Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): I, too, welcome the debate. Fifteen years on from the Good Friday agreement, it is timely for us to take the opportunity to reflect on where we are. I thank the shadow Secretary of State and the Labour party for bringing forward the debate. It is evidence of his active interest in Northern Ireland issues, and all of us welcome it. I also thank the Secretary of State for her remarks, and I welcome the fact that throughout what has been a difficult baptism

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into the Northern Ireland political scene, she has handled herself with great grace and courage. I pay tribute to her for that.

I want to acknowledge at the outset that there has been major progress in Northern Ireland, because we sometimes fail to acknowledge that when we talk about where we are now. Belfast is a transformed city from the one in which I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, and the contrast between the two cities is stark. I think the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and the hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) would recognise that from their own constituencies and the city centre, as I do from mine.

The Good Friday agreement and the St Andrews agreement have moved us on, and the Assembly has given us an opportunity to manage the political differences and start to deliver on the social and economic issues that matter to our constituents. The right hon. Member for Belfast North is right that we should not take that progress for granted, and nor should we treat it lightly or endanger it. However, while that progress has been delivered at least partially at political level, I do not believe that the reconciliation that was hoped for has been delivered. The hon. Member for Belfast South captured something of my personal frustration about that. We have a rigidly consociational model of democracy in Northern Ireland, which was chosen as a means of managing our divisions, but in many ways it has fixed those divisions and given them a permanence that I believe is unhelpful. It has almost incentivised division, and we need to consider that carefully in how we make progress with the Assembly and its structures.

Even politically, where the Assembly has delivered, it has created stability but not necessarily dynamism, agility or flexibility. We all hoped that devolution would bring those things. Our people are patient but frustrated that progress has been slow, even on issues of policy that at first glance appear non-contentious. There is built-in inertia in the system, and reform to make it more nimble would be hugely helpful to us all. Such disaffection with the performance of devolution is a risk to something that I value as a committed devolutionist. The Assembly faces a challenge of making itself valuable for more than merely managing political stalemate and division, and for actually delivering results. That is where the focus needs to be.

Many of us who lived through the troubles will welcome and value at personal level the current peace. A whole generation of young people, however, have not had that experience, and perhaps place less emphasis on the importance of where we are now versus where we used to be. Those without direct, lived experience listen to the history of the troubles, and narratives constructed around that history can endanger it by glamorising or justifying it in terms that allow people who feel they have no stake in current society to think that a return to violence is a way to claim a place in the future. We must deal with such issues in a sensitive way.

I could say many things but I want to reflect briefly on six points that we must consider if we are to realise the potential not only of the agreement and the Assembly, but of Northern Ireland as a whole. Three of those

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things look backwards and are historical or legacy issues; three look forward—and all are crucial if we are to make progress.

The past is the best place to start, because we must agree a framework to deal with it. Dealing with the past properly, whether in terms of victims, or of commemorations and memorialisation, is hugely important. Lack of a comprehensive approach allows some to peddle partial and skewed narratives that perpetuate misunderstanding and compound hurt, which brings huge attendant risk. All parties to the agreement—both Governments as well as Northern Ireland parties—must address the matter, and I renew my call to the Secretary of State to look at initiating the all-party talks for which we have previously called.

The current process with the Historical Enquiries Team and the series of inquiries—albeit of individual significance—risk producing retrospective narratives that do not correlate with the reality we lived through. I agree with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) who said that we need paramilitaries to engage in an honest discussion. If the full truth is to be told, it cannot simply be about story telling; it must be about truth telling and it must be the whole truth.

Another legacy issue is that of parades. Parades and demonstrations are sensitive and require careful management in a divided society. The right to parade and to free assembly are important and must be protected, but they must be balanced and managed against the right to live free of harassment and intimidation. Current law and legal processes must be respected and supported by all elected representatives. If people have issues with the Parades Commission, the onus is on them to find an agreed alternative process to deal with those issues. That has not been possible to date, but in the interim we must support the rule of law.

The third issue is flags and emblems—a sensitive issue as I think we all recognise, perhaps more today than ever. There are two distinct issues of policy. One concerns the proper display of national flags and symbols of Government, for example on civic and Government buildings, and the other is the use and abuse of flags on street furniture around the Province to create a chill factor in Northern Ireland that is deeply unwelcome and unhelpful. On the first issue, it is currently a zero-sum game. Flags fly in a number of Unionist-controlled councils all the time, but not at all in nationalist-controlled councils. Such a policy fails to recognise that flags are constitutional symbols, and not just tribal banners. I believe that the review of public administration going through the Assembly provides the opportunity to resolve this matter once and for all, rather than forming 11 new councils that will fight the battle one at a time. We should take that opportunity to develop a solution acceptable to everyone.

Displays on public property also need to be addressed. That is illegal under the Roads (Northern Ireland) Order 1993, and in those terms should not be permitted. If a parent-teacher association sticks a flag or notice on a lamppost it will be fined, but if someone puts on a balaclava or a mask and puts a flag on a lamppost, they will not be fined. There must be some kind of regular approach to dealing with such things. We have suggested regulation rather than an outright ban to give space to those who wish to demonstrate and display emblems and symbols. However, they should do so with consultation

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and assurances in place, and the time of such displays should be limited so that no area becomes permanently marked-out territory.

Let me move on to the forward-looking issues. First, and most important, is the economy. If we want a prosperous, stable and peaceful future for Northern Ireland, we must deal with sectarianism, because it puts off three key groups on which our economy will depend: indigenous entrepreneurs, who will go elsewhere; inward investors, who will take their investment elsewhere; and tourists who will take their holiday money elsewhere if we do not resolve these issues.

The economic impact not only of unrest but of ongoing sectarianism on small and medium-sized indigenous local businesses is profound. In the past three to four weeks, I have dealt with businesses in my constituency that have had to wrestle with sectarian workplace disputes and with relocation, because sectarian symbols have dissuaded workers from going to their workplace. Protection rackets run by paramilitary organisations have impacted on businesses, as has the outworking of civil disturbances. Those additional challenges faced by businesses in Northern Ireland are not faced by our competitors. We already have a higher cost base, although I welcome what the Government are doing to reduce it. We are competing on a world stage, and we need to resolve those impediments. That must be done by parties on these Benches, with the assistance of the two Governments.

Those problems disproportionately affect disadvantaged areas—not because they are more sectarian, but because the expression is more visible in those neighbourhoods. That drives jobs out of those areas and accelerates the brain-drain of talented young people from Northern Ireland. We need to deal with that.

To deliver outcomes that achieve social justice, we must work with communities honestly and talk about how we can attract investment to disadvantaged and deprived neighbourhoods. That is a problem for inward investors. As other hon. Members have said, we have performed exceptionally well in attracting investment. If the Government devolved corporation tax, we would perform even better—I could not let that go unsaid, and I am sure other hon. Members agree with me. As the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Committee has indicated, if the Government dealt with air passenger duty, it would be a huge help.

However, we should bear in mind that the G8 and other high-profile events that help us to promote and build our brand can be undermined instantly if scenes of bomb alerts or civil unrest are broadcast around the world. Inward investment is infected by instability. No one seeking to locate a business in my community comes to talk to me about parades or flags or the past, but they ask, “Is it safe? Is it stable?” All those things feed into the answer to the question.

The same is true of tourism. The Northern Ireland share of tourism is much lower than that in the Republic of Ireland. The entire differential cannot be accounted for by the weather—in Northern Ireland, by “weather”, we generally mean “rain”. Product has been invested in, for which huge credit is to be given to the Northern Ireland Executive and others. Derry city of culture is a fantastic showcase for the quality and diversity of our artistic and cultural offer. In my constituency, we have Titanic Belfast, a celebration of our maritime heritage. It is a world-class tourist centre that is well visited—it

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celebrates its first anniversary today. There are smaller projects, too. Things such as the Connswater Community Greenway in East Belfast highlights heritage in my constituency as diverse as George Best’s first home, Van Morrison’s old stomping grounds, which are immortalised in his lyrics, and C. S. Lewis’s strong connections to the constituency and that literary heritage. Those are all reasons to stay in East Belfast, to spend in East Belfast and to be part of what we are growing, but with few exceptions people will be wary of travelling to somewhere on holiday that is perceived to be either dangerous or unstable. We need to deal with those issues.

The second future issue is education. We have massive issues with education. We have some excellent schools, which we should celebrate, but we have a long, under-achieving tail. We need to address that educational disadvantage, because it can breed long-term disengagement and disaffection in communities. People believe not only that they are not getting a fair share in education, but that they are impeded in influencing the community around them. We must consider how we educate our young people—we educate them separately, and the people who teach them are also separated. Only 7% of young people are in integrated settings, but 79% of parents say that that would be their choice. We need to consider how we build on that for future generations.

Kate Hoey: Does the hon. Lady therefore welcome the motion passed in the Assembly yesterday? It was supported by all parties bar one, which I will not name. The motion supported getting rid of the exception in employment law allowing discrimination on the grounds of religious belief. The Assembly was united apart from one party.

Naomi Long: I welcome that measure—it is long overdue. That is one way of opening up the teaching profession. Indeed, it means that students could be opened up to people from different backgrounds from their own, which is important.

Finally, there is the issue of shared spaces and shared housing. We need to change the language, away from people simply saying that people choose to live segregated lives, either to an acknowledgement that the threat that makes people choose to live that way is no longer there, and that we will set out to prove that that is the case; or to an acknowledgement that the threat is there and real, that separation is safer, and that we will tackle the forces that are posing a threat, whether they are paramilitaries or others. Shared spaces do not have to be neutral, but they do have to be managed. We have to put effort into ensuring that they are available for the people of Northern Ireland. It is not easy to achieve. My colleague David Ford has worked with groups on issues relating to interfaces, and reducing and opening barriers. We have to build confidence, and get statutory support in place.

Most of the matters I have highlighted are devolved, with the exception of dealing with the past and parades. However, there is a role for the British and Irish Governments as joint custodians of this process, participating in the wider discussion, facilitating and encouraging progress, and supporting the Executive in those areas where agreement can be found.

In recent months, Northern Ireland has found itself staring back into the abyss. We are faced with the choice of going back there again or doing the work now to

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ensure that that does not happen. We can choose to spend our time poking each other in the eye, or we can try to find a way to treat each other with dignity and respect. I am an optimist. It is not that I think that things are better than they are; I firmly believe that they can be better. That is the challenge to each of us, and we need to show the leadership to fulfil it.

4.26 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I welcome the debate and thank the shadow Secretary of State for ensuring that it took place. Looking back 20 years, I am absolutely delighted by how my party’s policy on Northern Ireland has changed radically. When I was first elected, one was almost shouted down if one said anything that in any way vaguely implied that one might not want a united Ireland. Our policy used to be that we would persuade people that a united Ireland was their best future. That changed under the previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and from then things improved. We got the Belfast agreement and, as everyone has said, things have changed so much in Northern Ireland that, as someone who was born and brought up there and still goes back regularly, I cannot help but see the differences and changes, which are mostly for the best.

I pay tribute to the Prime Minister. “Risk” is the wrong word to use, but he certainly took a big leap by agreeing to have the G8 in Northern Ireland. We do not host the G8 summit that often, so to hold it in a part of the United Kingdom where a lot of people across the world will be saying, “How on earth are we going to go to Northern Ireland?” was a fantastic thing for him to do. I think it will be a wonderful experience for all those people. It may not be such a wonderful experience for any of our colleagues going in and out of Belfast international airport on 16 and 17 June, as I think there will be a lot of security, but there is security at all G8 summits. I think we have to remind people that it will be no different from the security at any G8 anywhere in the world. I welcome the decision to hold the summit in Northern Ireland very much.

There is one area in particular that I shall mention towards the end of my speech. I will be as brief as possible, because I know that my colleagues from Northern Ireland want to speak. I will deal with only a couple of matters.

On the flags issue, it was not as if there were thousands and thousands of people on the streets of Belfast demanding that the flag be taken down from Belfast city hall. We know that this was a Sinn Fein agenda—it is what they have always wanted. The sad thing was that they were given that chance by people who perhaps thought that they were working in the interests of uniting people, and all it has done is divide people.

I am concerned about the Historic Enquiries Team, and hope that the Minister will say something about it. There are real issues that we need to explore: the length of time some of the things are taking and perhaps the way it is being run now. We need to have a detailed look at how that organisation is working. I hope that the Minister will come back to that.

I want to deal today with a crucial, but non-devolved, matter. Northern Ireland has a fantastic heritage of sport, sporting opportunities and sporting people famous

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all over the world. I need not remind anybody that we have the best golfers in the world or of people such as Mary Peters who have done extremely well at the Olympics over the years. These people have made Northern Ireland known to those involved in sport all over the world. We have some very good young people, yet we are faced with an issue that people do not like to talk about, because they think, “Oh, sport’s not political, so let’s not make it political.” But it is a real issue. In many sports, it is difficult for a young person from a particular community in Northern Ireland who wants to be part of a British team and of the UK ever to compete for a British team, unless they move to England, Wales or Scotland.

Boxing is one example. There are some boxing clubs—probably not many—where young boxers have no desire to box under the tricolour, but they have to because boxing is organised on an all-Ireland basis. The international boxing community recognises all-Ireland boxing, so if someone wants to box for a British team, they have to join a club in England, Scotland or Wales. The Belfast agreement was supposed to ensure parity and enable people to choose whether they felt more Irish or more British, yet in sport it is very much one way. Swimming is another example. Swimming clubs in Northern Ireland cannot affiliate to the Amateur Swimming Association, even though its general secretary would love to have them. They are not allowed to because they have to affiliate to the Irish swimming association, which does not want clubs affiliated to British swimming.

It is the same in tennis. A washing machine powder advert once ran a special offer giving people special help in tennis, but Northern Ireland was excluded because it was not seen as part of the British set-up. I will not repeat the story of the Olympics, but a number of colleagues are concerned that before the next Olympics we find a way of not referring to “Team GB”. It ignores Northern Ireland. There were people from Northern Ireland in the British team in several sports. I am not saying that because I consider Northern Ireland to be a part of the United Kingdom, everyone there must be in a British team, but the House has to ensure that the rights and opportunities of young people who feel British are recognised.

When I was sports Minister, I tried to do something about this matter, but it was even more difficult then because we did not have the agreements. Now we have them, however, there is no reason for the Minister, the Secretary of State or Northern Ireland politicians not to say, “This is wrong.” Every youngster must have the right to choose. Boxing, swimming and tennis clubs should be able to affiliate to British boxing, as well as to Irish boxing, if that is what they want. They might not all want to, but they must have that right. My constituents buy their lottery tickets hoping to help a British team in the Olympics. Some of that money quite rightly helps to fund the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, because it has a team in the Commonwealth games, but some of those youngsters also compete for Ireland against British teams. So we have this ridiculous situation where my constituents are paying for people to have extra training and support to help them win a gold medal instead of a British person.

I find it upsetting that when people who feel strongly in Northern Ireland raise this matter they are accused almost of being sectarian. It is not sectarian for someone

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to want to be able to compete for the country that is their nationality. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and if someone feels British and they live in Northern Ireland, they should be allowed to do that. I hope that the Minister will refer to that and not just ignore it, as many other Ministers have over the years.

Let me end by saying that I am delighted at the progress in Northern Ireland, but also adding my concern that, although it is easy to talk about the bad old days and the good days now, it does not take an awful lot to go back to some of the things that happened in the bad old days. We have seen some of those and hon. Members have outlined some of the terrible things that have happened. Devolution now applies to many areas, but we in this Parliament should remember that the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, of which I am a member and which the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) chairs so well, needs to keep an eye on things in Northern Ireland. We cannot just say, “It’s all finished; it’s all better.” Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. Members in this House need to remember that and not be fobbed off by the idea that everything in the garden is rosy over there, because it certainly is not.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. May I inform hon. Members that we have just under 50 minutes left for this debate? There are five Members wishing to catch my eye. If each speaks for nine minutes—nearly 10 minutes each—we should get everybody in comfortably, ready for the shadow Minister and the Minister to wind up.

4.36 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Thank you very much for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Let me reiterate the thanks to the Opposition Front Bench spokesman and the Secretary of State for the way in which the motion was introduced, as well as the terms in which it was introduced. It was not a eulogy to the past or to one political philosophy. That is a mature way to approach things, because we are all good at trying to explain and justify why we are here and how we got to this point, when in fact our job as politicians and leaders in the community is to explain to people and give them hope, to co-ordinate and concentrate on where we are going to take them and to give them a forward-looking agenda. I am delighted that today’s debate has largely been about forward-looking policies and ideas and identity, which is important.

There is no doubt about it: Northern Ireland has changed. The legacy we have inherited has changed from when I grew up, when it was mainly a bloody and difficult politics to grow up in, to now, when it is mainly just a difficult politics to grow up and work in. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) is absolutely right: there are difficulties and we should not try to brush them under the carpet, but thankfully they are no longer bloody and difficult problems, but largely just difficult problems. That is an important point.

There have been positive developments. Let me turn briefly to the employment situation in Northern Ireland, which is largely pinned to that in the rest of the United Kingdom, so we are sitting at about 8.5% unemployment. That is slightly higher than the rest of the UK, but it is

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certainly not as high as in the Republic of Ireland, at almost 15%, or the eurozone in general, at 12%, so there is a clear benefit to continuing with the economic link, which shows that we are stronger together than apart. Jobs have been created in the last term of the Assembly; in fact, 10,244 have been created in the life of the Assembly. That is pretty incredible for Northern Ireland, given the disadvantages and problems, which we are well aware of. Indeed, £500 million of investment from overseas has been secured, and although Northern Ireland represents 2% of the UK population, 7% of all foreign direct investment comes to Northern Ireland. Those statistics on their own are encouraging in helping us to grow, develop and find a way forward.

We are a successful region, but there are obviously difficulties and challenges, and we should look at some of those. It is disappointing that one in four Sinn Fein members still believes that it is okay to murder a Protestant. That is the stark reality—that is what they said last week at their party conference when polled by the Belfast Telegraph—so leadership needs to be shown to bring that community to the point where it is never justifiable to murder for any cause. We need to make that absolutely clear.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, when he said that a move towards a border poll would be some sort of “half-baked” gimmick. He was absolutely right, and I am glad that the Secretary of State pinned her colours to the mast today and said that she was not going to waste her time on such a poll. It is welcome to be able to clear that matter up and move on.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) was absolutely correct to identify the hard work that our Select Committee is doing on fuel laundering. I know that he has briefed the Secretary of State on that matter, and I urge her and her office seriously to pursue the issues that he has put before them. They are serious issues, and they demonstrate that there is something really rotten at the heart of things. They must be addressed eagerly and with energy, so that we can put those smugglers out of business once and for all. They are stealing money from the pockets of ordinary citizens in Northern Ireland.

I have already mentioned the issue of corporation tax, and my disappointment that the Government think that a technical matter—namely, Scotland as part of the Union—is preventing us from devolving that power. I really feel that the Government should have addressed this matter much faster. The National Crime Agency has also been mentioned, and it will be disappointing if we do not achieve a level playing field for every citizen of the United Kingdom in that regard. Each of them should be part and parcel of the area in which the NCA deals with the terrible issues such as slavery, prostitution and all the other rackets that go on. It is important that Northern Ireland should have the same standing in that regard.

I want to draw the House’s attention to a full frontal attack on £16 million-worth of salaries in Northern Ireland. I have waited some time for an opportunity to put this matter on the record, and the Government must address it. They are contemplating plain packaging for cigarettes, and they are now indicating that the proposal might be in the Queen’s Speech in a matter of weeks. We need to be absolutely clear about this. According

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to the response to a freedom of information request, which is in the House of Commons Library, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) was interviewed by Patrick Wintour of

The Guardian

on or about 28 February. Five days later, on 5 March, an article appeared in that newspaper indicating that the proposal was going to be in the Queen’s Speech. That drove 2.8% off the stock market value of the shares of a manufacturing company in the United Kingdom. The share price has not yet recovered, despite Ministers’ denials that they are going to introduce such a policy on 8 May.

The Government have a duty and a responsibility to defend employment in Northern Ireland. They might not like what is being manufactured, but that industry keeps 1,100 people in jobs in Northern Ireland and puts £60 million directly into the wage economy there. More importantly, it supports tens of thousands of other smaller companies including retail shops and other minor businesses in the locality. The Government have a serious responsibility to stop that full frontal attack on business in Northern Ireland and to address this matter once and for all. I hope that they will not put the proposal into the Queen’s Speech, and that instead they will have a serious look at defending our manufacturing industry in the tobacco sector. They will have a serious problem if they do not do so.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the freedom of information request in the Library is looked at, and to give consideration to an inquiry into whether anyone gained from the drop in share price that occurred in the five days between that interview taking place and the article appearing. Any such inquiry should look into who benefited from that share value drop, as this could be a very serious matter for all those involved in what I think was a deliberate attempt to undermine that business and to adjust share pricing, which has affected business in Northern Ireland.

I shall turn now to two events that summarise the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland. I had the sad duty, and honour, of accompanying the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) to the 30-year anniversary of the Ballykelly massacre. When I stood with him in that little church and helped to lay the wreath, I remembered how, as a 16-year-old, I had heard about that awful atrocity and witnessed the pictures of what had happened at the Droppin Well discotheque. It was awful, but it was the signature that appeared in most of our lives as teenagers growing up in Ulster during the ’70s and ’80s.

If we fast forward to last weekend, I spent the day with my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell). We toured around our constituencies and visited the Coleraine football club and its liaison officer, Andy Alcorn, and the community liaison team. We looked at 600 young people from all across the region—from Magherafelt, Cookstown, Ballymoney, Ballymena, Coleraine, Bushmills and Ballycastle—who came into the heartland of Coleraine. There they were—whether it be the Magherafelt Celtic team or the Carniny football team from Ballymena—working together, playing soccer together and enjoying sport together, even though they were from a divided community. That signifies the hope of what our future might be, as our children grow

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up in a much more peaceful Ulster than my generation had the chance to do. We therefore have the opportunity to create and to develop the change—not just to hope it happens, but to create it and make sure that it does.

4.46 pm

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): When I was growing up, Northern Ireland was in the news on an almost daily basis, with reports of the latest bombing or shooting. It felt like a world away, and most people of my generation watched from England with confusion and trepidation about what was happening in a place from which most of us could claim some ancestry.

My mother’s grandfather was from County Tyrone. Like many people from Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland he moved to Port Clarence to work as foreman at Bell’s Steel in Middlesbrough, criss-crossing the top of the Transporter bridge on the River Tees every morning and evening to save himself the cost of using the transporter below. It was in Middlesbrough that he met my grandmother. I thus feel a real sense of pride to speak in today’s debate as a Labour MP, as many of the leading lights of the labour and trade union movement came from the diverse and various communities from across the UK and Europe to find work in my area’s blast furnaces, iron stone pits and chemical factories.

The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has already spoken about the importance we on these Benches place on our relationship with Northern Ireland, and about the attachment many of us feel towards it. Important work still needs to be done to drive the peace process forward, and there is a vital role for Westminster to play. Because the Government have a responsibility to work with the Executive and the Irish Government to keep things moving forward in Northern Ireland, we as MPs also have a part to play in that—and not just within the confines of this Chamber.

The recent heightening of tension in Northern Ireland made me ask what I was doing about what was happening. My assessment is that we should make links with Northern Ireland, and learn and share experiences and practices across a whole range of issues, from health to education, business and the environment. There are many similarities between my own Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency and Northern Ireland, as both have rich rural and industrial conurbations and both have traditional shipbuilding heritages. Unfortunately, too, prior to the 2010 general election, both regions were targeted by the Prime Minister for the hardest public sector cuts.

Parts of Northern Ireland face similar challenges to those faced by my native region of the north-east. As other hon. Members have said, the Government’s economic policies are affecting the whole of the UK. That is why we have put forward a plan for jobs and growth for the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland. We are an interconnected and interdependent United Kingdom. Unemployment and lack of growth in Northern Ireland can only have damaged my region, and vice-versa. If we are to succeed, we must work together. The economy needs action now; there needs to be a plan B.

Our five-point plan for jobs and growth would get the economy moving. We would enable the Executive to bring forward long-term investment projects to get people

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back to work and to strengthen our economy for the future. After shedding 5,000 jobs in the last two years, Northern Ireland’s construction industry needs that help. We would give a one-year national insurance tax break to every small firm that takes on extra workers, helping to create jobs and grow the local businesses that make up over 90% of Northern Ireland’s private sector. We have urged the Government to reverse their damaging VAT rise for a temporary period to give immediate help to high streets, struggling families and pensioners in cities, towns and villages across Northern Ireland. Reducing VAT on home improvements, repairs and maintenance to 5% would help to create work for our trained men and women and stop them having to move away. We need to build skills through apprenticeships and training that will equip our young people for the future.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I agree with my hon. Friend that for the construction industry a cut to 5% in the rate of VAT is an ideal way of boosting investment in repairs and maintenance. However, it has been argued, in Northern Ireland as well as in my constituency, that there should be a reduction in VAT, at least temporary, to help the tourism and hospitality industry. I know that not much can happen overnight and that we cannot issue too long a list of demands, but does my hon. Friend agree that this is an important issue for Northern Ireland? It has certainly been raised by my constituents.

Tom Blenkinsop: My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point. A number of Opposition Members have mentioned Northern Ireland’s tourism economy. Northern Ireland has a fantastic record of bringing in foreign direct investment, but it also has a fantastic Province to sell to tourists. That is something of which our nation—the United Kingdom—should take advantage, and a reduction in VAT would certainly help the tourism economy.

Because we know that young people will be the driving force behind further progress in Northern Ireland, Labour would levy a £2 billion tax in bank bonuses to fund a real jobs guarantee that could help 2,000 young people in Northern Ireland to go back to work. As in my constituency, young people are suffering the most as a result of the Government’s economic policies. They are being let down daily by the Government—let down by failed policy after failed policy. The young people I meet are ambitious for themselves and their communities, but they cannot realise those ambitions unless they are given a chance to learn skills, be trained and find jobs. As we heard from the shadow Secretary of State, no job, no hope and no future are no choices at all.

We each have a responsibility to go on working hard to keep Northern Ireland high on the agenda. The Government must play their part by helping to get its economy moving, and devising a real plan for jobs and growth.

4.51 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I welcome the motion, because I think that the House should remind itself occasionally that the hard-won peace—and political—settlement in Northern Ireland remains very much work in progress, and that, from the perspective of London, there is much more work to be done and more help to be given. I also remind myself that the

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motion gently invites criticism of those who should be making more progress and doing better—perhaps those who lead the Northern Ireland Executive; perhaps the British Government. However, if I offer criticism in my short speech, it is intended to be of the constructive variety, and I hope that I strike, overall, a positive note.

Northern Ireland has come a long way, from the constant, daily violence of my childhood, to a relative peace and some measure of political stability. However, it is some 15 years since the signing of the Good Friday agreement, and while people would have expected little more than that relative peace and some measure of political stability in the first, say, five years, there has been growing frustration about the fact that it is taking for ever for us to see the full promised peace dividend. I am thinking particularly of the economic dividend from peace, namely investment and jobs. I recall my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) saying that we must move from a peace process to a prosperity process. Where is the prosperity process in which the British Government should be engaging?

Although regionally Northern Ireland has always been a net beneficiary of any Treasury settlement, we here are not the most culpable when it comes to the vital process of economic rebalancing. Although we may have been slow to identify new revenue streams and capital receipts in the north of Ireland, it was the UK Government who reneged on their promise of a £20 billion capital programme which would, in part, have allowed the north to catch up on years of under-investment in productive infrastructure. Perhaps the Minister of State will respond to that point when he winds up.

Again, it was the UK Government who, having held out the prospect, reneged on the question of devolving corporation tax-varying powers to the Northern Ireland Executive, despite the fact that all five Government parties were in favour of it and were prepared to pay for it. I am sure all Northern Ireland Members would welcome an update on that potential economic dividend. Despite some local criticism, our Executive Ministers have put a lot of effort into visiting major, current and emerging economic powers in order to win jobs and investment for Northern Ireland, and they have done so against the challenge of worldwide economic recession, so if I had to apportion responsibility for the Northern Ireland economy failing to meet the expectations of our people, I would not start by blaming the Northern Ireland Executive. However, I do believe significant economic progress is possible—but that must be accompanied by greater political progress.

The Secretary of State herself has linked further economic support, through an economic package and enterprise zones, to greater progress toward a shared future. Although I hesitate to see that as a necessary connection, I agree that we have not done enough in that area. The recent report from the Community Relations Council highlighted that one of the failures of the Northern Ireland Executive was in not doing enough on a policy for cohesion, sharing and integration. We are still a divided society, and we must move towards living together, whether through shared housing or shared neighbourhoods.

There is no alternative to a shared future. Our system of power sharing was not designed so that Unionist Ministers would cater for Unionist citizens and nationalist Ministers would look after nationalists. It was created

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so that we would share Government in the north of Ireland and act in the interests of everyone. That was the promise and potential of the good Friday agreement, and in many ways it has not been lived up to. While I have commended the Northern Ireland Executive, and in particular the First and Deputy First Ministers, on the genuine efforts they have made to attract investment, they have not distinguished themselves in other areas. On the flags issue, I would hope the DUP could provide the kind of leadership that it has not provided so far, and on the issue of parading, the Unionist forum is not the answer.

I have a question for the Minister—who represents a Government who are co-guarantor with the Irish Government of the Good Friday agreement—about north-south institutions. The Northern Ireland Executive, and in particular the Department of Finance and Personnel, which is led by the DUP, have again dragged their feet over a central project. The Narrow Water bridge project has enormous economic potential, and not only for my constituency where it will be situated. It will be a bridge between Warrenpoint in County Down and Cooley in County Louth, but it will create enormous investment, trade and tourism opportunities for all of the island of Ireland, and especially Northern Ireland. Let us grasp this opportunity and make everybody realise it presents a win-win opportunity.

Sinn Fein cannot have an à la carte approach to supporting the police. It needs to support the police even when they act against criminal suspects who happen to be republicans.

What we need from the First and Deputy First Ministers is real leadership around areas of division. We cannot work effectively at the heart of Government yet be attacking the very institutions—the PSNI, the Parades Commission—that have been set up to deal collectively, and fairly, with divisive issues.

My party above all still retains its belief in the promise and potential of the Good Friday agreement, and we remain committed to a shared future where all the parties do their very best to deliver for all the people of the north, in every area of Government. There is no doubt that devolution needs to work better for all the people of Northern Ireland, and I believe there is a will to do that, so let everybody—all the parties and both Governments—get on with it. I can say that my party is committed to meeting that challenge. I hope others are, too.

4.59 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Madam Deputy Speaker, how nice it is to see you back in your position again after your time away. We look forward to seeing much more of you in the Chamber.

As a young man growing up during the troubles, I saw many sides to Northern Ireland. I saw evil people carrying out horrific atrocities. I saw fatherless children and childless parents who had seen loved ones so brutally taken from them. I saw fear in people’s faces and sorrow in their eyes. To sum it up, I too often saw despair. However, on the opposite side of that same coin, I saw the strength of the local communities. I saw the dedication and the sacrifice of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, of the Ulster Defence Regiment, of the British Army, in

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defending and upholding right. I saw the togetherness that the troubles often brought, and I saw a hope that we could and would survive this.

Now, many years later, we have come through the troubles, not only surviving but thriving. We are trying to move forward while never forgetting our past, and I feel that this is being achieved. Ulster is in a different place today than it has been in the past. Indeed, the recent Northern Ireland life and times survey shows that only 21% of nationalists show a desire to have a united Ireland. Indeed, in no single group do even a quarter of people want to be part of a united Ireland. It is abundantly clear that there is little desire to see the “green dream” become a reality, and that is good news.

When we take a look at the Irish economy and the fact that, despite our recession, we are in an infinitely preferable situation, it is no wonder that people are stating that the way forward is not to unite with the Republic but to stay within the Union in one way or another. We have listened to calls for border polls, and today the Secretary of State has replied very clearly in relation to the border poll: it is unnecessary, it is costly and it should not happen. That said, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done within the infrastructure, within the business sector, and within communities in Northern Ireland. Those are the three areas that I wish to focus on.

Back home, the Minister for Regional Development is well aware of the needs of my Strangford constituency in relation to roads and infrastructure. Clearly, we need infrastructure. There would not be a day or a week that passes when my staff and myself are not in touch with my local Department for Regional Development office to make complaints about the roads, whether about potholes, claims, or accidents caused by slippery roads. Clearly, my constituency is like others across the whole of Northern Ireland. Just to give a figure, we spend £2,800 per kilometre on road maintenance in Northern Ireland, whereas £12,000 per kilometre is spent in England, and in Wales £7,500. We need improvement in our roads infrastructure, which will attract investment and yield a return in the long run.

Belfast is slowly beginning to attract more outward investment, and it is my belief that we can build on that and bring it into my constituency. The links to the mainland from Belfast are tremendous, with regular flights, boats, and the links that mean anywhere in the Province can be reached within approximately two hours. That is significantly important when it comes to air travel, and to making us accessible for investment and for infrastructure. We have educated young people, eager to work, and those businesses that make the decision to come never regret it.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): We have the international airport in my constituency, and yet we do not have a link to the major hub of Heathrow. Surely that must be put right, and it should be treated as a matter of urgency.

Jim Shannon: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, and I wholeheartedly agree with him that it is something that must be put right. I understand that he and others are working to address that issue.

Our team at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment work hard to promote new business investment and also to support our home-grown businesses.

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In my constituency we have some of the foremost manufacturing in the world for aerospace, which has been mentioned, and we have room for more. We have John Huddleston Engineering, now Magellan, which has a great potential for Northern Ireland. There are extra jobs, and apprenticeships and opportunity, and that is good news.

Small businesses employ 65% of the private sector work force in Northern Ireland, compared with 62% in Wales, 48% in Scotland and 46% in England. In Northern Ireland small businesses account for a greater proportion of turnover than in the UK as a whole—60% of all private sector turnover in Northern Ireland, as against 46% in Wales, 40% in Scotland and 36% in England, which takes a poor fourth place. Those statistics show just how essential those businesses are to the economy, and those businesses are playing their part for economic recovery.

The question is: can we do more to make it happen? Are we doing enough to encourage businesses and apprenticeships? We have a high level of youth unemployment, although I have seen statistics today that show that there has been a small marginal fall throughout Northern Ireland, and that is good news. What are we doing to provide more jobs for them? We must encourage small businesses and make decisions to create growth in local economies and encourage business investment in our areas, creating employment and spending power.

Time is slipping by and I am conscious that one more Member wishes to speak, so I will make a final point on communities. We have come a long way, but this is not simply because of an agreement to power share, but because of hard work on the ground within the communities. We have some of the most deprived areas in the United Kingdom within Northern Ireland. We have many young people who are not working, and this breeds despondency in communities.

I recently visited the Ards campus. More than 300 students are involved in the steps to work programme. All ages are involved and all have job opportunities at the end of that: good news. There is also an initiative for young Protestant males who leave school without qualifications. Local colleges ensure that even after leaving school they can gain qualifications. The South Eastern Regional college, with campuses at Bangor and Ards, has 5,862 students on further education courses, 240 above target, and 2,275 in higher education, against the target of 1,289. There is a big push to see 16 to 24-year-olds with essential skills, further training, and ultimately a job. Good qualifications are important for their CV, and this year 3,000 students will complete their courses. Work is also done with the Prince’s Trust on apprenticeships.

Local community groups work hard within their communities and do great work with women, young people and men in their areas to provide new skills, new qualifications and learning, and this has to be respected and encouraged.

We must address the issue of the flying of the Union flag, which has spread to many communities outside the capital. We very much see the flag as an indication of our foundation and a mark of respect to all those who laid down their lives to protect the inherent freedom that comes through being a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. To remove this

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appeared to be an attack on something we hold dear—our Britishness. This of course provoked a reaction, but the hard work of local representatives and those on the ground stopped the escalation. The vast majority were on the streets peacefully, asking to be listened to in the only way they knew how to, saying that a shared future does not mean an erosion of the identity of the majority to pacify the minority, but respect for each other.

This is a process in Northern Ireland that is ongoing. There is no easy fix. It takes a lot of time and support, and I look to the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to see what can be done to lend support to all communities. This can be done in a practical manner by securing the funding for the work to continue in communities, and by coming to visit and listen to the people who struggle to feel of value and worth, and appreciating how far we have come and how many compromises we have made to make this happen.

Few countries have what Northern Ireland has to offer, including business opportunities and unrivalled beauty. The shadow Secretary of State visited my area and said that it was one of the nicest places he had ever been in, even after his own constituency. We have a people whose warmth and friendship belies the pain that they have come through. This must be respected, promoted and encouraged, and Government and Opposition must continue to work together to do even better.

5.7 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has revealed that the shadow Secretary of State is consistent in his geographic flattery as he tours the various constituencies of Northern Ireland, and no doubt constituencies elsewhere as well. I join others in welcoming the debate and commending the terms of the motion and the way in which it has accommodated a range of contributions on such a number of issues.

Northern Ireland is in a much better place than it was. As Martin Luther King often said,

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability”.

It took real choices and commitments to bring about such change. It took people standing by some of those choices and commitments in helping to deliver a new beginning to politics and a new beginning to the British-Irish relationship––against the shrill opposition of many––and delivering on the new beginning to policing as well. One party said that it was not needed and another said that it would not happen. Those things had to be delivered so that we could move to the situation that we now have.

When we negotiated the Good Friday agreement, I made the point, in leading the referendum campaign for my party, that it would be a new covenant of honour between the two traditions in Ireland. It would recruit and respect the sense and source of legitimacy of both the Unionist and the nationalist traditions by requiring endorsement by a majority of people in Northern Ireland and by a majority of people in the island as a whole. We would have institutions that would earn and enjoy the allegiance of both traditions and would be legitimate in their eyes because they had respected and recruited

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their respective senses and sources of legitimacy. Many people doubted that at the time, but that is what we now have.

We now have a settled process, despite the turbulence and the issues we faced. During the first period of devolution, the First Minister and his Ministers were walking around with letters of resignation in their pockets, and we had other parties saying, “Jump out of the Executive now and we’ll jump out with you.” Of course there was instability, but it was not the result of inherent difficulties in the institutions themselves. The strains at that time were the result of difficulties outside the institutions relating to the various positions on decommissioning and reactions to policing changes and, especially, prisoner releases.

In particular, we had difficulties because the two Governments at the time, although guarantors of the agreement, decided that an inclusive process had given us an inclusive agreement but that the way to resolve difficulties of interpretation and implementation was to have an exclusive process focusing on Sinn Fein on the one hand and the Ulster Unionist party on the other. That brought us into a situation in which the institutions were not centre stage in relation to the peace process. The Governments acted as though the institutions were secondary to the peace process.

Thankfully, we are now in a situation in which even here we have a British Government saying clearly that devolution, where it has responsibility, needs to get its act together. I, for one, am glad that we do not have everyone running in and out of Downing street and going to their different party ATMs to try to get goodies and sweeties or whatever. We are being held to the level of our shared responsibility and we need to live up to it an awful lot more, as many Members have said.

I particularly welcome what the shadow Secretary of State said about there still being a need to address the past. I have quoted before the Russian proverb that says, “To dwell in the past is to lose an eye, but to forget the past is to lose both eyes.” We need to address the past properly. I point out to the shadow Secretary of State that if the previous Government had managed to get away with passing the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, which he tried whipping through in Committee and in this Chamber, we would be in no position to deal with the past. All sorts of people would have gone to the secret tribunal and got their indemnity certificates, so the only people who might have faced any question about the past would be the relatives of victims who dared speculate that somebody had received such an indemnity or about the crime for which they had received it, because the Bill provided that that was who would go to jail. It would be journalists reporting or speculating on that or victims saying it who would go to jail. It was a horrendous Bill. Thankfully, we created a situation in which Sinn Fein was forced to withdraw its support from what we dubbed the Hain-Adams Bill and it was subsequently dropped. That at least created the space in which we can address the past, and that is what we must do. We, as parties, must stop patronising victims on the one hand and ghettoising them on the other. We have to face up to the past fully, and not just for the victims, but for future generations.

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Similarly, hon. Members have mentioned the whole question of flags, symbols and emblems. The hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) made a point that I have made in this Chamber before. As we arrive at 11 new councils, we must ensure that they are not faced with all sorts of difficulties about flags, emblems or even the very symbols of the councils themselves. Similarly, there will be issues about the naming of properties and sites in their areas and the renaming of older ones. Again, we need a common framework for dealing with those and setting mature and responsible standards, rather than being left in a situation of “what aboutery” in relation to things that go on in different council chambers.

In their own way, the two flags that are cherished by the two traditions in Northern Ireland are, at best, symbols of unity, yet they end up being used as visual aids for sectarianism in a deeply offensive way. Combating that requires political leadership. The Good Friday agreement committed us to providing that shared leadership, but the parties have never got around to delivering it. Similarly, the agreement committed us to a Bill of Rights. I believe that we must achieve progress on the Bill of Rights.

If we achieve a robust and articulate Bill of Rights, we might then see that parties need to rely less on the vetoes and negative features and protections built into the agreement. So long as people do not have the positive protection of a Bill of Rights to hold the Government and their different agencies and Departments to account, parties will rely on the agreement’s remaining negative provisions. I drafted some of them, including the designation paragraph, and I know why I did so—it was in the rules of the talks and had to be in the rules of the institutions that came out of those talks—but it was always our hope that some of those features would prove biodegradable as the environment changed and improved. I am glad that even Sinn Fein now seems to be talking about relaxing some of those provisions.

5.15 pm

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): I am sure it is unnecessary to pay tribute to all Members who have spoken in an extraordinarily timely, appropriate and long overdue debate. It is a tradition of this House—it has grown over the years—for the wind-ups of Ministers and shadow Ministers to name-check every single speaker and credit them with the most extraordinary oratorical flourishes. I do not think that that is necessary and will simply concentrate on the finest and best speakers that we have heard this afternoon.

I will start, of course, with the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), who, as ever, commanded the House and held us in the palm of his hand when he described the economic and cultural renaissance that exists not by coincidence, but by virtue of examples such as the Titanic quarter, which is an extraordinarily interesting place to visit.

The Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee ran through its greatest hits. I congratulate him on eschewing the false modesty to which others might have succumbed when he told us about his successes with regard to air passenger duty, corporation tax and fuel laundering. How right he was to avoid excessive modesty. The respect that many of us who have served on the Committee have for him probably grew today.

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The hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) made an extremely thoughtful speech, in which he spoke from a position of almost unrivalled authority. I have no doubt that his positive and forward-looking comments will have impressed themselves on all Members.

The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) made an unusual comment. It is not for me to criticise my betters, which I entirely accept he is, but to refer to hon. and right hon. Members dusting off their speeches and running through their old prejudices on occasions such as these was outrageous, even though one should not criticise an officer. However, we respect him for his contribution and I hope that he will accept that there was no dusting off of stump and set speeches. I think that everything we heard this afternoon was fresh, new and positive and very much in the best traditions of this House.

When the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) spoke about a transformed city, she did so from an unrivalled position of authority. If there is one person in this House who stands as an example of the resilience of the people of Northern Ireland and their refusal to bow to sectarian assault, it is her. She has immense courage and her words resonated throughout the Chamber. When she spoke of the agonies of segregated lives, she described not only a current problem, but a future direction of travel, which we will simply have to address at some stage.

I enjoy it when my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) speaks of sport. She could have mentioned her own remarkable achievements in that area. When I met her and the Sandy Row boxing club the other day, we did not discuss all-Ireland boxing, but we have now been educated on it. Sports groups and organisations in Northern Ireland are providing leadership. Two football teams from slightly different traditions in Belfast—Crusaders and Cliftonville—have for the past two or three years, very quietly and peacefully and without great fanfare, been getting on with cross-community working. I am not sure whether they have ever been given credit on the Floor of the House, but I would like to give credit to the Crus and to Cliftonville for their achievements in that area. I also congratulate the appropriate Members of Parliament for the support that they have given.

The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) demonstrated yet again, as if reminding was needed, what a superb constituency Member he is. Should there at any stage be the remotest threat to any business, any entrepreneur, any start-up, any lock-up garage, any car boot sale, anything within the environs of glorious, beauteous Ballymena, who will come riding forth on his white charger to protect them but the hon. Member for North Antrim? He referred to tobacco packaging. One would almost think there was a constituency interest there. Now that I come to think about it, I remember that Roy Beggs, when he was a Member of the House, and I visited that factory and I discovered, when the free samples were being given out afterwards, how extraordinarily capacious the poacher’s pocket of Roy Beggs’s ulster could be. That was the large coat that he used to wear. I do not think I have ever in my life seen so many packets of Silk Cut disappear into one garment. Yet again the hon. Member for North Antrim has proved that he is a first-class constituency representative.

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We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop). He proved the old adage that if every single President of the United States is entirely Irish, particularly the present one, most Members of the House have some Irish ancestry. The interdependence and the links between our two nations, the shared ancestry, come across as a very important fact that we should never forget, because we are tied together in these islands by ties not just of history, commerce or convenience, but very often of blood, culture and shared history. It was salutary to hear his story of how people came to his constituency from Ireland and made a success, but he has never forgotten where he came from. We need to respect that.

The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) referred to a work in progress. As ever, she brings oratorical flushes and realism in one glorious melange of accuracy. Although her comments were slightly warning, she was optimistic but realistic. That is the reputation that she has. Were we to get into a competition with my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) about the beauty of various constituencies, South Down would be very high on my personal list. I mean to cause no offence to more than 99% of the House when I say that.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is, in my opinion, one of the most decent, God-fearing and good-hearted Members of the House. He also has an oratorical skill and the skill of language and poetry. If I could understand what he was saying most of the time, I am sure that I would never forget his words. I did have the advantage of a translator. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, who has spent much time in Strangford, gave me a running commentary.

The hon. Member for Strangford referred to the fear in people’s faces and the sorrow in their eyes. That is poetry, and it is poetry from the heart. It is not an artifice but a genuine poetic instinct and an urge. If I may say so, it is an honour for us to hear that. He also used an expression that we should remember. It is one of the most important things that has been said today. He said that in Northern Ireland people are not only surviving, but thriving. That is something we should certainly remember. He also talked about how people are managing to overcome the difficulties that they face, and he did so with immense courage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), as ever the Pericles of Derry, the man who somehow manages to produce these wondrous verbal confections at which the rest of us simply stand back in amazement, identified an extremely serious point when he spoke about instability. He said that the instability is not to do with the inherent difficulties with the institutions; it is to do with other factors. We need to concentrate on that. As ever, he came up with a glorious expression that we will never forget, when he said that we should not be patronising people, nor ghettoising people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling made one of the best speeches that I have heard on the Floor of this House. It was a speech that was positive and realistic. It contained one line that meant an enormous amount to me: devolution does not mean disengagement. When my hon. Friend made that point, he put down a marker. It was not a party political point, but reflected

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the attitude of the whole House. That line resonated in what the Secretary of State said and she echoed that emotion.

Anyone who is listening to this debate should be sure of one thing: there is a cool, calm and determined attitude in this House. We have an unbreakable determination that the benefits of the peace process will not be lost. We will not, under any circumstances, go back to the cold, chill days of carnage and slaughter. We will move forward and it will be difficult, but there is an absolute commitment on the part of every single Member of this House, for the sake not just of our united nation or Northern Ireland, but our common humanity, to see this through and not to be beaten. The one message that comes from this afternoon’s debate is that there is a unanimity of view, emotion, strength and determination throughout this Chamber and, dare I say it, this country. If this debate has underlined that one point, we have achieved a great deal this afternoon.

5.26 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mike Penning): It is with some trepidation that I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound)—that is an unusual thing to call somebody from a party that is so diametrically opposed to my own—because he is such a great orator. Anybody who listened to his speech might not have understood the seriousness of the debate that we are having. However, the tone and humour that he brings to these debates bring us forward. It is a sign of where we are in the process that 18 Members have contributed in the past three hours, and that we have heard a speech that had so much humour and that got the whole House laughing on such a serious matter. I pay tribute to him for that and I look forward to working through the Bill that might come forward in the near future with him in Committee.

I am looking around to see how many Whips and business managers are in the Chamber, because I am about to upset them. This afternoon was the perfect time for this debate. The tone of the debate and the motion were spot on and allowed everybody to contribute. I put it on the record that I think it is wrong that there is not an annual debate on Northern Ireland. My Secretary of State is behind me on that. It should not be down to one party or another to bring it forward. Perhaps that could happen through agreement with the business managers.

The tone of the speech by the shadow Secretary of State was spot on. It is all too easy to make political points, but this is not that sort of debate.

I want to say from the outset that I will not take interventions because I am conscious of the business that is to come after this debate. As the shadow Minister said, it will not be possible to respond to every point that has been raised by the 18 Members who have spoken. However, as always, my officials are listening and when I do not answer a question fully enough or at all, we will write to hon. Members. If more information is needed, we will have a subsequent meeting to discuss those matters.

The Secretary of State reiterated the support of the Government and the House for Northern Ireland and the peace process. The peace process is not stationary or

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frozen, but is moving forward. Praise has rightly been given to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, including those who have retired with injuries, whom we must not forget, and those who have lost their lives serving this country. We must also remember the prison officers who have lost their lives over the years. One of the saddest things that I have ever attended was the funeral of David Black, with the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State.

Although members of the Army are not patrolling the streets of Northern Ireland, as I did many years ago and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) did in the ’90s, they are acting there in two ways. First, they are there for the purposes of normalisation and are based in their normal bases, free to go where they need to with their families and loved ones and to train unfettered. Also, the boys and girls of our armed forces are going out more and more regularly to devices that are designed to kill. There are also an awful lot of hoax devices, including sophisticated ones. Until they go there and touch them, and do the job that they have been trained for, they do not know that they are hoaxes. I therefore put on record our praise and admiration for our armed forces and their bravery. Many of them have served many tours in Afghanistan doing a similar job, and sadly, they see similar devices in Northern Ireland as in Afghanistan and Iraq. They dedicate their lives to their country and its people.

The members of our Security Service are the forgotten ones at times. We sometimes hear about them in the press, but it is a secret organisation. However, they are important to us in continuing to keep the peace and ensuring that the good guys continue to have good days. We have had some really good days recently when we have picked up devices and picked up people who want to kill. They need to know that they are highly likely to be arrested and go to prison for an awfully long time, and I am sure the House would reiterate that point with me.

The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) sold Northern Ireland brilliantly. One thing that it has is compassion—there is a welcoming spirit when people arrive. I have found it warm and welcoming, as I know the Secretary of State has. That is why tourism does so well there. It is also because of the open border—people want to visit Ireland, and then they have the facility to come up to Northern Ireland. When I was the Minister responsible for shipping, I was involved in many controversial matters, but also in the Titanic centre and in bringing HMS Caroline to Belfast, which is another great coup. The coups have been such that my wife is insisting that I take her to the Titanic exhibition the next time she is over. I think she also wants to do a bit of shopping in the large shopping mall that is close to it.

The Secretary of State and I are keen to open up Hillsborough castle not only for tourism but for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland who want to come and see one of this country’s great houses. We are working on that as much as we possibly can.

As we have heard, one great thing that is happening this year is the G8 summit. The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister showed bravery in confronting those who were sceptical—there were plenty of them—and saying that if normalisation is to work, it means that when the G8 comes to the United Kingdom it should

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come to Enniskillen. Having visited, I think it is one of the most beautiful areas of the United Kingdom. It is not quite as nice as the Chilterns, in my constituency, but it is very close. I would not sell myself completely on the matter as the hon. Member for Ealing North did, but I understand where he was coming from. The beauty of Northern Ireland is there for all of us to see.

The Derry/Londonderry City of Culture year is also hugely significant. I went the other day to the organisation’s head office, which is in an old barracks that I know well. Coming in the back way, it still looks like a barracks, but coming in round the other side I saw the transformation that had taken place. I walked across the Peace bridge and had lunch in a wonderful hotel just on the other side, and then walked on the wharves across Butcher’s Gate, which is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. I never thought I would be able to do that, whether I was a Minister or anybody else.

I am conscious that we have other business, so I will conclude. This has been a fantastic debate, and I have not had time to congratulate Mary Peters on the world fire and police games or to talk about boxing, which I know from experience probably has more politics involved in it than what goes on in the Chamber. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House notes the significant and positive developments in Northern Ireland in recent years; acknowledges that challenges remain; and reaffirms its commitment to supporting peace, progress and prosperity in every community.

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Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards

5.34 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): I beg to move,

That the Order of 16 July 2012 relating to the establishment of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards shall have effect in the next Session until the day on which the Commission makes its report on standards and culture of the UK banking sector.

That a message be sent to the House of Lords to desire their concurrence.

This motion is to allow the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards to continue its work in the new Session of Parliament, and to give it time to publish its final report on standards and culture in the banking sector. The Commission was established in July last year following the LIBOR rate-setting revelations, and it had a dual remit. First, it was to report on the lessons to be learned about corporate governance, transparency, conflicts of interest and their implications for regulation and Government policy. Secondly, it was given the role of looking more broadly at standards and culture in the UK banking sector, taking into account regulatory and competitions investigations into the LIBOR rate-setting process.

The Commission reported on the first part of its remit on 21 December last year in its report on banking standards. It has subsequently published three further reports on structural reform of the banking sector, proprietary trading, and the failure of HBOS. Its final report is now awaited, and I understand that it is hoping to report early in the new Session. That would allow its conclusions to be taken into account in the House’s scrutiny of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, which has completed its Committee stage in the House and is awaiting Report.

The motion is required because under the rules of both Houses of Parliament, Joint Committees cease to exist at the end of the Session in which they were established—unless specific provision is made for reporting by a specified date—or when they have reported on the matter entrusted to them. The motion does not specify a particular date by which the Committee must report, in order to provide the Commission with flexibility to complete its work on its own terms.

The motion makes clear that the Commission will cease to exist when it produces its main report. Of course it is important to ensure that change in the banking sector is carried through, both through the Government’s commitment to introduce any necessary amendments to legislation arising out of the Commission’s work, and through appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of progress in the banking sector and its regulation after the Commission ceases. The Government welcome the valuable work the Commission has already done in examining the banking sector, and look forward to the publication of its final report in the near future. I commend the motion to the House.

5.37 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak in this—hopefully short—debate on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and I congratulate

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the Banking Commission on its work to date. Its reports so far have won cross-party support, which I am sure is in no small part due to the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie).

There can be no doubt that the Banking Commission’s inquiry into malpractices at HBOS, which received so much merited attention recently, was the direct cause of James Crosby’s correct decision to return his knighthood. However, the success of the Banking Commission should not be measured by whether it generates headlines or compels one or two of the banking executives who caused the financial crash to apologise. It has made—and I am sure it will continue to make—a thoughtful and important contribution to the debate about the future of the UK banking industry.

The Commission’s contribution will be best measured by how Parliament reforms the banking industry. It is therefore disappointing that the Treasury seems intent on pressing ahead with its plans, without awaiting the full conclusions of the Banking Commission’s deliberations. I therefore urge the Government to reconsider their timetable for future legislation to allow the Commission to finish its important work.

I confess that I was not always the most diligent of students, and from time to time I had to ask for an extension to complete my work. The Opposition are clear, however, that that is not the reason for the sensible request for the life of the Commission to be extended. I understand that the Commission has worked tirelessly in recent months, and has met on many occasions a week in order to make progress. We see the short extension into the next Session of Parliament as a sensible and pragmatic step to ensure that the Commission is able to complete its work, and we commend the motion to the House.

Mr Speaker: Does the Deputy Leader of the House wish to respond? I do not think he needs to do so—he has moved the motion. If he is desirous of doing so, he can. He does not appear to be especially desirous. This is decision time! Does the Deputy Leader of the House wish further to favour the House with his thoughts?

5.39 pm

Tom Brake: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do want to share my thoughts with the House, but they will be pleasingly brief.

I welcome my Opposition counterpart back to the Dispatch Box after his thoughtful contribution to the tributes to Baroness Thatcher. I wish to respond to one of his points. I do not share the pessimism he displayed on the timetable or timing. I am confident that, if the Commission reports promptly, there will be time for its recommendations to be taken fully into account in the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill.

With those brief points, I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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House of Commons Administration Estimate

[Relevant document:The First Report from the Finance and Services Committee, Session 2010-12, Proposed Standing Order on Motions and amendments with implications for the House Administration budget, HC 1768.]

5.41 pm

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I beg to move,

That the following new Standing Order be made—

‘Motions and amendments with a financial consequence for the House of Commons Administration Estimate.

(1) Motions which would have a direct consequence of additional expenditure under the House of Commons: Administration Estimate estimated to be £50,000 or more shall not be considered by the House unless a memorandum setting out their expected financial consequences has been made available to the House.

(2) The Accounting Officer shall make such a memorandum available to the House within a reasonable time of a motion to which this Order applies being tabled.

(3)(a) This Order shall also apply to amendments to motions which would have the expenditure consequences set out in paragraph (1), but the absence of such a memorandum shall not prevent the House from considering such an amendment.

(b) In his decision as to the selection of such an amendment, the Speaker shall, in addition to such other considerations as may, in his view, be relevant, take into account whether sufficient time has been available for the House to be provided with adequate information regarding the financial consequences.

(4) The Speaker shall decide whether a motion or amendment falls within the terms of this Order.’.

The motion is in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The Finance and Services Committee’s first report of this Parliament begins:

“In the current Parliament, we have been seeking to ensure that the House Administration’s financial priorities are determined on a coherent basis by Members of this House, so that the House’s spending meets the needs of the House as a whole”.

Enabling hon. Members as a whole to continue to determine that on a coherent basis is at the heart of the motion.

Earlier in this Session, we had an excellent debate on the savings plan and the medium-term financial strategy, which enabled Members to vote on various aspects of our financial proceedings and to take charge of both the budget and the plans of the administration estimate. I welcomed that move, and I believe it was welcomed by many other Members. That goes to reinforcing the concept and the process by which the finances of the House are dealt with on a coherent basis by Members of the House. The motion is based on the simple proposition that, if the House is making a decision with a significant financial impact on its budget, it should have access to the basic information required on the cost and other financial consequences, so that it can make the decision in a coherent way.

For example, in the past we have had Government proposals to set up Select Committees. Each Select Committee has a considerable cost impact—it is in the order of £500,000 a year. When the Government introduce legislation, we expect them to tell us what the financial impact will be. It therefore seems entirely reasonable that the House should know about such financial impacts. Previously, there has perhaps been an expectation that extra costs could always be accommodated regardless,

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but in these days when we want to ensure that costs are properly considered, it is right that we have the knowledge to make such decisions.

The proposal was made by the Finance and Services Committee. Before we arrived at the current text, it was discussed by the House of Commons Commission, and discussed on a number of occasions by the Procedure Committee and the Leader of the House. The current text is broadly agreed by all in principle. There were a number of doubts about the wording among members of the Procedure Committee, but I hope they have been dealt with in the current text.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether, if this proposal had been in operation two or three years ago, Members of the House would have had any say in the last remaining day switchboard moving to Southampton on 8 May? Anyone phoning the House of Commons, night or day, will be talking to someone based in Southampton, and when I rang in the evening last week—the night switchboard has already moved—the location of Derby Gate was not even known. Would that have been any different? Would we, as Members of Parliament, have had any say?

John Thurso: The hon. Lady has raised this matter tenaciously; indeed, she has raised it with me. The answer is that if the matter were put before the House in a motion, the financial consequence would have to be revealed. If it were not, and was put together by way of the financial plan, the debate such as the one we had last year would have been exactly the place to have raised such a matter. The two things go together, and that is entirely in keeping with allowing Members a say on such things in future.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): One potential consequence of the Standing Order would be that, if the accounting officer so wished, he could decline to put the financial details into the House domain and therefore the debate on the motion could not happen. What does the hon. Gentleman understand “a reasonable time frame” to mean—a day, a week, five years?

John Thurso: I am blessed by the fact that I would never have to make the decision; it would be a decision for Mr Speaker and his advisers. As we all know, the Speaker is always right. Therefore, whatever decision he made would be both reasonable and appropriate. It was written deliberately in such a way that the final word is with the Chair for precisely the reason that if something came up where an exception were needed, it could be dealt with. That is very important.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): May I confirm that the absence of a financial memorandum would not necessarily mean that a debate would be denied?

John Thurso: It is my understanding that a financial memorandum would be expected, and there are a number of occasions where it could be short and simple. If a circumstance arose in which a financial memorandum could not be prepared, it would be in the hands of Mr Speaker to make a decision. That is my understanding. If I have got that wrong, and there is a small percentage chance that that is the case, I will certainly come back to the hon. Gentleman.

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The effect of the Standing Order would be to require the accounting officer to provide a memorandum for any expenditure of more than £50,000 to the administration estimate. An example of such a motion, as I mentioned earlier, would be a proposal to establish a Select Committee. The Standing Order would also require a memorandum to be provided in respect of an amendment to a motion, if it would have a similar financial impact. As less notice might be given of an amendment, the absence of a memorandum would not necessarily prevent it from being debated, but the Speaker might take that factor into account in his selection of amendments. I therefore suggest, in partially addressing my previous answer, that there would nearly always be time for a motion, but the Chair may take a view where amendments are tabled. That is the most likely consequence.

This is a very small, but important change. It follows the principle that our decisions should be coherent and based on facts, so that we can make a measured judgment, and in the hands of the Members of this House. On that basis, I commend the motion to the House.

5.48 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): It is a pleasure to be back at the Dispatch Box so quickly. I welcome the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) to his place. He probably regrets deeply having moved on to DEFRA and not having an opportunity to respond to this exciting and important debate.

The Opposition believe in fully informed decision making, and I say that not just because my deputy Chief Whip is sitting next to me. We see this as a sensible and pragmatic move forward. It is obviously correct that Members be given as much information as possible about the financial consequences of House decisions.

I congratulate the Chairman of the Procedure Committee on his persuasive powers in getting this tabled for debate today. It has cross-party support and has been signed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the shadow Leader of the House. I would like to ask a couple of questions of the Deputy Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who represents the Commission. We have just had a good short debate about the Banking Commission. In the spirit of informing the House, perhaps it would be appropriate for the Deputy Leader of the House to give an estimate of how much the Banking Commission has cost so far and of what it will run to in the next Session. If he does not have it to hand, I am sure he can write to me.

The Deputy Leader of the House will also be aware that this is the first of many Committee reports that will require the House’s attention. By my count, there are currently five more Procedure Committee reports, including on such things as e-petitions and how we elect the Speaker and Deputy Speakers. Will he give us some indication of when they will be taken? I hope he will not say “soon”. I hope for something slightly more substantive than that.

Finally, I have a quick question for the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. The House will have seen yesterday that the Procedure

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Committee published a commendable report on the debating of e-petitions. It has estimated that the cost of making Westminster Hall available on Monday between 4.30 pm and 7.30 pm for the debating of e-petitions that get 100,000 signatures would be between £11,000 and £100,000, depending on the number of e-petitions. Given that the lowest estimate would fall below the £50,000 threshold, will he clarify whether he intends all such motions brought before the House to come with cost estimates?

5.51 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): I rise to speak in support of the motion before the House. It has been on the Order Paper for some considerable time, and it is good that the House now has the opportunity to consider it.

The motion arises out of the work of the Finance and Services Committee. The reasoning behind it and the process undertaken in coming to this solution have been expertly outlined by its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). I am grateful to him and the rest of the Committee, which conducts important work on behalf of the House, for their constructive approach in seeking the agreement of the House of Commons Commission and working collaboratively with the Procedure Committee in reaching this solution.

As right hon. and hon. Members will see from the Order Paper, both the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House have signified their support for the motion by adding their names to it. The proposed Standing Order addresses the issue that at any time the House can pass a motion that adds costs to the administration budget. As the Finance and Services Committee recognised in its report, that is not a creditable way for the finances of a major public body to be run. The proposed Standing Order will not prevent the House either from debating the motions it wants to debate or from making the decisions it wants to make, but it will ensure that decisions are made on the basis of access to basic information about the financial consequences of those decisions. The House has rightly set itself the target of reducing the administration estimate, so it is a matter of good governance that the attached Standing Order be approved to support the House in that aim.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) asked me a couple of questions. First, I can assure him that at an appropriate point the full costs of the Banking Commission will be confirmed, but I am not in a position to do that now. Secondly, he has rightly pointed out that there are other matters relating to the work of the Procedure Committee that could usefully be discussed—under Remaining Orders, for instance—and to which he has put his name. He will

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be pleased to hear, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has discussed with the Procedure Committee’s Chair the priority placed on the different motions. I hope that the House will get the chance to resolve these issues—I will not say “soon”—without undue delay. I am happy to support the motion on the Order Paper.

Question put and agreed to.

Business without Debate

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Regulatory Needs of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 7268/13 and Addendum, a Commission Communication: Smart Regulation—Responding to the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises; and supports the Government’s efforts to make further progress in reducing unnecessary EU regulatory burdens placed on SMEs by working with EU partners to achieve early action on the issues highlighted in the Commission’s Communication.—(Nicky Morgan.)

Question agreed to.

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Tribunals and Inquiries

That the draft Transfer of Tribunal Functions Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 11 February, be approved.—(Nicky Morgan.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

That the draft Amendments to Schedule 6 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 Order 2013, which were laid before this House on 11 February, be approved.—(Nicky Morgan.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Climate Change

That the draft CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 4 March, be approved.—(Nicky Morgan.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Official Statistics

That the draft Official Statistics Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 6 March, be approved.—(Nicky Morgan.)

Question agreed to.

23 Apr 2013 : Column 853

Upland Sheep Farmers

[The Third Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2010-12, on Farming in the Uplands, HC 556, and the Government’s response thereto, HC 953, Session 2010-12, are relevant.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Nicky Morgan.)

5.55 pm

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): A few weeks ago, an unusually late and heavy snowfall, accompanied by extensive drifting in the uplands of Wales and other areas of Britain, hit the farming industry and visited disastrous consequences on sheep farmers in all those hill areas. There were dramatic, heartbreaking reports in the media of farmers digging sheep out from under 10-foot drifts of snow—many of the sheep were obviously near death—and the despair of knowing that hundreds more sheep were dying under the snow.

Today the snow has gone. It was a lovely sunny morning as I walked over Westminster bridge today. The images of despair have disappeared from our screens. As the world continues on its way, those images have inevitably disappeared from the minds of most of the British people, but they have not disappeared from my mind, probably because I was an upland sheep farmer for most of my life.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter to the Floor of the House. Given the 22% fall in lamb prices last year and the fact that, as he rightly points out, this year’s unseasonal snowfall has made the situation acute, is there not a duty on the processors and the large retailers to pay a fair price for this produce?

Glyn Davies: I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman, although today I will try to avoid dealing with some of the consequential commercial issues relating to the current position. What I want to address—I will come to this—is what I see as the disconnect between hill sheep farming today and what the wider general population thinks. If I can, I will keep away altogether from what might be deemed to be political issues, where there might be divisions of views.

The impact of the recent snowfall on the sheep-farming uplands remains, despite the snow having gone. It has not gone away with the snow. Today it is not about digging out sheep from under snowdrifts; it is more about collecting and disposing of the dead bodies of sheep and planning how to put businesses back together. I am probably one of few MPs—I might not be the only one—who has been out digging sheep out from under 10-foot snowdrifts. I particularly remember 1963, when the United Kingdom experienced far more snow and far colder conditions, and for much longer than this year. I was a teenager working on the family farm when the drifting snow buried hundreds of our sheep as they sheltered near walls and hedges. My father and I spent days searching under the snow for them. It was heartbreaking work. Most heartbreaking of all was having to stop at nightfall, knowing that there were still hundreds of sheep asphyxiating beneath our feet.

What was particularly devastating about the recent snowfall was that it was so late in the year. In 1963, the snow fell on Boxing day and lasted until early March, but this year it fell at the end of March, which is the

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traditional lambing season in the uplands. As the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) has pointed out, the sheep sector was already facing what the Prince’s Trust called a “perfect storm” of negative influences in March. I shall not go into all the details, but the upland sheep farmers were already facing severe problems, and the impact of what has happened has been devastating.

I want to make it clear why I have sought today’s debate. Initially, I had not intended to make any public comment. Agriculture in my constituency is devolved to the National Assembly for Wales. Naturally, I was in conversation with friends and members of the farming unions about what had happened, and at first I was heartened by the fact that the Welsh Government Minister had arranged to come to Montgomeryshire to meet local farmers and union leaders. However, when farmers contacted me after the meeting, I was horrified by the Minister’s approach, which had been totally unsympathetic and dismissive. Everyone was deeply upset by that.

I felt that that was unacceptable, and I discussed the matter with the Assembly Member colleague in Montgomeryshire, Russell George. Together, we set about seeking to change the tone of the debate. I posted my thoughts on my blog, “A View from Rural Wales”, which had quite an impact, and resolved to seek a debate in this House as soon as Parliament returned from the Easter recess. My Assembly colleague raised an urgent question in the Welsh Assembly. For whatever reason, the Welsh Government Minister responded with a far more sympathetic approach, and made a realistic and positive statement. I congratulate him on that. The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) also published a statement here last Thursday, and again it was realistic and positive. So the terms of the debate have changed to some extent. It is clear to me that both Parliaments, in Cardiff Bay and in Westminster, now recognise the scale of the disaster that has struck upland sheep farmers.

I should also make it clear that I am not calling for more compensation or more subsidy for sheep farmers. Some might wish to do that, but I do not want to do so today. There will be other debates about agricultural support, and in particular about how British agriculture can remain competitive with the subsidised agricultural systems across the European Union. There might be an occasion for a debate in Wales about the controversial issue of hill farming subsidies, but I do not want to deal with those matters now. My aim today is to address what seems to be a growing disconnect between the business and tradition of farming in the uplands and the rest of the population.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I am glad that we are having this debate today. What is the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the level of support given to farmers in other parts of the UK, given that agriculture is a devolved matter? I have seen correspondence from representatives of various countryside organisations in Wales pointing out to the Minister in Cardiff that there are advantages to be had in other parts of the UK. What is the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the situation?

Glyn Davies: I have not made such an assessment. I have seen two of the statements, but I have not looked at what has happened in Scotland or in Northern Ireland.

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I know that there are differences, however, and it is inevitable that they will be pointed out. At one stage, I thought that I might do that today, but I specifically decided against it because it would inevitably have led to the kind of debate that I did not want. I am probably a bit unusual in that I did not want a debate with a great deal of confrontation. Instead, I want to highlight the issue so that people can understand what has happened.

I want to say something about the sort of things that happened when the snow fell and re-formed itself into huge drifts. Yesterday, in a sort of surgery, I talked to union leaders and upland farmers at Welshpool livestock market. I spoke to one farmer who had just sent 72 dead sheep away in a lorry. He had also picked up another 72 dead sheep and they were awaiting collection. That illustrates the scale of what is happening. To make a terrible situation worse, he will have to pay several thousand pounds to have them taken away. That is not an uncommon experience.

On Sunday night, I switched the television on and watched the excellent Adam Henson covering the scale of the deaths on “Countryfile”. I caught the latter part of the debate. There was a large pile of carcases in the corner of the yard, but it was noticeable that the image was blurred to accommodate the sensitivity of the viewers. It was felt that they should not have to see all those dead sheep piled up like that. However, the vision of piles of dead sheep is not blurred for the owners of the dead sheep. For them, it is all too real. If people are to understand the impact, they need to know what is happening.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this very timely debate. From experience, he will understand the horror that happened in Northern Ireland when 20,000 dead animals were buried beneath the snow. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that many of these farmers are heartbroken, not only because of the death of the sheep but because of what it meant for their future as well as their past.

Glyn Davies: That was the very point I was coming to.

I spoke to another farmer who came to see me with his wife yesterday, desperately worried about how his family business was going to survive. Normally, his flock produces 340 lambs to sell in the autumn. This year, he will have but 120, and some of those will have to be retained as replacement stock. The only chance of survival will be from off-farm income, and so many others are in the same position right across Britain.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech on an extremely important subject. From what I hear from my sheep farmers in Teesdale, I know that they face similar issues. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about the media coverage. It seems to me that we have heard endless news from the United States over the last fortnight, but extremely little coverage of this problem. I hope that his excellent speech will be heard beyond “Farming Today”.

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Glyn Davies: I certainly agree with that intervention, and I share the hon. Lady’s hopes.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so gracious in giving way. One issue brought to our attention in Northern Ireland—the same will be true of Wales, too—is the fact that building up all the pedigrees of some of these sheep herds can take 10 or 20 years, which makes them quite expensive. To lose them all in one go is a tremendous tragedy for the families concerned. Does that underline the fact that there must be help from both the Government and the Welsh Assembly?

Glyn Davies: The point about losing whole flocks is an important one, in view of the breeding that has gone into them. I know from my experience when I was actively sheep farming that one particular line in the flock could be hugely valued. Along that particular line, it was possible to get to know the sheep as individuals. When all those sheep are just suddenly taken, it is devastating.

This is such a wide-ranging debate and I could have picked a thousand different aspects to discuss, but I want briefly to cover two further aspects and I ask the Minister to help me on one point of clarity. First, there is the emotional impact of what has happened. Working with livestock is not the same as working in other forms of industry. Animals are living creatures and farmers, in a funny sort of way, get to know them as individuals. My flock comprised about 1,000 sheep, but there were lots of individuals among them whom I got to know. It is not the same as producing widgets, for example, because it is dealing with living animals.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland that was badly affected by the snow. Many upland farmers in the Mournes and in Slieve Croob were affected. I travelled through tunnels of snow to visit those farmers, and on one particular farm, I saw about 29 ewes and lambs lying under a tarpaulin. When that was pulled back, I could see that they were all dead. I also noticed collapsed livestock sheds. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, because of the bond between the farmer and his sheep, we need a particular taskforce to deal with the restoration and renewal of upland farms for upland farmers?

Glyn Davies: Again, I agree with that intervention and I feel certain that the agriculture departments in the three devolved countries and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be doing that very thing. I certainly hope so; perhaps the Minister will address that point in his response.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): My hon. Friend is very generous in taking interventions. Does he agree that we need to put this issue in the much broader context of the very difficult time that sheep farmers are having in general? Across the Bailey and Bewcastle valleys in my constituency, there have been two years of horror with poached soil, fluke and the snow coming at the end of that. If we are to retain the fabric of small farms, which I think we would all like to do, we really need to think over the next two to three

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years of what kind of measures can be put in place—apart from the particular issue of snow—to preserve small farming for the future.

Glyn Davies: That is a very good point. Earlier I mentioned the description by the Prince’s Trust of the circumstances that we were experiencing before the snowfall. A number of elements, connected with the weather, the Schmallenberg disease and other issues, had combined to put the sheep in a very difficult position. The businesses of the farmers who were hit by the huge snowfall, however, have been put under real threat.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising the issue of the plight of sheep farmers; my Pennine constituency was also badly hit by the snow. Does he agree, however, that sheep farmers were already struggling because a wet summer had reduced the quality of hay feed? Some of them told me that they were having to rely on sheep nuts and sugar beet shreds, both of which cost about £7 a bag. They were already challenged by the financial cost of making up for a very wet summer before the snow hit.

Glyn Davies: I agree, and I was interested by my hon. Friend’s reference to sheep nuts. Lorries have not been able to deliver them, and everyone else wants them to feed to their cattle. A huge shortage of food has made a disastrous position even worse.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate, to which he brings considerable experience. As well as the problems caused by energy and food costs, there is the problem that many small businesses were encouraged to diversify into tourism, which has also been affected by last year’s long periods of adverse weather. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need a special review of the situation, covering not just agriculture but tourism and other aspects of the rural environment?

Glyn Davies: I do agree. I contemplated the possibility of expanding the debate to include other businesses—and, while tourism is the obvious example, other businesses will have been affected—but decided that that would weaken the thrust of the point I wanted to make. I do not seek in any way to belittle the issue, but I wanted to concentrate on something else today.

Most of the livestock that we are discussing would eventually have been sent to an abattoir. Strangely, that is accepted among farmers as being the natural order of things, but what happened in this instance was not the natural order, and it has been hugely stressful.

During the most recent foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, I was Chair of the National Assembly’s Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee. For several months, I spent most days—and it often continued late into the night, until the early hours of the morning—talking to people in distress who were unable to cope with the fact that all their animals, many of them prized animals, were being put down and burnt as a consequence of contact with the disease. Interestingly—I say that it was interesting now, but it was tragic then—it was not the farmers who were ringing me, but their wives and parents, who were deeply worried about the men. It is mostly men who work in that industry. Livestock farming is a lonesome life, and those wives and parents were

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hugely worried about the mental state of the farmers and about what they might do. Indeed, the tragedy is that some of them did the very worst.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Will he join me in welcoming the fact that the Welsh Minister, Alun Davies, has asked the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution to tackle the problem? The institution can speak to farmers and their families individually, and offer them the support to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Glyn Davies: I was not going to make that point myself, and I thank the hon. Lady for making it. I am very pleased that the Welsh Government have given half a million pounds to charities that are in a position to identify and support those who are suffering from stress. They can do that better than a Government could ever do it. Although I was disappointed by the approach taken in the first three or four days, I think that the Minister’s response since then has been entirely positive, and I congratulate him on it.

The fact that animals have died under the snow is not the only issue, although that has received a lot of attention. There are also the issues of the other animals that have died, the loss of the grass that has been killed off by the snow and the consequent widespread shortage of feed.

Many people who do not understand hill farming do not understand that hill ewes will not readily take to artificial feed, as lowland breeds do. There will be heavy losses from snow fever and twin lamb disease, and as a result of animals that simply will not eat feed when their natural grass has gone. Huge numbers of animals will be dying from mineral deficiencies. The inevitable shortage of milk will result in lambs succumbing to illness and dying, too. They will be crushed into confined spaces, where there is much greater incidence of disease. Lambs will die in large numbers of joint ill and infectious scour, which can go straight through a flock. I remember when I had my whole flock in as a result of adverse weather conditions, but I had to turn them out into the snow, because disease arises when the animals are crammed into small spaces. Hill farmers are not used to that. They are geared up to lambing in April and lambing out. All of this adds to the direct losses from snow.

The Governments in Cardiff Bay and Westminster have responded with statements, both of which are positive and hugely welcome. I want to inject that positive note into this debate.

Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the concept of cynefin—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) tells me that the word in English is hefting. There will be difficulties and costs involved in replacing these sheep. This will not be a one-off incident; the effects will be felt for many years.

Glyn Davies: I entirely agree. I remember that when foot and mouth disease spread on to the Brecon Beacons, huge flocks were lost, and were lost for ever.

Most of the farmers I have spoken to are unsure what to do with their dead animals, of which they have large numbers. Normally, they would have them collected, at

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considerable cost, and taken away to be incinerated, but the National Fallen Stock Company could not reach the farms because of the snow and the farmers were told by the Welsh Assembly Minister that he was considering a derogation from the relevant EU regulation to allow farmers to bury dead animals on their farms. My understanding, however, is that that derogation is a matter for local government and that there was no requirement for farmers to wait for an announcement from the Welsh Minister. All that was needed was an agreement with the relevant local authority. That situation seems odd and I find it confusing. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the position.

6.17 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) for securing this timely and important debate. It is also good to have so many colleagues present, expressing their concerns about the communities in their areas. We have heard from Members representing at least three of the nations of the United Kingdom. We have heard from the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) and the hon. Members for Arfon (Hywel Williams), for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) from Wales. From Northern Ireland, we have heard from the hon. Members for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie). From England, we have heard from the hon. Members for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) and for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney).

They all expressed the point of view of their constituents: a sense of horror at what has happened and a sense of the need to do everything we can to support a very vulnerable group of people and a vulnerable industry, because the last few weeks have been a disaster for many farmers in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. To experience such severe spring snowfall is almost unprecedented. We have never seen 10-ft drifts this late in the year. The point that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire was making, and others were reflecting, is that it hit some of our most economically vulnerable farmers at their busiest time, with the lambing season in full swing. No wonder there are people who are experiencing genuine trauma as a consequence.

As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, in the past few days the weather has improved, but when I visited Cumbria recently I saw a lot of snow still lying in the affected areas. Until that clears, which may take a considerable time in the highest areas, we will not be able to quantify the damage fully, but we know that in some individual cases it will be enormous.

I should stress that this problem is very geographically limited. There are some farms next to each other, one of which has been devastated and the next hardly touched. It is remarkable that some farms were very deeply affected and others were not. But for those that are affected there will be, as we already know, many thousands of dead sheep and lambs. As the hon. Member for Arfon said, although he said it in Welsh and I shall not attempt to do the same, a lot of those will be hefted sheep. They have been bred for generations on some of

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the roughest, highest, most isolated parts of the fells and uplands, and the loss of those animals only adds to the weight of the blow. As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire told the House, he has had first-hand experience of the emotional trauma and the financial pain caused by losses on that scale.

I visited the north-west of England 10 days ago, to see the damage for myself. It was deeply shocking to see the effect on individual farmers. There is a real sense of devastation and there are people with massive worries about the future.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): That position was compounded by another point that my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) made, about the burial arrangements and whether the EU burial regulations are robust enough to deal with those very exceptional circumstances. What is the Minister’s view on that?

Mr Heath: I will return to that, if I may, in just a moment.

I met farmers who have lived their entire lives in the uplands. These are not soft people. These are not weak people. These are some of the strongest, hardest men and women that you would care to meet in this country. They were feeling quite clearly devastated by the position they now find themselves in. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) knows, I was in Northern Ireland a few days ago as well, just talking to people about their experiences there—not my responsibility, as he will appreciate, in terms of the devolved settlement—and I heard exactly the same stories; exactly the same pain was being felt.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I apologise for not being present at the start of the debate. The Minister is quite right that a lot of the effect of the snow was very local. Certainly in the Radnor forest in my constituency it was particularly difficult. I want to make the point that the whole sheep industry has suffered a very long period of very severe weather, which has left a lot of those ewes very weak going into lambing, so it is not just the people that have been affected by snow but almost the whole of the sheep industry that has had a very difficult time.

Mr Heath: My hon. Friend makes an important point. In those extreme conditions of very heavy snowfall, with violent winds—in Cumbria, violent easterly winds coming in off the sea and causing the drifting—the sheep did what sheep do, which is to turn their backs to the wind and walk, and they found themselves trapped against walls or obstacles or under drifts. But what compounded that was that our sheep flocks, sadly, are not in good condition—because of the weather, because of events over many months now, because of the fact that, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, fluke is a real problem at the moment. Many issues have come together in a concatenation that is causing the difficulties that many of our livestock farmers face.

Jim Shannon: It was a pleasure to have the Minister in my constituency last week so that he could hear at first hand from the farmers in the area what the issues were. He will have heard from the farmers, but also from elected representatives from the Assembly, from

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Members of Parliament and from Members of the European Parliament, what measures the Northern Ireland Assembly had taken to help to address some of the issues for the farmers in Northern Ireland. Will he be able to use those examples to help other regional bodies, such as the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament?

Mr Heath: It is important that we all learn from one another. The answers will not be the same in every part of the United Kingdom, and the proportional scale of difficulties will be different. We must listen to what each other are doing and hopefully come towards the right solution, but also listen to what the farmers themselves in the constituent parts of the United Kingdom are telling us. Certainly that is what I wanted to do with regard to England. I cannot speak for what happened in Northern Ireland and say whether it was the right solution, and similarly for Wales. I can see what has been done, but it seemed to me that my responsibility was to listen to the farmers and their representatives in England, and to do what they asked me to do so far as I could, in order to mitigate the difficulties that farmers were facing.

Helen Goodman: My constituent, John Warren, has specifically asked me to raise this point with the Minister. He is concerned that in Scotland the National Fallen Stock Company was used to distribute state aid. He asked me to urge the Minister not to go down the same route in England. He was concerned that if he did, the aid would not necessarily reach the right farmers and the farmers who had been most severely affected. He asked if a more direct mechanism might be used for distributing the aid that will be consequent on the losses due to the bad weather.

Mr Heath: I will come back to that point in a moment if I may, but the most important thing is that we reach those farmers who are severely affected, irrespective of whether they are registered with the National Fallen Stock Company. I want to make that absolutely clear, and I hope that that will help the hon. Lady’s constituent.

I want to put on record how grateful I am to the local NFU in Cumbria and the farmers themselves. I will mention Alistair Mackintosh and Robin Jenkinson in Corney Fell who gave their time to explain the consequences to me and to help me to understand what they were up against. I strongly feel that as a Minister one of the best ways to respond to a problem of this kind is simply to talk to people and see for oneself, and then, I hope, take the appropriate decisions.

I also want to put on record the strong impression that I had in Cumbria that the farming community and the wider rural community have responded in a positive and big way. A lot of mutual support went on and continues to go on. People helped one another, and farmers who were not affected searched for sheep on their neighbours’ holdings when they realised that they were in trouble. That is the country way and it is what we expect, but it was happening.

People who were not connected with farming also lent their support. I will mention one group of people, an organisation that occasionally we have differences of opinion with. It was pointed out to me how profoundly helpful the RSPCA officers in the area had been, lending a hand and getting stuck in, not in strict pursuance of

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their duties as RSPCA officers but because they cared about the animals and the farmers and wanted to do their bit.

I will also mention the banks, because they almost universally get a bad press. It was pointed out to me how helpful HSBC has been in the area and how it has gone out of its way and bent over backwards to offer local farmers support at a time when they desperately need it. I do not know whether that was universal and whether other banks followed suit, but it is important to put it on the record when people help and are prepared to be supportive.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate. There has been a lot of talk about sheep, but I hope that the Minister also recognises that the dairy industry has been significantly affected. In some cases, cattle condition and milk yields have gone down as a result of the weather, so perhaps the banks and the companies that—

Mr Speaker: Order. Let me just say to the hon. Gentleman that I understand that his intention is good, and why he wants to draw a parallel, but I am afraid that it is not relevant. We are on sheep farmers and we must stick to that, not start to stray into other matters, which he has done.

Mr Heath: Of course, I am happy to take your guidance on that, Mr Speaker. I will say that in the parts of the country I visited the casualties, almost exclusively, were sheep. It was the sheep flocks that were devastated, although of course other livestock are affected in such extreme circumstances.

I also want to say—this point was made by the hon. Member for Llanelli—that charities are playing a crucial role in supporting those in real hardship, sometimes simply by acting as a compassionate friend, which is exactly what is needed by people who often lead very isolated lives. Sometimes they just need a shoulder to lean on, and I think that it is extremely important that the charities provide that.

I have received many hundreds of e-mails and letters from individual members of the public who want to support the farmers affected through donations, directly with a pick and shovel, or in the supermarkets by buying British lamb. That is a message I want to get across: one thing that every single person can do to support the British sheep meat industry, wherever they live in the country, is go out and ask the supermarkets for British lamb. I hope that is recognised as one of the most powerful things they can do. Retailers—this is something the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd said—can play a part in that, not only through the price of meat, but by highlighting the quality of British lamb and sheep meat.

Albert Owen: The Minister is absolutely right that we should be buying British lamb, and Welsh lamb, as a priority—[Interruption.] It is British, of course. Has he or his Department contacted other national Governments and Assemblies in this country to assess the impact the adverse weather has had on the sheep industry and other food industries and on the price for the consumer in the United Kingdom?

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Mr Heath: As I think I said earlier, it is actually quite difficult to assess the impact now, but of course we will continue that dialogue with the devolved Administrations. At the moment, we are still effectively dealing with an emergency situation. Many factors affect the price of meat, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but it is an assessment that we need to make, and I am happy to work with colleagues in the devolved Administrations to do that.

Albert Owen: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. I understand that this is a crisis and that it takes time to assess it, but as we have discussed in the debate, a number of adverse weather conditions have impacted on the industry. Will he, working with the other Assemblies in the United Kingdom, conduct a proper assessment of the impact on food prices now, and not just for this crisis, but for previous adverse weather impacts?

Mr Heath: As the hon. Gentleman says, there is the cumulative effect of a number of things. To be perfectly honest, this particular event, devastating though it has been for a significant number of farmers, but luckily not so many, will not in itself have a real effect on food prices, but I think that, in a wider context, what we have experienced over the past six to nine months will. We must also look at the effect that imports from other countries might be having, particularly on the price of British lamb—I will persist in saying British lamb, because I am the Minister responsible for agriculture in England as well as in the UK.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Is the Minister considering the issue of derogation, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), and should the Prime Minister not be addressing this in his review of the European Union? Should not we in this country be able to make a decision at a local level about how farmers get rid of their stock?

Mr Heath: The answer is that we can, and I shall move on to that in moment. This is one area in which we do not have a difficulty in that respect, as I shall explain later.

Rory Stewart: Derogations have been important, not just for livestock disposal, but for the use of red diesel and the working time directive, and farmers in Cumbria and across the country have been grateful for the flexibility shown by the Government in all those derogations.

Mr Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments and perhaps this is an opportune time for me to set out some of the things we have done. I will not pretend that any of them provide the complete answer, but I hope that they have been of help. As he said, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has, as we have done previously, allowed farmers to use red diesel in their tractors to help grit and clear snow from public roads. That has been important in getting access to some areas. Without that derogation, I think it would be impossible to reach some isolated communities.

Importantly, we have also secured a temporary relaxation of the enforcement of the European Union drivers’ working hours, in order to ensure that essential supplies of animal feed deliveries have been able to get through. That is crucial for farmers who did not expect their

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sheep to need to be fed—that is despite the palatability or otherwise, and I entirely understand the point about how difficult it is to persuade a mountain sheep to suddenly switch to sheep nuts, but better that than the alternative, and it is important that those feed supplies get through.

We have also worked closely with the National Fallen Stock Company to arrange the best possible terms for the collection of dead animals. One of the most striking things is that every farmer has casualty animals and needs to call somebody to take away the carcases. Some have skips full of 50, 60 or 70 dead animals and the cost of disposing of them individually would have mounted up and become unsupportable. It is important, therefore, that the cheapest possible bulk terms were negotiated at an early stage with the NFSC.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and others mentioned the rules for the burning or burial of livestock on farms. The rules for the disposal of carcasses are governed by the European Union’s Animal By-Products Regulations 2003, which make it illegal, normally, to dispose of a carcass on-farm. However, a specific derogation in those regulations that the UK has authorised and continues to authorise allows for the on-farm disposal of carcasses if the conditions are too difficult to get them to a collection vehicle. That applies in a number of circumstances. I reminded local authorities, who can prosecute if they believe that there has been an infringement of those regulations, that they have the capacity to take into account the individual circumstances under the derogation, and that they should apply maximum flexibility in the affected areas. I am very happy that they were able to do that. I understand that precisely that provision was also used in Wales in order to provide for the local authorities there. The local authorities had the power to do so; we simply reminded them that they had that power, because it was important.

That has been helpful for some farmers, but not for all. What struck me in Cumbria was that on some high fell farms there was no way that an animal could be buried on that sort of terrain. I can perfectly well understand the strength of feeling against pyres being built and operated on the farms, but in a way it surprised me by its intensity. It is clear that farmers did not want to be reminded of very difficult times not so long ago, when the countryside was littered with funeral pyres of dead animals. They did not want that—they wanted those dead animals off the farm. That very much influenced my view of what we should do next.

To complete the initial variations that we made, Natural England has at our request temporarily lifted some of the land management requirements that normally apply to environmental stewardship agreements, which gives farmers a bit more flexibility to deal with the impact of the recent extreme weather.