The Prime Minister: I will certainly do that. Paragraph 7 of the conclusions talks about support for a comprehensive trade agreement with the US, looks forward to the launch

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of negotiations with Japan, and expects the negotiations with Canada to be concluded very shortly. Britain will continue to lead on this issue.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I also congratulate the Prime Minister. He has shown clearly the difference between what happens when a Conservative Prime Minister negotiates for this country and when a Labour Prime Minister negotiates for this country. He has done far better, I might add, than any of the unlikely leadership bidders we have seen on the Conservative Benches in recent weeks, too. Will he set out to the House clearly what he expects the UK’s gross contribution and net contribution to be in each of the next seven years?

The Prime Minister: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his steadfast support. The difficulty in answering his question directly is that until we have the exact breakdowns of spending on agriculture, structural funds and cohesion in each year, it is difficult to work out exactly how much the rebate will deliver. The rebate does not operate on the cohesion spending in eastern Europe, but it does operate on agriculture spending. It is only when we know those parameters that we can work out the position. I have been straightforward and said that the British contribution is likely to go up because of the changes to the rebate agreed by the previous Government. However, they will go up by less than they would have done, because we have constrained the budget and because we have kept the rest of the rebate intact.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I congratulate the Prime Minister. Will he note that the shadow Chancellor has now cheered the Prime Minister more this afternoon than he has cheered his own leader in the past year? What does the Prime Minister make of the shadow Chancellor’s claim in the Yorkshire Post this weekend that Labour has

“absolutely not ruled out a referendum”?

The Prime Minister rose—

Mr Speaker: I say to the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) that the Prime Minister is responsible for many things, but he is not responsible for the policy positions of the shadow Chancellor and he is certainly not responsible for what quotes are given or attributed to the shadow Chancellor in the Yorkshire Post. However, we will hear a sentence from the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister: All I can do, Mr Speaker, is reflect on your ruling that the shadow Chancellor is indeed barking—and for clarification, I do not mean barking as in Barking and Dagenham; I mean barking as in woof.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I also congratulate the Prime Minister on achieving an outstanding deal—we can tell it is outstanding because the French and the Labour party are agreed and are congratulating him on his negotiating stance.

I want to ask the Prime Minister about structural funds, which are very important to many regions of the country, including east Kent. Will he ensure that if the map for the UK is to be changed, Members of Parliament for the relevant areas will be consulted and will have a chance to say where they stand?

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The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. Under the new arrangements, there will be three different types of support for the regions. There will be the less-developed regions whose GDP per capita is less than three quarters of the EU average. In the UK, Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, west Wales and the valleys will qualify for that support. Then there are the transition regions whose GDP per capita is between 75% and 90% of the EU average—that is the list I read out earlier. However, all regions can of course receive some structural funds for competitiveness and employment goals. We will be able to make more details available as the full figures become available.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I congratulate the Prime Minister on another successful victory for the UK in Europe—hot on the heels of Yorkshire’s audacious bid for the Tour de France, which we will now be hosting next July. On the EU budget, does he agree that there is a lot of overlap and duplication in foreign affairs and defence, making them potentially big areas for budget savings?

The Prime Minister: First, I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the fact that the Tour de France will start in Yorkshire. I heard a very good presentation in Leeds. It is an extremely exciting course, and I am sure that it will bring many spectators and enormous support for west Yorkshire.

In response to my hon. Friend’s question about the budget, I think that further works needs to be done on some of the smaller headings—administration and others—where there is room for further savings.

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): Given Labour’s record of giving away the UK rebate, given that Hansard is littered with its Members wittering on about us being isolated in Europe, given that the Prime Minister has pledged to give the British people a say on our future in Europe, which Labour denied them, and given that he has now achieved a historic budget negotiation success, what would he now say to Labour?

The Prime Minister: I hope that Labour will turn to its friends in the European Parliament and say to the socialist MEPs, “This is a good deal for Europe and you should vote for it.” Let me give the leader of the Labour party another chance, because this is important. [Interruption.] Oh, he cannot intervene on his own MEPs. What is the point of a Leader of the Opposition, if they cannot lead on occasion?

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): First, I congratulate the Prime Minister. Despite the success of the wave of change in north Africa and the middle east, some of those countries, such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, are more susceptible to extremism and radicalisation. Were these countries discussed and was any action proposed?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his support. As I said earlier, there was a discussion specifically about Mali, but there is more to be done to support democracy and the building blocks of democracy in countries such as Egypt and Libya. The EU, with its partnership and neighbourhood funds, has a role to play there.

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Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend received an apology from the shadow Chancellor, who, as we were reminded, said in the Chamber last October that the Government had failed to build the alliances needed to deliver a real-terms EU budget cut?

The Prime Minister: I am not sure the shadow Chancellor really does apologies, but it has been great to be cheered to the echo by him during today’s statement. I will not expect it every time, but it has been a pleasure.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): As a business owner, when negotiating with suppliers I was always able to drive down costs when there was a clear alternative. On the same principle, was my right hon. Friend’s hand strengthened by the UK’s Eurosceptic stance ahead of the 2017 referendum?

The Prime Minister: There was an understanding, particularly among the net contributor countries, that it was time for proper budget discipline and that previously countries had gone to these MFF negotiations and not focused on the fact that if we were controlling our budgets at home, there was a case for doing it properly in Europe. I am delighted we were able to achieve that.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Today is indeed a triumph for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I congratulate him—also, I might say that his wife designs very nice handbags, albeit out of my price range. Does he agree with the shadow Chancellor, who told the Yorkshire Post:

“If we allow ourselves…to be the ‘status quo party’ on Europe, or the ‘anti-referendum party’…we’ve got a problem,”

and that

“we would be pretty stupid to allow ourselves to get into either of those positions”?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very good point: we have a clear plan in place for sorting out reform in Europe and putting that reform to the British people. The accusation against us is that this could cause uncertainty, but the argument I would make is this. What could be greater uncertainty than Labour’s position? One minute the Opposition are in favour of a referendum and the next minute they are against it. They really have to sort out their position, come to the House and tell us what it is.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I am delighted to be the last hon. Member to offer my congratulations to the Prime Minister on securing such an historic victory in Europe. After an hour and a quarter of delivering his statement and answering questions in the Chamber, and given Labour’s woeful negotiating skills in Europe, can my right hon. Friend tell me whether we are any closer to knowing whether the Leader of the Opposition will be able to convince his MEPs to vote for this deal?

The Prime Minister: I do not think we are any closer to getting an answer. What we have heard though is good news. The Liberal Democrats will be voting for this budget in the European Parliament and the Conservatives will be voting for it in the European Parliament too. We now need to hear from the Labour party, not only about its own MEPs, but about socialists right across Europe. Labour should be convincing them.

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Social Care Funding

4.46 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the funding of care and support in England.

As we get older, none of us can have any way of knowing what care needs we will eventually face. Some will be blessed with a long and healthy life, but many others will be less fortunate. Today, many older people and people with disabilities face paying the limitless, often ruinous costs of their own care with little or no assistance from the state. Although those with assets of less than £23,250 receive support, those with assets above this level receive none. That is desperately unfair, particularly for those who have worked hard all their lives to pay off their mortgage, save for their future or have something to pass on to their loved ones, only to see their property sold and their savings wiped out. This is something that happens to more than 30,000 people every year or 100 people every day.

The system we have also sends out the wrong message: that people are better off not saving for their future because any savings may only disappear in a puff of smoke. So today I can announce the Government’s radical plans to transform the funding of care and support in England—bringing a new degree of certainty, fairness and peace of mind to the costs of old age, disability and living with long-term conditions, while ensuring that the greatest level of financial support goes to those with the greatest need. We propose to introduce a cap on an individual’s financial contributions towards the cost of care and a significant increase in the level of assets a person may hold and still receive some degree of support from the state.

In 2010, this Government asked economist Andrew Dilnot to look at the whole issue of funding for care and support. The independent Dilnot commission published its recommendations in July 2011. In response to those recommendations and following extensive engagement with the care and support sector, we published the care and support White Paper and the progress report on funding reform in July 2012. In the progress report, we accepted some of Andrew Dilnot’s main recommendations, including those for a consistent, nationally set eligibility threshold for care and support, and universal deferred payments, whereby no one will have to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for care costs. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Andrew and his team for their excellent work.

A core principle set out by the Dilnot commission was that people should contribute to the costs of their own care, but those costs should be limited and protected against the potentially catastrophic costs of care. That should come through a cap on those costs and an extended means test. One person in 10 will be faced with care costs in excess of £100,000, with a small number facing costs significantly higher still. To give everyone peace of mind, from April 2017, we will introduce a cap on the amount that someone over state pension age will be liable to pay.

The Dilnot commission’s original suggestion was for a cap of £25,000 to £50,000 in 2010-11 prices—the equivalent of £30,000 to £61,000 in April 2017 prices. Despite the extremely challenging economic situation

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in which we find ourselves, we have come as close to that range as possible. The cap will be set at £61,000 in 2010-11 prices or £75,000 once it is introduced in April 2017.

The intention is not that people should have to pay up to £75,000 for their care costs, but that by creating the certainty that this is the maximum they will have to pay, they can then make provision through insurance or pension products so that they are covered up to the value of the cap, thereby reducing the risk of selling their home or losing an inheritance that they have worked hard to pass on to their family. Young people who already have care needs when they turn 18 will now receive free adult care and support when they reach 18. People who develop a care need after 18 but before state pension age will be protected by a cap that is below the £75,000 threshold.

The other measure we propose is to increase significantly the amount of assets a person can hold and still receive financial support for their residential care home costs. Currently, this is set at £23,250. If a person has assets valued above this level, including in some circumstances the value of their home, they receive no support. The Dilnot commission recommended this threshold be raised dramatically to £100,000 in 2010-11 prices. We accept this recommendation.

From April 2017, the threshold will be increased so that those with assets worth £123,000 or less, equivalent to Dilnot’s recommended level, will all receive some degree of financial support for their care costs. People with the fewest assets will receive the most support. This will, for the first time, provide financial protection for those with modest wealth, while ensuring that the poorest continue to have all or the majority of their costs paid.

Everyone will benefit from the peace of mind that a cap will bring. The introduction of a cap and the extended means-tested support will help many people in the most challenging circumstances. We expect up to 16% of older people who need care to face costs of £75,000 or more—but, of course, none of us knows whether we will be in that 16%. Everyone will benefit from the peace of mind that these changes will bring, and by 2025 up to 100,000 more older people will receive financial support with their care costs as a result.

The Chancellor and the Treasury have rightly insisted that we identify how we pay for the additional costs of these proposals. In this day and age, making promises that cannot be paid for makes those promises meaningless —so we have identified exactly how to pay for them. These reforms will cost the Exchequer £1 billion a year by the end of the next Parliament. With the agreement of the Chancellor, these will be met in part by freezing the inheritance tax threshold at £325,000 for a further three years from 2015-16. The Chancellor and the Chief Secretary have agreed that the remaining costs over the course of the next Parliament will be met from public and private sector employer national insurance contributions revenue associated with the end of contracting out as part of the introduction of the single-tier pension.

These two new proposals join others previously announced when we published the draft care and support White Paper last summer, and they include from 2015 the ability of people to defer the payment of residential care costs so that no one need sell their own home to pay for them during their lifetime. Also from 2015, a

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national minimum eligibility threshold will be introduced to end the lottery of local access that can see support provided to someone in one area, but not in another.

Taken together, today’s proposals and those already set out in the draft Care and Support Bill represent a new era of support for the elderly and disabled in England. Thanks to the certainty these proposals introduce, rather than people feeling they have to hoard every penny in case the very worst should happen, or that they are powerless and there is no point in saving at all, people will be able to plan and prepare sensibly for the future. They will be supported by a wider range of financial products becoming available in the market, which will be designed to help people to plan and prepare for their later years and to reassure them about how much they will pay. We will work with the care and support sector—with local authorities, charities, care providers and individuals—and with the financial services industry to develop the plans and introduce them practically.

Our society is ageing. By 2030, the number of people over 85 will double, and the number of people with dementia will exceed 1 million. As the number of older people with such long-term conditions increases, we need to become a society in which people prepare and plan for their social care costs as much as they prepare and plan for their pensions. Sadly, that is an issue that Governments of all colours have long failed to tackle.

While many other things need to be done to prepare for an ageing population, these reforms herald an historic change in the way in which care and support are funded. The economic circumstances are challenging, but these commitments demonstrate our determination to help people who have worked hard, saved, and done the right thing to prepare for the uncertain hand that fate deals all of us in old age. Because we are introducing these reforms within the time scale and at the thresholds set out, they will also be sustainable and consistent with our overriding priority, which is to reduce the deficit inherited from the last Government.

We want our country to be one of the best places in the world in which to grow old. These plans will give certainty and peace of mind in regard to the cost of care, ensuring that we can all have the support that we need without facing unlimited costs, while also ensuring that the most support goes to those in the greatest need.

I commend my statement to the House.

4.56 pm

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and for early sight of it. I agree with him that our current social care system in England is the worst of all possible worlds: a cruel lottery whereby people go into later life with everything for which they have worked on the roulette table, and the most vulnerable are always the biggest losers. That needs to change.

The Secretary of State has tabled a modest plan that will make the system fairer than it is today, and we congratulate him on that. We welcome elements of what he has announced today. A cap of £75,000 will protect people from the catastrophic costs of care, and raising the means-test threshold will help more people on lower incomes to obtain some help with care charges. This is a step forward, but it is a faltering one. The House has been presented with a flawed prospectus today. Vulnerable people will still face rising care charges

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and homes will still be lost, notwithstanding valiant attempts to put the best possible spin on things in the weekend media. Yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister made the big claim that the Government were going to “crack” the care “conundrum”. Today, when we are faced with this meek package, that sounds suspiciously like overselling. Stephen Burke, the director of United for All Ages, has described the cap as

“the dampest of damp squibs”.

Yesterday, on The Andrew Marr Show, the Secretary of State said:

“I've been hauled before the Speaker before and I wouldn’t want that to happen again and so I don’t want to go into the details.”

Now that we have heard the details, perhaps the Secretary of State could explain on which part of his statement the media had not been pre-briefed. It is disappointing that the media rather than the House were briefed first on a statement that was of such importance to so many people. It is also disappointing that the Government have abandoned any effort to build a cross-party consensus before rushing to announce its proposals, and that they have chosen to rewrite the Dilnot report with figures of its own, breaking its careful logic.

More specifically, there are four problems with what has been announced today, and I will address each in turn. First, it fails the fairness test. We will only have a durable solution if it can answer this question: will it help every person and every couple to protect what they have worked for, whatever their wealth and savings? I am afraid that the answer is no. According to Demos, a £35,000 cap would benefit about 3.2 million pensioners. A per-person cap of £75,000 will benefit just 1.4 million. For the average couple, the cap is £150,000. That might be enough to protect detached houses, but it will not protect the average semi-detached home in large parts of England.

As Andrew Dilnot said today, the cap

“is higher than we would have wanted —£11,000 higher than the top end of our range—and I regret that”.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that people with modest to average homes and savings are not protected under his plan? Is this not a plan for the few and not the many, and further proof that we are not all in it together?

The Secretary of State claims that insurance companies will step in with new products to help more people to protect their assets, but in evidence to the Health Committee, the Association of British Insurers said that it did not believe that the capped cost model would result in a market for pre-funded care insurance. So what further confidence can the Secretary of State give the House today that such a market will in fact emerge?

Secondly, the plan is at best a partial solution. With this decision, the Government have prioritised the funding of a cap on care costs with new money, over and above addressing the crisis in council care budgets. Will the Secretary of State confirm that this was against the advice of Andrew Dilnot to the cross-party talks? In practice, it will mean that vulnerable people will continue to face rising charges, as councils put up fees to cope with the growing shortfall in their budgets, making it more likely that those people will, in time, have to pay right up to the new £75,000 cap. To many people, that will not feel like progress.

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More than £1.3 billion has been cut from local council budgets for older people’s care since the coalition came to power. Care charges are rising above inflation, and councils are warning that, by 2024, they will be overwhelmed by the costs of care. Does the Secretary of State accept that forecast, and if he does, how will the plans he has announced today help to address it? If he fails to face up to the current crisis in council funding, is it not the case that, with care charges rising, today’s announcement will feel like a con? It is true that the Government have raised the capital threshold, and I have said that we welcome that, but can the Secretary of State give the House any confidence that the extra support that people receive through a more generous means test will not be more than offset by increasing care charges caused by collapsing council budgets?

What people might not know is that the cap reflects not what people actually pay for care but a local authority average, and that it does not include accommodation costs. That was not mentioned in the Secretary of State’s statement. Will not people feel conned if the Government do not make that clearer?

The third problem is that this package disguises yet another coalition U-turn, this time on inheritance tax—[Interruption.] It is ironic, I must say. In 2007, a flagship pledge was made to increase the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million. Just eight weeks ago, the Chancellor said that he would increase the threshold in two years’ time. What has happened in the past two months to make him change his mind? Is not this the quickest coalition U-turn yet? The irony will not be lost on people that the Government are now increasing death taxes to pay for their plan. The Secretary of State has also said the rest will be made up from national insurance. Does he think it is fair to ask the working age population to pay for something else, rather than older people?

Finally, the proposal fails to meet the scale of the challenge of the ageing society. It will not lead to more integration of care. Instead, it will entrench the separation between two separate systems: a free-at-the-point-of-use NHS and charged-for social care. Would it not have made more sense, rather than developing these piecemeal plans in isolation, to have set them out as part of a single vision for a sustainable health and care system in the 21st century? The Secretary of State has made progress, but he has missed an opportunity to produce a long-term plan that is fair to everyone and built on cross-party consensus. He has settled for a timid solution when what older people needed was a far bigger and bolder response.

Mr Hunt: Really! The right hon. Gentleman talked about a flawed prospectus, but what we had from the Labour Government during their 13 years in power was no prospectus whatever. This was in Labour’s manifesto in 1997, then the Government had a royal commission in 1999. There was a Green Paper in 2005, followed by the Wanless review in 2006. The problem was going to be solved in the comprehensive spending review of 2007, but then we had another Green Paper in 2009. Let us compare that with a coalition that commissioned a report the moment it came into office, said after a year that it accepted the principles of the report, and has now, just two years later, announced how it will implement it and pay for that implementation.

Let me go through some of the things that the shadow Secretary of State has said. He quoted one stakeholder,

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Stephen Burke, but let us look at what some of the others have been saying. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that

“the cap and threshold are welcome measures, and a welcome sign that the government is taking responsibility for addressing care funding.”

Andrew Dilnot said today:

“I recognise the public finances are in a pretty tricky state and it doesn’t seem to me that”—

what the Government are proposing is—

“so different from what we wanted”.

Or we could talk about Age UK, which says it

“has always supported the principle of a cap”

and welcomes the fact that we are increasing what it describes as

“the current miserly upper means test threshold”.

A lot of stakeholders welcome today’s announcement, but recognise that we are in extremely difficult financial circumstances and that that is why we have to be responsible with public finances.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the cap of £75,000, which is indeed higher than the upper limit proposed by Andrew Dilnot, but to describe this as only helping people on higher incomes is fundamentally to misunderstand how a cap works. First, potentially more than 70% of the £1 billion a year that this will cost the Government by the end of the next Parliament is going to socially disadvantaged families. This is a highly progressive measure, and as well as increasing the cap we are increasing the threshold above which people do not get any help, from £23,000 to £123,000—exactly the kind of thing that some of the most disadvantaged families on the lowest of incomes will benefit from most.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Association of British Insurers—he needs to get up to date. It describes this as

“potentially another positive step forward in tackling the challenges of an ageing society.”

[Interruption.] If he wants some more quotes, let us look at what financial services companies are saying. Aegon UK says it

“welcomes today’s announcement and the clarity it brings on state support.”

Legal & General says it is

“pleased the Government has decided to move forward with Andrew Dilnot’s proposals.”

As for local authority budgets—the shocking state of which, by the way, we inherited from the last Labour Government—the Government said in the spending review that the NHS health budget would give £7.2 billion of support for health-related needs to local authorities during the course of this Parliament.

On inheritance tax, what the right hon. Gentleman does not understand about today’s measures is that fundamentally, they are helping people to protect their inheritance from the lottery of social care costs. The randomness of someone not knowing whether they will be the one in 10 who suffers over £100,000 in care costs is eliminated by a proposal that allows everyone to plan and prepare for their own social care costs.

The right hon. Gentleman describes this as a modest plan and says we have neglected the scale of the problem. Of course, in dealing with an ageing population many other issues need to be dealt with. He talked about the problem of integration, which we are solving by devolving

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power to clinical commissioning groups on the front line, a reform that Labour opposed, and by integrating technology, a reform on which Labour failed. Also, Labour did nothing about dementia, leaving us with less than half the people with dementia being diagnosed. We are now tackling that problem. We saw last week the issues of treating older people with dignity and respect. We are tackling that problem—Labour left it for far too long.

The problem is not that our solution is too small, but that it was too big for Labour to solve when they were in office. When it comes to making Britain a better country to grow old in, this Government are taking action where the last Government failed.

Mr Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree with the view expressed by Tony Blair to the Labour party conference in 1997 that it should be a priority for the British Government to sort out the unfairness that prevails in our system of care for the elderly? Does he further agree with me that when our right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was Health Secretary, he set up the Dilnot commission within weeks of this Government taking office, and that the package my right hon. Friend has announced today was described today by Andrew Dilnot as being not so different from the one recommended by the commission set up by our right hon. Friend?

Mr Hunt: I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend’s points; he speaks wisely, as ever. I, too, want to pay tribute to the work that my predecessor, our right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, did in laying the ground and making the big call that we needed to have the Dilnot commission, and in last year publishing the care and support White Paper, which moved this agenda much further forward than in any of the 13 years of the previous Labour Government. My right hon. Friend is also right about the fundamental randomness and unfairness. Of course, we are not saying that the Government will pay for all the social care costs we encounter—public finances could not possibly be in a state to allow that to happen. However, this provides certainty and allows people to plan, so that they can cope with the randomness and unfairness of the current system and know that it will not put their precious inheritance at risk.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): At £75,000 the cap on social care is far too high to help people in an area such as Salford. The Secretary of State has talked about insurance products developing to help people meet the costs of the cap. In our inquiry into social care, we on the Select Committee on Health were told that this country has no market at all in long-term care insurance—not only that, but no country in the world has a working market in pre-funded long-term care insurance. Is it not wishful thinking of the highest order to talk about people being able to rely on products that do not exist either here or anywhere else in the world?

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Many Members wish to get in, as this is a very important subject for all our constituents, so can we please have brief questions and short answers?

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Mr Hunt: I am afraid that what the hon. Lady says sums up the attitude of the Opposition; they thought it was wishful thinking to try to solve this problem, whereas we are getting on with a solution. We do not have those financial products available at the moment, but the whole point of these structures is that we will help to create a market in which it is possible to have them. The point of the cap is to allow the hon. Lady’s constituents, even people on lower incomes, to plan and make provision, not only for costs of more than £75,000, but for any costs they have up to £75,000. In combination with that, we are increasing the threshold for Government support from £23,000 to £123,000.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I warmly welcome today’s statement, particularly the rise in the asset threshold, as I well remember my former patients’ shock when they realised that for anything over £23,250 they would have to meet their entire costs. However, may I ask the Secretary of State to look again at the impact there will be on rural local authorities, for example, Devon’s, which has the fifth oldest population in England?

Mr Hunt: I will certainly do that, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments. I would just say that it is in some of those areas with the highest proportion of older people that the impact of the current lottery in care provision is so dramatic and needs addressing so quickly. I therefore hope that her constituents will welcome the certainty in these proposals, but I will certainly look at and identify whether any particular issues are raised in rural areas.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): The Minister has concentrated on the impact on the frail elderly, but does he recognise the other care crisis highlighted recently in a report published by four leading disability charities? What will these proposals do to assist in providing social care to working-age disabled people, who make up about a third of social care recipients? The shortfall we have estimated is about £1.2 billion—that is the gap between social care budgets and needs.

Mr Hunt: These proposals will go some way to addressing that problem. First, children who reach adulthood— the age of 18—with care costs will continue to receive the support they need without any qualification at all. Adults who become disabled during their working life will have a cap, but it will be a lower one. So we will be able to offer very important support to both those groups.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I welcome this statement as it moves the system on from where it is today. However, for a lot of communities the social care costs are so much more expensive, particularly in rural areas with very elderly populations, and they are more likely to hit that cap more quickly. So can my right hon. Friend assure us that everything will be done to ensure that the cost of care in these more expensive areas is brought down to something more in line with the rest of the country?

Mr Hunt: We think that these proposals will be particularly effective in such areas, because the higher the costs the sooner someone will reach the cap and the sooner they will get the support they need.

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Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): No one can deny that elderly and vulnerable people across the United Kingdom live in fear of having to go into care and what that would mean to them. This is not only about England; it is about the rest of the United Kingdom. So what discussions has the Secretary of State held with the devolved Administrations to ensure that our elderly citizens have certainty, fairness and peace of mind about the costs of old age, such as he claims his plan will bring?

Mr Hunt: This is a devolved matter, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but different approaches are being tried in all four constituent parts of the United Kingdom and we must look at what is happening in the different parts and all learn from each other.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I welcome the statement. Regardless of the details and figures announced today, does this overall approach not promise certainty and predictability where previously there was anxiety and uncertainty? Is that not the big gain?

Mr Hunt: That is the main point of what is being announced today. We are not able, with the public finances as they are, to offer a huge amount of support, but what we can do is give the certainty that means that for the first time people will be able to plan and make provision for their social care costs. We will be one of the first countries in the world that does that, which is why this is a very encouraging and very important day for people who care about the tremendous uncertainties associated with growing old.

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): The Alzheimer’s Society has said today that capping care costs is a step in the right direction, but a £75,000 cap is so high that it will help only the few. The Secretary of State knows that there are 800,000 people in this country living with dementia now, and his announcement today, however welcome it is, does not deal with the community care costs that those people face day to day. This costs a billion pounds in, but there is £1.3 billion out of community costs to local authorities. How will he fill that gap?

Mr Hunt: The right hon. Lady knows well the challenge and the crisis that we face because of dementia, and she has spoken movingly on the issue. What I would say about what the Alzheimer’s Society is saying is that to look at the cap in isolation is to misunderstand these proposals. For many people with dementia, the most significant thing will be the increase from £23,000 to £123,000 in the threshold at which they get state support. That is a big step forward.

The cap is not saying that we expect people to pay £75,000 towards their care costs. We are saying that that is the maximum anyone will have to pay, which makes it possible for people to make provision in their pensions and in insurance policies. One in three of us will get dementia, and we do not know whether we will be among those one in three. This proposal will allow people to put some certainty in place—to make plans now, which means that when they are dealing with the nightmare of either themselves or someone in their family having to cope with dementia, they will not have the double whammy of having to worry about losing their house as well.

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Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Many older people across North Yorkshire have been waiting decades for this kind of certainty, so I thank the Secretary of State for bringing that to them. May I urge him to use his laser vision, which he has shown on this matter, to make health budgets and social budgets work much more closely together?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: that is perhaps the biggest remaining issue that we have to face in the NHS and social care system today. There are interesting parts of the country, such as Torbay, where it is happening very effectively, but anything he can do in North Yorkshire to make it happen more speedily and more effectively will be very welcome.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Mining constituencies have some of the highest percentages of home ownership in the country, so this issue affects them. Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Welsh Assembly, because I presume that there will be a Barnett consequential—money going to Wales as a result of today’s announcement? How much will that be?

Mr Hunt: All the Barnett consequential issues are decided by the Treasury, and we will of course comply with them.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Is it possible to have some transitional arrangements, because four years is a long time to wait for a family who are already paying care costs? Is it not possible to increase the capital allowance, for example by £20,000 a year, from now on? Is it not possible to allow care costs in excess of £75,000 to be set against future inheritance tax?

Mr Hunt: I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from. All I can say is that we had very strictly to produce a package that is affordable within the current financial constraints. For that reason, we have come up with the package we have. It is the earliest we think we can afford to do this and the lowest cap we think we can afford, but I will of course reflect on his comments.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): My question follows on from the previous one about what will happen between now and 2017. Many families are frightened about care costs and the statement has nothing for them. Their loved ones are likely to die in the next four years—2 million people will die before this is implemented. What is the Secretary of State doing additionally for local councils, which are trying to help people in that situation?

Mr Hunt: The hon. Lady might show a little humility after her Government did nothing about this for 13 years. We are doing something about it, as quickly as we possibly can.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I warmly welcome the rise in the assets threshold, but I am not clear about one aspect. People such as my father had to sell their home to pay the costs of residential care. It is being suggested that accommodation and food will not

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be covered by the proposals, but, given that the residential care aspect is so important, can my right hon. Friend give us reassurance?

Mr Hunt: These proposals cover the care costs, but we will be making an allowance for accommodation and food of £1,000 a month at 2017-18 prices. The reason for doing that is that a person would face those costs whether or not they were in a residential care home, and we think it would be wrong to create a system where that person was better off financially being in a residential care home than living at home.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Beveridge committed to “the cradle to the grave” as the principle in health care. It is clear today that the Government have given up on the public sector contributing to the pre-£75,000 figure. Has he any idea or has he inquired how much the cost of provision would be for a family to obtain cover for that first £75,000?

Mr Hunt: I think the hon. Gentleman needs to study these proposals with a great deal more care. If he had listened to them, he would know that we are extending dramatically the help available to people who have to pay up to £75,000, by increasing the threshold from £23,000 to £123,000 at 2017-18 prices.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I warmly welcome the action that my right hon. Friend has taken today. To the critics who say that the cap should be lower, would he not say that the main purpose is to provide protection for those people who face catastrophic charges, which are roughly 10% to 15%? Is that not the main point? Does he agree further that this represents a fair resolution between the people’s responsibility to save for their retirement and the responsibilities of the community to protect those to whom catastrophic charges might apply?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend, as so often on health matters, is absolutely right. This is about a partnership between the state and the citizen, recognising that the state is not able to bear all these costs on its own, and trying to create the incentives and the certainty whereby private citizens are able to make provision for their own social care costs in the way that they make provision for their pension and, as such, is a very important step forward.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): These proposals mean that someone with a £200,000 house pays £75,000, and someone with a £400,000 house pays £75,000. Would it not be fairer if the first £200,000 was charged at, say, 20%, and the second £200,000 at 40%, so that someone with a £200,000 house would pay £40,000 and someone with a £400,000 house would pay £120,000, so that instead of a flat-rate charge, we would have a progressive charge within the financial envelope? Will the Secretary of State consider a fairer system, rather than a flat-rate poll tax?

Mr Hunt: People whose houses have lower value benefit from the fact that we are increasing the threshold at which support is available. Because of that increase in the threshold, they will get some support towards paying for their £75,000, which people with higher value houses will not get.

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Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Does the Secretary of State see any difficulty in this coalition Government pre-empting a future Chancellor of the Exchequer over tax policy, when I thought everybody in the House wanted a different kind of Government after 2015, who might have their own ideas?

Mr Hunt: We have funded these proposals until 2020 on plans that have been agreed by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. We hope very much that we will have the support of the Opposition for these plans as well. Then we can have a national consensus around them, which is what we need because in the end, if we are to create that certainty in the markets, people need to know that whichever Government are elected, they support the basic approach that we are endorsing.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): These proposals will not apply in Scotland, where people already receive personal and nursing care as they need it, when they need it, regardless of their income. Is the Secretary of State aware that this approach has helped to reduce substantially the number of people requiring long-term hospital beds, has also helped to reduce NHS bed-blocking, and has enabled thousands of elderly, frail people in Scotland to live in their own homes, rather than face the crippling costs of moving into residential care?

Mr Hunt: There are some things that we can learn from Scotland and some things that we cannot learn. Scotland has a very good record in identifying people with dementia, and the point that the hon. Lady makes about helping people to live at home for longer is a very good one. Care costs incurred in domiciliary care for people who are living at home will count towards the £75,000 cap, so we hope to have many more flexible ways for people to provide for themselves and be able to live at home happily and healthily for longer.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I welcome today’s statement. Most welcome to my constituents will be the increase in the means-test threshold of state support from £23,000 to £123,000. Given that December’s figures from the Land Registry put the average house price in my constituency at only £114,000, will my right hon. Friend confirm that these proposals represent a very good deal for Pendle home owners, most of whom are on low incomes and of only modest wealth?

Mr Hunt: That is absolutely the point. The group of people we are targeting with these proposals are not the most vulnerable, because they already get all their care costs covered if their assets are less than £23,000, but the people one step up from that, who in many cases have worked hard, saved all their lives and paid off their mortgage, but have a house that is not of sufficient value to cover the social care costs they need. I hope that these proposals will be very welcome in Pendle.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): Can the Secretary of State assure me and my constituents that any gains they may make from his proposals will not be completely wiped out by the massive cuts to local authority care budgets—£120 million this year alone in my own local authority?

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Mr Hunt: We have looked very carefully at the cuts that local authorities are facing in England in order to make sure that that should not compromise adult social care. They are not ring-fenced budgets. That is why we put in an extra £7.2 billion of support from the Department of Health’s budget where there are health-related needs. We are watching this very carefully throughout the country.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): People in my constituency will want to congratulate the Secretary of State on grasping this nettle. Can he confirm that after 2017 there will be some kind of index-linking on the liability cap and the asset threshold? Is there now an implied permanent link between the yield from inheritance tax and the nation’s social care costs?

Mr Hunt: I do not think that there is an implied link in the way that my hon. Friend suggests, but I will reflect on his comment to check that I fully understood his brilliant insight. Automatic indexation is of course a matter for future Governments and future Parliaments, but it is certainly our intention that the proposals we are making will continue to take account of changes in the cost of living.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I welcome aspects of the Secretary of State’s statement. Does he agree that the security in old age that he is seeking to put in place will not be effective for as long as companies such as Phoenix Life are able to offer people like my constituent, Mr Gerard Burton, £221 a month for the rest of his life, at the age of 84, in return for half his house? Will the Secretary of State speak to his colleagues in the Treasury to ensure that there is great scrutiny of precisely what financial products are being offered in this domain?

Mr Hunt: I do not know the details that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, but I would be happy to speak to Treasury colleagues about that issue.

Mr Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): This statement will be very welcome in my constituency, which has a very high proportion of retired and elderly people. May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on gripping a problem that has eluded previous Governments? Can he confirm that the new higher savings threshold of £123,000 will not include the value of a couple’s home when the spouse or dependant of the person in residential care still resides in that home?

Mr Hunt: I can absolutely confirm that, yes.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): On the financial products that will be available, will the Secretary of State produce evidence so that constituents in Hull can find out what kind of figures we are talking about as regards their protecting themselves for the future?

Mr Hunt: I am making the announcement today, so we have to give the financial services industry some time to respond to the proposal. However, the indications are encouraging, and I think that we will all see, in plenty of time for the 2017 start of this plan, what products are available. There may be separate products,

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but it may also be something that becomes part of people’s pension planning. In the same way that people decide what arrangements they want in their pension for an annuity and for a lump sum payment, payment towards these costs up to the level of the cap may become another part of the pension plan. We need to let the pension and insurance industries have the time to respond and to come up with these plans.

Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in evaluating these proposals, the public need to understand the nasty little secret at the heart of social care in this country, which is that we have among the harshest of means tests and that that leads to people facing catastrophic costs? Will he also ensure, in making these reforms, that he provides the Joint Committee examining the draft Care and Support Bill with all the necessary details of how this will be implemented?

Mr Hunt: I would be happy to do that and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee for its work to date on pre-legislative scrutiny. He will understand why I was not able to go into details when we met to discuss the Bill last week. He is absolutely right: dealing with that threshold is one of the most important things and I am sure we will benefit from good scrutiny, as we have done to date.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I want clarity about what the costs include. My mother’s journey has involved eight months in residential care and she is now back home where carers visit her four times a day. Would either of those count towards the eventual £75,000 cap?

Mr Hunt: Yes, they would.

Julie Hilling: Both?

Mr Hunt: Yes.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for the significant progress he has made on this issue, which was ignored for so long by the Labour party. The shadow Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), has called for a bigger and bolder response. What estimate has my right hon. Friend made of the potential costs of a bigger and bolder response, and does he not think that any such criticism should have allied to it a source of funding in order for it to have any credibility?

Mr Hunt: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The shadow Health Secretary complained this morning that we have not adopted the precise cap that Andrew Dilnot said he would have liked. That would have cost an extra £2.4 billion a year by 2020, on top of the plans that we have announced. It is up to the Opposition to tell us how they would find that money if that is what they want to happen.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Is it not likely that the decline in domiciliary services will accelerate to the point at which people are forced to enter residential care? Has the Health Secretary factored those rising costs into his calculations?

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Mr Hunt: The care costs that people have at their home will be included in the amount calculated towards the cap, so what we are hoping for is the opposite—that this proposal will lead to an expansion of domiciliary services. I think that people will welcome that. At the heart of controlling our social care costs, both financially and on a human level, is a structure that allows more people to live at home, happily and healthily, for longer than is currently the case.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, to be credible on social care funding, any package needs to be fully funded, unlike yet more random, pie-in-the-sky, unfunded spending commitments?

Mr Hunt: Absolutely. There was a time when the Labour party would have considered a package that will be worth £1 billion a year by the end of the next Parliament to be a significant investment, but after its free spending ways of a billion here and a billion there, we are now talking real money.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a meaningful step forward in the social care debate, with a proper settlement? The shadow Health Secretary made a spending commitment of a £35,000 cap; for the record, how much would that spending commitment cost the country?

Mr Hunt: What the shadow Secretary of State said this morning would have cost the country an extra £2.4 billion on top of the proposals that we are outlining today. Labour Members need to say whether they would pay for that by increasing taxes or by reducing spending, but perhaps they are thinking of adding to the deficit.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement and the progress he has made. However, he will be aware that in a constituency such as Cleethorpes, which I represent and where a terraced house can cost less than £75,000, vulnerable and elderly people will still be concerned about the figures that are being tossed around. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that his Department passes the information to local authorities and local organisations that advise such people, in the hope that they can clearly understand the commitments?

Mr Hunt: We will be happy to do that. I think that my hon. Friend’s constituents will value the fact that the horrifically low threshold of £23,000, beyond which they get no help at all, will be raised significantly to the £100,000 threshold, in 2010-11 prices, that Andrew Dilnot recommended. Under the draft Care and Support Bill, all local authorities will be obliged to give a care assessment and access to financial advice to everyone in their area in order to make sure that constituents such as those of my hon. Friend are given the information they need.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I, too, greatly welcome the framework for social care that the Secretary of State outlined in his statement. The Barnett consequentials should mean an extra £10 million for Wales if the proposal costs about £1 billion. What

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discussions has he had with the Welsh Government to encourage them at least to invest the Barnett consequentials in social care, given that it is as big a problem in Wales as it is in England?

Mr Hunt: I have had no discussions on that point. I will first establish what the Barnett consequentials of the announcement are. I would then be happy to talk to my hon. Friend.

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Horsemeat (Food Fraud)

5.35 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): I would like to update the House on recent developments with regard to horsemeat and food fraud.

The events that we have seen unfold over the past few days in the UK and Europe are completely unacceptable. Consumers need to be confident that food is what it says on the label. It is outrageous that consumers have been buying products labelled beef, which turn out to contain horsemeat. The Government are taking urgent action with the independent Food Standards Agency, the industry and our European partners.

Let me turn first to the facts. On 15 January, the FSA was notified by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland of the results of its survey of processed beef products on the Irish market. The Irish study identified trace amounts of horse and pig DNA in the majority of the sample, but identified one product, a Tesco burger, where there was evidence of flagrant adulteration with horsemeat. The investigations in Ireland are ongoing.

On 16 January, in order to investigate the implications for the UK market, the FSA announced a four-point plan. That included telling implicated food businesses to test their processed beef products and the launch of a full scientific study of processed beef products on the UK market.

On 31 January, the Prison Service of England and Wales notified the Food Standards Agency that traces of pork DNA had been found in a selection of meat pies labelled as halal. Although trace contamination does not necessarily indicate fraudulent activity, any contamination is clearly of concern to faith communities. The affected products were quarantined and the contracts suspended.

On 4 February, the FSA announced that it had tested a consignment of frozen meat that was being stored at Freeza Meats in Northern Ireland for horse DNA. That consignment had been detained by the local authority in October 2012 because of labelling irregularities. The consignment is under the secure control of the local authority. None of the consignment has entered the food chain and so no recall is necessary. As part of the investigation, Newry and Mourne local authority has tested current products from Freeza Meats and neither horse nor pig DNA has been found in any of those products. The FSA is undertaking a detailed investigation, which includes following the supply chain of Freeza Meats and any other producers that are implicated.

On the evening of 6 February, Findus informed the Food Standards Agency that it had confirmation of horsemeat in frozen beef lasagne products. The lasagne were produced in Luxembourg by a French company, Comigel, with the meat supplied by another French company, Spanghero. The test results were supplied to the FSA on the morning of 7 February. The FSA is investigating the case urgently in liaison with the French authorities and the police. The FSA has assured me that it currently has no evidence to suggest that the products recalled by Findus represent a food safety risk. The 7 February announcement that very significant amounts of horsemeat had been found in Findus lasagne moved the issue from one of trace contamination to one of either gross negligence or criminality.

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On 8 February, Aldi withdrew two beef products after its tests found that they contained horsemeat. The products were supplied by Comigel, the same company that supplied Findus. Asda and Tesco also withdrew products from the same suppliers on a precautionary basis.

Food regulation is an area of European competence. Under the European legal framework, main responsibility for the safety and authenticity of food lies with those who produce, sell or provide it to the customer. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency was set up by the previous Government as an independent agency, and I have sought to respect its independence. It leads the operational response, and I am today updating the House on progress with its investigations and on the action I have been taking with the industry and European counterparts. I have made clear my expectation that food businesses do whatever is necessary to provide assurances to consumers that their products are what they say they are.

The Minister of State and the FSA met food retailers and suppliers on 4 February and made it clear that we expect the food industry to publish results of its own testing of meat products to provide a clearer public picture of standards in the food chain. In response to the Findus announcement of 7 February, the FSA asked in addition that all producers and retailers test all their processed beef products for the presence of horsemeat. On Saturday 9 February I called in the major food retailers, manufacturers and distributors to make clear my expectation that they verify and trace the source of all their processed beef products without delay.

At that meeting with the British Retail Consortium, the Food and Drink Federation, the British Meat Processors Association, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, the Institute of Grocery Distribution and individual retailers, I made it clear that I expected to see from them the following: meaningful results from testing by the end of this week; more testing of products for horse along the supply chain and that the industry co-operates fully with the FSA on that; publication of industry test results every three months through the FSA; and that they let the FSA know as soon as they become aware of a potential problem in their products. I made it very clear that there must be openness and transparency in the system for the benefit of consumers, and that retailers and processors must deliver on those commitments to reassure their customers.

Let me reiterate: immediate testing of products will be done across the supply chain, including suppliers to schools, hospitals and prisons as well as retailers. The FSA issued advice to public service providers on Sunday 11 February in advance of the working week. I also reiterate that the FSA has assured me that it currently has no evidence to suggest that recalled products represent a food safety risk. The chief medical officer’s advice is that even if bute is found to be present at low levels, there is a very low risk that it would cause any harm to health. People who have bought Findus beef lasagne products are advised not to eat them and return them to the shop they bought them from as a precaution.

The ultimate source of these incidents is still being investigated, but it is already clear that we are dealing with Europe-wide supply networks. I am taking action to ensure effective liaison with the European Commission and other member states, and I have been in touch with

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Irish Minister Simon Coveney on several occasions since 28 January. I have spoken to him twice again today and have also spoken to European Commissioner Borg, the French Minister Stéphane Le Foll and Romanian Minister Daniel Constantin. I emphasised the need for rapid and effective action, and I am grateful for the good co-operation there has already been.

I have agreed with Minister Coveney that there will be an urgent meeting with Commissioner Borg of Ministers from the member states affected. In addition we agreed that this issue will be on the agenda of the Agriculture Council on 25 February. At the moment this appears to be an issue of fraud and mislabelling, but if anything suggests the need for changes to surveillance and enforcement in the UK we will not hesitate to make those changes. Once we have established the full facts of the current incidents and identified where enforcement action can be taken, we will want to look at the lessons to be learned from this episode. I will make a further statement about that in due course.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that I completely understand why people are so concerned about this issue. It is unacceptable that they have been deceived in this way. There appears to have been criminal activity in an attempt to defraud the consumer. The prime responsibility for dealing with this lies with retailers and food producers who need to demonstrate that they have taken all necessary actions to ensure the integrity of the food chain in this country. I am in daily contact with the FSA. This week I will be having further contact with European counterparts and I will be meeting the food industry again, together with the FSA, tomorrow. I commend this statement to the House.

5.45 pm

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement. Four weeks ago, the Irish authorities alerted the UK Government that they had discovered horsemeat in burgers stocked by UK supermarkets, including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl. Last Monday, we discovered that meat labelled as halal and served in UK prisons had tested positive for pig DNA. On Thursday, the scandal spread from frozen burgers to frozen ready meals, as we discovered that Findus beef lasagne contained up to 100% horsemeat. On Friday, this incompetent Secretary of State and his food Minister went home—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Everybody wants to make their contribution, and the only way they will is by being a little quieter. People may not like what is being said, but they should at least have the courtesy to listen.

Mary Creagh: On Friday, No. 10 told the press that the Secretary of State was working hard at his desk, getting a grip on this crisis. But in fact he had to be called back to London from his long weekend—crisis, what crisis? Until Saturday’s panic summit, he had not actually met the food industry to address this crisis. The food Minister had met with the food industry just once, exactly a week ago.

On Friday, I received information that three British companies were involved, potentially, in importing beef that actually contained horse. I wrote to the Secretary of State, offering to share the information with him.

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I also handed it to the Serious Organised Crime Agency. On Friday, the FSA said that the police were involved, so I was reassured. However, on Friday night the Met police said that they had had talks with the FSA, but that there was no live criminal investigation. On Saturday, after a conversation with one of the food industry representatives, I realised that the Secretary of State had not revealed the names of those firms to the food industry at the meeting. Why not? If the Government want the food industry to test on the basis of risk, why did the Secretary of State not share the names of those companies at Saturday’s meeting?

On Thursday, DEFRA announced its statutory testing regime, with 28 local councils purchasing and testing eight samples each. Does the Secretary of State seriously expect people to wait 10 weeks for the results? Can he confirm that that will be the first survey of product content that his Department has carried out since his Government removed compositional labelling from the Food Standards Agency in 2010? He talks about the FSA’s operational independence, but it is not responsible for the content of our food—he is. When will he stop hiding behind civil servants and take some responsibility? Does he think that surveying just 224 products from across the country matches the scale of this scandal, when he has asked the supermarkets to test thousands of their products by Friday? Can he confirm today to the House that not all of those thousands of tests will be completed by Friday?

Can the Secretary of State tell the House how many products the large public sector catering suppliers will test and how many lines the members of the British Meat Processors Association will test? In his letter to me last Friday, he stated that some members of the British Hospitality Association and the British Retail Consortium have withdrawn products as a precaution. Can he tell the House which members have withdrawn which products, and whether any of them supplies schools, prisons and hospitals? The supermarkets have acted with speed and a degree of transparency on this that puts him to shame. I am disappointed that the hospitality industry and caterers have not been as candid.

In his letter to me, the Secretary of State said that the FSA is taking up individual suspicious incidents with authorities and the police across Europe. He said in the media this weekend that there is an international criminal conspiracy at work. Does he think that international criminals are present everywhere in Europe apart from in the United Kingdom? The French Government estimate that the Findus fraud alone has netted criminals €300,000. This is clearly big criminal business. Why have the UK police not investigated on the basis of the intelligence supplied? Has he had the full results of the tests carried out by the Irish authorities?

At Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions nearly three weeks ago, I asked the food Minister about horses contaminated with bute slaughtered in the UK and entering the human food chain. It has now been confirmed that of the nine UK horses that tested positive for bute, one was stopped, five went to France, two to the Netherlands and one to the UK. However, when council officials approached the people who had supposedly taken the horse to eat it, they had no knowledge of what had happened to it.

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There has been talk of an EU import ban, but has the Secretary of State considered the possibility that horses are going to UK and Irish abattoirs and entering the food chain in the UK? Which horse abattoirs in the UK are on the FSA’s cause for concern list? Have any horses presented for slaughter in the past month been rejected by officials because of concerns over their passports? If so, where and how many?

The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has clear evidence of illegal trade in unfit horse from Ireland to the UK for meat, with horses being re-passported to meet demand for horsemeat in mainland Europe. It says that there are currently 70,000 horses unaccounted for in Northern Ireland. Unwanted horses are being sold for €10 and sold on for meat for €500—a lucrative trade. It is convenient to blame the Poles and Romanians, but so far neither country has found any problems with its beef abattoirs.

When will the Secretary of State get his story straight on bute? This horse medicine is banned from the food chain for a reason. On Friday, he said:

“I would have no hesitation at all in eating these products.”

Yet on Sunday he said that this food could be injurious to human health. The Health Secretary said it is just a labelling issue. Is this not symptomatic of the Government’s dangerous complacency?

I note the chief medical officer’s advice to people this morning. What levels of bute have to be present in the meat for it to be a human health risk? Will the Secretary of State tell us what the safe limits of bute consumption for human beings are, given that it is banned from the human food chain? The British public must have confidence that the food they buy is correctly labelled, legal and safe. When Ministers came to the Commons to answer my urgent question on 17 January, the food Minister said:

“It is important that neither the hon. Lady nor anyone else in this House talks down the British food industry.”—[Official Report, 17 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 1027.]

These invisible regulatory services protect our consumers and our food industry, and allow it to export all over the world. [Interruption.] I think Government Members would do well to listen as this issue is of interest to their constituents and the lack of information from their Government has been nothing short of a disgrace.

This weekend consumer confidence in British food was sinking like a stone. Food is a £12 billion industry that supports hundreds of thousands of UK jobs and exports. In common with No. 10, it is rapidly losing faith in this Secretary of State’s ability to lead them through this crisis.

Mr Paterson: You would not think that we had inherited Labour’s system would you, Mr Deputy Speaker? You really wouldn’t. I always admire the hon. Lady—she really has a nerve.

This issue is a European competence. As agreed by her Government, the independent Food Standards Agency was set up and we have followed their policy of respecting that independence. Today, I talked to its chairman, Lord Rooker, whom she knows well, and he agreed that we had respected its independence. In the early stages of this history, this was an issue of trace DNA in an Irish abattoir. Once it came to the Findus case, where there was a significant volume of horse material, it took on

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a whole new dimension. He agreed that it was then appropriate that the Secretary of State should become publicly involved, as I have been in recent days. The hon. Lady is critical of the FSA’s survey—on which I wish it well. I raised it with the noble Lord this afternoon, and he agreed that April was the intended end date for these results, but that he could possibly publish some of them as he works through.

The hon. Lady completely misses the point that the retailers are responsible for the quality and content of their food. That is laid down in European law. Her Government passed a statutory instrument in 2002. [Interruption.] There is no point in the hon. Lady shouting. She must understand that under the current arrangements it is for retailers to decide. She has completely missed the point that they are responsible for testing, they are responsible for the integrity of their food and they are responsible to their customers. They have a massive self-interest in this, because obviously they want their customers to come back. She will be pleased to hear that we had a most satisfactory meeting on Saturday, and they will be bringing forward meaningful results by the end of this week.

The hon. Lady went on a bit about the police. [Interruption.] I agree with my hon. Friends that she went on and on about the police. This is a serious issue, and the FSA has raised it with the Metropolitan police, but the hon. Lady must understand that until there is a criminal action in this country, they cannot take action. However, the FSA has been in touch with Europol, because it does look as though there have been criminal cases on the continent.

The hon. Lady mentioned the Irish test. I have had a conversation this afternoon with Minister Coveney. We have agreed that there will be protocol between our two independent agencies to agree testing equivalents and to work extremely closely together, because our two food industries so often work in co-operation on either side of the Irish sea.

The hon. Lady mentioned horses. Today, Lord Rooker will announce that further to our recent announcement that all horses slaughtered in this country will be tested for bute, no carcase will be released until it has been proven positive.

Finally, the advice on food is very simple. I have been completely consistent. It must have been in an interview and I think she mis-heard the second part of a sentence when I was speaking. I have been absolutely clear. The independent agency that gives professional advice is the Food Standards Agency. I, the hon. Lady, hon. Members and the public should follow its advice. As long as products are free for sale and have not been recommended for withdrawal by the FSA, they are safe for human consumption. I recommend that she follows the advice of the independent agency that her Government set up.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Is it not absolutely right that this is a European problem that requires a European solution? This contaminated meat should never have entered the UK food chain. It now appears that the Romanian authorities did not do the product and labelling checks before the contaminated food left Romanian shores. Will my right hon. Friend please assure us that he will confirm, with both the Commission and the Romanian Minister, that these product checks are in place and that no further consignment

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should be admitted into this country until we know it is as marked on the label? Will he also look to the European food labelling regulations, articles 7 and 8, that permit precautionary temporary measures to be put in place to save our retailers from this expense? Will he also ask the FSA why it did not commence inspections when it was told that the Irish FSA was doing so in November last year?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, for her question. Commissioner Borg made it clear to me today that there were no grounds for banning imports on mislabelling or fraud, and that that could happen only if human safety might be imperilled. I have also spoken to Minister Constantin in Romania, who was very emphatic on this point—we have to be fair to all countries involved. He made it quite clear to me—I am happy to share this with the House—that the two main named abattoirs, one of which only deals with horsemeat, shipped products that were correctly labelled. Horsemeat was shipped and it was labelled as horsemeat. I therefore think that this case has some distance further to travel, and we should not jump to conclusions, which is why I am pleased that my discussions with Minister Coveney have led to an agreement that the Agriculture Ministers of the half dozen countries concerned will meet. We all want to get to the bottom of this.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): The Secretary of State says that there is no evidence of criminal activity in this country, but may I remind him that inaccurate labelling is illegal? Why has it taken him more than three weeks to summon the retailers and four weeks to come to the House? Given that the highly respected Chair of the Select Committee said on the “Today” programme on Friday that she would not eat processed beef products, why is he still recommending that people do?

Mr Paterson: The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that inaccurate labelling is an offence. At the moment, we have to establish exactly what is in these materials and who is responsible for the label. In the Findus case, that material has been withdrawn.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): We have the red tractor and other farm assurance schemes that guarantee that meat from those sources is guaranteed through to processed product. May I urge the Secretary of State to urge people to eat that type of meat, which is completely traceable? Finally, Europe has been far too lax on this type of meat processing for many years, so we need a tightening up across the whole of Europe in order to know exactly what we are eating.

Mr Paterson: I am entirely happy to recommend to all consumers in this country that they buy good British products in which they can have faith. We have extraordinarily rigorous processes for traceability and production systems, so I have total confidence in British products and strongly recommend them to the British consumer.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State explain why companies such as Tesco can consistently reject entire consignments of our farmers’

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fruit and veg for being misshapen—at the cost of the farmer—yet have not focused the same attention on processed meat in their own lines, because it is not at the front of the freezer and does not affect the appearance? Will he ensure that in future the FSA has in perpetuity statutory powers to instruct retailers to carry out tests on their entire product lines consistent with the volume of product being shifted over the year?

Mr Paterson: Unlike the last Government, we have set up a groceries adjudicator, which answers the hon. Gentleman’s first question. On the second one, he will be pleased to hear that at Saturday’s meeting we agreed that retailers would carry out this testing, which will have meaningful results by the end of the week. Further to that, however, I want these results published on a regular basis—every three months.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): May I express my entire confidence in how my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has dealt with this issue? Does it not raise a further point, however, which is that British farmers are handicapped when trying to compete with food producers from countries that not only do not carry out the appropriate checks, but have much lower animal welfare standards than we do?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend is right. It is a scandal that, despite our egg producers last year conforming to the enriched cages directive, and despite the fact that again this year we were 100% up because we were the first out of the traps to end tethering, some major European countries have still not conformed. I raised that point with Commissioner Borg at our last Council meeting and wrote to him about it last week.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State guarantee that cuts to the FSA and the introduction of the self-regulatory hazard analysis and critical control points system will not compromise, and never has compromised, meat hygiene inspections and the ability to ensure that meat is legal and safe?

Mr Paterson: The hon. Lady, having read out a Whips’ handout, has unwittingly touched on an incredibly important question. The whole issue concerns a paper-based system that places too much faith in the accuracy of the paper recording what might be in the pallet or consignment, so she is absolutely right to raise the question of testing. I briefly discussed this point with Commissioner Borg today and have discussed it with the noble Lord Rooker. I would like to see more random testing of products halfway through the process, so she is on the button—it is a most important point.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that prime responsibility must lie with the retailers, and that retailers should use some of their vast profits to ensure product quality and guarantee that their products are exactly what they say they are?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Consumers must have faith in the products provided by the retailers. It is the retailers’ responsibility to present consumers with goods that are wholesome, of quality and

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conform to the label. It is important that the retailers get out there and sell their systems and products in a way that keeps the faith of the consumer.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree that Findus still has serious questions to answer. In particular, exactly when did the company have a reasonable suspicion that the supply chain was contaminated and who took the decision not to enact an immediate product recall? Ultimate responsibility lies with the man at the top—in this case, Manhattan-based private equity investor Dale Morrison. Does he agree that it is shameful that he has not flown to the UK immediately to tackle this problem or issued a word of contrition?

Mr Paterson: I talked to the UK chief executive of Findus on Saturday afternoon, but I think we have to be cautious about what we say, because I understand that Findus might launch legal proceedings against Comigel and possibly Spanghero. The important point, however, is that I made it clear at our meeting on Saturday that from now on, the minute that any food business has evidence that there might be something untoward in a product or that something might not conform, it must tell the FSA immediately, and that as soon as that evidence is corroborated by a scientifically valid laboratory test, the product should be withdrawn very publicly. I made it clear to the retailers that I would strongly support any withdrawal on those grounds.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his decisive action in this matter. Quite rightly, his priority should be the safety of consumers and restoring confidence in our great British food industry. He knows, however, that the national equine database was closed down last December. What assessment has he made of the impact of that closure on the Department’s ability to keep track of horses in the UK, and is he confident that the current systems available to him enable his Department to keep a track on equine movements and locations?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her comments. She is right to raise the issue of equine databases. We have absolute confidence that we have access to all the information contained in the various ones around the country, and we are also very clear that the significant statement today by the noble Lord Rooker—that every single horse carcase will be held until it is proved clear—will be of great reassurance to the British consumer.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Highly processed foods of this kind are more likely to form a larger part of the diets of low-income families—of which there are far too many in Newcastle thanks to this Government’s actions. Is the Secretary of State seriously saying that when someone in Blakelaw buys a burger, they need to research the entire supply chain, rather than relying on the Government and the Secretary of State?

Mr Paterson: This is a serious misunderstanding. The hon. Lady must understand that under this system it is the retailers who are responsible. It is for the retailers to get out there and show their customers that their processed

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beef products are sound, that they have increased random testing and that these products are completely clear. It is for the retailers to prove that they can reassure their customers.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Illegal meat trading is one of the most profitable criminal activities, with limited penalties. Replacing dear beef with cheap horsemeat enables huge profits to be made. Does the Secretary of State agree that the active involvement of Europol is essential to break up the complex criminal food chains that have been set up to take advantage of our consumers?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Sadly, there is significant money to be made from this criminal activity. It is a fraud on the public. It is absolutely wrong that a British consumer should go to a retail outlet and buy a product marked “processed beef” and find later that it contains horsemeat. It is a straight fraud. It is criminal activity. We are absolutely determined to bear down on it, working with our European partners to stop it, and I am delighted that the FSA is working closely with Europol.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Northern Ireland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, produces first-class meat products, but this meat scandal has seriously damaged public confidence in the safety of our food and is depressing an industry that is already struggling because of weather conditions. Does the Secretary of State agree that the only way to restore confidence is to find out who has engaged in this illegal activity, put them out of business and bring them before the courts?

Mr Paterson: I wholeheartedly concur with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. This is a fraud on the public. It is wrong for them to be presented with a product and find out later that it is not what is claimed. There is no health issue here; this is an issue of fraud and labelling. With reference to his previous question, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we have to get the perpetrators—these criminals—and stop this practice.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): The Irish Food Safety Authority has been ahead of the Food Standards Agency every step of the way. The people I am concerned about are the British beef producers. Nobody seems to care about them. They have seen their products replaced by poor fakes. What is the Secretary of State going to do about it and how are these poor, besmirched people going to get their market share back?

Mr Paterson: I would like to correct my hon. Friend a little. The reason the Irish agency picked up this issue in the Irish plant was that it had local intelligence that there was a problem. That is why it did a random check —I cleared that with Minister Coveney today. As far as I am concerned, my hon. Friend will find no stauncher supporter of British beef than the Secretary of State standing before him. We have splendid cattle, rigorous traceability systems, strictly run abattoirs and a splendid finished product.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I think we have all been shocked by these unacceptable failures in our food supply chain. Does the Secretary of

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State agree that one way we can be absolutely sure what is on our plates is to buy Scotch beef—quality assured and fully traceable—preferably from a local butcher, and not least that which is produced in Banff and Buchan?

Mr Paterson: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I talked to her Minister, Richard Lochhead, only yesterday. She may be a great advocate of locally produced Scottish beef, and I may be a great advocate of British beef—or Shropshire beef—but she is absolutely right that British consumers should have faith in locally produced food.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am sure my right hon. Friend will be glad to know that many of us want to know whether the European Commission is being held accountable under the EU’s food and labelling regulations, which include specific notification of the species of the animal used in food. Will he assure us that all necessary actions and discussions are being pursued with Commissioner Borg to ensure that those with the legal obligations to audit these matters—including the directorate, under him, of the food and veterinary office—comply with EU standards?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend is absolutely spot-on to recognise the key role of the Commissioner, as this is a European competence, and that is why I spoke to him today. I am pleased to record that he was extraordinarily co-operative. We are going to fix up a meeting—at very short notice—with him and the key Agriculture Ministers some time this week. The point my hon. Friend raises is definitely one that I will make clear to the Commissioner at that meeting.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Even allowing for the Secretary of State’s rather laid-back approach, does he not think it might have been smarter to advise that guidance be issued to schools and hospitals a little earlier than 10 o’clock last night?

Mr Paterson: I am sorry the hon. Gentleman is unhappy with my demeanour. I am as active as I think he will find is necessary on this issue, having been at it for many, many days now. More importantly, the advice that the FSA has given to suppliers to schools, hospitals and prisons—it is exactly the same as that given to retailers—is clear. Unless the FSA recommends that a product be withdrawn, the public, schoolchildren, prisoners and those in hospitals should have faith in the product.

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): Phenylbutazone is an incredibly common, but useful drug to all horse owners. The presence of a verifiable, accurate and up-to-date horse passport is no guarantee whatever that a horse has not been given bute. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way to check that a carcase is bute-free is to test it?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct about that. That is why the FSA has today announced the new regime. Not only are all carcases being tested, but from today, not one carcase will be released until it is proven to be clear.

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Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): The Secretary of State says that retailers and food processors have prime responsibility for the content of their products. Nevertheless, the public feel that the Government have a responsibility to ensure enforcement of accurate labelling. His Government did away with responsibility for labelling of food content back in 2010. Can he now explain how it is shared between the FSA, his Department and the Department of Health, whether he thinks that is satisfactory and what improvements he thinks need to be made?

Mr Paterson: Labour Members have got a nerve! For 13 years, year after year, Conservative Members brought forward labelling Bills and were not backed by Labour Whips. We are the ones who are getting labelling sharpened up; Labour did nothing at all.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May I offer my right hon. Friend my full support? Is this not an opportunity for patriotic purchasing, not only by buying Scottish products, but by buying British products? If consumers want to be confident in the provenance of food, they should buy local, local, local.

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend has a good point. People are quite right to have great faith in their local suppliers—transport times are reduced, there is clear traceability and there will be clear local knowledge. I repeat: we have great local producers, rigorous traceability systems and stringent production systems, and we end up with superb quality.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): The Secretary of State professes great concern about what is in our meat and the importance of accurate food labelling, yet according to press reports, the UK is trying to get an exemption from EU regulations that would limit to below 50% the amount of fat and connective tissue that can be used to bulk up minced meat. Does that not completely fly in the face of what he has tried to tell the House today?

Mr Paterson: No, we operate on professional advice.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): My right hon. Friend has told us that food regulation is an area of European competence. Some of us may think it an area of European incompetence. As a result of European failures, it seems that my constituents are getting disgusting food—whether or not it is a health risk, it is revolting. I wonder whether the Secretary of State will consider emergency legislation, notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972, to allow us to stop importing disgusting food.

Mr Paterson: I look forward to sitting down with my hon. Friend and coming up with a legal definition of “disgusting food”. Let me be more positive and refer to my earlier replies: there is splendid food grown in my hon. Friend’s part of England, and I would strongly recommend his constituents to buy local.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State have confidence in the food chain, and is he confident that the imported food, not just meat, sold in our shops is safe to eat?

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Mr Paterson: It is interesting that the hon. Lady uses the term “food chain”. What we have seen in recent days is the extraordinary complexity involved, and I am trying to get away from the expression “food chain”. It is an extraordinary network—an amazing kaleidoscopic variety of factories and suppliers all working together. It is a real network, and what is quite clear in this case is that there has to be more rigorous and more random testing. I have faith in the advice of the independent Food Standards Agency, but down the road, and picking up on the previous question, within the constraints we work under, I would like to see more random testing.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on the speedy, effective, thorough and robust way in which he has handled this issue. My local butcher in Braintree clearly labels its products so I know what I am buying and where it came from. I like to support our local farmers and buy local. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging retailers to have better and clear labelling, so consumers know what exactly is in the products they buy and where they come from?

Mr Paterson: I totally agree with my hon. Friend, and he will be delighted to hear that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who is in her place next to me on the Front Bench, is working on that very issue as we speak.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): The hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), who is just leaving the Chamber, was absolutely right that our near neighbour, Ireland, was ahead of the game in dealing with this issue. What can the Secretary of State learn from his Irish counterparts? On the issue of international criminality, is he confident that we have enough resources and surveillance at our ports of entry?

Mr Paterson: The hon. Gentleman has, I think, missed the point. The Irish had local intelligence of a local problem in Ireland, which is why random testing was done in Ireland. On his other question, I have discussed the issue with the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, and she is clear that, with her organisation having made some sensible efficiencies, she can certainly deliver everything we ask.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): May I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? Given that the problem is with international processors, can the Secretary of State reassure us that any change in legislation or regulation will not fall on the shoulders of small independent butchers and retailers?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend raises an important point. There has been a lot of acknowledgement around the House about the benefits of local production, but sadly in recent years we have seen the closure of a large number of small local abattoirs. Such abattoirs are of real value—there are animal welfare and food-quality benefits—so we should be judicious in any moves we make and value small country abattoirs.

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Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): If my constituents are mis-sold a range of products, they will have rights. Does the Secretary of State believe that they should have rights if they are mis-sold food products?

Mr Paterson: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that of course people have a right to take their products back. What we clearly agreed with the retailers on Saturday was that if any product has been recalled, any consumer has the right to take that product back to the retailer and get a full refund.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that an obvious step we could take now is to ensure that the £2 billion or so we spend each year on food for schools and hospitals is used to support our own British farmers, as is done in many other countries in Europe—a policy that our party supported vociferously when it was in opposition?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Significant sums of public money are spent on procurement and we should ensure, if we can within the rules, that it goes in the direction of British producers.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What was the exact date on which the Secretary of State became aware that there was a problem with horsemeat in the food chain? I want the exact date, please.

Mr Paterson: We were told about it and it became public knowledge on the day the announcement was made—on 15 January. This was an Irish issue and it was for the Irish to make the announcement.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): If the moratorium on EU meat products cannot be enforced under EU rules, how does the Secretary of State plan to ensure that more contaminated products are not sold in the UK?

Mr Paterson: I would not use the word “contaminated”; these products are “adulterated”. This is a case of fraud and mis-labelling; there is no evidence at all that these products are in any way a threat to human health. I have discussed this with Commissioner Borg today, and there is absolutely no reason under the current arrangements of European law to provide a basis for a ban. Should we find a product that is injurious to human health, we would obviously act very rapidly. The Commissioner agreed that in those circumstances we would put out a notice around Europe and all take unilateral action.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): We would all dearly like to eat anything marked with a red tractor or a Scottish saltire, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) said, what families eat depends on the household budget. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the retailers are responsible for what is sold, but he is responsible for the pace at which this moves forward. We are losing confidence in what people are buying, and if we do not move forward quickly, it will cause reputational damage to the agricultural industry. Will he move this on at a greater pace, and what has he done in respect of speaking to colleagues in Scotland?

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Mr Paterson: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that this needs resolving fast. I do not think any greater unity of intent could be seen than in my conversations today. Minister Le Foll from France was emphatic: the moment I suggested the meeting, he was determined to come along. We are quite clear that we all have an alliance of interest in resolving this issue as fast as possible. The hon. Gentleman is right that this issue could damage confidence, but I stress again that this is a case of fraud and mis-labelling: it is not a problem with food safety.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I very much welcome the wider debate about where our food comes from. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the increased popularity of shop local campaigns, local food co-operatives and farmers’ markets, all of which are booming in my constituency?

Mr Paterson: I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. I think shopping local is good: it is good for animal welfare, good for food quality and good for local employment. I strongly support the initiatives my hon. Friend mentions.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I am astounded that the Secretary of State thinks that this is a mis-labelling issue, given that some beef products have not even come into contact with a cow—except perhaps sharing a field with one at some time. I am appalled when he says that there is not even a health issue. Should he not take responsibility for, and take more seriously, the potential for contamination of the human food chain by the drug bute, which is not fit for human consumption?

Mr Paterson: I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that this is a case of mis-labelling and fraud; it is not a case of food safety. The noble Lord Rooker said today that, sadly, 20,000 people go to hospital because of a food-related complaint and, tragically, something like 500 die, yet he does not know of a single individual whose health has been affected by the importation of these products. I think hon. Members must get this in perspective. The hon. Gentleman mentioned bute, but I draw his attention to today’s advice from the chief medical officer, who said:

“It’s understandable that people will be concerned, but it is important to emphasise that even if bute is found to be present at low levels, there is a very low risk indeed that it would cause any harm to health”.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that Opposition Front Benchers are demonstrating a degree of opportunism, given that we are operating under a system that we inherited from them? Will he confirm that no testing for horsemeat in food took place during the last seven years of the Labour Administration?

Mr Paterson: Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think that that question threw the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) when she was on Andrew Neil’s programme yesterday.

The important point that my hon. Friend has made is that the Food Standards Agency is rightly targeting its efforts on problems that might be prejudicial to health.

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Until the case in Ireland came up, very recently, there had not been a problem with horsemeat. This is a very recent evolution, and until now the FSA has rightly been concentrating all its efforts on health problems.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): Although the issue of food safety in Scotland has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, this Government had responsibility during the discussions that were held with the European Commission on Scotland’s behalf. When the Secretary of State next speaks to the Scottish Agriculture Minister, will he pass on the view of the Scottish people that it is not good enough simply to test products that are manufactured in Scotland, and that goods that are retailed in Scotland must be tested as well? Do not consumers in Scotland deserve the same protection as people in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr Paterson: As I think I said in answer to an earlier question, I had a very constructive conversation yesterday with Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, and he wrote me a letter today. We will work together closely, and I will include him in discussions with the FSA. However, the hon. Gentleman, like some of his colleagues, has missed the point. The ultimate arbiters when it comes to the safety, quality and integrity of food products are the retailers. The hon. Gentleman must get his head around the fact that it is the retailers who are ultimately responsible.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Questions and answers must be very brief from now on.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): When he cited the Irish example, my right hon. Friend spoke of the importance of intelligence. May I urge him, in his discussions with the slightly sleepy FSA, to challenge it on its whistleblowing procedures and incentives? We need as many people as possible to come forward, and he would be taking a great step if he asked the agency how it currently manages its whistleblowing.

Mr Paterson: Transparency is essential. On Saturday, we agreed that further tests would continue, and that the FSA would publish the results every three months in order to give confidence to the consumer. Ensuring that consumers go to shops and buy British goods is absolutely key.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): Given the concerns about horsemeat, and given the announcement at the end of January that pork DNA had been found in pies that were supposed to be halal, many of my constituents are naturally anxious about the classification of halal meat. Can the Secretary of State tell us what meetings he has had with halal certification organisations, and can he reassure my constituents that meat that is labelled halal is indeed halal?

Mr Paterson: That is an important point. Many faith groups would be shocked to find that they had bought inappropriate material. This is an operational matter, which is being taken up by the FSA.

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Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): If negligent, incompetent or, indeed, criminal producers are happy to contaminate products with horsemeat, with what else would they be prepared to cut those products? Can the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that products have also been tested for non-meat adulterants?

Mr Paterson: That is a very important question. We have no evidence that any other meat product is being used to adulterate bovine, or processed bovine, products.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): The Secretary of State has told us that this is an issue of fraud and mislabelling, but how can he be sure, given that the random testing seems to have involved only about 1.5% of horse carcases? How can he state so categorically that there is no health issue? If more comprehensive testing by the FSA proves that there is a health issue, will he then act unilaterally?

Mr Paterson: I think I have made clear twice that from now on all horse carcases will be tested, and that none will be released until they are proved to be clear.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): My constituents were horrified to hear of the circuitous route taken by some of the contents of everyday products before they arrive on the shop shelves. The Secretary of State rightly drew attention to the high quality of British beef and other products. Is he able to restrict the import of foreign products, or is he himself restricted by European legislation?

Mr Paterson: I am happy to make clear that the only grounds on which we could talk to the Commission about a ban on the import of any product would relate to food safety, and to content that might be injurious to human health. Commissioner Borg has made clear that if we did come across a product that could present a risk to food safety, he would react very rapidly.

Mr Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his handling of this crisis, which has contrasted sharply with the way in which it has been handled by the FSA. When the dust has settled, will he conduct an inquiry into why the FSA’s intelligence systems failed to identify the extensive prevalence of horsemeat in processed and ready-made meals in this country?

Mr Paterson: I think that a system can always be improved. We inherited the current system from the last Government. I have no doubt that there will be lessons to be learnt from this episode, but, as I said in answer to an earlier question, the area in which I am most interested in pursuing real progress is the introduction of random testing. Too much is taken for granted under the present system. Too often, although the paperwork is supposed to describe what is on the pallet or the truck, it goes through the system and no one actually checks. I think that we could make a massive improvement within the current constraints of European competence and all the other arrangements, but I think that random testing would make a real difference. I am pleased that Lord Rooker was so sympathetic to that idea today, as was Commissioner Borg.

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Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): My constituency contains the abattoir of Woodhead Bros Meat Bros Co., in Colne. Woodhead, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Morrisons supermarket, benefited from a £21 million investment last year and employs more than 700 people. All Morrisons’ meat and mince is 100% British-sourced. It uses its own abattoirs and maintains very high standards, as I have seen every time I have visited Woodhead Bros. Will the Secretary of State join me in praising retailers such as Morrisons which do the right thing and go the extra mile to ensure that their products are correct?

Mr Paterson: I have to admire the way in which Morrisons managed to penetrate every possible news outlet in order to promote its products.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I understand the technical definition, but to many of my constituents a supposed beef product that is actually horse represents a contamination.

May I pursue the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers)? Can the Secretary of State tell me whether, if the meat had come from outside the European Union, we would now be looking at an import ban?

Mr Paterson: That is a good question. I assume that my hon. Friend means that the product was processed within the European Union. We should not forget that the products withdrawn by Findus were eventually processed in Luxembourg from meat which, we understand, went to Castelnaudary in France and possibly came from Romania, and that they therefore counted as European Union products. Under the existing system, a product from Comigel in Luxembourg would have to present a health risk to enable me to approach Commissioner Borg to request an import ban.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I sympathise with my right hon. Friend, who cannot act freely because his actions are circumscribed by the European Union. What else does he think the European Commissioner should be doing? It seems that the Commissioner does not have much of a sense of urgency in this regard. This is criminal fraud, and we know that a great deal of criminal fraud is endemic throughout the European Union. Why is the Commissioner not taking more action more quickly?

Mr Paterson: Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to address that question directly to the Commissioner. All I can say is that the Commissioner could not have been

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more co-operative when I rang him today. I look forward to meeting him soon this week—certainly before the end of the week—and I shall certainly raise with him that issue of urgency.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Through the extensive use of their loyalty card schemes, the big supermarkets have a very good idea about which individual consumers are buying which beef—horse—products. At the recent summit that he held, did my right hon. Friend get any indication from the big supermarkets that they would use direct promotion to contact individual consumers, first to say sorry, secondly to restore confidence, and thirdly to offer compensation to those who have brought these products in the recent past?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I have said in my replies to Opposition Members, it is for the retailers to get their message across and take the necessary steps to ensure the validity and integrity of their product. It is for the retailers to communicate with their consumers to ensure that they come back.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I applaud the Secretary of State’s robust approach to eating British food; that is something that everyone in the House will agree with. I am also impressed that he has referred to random testing. Does he think that random testing should be applied to all steps of the food chain? That is an important issue that we need to discuss.

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend raises an important point. That is exactly what I am thinking of. I repeat that I am concerned that the system as currently conceived is all based on trust. A product is certified at the beginning of the process with a certificate or a piece of paper to state that such and such a pallet contains such and such a product, and it then goes through the system based completely on trust. I would like to have random testing at every stage, so that everyone could be kept on their toes. That could deliver considerable benefits.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Consumer confidence is key. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the serious questions being asked about the conduct of many of our EU neighbours illustrate the urgency of implementing the display of full product origins on food labels?

Mr Paterson: I am very keen on more accurate labelling—the more information the better—and that is what the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) is working on.

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Point of Order

6.41 pm

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In answering my question earlier, I fear that the Secretary of State might have given incorrect information. I am sure that I heard him say that he spoke to the chief executive of Findus UK on Saturday, but my understanding is that there is not currently a chief exec of the company. He left last December, hence my point about the executive chairman in New York. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State found out who was masquerading as the chief executive, if that is possible.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I can confirm that I spoke to Mr Leendert den Hollander. Perhaps I have inadvertently misled the House and given him the wrong title, but that was his name.

Mr Watson: Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I believe that that person works for a completely different company—namely, Young’s Seafood.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I am sure that this is something that can be sorted out in the course of time.

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European Union (Approvals) Bill

Considered in Committee