I am pleased that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) referred to May day as a great rallying point, because of course it was a great socialist parade. Those of us who remember the cold war will recall that May day was the Soviet Union’s big day, when tanks drove through Red square; it was very much something that the Soviet Union celebrated. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would love to go back to those days, but many of us have moved on. I make the

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point perhaps a little flippantly, but there is a serious argument about whether one feels that better outcomes can be achieved through state diktat.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman is talking about state intervention. Many people in my constituency and across London must effectively be subsidised through in-work benefits because of their low wages. There is therefore state subsidy and a cost to the state with the current regime.

Kwasi Kwarteng: We could have a separate argument about the efficacy of—[Interruption.] Let us stick with this theoretical idea.

Mr Lammy: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Kwasi Kwarteng: No, I have given way once, and I need to proceed. The notion that one can improve outcomes simply by passing laws about the level of pay is false. The one way—

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Kwasi Kwarteng: No. Let me—[Interruption.]

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. The hon. Gentleman is not giving way. I would appreciate it if he were not barracked.

Kwasi Kwarteng: The reason wages have gone up over the past 50 years is economic growth; that is what has driven the rise in real wages, not laws passed by Governments, the minimum wage or anything like that. The one way to secure economic growth is to create a situation in which businesses can thrive. I would like to see lower taxes and more people taken out of taxation—the Government have successfully done that—so that they can spend more of their own money. I would also like the burdens placed on employers through national insurance to be reduced. Such measures will be far more effective in driving up our workers’ standards of living than Westminster or Whitehall imposing a living wage right through the country.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch mentioned that there was some regional variation between London and the rest of the country. In the debates about the minimum wage, it was seen as a national minimum wage that did not recognise any variation in the cost of living between London and rural Scotland.

Anas Sarwar: Just to clarify, the hon. Gentleman’s argument is exactly the same argument that was made against the minimum wage in 1997. Does he support the minimum wage?

Kwasi Kwarteng: I support it now, because it is a fact of life. To address the hon. Gentleman’s comment directly, the minimum wage is not set at a level that is damaging to business. It is set at a reasonable level, although I am not saying that it is the best level. I want people to earn more—of course I want them to be more affluent—but

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the way to achieve greater prosperity is to allow businesses to do well, to flourish and to employ people, and that will not happen as a result of the state demanding a certain level of wages. We have been there: in the ’70s, we had national incomes policy and price policy, but that all failed—it was a complete disaster. It is baffling, in 2013, that we are hearing the same old socialist arguments for Government intervention and control.

I appreciate that many others want to speak, so I will finish on this point.

Ian Lavery: Is it a socialist ideal or policy to support having a decent living wage so that people can put bread on the table for their kids?

Kwasi Kwarteng: I have said this about three times in my speech: everybody wants people to have higher wages—[Interruption.]

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order.

Kwasi Kwarteng: No one is arguing against higher wages. We are arguing about the most effective way of raising living standards and economic prosperity for the whole country. I am suggesting, as a matter of theory, history and experience, that the socialist approach of using Government diktat is not the most effective way of dealing with this issue.

We can argue about this specific issue. Parties in London are suggesting that we have a living wage, but that is something for companies and councils. I object to the idea that Whitehall and Westminster should set a national living wage that applies right through the country.

Let me finish where I started—with the theoretical debate. There is a big debate about whether a free market system will produce better outcomes than an essentially state-controlled system. All through the world, the most successful economies are free market systems.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): China.

Kwasi Kwarteng: In China, the state contributes only 20% of spending. In terms of state spending as a proportion of GDP, China is a far more private sector-driven economy than the UK or other western European countries.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to bring his remarks to a close?

Kwasi Kwarteng: The notion that we can go back to socialism and that that will somehow increase living standards is false, but I fear that that is what this living wage proposal is about. It is simply trying to impose more regulation, more rules and more of a straitjacket on business, thereby inevitably impeding and impairing our ability to grow the economy and create genuine prosperity.

3.16 pm

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): I will try not to be distracted by some of the more bizarre arguments I have just heard. Needless to say, I am unashamed to say that I am a proud socialist, like my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce), and to stand up for the people I represent, who work—

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Kwasi Kwarteng: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lisa Nandy: I will give way in a moment. Let me finish my sentence. I am unashamed to stand up for the people I represent, who, after a long week at work, do not earn enough to pay for basic necessities.

Kwasi Kwarteng: It is rare that we have such candour on this estate, so I am glad to hear what the hon. Lady says. I congratulate her on putting her hand up and saying that she is actually a socialist. That is what this debate is about.

Lisa Nandy: Forgive me, but I thought it was about the living wage and the conditions of the lowest paid in this country.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on helping to put some momentum behind an incredibly important issue. Last year, the council in my area, Wigan council, became one of many around the country to pledge to pay the living wage. That will have profound and important consequences for the 565 people who work for it, but who do not currently earn the living wage. For those who were previously on the minimum wage, the change will put an extra £40 a week in their pockets. The significance of that for the lowest paid cannot be overestimated.

I say to Conservative Members that there is no political fissure on this issue, although they seem to be trying to create one. Although the majority of councils across Greater Manchester that have agreed to pay the living wage are Labour run, Trafford council has done the same, and it is run by the Conservatives. In London, of course, the Mayor, Boris Johnson, has also spoken on this issue.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Will the hon. Lady give way on that specific point?

Lisa Nandy: No, I will not give way, because several people want to speak, and the hon. Gentleman has had his turn.

We know the difference the living wage will make for the 4.4 million people across the country who earn less than £7 an hour, and so do the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues on Conservative-run councils. We also know the difference it will make for their families. The Child Poverty Action Group has calculated that two parents on the minimum wage can meet only 82% of the basic costs of bringing up their children. Essentially, we are telling those parents, “Go to work, work hard and work long hours. When you come home, your children will still go without the basic essentials they need to have decent childhoods.” The Institute for Fiscal Studies calculates that one in four children will grow up in poverty by 2020, which is a disgrace and a scandal. In Greater Manchester, part of which I represent, 40% of children already grow up in poverty.

The failure to pay the living wage strikes at many of the Government’s objectives. Their strategy to tackle child poverty is based on trying to get parents into employment, but 58% of children growing up in poverty have a parent who works. The point is this: if work does not pay, we will not be able to tackle child poverty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) said so eloquently, on behalf of his constituent, Elaine, the living wage means that parents

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and children get to spend time together. That is why Save the Children and so many other children’s charities support it. There is also a clear economic case. The costs of child poverty have been estimated at some £25 billion a year. Taking action on this issue is an urgent economic necessity, not just a moral one.

I want to take on one of the points that Government Members have made, which is about helping businesses. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead also alluded to that. In my constituency, the public and private sectors are completely interdependent. Some two thirds of my constituents are employed by small and medium-sized businesses. The other third—until the Government were elected—were employed by the public sector. Small and medium-sized businesses rely on the public sector; they rely on people being in work in it, in decently paid jobs, so that they can spend in their businesses and flourish. The fact that my council has taken a lead and said, “We will ensure that all the people in our employ are able to have enough money to go out and spend it in the local economy,” will be a tremendous boost to the small and medium-sized businesses that I am keen to support.

There is a growing army of people in my constituency who work part-time hours, despite desperately wanting to work for longer, or have zero-hour contracts or are in agency work. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s recent report so compellingly illustrated, the divide between those in work earning poverty pay and those out of work getting poverty benefits is completely false, because those two groups are one and the same, and they are moving in and out of employment at an alarming rate. Trying to create a divide between the private and public sectors and between people in work and out of work is simply false.

Many of the solutions that have appeared with the growth in poverty in the past few years are from charities. One aspect of that rise has been the alarming and distressing growth of food banks around the Greater Manchester area. Many of those food banks are supported by supermarkets and I pay tribute to them for stepping up and doing that, but those very same supermarkets must ensure that they are not part of the problem, and that they do not refuse to take people on for anything other than part-time work or to pay a living wage. That would help stimulate the economy and meet their employees’ basic needs.

Finally, to set this in the context of what has happened largely over the course of my lifetime, we have seen the earnings of people at the bottom of society stagnate while the earnings of those at the very top have increased significantly. Between 1986 and 2012, incomes in the top 10% increased by 81%, while the bottom 10% increased by only 47%. Research has shown that if the national minimum wage had kept pace with the salaries of CEOs in FTSE 100 companies since 1999, it would now stand at £18.89 an hour.

We know that inequality is bad for society—that has been compellingly demonstrated by “The Spirit Level”—and we see it all the time in our own constituencies. Several Members of Parliament, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and I, have been trying to advance the case that, as in America, the pay ratios of the top two average earners in FTSE 100 companies should be published on the front page of their annual reports, so that we can see

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whether companies are fairly distributing reward. The trouble with that proposal is that, although it may compress and restrain wages at the top, it does not do very much for the lowest paid.

The living wage is becoming an urgent priority in Wigan, in Erith and Thamesmead and up and down the country. The living wage would be an effective and simple way of helping tackle the lengthening queues at food banks, the growing numbers of children growing up in poverty and the families that lack the means to make ends meet. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead talked about ironing out some of the difficulties that have been raised by the living wage. The situation should not be allowed to continue; it is immoral and bad economics. I would like the Minister to begin by committing to at least ensuring that the living wage is extended to the Government’s employees across the board and to working with companies contracted by Government so that they also pay the living wage to their staff.

3.24 pm

Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for introducing the debate. It is important, not least because life is becoming increasingly stressful for many low-paid workers.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s 2011 review of home care for older people highlighted cases of physical abuse, theft, neglect and disregard for privacy and dignity. Last April, the Low Pay Commission reported that 10% of home care workers are paid below the minimum wage, let alone the living wage, with some workers paid per visit rather than per hour, with no reimbursement of travel costs.

There is a link between the findings of those two high-profile studies. Too many home care workers, encouraged to complete each visit as quickly as possible and therefore with their pay as low as possible, are unable to form relationships with the older people they care for and feel pressured to complete the visit too quickly. That dehumanises the service being provided and makes instances of neglect more likely. The worker has little or no job satisfaction, little incentive to do a better job, little spare cash at the end of a tough working week and increasing levels of stress. Unsurprisingly, levels of sickness absence are high and so is employee turnover. When the stress gets too much and illness follows, some workers move on to long-term sickness benefit. It is not only care workers; similar examples exist in almost any low-paid, high-stress employment. We are, in effect, pathologising poverty.

There is another way. Organisations such as Care and Share Associates and Sunderland Home Care Associates have found that they can cut both sick leave and staff turnover by giving their staff better terms and conditions, including liveable incomes. The quality of care provided improves; sickness, including long-term sickness and incapacity, reduces, and the cost to the rest of society is lowered, while the individual worker’s quality of life improves. Many Labour councils in London, including Lewisham, Hackney and Lambeth, have recognised the value of paying the London living wage and have been

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accredited as living wage employers. Despite support from the Conservative Mayor of London, it is disappointing that no Conservative-controlled councils in London have yet been accredited. I support the campaign by London Citizens, which is part of Citizens UK, alongside The East London Communities Organisation, to persuade Croydon council, which covers my constituency, to sign up to the living wage, both for its own directly employed staff and for staff employed by contractors and sub-contractors.

Employers who implement the living wage have reported improved recruitment and retention of staff, higher work morale and increased productivity. Those all represent increased value for money for the services provided, which is important in these straitened times. Lambeth council found—I was leading it at the time—that when it tendered its facilities management contract on a living wage basis, the market responded positively and came up with innovative ways to meet the requirement within the funds available and without loss of jobs. Many public services are procured through consortia, and we can encourage the market to innovate in ways that allow workers the decency of a living wage by harnessing the purchasing power of those groupings. It is important that the Government recognise their role in encouraging that to happen, because leaving it to the market alone will not result in all those benefits.

There is immense value in ensuring that work pays. People in work should never be forced to live in poverty. That is not just a moral argument; it is about value for money and improving the quality of public services. There are costs to society as a whole, including financial ones, as well as to the individual workers affected, if we force hard-working people into poverty and illness by paying them less than is necessary to meet the basic needs of their lives.

3.28 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): My concern before Christmas, when the welfare Bill debate started, was the absolute gulf between the views of Members and some of the constituents whom we represent. I organised a group of cleaners to come into the House of Commons before Christmas. They were represented by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the Industrial Workers of Great Britain, the Public and Commercial Services Union and others. I asked the cleaners to explain what was happening to them at the time, because for them, the market is not working.

I went on the picket lines outside Schroders bank in the City and outside John Lewis as well, whose cleaners are also paid the minimum wage or, in some instances, just above. I found that all of them were doing extra shifts—on average two extra a week. Their working hours were then 50 to 60 hours a week, at a minimum. Some 50% of them had second jobs and some had three jobs. The cleaners were getting up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and travelling to work by bus because the tube was too expensive for them. Some of them worked until 7, 8, 9 or 10 o’clock at night, which was absolutely staggering.

One group was employed by a company called trainpeople. They brought their contracts along with them. They were not on zero-hours contracts but on

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eight-hour contracts, so they were guaranteed only eight hours of work a week. They were on a minimum wage; they had to sign up to travel to anywhere in the country to work; they were on a probation period of 12 weeks; and if they left during that 12-week period they themselves had to pay £200 back to the company. Again, the experiences of these people are just absolutely staggering.

I was then involved with some of the other London living wage campaigns. For example, we won at the London School of Economics, securing the London living wage there. However, what then happened was that the company involved cut the hours of the other workers by 20%. In other words, they were trying to consolidate their profits by cutting jobs and cutting work themselves.

Also, we are consistently finding that, when the living wage goes up—Boris Johnson announced the figure of £8.55 and I am grateful to him for the support that he has given throughout this campaign—the companies involved delay payment of the increase of the wage, too. That is another way of keeping wages suppressed, while at the same time maximising their profits.

The general expression that was used by the cleaners in these cases was, “We are treated like dirt.” They also said, “We are managed in a brutal way, often harassed and have no alternatives.”

There is now a new alliance being put together, in terms of trade unions supporting the London living wage campaign, because people cannot take it any more. Yes, people are seeking to organise and to negotiate, but they are also taking direct action now. The PCS, the IWGB, the RMT and others closed Oxford street before Christmas, because they could not get into negotiations with a company to increase the wages that its employees were on; the employees were arguing for an increase in their wages as they could not survive on their existing wages.

We now have direct action campaigns, such as the UK Uncut campaign, whereby firms are being occupied by workers because those workers are not getting any response from the companies themselves to their requests to increase their wages and improve their conditions. There are other things going on. One union is now planning to set up soup kitchens outside the homes of directors of companies that are making vast profits but paying poverty wages to their workers.

All that activity confirms that the market is not working and that there is a need for state intervention at times—not always, but at times—at least to secure people’s ability to survive in a civilised society with some decency. That is why I welcome this debate today, which will further that campaign.

3.32 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you very much, Mrs Main, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this debate on a very important issue. I represent a constituency in the part of London—east London—that was the birthplace of the living wage campaign. I think that we would all agree—Labour Members would certainly agree and perhaps even some Government Members would agree—

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that a fair wage for a fair day’s work is something that we support. I was slightly disturbed by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) seemingly comparing people abroad working for £1 an hour or less with people here in Britain, as though that was an option for people here. I hope that he did not mean it quite that way, but that is how it came across.

Let us remember that it was the Conservative Government of the ’80s who abolished the mechanism for setting fair pay, the wages council. I am very proud that I am a Labour MP and that it was a Labour Government who introduced the minimum wage because of the abysmal failure of having a complete free rein on wages.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Is the hon. Lady suggesting that we go back to the ’70s and the kinds of industrial relations that we had then?

Meg Hillier: I cannot understand how the hon. Gentleman makes a jump to reach that conclusion from my suggesting that we do not want to go back to a complete free rein on pay. That is not what I am saying at all, as he well knows. It is mischievous of him to suggest that I am saying that.

John McDonnell: Can I suggest that what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that he wants a free market but he does not want free trade unions?

Meg Hillier: I think that we can certainly infer that from the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

Several hon. Members rose

Meg Hillier: I will just make a little progress before I take interventions.

I am also delighted that it is my party that is seeking to ensure that, in constituencies such as my own, a living wage will enable people to work. Let us be clear about something, before we run away with the idea that a living wage will be very damaging to lots of small businesses. A living wage is not something that a Labour Government would force upon business, or certainly not upon small businesses. There are businesses such as Moo.com in Tech city, which employs people in its warehouse in EC2, providing good, valuable jobs locally. Those people are on the minimum wage for the first part of their contract, until they have been there for a while, and then the company increases their wage. Flexibility is built into the Labour policy to ensure that the system will work.

I will offer one word of caution. We need to look at the hourly gross rate of pay. That is obviously important, because it reflects the day-to-day money that people take home to live on, but we also need to consider pensions and other work benefits. When we assess what is fair pay, those benefits need to be brought into the round. My point is that, if a company pays a little lower than the living wage but pays a pension, we need to be watchful. As a Labour Government, we will need to be clear that the pressure, or indeed the kudos, of paying the living wage does not lead to the erosion of other benefits that are a type of payment in kind.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made some very good points about that.

Kwasi Kwarteng rose—

Meg Hillier: I will give way one last time.

Kwasi Kwarteng: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way; she is being very generous in allowing interventions. What would she think about a Member of Parliament, for example, or someone else advertising for an apprentice at £3 an hour, which I understand one of her colleagues on the Labour Benches has done?

Meg Hillier: I would be appalled, and indeed I am appalled. I am part of the campaign in Parliament to ensure that all of us—from whatever party—pay people in our offices a fair rate. I like to think that I lead by example on that; in fact, I know I lead by example on the issue, alongside a number of my other colleagues. I think that we can all agree that what the hon. Gentleman just referred to is not something that we would want to see in the mother of Parliaments.

Let me relate this debate to real life, because we could have a theoretical discussion in Parliament about the economics of the issue. A kitchen porter came to my surgery and he was very upset. Being a kitchen porter is low-wage employment, but he was seeking work because he was out of work. However, his jobcentre was asking him to travel further afield in order to take a job as a kitchen porter. One could say that that was quite reasonable. However, because of the low wages for that type of job, the extra costs to travel out of the borough and the extra child care needed because of the longer hours spent travelling, it was not a viable option.

Let us be clear—that man is no shirker. However, the hon. Member for Christchurch suggests that the market would solve that problem, perhaps by single people taking that work. However, my constituent has a family to support; he wants to support them but is unable to do so under the current regime, except that the state will subsidise matters to a degree by providing benefits. So we are talking in the round here. There is always a cost to the state, whichever way we do things, and actually giving people the dignity of earning a living wage with which they can support their family and make choices for their family on their own is very much at the heart of Labour’s policy in this area.

I could add to that kitchen porter many other of my constituents, even some on higher salaries. The tube price hikes and the bus fare hikes by the Mayor of London, and the cost-capping—we had the vote yesterday in Parliament on in-work benefits—all put pressures on people’s ability to pay their costs of living. That is why a living wage gives people the dignity of being able to make their own choices.

We also need to look at national insurance contributions. That is something that we will need to work through as a party, as we flesh out the policy on the living wage. NICs are now more than 13% of total gross pay for small employers, which is more than employees contribute. The on-costs for a small employer are significant and we need to think about how we might want to encourage

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and support small employers, to get people into work, yes, but also to increase their pay gradually so that they are on a living wage. There is a real interest for business, but some of those start-ups in my constituency will be worried if they foresee a suggestion that overnight they will have to increase wages. We need to handle that issue carefully, because the jobs that are being created in my constituency and elsewhere are important.

I am proud that my local council, Hackney council, is one of those councils that are accredited as paying the living wage, because we in Hackney see the impact on people’s lives of that policy. We are living what is happening. However, it was interesting that when I asked the Deputy Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions in November how many Liberal Democrat councils were paying the living wage, answer came there none.

Mr Iain Wright: Where are the Liberal Democrats?

Meg Hillier: Indeed. Today, not a single Liberal Democrat MP is here in Westminster Hall, even though the Deputy Prime Minister has pledged his support for the policy of a living wage; he has pledged his support, but words can be very empty.

As I say, there is not a single Liberal Democrat MP here in Westminster Hall today, but since November I have discovered that there is actually one small Liberal Democrat-run district council that pays the living wage. In a show of cross-party support, we should congratulate that council on that and hope that it has some influence on the party leader in ensuring that a living wage system is rolled out more widely.

We also need to look at the most profitable companies, which in London are being subsidised—as I mentioned earlier—by taxpayers through tax credits and benefits. There is not a nil cost to lower pay. In fact, it was the current Chief Whip of the Government, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who talked about housing benefit “taking the strain” back in the ’90s. Housing benefit has still been “taking the strain” despite attempts by both the last Labour Government and this Government to change the approach. It is housing benefit that subsidised so many people in their lifestyle, because wages are not high enough.

In London, we cannot raise wages enough to cover all housing costs; I recognise that, before Government Members leap up and suggest that that is what I am saying. I am not saying that, but we must recognise that people need to be paid a rate that they can actually afford to live on and that there is no nil cost to the Exchequer.

Labour’s voluntary model is a moderate one. It says to companies, “Publish. Be transparent about who you’re paying and what you’re paying them.” People can then make judgments for themselves. We have already seen some companies, such as KPMG, lead by example, and if some can do it why not all of them?

3.39 pm

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, and I wish you and all Members who have contributed to the debate a happy new year, particularly my hon. Friend

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the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce). I congratulate her on securing such an important and passionate debate.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, the living wage is an important means by which greater dignity and fairness can be offered to people, by lifting them and their families out of poverty while at the same time helping them to become less reliant on state benefits. She talked, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), about decent, hard-working people doing the right thing and going out to work to provide for themselves and their families. People having aspirations, and striving for a better future for themselves, their families, their communities and their country, should be rewarded. Hard work and effort should be appropriately remunerated in the form of a decent and dignified rate of pay, to avoid the misery and desperation of in-work poverty.

As Labour Members have mentioned several times, the national minimum wage, introduced by a Labour Government, has done a huge amount by providing the protection of a legal pay floor for more than 1 million people. However, although the minimum wage is an important achievement, it should not, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, be the summit of our ambitions. Indeed, he has been at the forefront of discussions about the living wage.

The living wage complements and reinforces the vision of a one-nation economy, in which everyone in society plays a part and has a stake, and where prosperity is fairly shared. I would like to think that this country, and the manner in which its economy is organised, has the ability to move on from an old-fashioned and outdated form of capitalism, which is what we have heard from the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) today. That form of capitalism sees a confrontational, divisive and somewhat inefficient “them and us” attitude between employee and employer, which prioritises the erosion of employment rights. A race to the bottom in relation to workers’ rights or wage rates will not help this country to improve our competitive position in the 21st-century global economy, or achieve greater fairness and social justice. I do not understand why people on the highest possible rate of pay are motivated by being paid more, while people on the lowest possible rate, who are struggling barely to make a living and feed their families, are motivated by being paid less. That seems fundamentally wrong.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that state legislation will make Britain more competitive in the global economy?

Mr Wright: As I said, the national minimum wage has helped to lift people out of poverty, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) said, people on the lowest levels of pay tend to spend their money in the economy. The multiplier effect will, therefore, probably help benefits, jobs, prospects and economic positions—it certainly has a beneficial role to play in the economy.

Several hon. Friends have mentioned that local authorities, such as Islington, Lambeth—which was very well led by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed)—Wigan, Camden, Oxford, Preston,

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Southwark and Hackney have introduced a living wage, and others are set to follow, including Newcastle city council in my own north-east region. In difficult financial times for local government, those local authorities should be applauded for doing the right thing for their employees. I hope that, despite the appalling financial settlement it received from the Government last month—the 2.2% cut being the highest in the region—my own local authority, Hartlepool borough council, will be able to follow suit.

This should not, however, be about local government, or even about the public sector—such an approach is entirely wrong. Wherever possible, a living wage should be adopted in the private sector. It might be more difficult for small businesses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch mentioned, but it should be considered almost automatically by larger enterprises. Credit should be given to the likes of Barclays, Deutsche bank, PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG, which have become living wage employers. The nature of those firms’ business models and the sectors in which they operate, as well as the size of the companies, might mean that they have relatively fewer low-paid workers than other companies, particularly in sectors such as retail. Therefore, all credit must be given to Westfield shopping centre, Lush and the InterContinental Hotels Group, whose business models, on adopting a living wage, will rely more heavily on low-paid workers.

Hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend who introduced the debate, have rightly mentioned the net savings to the Exchequer as a result of the implementation of a living wage. My hon. Friend mentioned that research by the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Public Policy Research found that the Treasury would benefit by about £3.6 billion each year in the form of higher income tax payments and national insurance contributions, and lower benefits spending.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North and other Members have said, there is also anecdotal evidence that businesses will benefit from the introduction of a living wage, and will become more productive. There will be improved staff recruitment and retention and associated cost savings, higher worker morale and therefore improved productivity, and an enhanced corporate reputation in the marketplace. Wendy Cuthbert, head of UK corporate real estate services for Barclays, has said that since the company adopted the living wage in 2007 catering staff retention rates have increased to 77%, compared to an industry norm of 54%, and the rates for cleaning staff have increased to 92%, compared to the industry average of just 35%. She has commented:

“Now when we train our staff we know that the money isn’t being wasted. They don’t want to leave and they no longer have to do two jobs just to survive...Employers need to look at the whole cost of employment not just the cost-per-hour. We don’t understand why more companies don’t do this.”

Guy Stallard, head of facilities at KPMG, has stated:

“We’ve found that paying the Living Wage is a smart business move as increasing wages has reduced staff turnover and absenteeism, whilst productivity and professionalism have subsequently increased.”

I have a number of questions for the Minister. On Government policy, the Minister in the other place, the one who did not resign yesterday, the noble Lord Gardiner of Kimble, has confirmed that the

“Government back the idea of a living wage and we encourage businesses, where possible, to take it up.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 November 2012; Vol. 740, c. 1092.]

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Can the Minister confirm that that is still the case and that it is Government policy, despite the comments from his Back Benchers this afternoon?

Kwasi Kwarteng: No one has an issue with individual companies deciding to pay the living wage. That is entirely how a market should work.

Mr Wright: Let me come on to that in my questions to the Minister.

How is that encouragement that was mentioned by the Government in the other place manifesting itself in tangible and practical action? What are the Government actually doing to encourage businesses to consider becoming living wage employers? What meetings has the Minister had with businesses and business organisations to discuss the matter? Has he met with colleagues across Government, such as the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to ascertain how organisations in other sectors have successfully implemented a living wage? Has he, or have his officials, met with Citizens UK, for example, to discuss what practical steps can be taken? Citizens UK is an organisation that is doing an awful lot of work in relation to the living wage campaign. Has the Minister considered a promotional campaign, sponsored by his Department, to raise awareness about the issue with businesses? Has he considered amending corporate governance rules, to ensure that large listed companies can report specifically on whether they have paid the living wage, as a means of encouraging take-up by larger companies?

The Prime Minister has said:

“Where government leads, others will follow”,

and business will legitimately look to the Government to see whether their actions match their rhetoric. As I understand it, and as has been said, the Department for Work and Pensions is the only Department that has announced that it will pay the London living wage, although two others, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice, might follow suit. Could the Minister inform the House how many Departments plan to pay the living wage, and when? Given that the Minister is in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and another Minister has said that the Government will encourage businesses to take up the living wage, does the Minister’s own Department have any plans to ensure that all its employees and contracted workers are paid the living wage? What work is he doing with non-departmental public bodies sponsored by his Department to look into the possibility of their becoming living wage employers too?

I raised earlier the issue of research and the collection of evidence on the savings to the public purse and the positive impact on business. Has the Minister commissioned any research into the effect of the living wage, including the possible social, economic and business impacts?

One of the most powerful levers at the Government’s disposal is not regulation or legislation but procurement, and that has been mentioned a number of times in the debate today. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has suggested that Departments could give preferential treatment to contractors who pay the living wage. My understanding is that No. 10 quickly dismissed

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my right hon. Friend’s suggestion, stating that such a move would breach EU procurement rules. The European Commission, however, has explicitly stated:

“Living-wage conditions may be included in the contract performance clauses of a public procurement contract ‘provided they are not directly or indirectly discriminatory and are indicated in the contract notice or in the contract documents’.”

There is no problem or obstacle in European law, so will the Minister confirm that what the European Commission said is already the case? In that light, will he outline the actions he will take to ensure that employers who pay the living wage are considered favourably in public procurement?

The living wage is an important social and economic lever in which everyone has a stake, people in work have a more dignified and higher standard of living than would otherwise be the case and prosperity is better and more fairly shared. I hope that the Minister will outline how he will advance the introduction of a living wage across businesses and across society more generally.

3.50 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this debate. She has long championed the living wage, and it is a tribute to her work that she has been able to attract such a large participation in today’s debate and, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) said, such a passionate exchange of views. The living wage is a subject that arouses great passions.

The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) asked about the absence of Liberal Democrat Members. I cannot speak for the Liberal Democrats—I am not very good at that—but the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), is responsible for this portfolio in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and she is answering the debate in the main Chamber at this very moment, which is why, Mrs Main, you and the others in attendance have to put up with a stand-in.

We would all like people to be paid more, but obviously there is concern that requiring all businesses, large and small, to pay a living wage as proposed would price people out of work, particularly young people. Encouragement is a better approach than compulsion, because the alternative would reduce the flexibility of businesses and could ultimately be bad for jobs.

We already have a national minimum wage that we require all businesses to pay, and the Government fully support that. The minimum wage is the national rate that the Government of the day—including the previous Labour Government—judge, based on the independent Low Pay Commission’s recommendations, as striking the appropriate statutory balance, trying to increase workers’ take-home pay without damaging employment or other elements such as prices. The adult national minimum wage that we inherited, £5.80 an hour, has now reached £6.19 an hour. That is a 6.7% increase, which is faster than the growth in average earnings over the same period.

The Government have targeted further help at the take-home pay of the low-paid by cutting their taxes. When the coalition Government came into power,

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the personal tax allowance stood at just £6,475. The Government are committed to making the first £10,000 of income free from income tax by the end of the Parliament. April 2013 will see the next step of that commitment: the personal allowance will increase by £1,335, the largest ever increase, to £9,440 to support hard-working individuals. Those tax cuts for the low-paid have taken 2 million people out of income tax altogether. Those still paying tax will be taking home £57 more each week in April and more than £67 more each week by the end of the Parliament. Under this Government, people working full time on the minimum wage will have seen their income tax bill cut in half.

In difficult times, the Government have, therefore, clearly given priority to the lowest-paid by providing strong support for the national minimum wage, which aims to maximise the pay of low-paid workers without damaging employment, and tax cuts focused directly on the low-paid through raising the tax allowance to £10,000 a year by the end of the Parliament.

That is not all. The Government are continuing to take steps to support households with the cost of living. We have frozen council tax for the third year running. We have cancelled the 3p fuel duty increase planned for this month—average pump prices are 10p a litre lower than under Labour’s fuel duty plans—and we have capped rail fare increases, which will benefit 250,000 annual season ticket holders. That is in marked contrast to Labour, which doubled council tax, doubled gas prices and increased fuel duty 12 times.

Raising the minimum hourly rate to the proposed living wage rate would have consequences. If those consequences make things worse rather than better, it would make no sense to introduce the living wage. The biggest danger is pricing people out of work because the business concerned cannot sustain the higher labour costs of the living wage. In that case, the individuals who lose out are socially excluded from the world of work; the business will be less able to compete and earn profits; and the Government will lose out because growth is lower, tax receipts are less and benefit payments are higher.

The national minimum wage raises awkward questions about the proposed living wage. In particular, the remit that Parliament, under the previous Labour Government, gave to the Low Pay Commission has the primary aim of setting the maximum hourly national rate possible without any adverse effect on employment. The current adult national minimum wage of £6.19 an hour is substantially below the suggested 2011 living wage rate outside London of £7.45 and even further below the £8.55 London rate. Requiring all businesses to pay the living wage would increase wage costs by approximately

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20% outside London and by approximately 38% in London. That is without taking into account other increases in labour costs, such as national insurance.

The picture becomes much starker when we look at the position of those under the age of 21. There are separate, lower, minimum wage rates for younger workers because of the previous Government’s concern that a higher rate would damage their employment prospects; there is no such distinction in the proposed living wage. That means that the difference between the minimum wage and the proposed living wage for someone working in London aged between 18 and 20 would be some £3.57, an increase of 72%. For someone aged between 16 and 17, the difference would be £4.87, an increase of 130%.

The Low Pay Commission is concerned to ensure that minimum wage increases do not have adverse effects on employment. The commission’s most recent recommendations have been for a 1.8% increase in the adult rate and a freeze in the youth rates. It stated that

“we concluded that in the current difficult economic circumstances caution is essential.”

These differences imply that if the proposed living wage rates were imposed universally, they would inevitably price some people out of work. Those who keep their jobs will receive at least the increased living wage, of course, but they might prefer to keep more of their colleagues working alongside them. The Government, like the previous Government, believe there is no case for imposing a higher minimum wage across the country by statute.

Some argue that it would be easier to implement the living wage in the public sector than in the private sector. That is only true, however, if the effect of implementing the living wage does not lead to higher procurement costs. Otherwise, implementing the deficit-reduction plan will be more difficult, with either greater public sector job losses elsewhere or higher taxes, which would make it more difficult to reduce the taxes of the lower-paid.

Opposition Members have claimed the living wage is an issue of fairness, but last night we saw that the Labour party wants benefits to rise faster than workers’ wages, which is not fair. Labour’s plan would inevitably mean more borrowing and more debt.

In contrast, our priority is to increase the take-home pay of low-paid people. The key elements of that are the national minimum wage and raising the tax allowance to £10,000 by the end of the Parliament. We believe that workers and businesses are best placed to determine the pay and working conditions that both suit the workers and deliver success for the business. The level of unemployment among young people that we inherited is already too high.

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Special Educational Needs (Wirral)

4 pm

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate and hear the Government’s view. The issue affects a few people in my constituency, but its importance is in no way diminished by the number of people affected. Those of us who have listened to the parents of children with significant disabilities can never meet them without feeling a great responsibility to listen to them and understand their concerns, which I will attempt to relay in this debate.

I am not a specialist by any means in special educational needs and assisting children with disabilities and their families, which is another reason why I requested the debate, but whenever I meet my constituents who have children with profound and multiple learning disabilities, I am struck by their commitment and dedication. I have no doubt that every MP thinks that their constituents are special and important, but those constituents of mine are some of the most dedicated people in our society, and they deserve our full respect and appreciation. Their children are deeply important members of our community.

For those reasons, I want to refer to education from the ages of two to 19 in schools in Wirral and specifically the Lyndale school, which I have visited several times, as did my predecessor. I am sure that I speak for him when I say that we have been struck in recent years by how fantastic a place the school is. It has about 20 children, so it is a very small school, and it specialises in education for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. They are the children coping with the most complex difficulties and profound disabilities. All 20 of them use wheelchairs, seven of the children require oxygen, six require suctioning and many have epilepsy.

In 2010, I visited the school to present it with an award from a national epilepsy charity for the care that it gives to children with epilepsy. I was pleased and proud to do so. Although the school is small, it is an expert environment. I understand that some of the children need the help of up to 30 professionals. They may come into contact with lots of different people, which can be stressful. Parents must constantly retell their child’s story. I understand how frustrating, difficult and at times upsetting they must find that.

Having listened to those parents, I understand why they can conclude that the best environment in which to educate their child is one that is more constant than the primary-secondary model. I will refer to the change between primary school, which serves the ages of two to 11, and secondary school, which serves the age of 11 upwards, as transition. Parents have described to me their uncertainty whether they want transition for their child. It can be stressful. They have explained to me that their child’s needs are so complex that they feel that a two-to-19 environment might be better. It is not specifically about a fixed idea that their child should be in one environment throughout that age range; rather, it is the idea that the transition should come at a time that is right for the child and that there should be flexibility around the needs of the family rather than a transition that is decided on in advance.

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I should say at this point that although I am not an expert, I understand that the question of a transition for all children is one on which different professionals take different views. I do not presume to know the right answer; my aim is to relay to the Government the views of my constituents. They feel that a transition is not right for them, and they would like Wirral council to consider helping the Lyndale school become two-to-19 if it wishes. Clearly, it is not for the Minister to say what the right decision is for Wirral to take, but I would be grateful for advice and assistance from the Government—I will come to specific asks—to help my constituents to address the question.

I understand that a significant minority of special schools in the country are two-to-19 schools. In its 2006 report on special educational needs, Ofsted found that the crucial factor in the successful education of children with special needs is not the type of school but the quality of the environment and the education that they receive. That makes sense to me. Having visited various schools, I know that what is important is not necessarily the name on the door or the structure within which the school operates, but rather the expertise of the people assisting the children. That is reflected in my constituents’ desire for their children to be looked after in a way that centres on their needs. They are children for whom the challenges are greatest. We as a community have the biggest responsibility to assist them, given the complexity of their needs.

Expertise states that the transition between primary and secondary school is less of a priority for parents than their children’s specific needs. Those views should be listened to, as we should listen to all parents about their concerns for their child’s needs. I hope that there is cross-party acceptance of that basic principle. As has been explained to me, some professionals in the Wirral view transition as important. However, one of our neighbouring authorities, Cheshire West and Chester, has several two-to-19 schools. If a school such as the Lyndale, which has expertise, wants to go in that direction, it is important to consider how we can empower it to do so.

Before I delineate how I hope that the Government, the Minister and civil servants might help us address the concerns of parents at the Lyndale school, I note that the funding system for all schools—specifically, special schools—is changing. As we can all understand, those changes will affect the smallest and most specialised schools the most. A small fluctuation in numbers can have large consequences for them. Additionally, because those small specialist schools assist children with the greatest and most complicated difficulties, such changes can cause a lot of stress that does not happen in a normal school environment. I have tried to consider the issue in the light of future funding changes and how they might force a need for change.

I have two questions for the Minister and a request for help. First, professionals take different views on whether a transition is required or advisable and parents feel differently about that. The assistance that we can give children with disabilities is changing all the time and expertise is developing. I should be grateful to the Minister if he confirmed whether the Department can help us in Wirral with some expert advice on whether to transition and how a two-to-19 environment might assist children with profound and multiple learning

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difficulties with the most complex of needs. Will he say how we can access more advice and whether there are national specialists who may be able to help us in the Wirral?

I am conscious that nearby authorities do things slightly differently and that schools throughout the country may have already looked at how to assist children with profound and multiple learning difficulties and considered whether they should transition. Ministers and civil servants may be aware of other factors, in terms of the advances that are being made helping children facing the most difficult educational challenges.

Secondly, how will the new funding arrangements affect the smallest schools? No doubt, the Government will be aware of other small schools—for example, those in rural areas where it is not realistic to ask children to travel—when considering the new funding arrangements. I should also like the Minister to say how this impact can be borne in mind in relation to schools, such as Lyndale, where parents already deal with significant challenges: their working lives are made more complex by their family’s needs and the rest of their family life will be affected by the needs of one child. It is our duty, as politicians, to understand those needs and do everything that we can to support those children and the wider family and help parents—having listened to and understood them—to make decisions about their child’s education.

Funding changes will affect the smallest schools the most, particularly special schools, and parents of children at such schools will have more stresses, and so on, to think about than the average family. I should be grateful to the Minister if he said what has been considered in respect of how funding changes will affect schools, including the Lyndale in my constituency.

We have a responsibility to give care and attention to children with profound and multiple learning difficulties, to understand them as individuals and to try to give them the most expert care that we can. To do that we need to listen to their parents, who know them best and understand their needs. We in the Wirral are wrestling with the somewhat technical point about whether there should be transition. I ask the Minister and the Government what expertise they can help to bring to bear in that regard, so that we can resolve this question and truly give the parents of those children the best possible service.

4.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) on securing this important debate. As a near neighbour, I thank her both for showing a profound interest in what is happening in her constituency with regard to the provision for children and young people with special educational needs and for discussing the issue more generally, as it affects the close to 1.62 million children who are designated as having special educational needs.

Before I say what the Government are doing to deal with current systemic difficulties, I should like to deal with the two points that the hon. Lady raised. Clearly, she has taken a keen interest in the situation at Lyndale special school and has spoken to parents who are caring for their children with profound difficulties and disabilities and coping with those things. I put on

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record my appreciation and praise for the dedication that they show as carers. Sometimes, it is easy to underestimate that role, but it is not something that they have to do on the odd day; they do it day to day, continuously. The short-break money that we have provided—about £800 million—is an important part of the package available to parents, such as those of children at the Lyndale school, to ensure that they get the support that they need, so that they can continue to provide the best possible care for their children.

It is not for the Government to interfere in the circumstances surrounding the school and the process that Wirral council is also grappling with. The school has other freedoms available to it and may want to consider applying to the Secretary of State for the freedom to change its status as a school through the academy process. On the evidence and expert advice about the periods of transition and what the right model is for certain children who require specialist provision in an educational environment, there is a wealth of research out there and differing views about whether such provision should be in the mainstream or in a specialist environment.

The hon. Lady requested support from the Department so that she and her constituents might be better informed about what works best. I can offer an arrangement for her to meet officials in my Department, particularly the professional SEN adviser, to discuss the matter in a little more detail, providing her with opportunities to explore it further and to provide some answers to questions asked by her and her constituents about how the best provision for the children can manifest itself in the type of environment that is available to them locally.

We are going through a period of funding reform, as the hon. Lady mentioned, but the funding arrangements for special schools will combine place funding with funding for each individual child, so there is still emphasis on the individual child in deciding the overall sum that would be available to meet the needs and support required for that child through education. That place funding protects schools, and funding for individual children ensures that resources are used to meet their needs. It is incumbent on local authorities to have a good dialogue with all schools, including the Lyndale special school, to ensure that the transition—we are in the realms of transition—from the current funding regime to the new one does not undermine the potential for the Lyndale special school to provide what the hon. Lady has said is an expert environment—I have no reason to think that that is incorrect—for some children with profound difficulties.

The hon. Lady mentioned parents’ struggles with the SEN system—that reflects the outcome of the consultation and Green Paper exercise that the Government have undertaken—particularly parents’ and children’s views being taken seriously, and being heavily involved in the initial assessment process and the delivery and implementation of what, at the moment, is called a statement but will be called an education, health and care plan.

The hon. Lady also mentioned points of transition, where children move from one part of their education to another, particularly at key stages, such as from primary to secondary and on to further education. At the moment, there is a separate system. A hallmark of the reforms that we want to introduce is that it will

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become a single system, with a single assessment process. Many parents, including those in the hon. Lady’s constituency, will welcome that.

The Government’s aim is that all children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities have the opportunity to reach their full potential in school and that they are supported to make a successful transition into adulthood, whether in employment, further or higher education, or training. With the current system not working well enough for parents or for children and young people with SEN, it is important that we address that. It has been more than 30 years since the last reform to the SEN system.

As the hon. Lady said, the system often works against the wishes of families, and although it is now much more child-centred, we must not forget that parents and carers form much of that child’s life and we must ensure that they also get the necessary support. Such support is often identified too late. Families are made to put up with a culture of low expectations about what their child can achieve at school, and that is illustrated by the huge gap in attainment at every key stage between children with SEN and their peers. That gap is persistent, and although there have been some notable improvements in recent years, especially with the assistance of the achievement for all model—the evidence-based model supported and funded by the Government that is now in more than 1,000 schools—the gap is still too great, and more needs to be done to bridge it.

In the Green Paper, “Support and aspiration: A new approach to Special Educational Needs and Disability”, published last year, a strong case was made for moving to a single system that goes not only from two to 19, but from nought to 25, because early and continued support is more likely to produce the outcomes that we want for children and young people who find themselves needing that extra support to achieve the educational attainment that we all know they can reach.

It is important not only that the system picks up and identifies as early as possible the support that is needed, but that that support is put in place as quickly as possible and in a way that is as integrated and co-ordinated as is achievable. One of the flaws in the current system is that it has been too fragmented. The hon. Lady pointed out that many parents and young people are assessed incessantly and that that assessment is duplicated; they have to repeat themselves again and again. We want a much more integrated approach in which education, health and social care work closely together. They will have a duty to co-operate and to commission their services jointly, to ensure that the delivery of those services is much more joined up and that parents do not have to grapple with a system that is incoherent and difficult to navigate.

We have drafted legislation that was published in September. We have just been through a process of pre-legislative scrutiny, which involved my having the pleasure of presenting myself in front of the Select Committee on Education to give evidence. That process culminated in the Education Committee’s report, which I encourage the hon. Lady to look at, and the response will shortly be provided to the Committee. In conjunction with that and to ensure that the measures are not only a legislative vehicle but make the changes on the ground

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that parents want to see, including in the Wirral, we have set up 20 pathfinders across 31 local authorities. That is not happening in the hon. Lady’s local authority and, indeed, not in mine, but it is close by in Wigan, Oldham, Manchester, Rochdale and Trafford, as well as elsewhere throughout the country.

The aim is to improve choice and control within the system for parents and young people to help to drive better outcomes. The findings from those programmes are informing not only the legislation, the code of practice and the regulations that will follow, but how we can improve practice on the ground. The pathfinders will be trailblazers and champions for innovative approaches, so that other local authorities nearby can adopt similar tactics to improve their offer to young people with SEN and disabilities.

To ensure that that process continues after the Bill has been through both Houses, we decided to extend the pathfinder programme for an additional 18 months, which will give us a richer wealth of experience to draw on to ensure that we get the legislation right, that it delivers on the ground and that there is no disconnect between what we do in Westminster and what actually happens in schools throughout the country.

We are developing a new system that will be built on a much stronger and more streamlined assessment process, which importantly, as the hon. Lady mentioned, includes parents, children and young people. We are even piloting the prospect of children themselves being able to appeal against a decision made by a local authority not to provide them with an education, health and care plan or not to adhere to a request for an assessment. That is quite an advance on the current system. We want to ensure that the assessment process is integrated and that it is a quality assessment. That will help to ensure that, right from the start, parents and children are confident that their support will reflect what they believe is necessary and that it is provided by professionals who are talking to and engaging with each other and delivering it collectively, rather than in individual silos, as happened too often in the past.

In Solihull, for example, the pathfinder has already made progress on improving the assessment process, which has been shortened from 26 weeks to 14 weeks. In Southampton, a single assessment process for the education, health and care plan is being developed and tested for children with high medical needs but no significant educational needs. We sometimes work on the premise that a child with special educational needs and disabilities can be categorised one way or the other, but there is a whole spectrum of children in that group. The hon. Lady mentioned the Lyndale school, which deals with children with particularly profound difficulties, and it should look at this good innovation as it starts to develop its own assessment and planning process for children in its area.

It is also important for those children who are not statemented at the moment and who would not necessarily require in future the support that an education, health and care plan delivers that the transparency and accountability of the services on offer to other children with special educational needs are clear to parents and that they know how to seek redress should they not receive the services that they require. That is why we are going to improve the local offer and make it transparent both in content and delivery. Parents will be involved in

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its formulation, and we are looking at how the monitoring will include parents to ensure that they are far more in control of the services being delivered locally.

The work does not stop there. So much more needs to be done to the system outside the legislative process. We have funded more than 10,000 SEN co-ordinators. We have increased the amount spent on further education around special educational needs and additional learning support. We have launched a £3 million trial of supported internships, so that children and young people with special educational needs who want to go on to further education have the necessary support to enable them to do so.

We have a packed programme to ensure that we move to a system that deals with some of the fundamental issues that the hon. Lady has raised, such as ensuring that parents have knowledge at their fingertips and are involved in the process of ensuring that their child receives the necessary support throughout their whole educational experience and before and after from nought to 25, so that they achieve the outcomes that we all want.

Clearly, issues have been raised that are specific to Wirral and the school in which the hon. Lady has taken a keen interest. In a spirit of being as co-operative and helpful as possible, I am sure that she will be delighted to take up my offer to come and meet officials and professionals in my Department who, if they cannot advise her on her specific point, may be able to point her in the direction of information to give her and her constituents the confidence that they are in a better position to understand and challenge the local authority on its approach.

Finally, the hon. Lady’s constituents may want to consider the fact that the new system will enable every parent and young person to name a school in their plan, which may help them to obtain the provision that they want for their children throughout their education and beyond.

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Antibiotics (Intensive Farms)

4.30 pm

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): It is a pleasure, Mrs Main, to serve under your chairmanship. I will make a short speech, and allow as much time as possible for interventions.

Clearly, everyone is concerned about the rise in the number of cases of bacterial infection, whether campylobacter, MRSA or blood poisoning from E. coli, cases of which have increased by nearly 400% in the last 20 years. What makes the problem so much more alarming is the accompanying rise in resistance to those infections. As the Minister will know, antibiotic resistance is a growing worldwide problem. We cannot yet call it a crisis in the UK, but some indications are ominous, particularly as no new antibiotics are in the development pipeline to treat some important infections. It should be noted that, when resistance problems occur, the cost to the NHS of successfully treating a patient may increase between 10 and 100 times.

The Government’s assessment is that most of the resistance problems that affect UK patients can be blamed on the inappropriate use of antibiotics in human medicine. I am sure that is true, but the antibiotics used in veterinary and human medicine are closely related, and a growing body of evidence indicates that, for some serious infections, the inappropriate use of antibiotics on farms leads to the development of resistance among farm animals that can and does pass to humans. Sir Liam Donaldson, former chief medical officer, starkly acknowledged that in his annual report three years ago in 2009, when he said of antibiotics:

“every inappropriate or unnecessary use in animals or agriculture is potentially signing a death warrant for a future patient.”

For far too long, the link between the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in intensive farming and the serious threat from antibiotic resistance have been utterly ignored. For example, although I welcomed last year’s public warning from the current chief medical officer—

4.32 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.42 pm

On resuming

Zac Goldsmith: I had just quoted Sir Liam Donaldson, on

“a death warrant for a future patient”,

as a result of the overuse of antibiotics, and I had complained that the British Government have routinely ignored the link between antibiotics in intensive farming and the public health threat. I was about to cite the current chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, on the growing problems of resistant strains of bugs, as well as the Health Protection Agency in November. It was striking that the message focused 100% on over-prescribing by doctors, with zero mention of the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry.

Similarly, when I tabled a parliamentary question to the Department of Health on what funding it provided for research into drug-resistant bacteria, the answer from the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my

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hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), explicitly mentioned hospital-acquired infections, but not the use of antibiotics in farming. I was encouraged, however, by a reply from the then Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), when I asked him about the link between E. coli resistance to antibiotics and record antibiotic usage on farms. He said:

“Indeed, I was interested to see analysis some years ago of the extent of antibiotic resistance in hospitals in the Netherlands. Resistance was clearly much more prevalent in parts of Friesland where there was much greater antibiotic usage in farming. I therefore completely understand, and my colleagues in DEFRA understand this too. Just as we are looking for the responsible and appropriate prescribing of antibiotics in the health service, my colleagues feel strongly about the proper use of antibiotics in farming.”—[Official Report, 17 July 2012; Vol. 548, c. 842.]

However, since then, we have had a near complete clean sweep of Ministers at both Departments—the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising a very important subject. Is his argument, at least in part, that the collaboration cross-departmentally, which should take place through the chief scientific advisers committee, is not happening, or is what they are considering simply not being taken proper notice of?

Zac Goldsmith: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I suspect that that is part of the problem, but as I will come to later, I think it is also the case that the agribusiness sector in this country has had a disproportionate impact on policy. That is a point that I hope to impress during the debate.

As I was saying, there has been a near clean sweep of Ministers at both Departments, so this debate provides an opportunity to clarify Government policy. The Government are right to insist on better infection control in hospitals and changes in the way that antibiotics are prescribed by doctors. However, other than the brief answer that I quoted from the former Secretary of State, there has been virtually nothing from the Government that could in any way encourage vets and farmers to be similarly prudent. Not surprisingly, therefore, there has been little progress; on the contrary, analysis by the Soil Association of the Government’s statistics indicates that the overall use of antibiotics per animal on UK farms increased by 18% between 2000 and 2010, while the farm use of third and fourth-generation cephalosporins—drugs described by the Health Protection Agency as hospital workhorses—increased by over 500%.

Furthermore, recently published data from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate show that sales of fluoroquinolone antibiotics for use in veterinary medicine over the past two years have been 70% higher than they were in 2000. It is worth noting that when fluoroquinolones were first licensed for use in poultry in the UK in 1993, there was no registered antibiotic-resistant campylobacter in people who had not been treated with the antibiotics, but by 2007, almost half—46%—the campylobacter food poisoning cases caused by the most common strain

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were resistant. It is worth noting also that in 2008, the European Food Safety Authority said:

“A major source of human exposure to fluoroquinolone resistance via food appears to be poultry”.

Clearly, antimicrobials should be used to treat sick animals, and I do not think anyone would argue against that.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he feel that the use by the farming sectors—whether pig, poultry or beef—of antibiotics is unnecessary, because there is a blanket use, rather than reacting to disease? Does he feel that that has a direct impact on us as human beings? Many people come to me and say that the antibiotics are not working, and they are getting three doses from the doctor. Is that feeding off what is happening?

Zac Goldsmith: Again, I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I thank him for making it. I will come to that in more detail shortly.

There is no argument against treating sick animals with antimicrobials but, surely, not the most modern and medically important ones, especially when other antibiotics, which are not as critically important in human medicine, are available. I recognise that this topic does not lend itself easily to tabloid news, but there is a real, worrying chance that that could change. By overusing antibiotics, we risk ruining for future generations one of the great discoveries of our species. In short, we risk entering the post-antibiotics age.

My hon. Friend the Minister will know that some antibiotics have already been lost to resistance: for example, penicillin for staphylococcal wound infections, ampicillin for infections of the urinary tract and ciprofloxacin for treating gonorrhoea. Many more are under threat, and new antibiotics are increasingly hard to find and license. We are now using our reserve antibiotics, and worryingly, seeing the spread of resistance to them as well. For example, rises in resistance, such as those seen for E. coli, force doctors to use carbapenems, which were previously the reserve antibiotics for use when other treatments had completely failed. However, we are now using carbapenems much more and seeing the spread of resistance to them as well.

University of Cambridge researchers revealed the first cases in UK livestock of a new strain of the multi-resistant superbug MRSA. It is called ST398, and it has become endemic in European and north American pig populations and has spread to poultry and cattle. It is significant because, unlike most strains of staphylococcus aureus found in farm animals, it is readily able to transfer to humans. If not checked, that is likely to lead to rising community-acquired MRSA, just at the time that hospital-acquired MRSA is falling, due to sterling efforts by health professionals.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. In the light of the very real health risks and the strong words from a former chief medical officer, as the hon. Gentleman has said, about the unnecessary use of antibiotics being nothing less than

“a death warrant for a future patient”,

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does he agree that we need a legally binding timetable for the phased ending of all routine, prophylactic, non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animals?

Zac Goldsmith: I do, and I will be coming to that point as well, but I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady’s intervention.

Clearly, we need to continue with efforts to reduce the inappropriate use of antibiotics by doctors, but the European Food Safety Authority was spot-on—I do not often say that—last year when it warned that

“it is…of high priority to decrease the total antimicrobial use in animal production in the EU.”

To date, the UK Government’s antibiotic resistance strategy, as I have said, has focused exclusively on over-prescribing by doctors, with zero mention of antibiotics in the livestock industry. Although they have spent money trying to understand why we are seeing a rise in bacterial infections, they are spending nothing, as far as I know, to understand the rise in resistance, which is clearly the issue of importance.

The Department of Health is currently developing its new cross-Government, five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy and action plan for 2013 to 2018, so I ask the Minister these questions today. Will she promise that it will give significant consideration to the use of antibiotics on farms and to the link between farm use and resistance? Will the Government work with the veterinary profession and the agricultural industry, as they have done in recent years with the medical profession? Does she agree that we need better data on antibiotic use, published by antibiotic family and by animal species, as is already done in France? If we do not know the type and quantity of antibiotics used and how they are used, there is very little chance of our being able to understand the emergence of resistance.

Furthermore, will the Minister lobby vigorously her ministerial colleagues at DEFRA to take urgent action to restrict the prophylactic use of antibiotics, to limit the prescription and use of antimicrobials for the herd treatment of animals to cases in which a vet has assessed that there is a clear clinical justification and to limit the use of critically important antibiotics to cases in which no other type of antimicrobials will be effective?

Will the Minister call on DEFRA to ban the use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics in poultry production to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance in E. coli, campylobacter and other infections in humans? Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, affecting some 350,000 people a year, and poultry is the source of between 50% and 80% of those cases. A ban of that sort would bring the UK into line with the US, where the Food and Drug Administration stopped the use of those antibiotics in poultry in 2005, because of increasing resistance in campylobacter. Denmark, Finland and Australia also do not use fluoroquinolones in poultry. All those countries have lower levels of resistance in humans.

I mentioned Denmark, and it is worth taking a moment to consider the Danish situation. The latest Danish disease surveillance report showed that, although the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the country’s pig population had decreased since the tighter restrictions came into effect, including the banning of cephalosporins,

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the level of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meats being imported into the country is higher than in its domestic meat. Nearly half the tested samples of chicken meat imported into Denmark in 2011 contained resistant bacteria. The Danish Government, quite rightly, have taken their concerns to Brussels, complaining that their national approach has been undermined by other EU states’ continued overuse of antibiotics.

Almost certainly, excessive antibiotic use on farms is linked to the intensive manner in which animals are kept. Improving animal health and welfare by limiting overcrowding and the worst excesses of factory farming must therefore become key components of the Government’s antibiotic resistance strategy. Disease prevention should be achieved through good hygiene, husbandry and housing, without recourse to the regular prophylactic use of antimicrobials—a point that has been made by two hon. Members. I recognise that factory farming interests have wielded enormous influence on Government policy for many years and that any move to restrict the use of antibiotics today will be fiercely resisted by them.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend have any evidence to suggest that this problem is more prevalent in what he describes as factory farming than in what I would call farming more generally?

Zac Goldsmith: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I will come to that point in about 20 seconds if he does not mind, because I want to demonstrate the vigour with which the industry has in the past resisted and will continue to resist any change such as I have described. Indeed, I had a briefing yesterday from the British Poultry Council that included some fascinating statements. In it, the BPC says:

“There is no scientific evidence that intensive farming systems contribute more to the overall risk of antibiotic resistance than extensive farming systems.”

On the contrary, two DEFRA-funded reports find that antibiotic resistance is roughly 10 times lower in organic chickens and pigs than in conventional equivalents. The BPC says in the same report:

“The industry is not aware of any recent evidence that ESBLs”—

extended-spectrum beta-lactamases—

“(E.COLI) are increasing in chicken farms across the UK.”

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I would like to pursue this point a little further. The reference made then was to organic farming. I was an extensive farmer and I have always had the view that the sloppy use of antibiotics was every bit as bad in extensive farming as in intensive units. I can understand the point in relation to organic farming, but not to extensive farming.

Zac Goldsmith: The difficulty is that it is very hard to measure antibiotic use in extensive farming of the sort that my hon. Friend describes, whereas in organic farming there is quite clear regulation—self-regulation, in effect—which enables that comparison to be made. He is probably right, but I cannot authenticate what he says, because the data simply do not exist.

The second BPC quote that I read out cannot be true. The BPC must be aware of DEFRA’s statement last year that as many ESBLs were found in chickens in the

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first half of last year than in the entire previous year, so what it has said to me in its briefing simply is not true.

The BPC also says:

“Antibiotics may only be used on a farm if they have been prescribed by a veterinary surgeon”.

But it knows that producers often go straight to the feed mill, which will write out the prescription, send it to the vet’s at the eleventh hour and put pressure on them to sign it immediately. We know that because a number of vets have complained to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate about just that.

Finally, the BPC says:

“Scientific evidence increasingly recognises that the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans comes largely from the use of antibiotics in human medicine.”

That is true, as I have already acknowledged, but for certain bacteria—salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli—the farm use probably accounts for more than half the problem. It certainly accounts for a very significant chunk of the problem. With MRSA, it is probably accounting at the moment for only a few per cent. of cases, but if it is allowed to get established in UK livestock, that situation could very easily change, and dramatically.

The briefing adds, approvingly, that the use of growth-promoting antibiotics was banned 10 years ago in this country. It is probably worth pointing out that that ban came into force only in 2006 and was vigorously opposed by the BPC at the time. Perhaps for that reason, the British Government of the time, initially at least, was the only EU member state Government to oppose the ban. That is another example, I would suggest, of the industry calling the shots on this issue.

I must acknowledge that, 12 months ago, the BPC agreed to introduce a voluntary ban on the use of cephalosporins in poultry production and to stop giving fluoroquinolones to day-old chicks. That does not go nearly far enough, but it is an important step forward and demonstrates an acknowledgment by the BPC, albeit a reluctant one, of the problem.

There is no excuse to delay. The warning has been there since 1945, when, on accepting his part of the Nobel prize in medicine for the discovery and isolation of penicillin, Alexander Fleming said that

“there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.”

If we continue to ignore this risk for fear of upsetting vested interests, we will be complicit in robbing future generations of one of the great discoveries of our species and propelling us—apologies for repeating myself—into a truly frightening, post-antibiotic age. It is surely time for the Government to act.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): For clarification to those participating in the debate, it will finish at 5.10 pm.

4.57 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on securing the debate, which is on an important subject. I

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shall say at the outset that, although I just about heard all the many questions that he asked me, I can say with complete confidence that I fear that I will be unable to answer any—well, a large number of them—in my speech this afternoon, but I undertake to ensure that he receives full written answers to them all. As you will understand, Mrs Main, and as I am sure he will too, it is impossible to answer them all in this short debate, especially because it is such a technical matter, with so many important questions that require technical, detailed responses.

I must begin by saying that of course we all recognise that antimicrobial resistance poses a threat to human and animal health. I can assure my hon. Friend and others that the Government take this resistance very seriously. DEFRA and its agencies have been collaborating for many years with the Department of Health, the Health Protection Agency and the Food Standards Agency on this issue. The Government’s collective objective is to ensure that antibiotic use in animals does not become a significant clinical problem for human health. I am told that there is little evidence on antimicrobial resistance transmission routes from animals to humans. The concern is that if bacteria in food-producing and companion animals develop resistance to drugs used in human medicine, those could be transferred to humans via food or through direct contact.

Controls in the veterinary sector need to be carefully balanced to minimise undesirable animal welfare issues and not hamper the efficiency of UK food production in a way that could disadvantage the industry in relation to other countries where controls may be implemented less well or less effectively enforced. Good farm management, biosecurity measures and animal husbandry systems underpin the health and welfare of food-producing animals. When applied appropriately, they enable the use of antibiotics to be minimised. We all want and welcome that.

We agree that the routine use of antibiotics in animals is unacceptable. I am assured that relevant guidance and regulation is given to the sector to make that absolutely clear. I will ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to consider whether current guidance on the responsible use of antibiotics can be strengthened to make it clear that the routine administration of antibiotics is not acceptable. I am also told that intensive farming systems do not necessarily use large amounts of antibiotics. Some have high health status livestock and so use very limited quantities of antibiotics.

The Government fully appreciate that effective controls are needed in the environmental, agricultural, food production, animal and human health sectors. Failure to act promptly and comprehensively could mean that we face impending problems with implications for animal health and welfare and knock-on effects for food supply and safety, as well as, ultimately, human health and patient safety.

Although the link between antimicrobial use in animals and the spread of resistance in humans is not well understood, there is scientific consensus that the use of antimicrobials in human medicine is the main driving force for antimicrobial-resistant human infections. The majority of resistant strains affecting humans are different from those affecting animals. Bearing that in mind, we have developed an integrated strategy to tackle the

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challenge of antibiotic resistance, and resistance to other antimicrobials, such as antifungals.

We have been working with DEFRA and other stakeholders to develop a new UK five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy and action plan, which we aim to publish shortly. The strategy will address all sectors, including veterinary use. To have maximum impact, the new integrated strategy will focus on a wide range of intervention measures to safeguard human and animal health, including: promoting responsible prescribing; improving infection prevention and control; raising awareness of the problem; improving the scientific evidence base; facilitating the development of new treatments; strengthening surveillance, and strengthening collaboration, data and technology.

There is general agreement that responsible prescribing is central to slowing down the development of antimicrobial resistance in humans and animals. Antibiotics, used responsibly, remain a vital part of the veterinary surgeons’ toolbox, without which animals suffering from a bacterial infection could not be treated effectively. The use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine is controlled by veterinary prescription and is equivalent to arrangements for humans. In that way, we are encouraging the responsible use of antibiotics and minimising their routine use.

In addition, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters has been banned in the EU since 2006, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park informed us. In the dairy industry, if a cow has been treated with antibiotics, the milk should be isolated, and there is regular routine testing of tanks to ensure that there are no traces of antibiotics. Those are some of the many checks in place to ensure that antibiotics do not get into the human food chain.

Zac Goldsmith: Antibiotic use on farms is increasing not decreasing, so despite the initiatives and efforts we have heard about, the trends are heading in the wrong direction. Will my hon. Friend commit on the record to reviewing and reading the references, with which I will provide her at the end of the debate, for all the points I made in my speech and checking the science behind them, so that she is certain that the brief she received from her Department is accurate?

Anna Soubry: I am more than happy to do all those things. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, I am no expert in this field and would not pretend to be for one moment. I shall make a very important point: my briefing does not come from the Department of Health only; we work in collaboration with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

One important thing about this debate is that my hon. Friend rightly asked for a Minister from the Department of Health to respond, so I am not, as others might have thought, someone from DEFRA. Many people are concerned about whether how an animal is treated has an impact on them if they consume some or part of it. Although we might not always make too many friends in the farming industry, we are all responsible for ensuring that we know what we are putting into our bodies and feeding our families. We bear that responsibility, so we need good, informed advice. Many people, but often those with the financial means to do so, will not buy fresh meat unless they know its antecedents—that it has come from a good butcher and a good beast.

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Caroline Lucas: I am grateful to the Minister for her openness to looking at more of the evidence that the hon. Member for Richmond Park presented. Having examined the greater body of evidence, will she also consider the need for legally binding measures as well as more information and awareness raising? The trends are going in the wrong direction, and we therefore need legally binding measures.

Anna Soubry: I am sort of grateful for that intervention; I fear that I could be in terrible danger of agreeing to do almost anything, and so would be able to do nothing else, because I would spend most of my time on this. I will do all that I can. It is very important. As individuals and parents, we all should be concerned, as many of us are, about what we eat and what we feed our children and loved ones. This is as much a public health issue as an animal welfare issue.

The Government have published a code of practice on the responsible use of medicines on the farm and a leaflet on antibiotics, which, like the above code, is on the Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s website. We just have to hope and pray that such things are read, but in my experience, responsible producers pay heed to all such advice. There are also regulations.

We continue to work actively with the farming industry to promote the responsible use of antibiotics in farmed animals, and industry organisations have also developed guidance. Furthermore, I am pleased to say that the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2011 will be changed this year to prohibit the advertising of antibiotic products to professional keepers of animals. In addition, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park mentioned, from January 2012, the British Poultry Council introduced a voluntary ban on the use of certain critically important antibiotics in chick production, which should be welcomed.

Veterinary use of antibiotics is also being addressed at a European level. It forms a significant component of both the 2011 EU action plan against the rising threats from antimicrobial resistance and the 2012 EU Council conclusions. The EU legislation on veterinary medicines is currently under revision, and the UK, with other member states and the Commission, is examining the available evidence to establish whether there is a need for additional controls on antibiotics used in animals. The Government will continue to press for measures to strengthen controls on antibiotics that are critically important for human health, to make it clear that they should be used for animals only when no effective alternatives exist.

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate at DEFRA closely monitors the use of veterinary medicines in the UK. It analyses samples from food producing animals and their products for residues of veterinary medicines and environmental contaminants. There is no conclusive scientific evidence that food-producing animals form a reservoir of infection in the UK. Food is not considered a major source of infections resistant to antibiotics. Any bacteria associated with food or the environment can be reduced by thorough washing and cooking.

As I mentioned, the scientific consensus is that veterinary use of antibiotics is not a significant driver for human multiresistant infections. However, we are keen to see greater improvements in prescribing in all sectors and

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are actively working to encourage that. A wide programme of work to tackle antimicrobial resistance has been under way across the UK in the human and animal health sectors for several years. Although much has been achieved, I fully acknowledge that there are a number of areas that require attention and more radical thinking, if we are to have an even greater impact. I am confident that the new UK strategy will move us forward in that respect.

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I undertake to write to any hon. Member who raised a question in the debate. Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend and assure him that I will answer all his questions. It now seems that I will read a great many documents and other evidence, but it is important work. If I feel that there is any need to make any changes, I will make them.

5.10 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(13)).