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Feed-in Tariffs Scheme

12.27 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): Today is an important day for the UK solar sector. On 9 February, I published a consultation setting out proposals to ensure the future of the feed-in tariffs scheme for solar PV. These wide-ranging reforms will make it a bigger scheme, providing better value to consumers and more certainty to both industry and government. Today, I am announcing the Government’s final decisions on those proposals and explaining how we are working in partnership with the industry to make the feed-in tariffs scheme just one part of an even bigger plan to ensure a strong framework for the ambitious roll-out of low-cost, high-impact solar installations across the UK.

In recent weeks, we have received a lot of helpful input from a wide range of stakeholders, including businesses and consumers, who have entered into really constructive engagement with the Government in a spirit of genuine partnership and a determination on all sides to get the proposals right. I believe that the resulting improvements and reforms to the FITs scheme will now put it on a predictable and sustainable long-term footing for householders, communities, business and the UK solar industry, so that industry and consumers alike can face the future with real confidence.

We have listened carefully to what industry has shared with us. Our reforms and assumptions have been informed by further independent expert analysis of both the technology and installation costs, which remain on an encouraging cost path; and we have been monitoring closely the very latest trends in deployment. As a result of that careful listening, we have decided that the continuing cost reductions in PV technology and installation justify further changes in tariffs, but that, to help the sector through the period of transition, the changes should be made on 1 August, rather than 1 July as we had originally proposed.

On 1 August, we will raise the export tariff for new solar PV installations from 3.2p to 4.5p better to reflect the real value of solar electricity exported to the grid. Generation tariffs will continue to be uprated in line with the retail prices index, following strong support from consumers and industry. To bring PV into line with the tariffs applied to other feed-in tariff technologies, the lifetime for which tariffs are paid to new installations from 1 August will be reduced from 25 years to 20. However, that change has been taken into account when setting generation tariffs, so that the overall rate of return is not affected.

We set out in our document a range of options for reducing tariffs further. but, having listened carefully to the sector, I am announcing today that the generation tariffs for nearly all installations will be at or above the highest of the options we consulted on in February. The exception is the smallest domestic installations rate, for which we had proposed a range of tariffs from 13.6p to 16.5p, and for which we have decided on a tariff of 16p. The new tariff reflects the particularly strong performance of the industry in bringing down costs in that crucial part of the sector.

The tariff for multiple installations will now be set at 90% of the individual tariffs, up from 80%. Those tariffs are designed to give a return on investment of more

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than 6% for most typical, well sited installations, and up to 8% for larger bands. The mechanism for setting future tariffs that I am publishing today is slightly different from the one we proposed in February. In particular, it should smooth out deployment more evenly and provide greater budgetary control and predictability for investors.

TLC is what I have always set out to provide: transparency, longevity and certainty. I believe that that is exactly what our new framework will deliver. As we go forward, predictable and transparent tariff changes might be made every three months, at the beginning of November, February, May and August. The amount of the tariff cut, if any, will be announced at least two months in advance and—crucially—it will depend not on a political judgment, as it did in the old system introduced by the previous Government, but on uptake in the previous three months; so if uptake in May to July is very low, we will announce before the end of August that there will be no tariff cut in November. The default reduction, if deployment is within the published thresholds, will be 3.5%. If uptake is higher than that, the cut will be increased.

All the changes are designed to set a clear, predictable framework within which the solar industry can flourish, but we need to go beyond that to unblock any barriers to the development of solar PV in the UK and to continue the drive towards widespread cost-effective deployment. That is why the Department of Energy and Climate Change is developing, in partnership with the industry, an enterprise strategy for solar, reflecting the serious and significant future that solar PV now has in the UK energy economy, and helping to realise the coalition’s vision of a far more radically decentralised energy sector than we inherited. As part of that, I expect solar to feature prominently in the renewable energy road map when we update it later in the year.

More is needed, however. The huge strides made so far in bringing solar manufacturing costs down need now to be repeated in the installation end of the business. That is why I have now set up a PV cost reduction taskforce, involving leaders from the solar industry, and will be working proactively with it on the challenge of bringing down the installation costs of UK solar PV. We will also continue our regular dialogue with the PV manufacturers’ group, which played a key role in helping us to understand the cost drivers and trends in this dynamic industry, and with our FITs PV round table group, which I will meet again early next week. Those groups will play a vital role in helping us to monitor developments in the solar industry and to support future decision making, ensuring that UK solar can reach its cost-effective potential. In addition, we will continue to invest in science and innovation. The work of Research Councils UK supports early stage solar PV development, with a commitment to spend about £40 million on researching solar technologies between now and 2014.

Finally, I welcome a particularly encouraging sign of new leadership and confidence in the UK solar industry: the proposals to establish a national solar centre. That exciting and far-reaching plan to set up a national solar centre in Cornwall is being developed by Cornwall council and the Building Research Establishment. That is great news for the south-west and further evidence of the solar industry’s coming of age.

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The solar sector has come through a difficult period of adjustment but now, thanks to our major reforms and the coalition’s continuing support, it can face the future with genuine confidence.

12.37 pm

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the Minister for his statement. Unfortunately his office sent the statement and the 39-page consultation response document just over half an hour ago, so I have not been able to study it in detail. I was, however, able to get details of what was in the statement from someone at Friends at the Earth, who had been briefed by his Department before I received a copy. Perhaps the Minister can share with us why that was possible.

The chaotic manner in which the statement came about tells its own story about the Government’s approach to feed-in tariffs. No one disputes the need to bring down the FIT level in an orderly fashion, but the Government’s chaotic mismanagement of that process threatens a growing industry and undermines investment across the entire low-carbon sector. This debacle, a mess created by this Minister, began more than eight months ago and has so far cost the Department more than £80,000 in legal fees.

Once again, the Government are sneaking out changes to feed-in tariffs on the day before a recess. They did it in February and they have done it again today. The Minister threw a lot of smoke and mirrors about why he is moving the July deadline, but the truth is that he is changing the deadline not because he wants to but because he has to. Will he confirm that the Government have missed the deadline by which they were legally required to provide notice to Parliament for the next round of cuts to have come into force by 1 July? Is not his incompetence the real reason he has been forced to come to the House today?

On the detail of his statement, will the Minister tell us whether, despite the changes announced today, the number of installations will still drop by a third this year? I welcome the announcement that tariffs will continue to be linked to the retail prices index, but what estimate has he made of the effect on take-up of the reduction from 25 to 20-year payments? If take-up remains low, what measures will he introduce to boost demand to meet his ambition of 22 GW by 2020?

The Minister says he wishes to set up a PV cost reduction taskforce. What mechanisms will he put in place to ensure that a cut in the cost of installation does not lead to an increase in rogue solar installers? If demand does exceed the deployment level set by his Department, what will be the additional cut to the tariff above the 3.5% he has announced today? He says that he listens to the industry, but if he really listened he would not have dragged it through the courts, trying to impose devastating cuts that went too far and too fast. He lost that battle. This entire process has been a long list of blunders by the Minister and his Department. Will he now agree to independent oversight of the feed-in tariff to prevent future mishandling of the scheme?

In February, the Minister said that his cuts would

“deliver for far more people”—[Official Report, 9 February 2012; Vol. 540, c. 473.]—

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and more than under Labour, but the number of installations has collapsed since his last cuts came into force in April. He said that his Government would deliver 22 GW of solar power by 2020, but at the current rate of installation that target will be missed by more than 100 years. He also said that he would put the industry on a sustainable footing, but a devastated 6,000 people have lost their job as a direct result of his actions last summer.

The Government’s rushed changes to feed-in tariffs go too far and too fast, hitting squeezed families who are trying to protect themselves from soaring energy bills and paralysing an entire industry. Instead of supporting businesses, he put thousands of jobs at risk and left the sector living on its nerves. Today was a chance to end the uncertainty and lay out a clear path to 2020, but the Minister has failed to set out his plan to deliver his 22 GW by 2020. He said that he wants to deliver TLC—I have noted the phrase transparency, longevity and certainty on a number of occasions—but all we got today was more of the same: more chaos, more confusion and more cuts.

Gregory Barker: I am very sorry that the Labour party is stuck in this rut of doom-mongering, carping and sapping the confidence of the industry. Everyone I have spoken to, right across the board, wants to re-inject a sense of confidence and energy into this vital sector, but rather than rally around the sector Labour Members are determined to sap confidence even more and send chaotic messages to people who are trying to make a living—all for short-term, petty political gain. Rather than look at the long term, they are just playing politics.

As for sneaking out an announcement on the last day before recess, it may be that this is a half-day, slacker’s shift for Opposition Members, but for coalition Members it is a full working day. Obviously, the hon. Lady sees today as part of the holidays, but I assure her that we are at work.

Let me be absolutely clear: we have not moved the date by one or two days, or one or two weeks. If that was what we wanted to do, we could have done it, but we wanted to send a very clear message to the industry that we are listening. We have moved the date from 1 July to 1 August in a very planned, deliberate and thoughtful way, and I think the industry will be glad of that change. The bottom line is that had we wanted to meet the 1 July deadline, we would have had to lay the measures sooner, but we did not want to meet the deadline of 1 July. The deadline is now to have the measures in place to allow the cuts to take place on 1 August. I thought that even the Opposition would have been capable of working that out.

The hon. Lady asked about ambitions for installation. Continuing to build deployment is key for a sustainable UK industry. I can tell her what our impact assessment will say and what the coalition’s clear ambition and expectation is. Under the totally unfit-for-purpose scheme produced by the current Leader of the Opposition as one of his last acts in government, about 250,000 solar panels would have been put on to roofs. I can say to the hon. Lady that, thanks to our reforms, there will be more than 1 million solar panels on British homes by the next general election. I am really proud of that. Delivery will be far more cost-effective than it would

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have been under Labour’s scheme, and unlike that scheme ours will be delivered on a long-term basis, free from political interference, and it will be much more transparent, sustainable and predictable.

On the 2020 ambition, the hon. Lady is absolutely right that solar is a transformational technology. Developments around the world now lead us to be confident that we can deliver on a very high ambition, and mine is 22 GW by the end of the decade—but that depends absolutely on our driving down costs. How and where we do that and the point at which we do it will be critical. That is why I am determined to work more closely with the industry.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): My hon. Friend will know that one of consumers’ biggest concerns is the size of their household energy bills. Can he say what impact his scheme will have on the average household bill, compared with the previous scheme?

Gregory Barker: Absolutely. Had we proceeded with Labour’s scheme, at least £61 would have been added to hard-pressed consumers’ bills. Under our proposals, because we are taking advantage of the rapidly falling costs and passing those on to consumers up and down the country, we anticipate that just £9 will be added to consumers’ bills.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Feed-in tariffs are a means of ensuring that investors’ risk relating to future prices is resolved. The Minister has talked about listening to the industry and about long-term certainty. Will he speak to his fellow Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who is responsible for energy policy, to make it clear that the proposals on feed-in tariffs published earlier this week in the draft Energy Bill do not address any of the other four risks that investors in the industry face when looking at long-term renewables? In particular, investors are not satisfied that they do anything to address construction risks. If they do not, there will be no new build and the lights will go out.

Gregory Barker: The lights would have gone out if Labour had still been in office, that is absolutely clear. I am not here to answer questions on electricity market reform and I would be ruled out of order if I did, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that he is absolutely wrong. Our proposals on EMR and the introduction of a feed-in tariff to replace the renewables obligation will bring greater certainty and investment, and will ensure that the lights do not go off under this coalition Government.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s statement and the move away from the rigid system whose legacy was tremendous uncertainty in the industry. I welcome also the excellent news for Cornwall about the national solar centre. On the need for certainty in the industry, his statement presupposes that a cut in the tariff might be considered every quarter. Of course, we do not know what will happen commercially, but can he reassure the House that there might be occasions, albeit perhaps very rarely, when that tariff might need to go up as well?

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Gregory Barker: Large-scale deployment of solar will be achieved only if costs come down, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the way in which the new mechanism works means that if deployment suffers because the tariff clearly is not generous enough, that will be reflected in the figures that inform the cut. If deployment undershoots, there will be no cut in the following quarter—or, indeed, the quarter after that if it is still undershooting. My expectation is that industry costs will continue to fall in the short to medium term, although perhaps not at the staggering rate that we saw last year and in the first quarter of this year. We certainly look forward to some very exciting times in which the industry not only becomes cost-competitive with all the other major renewables, but actually reaches grid parity within this decade.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Carillion Energy, which is headquartered in my constituency, is undoubtedly keen to benefit from the Minister’s TLC, but I wonder whether he truly comprehends the devastating impact that the recent chaos and U-turns have had in Newcastle, with people afraid for their jobs, small companies going bust and large companies unable to plan. Many have sought to focus on the green deal to create new jobs. Can the Minister guarantee that the green deal will meet its targets and so incentivise the move to a low-carbon economy and the creation of the jobs that go with it?

Gregory Barker: I can indeed. I can also say that, within the past few days, I have met the chief executive of Carillion, who was very confident and positive about both the green deal and the way we propose to take forward the wider green agenda.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for the statement. It shows that we are incentivising companies to cut costs and that we no longer have an unaffordable scheme that simply allows people to get rich from a financial investment. The typical rate of return of 6% shows that people can do the right thing and still get a small reward.

Gregory Barker: My hon. Friend is, once again, absolutely right. We have taken the scheme from one that was for the lucky few who were able to afford high-cost installations to one that helps to encourage reductions in the cost of solar installation, and offers a sensible reward for people to do the right thing through well sited installations. It has gone from being a scheme for the few to a scheme for the many.

Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): When we were in government, the hon. Gentleman was always boasting that he would go further and faster, but actually he fell at the first hurdle. He talks about the gloom and doom among the Opposition, but we are simply representing the people who have lost their jobs, the companies that have gone to the wall and those who have had to take legal cases against the Government. Will the Minister tell me his view on the future of the social housing sector, given the information from the National Housing Federation that he received in the consultation?

Gregory Barker: Yes. I think the right hon. Lady will find there a strong welcome from social housing for the proposals we have set out. We are increasing the level of

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aggregated tariff from 80% to 90%. As the costs come down, it becomes affordable for all consumers to support the roll-out of solar PV on social housing and other mixed-tenure low-income homes. The scheme can now be rolled out at real scale, unlike the cottage-industry, not-fit-for-purpose scheme that we inherited from Labour.

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): For PV businesses in East Hampshire, what message does today’s announcement give in terms of investment predictability and the sustainability of the sector? What are its growth prospects compared with what was envisaged by the former Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who now leads the Opposition?

Gregory Barker: The growth prospects are very strong. There is now real visibility, not just for the next few months or until the next political review. Industry and investors alike can plan for the long term with real confidence, because there is no end date on the scheme. There is no sell-by date for the formula we have established; it is an enduring, long-term scheme—certainly much better than the appalling car crash of a scheme that we inherited from Labour. People can invest with certainty and the predictability of reasonable, sensible returns.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Everyone, including the industry, accepts that the cost of PV is coming down. The PV scheme has been one of the most successful at getting home owners involved in renewables. Does the Minister not think it is sending the wrong signal to choose the smallest domestic installations as the only ones where he has not gone for the highest possible tariff under his new options?

Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman should understand that I am not using consumers’ money—that is what it is: subsidy that comes directly from consumers and consumer bills—to send signals or to play politics. The tariff needs to reflect the genuine underlying costs of installing solar. That was totally missing from the scheme we inherited; it is now at the core of the new tariff framework. As a result of the particularly strong falls in the costs of smaller systems, we are able to set a tariff that accurately reflects, as far as we can, the return of around 6% that we think is sensible and makes it attractive for people with the right roof to install solar.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that even after today’s changes, solar will be the most heavily subsidised form of low-carbon electricity generation? When will it reach the same cost status as other forms of low-carbon generation, and when could it reach grid parity?

Gregory Barker: It is not the most highly subsidised form, although it is one of them. It is certainly true that, per unit of electricity generated, the domestic rate of 16.5p is still substantially more than the rate given to onshore, or indeed offshore, wind, for example. The really exciting thing is the speed at which we anticipate the costs continuing to fall. Using a crystal ball, particularly in the Chamber of the House of Commons, is never a very good idea, but I think that industry experts are increasingly saying that we can reach grid parity by

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the end of the decade, and many others say that it could come a lot sooner. That is why I am determined that, unlike under the previous Government, when it was treated as a cottage industry for anoraks, solar will be a major part of our energy strategy.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): The fact is that Britain is years if not decades behind Germany across the whole field of renewables in general, and solar in particular. That is down to the baleful influence of the six big energy companies, which have had a hold over successive Ministers, successive Governments and, above all, officials in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. When will the Minister tell his officials to look at Germany and imitate here what the Germans do?

Gregory Barker: It is extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman has managed to blame officials in my Department, the big six energy companies and practically everybody else he could think of, apart from the people who ran the country for 13 years and the last Labour Energy Secretary, who is now Leader of the Opposition. I will tell him why we were third from the bottom of the renewables league table and why we inherited a disastrous position on the solar scheme. It is entirely due to the incompetence, mismanagement and laziness of the last Government.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Clearly, I welcome the Government’s decision to invest in Cornwall and to support development there. The pathway that has been set out for the feed-in tariff will give a measure of security to those who are looking to invest in the technology. I urge the Minister to be cautious when listening both to the Opposition, who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the feed-in tariff, and to those who point to the impact on bill payers, when the rising costs of fuel and other technologies will add to their bills too. It will not just be feed-in tariffs. Would the Minister or one of his colleagues be prepared to meet me and someone who has recently developed a large scheme in my constituency, to talk about the issues they face and their ideas for supporting the Government’s work in the future?

Gregory Barker: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that the shadow Energy Secretary voted in the House against feed-in tariff schemes. This opportunistic conversion to the merits of feed-in tariffs is pretty shameless.

I should be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. I am keen to meet stakeholders who contribute to new ideas that contribute to driving forward the deployment of an exciting technology.

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): What would the Minister say to Revolution Power, an award-winning green power company in my constituency? It has had to lay off a third of its work force. The Minister refers to them as anoraks, but I would refer to them as hard-working people who are now on the dole because of the incompetence of the Government on this issue over the past year. The company foresees a short-term rush of orders for solar panels over a few weeks, but is worried about its long-term integrity and its ability to go forward because the goal posts are being moved all the time.

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Gregory Barker: Let me be absolutely clear: I most certainly was not referring to workers in the industry as anoraks; I was saying that was the mindset of Ministers in the previous Government, who set up a woefully inadequate feed-in tariff scheme that we have had to pick up, repair and reform. If the hon. Gentleman looks at our proposals, he will see that, as a result of our reforms, they are transparent and that there will be far less political interference and far fewer political judgments. The scheme we have announced will provide a basis for getting the solar industry, including Revolution Power, back on a firm footing, allowing it to grow predictably and strongly in the future.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): By replacing the incredibly short-sighted system introduced by the Labour Government, does the Minister agree that TLC, which I warmly welcome in all Departments, will lead to much more innovation, much more development of technology and refinement of solar power manufacturing and installation processes, thereby lowering the price for everybody concerned?

Gregory Barker: Absolutely. We looked carefully at the lessons from Germany when putting the scheme together—it is a great shame the previous Government did not do that. We have tried to make the scheme as predictable as possible to inject that vital element of TLC. As a result, I anticipate that the cost of capital will come down in due course, which will free up more spending for innovation and research. The Government obviously have a part to play in that, but this is an incredibly innovation-rich sector and I expect that we in the UK will now thrive.

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Whitsun Recess

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.—(Michael Fabricant.)

1 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of a pardon for Alan Turing, the celebrated wartime code breaker and father of the modern computer. My reason is twofold. First, Bletchley Park, where Alan Turing did much of his famous work, is in my constituency. Secondly ––a more timely reason––23 June will be the centenary of his birth. The centenary should be a celebration of his achievements and what he did for this country. There is also the issue of whether he should be pardoned for the so-called crime of which he was convicted in 1952, which led directly to his death two years later at the age of 41.

Before turning to that, let me remind the House of the debt this country, and indeed the whole world, owes this man. He was a brilliant mathematician and his role at Bletchley Park in deciphering the messages encrypted by the German Enigma machine was vital. He led a team that designed a machine, known as a bombe, that decoded the Germans’ military messages. So vital was that information to the allied campaign that, without it, the war might have lasted much longer and, indeed, its outcome might have been very different. How many lives of allied servicemen, residents of cities in this country bombed by the luftwaffe and people transported to Nazi extermination camps were saved by his work? It is no exaggeration to say that we probably owe our very liberty to his work and his genius.

It is also fair to say that he is the father of modern computing. He produced the first academic papers on artificial intelligence, which paved the way for modern computers. Who knows where technology would be today without his pioneering work? I hope that Parliament will be able to mark his centenary next month in some way. I am applying to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate close to that date so that we can pay proper tribute to his work.

There is a more controversial matter that I would like to raise today and ask the Government to have a serious think about. In 1952, Alan Turing, by then working in Manchester, met and fell in love with a young man and had a sexual relationship with him. That affair came to the attention of the police. Homosexual acts were illegal at the time and he was charged and convicted of gross indecency. Upon conviction, he was given the choice between imprisonment and probation conditional upon his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido—effectively chemical castration. He chose the latter option. His security clearance was withdrawn, meaning that he could no longer work for GCHQ. It is now well documented that the consequences of that treatment led directly to him taking his own life by biting into a cyanide-laced apple in 1954. In my view, the state effectively killed him. What a disgraceful way to treat a hero of this country.

In our thankfully more enlightened times, his so-called crime is now perfectly legal. Welcome steps have been taken to apologise for how he was treated. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy

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and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), rightly issued an official apology on behalf of the Government. I referred to that action in my maiden speech and I am happy to repeat my praise for it, but more could be done. There is a campaign and an e-petition to grant Alan Turing a formal pardon, and to date nearly 34,000 people have signed it. Both local newspapers in my constituency, the

Milton Keynes



MK News

, are backing the campaign.

So far, the Government have been reluctant to accede to this request. I raised the issue with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House during business questions and he replied:

“I understand that an application for a royal prerogative of mercy was made on the basis that the offence should not have existed but, sadly, one cannot give a royal prerogative on those grounds. I will have another look at this, but I am not sure that there is a case for intervention by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice. That could happen only if fresh evidence came to light to show that the conviction should not have taken place. The argument that the offence should not have existed in the first place is not normally a ground for prerogative.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2012; Vol. 541, c. 1018.]

I understand that argument but ask the Government to look again. If a pardon in the traditional sense is not legally feasible, is there some other way in which this could be done? After all, it is an area of law on which the Government have recently taken welcome action. Under the recently passed Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, a person who has been convicted, or received a caution for, an offence under sections 12 or 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 or corresponding earlier Acts can apply to have their conviction or caution disregarded. Those were the same “offences” for which Alan Turing was convicted. If a full pardon is not possible, could not the disregard be applied posthumously for Alan Turing?

My call today is simply for the Government to take a fresh look at the matter and explore all possibilities. We owe so much to this great man. The coming centenary of his birth affords us a great opportunity to put right the wrong that was done to him, and I urge the Government to look carefully at the matter.

1.7 pm

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for asking me to speak in this debate. Obviously, it is of huge significance to my constituents that I can raise some points that are of concern but that do not seem to fall within the scope of particular issues when the House is discussing them.

The first issue I want to discuss is the situation at BAE Systems, which deeply concerns me. BAE Systems is a major employer not only in Samlesbury, Warton, Brough and other areas, but throughout Lancashire and the north-west because of its supply chain. The aerospace industry is huge and there would be a colossal impact if it were slowly to move away from the north-west. I have deep concerns that BAE Systems has a large investment in Texas, and the British Government do not seem as committed as I would like them to be to the projects that BAE Systems is currently engaged in.

I welcome the recent announcement of 175 jobs. It did not escape my attention that those jobs arrived in this country with our current employment laws, not those proposed in the Beecroft report. The Government

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are keen to trumpet jobs in the car industry and other industries such as aerospace, so the absence of the hiring and firing proposed by Beecroft does not seem to have had an adverse impact on those 175 jobs. However, the reality is that the jobs are set against a background of thousands of job losses. I understand that BAE Systems is trying to mitigate that and reduce the number of job losses to several hundreds. How successful it will be remains to be seen, particularly given the doubts about the joint strike fighter and the orders with Lockheed Martin in America. It could well be that thousands of jobs are lost and those 175 jobs for the Hawk, although welcome, simply will not reverse the cataclysmic decline in employment and skills in the county.

I want to raise some questions about the Hawk deal. Will there be a successor to the Hawk? It only has a certain lifespan, so where is the investment in, and the forward thinking on, the next trainer plane? What are we doing about Britain’s interests? Replacing the Hawk requires a long lead-in time, and, if we do not start considering our aerospace future, we might run out of products that we can sell to the world, with exports such as the Hawk to Saudi Arabia becoming a distant memory in 10 or 15 years’ time. That really worries me.

A lot of BAE Systems’ hopes in the north-west seem to be pinned on unmanned aerial vehicles—UAVs—and, in particular, on the Taranis, so I should like the Deputy Leader of the House to state the Government’s commitment to ensure not only that they are manufactured in Britain and bought and endorsed by the British Government, but that we have an active industrial policy to push UAVs. They are clearly the future and a chance for BAE Systems to maintain production in the north-west, but, if the Taranis and UAV programmes should decline, fall or move elsewhere, they would begin the collapse of military aerospace in the region. I have deep concerns about the issue, so I should welcome his comments on that.

All that is set against the chaos of Lancashire’s enterprise zone. Last July, the Business Secretary declined to offer the region an enterprise zone; then Sky News ran a breaking story that 3,000 jobs were to be lost in Warton and Samlesbury, and within 24 hours the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a U-turn on the enterprise zone decision, stating that it would go ahead—based on 24-hour rolling news.

It was a chaotic situation that should not have been allowed to arise, particularly when it involved such a large employer that adds so much to the GDP of the area and of the country in terms of defence, and adds to skills and to the supply chain for other manufacturers and areas in the region. I have really deep concerns about that, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can put them to bed.

On the implications of that situation, I note that youth unemployment in my constituency has risen to 232% of its 2010 figure, and I have real concerns, because, if we lose aerospace, what impact will that have? The availability of work in the area appears to be declining, and I wonder where the future lies for my constituents, while we are in a double-dip recession and while economic policies are not working nationwide and, in particular, in the north. There is a north-south divide, and we are seeing the impact of that, but it is not just the young people in my constituency who are suffering, but the long-term unemployed, who are becoming the even longer-term unemployed.

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The third issue that I draw to the attention of the Deputy Leader of the House is the number of people who are applying for the few vacancies that exist. Increasingly, people are forced to go for part-time work, rather than full-time, and they are struggling to make ends meet. Those concerns of mine and of my constituents reflect the economic downturn that of the past couple of years under, I am afraid, his Government, and they are impacting severely on my constituents, who are deeply worried. It should come as no surprise to him that, in my local authority area and in neighbouring areas, people at polling stations only two weeks ago rejected the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties and voted Labour. He must be deeply concerned about that, because he cannot say that the voters are wrong; he must listen to them and to their concerns. Having raised the issue of youth and long-term unemployment, I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House takes it as seriously as I do and does not just say, “It will all be all right in a couple of years’ time.” These are chronic issues, the backbone of which is the industrial base in the region.

Another concern is the country’s nuclear programme, which does not particularly affect my sub-region, the east of the county, but does affect the west and the supply chain. There are huge doubts about the programme, and, given that the west is home to some large nuclear industry employers, that could have a grave impact on one of this country’s great manufacturing areas. The Deputy Leader of the House must be concerned about those issues, and I hope he will address them.

The bottom line is the increasing number of people turning up at food banks in Lancashire, particularly in the east of the county. In the corridor from Chorley to Hyndburn, people are turning up, desperate, unable to feed themselves and reliant on handouts from supermarkets and other generous donors, and that is a real concern.

Today, growth figures were revised down, from a contraction of 0.2% to 0.3%, and, if the Deputy Leader of the House looks at that geographically, he will find the south-east flatlining while the north-west and my area are taking a disproportionate hit, with the north-west contracting not by 0.3% but possibly by double or treble that, thereby giving rise to the figures I cited earlier on youth unemployment.

The chaos and confusion around BAE Systems is worrying, and it concerns many of the electorate in our area. When they see headlines involving the Navy buying ships from Korea, they find it deeply disconcerting. We have naval production in Barrow, in the north-west and throughout the country, and when people see such things they question what precisely the Government are doing in their economic strategy.

More locally, when we look at procurement, we think of Lancashire constabulary. Why are they not buying British cars? They recently bought cars from Korea, but how can that possibly be right? How is that rebalancing the economy? How on earth can Britain be a manufacturing country when just down the road in Lancashire there are Vauxhalls on offer to the police authority, which has gone and bought Korean cars? For all the talk of rebalancing the economy, it is either hypocritical or just lazy when we are not actively engaging with public services—these are public services—that procure foreign vehicles. It is not just vehicles, but ships and other things too.

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The car industry in the north-west and the north in general is another major manufacturing employer, and we have heard the Government fanfare on cars, but, when Ministers say that we now have a balance of trade surplus, I think, “You probably have.” Because if the public services are procuring cars from overseas, not domestically, that is one way to achieve a trade surplus—not by increasing exports, but by diminishing domestic demand. That is what has happened with Lancashire constabulary and with other public services, and in all that there is a whiff of hypocrisy, with the Government taking their eye off the ball.

There is a national crisis in adult social care, but I shall reflect on the situation in Lancashire, which really needs some attention. Older people in Lancashire have been badly let down by the county council and by Lancashire’s Conservatives. I have raised the issue before, but, for example, our local Conservatives have raised the daily charge for day centre care from £5 to £30, and they are going to double it to £60. Some people might believe that this is the market and people should pay the cost, but let me explain the consequences. If 20 people are required to keep a day care open, but only 10 people can afford such extortionate charges so it closes, everybody loses. Then the danger is that there will be no market because it will have collapsed. Day care providers tell me that these increased charges mean that they are thinking about closing their businesses. The day centres will be shut and people will be unable to access such services—even those who can afford them. All the community links and personal links that our ageing population have built up will be lost.

For people who go to these centres, particularly those who are vulnerable and may have dementia, it is very confusing to be asked or forced to go to a different place to meet other people and to have to pay these charges. They are vulnerable people who should not be pushed around like this. Greater consideration should be given to the unintended knock-on consequences of the ridiculous charges that have been brought about by the austerity policy of the coalition parties, whose members do not fully appreciate the consequences. No wonder the voters look at these fees and think, “This is not the austerity that we want. It is undermining civil society and undermining my family. There must be other ways we can deal with this.” The electorate are unhappy, hence the election results.

The problem does not end there. There has been a wholesale attack on elderly people in Lancashire, who have been really let down by the Conservatives. The removal of funding for community transport means that people sometimes cannot get to day care centres. Extra charges are being added. People are not just paying £30 but another £3 or £4 for community transport and, on top of that, £6 or £7 for food. In total, elderly people are having to pay about £41 a day just to turn up.

It is not just the provision of day care centres that people are upset about and where there is a crisis in Lancashire. In addition, the local authority is failing to consider the private provision of day care. Day after day, I speak to people in my surgery who are deeply concerned about the inadequacy of the home help service that they receive and the lack of safeguards. We have seen the crisis that surrounds respite care and permanent residential care, and the scandals that have occurred in those settings. However, something that

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never gets talked about is the fact that home helps who go to the properties of vulnerable elderly people, who often have dementia and are unable to act as consumers, provide what they and their relatives feel to be an inadequate, and in some cases appalling, service. That scandal needs to be looked at. I am sure that the majority of people feel that the current system is unsatisfactory and that there are no safeguards. People are starting late, clocking off early and providing a poor service because they know that their customer is 95 years old, has dementia, is infirm, and cannot move. That is generally the situation, and it is not right.

The situation is not helped by the removal of some care packages by Lancashire county council. For instance, it removed the allowances for shopping and laundry that were given to the infirm and those with dementia who cannot do their own shopping and washing. We now have elderly people trapped in their own homes who are able to receive some help, but not allowed to receive help with shopping and laundry. It seems that an 89-year-old with dementia will be advised that they must use the internet or phone up to get Asda to do a home delivery, or ask their neighbour or relatives to come round and do their laundry for them.

This is all adding to the deep concern about adult social care for our elderly and vulnerable people in Lancashire. If the people of Lancashire feel they are being let down by the Conservatives, I am sure that they will go to the polls with that in mind, and at the next election we will see the same as what happened in the previous election. The Deputy Leader of the House needs to be deeply concerned about the fact that this situation affects many people who may change their vote because of it. I am very worried about staffing and reduced access in adult social care, and I would be grateful if he commented on that.

There are deep concerns across the country about Sure Start—not about its being cut but its being undermined by stealth. In Lancashire, we have experienced reduced hours, reduced staff, and a cut in outreach services. In some instances, there is anecdotal evidence of a bucket being passed around so that people can put in donations to keep Sure Start going. It is not satisfactory for Ministers to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that there is no reduction in the number of buildings where Sure Start services are being delivered when in fact those services are being reduced and undermined and parents are being put off going there because they are asked for handouts when they do so.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that while money might be being saved for the moment through this approach, it is storing up problems for the future, so that in the long term the cost will be much greater than it would in paying for a proper service now?

Graham Jones: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the service is undermined from within, it will eventually collapse, and that is what is happening with Sure Start, certainly in Lancashire, and, I believe, in his area of north Wales.

Ministers must stand at the Dispatch Box and be honest about this, because it is affecting the people we represent, including some of the most vulnerable. They

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should tell the truth about the Sure Start services that are being provided, not just give the headline figures on the number of centres that are being kept open, although I believe that that number is diminishing as well.

In 2009, the Prime Minister himself came to Lancashire and said, “This is the beginning of the Conservative fight-back in the north”, but now all these services are being undermined. To my knowledge, the Prime Minister has not been back to Lancashire, and I presume that following the local elections he has probably written us off. The damage that has been done since 2009 is irreparable. People are extremely unhappy about how some of their services are being treated and feel that there should be a better way that is not just about a message of austerity.

Another aspect of the situation in Lancashire is the local enterprise partnership, which I am deeply concerned about, and the programme for rural broadband. Not only are Lancashire residents being let down by the county council in terms of adult social care, Sure Start and other initiatives, but the Conservatives in Lancashire are obsessed with rural broadband, on which they are spending £32 million. When I asked for the figures on the number of beneficiaries per borough in Lancashire, they refused to provide them, but I acquired them for my constituency, where it appears that only some 4,000 people out of 80,000 will benefit from the upgrade to the rural broadband service. That £32 million will mean faster internet shopping for millionaires; it will not generate business in rural communities. Many people in rural communities in Lancashire, such as the Ribble valley, already run businesses. That is why they live in the Ribble valley, and they do not operate from home.

The rural broadband policy in Lancashire will not provide additional businesses or create jobs. It will certainly not mean that businesses will be opened down country lanes that take two hours to drive down and are a long way from the urban centres. This is just about faster internet shopping for wealthy people. [ Interruption. ] I will say it whether people like it or not. In most cases, the urban areas in Lancashire are already connected to fast broadband. There is simply no need for this investment, which could go towards improving urban infrastructure such as rail and road links rather than towards providing rural broadband for some farm 25 miles—

Iain Stewart: I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman’s points with interest. Given his comments, one would think that there was no investment in rail infrastructure in the north of England, but the Government have just given the go-ahead to the northern hub, which will revolutionise public transport in that part of the country.

Graham Jones: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but, as he knows, the northern hub covers Manchester and Liverpool, whereas I am talking about east Lancashire. He will be aware that his colleague, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), is pleading for an upgrade of the east Lancashire line between Rawtenstall and Bury. Members on his own side of the House are pleading for infrastructure projects.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): For the record, the northern hub has not been given the go-ahead. The Chancellor gave the impression in

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the Budget that we would get the electrification of the Hope Valley line from Sheffield to Manchester, but that turns out not to be the case.

Graham Jones: That point was relevant to the intervention from the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart). Not only do Labour Members disagree with his comments, so are organisations such as the Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership, which wants to extend the line from Colne into Yorkshire. Infrastructure investment is needed because communities and constituencies such as Pendle are isolated. Such projects require substantial amounts of money.

Iain Stewart: I remind the hon. Gentleman that next month, or in July, we will have the next round of investment in the rail system, with the next five-year period of high-level output specification projects. The projects to which he has referred may well get the go-ahead.

Graham Jones: I will be watching to see whether the east Lancashire line, which I support, along with the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen, receives funding. I am sure that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South will join me and the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen in the chorus calling for investment in the east Lancashire line. I am deeply grateful for his support if he is saying that that should go ahead alongside the rural broadband investment. However, if it turns out that we are investing in rural broadband at the expense of infrastructure projects, I will come back to him and suggest politely that he was wrong in his intervention.

I am deeply concerned about the health reforms and their impact on my constituency. We seem to have had a metropolitan or London-centred conversation about choice that does not reflect the situation in east Lancashire. East Lancashire has a monopoly provider in the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust. It is futile to argue that general practitioners have choice when there is only one hospital trust, with its two major hospitals in Burnley and Blackburn, that people in the area want to use. There is no choice.

I met the chair of the clinical commissioning group for east Lancashire to discuss several issues, which I will draw to the House’s attention. Some £70 million of funding from the primary care trust is being transferred to Lancashire county council for the health and wellbeing board. As I have said, Lancashire is being let down by Lancashire county council. I have deep concerns about where that money will be spent. One of my initial concerns is that Lancashire county council, which is based in Preston, is far removed from the constituents whom the 14 or 15 MPs in Lancashire represent. I have deep concerns that the public will not fully understand, be engaged with or be able to respond to the funding that is being spent by the health and wellbeing board at county hall. There will be little accountability.

We have no choice in NHS services, and yet GPs are shaping the services. The health and wellbeing board will be spending an awful lot of money, but it is not clear how it will be held accountable for where that money is spent. My concern, again, is that the deprived corridor from Chorley to Hyndburn and on to Pendle will be left behind. We will see what we traditionally see

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from Lancashire county council: white middle-class and upper-class areas will get the money and deprived, working-class areas will have money removed from them. That is true of rural broadband. A similar thing is happening nationally.

Lancashire’s residents are being let down by Lancashire county council. How does the Deputy Leader of the House feel about how local people feel and about how they are responding through the ballot box? How does he feel about the concerns that I and others have expressed about the disproportionate spending, with services being directed to white, middle-class people in wealthier areas, which makes working-class people feel that they have been left behind? That concern is also expressed nationally. Age, rather than deprivation, is to be used as one of the indices for the allocation of health funding.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I want to reinforce the point that my hon. Friend is making about age. My constituency has the lowest age structure of any in the country, and yet it has some of the highest health needs. Under the system that he is describing, we would suffer.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Before the hon. Gentleman gets back on his feet, I point out that he has been talking for almost 30 minutes. I am sure that he must be coming to the end. What he has said has been very fruitful for the House, but he needs to come to an end due to the lack of time and the need to get other people in.

Graham Jones: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for that kind advice.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it was not advice.

Graham Jones: I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you for those firm words.

The talk about shifting health funding concerns me because the GP surgeries in my constituency are all at the bottom of the performance league tables produced by the PCT, whereas those in the affluent areas score far better. All the deprived areas in Lancashire come at the bottom of those tables. I am therefore deeply concerned about the transfer of health funding.

I want to mention briefly my concern about Great Harwood health centre, because it has been transferred to PropCo. It was built under the LIFT initiative. On several occasions we have thought that it will happen and then that it will not happen. We are now at a stage where we think it will happen and £10 million has been set aside by the PCT. However, all that money is to subsumed into a Whitehall quango called PropCo, which will decide how it will be spent. I would appreciate a commitment from the Deputy Leader of the House on whether PropCo will carry through the decisions that have been agreed with local people and the PCT.

Finally, I will talk about individual voter registration. I did not get the opportunity to speak in the debate yesterday. I concur with the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) that there are issues with postal voting that need to be looked at. It seems that it is being used to drive up turnout. I do not believe that anything wholly illegal has happened, but I do believe that it has been used to drive up turnout and win elections. Will

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the Deputy Leader of the House acknowledge that the Conservative party in Hyndburn is currently under investigation for proxy voting fraud? That is unacceptable. The legislation that his Government are bringing forward should look at that element, and not just at individual voter registration. With that encouragement, I will close my comments.

1.38 pm

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): It is a great honour to speak in this Adjournment debate before the recess. Hon. Members should welcome the fact that I do not intend to speak for well over half an hour, so that everybody can participate in the debate and then go out to enjoy the sunshine and, more importantly, return to our constituencies to carry on the work that we do on a daily basis for our constituents.

I will talk about an issue in my constituency that I believe has an impact on other Members: the threat to the green belt in Broxtowe. I will address two direct threats to the green belt in Broxtowe. The first is an uncontroversial issue in that all political parties in Broxtowe are in agreement about it. We are united in our opposition to an application by UK Coal for an open-cast mine on a piece of land between Cossall and Trowell called Shortwood. It is a 325-acre site, and this is the third time that UK Coal has made an application to Nottinghamshire county council in respect of it. We have already held one public meeting, and there will be another one on Friday.

There is no merit whatever in the application that UK Coal has made. It would undoubtedly lead to an excess of dust and noise and the loss of an amenity that is much loved by many of my constituents. Perhaps the greatest irony of the application is that 1.5 million tonnes of coal and clay would be removed from the site and put into lorries. There would be eight heavy goods vehicle movements every hour along an already overly congested road, up to the equally congested Nuthall roundabout and on to the M1. The coal and clay would then be driven all the way back down the M1 to the Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station. It is the stuff of madness that in this day and age we are still extracting coal in that way and burning it in power stations. We should now have alternatives up and running.

The second most important threat to the green belt in Broxtowe, which I believe also affects other areas, is housing development. Many hon. Members should be greatly concerned about it. What I will say is, in effect, an open letter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. In a nutshell, we have a serious problem in Broxtowe and other boroughs in Nottinghamshire and, I suspect, across the land. Councils have adopted and accepted the targets that were laid down under the last Administration’s old—they should be old—regional spatial strategies. That means that they have no alternative but to build on our green belt.

Only last week Broxtowe borough council voted on and accepted, with only the Conservatives dissenting, a top-down housing target of 6,150 houses being built in a 16-year period or so, as set down under the last Administration’s structures. We have very little green-belt land left in Broxtowe, because we have built on it over the years. We are now the most densely populated borough in the whole of Nottinghamshire, and arguably in the whole east midlands. Hon. Members do not need

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me to remind them that the whole purpose of green-belt land is to prevent urban sprawl and protect communities so that they stay just that—identifiable communities that people love and enjoy, for all the reasons that one can imagine.

The other great benefit of green-belt land, as well as its preventing the coalescence of communities, preventing sprawl and retaining identities, is that it provides green, open spaces that people can love and enjoy in many ways. They walk their dogs there, take their children there and so on. We do not have much of it in Broxtowe, which has become overdeveloped. Now we have the housing target, and we have only brownfield land or green-belt land to build on, so we face the real threat of yet more of our green belt being lost.

The situation flies in the face of the national planning policy framework that the Government announced at the end of March, and of the statements of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and various other Ministers including the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister. They have made it crystal clear that green-belt land should not be developed on save in exceptional or very special circumstances, and then only after robust public consultation. There is a complete disconnect between what the Government are rightly saying—they could not say it in clearer or firmer tones—and what some councils are actually doing in the real world.

There is an argument about the amount of brownfield land that is available in Broxtowe, but up to 2,000 homes are to be built on our green-belt land. I believe that the majority of people in Broxtowe are against that. However, our Labour and Liberal Democrat council has steamed ahead in the face of local people’s views and without proper consultation. Instead of adopting Labour’s admirable policy of brownfield sites first and green-belt land afterwards, Broxtowe council is doing the reverse. The very first site that has been put forward for development—it is almost a done deal—is a place called Field farm in Stapleford. That piece of land separates Stapleford from Trowell, so it is doing its job and providing a buffer to prevent urban sprawl. It is also a place that people love very much. They go there to enjoy the wildlife and so on.

An application has gone in for 450 homes on that land, and the deep irony is that the two local councillors—Labour and Liberal Democrat—not only failed to vote against the plans that have made the land ripe for development, but spoke in favour of them last week. That flew in the face of the people whom they are meant to represent. Many people have found it ironic that it has been the Tories, and a Conservative MP, who have spoken out in defence of that green-belt land.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): The hon. Lady is speaking very well. I am an east midlands MP, as is she. She will recognise that a report published earlier this week suggested that the east midlands faces a potential housing crisis, and that in the next 20 years or so we will probably need 22,000 extra houses. I recognise her argument entirely, but those houses will have to go somewhere.

Anna Soubry: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and understand his point. Unfortunately, when we run out of land on which we can build houses, we have to

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look elsewhere. This is not about nimbyism; it is about the fact that my constituency only has enough brownfield land for about 3,000 houses. The target has been accepted, and the only other place to build is on the green belt. He mentions homelessness, and it is a valid point, but the number of people on the waiting list in Broxtowe is 2,254. As he will understand, that list often indicates the level of interest in finding houses that the council may have available. The number of homeless people recorded in my constituency is probably fewer than 10, if that.

I do not want to trouble the House any longer, but people in my constituency are concerned that their voices will yet again not be heard. Only this week, I was publicly admonished by the planning officer in an e-mail that was unfortunately copied to Labour councillors and my predecessor. The e-mail told me that my advice to my constituents was in some way inaccurate, but it was not at all. I have come to this place to achieve a number of things, but perhaps most importantly I am here to represent my constituents, whether they voted for me or not. I intend to continue to do that. In so doing, I speak out in favour of protecting the green belt in my constituency, whether from open-cast mining or from a housing target that my borough council did not have to accept.

I hope the Deputy Leader of the House will forgive me if I am not here at the end of the debate. I will be quiet very soon, so that others can speak. I hope that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will make the Government’s policy quite clear yet again. I hope he will say that local authorities are under a duty to determine their own housing targets and make their own plans, and to protect their green belt from development at almost all costs.

1.49 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): It was a great temptation to go off down the M4 about an hour ago, but I wanted the opportunity to speak today since we are going to be away for two weeks. Many changes will take place in the middle east in that period, so I could not go without voicing my concern. If I take more than 10 minutes, perhaps you will signal vigorously in my direction, Mr Deputy Speaker. I also hope the Hammersmith flyover will soon be back to normal—it is ridiculous that it has taken so many months to repair. Those who use that artery to the M4 have to allow an extra hour in our journey just to get over it.

I have spoken about Bahrain a number of times. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is currently preparing a report on the Arab spring. For some countries, spring came earlier, but things have been more difficult in others. In countries where the spring is in its early stages, such as Bahrain, there are concerns about the lack of progress. Many of the recommendations made by the commission set up by the King are yet to be implemented. Human Rights Watch said in a new report released earlier this month that Bahrain’s human rights situation remains critical in the wake of the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 2011, with clashes between police and protesters continuing. There are also reports of deaths from beatings and the excessive use of teargas.

The King established that so-called independent inquiry—I have high regard for some on the inquiry, such as Sir Nigel Rodley—but unfortunately, very few

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of its recommendations have been implemented, such as holding senior officials accountable for crimes. Recommendations on torture have also not been implemented, and there has been a failure to free protesters who were jailed for exercising their right to free expression and peaceful assembly. Bahraini police continue to beat and torture detainees, including minors, despite the report’s recommendations and public commitments by the heads of Bahrain to end torture and police impunity.

Nabeel Rajab, a Bahraini human rights activist and head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation, who led protests against authorities in the gulf kingdom by calling for democratic change, was arrested on his return from a trip abroad on charges of

“participating in illegal assembly and calling others to join”

and “insulting a statutory body” via Twitter. He has been granted bail but is still being held in anticipation of other charges being made against him.

The court of cassation, the highest judicial body in that gulf Arab state, shifted the case of 21 men who were convicted in a military court to a civilian court and freed one lesser known prisoner. Seven of the 21 are abroad or in hiding, but the court ruled that the other men would remain in jail, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is being fed intravenously in a military hospital after nearly three months on hunger strike. We assume that that is still the case, because we have heard nothing further about him recently.

More than a year after the men were arrested, the Bahraini authorities have produced no evidence that the jailed leaders were doing anything but exercising their basic human rights. The Bahrain Government have made it clear that they still view the case as serious. One of the al-Khalifa family—the chief Government spokesman —alleged that the 21 men

“called for the overthrow of the monarchy using violent means”.

He said:

“In due course new evidence will be presented in a civilian court to prove that point.”

A similar retrial process is under way in a civilian court for 20 medical professionals—doctors, nurses and dentists—who were convicted of anti-state activities by a military-led tribunal.

After signalling that Saudi women might be allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time at the London games, Saudi officials appear to have retreated. The only possibility remaining is that a few Saudi women might gain entry as “unofficial participants”. Saudi women must walk behind men at home, but they cannot walk behind the Saudi flag in London.

A few months ago, Human Rights Watch reported discrimination against female athletes in that Islamic kingdom. Even physical education classes and sports club memberships for women are prohibited. The report referred to a religious scholar who said that

“the health of a virgin girl will be affected by too much movement and jumping in sports such as soccer and basketball.”

How ridiculous is that? The report concluded:

“It is impossible to square Saudi discrimination against women with the noble values of the Olympic Charter”,

which forbids intolerance.

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Under the kafala system of sponsorship, by which foreigners can work in the country only if they have a sponsor who organises contracts, salaries, visas and repatriation, sponsors use their control to exploit workers by taking away their passports or residence permits, or by failing to pay wages on time.

I welcome the free and—it appears—fair and peaceful elections in Egypt, but there are still problems in the country. I was there with the Foreign Affairs Committee a few months ago. Human rights violations continue to take place, in some cases to a worse extent than under Mubarak. Military trials continue; reports of the use of torture are frequent; freedom of expression is curtailed; and peaceful demonstrations have often been met with violence and repression. Additionally, civil society and NGOs continue to be repressed and restricted. The trial of foreign NGO workers who were arrested for allegedly breaching Egypt’s law on association, which took place during the Committee’s visit, is due to continue on 5 June. The law on association has criticised repeatedly by UN treaty bodies and human rights experts and is likely to be replaced with a new law by the new Parliament.

Women’s rights are under threat in Egypt, and there are only eight women in Egypt’s 500-seat Parliament. We met many parliamentarians and raised that point with them. They have removed their quota system, which ensured proper representation for women in the Parliament. Activists in Egypt have serious concerns that the personal status code, which currently provides some equality for women in divorce and custody law, could be repealed, resulting in women’s rights being curtailed.

Women human rights defenders and activists are being targeted with virginity testing, with those responsible being acquitted, and attacks and beatings. I have raised that in the Chamber several times.

In Afghanistan, women should not be abandoned by the pull-out of western troops or traded in favour of reconciliation with the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Afghanistan remains a key foreign policy priority of the UK Government, and as a major international partner and donor they can exert significant diplomatic influence on the Afghan Government and the transitional process. Only a couple of months ago, Afghanistan’s ulema council—the country’s leading group of religious clerics—published a statement in which it referred to women as secondary to men and implied that violence against women was appropriate in some cases. Worryingly, President Karzai expressed support for the statement, in a move seen as widely conciliatory to the Taliban and other groups that would curtail the rights of women.

Women’s security continues to be extremely fragile in areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control. Women who contribute politically or in the public and civic sectors face considerable pressure and intimidation.

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): I am delighted that the right hon. Lady has brought this incredibly important topic to the Floor of the House. This morning, I met ActionAid, which has campaigned heavily in this area, and it told me that for an Afghan woman to approach a police officer was considered an immoral act. Does she agree that we must do more to ensure the security of Afghan women and that without it there will be no lasting peace in that country?

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Ann Clwyd: I completely agree with the hon. Lady. I have raised the matter several times in Afghanistan and here, including with President Karzai directly, but he always brushes it aside. The last time was a few weeks ago, when we had a private meeting with him in the House. I am afraid, however, that he would not move on, or even discuss, this matter. When I suggested that women in Afghanistan had no faith in his determination to protect them, he said, “But women vote for me.” I said, “Well, they might have done last time, but they won’t next time.” Clearly, he does not take it seriously, which is a matter of great concern.

I am pleased that Aung San Suu Kyi is to visit Parliament. Burma was admitted to the Inter-Parliamentary Union at the conference I attended in Uganda a few weeks ago. There are concerns, however. There are green shoots, but matters could be reversed, so we should wait and see. For example, we should be cautious before removing sanctions. Political prisoners are still in jail there. The IPU committee on the human rights of parliamentarians, of which I am an active member, does not know the fate of the Burmese parliamentarians elected 10 years ago who were never able to take their seats. It is said that all political prisoners have been released, but there is an argument about how many remain in jail. In truth, many died in jail or after being released, and a number remain unaccounted for. They are still on the committee’s list of parliamentarians about whom we are concerned, and we want to know what happened to them. They are not simply names on a piece of paper. We have campaigned on their behalf for many years, and we want to know their fate.

Aung San Suu Kyi will obviously get a good welcome here. However, if the Burmese President genuinely wants meaningful political reform, a joint domestic and international review board, with UN involvement, could create a credible process to investigate cases of disagreement over whether someone has been imprisoned for political reasons. That could kick-start broader legal reform to overturn laws still stifling basic human rights in Burma. One of the most pernicious is section 401 of the criminal procedure code—effectively a form of parole that could see many released prisoners rearrested for any perceived or minor offence.

I would like to continue my canter around the world, because there are so many countries where the human rights of parliamentarians remain a major issue. Of the roughly 153 countries that attend the IPU annual conferences, about 50 are of great concern. Obviously, Syria is one of them. Over the next two weeks, while we are on our Whitsun recess—looking around me, I see it has already begun—I hope that Assad will see sense. His days are numbered in Syria. He should see the writing on the wall and go now to prevent further blood loss in a country where so much blood is being lost and where there is no future for him or his crowd. He should give Syria the chance to join the Arab spring countries.

2.4 pm

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I want to talk about the Government’s proposal, announced in the Budget, to extend VAT to static holiday caravans. There was a short debate on this matter during the Committee of the Finance Bill. However, that debate included proposals to put VAT on many other things, so there was no time properly to debate static caravans. I was

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pleased, however, when the Government announced during the debate that the consultation period would be extended to allow the industry to make representations. I am glad that the Government are in listening mode, and I want to use this opportunity to make representations to them.

My constituency interest arises from the large number of caravan parks scattered throughout Argyll and Bute. I represent a beautiful constituency stretching from Loch Lomond in the east to Loch Linnhe in the north and the Mull of Kintyre in the south. It also contains the Cowal and Rosneath peninsulas, the Isle of Bute and many other beautiful islands—there is far too much beautiful scenery to mention, including the miles of coastline on the west coast and the Firth of Clyde. The scenery is beautiful, but the economy is fragile. “You can’t eat the scenery”, as the old saying goes, but we can sell the views to the visitors, and that is where static caravans play an important role.

A large proportion of people who visit Argyll and Bute own static caravans on the many holiday parks, and these caravans provide many jobs in rural areas. There are the people who work on the parks and a whole host of small businesses that make their livelihoods from selling food and other goods to the static caravan owners. As a result, these holiday parks underpin many small businesses, and we should be encouraging such small businesses in these difficult times, not imposing a further tax on them. Many local shops tell me that a large proportion of their sales are to static caravan owners and that they could not survive without this business. Neither is this just a business for the short summer season; many owners regularly come to their caravans at weekends throughout the year.

The Treasury’s own impact assessment suggested that imposing VAT on static caravans would cut demand by 30%. That is a huge fall in demand for any business to cope with, never mind those already struggling because of the recession. It should be noted, however, that the industry regards the 30% figure as an underestimate and believes that the actual drop in sales could be much bigger. Fewer caravan sales means fewer owners, which obviously means fewer people visiting rural constituencies such as mine and spending their money in the rural economy. People living in remote areas with fragile economies who will lose their jobs if this VAT measure goes ahead will find it difficult to get another job where they live. The Treasury estimates that the measure will bring in an extra £35 million in 2013-14, but I urge the Government to consider the wider picture. The proposal might bring in £35 million, but a lot more will be lost to the economy if the extra tax goes ahead.

The proposal appears to have arisen because the Government wanted to correct a supposed anomaly—that caravans towed on the road by cars are subject to VAT but static caravans are not. By proceeding in this way, however, the Government will simply create other anomalies that will be just as difficult to resolve. For example, let us compare buying a static caravan to buying a holiday cottage. Static caravans sell from about £24,000. VAT on a £24,000 static caravan would be £4,800. Let us compare that with somebody who buys a holiday cottage for £240,000. The tax paid—in this case stamp duty—will be 1%; that is, £2,400. Therefore, the cost of the holiday cottage is ten times as much as the cost of the caravan, but the tax is only half. That is hardly fair. We should also remember that the person buying the holiday cottage

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could be depriving a local family of a chance to buy a home. That is not fair taxation, nor does it make any sense as far as supporting fragile economies is concerned.

The Government realise that if they impose VAT on static holiday caravans, they will have to draw a line somewhere. They have proposed that static caravans that are manufactured to BS 3632 will not be liable to VAT. Only caravans built to a lesser standard would be subject to VAT. However, that would simply create another anomaly. British standards change all the time, so they are an unsuitable measure for determining eligibility for taxation. It is also important to consider how such a rule could be enforced. Will VAT inspectors be trained in how to determine whether a British standard has been met for a particular caravan? If so, will they have to inspect all static caravans that are sold, to determine whether they meet the standard—which, we should remember, constantly changes? Another new anomaly that would be created is that houseboats would still be zero-rated, whereas static caravans would not. Both are tied to a fixed point, yet they would be treated differently for tax purposes. Far from ironing out an anomaly, we would just be creating a series of other anomalies.

The proposal appears to have arisen because somebody found a loophole in the present legislation. They worked out that large hybrid touring caravans would not be subject to VAT. Hybrid touring caravans are large caravans that are too big to be towed by cars, although they can be towed behind lorries. Under the present rules, they are zero-rated because of their large size. However, rather than trying to block the loophole by taking static caravans into taxation, why not block it by making caravans that are designed to be towed by a large lorry on public roads subject to VAT? Surely it would be fairly straightforward to create a definition in legislation to provide that caravans that could be towed on the road would be subject to VAT. Static caravans cannot be considered to be road-going, as they do not have a chassis with brakes or a handbrake, nor do they have brake lights and indicators to comply with road traffic legislation. It should surely be straightforward to ensure that if, under road traffic legislation, the caravan can be towed on the road, it should be subject to VAT. To summarise: if it moves, tax it; if it doesn’t, don’t. Static caravans do not move—yes, the clue is in the word “static”. My suggestion for the Government would be fairly straightforward. The tax treatment of static caravans should be compared with the treatment of other static accommodation, such as houses and houseboats, not caravans that can be towed on our roads.

Although announced in the Budget, the measure is not part of the Finance Bill. I hope that, following the consultation, the Government have listened and will decide not to go ahead. I even hope that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will be able to make that announcement in his summing up today. [ Laughter. ] However, I suspect from his reaction that I am perhaps being a bit optimistic. The consultation closed only on Friday, so we ought to be prepared to give the Government a bit more time to respond. I hope that they will decide not to proceed. However, I would like my hon. Friend to tell the House today what procedures will be followed to introduce the measure, should the Government decide to do so.

Argyll and Bute’s main asset is our beautiful scenery. This VAT proposal will make it far harder to sell that scenery to visitors. Many other Government policies

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are supportive of small businesses. I urge the Government to think again. On this policy, I hope that they will think of small businesses. I appeal to them not to go ahead with this proposal. The cost in lost jobs, in fragile rural economies throughout the country, will be far greater than any VAT income from the proposed new tax.

2.14 pm

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I hope that hon. Members will be gentle, because my voice is not as strong as it usually is. I also hope that I can be heard today. It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid), who made an excellent speech about VAT on static caravans. Those of us on the Opposition Benches support much of what he said. I hope that his Government were listening to that speech, which really was rather excellent.

I want to take this opportunity to speak about an issue of increasing concern—breast cancer. I want to focus on three areas: diagnosis, treatment and mortality in my constituency; worrying comparisons with other countries, which raise issues about the effectiveness of cancer services in the UK; and a specific concern about radiotherapy, on which we perform rather badly, compared with other countries.

Let me first set the scene with some facts about breast cancer. As many colleagues will know, it is the most common cancer in the UK, with some 48,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Around 12,000 women and 90 men will die from breast cancer this year. The good news—relatively speaking—is that a generation ago, only half the people with breast cancer survived for five years after diagnosis. Today, eight out of 10 people are still alive after five years or more. That improvement is due to the unprecedented investment made in the NHS, with a shift in emphasis—the right shift—towards prevention and early detection, and the establishment of cancer networks, bringing together specialists to improve the quality of care.

Advances in research, new treatments, earlier diagnosis, breast screening and greater public awareness have all played a part, but it is essential that we keep up the momentum if we are to avoid slipping back. I have spoken in the House before about the inequality in health outcomes that is characteristic of my constituency and other areas with high poverty, poor housing, a poor environment and low educational achievement. Things are improving and health outcomes are getting better, but the gap remains. Although I have a huge hope that the legacy of the Olympic and the Paralympic games will bring an even greater health improvement to my area, as well as economic regeneration, we have to do more, rather than just sitting back and waiting to see whether that happens.

Claire Perry: Let me give the hon. Lady a chance to rest her voice. I am grateful to her for bringing this incredibly important subject to the Floor of the House. Would she like to join me in the Race for Life at the beginning of June? We can put on our pink T-shirts, and although I am afraid that I will be walking, she can walk with me and we can raise some money for a worthy cause.

Lyn Brown: That is possibly an offer that I cannot refuse. I think that sounds like an excellent thing to do together.

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Newham has a lower incidence of cancer than many other areas, but sadly our mortality rate is higher. The London-wide cancer mortality rate is about 112 deaths per 100,000 cases. In Newham it is 123 deaths per 100,000 cases, which is a significantly higher rate than we ought to find. That is clearly unacceptable. The five-year survival rate for women in Newham who have had breast cancer is 75%, which is significantly lower than the UK average of 83.4%. The reason is illustrated, in part, by the take-up rate of breast-screening services. In 2009-10, the take-up rate across England was 73%. Across London it was 62%, but in Newham it was 50%.

Early detection enables treatment in early stages, when the cancer is easier to treat and when women’s chances of survival are higher. In my area, the combination of late presentation and late diagnosis leads to treatment that is, of necessity, more complex and less successful. That is causing the unnecessary deaths of too many women. Those deaths are, frankly, preventable. I will be seeking to ensure that a consequence of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is not a visible deterioration in health screening services in my constituency. In fact, I will be hoping to see the 50% uptake of screening in Newham increase in the years to come.

I want to turn to international comparisons. I have before me some statistics, which were helpfully provided by the House of Commons Library. These data are drawn from a cancer epidemiology research project on the survival of cancer patients in 24 European countries. The figures need to be treated with some care, given that the most recent are for survival rates for those diagnosed between 1995 and 1999, but they provide a useful snapshot of the five-year survival rate. For England, the survival rate for all cancers at five years was 47.3%, ranking us 17th out of the 24 countries. The survival rate at five years for breast cancer was somewhat better, at 79.7%, but this still ranks us just 13th out of the 24 countries. That international comparison raises some disturbing questions about the effectiveness of our screening, diagnosis and treatment services, and I intend to return to that matter in the future.

One issue that I want to explore further today is the use in treatment of radiotherapy and, specifically, of new and advanced forms of radiotherapy such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy—IMRT. Radiotherapy treatment is more effective in treating all forms of cancer, including breast cancer, especially when the cancer is diagnosed early. It can be targeted on the cancer much more effectively, thus limiting the damage caused to non-cancerous tissue. It is far less invasive than other treatments, it leads to better outcomes and it is a much better experience for the patient.

The use of radiotherapy is more advanced in Scotland and Wales. London is marginally better provided for than the rest of England, but that does not alter the fact that the UK as a whole is woefully behind the best-performing countries in the rest of Europe and the US in using advanced radiotherapy as an effective tool against cancer. Access rates to existing radiotherapy services are already lower than the 50% of cancer patients who it is generally agreed should receive the treatment. We do not even know how many breast cancer patients are able to access the more advanced IMRT.

What assessment have the Government made of the impact of the Health and Social Care Act on the commissioning of radiotherapy, and on the supply of

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suitably trained radiotherapists? From my perspective, it is entirely unclear where responsibility for the commissioning of radiotherapy will sit in the future arrangements of the NHS. The clinical commissioning groups are far too small effectively to manage it, and the position of the NHS Commissioning Board is obscure.

For radiotherapy, there is no is no equivalent of the big campaigns that we see in our newspapers. It has no equivalent of a big pharmaceutical company to promote it and lobby for new treatments, because there is no profit to be made from it. Radiotherapy is an effective treatment that is widely used in other countries, but it is patchily under-utilised here, to the detriment of cancer patients, and that is likely to be contributing to our relatively poor survival rates. In the absence of an external lobby promoting radiotherapy, I humbly suggest to the House that that responsibility lies here with us.

The issues that I have outlined today go to the heart of the quality of cancer care in this country. They need to be explored in more detail and subjected to more scrutiny so that the service offered across the country can be improved to the level of the very best, and not just the very best in this country, but the very best by international standards.

2.25 pm

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who spoke eloquently on an important topic. I look forward to our “walk for life” together.

As I am sure everyone knows by now, I represent a military constituency. with 10,500 soldiers and at least the same number of family members, but because I have a tiny job helping the Secretary of State for Defence, I can never speak on military matters, so there is no point in hon. Members lobbying me about cap badges. I meet many members of the armed forces in my surgeries, however, and I want to speak today about a story that I heard during one such meeting.

Jan and Barry Burns came to see me in my surgery in Ludgershall, in the south of my constituency. Barry is a serving Army officer. I felt incredibly moved and educated by what I heard, and I was glad that I had boxes of tissues handy. They came to tell me about their son Charlie, who died unexpectedly last year at the age of 10. I have a boy who will be 10 this summer, and it was very moving to be presented with that tragedy.

Charlie Burns was a completely fit, well and happy 10-year-old who had an epileptic seizure, completely out of the blue, on Friday 7 October. The paramedics arrived well within the target time, but they made a diagnosis that many people think was incorrect. They diagnosed a febrile convulsion, even though there was no associated temperature. Over the weekend, Charlie was fine, but subsequently his parents took him to their GP, as he was a little unwell. The GP correctly suggested that Charlie had suffered an epileptic seizure and that he should see a neurologist.

On Tuesday 11 October, Charlie went to school in Larkhill as usual and was absolutely fine. He was able to see his sister, Isabella, that evening—she goes to boarding school, so it was lucky that they saw each other that day. He went to bed at 8.45 that evening, and when his parents went to check on him later, they found that he had died in his sleep. They were of course horrified. Their little boy had, until the previous week,

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been incredibly healthy. The coroner diagnosed the cause of death as sudden unexplained death from epilepsy—SUDEP—involving a massive cerebral haemorrhage.

The reason that Mr and Mrs Burns came to see me was that they had never heard of SUDEP before that awful tragedy struck their family. In fact, SUDEP kills more people in the UK than AIDS and cot death—conditions we have all heard of—combined. We have been educated recently to understand certain other conditions, including strokes—there has been a very good national education campaign to help us to understand the signs of strokes and what happens when someone suffers a stroke.

It is fitting that this week is national epilepsy week, running from 26 May. Charlie’s parents really made me aware of this condition—sudden unexplained death from epilepsy. It is a silent killer. As a result of conversations with the parents, I believe that it is almost unknown, which means that parents are not looking out for the signs, and in many cases nor are paramedics and medical professionals. In my comments today, I intend no criticism of the local paramedic or hospital services; a separate inquiry is ongoing. It was the depths of the personal tragedy and the suddenness of the bereavement suffered by the Burns family that particularly resonated with me.

I ask three things of colleagues today. The first is for them to help me raise the profile of a fantastic national charity, Epilepsy Bereaved, which works with parents and anyone who has suffered a bereavement through epilepsy. We should remember that more than 1,000 people a year are so affected. I was pleased to learn that my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright) had met the charity and done some publicity work last year, for which the family and the charity are extremely grateful. Secondly, there is no national standard register of epilepsy deaths, and one of the charity’s proposals is that the chief coroner should maintain such a record and have a standard diagnosis, so that we can understand the scale of the problem. I would heartily support such a measure.

Finally, we call for a review of the guidance issued to medical professionals, particularly first responders, to help them to look out for signs of that type of seizure in otherwise healthy children. Charlie’s parents told me that children can come back very quickly from such episodes. Charlie came back after his attack and was conscious when the paramedics got there, although he was droopy, drowsy and not himself. If he had been taken to hospital at that point and a brain scan had been done, he just might have been saved.

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): I want to express my support for everything my hon. Friend has said about SUDEP. A few months ago, some parents in my constituency came to see me, having sadly lost their teenage daughter to SUDEP. When their daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy, the parents were not really made aware of SUDEP—the “sudden death” aspect. If they had been told about it at the time, they might have acted differently. They highlighted the need for more publicity so that more people—parents and children—are made aware of it. I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this very important issue.

Claire Perry: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right; it is estimated that more than 40% of these deaths could be avoided with better

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recognition, better diagnosis and speedier action. Epilepsy is a condition that affects many thousands of people and it is a manageable condition, but Charlie’s parents were subsequently told that he was among the most susceptible to a nocturnal epileptic episode out of the blue, and that such children were at greater risk of dying unexpectedly from this killer.

There is nothing I can say today to bring Charlie Burns back, or give his parents any comfort. I simply want to make as many people as possible aware of this condition, so that we can all help to make sure that similar tragedies do not happen in the future. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

2.32 pm

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, but I hesitate to do so after the contribution of the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who I thought made an excellent speech and spoke with considerable compassion about the death of her constituent. I am sure that the Minister will want to respond in the most appropriate manner possible.

I seek to raise four issues on the Whitsun Adjournment. The first relates to the future of the custody suite at Harrow police station, which serves my constituency. I heard in April that the Metropolitan police were planning to close the custody suite in October. There are rumours this week that the decision has been put on hold and that a final decision on closing or saving it will be taken in the autumn. There certainly appears to be a considerable body of opinion within the higher levels of the Met in favour of closing the custody suite. That would leave Harrow with no custody suite, and one of only two London boroughs—both in the suburbs of London, as I understand the other is Richmond—without one. To date, there has been no proper explanation from the Metropolitan police of why they think Harrow’s custody suite, which has 13 cells, should close.

I raised this issue on the Floor of the House during Home Office questions, and—understandably—the Home Secretary replied that it was an operational matter for the Metropolitan police. At first glance, she is absolutely right, Nevertheless, I encourage Ministers to use their influence to ask the Metropolitan police to reconsider.

As I have said, Harrow’s custody suite consists of 13 cells. There are 5,000 “visits”, as they are called in the jargon, to those cells each year. Potentially, therefore, 5,000 prisoners would have to be held in other custody suites. I understand that the Metropolitan police want those who are arrested in Harrow to be housed at Kilburn and Wembley police stations. On one level, I am not concerned about where a prisoner from my constituency is housed. What concerns me and many of my constituents is that if prisoners have to be transported to those other custody suites for the purposes of an investigation into whether they have committed the crimes of which they are accused and preparation of paperwork for court appearances, substantial police officer time will be wasted. That would inevitably have an impact on the quality and number of investigations that can take place at Harrow. Travelling to Kilburn during the rush hour can take more than an hour, and

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travelling to Wembley on cup final day can take a long time as well. According to one estimate, based on that figure of 5,000 visits a year, between 10,000 and 20,000 police officer hours could be wasted in transporting prisoners to the two new custody suites.

I understand that shortly after a custody suite closes, the CID team in the Met go to the replacement custody suite. Given that more than 100 CID officers are currently based at Harrow police station, my constituents are understandably concerned that those officers may find themselves permanently based at Wembley police station in Brent. That, too, would reduce the level and quality of policing in my constituency.

In an attempt to establish the reason for the Metropolitan police’s decision, I tabled a freedom of information request asking them for details of all their custody suites, including the number of cells and the staffing levels. There are some 44 custody suites in London; 14 contain fewer cells than Harrow police station, and at many substantially more staff and police officers are based than are based at Harrow. The decision by the Metropolitan police to close the Harrow custody suite therefore does not appear to have been made on cost grounds. I am told that the Met may have had in mind the quality of the cells at Harrow and that some capital investment is certainly needed, but I am also told that there is no difference in quality between Harrow and Kilburn.

I was not consulted on, or even formally told of, the decision in advance. I have written to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who has told me that an assistant commissioner will be writing to me to explain why Harrow police station has been singled out. I have not yet received that letter. I welcome the fact that the Met may well reconsider the decision, but I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will use his influence to encourage Home Office Ministers to have a quiet word in the ear of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and urge him to reverse it.

The second issue is the proposed airport in the Thames estuary. On behalf of the airports serving my constituency, notably Heathrow, I have concerns about that proposal. There are several noisy cheerleaders for the Thames estuary airport, even though it does not make sense in air traffic control terms, it would require hugely costly investment in roads, housing and other infrastructure, and years of architects’, planners’ and traffic and environment consultants’ time, and it certainly would not solve London’s immediate need for extra airport capacity. Many rival airports, notably Schiphol in the Netherlands, have experienced a significant increase in business in recent months. Given that the Thames estuary airport has not begun to go through any of its planning, environmental, financial or air traffic control assessment processes, owners of such rival airports must be licking their lips at the prospect of the months or even years they will have to attract international business away from London’s airports while the debate about a Thames estuary airport continues.

National Air Traffic Services has quietly pointed out the considerable additional problems a Thames estuary airport will cause in London’s already congested airspace. It would sit directly under the central route into London’s airspace, so aeroplanes carrying thousands of passengers a year would be taking off and landing at the new airport through one of the world’s busiest airspaces. In short, a Thames estuary airport is about as sensible as

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building a new crèche in the middle of a motorway. It would also shift the eastern boundary of London’s air traffic holding patterns, in turn opening up the need for negotiations with other nations about changes to UK airspace, which, at best, would mean another delay to any new airport’s start date. Worse still, there is the risk of creating an investment hiatus at London’s existing airports, as the business community waits to see whether the idea of a Thames estuary airport can really be made to work.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I am listening very carefully as I was brought up in London. I have always been astonished that we are the only capital city in the world where the Head of State and the Prime Minister can be woken up at 5 o’clock on Christmas morning by planes flying over. Everywhere else, airports are situated some distance away, so planes do not need to fly over city centres. I wonder whether my hon. Friend is right to dismiss the idea of shifting everything a little eastwards, with planes flying into the wind from the east, rather than over the capital city. Also, if there was an accident involving a plane flying over central London, that could be incredibly dangerous.

Mr Thomas: Nobody wants to lose any passenger through an air traffic incident, and, of course, we would want to minimise disruption to anybody, whether a Prime Minister or not, but we have to look at these issues in the round, and I gently say to my right hon. Friend that, notwithstanding the noise level that the Prime Minister currently has to deal with, he should consider the range of issues mounting up against the idea of a Thames estuary airport.

I am worried about the Thames estuary airport proposal stalling investment at Heathrow. Many of my constituents work at Heathrow, or in the businesses that thrive in the economy associated with it. Leaving aside the considerable financial, air traffic control and other such reasons for not going ahead with the Thames estuary airport, I cannot see how an airport there could be in the interest of west London, as Heathrow would, in effect, be downgraded from the major international hub airport it is now and would lose the jobs and investment that a major airport brings in its wake. That is what would happen if a Thames estuary airport were built.

My last point about the problems with the Thames estuary airport relates to the environmental challenges it would generate, which do not appear to have been taken on board yet. I gently suggest to Ministers that the proposal for an airport in the Thames estuary is a distraction from, not a solution to, the issue of airport capacity. It has the potential to damage the economy that serves my constituency in the area around Heathrow, and I urge Ministers to bring it to a close.

The third issue that I briefly wish to discuss is Sri Lanka, and the report that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has just released on human rights across the world, which touches on Sri Lanka. I very much welcome the report, and I commend the FCO for continuing the tradition of publishing a report on human rights in the countries in which we all, as a House of Commons, have a considerable interest. The report noted the considerable number of disappearances and abductions that are continuing in the north and east of Sri Lanka, in particular, with a sharp rise at the end of the year.

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A number of my constituents have brought to my attention the unexplained death of a young Tamil man, Easwarathasan Ketheeswaran, who was deported back to Sri Lanka from the UK. I have tabled questions to the FCO and the Home Office on the matter. I asked the FCO whether it has had discussions with the regime in Sri Lanka to press questions about the quality of the police investigation into this young man’s death. I asked the Home Office whether this unexplained death of someone deported back to Sri Lanka from our country will affect its policy on the deportations of Tamil men, in particular, back to Sri Lanka.

The FCO report gave detail about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and recalled that the Sri Lankan Government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report had noted a serious lack of investigations by the Sri Lankan police into disappearances and human rights abuses, particularly in the north and east of the country. The commission went on to note the failure of the Sri Lankan police on some occasions to register complaints when people had come to see them to point out disappearances, abductions and human rights abuses. Indeed, as the FCO’s work pointed out, that commission report also highlighted the continuing substantial military presence in the north and east of Sri Lanka, which it said was making the northern province, in particular, unsafe for women. The FCO report went on to note the number of war widows in the northern and eastern provinces—approximately 90,000.

Many hon. Members will be familiar with the huge number of deaths in Sri Lanka at the end of the conflict in 2009, which prompted United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a panel of experts to report on both the scale of the killings and the level of human rights abuses in the run-up to the last months of the conflict, when more than 40,000 people were killed. According to the UN report, many of those people lost their lives as a result of the Sri Lankan military’s use of cluster bombs and as a result of the intense bombing of areas, even those designated as “no-fire zones”. The UN report also noted that huge numbers of Tamils in particular in the north and east suffered at the end of the conflict from a lack of access to food and medicine, as the Sri Lankan military allowed food and medicine through to the then still LTTE-controlled areas in very few cases.

The UN panel concluded that there was evidence of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity and repeated the call for an international independent investigation into those war crimes allegations. Encouragingly, the UN Human Rights Council recently concluded that there needs to be a proper international investigation and that people should be held to account.

In addition, the International Crisis Group, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) and other Members have highlighted the growing insecurity of women in the north and east because of lack of access to housing or jobs and the generally unsafe environment in which they live. What can the Government do to help? They should certainly continue to keep up the pressure for an independent international inquiry. Many of my constituents were disappointed by the decision to invite the President of Sri Lanka to take part in the jubilee celebrations without assurances being sought that he will be accommodating to the UN and will help an independent international inquiry to take place.

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Another direct thing that the Government could do, through the Department for International Development—I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will take this point back to the Department—is fund one or two international non-governmental organisations with a proper track record in such matters to provide support and assistance to the women and many children in the north and east of Sri Lanka who are vulnerable. I know from my time as a Minister in DFID that it does not have staff based in Sri Lanka and could not therefore set up its own aid programme, but it does fund many international organisations—from the Oxfams and Save the Childrens to the Islamic Reliefs and so on—that work in countries across the world where the Department does not have a full operation of its own. They could be trusted to provide proper development assistance to incredibly vulnerable people.

My final point is very different and concerns London Welsh rugby football club’s application to join rugby’s premiership. As Members will recognise, I have some Welsh roots and a number of my constituents, like me, enjoy cheering on London Welsh. For the first time in the history of the rugby championship in the UK, London Welsh has got through to the play-off final and it submitted its bid to the Rugby Football Union to be considered for a place in the premiership should it win. Yesterday, before the first leg of that play-off final was due to take place, the RFU published the results of its investigation into London Welsh’s bid and rejected it out of hand. Proper reasons have not yet been given for the decision, but if media reports are to be believed it appears that the application was rejected because London Welsh does not have its own ground that meets premiership standards. As London Welsh spokespeople have pointed out to the media, a series of premiership teams are already in that category, notably Saracens.

Mr MacShane: I wish my hon. Friend all the best, but frankly the men in blazers and those bright pink and orange corduroy trousers who control the RFU will not give any consideration to the passion of London Welsh, its players and its supporters. We experienced that in Rotherham when we got into the premier league and were then booted out. We had a wonderful ground and people could get right down to the touchline to watch the rugby. It is much better than sitting up in a big stadium, but those gentlemen of a particular class are the worst administrators of any of our major games. I wish my hon. Friend well, but he ain’t going to get going until they change their corduroy trousers.

Mr Thomas: I am a huge supporter of my right hon. Friend on most things, as he knows, but I hope that on this occasion he will allow me to take a slightly more temperate view of the Rugby Football Union. In general, I think it does a good job and I hope that it will reconsider London Welsh’s application.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): As the Member of Parliament for Rugby and someone with great enthusiasm for the game of rugby, may I tell the hon. Gentleman that true rugby fans across the country will have enormous sympathy with the case he is making? The teams that do well deserve the right to be promoted.

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Mr Thomas: I am grateful for the support of the hon. Gentleman and, I think, the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) for this great cause.

London Welsh players responded in the best way possible to the news last night when they won the away leg at the Cornish Pirates’ ground 37 points to 21. We take a 16-point lead into the home game at the Oxford Kassam stadium next Wednesday evening. I hope that members of the RFU board will come to that stadium to see just how well that ground could house premiership rugby next year.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I note that the fourth issue he has addressed, rugby, has attracted a lot more interest in the Chamber than the previous three. I endorse the comments that we have just heard about the quality of administration in the RFU. If he or his club would like to come to the rugby league to see an example of fine administration they should do that.

Let me make a serious point about London Welsh, which I think would be replacing Newcastle in the premiership. I have nothing at all against London Welsh, but it would be a pity if the whole of the rugby union premiership became dominated by teams from the south and did not include fine teams such as Rotherham and Newcastle, which have dropped out of that league.

Mr Thomas: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the need for rugby union to have a very diverse base across the country. I certainly hope that when Newcastle takes its place in the championship, as I hope it will, it continues to benefit from the RFU’s support and largesse so that it can have a genuine chance of winning a place back in the premiership. Nevertheless, we have to allow proper promotion and relegation to take place. I do not think London Welsh has been properly treated thus far. I raise this issue in the House today because I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House might encourage the Minister for Sport and the Olympics to use his influence to encourage the RFU to publish the full details of its assessment and how it reached the decision to reject London Welsh’s application for the premiership, so that London Welsh has all the facts in front of it as it prepares its case for appeal.

2.58 pm

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), who has raised some very important issues about a team with a wonderful heritage in the game of rugby. I am pleased to contribute to this debate and although I do not intend to go on at great length, it is an enormous pleasure to be able to speak in this place without having to race the clock or strike out paragraphs from a speech because of a time limit being reduced.

I want to speak about graduated driver licensing, with would involve a change in the licensing regime for new drivers to restrict them to driving only in low-risk environments. I am very keen to raise this issue from the viewpoint of a father of four children, three of whom are now drivers. Like most parents, I had real concerns about my children’s safety in the critical period just after they passed their driving test. I have seen the effect

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that a road traffic accident can have: when one of my teenage son’s great friends lost his life, it had an effect on the whole friendship group. I also speak as an observer at a local court where a young man was sentenced for causing by careless driving the death of his friend who was in the passenger seat.

The first case showed me the effect of the loss of a young life on the friends of the person. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) spoke movingly about the effects of the loss of a young life. The second case showed me how the behaviour of a young driver, late at night and when there was certainly an element of showing off, also caused the loss of a life.

What is the extent of the problem? According to the Department for Transport, one in five newly qualified drivers, most of them under the age of 25, has a crash within six months of obtaining their licence. According to the AA, a young driver is 10 times more likely to be involved in a serious collision than a more experienced driver.

With that in mind, I draw the attention of the House to graduated driver licensing. Why is it necessary? A lot of research has been carried out by Dr Sarah Jones and Professor Stephen Palmer of Cardiff university, and they have put together a detailed report on the potential of graduated licensing to save lives. They draw attention to the driving conditions where risks are highest and note that they are exacerbated for new and young drivers: driving late at night, driving with passengers of a similar age and driving after drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

To save lives, those conditions need to be minimised, which is exactly what graduated driver licensing does. It reduces exposure to those conditions and builds on-road driving experience by providing an intermediate phase—where there is a degree of supervision and control—between being a learner and holding a full licence. The duration of the intermediate phase is a matter for consideration, so I shall not suggest a firm figure; some supporters have proposed between two and two and a half years.

In the intermediate phase, a driver has complete permission to drive, but not at certain times of night and not with passengers. A further factor that might be introduced could be a restriction on the cubic capacity or horsepower of the engine of the car that new drivers are allowed to drive.

I have already touched on alcohol consumption, which would be zero, and on drug-driving. Drug taking is more prevalent among young people; as a generalisation it is probably safe to say that a greater proportion of drug taking occurs in the evening, so the provisions of the graduated driver licence would mean that the prospect of young people driving after taking drugs would reduce. A consultation paper by the AA in 2008, “Learning to Drive,” said:

“The drug driving problem is not adequately quantified at present, and it is likely that its greatest impact is among the young. If the drug driving problem is as great as some reports suggest, it could be a major reason for accident levels among young drivers. A recent AA Populus poll of 17,500 members showed that 50% felt that drug driving was as big a problem as drink driving.”

I am, therefore, pleased that the Government are aware of the issue, and I welcome the legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech to create a specific offence of drug-driving.

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Let us consider the difference between the present position and what would occur if graduated driver licensing were introduced. Currently, there is no restriction on a 17-year-old passing his or her test on one day and on the next driving a gang of mates in a powerful car with a 5 litre engine, capable of travelling at 150 mph. There is a problem that needs to be addressed. Research by Jones and Palmer into all accidents in Britain between 2000 and 2007 found that young people driving in certain conditions were more prone to accidents.

The key points are as follows: young drivers were involved in around 10% of all crashes; crashes involving older drivers decreased by 25% over the period, whereas those involving young drivers dropped by only 5%; a quarter of young driver crashes occurred between 9 pm and 6 am; a quarter of young driver crashes occurred when the young driver was carrying at least one other passenger aged between 15 and 24; half of young driver crash casualties, and 70% of the fatalities, occurred between 9 pm and 6 am and with at least one 15 to 24-year-old in the car; 50% of young driver fatalities occurred either between 10 pm and 5 am or with at least one 15 to 19-year-old in the car; and, perhaps most strikingly, they found that fatal crashes involving older drivers decreased by 15%, while those involving young drivers increased by 15%. The figures show that there is a real problem when it comes to young drivers.

The Government have a position on this. I raised the matter in the House during questions to the then Transport Secretary on 27 January 2011. I asked him for the Government’s view on graduated driver licensing. I understand that the Government are not in favour. He gave me two reasons for that. First, he said that other countries that have graduated driver licensing

“suffer worse safety records than the UK”.—[Official Report, 27 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 437.]

That might be so, but I still think that the number of fatalities among our young people means that the matter should be considered properly. Secondly, he said, in defence of the existing situation, that introducing the system would reduce the mobility of young people and have a negative effect on their participation in the labour market and in higher education. What proportion of young drivers are participating in the labour market or higher education during the hours when graduated driver licensing would impose a restriction, bearing in mind that we are taking about late at night? I cannot see how that argument stands up in relation to a young person driving with his friends at 2 o’clock in the morning.

In 2008 the Government conducted a review of the learner driver process, “Learning to Drive”, and considered graduated driver licensing. They concluded that the reform of driver training and testing is a more appropriate and effective method of dealing with the problem. The Department for Transport said that graduated driver licensing

“would bring extensive social and economic costs”

With regard to costs, we know that there is economic value in saving a life. In 2003 the Health and Safety Executive formulated a cost-benefit analysis that put the cost of a life lost in a fatality at £1.3 million. Cardiff university has carried out some research on the value of preventing deaths in relation to two models of graduated driver licensing—either between 9 pm and 6 am or between 10 pm and 5 am. Under the stricter model, it

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calculated savings at £247 million a year, and under the less strict model it calculated them at £162 million. Therefore, in addition to reducing the distress we have already heard about today, there would be significant economic benefits from introducing graduated driver licensing.

Elsewhere in the world, graduated driver licensing was first used in New Zealand in 1987 and has since been implemented across the United States, Canada, Australia and parts of Europe. The programmes used in each of those countries vary, and I am not at this stage making a case for which system we should adopt, but the principle of restricting new drivers remains the same in all cases. The research from Cardiff university shows that the impacts will vary, but the best result that has been seen is in Ontario, where crash fatalities among young people decreased by 76% over two years.

The number of young driver crashes is clearly disproportionately high. The issue touches almost everybody: parents, relatives and friends of the young people involved. Action can be taken. I question whether the Government’s current position of looking for more training and testing will be sufficient. I firmly believe that an approach that decreases the risks to which young drivers expose themselves will help reduce the number of young driver incidents. I urge the Government to look again at the positive effects that a new system of licensing could have in achieving what we all wish to see: the young people of our country being safer on our roads and fewer people having to go through the kind of experience that my son and his friends went through.

3.9 pm

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), whose suggestion I entirely endorse. He revealed, though, two of the biggest problems that all hon. Members and, indeed, Government Front Benchers, face: the “not invented here” syndrome; and the Whitehall expert who knows best and will always find a reason why something cannot be done and should not be changed.

I always admired Gladstone, who brought in a tax for just six months. We should experiment, try the graduated driver’s licence scheme for a year or two and see whether it produces good results. I have seen it work over a number of years in France. After someone passes their driving test in that country, they have to drive around for a year with a large letter “A” on the back of their car, for “apprentice”. That is what it means in French.

The hon. Gentleman’s point about people not going out late at night when they have taken drugs or had a drink is extremely important. Fatalities in France are much higher for lots of other reasons, such as bad road management, speed limits and drink driving, but they are coming down fast. We have a good record, but each life lost—particularly that of a young person—is a terrible tragedy for the families concerned, so I wish him all the very best with his campaign.

I wish to talk briefly about the steel industry and my region of south Yorkshire, and it is an enormous pleasure to do so in the company, on the Opposition Front Bench, of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone

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and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), because she has one of Britain’s most important steel engineering plants in her constituency and is a doughty champion of it. That plant is linked to a major one in Rotherham, and on this issue we have been able to combine action over a number of years.

The issue has to be set in the broader context of today’s extraordinarily sad news from the Office for National Statistics, which reports that our economy is again contracting. We are shrinking. We have that extraordinary malady of the ever-shrinking British economy under this Government. In the first quarter of this year it was down 0.3%, which is an increase in negative growth on the first estimate of 0.2%, but within that overall figure we have some rather more worrying statistics, which impact on the broader south Yorkshire manufacturing economy, including not only steel, but engineering, construction and all the things that go into “making” Britain, rather than the financial services or the huge amounts of money that the City makes. Indeed, one of the huge problems with the current Government is that the Cabinet knows the south of France better than it knows the north of England.

According to the ONS, construction output declined by 4.8% in the first three months of this year, after a 0.2% decline in the fourth quarter last year. That is absolutely catastrophic, and one of the biggest components of any aspect of construction, from roads, to houses, office blocks, new schools and hospital wings, is steel, so, when the construction industry declines by 5% under our nation’s current economic stewards, that signals very bad news for steel.

There has been no growth at all in manufacturing. There are of course some pockets of growth, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) pointed out earlier today, the car industry is doing better, so I accept fully that the situation is uneven, but we are a United Kingdom Parliament, not a south of England Parliament or a Parliament just for the City, and our policies have to help all of the country, not just parts of it.

Debt is the enemy of any good stewardship of the nation, although I have to say that I have probably been in debt all my life: it is called a mortgage. But, providing I have been able to manage that debt and to pay the interest rates, I have not been crippled by it. When William Pitt became Prime Minister in 1784, the average national income of Great Britain was £23 million and the national debt of Great Britain was £240 million. In other words, the national debt was 10 times the national income. That did not faze Pitt, but it seems to faze his old Etonian successor, our current Prime Minister, who thinks that an infinitesimally smaller level of debt is something that has to bring the entire UK economy to a juddering halt. I am not suggesting that we return to Pittite days of massive debt to national income ratios, but we have to strike a balance, and we will certainly not tackle any of our debt if we do not swiftly move to growth.

I accept that some Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, are interested in steel and have come to the advanced manufacturing plant in Rotherham, on the border with Sheffield, to see the excellent work done there by Rolls-Royce, Boeing and other companies. I invite a Minister to come to a

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steel plant, either in my constituency or that of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge, where they will be told about the extraordinarily international nature of the steel industry and about the fact that what goes into making steel entirely determines its profitability and the future sustainability of any part of the industry.

The big problem that we face is the obsession with front-loading on to the steel industry the general problem of climate change. I am talking about steel, but I am not excluding other industries. I am sure that hon. Members with connections to the glass or ceramics industry, or to other high-energy-using industries, would make the same point on their behalf. There has been a culture, not necessarily under this Government, of saying, “Heavy industry bad; anything else good.” Well, I am sorry, but we are not going to move away into an economy of which steel does not remain an essential component. Steel is vital, sometimes in very small elements, whether it be in our cars, our mobile telephones or the planes we travel in—modern steel, high-tech steel, flexible steel. Steel is also a huge recycling industry. It is not generally understood that steel production is based on gobbling up and reusing old, unused steel that would otherwise have to go into landfill or clutter up the landscape.

In this year’s Budget, our southern-oriented Chancellor outlined policies that will have a detrimental effect on the UK steel industry. He confirmed that the Government will calculate the 2014-15 prices support rates, equivalent to £9.55 per tonne of carbon dioxide, in line with the carbon price floor, using the methodology set out in the 2011 Budget. This has increased from the indicative rate set last year of £7.28 per tonne. That is a response to the dramatic fall in carbon prices seen last summer. EU allowances reached record lows at the beginning of this year, so the support rate or tax applied in the UK needs to go up to achieve the floor. That means that next year the rate will be nearly double that in 2014, which was meant to stand at £4.94 per tonne but is now set much higher.

I am sorry that this is quite complicated, technical stuff to bring to the House. I am not trying to make a partisan point; indeed, I pay tribute to Ministers, who have always been willing to receive delegations of MPs from steel industry areas. Part of the problem is that such a level of technical detail is impossible to get across in parliamentary questions. One has to dig into fairly technical steel technology and steel industry publications to find this material, because it never features on the front page of any newspaper or business section.

In response to the increase in the carbon price floor, BIS has allocated £250 million in compensation to cover the 2013-15 period. Given that our steel industry has a value of about £3 billion a year, £250 million will not be sufficient to counteract the negative effect of the carbon price floor. That might cause lasting damage to the British steel industry.

I plead with the Government—the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Energy and Climate Change—to rethink their policies. They can, by all means, insist that we reduce CO2 emissions. However, they should not use methodologies and prices that are changing so rapidly that they will do damage when rigidly applied. Believe me, when civil servants want to apply something rigidly, they do. On the whole, Ministers, however well-intentioned they are,

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are not across every detail of such decisions. Without it being an intended consequence, if we allow the present structure of carbon reduction through price support mechanisms to continue, we may face serious damage to our steel industry.

Secondly, there is the pledge to consult on simplifying the carbon reduction commitment energy efficiency scheme, or CRCEES as it is known in the trade, to attempt to reduce the administrative burden on business. The Government have said that they are ready to look at replacing those revenues with an alternative environmental tax. However, they have not specified how an environmental tax will be paid and which industries it will affect. We also had the statement on feed-in tariffs earlier today.

Last night, I had the most extraordinary exchange with Mr Nigel Farage on LBC. His new term for the Prime Minister is a “warmist”. I had never heard of warmism before, but in the lexicon of the UK Independence party, it is apparently used to denounce people who like renewable energy and wind turbines, and who think that we are facing global warming. Mr Farage obviously knows better that global warming is an EU conspiracy to undermine Britain. He thinks that the louder he calls the Prime Minister a warmist, the more people will flock to vote for UKIP. I do not know whether that is the case.

At the moment, only non-energy-intensive firms and organisations are bound by the carbon reduction commitment. We have to look at other ways in which we can support energy intensive industries, and the steel industry in particular. It is the most extraordinary sight to see steel being melted in Rotherham. Scrap is poured into a giant metal pot and a red-hot electrode goes in at about 2,000° or 3,000°. There is a huge explosion, upon which I have seen distinguished colleagues shake. It demonstrates the raw power of industry. In a sense, it is a process that has not changed since the days of Vulcan—heat is applied to iron ore or scrap metal and out flows molten steel—except that the process is magnified in temperature and size many times over. It is fantastically dramatic; sometimes tragically so, as accidents still happen. That is the raw nature of what has to be the core of our economy, because however high-tech, Googley and Facebooky we want to make the British economy, and however much we want to base it on the City and the financial services industry, it will still need houses, cars, hospitals and metal manufacturing.

The third problem is the extraordinary discrepancy between the fuel costs in this country and those of our major competitors. The most dramatic difference is with the United States, where shale gas is significantly reducing the cost of energy. I have graphs here, but I do not really want to give more figures. The price of fuel in the US is about 50% lower than that in the United Kingdom. That is why I support a dash for gas, based on shale gas. That could significantly reduce the UK’s dependence on imported energy sources. I am not against wind farms—how can one be?—but they will never provide the electricity that is needed to melt steel. Everybody wants to be able to press a switch and on comes the light, on comes the heating, on comes the hot shower, on comes the air conditioning or on comes whatever else, but that ain’t gonna happen from renewable sources.