in lobbying Government to ensure that we fill that gap. I hope that the Minister will reassure us at some point that we can fill it.

CCS is a means of mitigating the contribution of fossil fuel emissions to global warming. The process is based on capturing CO2 from large point sources, for example power stations, and storing it in such a way that it does not enter the atmosphere. CCS can also be used to describe the “scrubbing” of CO2 from ambient air as a geo-engineering technique. Although CO2 has been injected into geological formations for various purposes, the long-term storage of CO2 is a relatively new concept. The first commercial example of its use was at Weyburn in 2000.

I want to explore the three groups into which CCS can be split: post-combustion; pre-combustion; and oxyfuel.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, not least because I live opposite Drax power station, which is the most efficient, cleanest and biggest coal-fired power station in the country. Is he aware of the consultation that is going on in my own village of Airmyn today, between 2pm and 7pm, which relates to the National Grid’s proposal for a CCS pipeline that would serve the steelworks at Scunthorpe as well as the power stations across north-west and south Yorkshire? As I say, that consultation is going on at the moment. That pipeline is an exciting prospect and it offers the possibility of extending the life of some of our power stations.

Mr Spencer: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. In fact, I have the Drax report here in front of me and I know that he is working very actively to ensure that his constituents are well represented in that consultation. Drax is a very good example of what can be achieved. The work that it has done in blending biomass with coal to improve its carbon footprint is an example of how we can improve things with the technology that exists today. Also, working with other industries, such as the steel industry, is quite an exciting prospect and I welcome that happening; in fact, I recognise that that good work is ongoing.

Flue gas desulphurisation is not a new technology. It has been used for some time. Ratcliffe-on-Soar, the largest power station near my own constituency, has introduced a great deal of new technology to capture the sulphur emitted from the power unit. FGD is simple, actually. It basically works by mixing limestone with water, which is then sprayed into the power station chimneys through which the flue gases pass after the coal is burned. The sulphur in the flue gas reacts chemically with the injected spray and forms calcium sulphate, with only a small proportion of the sulphur being ejected into the atmosphere. The resultant slurry is then pumped away, dried and made into gypsum, which is beneficial to the power station and can be used to generate income for it. FGD equipment also allows coal-fired plants to meet the requirements of the EU large combustion plant directive.

The second group of CCS technologies is integrated gasification combined cycle, which is a pre-combustion technology. IGCC is a near-zero-emissions clean coal solution for the UK. It would significantly reduce CO2 emissions as well as providing pressurised gas for injection

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into North sea oilfields, thereby enhancing the recovery of oil reserves, which is known as enhanced oil recovery. Powerfuel is now constructing one of Britain’s first IGCC clean coal power stations in Yorkshire, again using British coal from an adjacent colliery. I will try to put the process into simple language. It sometimes becomes very difficult to extract crude oil from wells and there is a technique whereby the CO2 can be mixed to reduce the viscosity of the oil, allowing the oil to be removed from the wells more easily.

Super-critical power plant is a type of clean coal technology whereby it is possible to retrofit this technology to the power stations that we already have. The benefits of operating a super-critical power plant over a conventional plant are clear. Conventional boilers have an operating efficiency of about 30%, which means only 30% of the energy in the coal is converted into electricity with the rest being lost as heat. Super-critical boilers have efficiency levels of around 42% to 46%, so more energy is directed to turning the turbines to generate electricity and therefore less greenhouse gas is produced per kilowatt-hour. Improving the efficiency of boilers used in coal-fired power stations not only reduces CO2 emissions, because less coal is needed to generate the heat energy that turns the steam turbines, but it results in higher generator efficiencies in the provision of the electricity. The boilers are available commercially and can be retrofitted to existing coal-fired plants, which means no major retraining of staff, faster deployment and reduced capital costs with greater efficiency. It seems like a win-win situation to me.

Doosan Babcock Energy has stated that Britain could cut the cost of reducing greenhouse gases by £3 billion if it fitted such clean technology to its ageing power stations. Lobbying goes on for Government to introduce a form of incentive for power generators—one similar to the renewables obligation certificates—to invest in clean coal technology. Creating such an incentive seems the right thing to do and I hope that this debate will assist the Government in some of their thinking, and perhaps we can consider supporting this technology.

Doosan Babcock Energy says that applying this technology to existing coal-fired power stations would be the equivalent of erecting 7,000 to 10,000 wind turbines. Members in Westminster Hall today who have had the pleasure of a local application for a wind turbine will be relieved that we could reduce the number of those applications, one of which I currently have in my constituency. Typical construction costs for current coal-fired power station designs are in the region of £700,000 to £900,000 per megawatt. More advanced integrated gasification combined gas cycle plants cost between £900,000 and £1.3 million per megawatt, although lower capital costs of £750,000 to £900,000 per megawatt are predicted as technology moves forward and we become better at fitting it. The 2002 energy review by the performance and innovation unit put the costs of coal-fired power stations in the 3p to 3.5p per kilowatt-hour range by 2020. That would make coal competitive with nuclear power, if the costs of decommissioning nuclear power stations were included.

Briefly, I want to explore carbon abatement capture. The idea of carbon capture is simple and powerful. The CO2 must be segregated from the fossil fuel combustion

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products and deposited in a place where it will remain. The CO2 emissions from a clean coal plant will be reduced to virtually zero if the plant has been designed to store the carbon. The CO2 can then be disposed of in, for example, the emptying fields of the North sea, where it can consequently extend the life of those oil fields by applying pressure to an old and difficult-to-extract reserve, thereby prolonging production. I shall try to put that into layman’s terms. The gas is pumped into the hole where the oil is coming from, which assists in removing some of the oil, and stores the CO2 back underground, where the carbon was for millions of years. It is a three-step process, of capturing the CO2 from the power plant, transporting it—as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) said—to another place via a pipeline, and finally storing or using it.

The British Geological Survey estimates that the potential carbon dioxide storage in the UK sector of the North sea is 775 gigatonnes. That is a considerable amount, given that worldwide CO2 output is 8 gigatonnes annually, and it means that in the North sea alone there could be almost a century’s worth of CO2 storage for the whole world. That is a fantastic statistic, which proves that we have the storage available as long as we can embrace it and find a way, via the technology, to make use of it.

Carbon capture and storage in a coal-fired plant would cost just over £20 per tonne of CO2, while the figure for a gas-fired plant is about £30 a tonne. It could be argued that that is because a coal plant produces more, but coal is certainly cheaper per tonne than gas for CO2 emitted. Using CO2 for enhanced oil recovery can generate revenue that offsets the other costs of CCS. The cost of storing CO2 in aquifers is close to £l per tonne, and the cost of storing it in oil and gas field plants ranges from £1 to £20 per tonne. Therefore, as well as being fairly reasonable, this method could generate income if we can get it right and make it work. Depleted oil and gas fields are the first sites to be considered for storage capacity because they are known to be equipped with infrastructure such as pipelines and platforms, and are almost ready to run now.

The other area that I really want to explore, and which I know my predecessor as MP for Sherwood, Paddy Tipping, and his predecessor Andy Stewart explored, is underground coal gasification. This is a method of converting unworked coal into a combustible gas, which can be used for industrial heating, power generation and the manufacture of hydrogen, synthetic gas or diesel fuel. The basic UCG process involves drilling two wells into the coal, one for the injection of oxidants and another—some distance away—for bringing the product gas to the surface. I acknowledge that the process involves a number of challenges, not least of which is whether once the process has been started it can be controlled, and there are also the impacts on subsidence above surface level, depending on what happens to the coal below ground. Nevertheless, we should consider using UCG for reserves under the sea. Cost estimates of UCG clean gas stand at £2.50 a gigajoule, whereas the current price of national gas is £6 a gigajoule.

As for the economic merits, clean coal is competitive, with an estimated generating cost of between 2p and 3.5p per kilowatt-hour. Wind power, for example, costs between 3.7p and 5.5p per kilowatt-hour. The Government

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seem fairly committed at this moment in time to wind power, but when the costs are added up and the subsidies stripped out it is not as competitive as some of the other available technology. Clean coal is also more acceptable to constituents than erecting large wind turbines in the vicinity of their homes.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman as he makes his powerful case for coal. Is he not overplaying, however, the role of wind power? He indicated earlier that, when wind is needed most, in the cold weather when there are anticyclones, it is not there, so we have to have the coal-fired capacity, and if the wind blows too much, we again have to have that capacity. Wind power is irrelevant to the security of energy supply in this country.

Mr Spencer: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct, and I will cite some statistics later that support his view. Offshore wind has a role to play in assisting electricity generation but we do require that base load. I do not want to overemphasise this, but when the World cup final half-time whistle goes or when everyone wants to cook their turkey on Christmas day, we have to have the capacity to lift that generation. However, the Government currently do not have the power to control the wind and can rely only on what is available.

Andrew Percy: I have issues with onshore wind, but I never miss an opportunity to sell the Humber for its offshore wind capacity, particularly in front of the Minister. Is it not a bit of a false argument that we are in favour of either one technology or the other? What my hon. Friend and the Government are saying is that we want a broad mix. A technology that is not as far advanced as perhaps it should be is tidal, to which I understand the Government have just committed some money. It is not about being on one side of the argument; it is about being on all sides and having a balanced energy mix.

Mr Spencer: It is true that we need to take a balanced view and ensure that we explore the new technologies. I think that tidal and wave power are great, and if they work they will contribute a small amount to this nation’s energy security. The important thing to note though is that it will be a small amount, because those technologies do not have a large enough share of the market. The number of areas where we could secure a tidal scheme—the Severn estuary is one example—is small, and there are no opportunities to generate enormous amounts of electricity via such schemes. I acknowledge that we need a mixed portfolio, but that works only if there is something there to pick up the base load. The crux of my argument is that the only methods that can be used to pick up the base load are nuclear power and coal-fired power stations, and we are not in a position to build nuclear power stations fast enough to plug the inevitable gap.

On the merits of clean coal technology for the environment, the biggest long-term problem for coal is its carbon dioxide level. Approximately 90% of the CO2 produced by a coal-fired power station could be captured with CCS, and CCS could help to make up to 20% of the global cuts in emissions that are needed by 2050. Therefore, if we can find the technology that will work,

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we can sell it to the world, continue to use coal and at the same time cut the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

Owing to their substantial carbon emissions, coal-fired power stations are currently considered environmentally unacceptable. That is simply because we are looking at the technology of the 1960s and 1970s, rather than at what is available now and might be available in future. Coal-fired power gets a bit of a poor press, but some of what is said about it is not true.

The UK has the opportunity to be at the forefront of developing clean coal technology. That would not only be beneficial to the UK, but be a very effective way of helping developing countries, notably China and India, to take advantage of their own coal reserves in a way that is considered environmentally acceptable. We find ourselves in a situation in which the Department for International Development is funding the World Bank, which in turn is funding electricity generation in other parts of the world, and those countries are spending that cash on coal-fired power stations, which are not as environmentally friendly as they could be. If we can find a way to make the technology work and embrace it, we could sell it to other parts of the world or donate it as part of our aid programme to the more challenged parts of the world, which would benefit the planet and those more challenged countries as well.

It is vital that we are at the forefront of development. That could lead to a whole new industry. Selling the technology and building it for the world would generate enormous amounts of cash and jobs for the UK. If we are not at the forefront of its development, other countries will jump ahead of us and we will lose the opportunity. This great nation of ours has always been at the cutting edge of technology, and certainly of engineering, and we need to maintain that tradition if we possibly can.

The process of coal gasification can capture 90% of CO2 emissions for storage and can also produce a synthetic gas, known as “syngas”, which is 99.5% pure hydrogen. The beauty of that fuel is that, once fired through a conventional gas turbine, the only emission is water vapour. Although cleaning up the existing plants is welcome, it will not have the impact that those who want to reduce our CO2 emissions significantly require, nor will it capture any CO2 for alternative income generation. Coal gasification is the only process that changes one form of energy—coal—into another flexible energy source—hydrogen—but without a clear Government energy policy, IGCC technology will not happen. To be viable, the new IGCC plants require the same allocation of CO2 allowances as existing coal plants, but at present they receive the allowances for a CCGT-fired—combined cycle gas turbine—power station.