I would extend what I am talking about to local authority leisure centres and sports centres. The Oasis leisure centre—the rather famous band copied the name—

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wants to have a major redevelopment. It will be, in all senses, a leisure centre, rather than a place for serious sport, which will leave our other major centre, the Link centre, pretty much providing the sports side. I should like the Sports Forum to have a much greater role in running that, because it has expertise in how to deliver sport and because that could help to attract external funding. An example is the new netball facility that was built. The national netball association and local netball clubs are helping to set the programme and ensuring that that is a big success. We must use the skills that sports clubs have.

I want to deal briefly with private finance initiative schools and community facilities. While I was a councillor, there were many shiny, brand-new schools in the new housing estate that I represented. We did not have a huge amount of open space other than inside the large fences of the PFI schools. They charged an absolute fortune and priced many different community groups out of there. It was an absolute, crying shame; we had young people who wanted to turn up and kick a football around, but they could not get access to the open fields. We must be careful of that, especially in built-up areas.

I have been trying to push for more sport in the community on Friday and Saturday nights, using community facilities such as school buildings, local authority sports facilities, parish councils and community centres. We as a nation spend a huge amount of money on youth services and facilities, and although some are good, many are not. It would be far better for the local authority to use the money to commission football or street dance coaches, for example, to work in those facilities. The respective local authority, parish council or school would not charge for the use of those facilities. All that they would have to do is raise a bit of money to go towards the cost of the coaches, and that could come from the youth service budget. Children could be charged 50p a time, so that they have a sense of ownership. In that way, we could get them doing something active and constructive on Friday and Saturday nights. When I go around schools and colleges, the idea is very much supported by young people. Last week, a sports coach UK organisation told me that it was interested in the idea and that it could provide a long list of potential coaches for the different areas. I am sure that many other organisations would get behind such a scheme.

On planning issues, we are right to focus on sports facilities—physical buildings—but often all that we need to do is ensure that there is sufficient open space. I previously represented a new build estate where there was not sufficient accessible, usable open space. Under the technical national definitions, we had lots, but they just happened to be lots of hedges and places where we certainly could not kick a football. We need to be mindful of that.

When I was growing up, we were influenced by whatever was on TV. If it was the Tour de France, out came the bikes. If it was cricket, out came the cricket bats. We played football for the majority of the year and tennis for the three days that we used to last at Wimbledon in those days.

We need to take advantage of the new homes bonus and section 106. Too often, leisure is not at the forefront of getting money to invest in facilities. For the smaller developments in existing residential areas, we should consider using some of the money to provide more

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accessible, usable open space or traditional sports community facilities. Again, we should consider the opportunity to devolve the ownership and the running of those sports clubs.

We have previously talked about school sport partnerships. I was delighted that the Government extended the time for them to secure a future. The vast majority, or at least the ones that were doing a good job, have been successful in doing that. My only plea concerns the facilities that they then provide activities in. The people involved are often fantastic coaches. They are fantastic at getting support for volunteers, but they are not necessarily business-minded. As not-for-profit businesses, they need some help and training to ensure that they are good at running the books, so that they can continue to do a fantastic job.

I am encouraged by a much of what the Government are doing. This is something that the Government take very seriously. The Minister is well thought of by all the sporting groups that I meet. We must ensure that this matter remains very high on the political radar, both locally and nationally.

3.43 pm

Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Bone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) for securing this debate. I will not speak for long, but I will highlight a couple of community facilities in my constituency.

Next week, we will open a new sports centre, with a £6.5 million swimming pool. It is the first leisure centre in the country that is partly heated by innovative technology. It will take energy from the town’s crematorium, thereby reducing the overall CO2 emissions in our borough. Of course, we would be delighted if the Minister wished to pay us a visit.

The centre will lead the way in improving health equalities and increasing participation in Redditch, with targeted projects to help our diverse population. To celebrate the opening of the venue, community games will take place in May and will involve sports clubs and the voluntary sector. There will be activities for eight weeks, culminating in a competition day focusing on Olympic sports and the promotion of volunteering and healthy lifestyle choices.

The special Olympics group is another great community facility. I should perhaps declare an interest here as I have just been appointed its patron. It comprises a group of Olympians with learning disabilities. They take part in all sorts of sports, including athletics, swimming, soccer and badminton. They are a pleasure to watch, and I have seen them compete in many events. They are inspirational young people, and 169 of them have competed in events this year. They are a credit to my town and an example of how community sport and its facilities really work. Without such community sports facilities, our young people would suffer. They make our town a healthier and happier environment. Long may they continue.

3.45 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I thank you, Mr Bone, for asking me to speak, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte

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Leslie) on securing this excellent debate. The timing is appropriate because this is the year of the Olympics in London. It is right that we should be focusing on sport. It is right, too, because we need to encourage people to live more healthily. Exercise definitely leads to a healthier lifestyle. My hon. Friend was right to emphasise the importance of exercise.

Let me talk about my own district council of Stroud, which has just reopened its leisure centre to great success. I pay tribute to Councillor Keith Pearson and his team for having the imagination to get on with the job of delivering an outstanding centre with so many improvements on the previous regime. Gone are the days of Mr Brittas and the “Brittas Empire”. Instead, we have an efficiently run organisation with clean facilities. The changing rooms are absolutely excellent and I invite Members to come and see them at any time—preferably to change for some sport. The centre demonstrates that councils can do things properly if they put their minds to it, and Stroud district council has done exactly that.

The centre expects some 25,000 users from the community around Stroud, which is a fairly impressive number. There is also Dursley swimming pool, which has a solar panel system to assist with the heating, so the pool is not just really good for the community but environmentally friendly. Things can be done by Conservative councils, and I applaud that. It is important that we recognise that councils can and should play a role. It is also critical that communities outside the council help in these matters, too.

My son is a footballer; he is a pretty impressive defender. I often go and watch him play at various football clubs across my constituency. It is really great to see so many clubs flourishing and providing decent pitches for people to play on and it is a great tribute to local communities that they allow these facilities to be developed and then support them. The support that local communities give to such clubs is critical.

Rehman Chishti: My hon. Friend is making an important point about local communities and local authorities. Medway has just spent £11 million on the Medway Olympic park in one of its most deprived areas—there is a seven-year life expectancy difference between one part of the constituency and another. Does he agree that it is crucial to get such facilities in deprived areas as well as in affluent ones, so that children with social deprivation issues can use the facilities and improve their health as well?

Neil Carmichael: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I am grateful to him for making it, because that is an important point. We must ensure that we reach out to all communities, especially the ones that he has described. We must have healthy people who enjoy their lives, are properly engaged and play a full part in the society that we want to create. That was what my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) was referring to when she spoke about people with disabilities, and it is great that she emphasised that point.

There are communities in my constituency that support people with disabilities in their interest in sport. Most impressively, a huge amount of money was raised for a swimming pool as St Rose’s school, Beeches Green, for

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people with severe disabilities. That is wonderful; it shows that people care, that they can deliver the right kind of support and that people recognise that absolutely everybody should have opportunities to play sport wherever possible, which is completely right.

There are also threats to sport in my constituency. Stroud rugby club needs a new facility and to upgrade its rooms—in fact, it needs to move. We must help clubs such as that to seize the initiative effectively and ensure that they can deliver the right kind of facilities for the huge number of young people who want to play rugby. The place is full on a Sunday morning. My son is no longer interested in going to the rugby club at weekends—it’s football for him, although he plays rugby at school—but those who go to Stroud rugby club are really enthusiastic, and that is an important stepping stone to more involvement in sport. I am very keen for Stroud rugby club to thrive and I support it in its endeavours.

I went to Gloucester rugby club a few weekends ago to watch a very exciting game between Gloucester and Toulouse—my wife is French, so there were some issues about who was supporting whom. While there, I noticed the sheer involvement of the people watching the match. We must not forget that element when we talk about facilities. It is important to encourage people to go to and support sporting events. They will be watching people they know—members of their families and so forth—which is part of the collective activity of sport and should be promoted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West mentioned corporate support; it is important and we should encourage it. The Government need to find ways to help to lever in the corporate support that is so necessary for many fledgling clubs and for developed clubs that want to move forward or expand their assets or facilities. We should not forget the sports such as skateboarding that we would not necessarily think of as sport, because they also give opportunities to young people to be involved.

The community facilities that we want are essential, and should be encouraged to develop into other services as well, such as social clubs, because that gives them an added dimension and another way to be successful. I have noticed that the clubs in my constituency that have moved on and developed in that way have prospered, and they continue to provide excellent opportunities for young people.

3.53 pm

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on securing this timely debate. I congratulate the Minister on his strong performance as a Minister since 2010—he has been outstanding. This is obviously an important year for sport. I also congratulate my hon. Friends on their contributions so far, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley), who has given me an idea. One of the sporting facilities in my constituency is a top-100 listed golf course, which happens to be next door to the crematorium, so I will encourage my local council to investigate the possibility of recycling heat into the clubhouse.

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I would like to talk about how I see sport and how sport benefits the individual, the wider community and the nation as a whole. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West and I share a passionate belief that sport can and does do good and should be encouraged and supported in every possible way. Forgive me, but I would appreciate some indulgence as I take a tour of my constituency. I am proud to do so, specifically on this topic, because it has possibly some of the best community sports facilities in the country. In my experience, the people of Bracknell and the surrounding area are generally quite happy, and I think that those two things are linked.

Bracknell has three sports centres, including an Olympic swimming pool, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West competed in once upon a time. The Coral Reef water sports park is a separate facility that is visited annually by hundreds of thousands of people from the south of England. The Look Out discovery centre on Crown Estate land in Swinley forest, which is used for mountain biking, walking and running, has 250,000 visitors a year. We also have one of only three trampoline centres in the south of England. Lily Hill park houses Bracknell rugby club, and I remember playing there aged 19—not so long ago. I lost the game unfortunately, but was very impressed with the facilities. We also have numerous football clubs. In fact, my first visit to my constituency was to play football for Wycombe district football club at the age of 11, and I lost that game as well. We also have a baseball club, which is a five-time national champion. Those are just the community facilities—state-owned, dare I say. We also have a ski slope, an ice rink and an outward-bound youth challenge network, which are all privately funded and are now profitable going concerns. That is just Bracknell.

In Sandhurst, we have 80 acres of land owned and managed by the local town council. We have football pitches, a very successful cricket club, a skate park, a tennis facility and we have the annual Sandhurst fitness funday, which I attend every year because it tries to improve the health of the community. In Crowthorne, we have the Pinewood centre, which is an old TB hospital with a series of wards—TB hospitals had big wards and were in the middle of nowhere. When it was closed, the local council took it over and each ward now houses a society, including a remarkable gymnastics club. When I visited, the doors had to be opened to allow people to run in to do the vault—the standard of the gymnastics is awe-inspiring. There is a judo club on the same site, which included an Olympian. There are also football teams, and boxing clubs in Crowthorne and Bracknell.

Finchampstead includes Finchampstead memorial park, which has a very successful cricket club. We have a football club that is tied with Reading football club, and there is a netball club. I could go on and on. It is a remarkable series of communities all within my constituency. All the councils and councillors—Iain McCracken is one of the people responsible for the portfolio at Bracknell forest—should be congratulated on their success in maintaining all the facilities over the past few decades.

On the sustainability of sports facilities, I do not think that it is the state’s responsibility to fund all facilities; that is not sustainable and makes no sense. The state has a role as a partner, but charity and private money should also play a part. We cannot go

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back to an age when it was the council’s responsibility to provide all facilities, because that is nonsense. I am proud of the fact that a large number of facilities in my constituency are a partnership between the community and the council.

The wider point that I would like to make about sport is that it is good for us, and as a doctor, perhaps I can say that more strongly than others can. It makes us healthy, and I still see too many patients who are obese, who drink too much, smoke too much and have lost the drive and desire to get on and to compete in life.

Sport from an early age is important, and I mean competitive sport, not the nonsense about everyone being a winner. Life is tough, and trying to protect children from the realities of how competitive life is, is abusive. I would not describe it as child abuse, but it is abusive, because those children enter the workplace and wonder why they cannot deal with competition. Sport has an important role to play in physical health, but also mental health. We need to get back to believing and understanding that we want winners. To have winners we must have losers, by definition. We need to connect effort with reward. Sport is a way to do that and educate people.

Sport can also benefit communities. As I said earlier, I think I have such remarkable communities in my constituency because sport plays a large part in their life. That is why sport is so important, so integral to a happy environment and to the well-being of each of my constituents.

The Football Foundation is an example of an agency that has money from the Government, premier league and the FA. I am doing a fellowship with the Football Foundation, learning about the industry of football, warts and all. The best part has been coming to understand and see the impact that the Football Foundation is having up and down the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West and I had the pleasure of a tour of facilities around London a few months ago. When one visits the facilities, such as the ones near Wormwood Scrubs—they were in a shocking state and are the responsibility of the council—one realises that the council is under no statutory obligation to provide leisure facilities. I am not going to make a party political point, but at the moment it tends to be Labour councils cutting back and blaming it on Government cuts. The reality is that the way in which those sports facilities are being managed is not sustainable.

The Football Foundation model puts in a proportion of the grant to help and support schemes that have an aspect of sustainability, be it a bar, a crèche or whatever. Thereby the facility is maintained, is successful and popular in the community.

Simon Hart: My point might relate only to isolated rural areas such as mine. Does my hon. Friend agree that in many places it is the work of local charities—not the big corporates—and local businesses, volunteers and lottery funds that keep the sporting facilities and infrastructure together?

Dr Lee: That is an important intervention. Many times, the local builder or plumbing firm sponsors the football shirts. My hon. Friend is right.

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Organisations such as the Football Foundation need to work in partnership with communities and councils, in order to establish much needed sports facilities. I do not know whether anyone here has tried to book a five-a-side football pitch anywhere in the country. It is a woeful situation; it is not possible to get space on those pitches. Why have we not got more of them? The reason at the moment, I think, is that the foundation is struggling to get match funding from councils. Perhaps the Minister might look at making it a statutory requirement for councils to concentrate on leisure facilities. He might say to councils that cutting sports facilities will increase Government expense in the provision of health care services.

Justin Tomlinson: On that point, as I mentioned in my speech, local authorities can look at this as an opportunity. My local authority invested through Invest to Save, paid the money off in 13 months and has been making a profit ever since. Because there is such a chronic shortage, 3G football pitches are potentially very profitable.

Dr Lee: My hon. Friend is right. To quote the phrase of “instant gratification” used by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West, the difficulty is that it is all about the instant—it is about how to cut and balance the books. No long-term perspective is taken. The reality is that if I play football for a year, that is not likely to make an impact on my health when I am 70. This has to happen over a number of decades in order to get the return. A longer perspective on the part of councils and Government needs to be taken.

There has been the woeful selling of school fields. I drove past a school near where I live: we have more flats and more houses and fewer school pitches. It is lamentable, particularly in the year of the Olympics and the European football championships and in a country that is passionate about sport. I have stood on football terraces up and down the country. People are passionate about sport, about their club winning—not competing or taking part but winning. I think we can harness that. The best way to do that is to ensure that there are sustainable facilities.

In conclusion, my constituency is a model of how communities can engage in and support sport, financially and through participation. The well-being of the community is much enhanced in the process. Sport and the provision of community sports facilities can lead to better health, behaviour and community spirit.

4.6 pm

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to join the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, for the first time, I believe. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie). She has been a doughty fighter on behalf of sport in general. She has made many contributions both in the Chamber and Westminster Hall on behalf of sport and young people, pointing out the role that sport can play in encouraging participation among young people, challenging some behaviour and turning lives around. I have certainly seen many examples of that in my constituency. I commend her for the work she has done to bring the matter to the attention of the House.

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Sport is a very important part of not just our society and culture, but our economy. It contributes in the region of £3.8 billion, according to the British Institute of Sport and Leisure. The health and sport industry makes a major contribution to employment, as well as to the well-being of many of our constituents. It also offers many opportunities for communities to come together. We have heard an enormous number of examples from hon. Members today of not-for-profit organisations where public-spirited people come together to run them and make a major contribution to our local communities.

I am grateful to the Sport and Recreation Alliance for providing figures. One of its reports, under its former guise of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, stated that 26% of volunteering takes place through sport and recreation; and that the economic return of volunteers outnumbers investment in the sector by a ratio of 30:1. There is an argument for sport not just for enjoyment but as a significant contributor to local economies. It also contributes to health, as the hon. Lady said. There are enormous costs to our NHS from obesity and diabetes. As she said, the cost of dealing with illnesses related to the body mass index is currently about £15.8 billion. That is due to rise by 2050 to a staggering £49.9 billion, if current trends are not addressed. It is important to recognise the potential cost to our country and economy of not tackling such issues. It is also important to recognise the value of sport and how it can contribute.

In these economically straitened times, when people’s disposable incomes are stretched, it is also important that we do not exclude people from accessing sport because of cost, particularly those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Many people have referred to problems with increasing costs, especially at private finance initiative schools. A PFI school in my constituency is just being completed. Its policy is certainly to open its doors to the local community and groups, but it must also cover the costs of doing so, which creates a problem for local organisations that want to access those facilities.

We must do all we can to ensure that people are not excluded from using the excellent facilities that have been developed in many schools, as that is key to improving accessibility to sport in future. It is important that the Minister has regular discussions with his opposite numbers in the Departments for Education and for Communities and Local Government to ensure that access to sport is maintained. Costs are likely to rise in the current economic situation, but we must not exclude the most disadvantaged people in our communities.

As the Minister knows, many people are disappointed by the cuts to school sport partnerships. He has made it clear that that is not his specific area of responsibility, but I refer him to an answer that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) gave at Culture, Media and Sport questions. He said:

“Some school sports partnerships did an excellent job but, overall, participation among young people fell under the last Government—it has fallen from 58% to 54% over the last four years”.—[Official Report, 15 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 915.]

I have searched, but I cannot find that figure. If the Minister has the answer now, I shall take it, otherwise he can write to me.

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Hugh Robertson: The hon. Gentleman will find the answer in the Active People survey. It refers to people between the ages of 16 and 24, and, I think, relates to a period from 2005 to 2011. I think that the point that my right hon. Friend was making, correctly, was that whatever the successes of the school sport partnerships in schools may have been, they were not tackling the post-school drop-out, which got worse, not better.

Clive Efford: I am grateful for that. I suspected that that was the answer. School sport partnerships are for school-age children, not for 14 to 24-year-olds, so the survey did not compare like with like. My concern is that the figure has been used as an example.

I think someone said that “prizes for all” was the previous Government’s policy on encouraging people to participate in sport. Encouraging everyone to experience many different types of sport is in no way contrary to encouraging them to participate in competitive sport. Most people who play sport understand that the first competition they must win is the one against themselves. Whether we are playing in a team, on our own or just training in a leisure centre, we are competing first and foremost against ourselves—everything else is secondary. Encouraging young people to experience that enjoyment and opening them up to as many types of sport as possible through excellent schools facilities is essential if they are to have a lifetime’s association with sport.

On the national planning policy framework and the changes to planning policy guidance 17, what discussions is the Minister involved in to secure a replacement of facilities where there is an application to build on playing fields? PPG17 and the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 required developed playing fields to be replaced. Sport England and other consultees must still be consulted under the new requirements in the NPPF, but there is no guarantee of replacement in the wording. Is the Minister lobbying hard on behalf of sports-lovers everywhere, who want our playing fields to be protected in future, to ensure that the replacement guarantee is retained? It was successful in reducing the number of school playing fields that were lost. It might surprise some Government Members to know that between 1979 and 1997, 10,000 school playing fields were sold.

Hugh Robertson: The hon. Gentleman must give way on that point.

Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair): Order. I point out to the Minister that the hon. Gentleman does not have to give way.

Clive Efford: I shall give the Minister a chance to come back; I am a fair individual. After the 1998 Act—this is available through freedom of information and is on the Department’s website and the website of the Department for Education—was introduced, only 226 school playing fields were lost. A myth has built up that school playing fields have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the past 13 or 14 years. That idea is incorrect and must be put right.

Hugh Robertson: I am afraid that the 10,000 figure is incorrect. When we were in opposition and I was doing the hon. Gentleman’s job, we were always slaughtered with it, so I spent a considerable amount of time

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looking into it. No figures were collated for the loss of playing fields until 1999, so 10,000 is a guesstimate. I met the Labour special adviser who dreamed up the figure. In the days when Tom Pendry was doing his job, a set of figures was aggregated. They ran that out over years and produced the figure, and it became accepted wisdom. There is no statistical backing for it at all.

Clive Efford: I do not have much time left. The 226 figure is an answer to a question to one of the Minister’s colleagues. The 10,000 figure dates from an FOI request in 2009, so I do not know where the former Minister, Tom Pendry, comes into it. Needless to say, even if the figure is out—even, to be generous, by 50%—the difference is staggering. It is essential, therefore, that the Minister lobbies hard to ensure that the replacement requirement is included in the planning framework when it is finally agreed.

I shall move on, because I want to give the Minister a decent run at answering his colleagues’ questions. I have a concern about opening up schools and school clubs under the 14 to 25 strategy announced by the Department and Sport England. Under the policy, by 2017, the Department will have created 6,000 partnerships with local sports clubs. Is the Minister aware that, on average, 4,000 secondary schools across the country already have partnerships with 14 sports organisations? By my reckoning, that totals significantly more than 6,000. Can he explain where the existing partnerships will fit alongside the 6,000 that he intends to create? Will they be new partnerships or will they be in addition to existing ones? What is the future for existing partnerships?

It is ironic that the strategy will be based around schools. I fully support the intention to open up schools. A lot of work has been done on that, as existing partnerships indicate. However, many of the best facilities in which clubs will be set up are in Building Schools for the Future schools. In my constituency, the facilities built as part of that £6.5 billion programme are state of the art. Sadly, some sports clubs will be set up in sub-standard facilities, because not all schools enjoyed BSF, which would have improved, rebuilt or refurbished every secondary school in the country. Alongside that, enormous benefit would have been gained from improved sports facilities. It is worth nothing that, since 2000, in addition to what was going to be spent on BSF, Sport England has invested £1.5 billion in capital investment throughout the country and local authorities have spent up to £650 million on improving sports facilities. Therefore, although the money announced by the Government is welcome, it appears to be woefully inadequate.

My final point is about planning and floodlights. What discussions is the Minister having with his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that problems with floodlights do not continue? Modern technology means that they are not as intrusive as they have been in the past, that they do not damage quality of life, and that many of the fears in local communities about them are misconceived. As has been mentioned by some of the Minister’s colleagues, of the about 2,400 3G—third generation—or artificial surfaces in this country, fewer than 2,000 have floodlights. Few grass pitches are floodlit—grass pitches can only be used for up to six hours a week if they are to be maintained to any standard—so it is important that we increase the provision not only of artificial surfaces, but

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of floodlights. What work is the Department doing in that regard? With that, I had better sit down to give the Minister an opportunity to respond.

4.21 pm

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. Members may not be aware that our Chairman is one of the finest slow left-arm bowlers ever to have represented the Lords and Commons cricket club. It is nice to have a Chair with expertise in the area under discussion, although he is probably the only slow left-arm bowler to have ever represented the club.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) for securing this debate. I also thank her for her work with the all-party boxing group on boxing and as the president of a number of amateur boxing clubs, including some in her own constituency.

This is an important debate at an important time. I am always keen to stress that London 2012 is not the story about sport in this country, but the start of the story. It would be only right to congratulate the England and Wales Cricket Board, which recently secured the 2013 champions trophy for this country. After 2012, we will have the rugby league world cup and the champions trophy in 2013; the Commonwealth games in 2014; the rugby union world cup, the world canoeing championships and the world gymnastics championships in 2015; the world athletics championships in 2017; and the cricket world cup in 2019. There are also bids outstanding. We are, for example, contemplating a bid for a youth Olympics and a series of other smaller competitions. London 2012 is, therefore, very much the start of the story, not the end of it. It is crucial that we use this period to do what so many hon. Members have spoken about, namely to drive an increase in participation in sport.

That will be testing against the current economic backdrop, but the lottery reforms that we implemented in May 2010 have already, according to Camelot’s figures, resulted in an upturn of money, so the amount of money going into sport as a result of the end of the Olympic levy, as well as the lottery reforms and the fact that those changes are driving greater ticket sales, will go up from the £1.3 billion in 2010 to an estimated £1.8 billion. That is an extra £0.5 billion over a six-year period, so the reforms could have a considerable impact.

I suspect that most hon. Members would prefer to hear me respond to the points that they have raised—although that might be a novel theory—than listen to my prepared speech. My hon. Friend spoke movingly and correctly about the beneficial effect of sport on young people’s lives. I agree with her and suspect that everyone else present does, too. Like her, I pay tribute to the Riverside youth club in Bristol, whose work I have heard about, not least from my hon. Friend, as well as other, independent sources.

My hon. Friend made a good point about floodlights, which the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) also touched upon. Floodlights have historically been a difficult issue, because everyone who wants to play sport wants to have sports facilities with floodlights, but everybody who lives near a sports facility with floodlights want them turned off at 10 o’clock at night. The shadow Minister is right that

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the latest generation of floodlights cause significantly fewer light problems than earlier generations. Bizarrely, the taller the tower on which the lights are put, the less pollution, because everything goes down, whereas with a shorter tower, it spreads out. As part of the Inspired Facilities fund—I had a feeling that this was true, but have just checked it to make sure—sports clubs can apply for floodlights, so provided that they can get planning permission, which is often the sticky bit, they can, in theory, apply to the fund and get floodlights built.

My hon. Friend is also right about the need to reduce the dependency on the state. That is one of the reasons why I have been so keen—against opposition from those involved—to progress with the restructuring of UK Sport and Sport England. Sir Keith Mills, who has looked into this, is clear about the combined commercial opportunity if the success of elite athletes is married to the mass participation strategy—the mass market—for any commercial sponsor. British sport’s ability to drive commercial sponsorship has been poor. Some individual sports have done well, but non-departmental public bodies have not done well in driving sponsorship. The Team 2012 initiative was not a great success. It needs a new start around a different commercial property to make it work.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) talked about local authorities investing in sports hubs. He is right that, if we started with a fresh map, we would undoubtedly build sports hubs, because the whole family could go to them and everyone could participate. The problem is that sport in this country has not grown up in that way. Most towns and cities have their rugby, football, tennis and cricket clubs, and swimming pool, in different places, but he is right that hubs are the way forward. I encourage him to get Sport England involved in discussions. He should probably make an application for his new sports hub to its Iconic Facilities funding stream—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), as Sport England’s parliamentary fellow, will put in a good word for him with the chief executive. I wish him well with that.

Access to school facilities is a nut that we have not cracked over many years in this country. The new sports strategy has a particular funding stream. Members throughout the House will have shared my frustration of driving past schools with unused football pitches on a Saturday morning, while people are queuing around the block to use the local authority facilities. That is sometimes down to insurance and caretakers, but often it is due to lack of will-power. Where schools want to make it work, they can, and where people do not, they do not. The new strategy has £10 million to help people get over the hurdles and I hope that that will start to iron things out.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon is also right about coaches and the impact that they can have. The schemes work very well in some places. Charlton Athletic is a shining example of how a football club can have an influence on a local area. I am sure that my hon. Friend’s own football club in Swindon does something similar. Charlton Athletic draws funding from Kent county council to run precisely the sorts of schemes

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that he has mentioned. I encourage him to look at that model and then see if he can interest his own county council in funding Swindon or similar sides.

My hon. Friend was on the money once again on the question of business training for not-for-profit organisations. The organisation that he should speak to in that regard is one that has been set up by Keith Mills—that is his second name-check of the afternoon, but he is a marvellous man who does a lot for sport. He has set up a small charity called sported, which exists precisely to give business training to not-for-profit sports organisations—people who are keen to do something about their local sports facility, but who lack the technical expertise to bring it about.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) spoke well about her sports facilities in Redditch. I have actually been to some of them in a previous incarnation, before her time in Parliament. Some interesting models are emerging from the Localism Act 2011 in relation to community asset transfer and how it can be used to pass the ownership of sports facilities to the groups that use them. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the Special Olympics, which represents a remarkable movement full of remarkable people. The difficulty for the Special Olympics is that it has a constant battle with the British Paralympic Association about whether those involved are Paralympians or Special Olympians and all the politics that goes alongside that. I am delighted that as a result of the new disability strategy at Sport England, the Special Olympics has got funding for the first time. Some £250,000 of funding will go to Special Olympics Great Britain. I hope that that will encourage those involved in the belief that people are taking them seriously and that they are a valued part of the sporting landscape.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) spoke very well about Stroud rugby club and, indeed, its move. One of the things we did when we were trying to settle the listing debate in 2010 was to recognise that it is up to sports to market their own broadcast rights as they see fit. In passing, we should congratulate the ECB on the renewal of its new contract. By allowing sports to have that freedom, we encourage them to invest a proportion of their proceeds in community sports facilities.

The Rugby Football Union was one of the national governing bodies that signed up—indeed, all of them did—to a commitment to invest 30% of their UK broadcast income in grass-roots facilities. If my hon. Friend is keen to help Stroud rugby club move, it would be well worth his while spending some time with the RFU and Sport England to see if he can get them together to discuss what can be done to help. Again, he made exactly the same point about the need to lever in more corporate money. That is very much at the centre of what we are hoping to do as part of the restructuring of the non-departmental public bodies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is doing a sports fellowship with the Football Foundation, made me laugh—unintentionally, probably. I spent three quarters of a year at the Royal Military Academy, and the concept of a Sandhurst fitness fun day was absolutely not a part of that particular period of my life. Sheer agony for hours on end seemed to be the key. He spoke very well about the various different sports facilities in his constituency. He is absolutely on

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the money about the issue with the Football Foundation. It has been a central tenet of the Football Foundation’s existence ever since it was set up to look for match funding from local authorities. I saw the chief executive, Paul Thorogood, two weeks ago. He made the point that finding match funding is becoming, for reasons we would all understand, much more difficult. We will have to work with the Football Foundation to find ways around that.

The Football Foundation is a first-class organisation; it absolutely does what it says on the tin. Every time it builds a new 3G sports facility, the thing is booked out within a month and people cannot get a space. That shows the demand for such facilities. Encouragingly, the latest generation of those pitches is much more multi-sport-use-friendly. As soon as I empty my piggy bank out and can find some more money in it, I will do my utmost to ensure that the Football Foundation gets some more money because it is a good organisation that does a good job.

Clive Efford: I agree with the Minister’s comments about the Football Foundation, which is an excellent organisation. It has been able to get more bang for its buck by attracting match funding. Is he suggesting that he will make money available to replace that match funding and that it will not require match funding in the future, because to go down that route means that we will get less for the money?

Hugh Robertson: That is absolutely right. Of course it is important that any part of an area applying for funding should show enthusiasm and commitment by raising a bit of money itself. I am not saying that we will remove that but, without going into the Football Foundation’s finances in any great detail this afternoon, there are two connected problems.

First, the Football Foundation is increasingly finding it difficult, through no fault of its own, to get exactly matched funding from local authorities. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell. Secondly, because it takes longer to gain that funding and the Football Foundation is partially Exchequer funded, it finds it difficult to shift the capital inside the financial year—1 April to 31 March. It does not want to get into a position whereby because it cannot shift the stuff out the door and get the match funding, it has to hand the money back. We are talking about quite a complicated accountancy issue. Suffice it to say, the Football Foundation is a first-class organisation and I am delighted that my hon. Friend is involved with it. We will do what we can to help it as soon as things ease.

On the contribution of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Eltham, he is absolutely right to draw attention to the health benefits of sport, which many other hon. Members also mentioned. It is enormously encouraging that the Department of Health—I thank it for this—now deals with that directly in primary schools through the Change 4 Life sports clubs. It has committed to funding that for the foreseeable future.

Rehman Chishti: I congratulate the Minister on being one of the finest Ministers in the Government. I do not say that because he is a fellow Kent MP or because he is a fellow cricketer; I say it simply on merit. He will be

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aware that some excellent research carried out by Sport England has shown that if sport participation were to increase by 1 million people weekly, the taxpayer would save £22.5 billion in health associated costs. What are we doing to encourage and get that extra 1 million people playing sport a week?

Hugh Robertson: An extra 1 million people a week would cover the entire population inside a year, would it not? It is a lovely idea, and I thank my hon. Friend both for his kind comments and his obvious enthusiasm, which is undoubted. One of the extraordinary features of community sport in recent years has been that, despite the huge impact of lottery funding, the number of people participating in sport in the community has remained rigidly static or has marginally fallen over a 10-year period.

There are a number of reasons for that and this afternoon is not the time to go into them, but I will mention a couple of factors. The measurement system is very tough and people have to play three separate instances of sport. People who play top league cricket or hockey generally train in the week and play at the weekend, so they fail the measure. The measure uses fixed telephone lines, so we are not convinced that enough young people are being picked up. It is also fair to say that the sport governing bodies who now have responsibility for the matter have not worked out the consumer behaviour changes that are required to make it work. A number of issues are tied up with the participation measure, but getting it shifted is absolutely at the centre of what we are trying to do.

The shadow Minister mentioned the national planning policy framework. He is right. The Government’s objective was clearly to reduce a vast number of planning regulations to a much smaller and more easily manageable document. As a result of that, a number of things have gone out of the window. I have spent a lot of time with sports going through exactly what they need. I have also spent time with both Sport England and the big five. He will be familiar with that term, which relates to football, both codes of rugby, cricket and tennis. We have been to see the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). Formal submissions have been made and informal meetings have been held. We will wait to see the effect of that when the consultation is completed.

The hon. Gentleman talked about partnerships with local sports clubs. The 6,000 figure that is used is the number of new clubs that sport governing bodies themselves think they can set up. That is a figure given to us as a result of statistics collected mainly from the FA, the Rugby Football League, the RFU, the ECB and the Lawn Tennis Association.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned floodlights. That issue is tied up with the consultations on the NPPF. Someone can apply for floodlights under the Inspired Facilities part of Places People Play. As I say, if I had put my hand up this afternoon and said, “We have absolutely cracked angry residents who don’t like floodlights on their sports facilities,” it would not have been entirely fair. However, he is absolutely right to raise the matter.

Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair): Thank you for that excellent debate.

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Foreign Policy (Soft Power)

4.38 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Bone? I declare an interest as secretary of the all-party group on the British Council and as a governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

The purpose of calling this debate is to focus on the role of soft power in British foreign policy and how it is to be used in defining country strategies. Over the past decade, Governments have become increasingly aware of the importance of soft power. I define that as the power to attract and co-opt alongside the hard power of traditional military and economic means of achieving foreign policy objectives. There is a growing acceptance that soft power is an important component of foreign policy and should be seen as a complement to rather than a substitute for hard power.

I want to talk about how there can be better integration between the different elements of hard and soft power. My impression is that, although different institutions work effectively on their own, they could deliver a lot more if they actively collaborated on a systematic basis in all countries where they operate.

I want to share some examples of Britain’s soft power assets, and then examine the need for the development of a co-ordinated vision for our foreign policy by addressing some of the practical realities and questions that surround putting that into practice. It is important to recognise at the outset that, compared with many countries, Britain has an immensely rich set of soft power institutions, resources and tools. In 2010, we were ranked joint first in the Institution for Government soft power index. In 2011, we were placed second, behind the USA. Soft power institutions, such as the British Council, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Voluntary Service Overseas, the Commonwealth Foundation and the BBC World Service perform a valuable role in developing trusting relationships with overseas countries.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. On soft policy and achieving our foreign policy objectives, does he agree that a fundamental part of winning over people’s hearts and minds, as we have seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Libya, has been the work of the BBC World Service in communicating that we have a lot more that unites us than divides us?

John Glen: Absolutely. I will come on to speak about the World Service in a moment. All those assets deploy so much of what is great about this country: the English language, arts, education, and the values of civil society and democracy.

I pay tribute to the work—since, I think, 1934—of the British Council. It now works on the ground in more than 100 countries, particularly in strategic areas such as the middle east, north Africa and in emerging economies. It may be helpful to know that last year it provided more than 1.3 million hours of English language teaching, supporting 5 million English teachers across the world. It now uses digital broadcasting to reach 100 million students. In addition, it provides exams and qualifications, and links UK primary and secondary schools, universities and arts bodies with overseas institutions in long-term beneficial partnerships. Despite

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taking a 26% budget cut in this comprehensive spending review period, it has a clear resolve to continue its core work by continuing to win competitive education and development contracts.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, the BBC World Service also makes a massive and effective contribution to the development of the UK’s relationships abroad. It reaches 166 million people every week—through radio, television and the internet—in 27 languages, as well as English. Unlike the state-sponsored media of many of the countries in which it operates, its editorial independence ensures impartiality and objectivity. It is that professionalism and impartiality that generate trust and credibility overseas. The audience of BBC Arabic TV increased by more than 80% in recent months, including an increase in the online audience of 300% during the height of the Egyptian protests—clearly, it is a very powerful tool. Recent changes in funding streams and organisation will allow the World Service to work more closely with the domestic BBC, benefiting both the UK and other countries.

The Westminster Foundation for Democracy engages with political parties across the world. That work involves—I have done some of it—training party officials to develop their capacity to create policy, to campaign and to fulfil effectively their function as Government or Opposition parties in emerging democracies. That work builds up democratic institutions and understanding. It also generates long-term trusting relationships between those countries and the UK, and the individuals in those Governments and the UK. All these institutions leave a legacy and impact on the individuals who encounter them and inevitably lead many to develop a natural empathy, respect and affinity for our country.

As I suggested at the outset, given all that these institutions do, there is a need better to co-ordinate their work into an holistic vision for our foreign policy. We have to recognise—this is my experience of being a member of the Defence Committee and working for WFD—that different Departments and institutions naturally have varying perspectives on foreign policy and the status of our relationships with countries across the world. That includes the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, as well as soft power institutions such as the British Council and the BBC World Service. For example, the primary objective of DFID focuses on poverty and long-term development goals, but that might not always align with the immediate demands of a military intervention to secure a strategic objective for British foreign policy.

Rehman Chishti: My hon. Friend talks about the work of DFID, one aspect of which is education and its link to our foreign policy. We gave Pakistan £650 million for education to provide people with opportunity, aspiration and a life away from sectarian violence. That has implications for our own security—the training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan were linked to the terrorist attacks in London in 2005. DFID’s work on soft power foreign policy—giving people hope, opportunity and aspiration through education—provides a diversion from sectarian, ethnic terrorist tendencies.

John Glen: I am not in any way seeking to criticise any individual player; my core argument this afternoon is about the co-ordination between those contrasting perspectives. When I went to Islamabad last autumn, DFID’s massive contribution was very clear.

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Any one of these perspectives—development, diplomacy, military or culture—need not displace the others. Rather than picking one, or one being the lead, the challenge is skilfully to harmonise and develop a single, shared vision for our foreign policy. My experience in Afghanistan—in the DFID compound and then talking to people from the FCO and various military leaders—was that they all had a different perspective. What seemed to be lacking sometimes was a desire to integrate fully different views. If one had a clear development goal, it was very easy to find that goal in conflict with a military objective. Rather than seeing those different views as a barrier, the Government need to work systematically to synthesise those complementary perspectives and refine overall policy definition.

There are some excellent examples of where that already works in practice. The stabilisation unit, which is owned jointly by DFID, the FCO and the MOD, brings together expertise from those Departments with police and military personnel. It despatches task forces to conflict-stricken areas—for example, Afghanistan—to develop political processes, reduce conflict and violence, and provide a basis for future development. It remains unclear why the unit should be taken out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

The challenge to achieve the systematic co-ordination of different departmental perspectives on a large scale is compelling. We must identify different perspectives where they exist across Government. That will mean undertaking the difficult task of recognising where a departmental mindset is preventing co-ordination and collaboration with another Department’s activities, perhaps between the FCO and DFID. No doubt some Departments and organisations will need to make compromises to agree a comprehensive strategy for the greater good of diplomatic and long-term relations in a region or country.

It is also desirable to aim for a closer working relationship between soft power organisations and the Ministry of Defence. As the ongoing work of the British Council in Libya has shown, soft power institutions can build relationships of trust ahead of and after military intervention in a country. If that approach can be developed in respect of future military interventions, it could ease the work of the armed forces, particularly when working alongside civilians. Working with soft power institutions and making use of diverse expertise could aid the MOD in defining viable exit strategies, rather than just asserting that those will exist. The institutions that I have mentioned have a more nuanced understanding of cultural barriers and attitudes of populations on the ground and can probably more reliably estimate what will be achievable by military means.

We need to recognise that Foreign Office diplomats, wonderful though they are, are not the only actors in British diplomacy. Although diplomats achieve much for British trade and political understanding, arm’s length bodies, such as the WFD, working to build civil society and government infrastructures and developing strong relationships with emerging political parties, do much to develop trust and credibility where Britain’s historic ties are less strong or apparent.

Our diplomacy must allow soft power institutions to play a more significant role in maintaining mutually beneficial, positive relationships throughout the world. As I have emphasised, the key challenge is overcoming

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ingrained departmental mindsets and historic positions to harness the complementary perspectives and resources of an increasing range of diverse institutions, especially arm’s length soft power organisations.

We must put in place effective leadership, accountability and co-ordinating procedures throughout our institutions to enable what I am arguing for to work properly, and to define a sophisticated foreign policy strategy that serves the interests of the UK optimally across the globe. That will mean determined effort from Ministers and senior civil servants to put vested interests aside, and the instincts of the budget holder being left at the door as each Department recognises that others have something meaningful to contribute. It will also mean having difficult but vital discussions about our vision and objectives with individuals who may have a different starting point at the outset.

It is only through a determined approach of that type that the UK can maintain its unique standing in the world and make best use of these enormously powerful resources and assets that our great country possesses.

4.53 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Jeremy Browne): Thank you, Mr Bone, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this short but important debate. I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) for securing it. I agree with his two central arguments: first, we need to ensure that soft power is co-ordinated across the Government and is not just seen in Departments and, secondly, it must be properly integrated with hard power, so that we can bring to bear Britain’s collected and varied assets in an effective, focused way on the problems that we seek to address. Let me expand on that, because although that gets to the nub of it, I have the opportunity to speak at greater length.

The starting point for the Government is that there is a great role for soft power—probably a greater role than in the past—in today’s international landscape. By soft power, we mean a state’s ability to achieve preferred outcomes, not by coercion but by persuasion or attraction, building up networks, engaging with people at all levels to increase trust and respect and being prepared to listen and to show respect in turn.

Soft power is especially important as political and economic power spreads south and west. The countries that have traditionally exercised political leadership in the world over several hundred years are no longer able to ally their political roles with such a big share of the world’s economy. Britain—others are in the same position as us—needs to bring to bear a wider range of assets to try to ensure that our position is understood and sympathised with around the world. We have many advantages in our favour, which I will come to.

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): I apologise for being late entering this debate.

On the growth of power in the east, does the Minister agree that, although we have an extraordinary historical connection with countries such as India and China, it is clear that we can no longer trade on that historical relationship? As we begin to think about soft power, we cannot think that we necessarily have some cultural competitive advantage any more.

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Mr Browne: I basically agree. A slightly more complicated answer would be that our historical and cultural connections, which are extensive around the world, can sometimes put us in an advantageous position compared to our competitors, but they sometimes put us in a disadvantaged position.

We should not assume that, just because Britain has a comprehensive range of historical ties with other countries, we are necessarily the preferred partner of choice of the Governments, or the people and companies, in those countries. We should not think that we are able to rest on our historical laurels. We need to ensure that our soft power advantages are continuously updated and are relevant to the interests of the countries with which we engage. Let me run through a few of them, so that hon. Members better understand my point.

It is reckoned by independent observers that four of the top 10 universities in the world are in the United Kingdom. I think that the other six are in the United States. Another way to make that point would be to say that we are the only country apart from the US with universities in the top 10 in the world. At any point, some 400,000 foreign students are studying in this country. That is a huge soft power asset. If people go to Malaysia, for example, as I do, it is striking how many of the political and business elite have studied in British universities and have a depth of understanding of Britain that is greater than would otherwise be so.

We have the second largest number of Nobel laureates—second again to the US. Our museums and art galleries and other cultural assets are envied and admired throughout the world. In respect of more popular culture, it is striking how popular the premier league football fixtures are around the world. They are watched by, I am told, 4.7 billion people in a season. I suppose that a lot of those people will be counted on a repeat basis. Nevertheless, that is an extraordinary amount of total dedication to watching events happening in the UK on television. UK premier league football is watched in more than 200 countries.

In political terms, we are unique—the right use of that word—in being the only country that is a United Nations Security Council permanent member and a member of the European Union and the Commonwealth. We have ties right around the world that are not replicated even by countries that are as significant as the United States of America and China.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury mentioned the BBC World Service and the British Council, and I strongly endorse his support for those institutions. The foremost daily newspaper in shaping global opinion is the Financial Times—a British newspaper—and the weekly periodical that is most influential in shaping opinion around the world is The Economist, which is a British magazine. A persuasive case can be made for the BBC being the broadcaster that is most influential in shaping political opinion around the world.

All those different areas of thought leadership are amazing achievements, which we often take for granted. Not even the United States or, for that matter, Germany, France, China or Russia is leading the debate globally in that respect. Despite having less than 1% of the world’s population, not the British Government but media institutions in Britain are at the forefront of shaping opinions around the world.

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I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which my hon. Friend mentioned. It is valued by Members throughout the House for its role in promoting elections, civic engagement and the development of political parties around the world.

5 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

5.15 pm

On resuming—

Mr Browne: Thank you, Sir Roger, for giving me the opportunity to resume my contribution to the debate. Before we broke for the Division, I was talking about Britain’s soft power advantages and gave a number of examples. I was talking about the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the significant role that it plays in promoting values that are endorsed with enthusiasm by parties right across the House.

I want to talk about co-ordination across the Government—something that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury mentioned in his introductory speech. Departments and publicly funded bodies are facing the challenge of how we can make the most effective use of the money that we have. There is a role for us to identify ways in which we can work even more closely together. We have already undertaken an exercise on how that might work in practice, and we will publish the results later in the year.

We have to tread warily, however. Many of the United Kingdom’s most effective soft power resources are independent of Government control. It is that very independence that makes them valuable—a point that was acknowledged by my hon. Friend in his speech. People who might not wish to talk directly to the British Government will engage with them, so we should not do anything that is perceived as compromising that independence. That does not mean that we should not look for opportunities to work together with our partners as much as possible. I shall give two examples.

First, I was recently in Brazil, where our UK-Brazil season later this year will bring together the Foreign Office, UK Trade & Investment and the British Council, working in tandem with other Departments, commercial organisations and cultural institutions, to promote the UK and to build new dynamic partnerships. Secondly, the Great campaign, launched by the Prime Minister in September, involves the Foreign Office, the British Council, UKTI and VisitBritain. That single campaign brings together all our overseas activity to promote Great Britain under a common banner, to get people from around the world to visit the UK and to do business here. It is expected to deliver 4.6 million extra visitors to the UK, generate tourist spending of £2.3 billion and create almost 60,000 new job opportunities.

The Foreign Office’s work on the Olympics and Paralympics has brought in a wide range of partners, both inside and outside the Government, working together to use the 2012 spotlight to build the reputation and influence of the UK right around the world. They will attract almost 15,000 athletes and will be held before

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almost 11 million ticket holders and an estimated global audience of 4 billion people. It is a great opportunity for us; they are distinctive events. Together with the royal jubilee this summer, that focus on Britain will be envied by every country around the world—even, I would venture, the United States. The events are important in their own right; they are not public relations events. Nevertheless, we need to be alert to their positive implications for how Britain is perceived globally.

We have been considering how to bring the elements of soft and hard power in a cohesive way into what is sometimes referred to in the jargon as smart power. Military power does not provide the only, or even the best, answer to many of the world’s challenges. Economic and social solutions to intractable problems are at least as important. The building stability overseas strategy, which was launched in July, was the first integrated cross-Government strategy to address conflict issues. Earlier in the debate, we discussed how some of that work had been carried out, and Pakistan was cited as an example of where different Departments and agencies are working together to achieve their departmental objectives, as well as the overall objectives of the United Kingdom Government.

Promoting stability in fragile countries reduces the threat of national and regional conflict. Instability and conflict provide fertile grounds for terrorist and criminal activity, thus preventing economic development and promoting migration. As part of that strategy, we have been working not only with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, but with key international stakeholders including non-governmental organisations and international partners, to improve our ability to anticipate potential conflicts and take fast and effective action to prevent a crisis and to help build robust societies.

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Soft power is not an end in itself, but a capability to be used in pursuit of a wide range of foreign policy objectives. To make the most effective use of soft power, we must recognise not only the strengths and weaknesses of our partners, but how we are perceived by our target audiences. We must be prepared to engage carefully and respectfully with those whom we wish to influence, and we must use all the channels available to us. Soft power must also be fully integrated into policy making and delivery.

I believe that soft power will become more important in the years ahead. In terms of expenditure, Britain has the fourth largest military in the world, and we are the world’s sixth or seventh biggest economy, depending on how that is measured. As I have said, we possess key advantages such as our permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, and we are leading members of both the European Union and the Commonwealth. Those formal expressions of power remain important in promoting our national interests and foreign policy objectives, although the ways in which countries exercise influence in the world are often becoming more subtle and varied than the exertion of formal power by a Government.

The United Kingdom has many attributes that are admired, such as our education sector, culture, sport and civic society, and that is a huge asset for the country around the world. Where appropriate, the Government are determined to make the most of such attributes, although many of those things are not necessarily led or directed by the UK Government, but are attributes of British society as a whole.

It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and again I congratulate my hon. Friend on giving the House the opportunity to discuss this important issue.

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Unemployment (Halifax)

5.23 pm

Mrs Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to have secured this debate, and to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I also thank the Minister who will reply to the debate. Before I get to the heart of the issue, however, I would like to paint a background picture of Halifax and describe the social and economic situation in which we find ourselves today.

I grew up in Halifax and went to school there, and I know the people of Halifax well. It is a great place in which to live and work. No one wants to be out of work, but sadly far too many people are. People do not want handouts but the chance to do a good day’s work for a good day’s wage. People do not want to live in—and I do not want to represent—a town where levels of unemployment might be at 15% or 20%. I requested this debate to place on the record what is happening in Halifax, and say why something needs to be done.

Even if the possibility of 20% unemployment in Halifax sounds a little exaggerated, that is sadly where we could be heading unless something radical is done to get people back into work. In recent times, too many regeneration schemes have been axed and new projects scrapped, and too many policies have made the poor poorer, instead of giving them hope of work.

For many years, jobs in Halifax and Calderdale came from a number of industries that sadly are either no more, or are shadows of their former selves—I am talking about engineering, manufacturing and, going further back, the woollen industries. Over the past two or three decades, we have seen a steady decline in those industries that provided employment to key groups of people in my constituency. Today, the two biggest employers are the Lloyds Banking Group—better known to most local people as either the Halifax building society or HBOS—and Calderdale council. Other key employers include the hospital in Calderdale and the primary care trust, and other public sector employers.

Well-run private companies such as J&C Joel in Sowerby Bridge, Harveys department store, or Iplas recycling group in the heart of Halifax, together with many more small companies, provide much needed employment and are key businesses in my constituency. They are models of how to make a profit, provide employment and maintain a dedicated and motivated work force. Over the years, Halifax has relied on specific sectors to provide employment, but when those sectors declined, a vacuum was created. In Halifax, it has never been enough to rely on private sector jobs to fill the void that is created when public sector jobs are lost. The town needs much more than that, which is why regeneration schemes, investment in new schools and the new hospital, together with a strong public sector and the right macro-economic policies, have helped maintain levels of employment in the town.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): I thank the hon. Lady for securing this debate. My constituency is also in the Calderdale district, and like her, we are all concerned about unemployment, although I think that the figure of 20% may be a little far-fetched. As MPs, we must do all we can promote the area for business

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growth, which we know to be the key thing. That is particularly true when 20% of constituents in Halifax and Calder Valley work in manufacturing.

Does the hon. Lady agree that although we are incredibly concerned about unemployment, we must also celebrate success? I highlight the example of JLA in Ripponden, which has spent £1 million; KT Hydraulics has recently spent £2 million, and Decorative Panels has invested £8 million. Boxford has recently moved from the hon. Lady’s constituency to mine, spending £6 million and creating many jobs.

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair): Order. I have been very tolerant, but an intervention must be an intervention.

Mrs Riordan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and as I will show later in my speech, I do not intend to talk down Halifax—quite the reverse. I saw the Halifax Courier on Saturday night and read about the new jobs that have been created in Calder Valley. The Halifax Courier is a great source of local knowledge. It talks up Halifax and I have worked with it on many local campaigns, including that to get a direct train service to London, which we accomplished a couple of years ago.

Why have I called this debate today? It is not to make overt party political points, but rather to set out the background and put on the record the current unemployment figures in Halifax which, I am afraid, speak for themselves. I find such figures alarming and wish to seek answers and assurances from the Minister about what can be done. What can be changed, and what initiatives is he planning to ensure that levels of unemployment start to reduce in my constituency?

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate; the difficulties that she has expressed are mirrored in many of our constituencies. Does she believe that the onus should be put on apprenticeships and further education colleges to provide proper courses for what industry needs, together with a closer working relationship with organisations such as the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses?

Mrs Riordan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree with his point about apprenticeship schemes. In fact, just last Friday, I visited Goodall Transport in Sowerby Bridge in Halifax. It has been there for quite a few years. It would like more money coming up north, because it sees money directed more to the south of England. Also, it struggles with paying VAT before it gets that VAT into the company. It might invoice someone today and have to pay the VAT at the end of February, but not get the VAT by then. Perhaps the Minister will reply to that.

I hope that the Minister agrees that the current levels of unemployment in the town that I represent are unacceptably high, that the current upward trend in the number of people out of work is alarming and that a worryingly large number of those people are in the key 18 to 24 and 25 to 50 age groups. For example, the number of people out of work aged 24 and under has gone up by more than 25% in the last year, and in the 25 to 49 age group, it is up by more than 15%. The overall employment rate is only 66%. That is an alarmingly

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low level. I hope that the Minister shares my concerns about those rates. Does he agree that under one in four of the active adult population out of work in Halifax is a damning statistic? Will he outline what initiatives can be taken to improve that situation and put in place job creation measures as a matter of urgency, not just at macro-economic level, but at a micro-economic level that benefits my constituents?

Earlier today, I was looking at the statistics from five years ago. The unemployment level in Halifax has nearly doubled in that period. Despite the stereotyping last week of benefit claimants, they are people who want to work and need to work. The whole social fabric of a town can collapse if unemployment levels get too high. Let me be clear: I think that one person out of work is one too many. Does the Minister share my concerns about the figures that I have mentioned? What policies can he introduce to help to stem the flow of job losses, which is rapidly becoming a torrent?

The current situation is fragile, and the campaign to save jobs in the town’s two biggest employers—Lloyds HBOS and Calderdale council—goes on. The knock-on effects for the town of more job losses at those two big employers would be devastating. As Roger Harvey of Harveys department store regularly says to me, “Many town centre businesses need and rely on these jobs.” The fabric of the town is held together by them, and we need both a strong public sector and a private sector in Halifax to ensure that the town’s economic and social base is held together. With the greatest politeness and respect, I say to the Minister that the Government might be misunderstanding towns such as Halifax if they think that a reliance on private sector jobs will create new jobs or replace the ones that are being lost and being lost at a rapid rate.

In that sense, every effort should be being made to protect all jobs at Lloyds HBOS. The Government own more than 40% of that company. Will the Minister tell me what input he has into the board of Lloyds and what he is doing to protect jobs in Halifax and other constituencies? Will he also tell me how shedding public sector jobs helps towns such as Halifax? Will he do all that he can to compensate for those losses and outline what measures he is taking to ensure that new jobs will be created?

Calderdale council is at the heart of the Halifax and Calderdale economy. The reductions in council budgets are hurting the town. Again, may I gently mention that towns in the home counties and other parts of the country can better absorb public sector job losses? When there is a private sector, or towns have grown up with more service-based industries, new jobs can be created much more easily. In northern towns such as Halifax, which have always had a strong and important public sector, that is much harder to do. I hope that the Government fully realise what makes the economy in places such as my constituency tick and how cutting the public sector, but not giving the private sector the means to create new jobs, leads to a damaging and shocking increase in unemployment.

I do not want to knock everything. There are success stories, such as those that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. I recently visited the Iplas recycling company. The managing director, Howard Waghorn, has visionary and innovative ideas for his company. Likewise, the order book of J&C Joel in Sowerby Bridge

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continues to expand. However, those are well-run, long-established companies. The new industries and entrepreneurs with innovative ideas needed for the 21st century will not appear in towns such as Halifax simply through the waving of a magic wand and hoping that new jobs are created. I do not want to pretend that everything in Halifax is gloomy. It is not. We need to keep our self-confidence and hope. There are success stories. I am sure, or rather I hope, that the Minister will quote them back to me when he replies.

In essence, I would like the Minister and the Government to recognise the underlying problem that exists in towns such as Halifax, not hide away from it. I hope that the figures that I have cited alarm the Minister as much as they have alarmed me. I would like to hear some answers about what can be done, not excuses for what has not been done. I would like the Minister to assure me that job creation and regeneration schemes will be targeted on Halifax. The initiatives from the Department for Communities and Local Government will help Calderdale council. However, we want not short-term fixes, but long-term solutions. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister outlined what his short and long-term plan is for reducing unemployment in Halifax today, before the terrible consequences of further unemployment become a crisis, with people out of work and the whole social fabric of the town ripped apart.

5.37 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): I congratulate the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs Riordan) on securing the debate and on the very measured but passionate way in which she presented her case. I entirely agree with her that one person unemployed is too many and that the rise in unemployment in Halifax and other towns is absolutely a source of concern. She said that something must be done, and I entirely agree. I hope to use the few minutes available to me to set out what the Government are doing to deal with some of the very important points that she raised.

To set the context, for claimants of jobseeker’s allowance, the national average rate is just under 4%. The figure for the hon. Lady’s region, Yorkshire and Humberside, is 4.6%, but the figure for Halifax is 6.4%, so her town is above average in the region, and the region is above average in the country. I therefore take the point that she makes about the particular pressures on her town.

Part of the Government’s strategy is to move away from some of the schemes that unemployed people have faced in the past. The hon. Lady and I will both have met people who were sent on a scheme by the jobcentre and came away from it thinking, “What was the point of that?” It did not help them to get a job, yet the provider of the scheme got paid and went home happy. We want to change that. We want to move, and are moving, towards a system whereby the companies that we pay to help people from unemployment, from incapacity benefit and so on into work get paid only when they deliver.

The whole philosophy behind the Work programme, which is still gearing up across the country and gathering momentum, is that the providers get paid only when they get people into jobs and, specifically, when they get people into sustained jobs. The bulk of the money is end-loaded. They get very little money up front, and if

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they do not deliver for the people of Halifax, they do not get paid. That is a sea change from the sort of schemes that we have had in the past.

Let me give the hon. Lady a flavour of what is being provided in the west Yorkshire area, within which her constituency falls. In each area, we have two prime providers for the Work programme. They are the main contractors, and we have two because they have to compete against each other to do their best for the people of west Yorkshire. Each year, we look at how each provider has done, and if one is doing a better job than the other, more people are referred to it, so the successful providers that are good at getting people back to work receive more referrals and make more money from that. We do not mind them making money from it, because they are saving the taxpayer money and helping the individuals concerned.

The two main providers in the west Yorkshire area are Best and Ingeus. Best has a series of subcontractors that provide services to the hon. Lady’s constituents. One of the reasons that people get stuck on out-of-work benefits—not just jobseeker’s allowance, but incapacity benefits, employment and support allowance and so on—is that they have physical or mental health issues. Condition Management Partners, a subcontractor in west Yorkshire, helps such people to overcome their mental or physical health issues by providing cognitive behaviour therapy, motivational interviewing techniques and other such therapies. That is a voluntary third sector organisation working with a prime contractor to help people who have barriers to work.

We want to make sure that there is not a core of people in Halifax who have just lost touch with the labour market. The longer such people are out of touch with the labour market, the less chance they have of getting a job. We need to get them back in contact with the labour market. I entirely take on board the hon. Lady’s point that there needs to be jobs for them to go to, and I will say a bit more about that later. We want the people who have been on long-term benefits, particularly incapacity benefit and jobseeker’s allowance, to be effective competitors for those jobs. We know that jobs are being created and that vacancies will exist. There are hundreds of vacancies even now at the hon. Lady’s local jobcentre. We want the people who have been on long-term benefits to be effective participants in the labour market, so that when jobs come up, they can apply for them and get them, thereby breaking out of that cycle of long-term benefit dependency.

Another subcontractor of Best is Forster community college, which is a public sector organisation in the supply chain that provides help for Work programme participants with drug and alcohol issues. It also provides specialist support for ex-offenders and homeless people. For all those people, the danger is that their characteristics are such that they appear less attractive to employers. When private sector, or even public sector, jobs are created, they are always at the back of the queue and then get stuck on benefits. We want to make them as attractive to employers as everybody else so that they do not get stuck on benefits.

The other main provider in the hon. Lady’s region, Ingeus, has a series of subcontractors, including a group called Specialist Health Advisers, which is helping people

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with the basics such as exercise and healthy eating. The barriers preventing long-term unemployed people from being effective participants in the labour market include having got out of the habit of work, having got out of routines or not looking after themselves. We are trying to tackle many of those issues. Part of our strategy is getting people who are on benefit to be attractive to employers. I entirely take the hon. Lady’s point: unemployment has gone up. None the less, employment is still up compared with 18 months ago. There are more people working than there were 18 months ago. Somebody is getting those jobs, and the challenge is to ensure that help goes to the people of Halifax who are perhaps the furthest from the labour market and who are in most need of support and intervention. We pay extra for that. If somebody is unemployed but could probably get themselves a job, they do not come near the Work programme, but if they have been long-term unemployed or long-term sick, we pay extra money—in excess of £10,000 in some cases—to a provider to get that person into work. We must tackle what I call the supply side. We need to ensure that unemployed people are supported and enabled.

I am sure that the hon. Lady would be the first to say to me that that is not enough. Clearly, there have to be jobs available. She mentioned some successful private enterprises in her constituency. She mentioned an environmentally friendly company. We will shortly be launching the Green investment bank, which will provide money specifically for new enterprises and growth industries. This is not just about London and the south-east; it cannot be. We have a regional growth fund that specifically helps areas that are dependent on the public sector to make the transition to a better balance between public and private. There will always be an important role for the public sector in her area, but there is no reason on earth why, with the right support, Halifax should not have a thriving private sector as well.

Let me give one example of the incentives that we are giving. New businesses outside London and the south-east will be exempted from up to £5,000 of employer national insurance contributions for each of the first 10 employees they hire. That is a concrete and practical thing, which I am sure she will welcome.

We are also using deregulation as a way to help small businesses. I remember that at one point my local party wanted to employ its first employee. I was absolutely horrified by all the paperwork involved and the bureaucracy of running PAYE. There is a real barrier to taking on that first employee. We have said that all small businesses will be exempt from all new regulation for the next three years. Therefore, we are saying to people who start new businesses, “We are on your side. We want to give you support.” We are lowering the rate of corporation tax, with the small firms rate cut to 20%. Again, we are trying to ensure that, where a company makes a profit, it keeps more of it so that it can invest it in the local area.

We contacted the Jobcentre Plus district manager in preparation for the debate. I know that Jobcentre Plus is working very hard. Next week, for example, it is hosting a jobs fair to coincide with national apprenticeships week. I understand that the district manager would be very pleased to meet local MPs on a one-to-one basis. If the hon. Lady is happy to take up that invitation, he will talk through some of the issues that she has raised

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today that we may not have the chance to cover in as much detail. No one can supply as much local detail as the Jobcentre Plus manager on the ground.

The hon. Lady mentioned young people. I agree that unemployment is devastating for anybody, but at the start of somebody’s working life, it is a particular tragedy. That is why I am pleased with what the Government have been able to do on the apprenticeships front—an issue that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson). My understanding is that, last year in Halifax, there were 1,150 apprenticeship starts. That programme is being expanded and we will update those figures shortly. Many people recognise that the apprenticeship scheme, which is linked to an employer and is about learning and applying skills, is a much better way of dealing with youth unemployment. It gives young people a focus and links to an employer. Although it does not guarantee a job, it makes someone more employable and gives them a reference. I am proud that the Government are doing so much in that regard.

I must admit that I am not an expert on Halifax. I was not aware of the full details of the hon. Lady’s constituency. I should say, however, that normally my right hon. Friend the Employment Minister would be responding to this debate, but with the Welfare Reform Bill going through the House, he has had to be in the main Chamber. I had a look at some of the figures for Halifax, which I am happy to leave with the hon. Lady. I have a chart that shows the number of people who have been on out-of-work incapacity benefits for the last decade in Halifax. What struck me was how the number had not moved. For 10 years, despite the booms and the busts, there was the same number of people—obviously not all of them are the same people but many are—stuck on the list. I entirely take her point that we should not stigmatise or parody the position of people on benefits. Although many people are on benefits through no fault of their own, we have allowed ourselves to get to a situation in Halifax and in many other such towns in which nearly 5,000 people have consistently been on ESA or incapacity benefit for the last 10 years. The question is: are we doing right by those people? Many of them will be in their 50s. If we just left them alone because there are not many jobs, we would be saying, “You can be on incapacity benefit for another 10 years and then you can have a pension, but it won’t be much of a pension because you haven’t been working.” We can do better than that, which is why we are keen to have these Work programme providers incentivised to help the long-term sick and disabled to overcome the barriers to work which get greater the longer people are out of work.

The hon. Lady asked about the Government’s macro strategy. She mentioned public sector job losses. She would accept, I think, that a substantial rebalancing of public spending had to be done. She was not unduly partisan in her remarks, so I will not be in my response, but it is commonly known that substantial public sector savings had to be made.

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Given that—this is from memory—roughly two thirds of everything that Government spend is spent on pay, and that is certainly true if we exclude social security benefits, we cannot scale back public sector spending without significantly scaling back public sector employment, particularly if we are going to protect pensions and so on. It can be done partly through pay, as the Government have obviously done, but it will also imply a smaller public sector. It is therefore doubly crucial that we assist towns where the public sector—the local authority, the hospital and others that the hon. Lady mentioned—has been a major employer.

The hon. Lady described what has happened to the private sector and how the wool industry among others is in long-term decline. The public sector will not fill that void. Across Europe, Governments are retrenching, so it would be dishonest for me to say that the public sector will take up the slack. I think that she and I are agreed that the vital thing is to facilitate a vibrant private sector, but I also agree with her that that will not just happen. Part of the solution is about skills and training—I have mentioned apprenticeships—part of it is about unsticking the folk who get stuck on benefits and part of it is about the overall macro-economic position.

To give one example, the hon. Lady mentioned her local department store, which needs people to have spending power in their pockets. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has been pressing for a rise in the tax threshold, and the Government are committed to that. Instead of low-paid people paying tax after roughly £6,500, as they did last year, by the end of this Parliament they will not pay tax until after £10,000. That extra £3,500 at a basic rate of 20% is an extra £700 a year in their pockets, and I know that it would be very welcome if we moved faster on that.

People at that level of income tend to spend it. We know that, if we put money into the hands of those on lower and modest incomes, they will spend it. When we faced difficult decisions before Christmas on what to do about benefit levels for the coming year, there was a lot of debate about consumer prices index inflation peaking at 5.2% in the year to September. That very high figure has come down significantly since, so what was the case for using the full 5.2% for jobseeker’s allowance, ESA and all the main benefits, as we did? One of the things that convinced us that it was the right thing to do was the fact that those people would spend that money, thus boosting the local economy, and that decision will have helped the hon. Lady’s constituency, where benefit income is a significant part of income.

We agree with the hon. Lady: something must be done, and it is being done at both the macro and micro level. I hope that she will continue this conversation with her local Jobcentre Plus district manager, who, I am sure, will be pleased to meet her.

5.52 pm

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